STORMS AND WHISKEY

By Kimberly T.

Author's note: Those characters that aren't owned by The Almighty Mouse belong to Christine Morgan, not me. This vignette takes place in her fanfic universe and timeline.


May 2004

David Xanatos looked out the windows of his executive office, which was up high enough that he could see well out into New York Harbor. It looked like a nasty squall of a storm was building offshore, out where the harbor met the Atlantic Ocean. He estimated that it would be two, maybe two-and-a-half hours before the storm hit the city right in the teeth. He'd learned to read the skies at an early age, while working on his father's fishing boat; survival out on the waves frequently depended on knowing what weather was coming right at you in time to get out of its way, or to make safe harbor for riding it out.

He remembered one storm he and his father hadn't been able to escape, one summer back when he was eight years old; he'd been terrified when the waves had come over the bow and threatened to swamp them. Their holds nearly as full of water as of fish, his father had finally lashed the wheel to keep the ship facing into the oncoming waves, long enough to tie young Davey in his life jacket to the main mast a good three feet off the deck. Petros Xanatos had armed his son with a stout knife tied to his wrist, telling him to use it to cut himself free only if the main mast started to break. Then his father had gone back to the wheel, wrestling it like a titan, and they and the rest of the crew had rode out the storm together.

When the worst had passed and they'd reached safe harbor again, little Davey had had his first taste of whiskey, as the entire crew got roaring drunk at the Netmender to celebrate getting back alive; his father had declared that since he'd been man enough to ride out the storm with them without crying out more than once or twice, he was man enough to handle one very small drink. About a thimble's worth of whiskey, as he recalled, and it had tasted terrible, but it had been enough to make a small boy feel very grown up for an hour or so. Then it was off to bed…

Funny, he hadn't thought of that day in years, probably decades. He'd seen storms aplenty before without that memory triggering; maybe it was the fact that his own son was almost the age young Davey had been then. Or maybe it was the fact that he was able to think of his father with more affection lately, as his father was becoming warmer to him in the last few years. He had to admit that his stepmother, Lydia Xanatos, had played a large part in bringing them closer together. Of course she had her own reasons for doing so, of which he alone was well aware, but it was still a great side-effect.

His father had called just last weekend, about having them all come up for another visit when school was out for the summer. That was still another four weeks away, but what the heck, why wait till then? He didn't have anything scheduled for Saturday or Sunday that couldn't be put off or handled by underlings. One of the nice things about having an international corporation was having lots of fast aircraft at your disposal, speedy enough to make the trip up to Maine in no time; they could go up for the weekend and be back in plenty of time for Alex to go back to school on Monday.

Yes, he'd call this evening, when he was sure his father would be back from the day's fishing, and set things up. Alex would be thrilled to see his grandpa and grandma again so soon, and let her stuff him with those oatmeal-raisin cookies that she had an endless supply of whenever he visited. Now that he thought about it, he wondered if there was something 'special' about that cookie jar of hers…

He indulged in a few moments of whimsical speculation, then looked up at the sound of the door to his office opening, and saw faithful Owen coming in. Nothing unusual about that, or about his wife Fox following Owen in, but there was something about the slow way they walked, and the grief visible in Fox's eyes, that set alarm bells ringing in the back of his head. Sharper than he'd meant to, he barked, "What's happened to Alex?"

"Alexander is fine, sir. He's still at school," Owen assured him.

"Then, what…"

"We've received a call from Bar Harbor, sir," Owen said softly as he came closer, and now Xanatos could see the sadness and sympathy flickering in his eyes as well, while Fox came up and hugged him tight. She squeezed his ribs warmly, but a cold vice squeezed his heart as Owen continued, "Petros Xanatos suffered a massive stroke this morning, while out fishing with his men."

Fox's voice was muffled as she wet his Armani suit with her tears for him. "David… your father is dead."

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The next few hours passed by in a haze. David abruptly found himself pushed back in his seat by the force of acceleration as one of the company's jets took off from Kennedy. He blinked, wondered how he'd gotten there, and vaguely recalled a few scenes from the last few hours, almost as if they were clips from a movie: Fox picking up the phone to arrange the flight and a car rental in Bar Harbor, while Owen set about canceling and rescheduling all his appointments and meetings for the next three days. Alex's confused and tearstained face when Owen brought him home from school. Sunset, and Goliath and Hudson solemnly offering their condolences on behalf of the clan, sharing fond memories of their past encounters with Petros Xanatos. Elisa Maza actually placing a comforting hand on his shoulder. Owen waiting by the limousine with their bags already packed, including one for himself.

He turned his head to see Fox and Alex sitting in the seats next to him. Fox was trying to distract Alex from his grief by asking him about how his day had gone, at the ultra-private school they'd enrolled him in. Alex was showing her the origami crane he'd made all by himself, without using any magic at all, in Arts and Crafts. It was made of bright orange construction paper.

He supposed he should be feeling something. Grief was usual at times like this, right? But he just felt numb. Gray, numb, unfeeling. Like part of him had gone to sleep. He wondered if he'd wake up eventually, and find out it was all a dream, as unreal as everything felt now.

XXXXXXXXX

Fox finished admiring Alex's origami crane and praising his work at school, and stole another worried glance at David. He'd finally stopped staring blankly straight ahead, and now seemed to be focused on Alex's crane. She gently urged Alex to show the crane to his father as well, hoping the father-son contact would help to pull David out of the shell he'd retreated into hours ago.

Alex gladly showed off his crane to his father, and David smiled gently and wordlessly ruffled his son's hair. Alex smiled and climbed into the open seat next to him hug him with all the strength in his almost-eight-years-old body, sensing that body contact was needed now. "I love you, Daddy," he said quietly.

David smiled at his words, but the smile quickly crumpled into an mask of sheer aching grief as the shell began to crack, a crushing load of grief that had him clenching his jaw and gritting his teeth to hold back the tears.

Daddies didn't cry in front of their sons; Fox knew that was the way David had been raised. Even when Alex, more enlightened than his father, whispered that it was okay to cry, David could only choke out, "Not yet." He probably felt that he couldn't give in to tears yet, or he'd never make it through what had to be done now. But still, grief was healthier than near-catatonia, Fox decided with tears in her eyes as she reached in to hug him as well. They clung to each other in silence for a while, before letting go and sitting back in their seats.

Owen came out of the cockpit and said quietly, "We'll be in Spruce Harbor in twenty minutes, and the rental car will be waiting for us at planeside when we disembark. Assuming the roads are clear, we'll be in Bar Harbor in just over an hour."

"Thank you, Owen," Fox said with a grateful smile. She half-turned to David and said quietly, "I hope Lydia's holding up okay."

One second later, she and Owen were exchanging glances of half-disbelief, half-worry. They'd both seen David's face after she'd said that, for the split-second before he'd retreated into his unfeeling shell again. Instead of worry and sympathy for Lydia Stephanopolous Xanatos, Petros' wife and now widow, David's face had reflected an instant of pain and betrayal... and deep, incalculable rage.

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The rented limousine was indeed waiting only thirty feet away when their aircraft taxied to a full stop, and soon Owen was following the highway signs looming in the dark to drive them to Bar Harbor, too small and poorly situated to support an airport of its own. While he drove and Alex 'helped' by trying to read the map, Fox gently tried again to get David to talk about what was troubling him. But he said nothing, as silent as the grave, just as he'd been ever since she'd mentioned Lydia's name.

Fox was becoming seriously worried; she thought he'd approved of Lydia as Petros' wife, his stepmother and Alex's step-grandmother. He'd certainly never given any indication otherwise at any of the times that either family had visited the other, which must have been over a dozen times in the last five years. In fact, she would have sworn he was grateful to Lydia, for it was her ever-merry, peacemaking influence as much as Alex's that had brought father and son closer together after years of estrangement. But something had triggered that look of rage and betrayal…

Was it because she'd taken the place of Maria Xanatos, David's mother? But Maria had died when David had been still a child, and Petros had been alone for too many years before finally opening his heart to affection and love again; surely David didn't blame Lydia just for being there when his mother could not. Fox tried once more to engage him in conversation and attempt to help if she could, but she gave up trying after he finally uttered two words, in a voice as grim and cold as the tolling of an iron bell: "Not. Now."

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When they finally pulled up to the little cottage on the bluff that had been the Xanatos home for three generations before David had left for the big city, the lights were on in the living room and on the porch. David got out of the car and just stared at the yellowed light pouring out of the window, while Fox hurried Alex up the steps to get him out of the near-perpetual rain that plagued Maine at this time of year.

Fox rapped on the door, and after a few seconds it slowly opened. Lydia stood there in the doorway, her normally cheerful and grandmotherly expression vanished; in its place were red-rimmed eyes and a quivering mouth, and evidence of recent tears. Fox reached in and hugged her, saying, "We came as soon as we could, Lydia; how are you holding up?"

Instead of answering right away, Lydia simply hugged Fox back, with surprising strength for an old lady. Fox was surprised at the fierceness of the hug but didn't pull away, figuring that after the day she must have had since learning of her husband's death, Lydia desperately need to hug somebody who could still hug back. So she simply whispered softly as she stroked the elderly woman's broad back, "We're here. It'll be okay. We're here."

Owen had also gotten out of the car, to stand silently beside his employer and friend for a long moment, holding an umbrella over him and waiting. When David showed no signs of moving towards the house, Owen finally handed the umbrella over to him, taking daring liberties by grasping his hand to physically mold it around the grip. David showed no signs of even noticing that, though he did hold the umbrella once Owen let go. Once that task was done, Owen took their luggage out of the trunk and brought it up to the house.

Lydia had finally let go of Fox, only to get down painfully on one knee in order to hug Alex with near equal fierceness. Alex, too, understood the need for comfort, and whispered as he hugged her back, "We love you, Grandma. We love you."

There were tears glistening in Lydia's eyes when she finally pulled back to look at him solemnly. "Thank you, Alex. I love you, too." She ruffled his hair for a moment, and said very, very softly, "My favorite grandson."

As soft as it had been said, Fox still heard Lydia's words, and remembered snippets of information she'd once heard: Lydia had birthed a son during her previous marriage to Gregor Stephanopolous, a son who had died young and left behind a widow and little boy of his own. The widow had remarried and moved away several years ago, and the grandson was now full grown and living with his own family somewhere in Virginia.

Fox had the impression that Lydia's grandson was estranged from her, from some incident in the past that made even mention of him painful. Fox could definitely relate to that, considering her own parentage, but now she dared to ask, "Will your family in Virginia be coming here, too?" Funerals were one of the few times that old differences and difficulties were usually set aside and families gathered together, even more often than for weddings.

Lydia looked startled for a moment, and almost slightly fearful, before shaking her head and saying, "No, dear, they won't; their own little one is sick right now, with chicken pox. But they did offer their sympathies over the phone… And thank you so much for caring enough to ask," as she hugged Fox again.

Fox returned the hug gladly, and as she did so murmured, "T.J. couldn't make it today, either; he and my father are working on a Cyberbiotics project together in South America. But he said he'll be here sometime tomorrow, well before the funeral." It wasn't really necessary on T.J.'s part; though he was Fox's son, he had no true relation to Petros or Lydia Xanatos. But they were fond of each other; he'd commented once on how Lydia reminded him in a way of Loralie Lawton, his dearly departed adoptive mother (though thankfully, Petros bore no resemblance at all to Burt Lawton, a.k.a. "the scumbag.") When Fox had called and told him the sad news, T.J. had promised he'd fly up there in the Cyberbiotics company jet as soon as he could.

Lydia looked like she was about to burst into tears again. "The dear boy! Such a good young man…"

Fox smiled wryly, a painful smile. "Not through any influence of mine," she said ruefully.

"Oh, Fox…" Now it was Lydia's turn to comfort, rubbing her back. "You did what you thought you had to do, dear. I understand…" Curiously, the act of comforting Fox seemed to give her just a bit more strength, enough to return to a semblance of her normal grandmotherly ways and usher them all inside before they caught their death of cold.

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Fox and Alex went inside and began shedding their raingear; Owen held back and held the door open for David, who had been standing out there in the rain for all that time, just staring up at the house. Once again, Owen let his normally cool and emotionless exterior slip and the sad sympathy show through as he said softly to the man who was as much friend as employer, "Sir… David, please come inside. You must face this sooner or later."

David finally squared his shoulders, nodded curtly and marched inside. Once inside, he locked his gaze on Lydia, though she avoided it without seeming to do so while helping Alex out of his bright yellow slicker and hanging both his and Fox's raingear on a coat rack to dry. She almost managed to get Owen's coat off of him as well, but he wriggled free at the last second without seeming to do so either, and was able to remove and hang it himself.

David shed his raincoat with mechanically brusque gestures, and hung it on the coat rack in silence. Then he called to his son and said, "Alex, is it okay if Owen shares a room with you while we're here?" When Alex said it was okay, David then said gently, "Then why don't you go show him the rooms where we'll all be sleeping, so he can unpack our things." Behind the gentle voice was an ominous tone, like a storm cloud gathering on the horizon, and Alex gave his father a puzzled and worried stare before reluctantly complying. Owen, too, gave David a long glance before following his young charge out of the living room and up the stairs.

Fox would normally have gone upstairs as well to join in the unpacking and settling in, but she had stayed behind this time, her face troubled as she looked at her husband. David turned to her and said, "Fox, I need to speak to Lydia alone for a few minutes." She hesitated, but when he repeated firmly, "Alone," she reluctantly nodded and walked out of the room, while David gestured for Lydia to follow him into the kitchen.

As soon as the kitchen door was shut and the sound of footsteps on the stairs had faded away, David turned to Lydia and said flatly, with no trace of emotion in his voice but something terrible now blazing in his eyes, "Titania."

Lydia sighed, and nodded. Then her form shifted and wavered, like being seen through rippling waters, greenish waters that, when they settled, revealed the form of Titania, the Queen of Air and Darkness. "Go ahead; ask me." Her voice was quiet, resigned; she knew what he would ask.

"Why didn't you save him?" David's voice was still controlled, low and emotionless. "Petros Xanatos was your key to spending time with Fox and Alex, as their stepmother-in-law and grandmother. Why did you let him die?" as on the last few words, his voice cracked to let the anguish, grief and rage seep in.

"David, I tried to save him!" Titania cried, with what seemed to be real tears glistening in her eyes. "As soon as the monitor spell alerted me that something was wrong, I teleported in as a dolphin, and got close enough to sense what had happened. But I was too late to stop the stroke, and the damage was so great that even if I'd kept his heart beating with pure Fey energy, I couldn't have restored his mind; too much of it was already gone! I would not keep anyone in a living death like that, so I let his heart stop when it willed." She actually ground her fists in her eyes as she moaned, "I thought of everything else; why didn't I think of strokes!"

Her last statement made David look at her curiously, in spite of his pain. "What do you mean, you thought of everything else?"

Titania sighed as she took her hands from her eyes. "David, I had your father enchanted for protection, as the saying goes, six ways from Sunday. I couldn't enchant him personally without his knowing it, or Puck feeling the change in him when we visited, but I wove dormant spells into all his undershirts that would activate to keep his heart beating if it ever faltered. I wove spells of protection from drowning and hypothermia into every article of clothing he wore for fishing, and I converted the inner linings of his favorite cap and pea-coat into silksteel, that could withstand a blow of any force from anything except cold iron."

David blinked at her in stunned silence as she continued, "I reinforced the hull and sail of every vessel in his fleet, and even put what spells of enhanced performance that I could on the engines, so that, if necessary, he could outrun any natural storm that came up. Then I put a monitor spell into the waterproof wristwatch I gave him, to alert me instantly if he was in distress of any sort." She actually chuckled slightly, a hiccupy chuckle that wasn't quite a sob. "I went out there in dolphin form so often, his crew even named my form 'Missus D,' for the way I would leap up to scan the deck, like a wife suspicious about her husband! I became their good-luck charm, but my luck just wasn't good enough to save Petros…" as a single tear leaked out of her left eye and spilled down her leaf-green cheek.

David stared at her, at the tear, then said slowly and hesitantly, "You really cared for him."

Titania nodded. "Yes. Not so much at first, but we grew closer after the wedding; he was always so gruff when the men were about, but when we were alone… He was very fond of ballet, did you know that? He would watch the PBS programs on TV with me… He told me stories of the places he'd been to around the world, while in the Navy during the Second World War. He exaggerated terribly sometimes, but I didn't mind… And he would talk about you, and Alex, and how proud he was of you both."

"Proud of…?"

She sniffled as she nodded before continuing, "He was more proud of you than he'd ever have told you; even when you two were estranged, he collected articles about you and the business empire you were building. But most of his stories were about when you were a boy, and working on the boat with him when you weren't in school. All the frights you gave him, when you would get into mischief and nearly get yourself or someone else on the crew killed… The first time he let you take the wheel, and how it lifted you right off your feet when the ship came about, but you hung onto it and managed to straighten the course…" She half-chuckled. "The time your mother beat him over the head with a ladle, for first having you on board during a storm that nearly sank the boat with all hands aboard, then for taking you with the crew to the tavern afterwards, and giving you--"

"A thimble's worth of whiskey," David interrupted, his own eyes tearing up again as he looked into bittersweet memories. Then his eyes focused on her again, and the Fey and mortal stared at each other in silence for a few moments. Then he said softly, "Thank you."

Titania was startled. "For…?"

"For being my father's companion, these last few years. For being there to listen to his stories, to watch ballet with him. For making these last few years better for all of us… Lydia," as he stepped forward and took her hand.

That hand wavered and shifted in color and texture, to become the peach-pink and slightly wrinkled hand of Lydia Xanatos once more. Lydia sniffled as she said almost shyly, "Then, you won't mind if I still use this form to keep in touch?"

"Fox and Alex both adore you like this. They'd be heartbroken if 'Grandma Lydia' suddenly disappeared." He glanced at the door as he said, "Speaking of which, we'd better get back to them; they're probably wondering what's going on, and Fox is probably contemplating just breaking down the kitchen door to find out."

Lydia chuckled shakily. "Patience has never been my daughter's strong suit."

They left the kitchen together, to find Fox just coming back down the stairs with a worried and determined air, probably contemplating just what they'd been half-joking about. Her worried frown softened into a sad smile when she saw how the tension between David and Lydia had been reduced. "Are you two… okay now?" she asked softly.

"As well as can be, under the circumstances," Lydia said with a tremulous smile. She held her arms out, wordlessly asking, and Fox willingly drew her into another hug.

David swallowed hard as he beheld mother and daughter embracing each other, though Fox had no idea that Lydia was more than just her step-mother-in-law. It had been so long since his own mother… Perhaps sensing his renewed grief and distress, both women simultaneously turned to him with arms out to include him in the circle as well... a circle of grief, and comfort, and love.

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T.J. arrived the next day at around noon, to find Alex sitting on the front steps of the porch, idly playing with a wooden boat; he'd created an illusion of a miniature lake a few feet off the ground, and the toy ship was magically bounding in midair on the illusory waves. "Hey, Squirt," T.J. said softly as he got out of the rented car and approached the house. "How're you holding up?"

"Hey, T.J.," Alex responded listlessly. "I'm okay, I guess…"

"Missing Grandpa Petros?" as T.J. sat down on the steps beside him.

"Yeah." Alex beckoned absent-mindedly, and the boat sailed through the air and into his hands. He studied it carefully, without really seeing it as he said softly, "He told me once this used to be Daddy's toy, when he was my age…"

"Hard to believe your dad was ever that young, isn't it?" T.J. said shrewdly.

"Yeah." Alex had seen pictures, in the photo album Grandma Lydia had pulled out earlier that morning. But the kid in those pictures didn't really look like his dad. Daddy had a neatly trimmed beard and an air of confidence, that fit him like his expensive suits; nothing like the little boy in those pictures, sometimes dressed in his Sunday best but most often looking poor and grubby in his patched and weathered work clothes, and his bare shining face alternately either wistful or defiant.

T.J. glanced over his shoulder as he asked, "Are the folks inside?"

"Mom and Grandma are. Daddy had to go downtown with Johannes, to wake up somebody for the funeral, I think."

"To wake up…? Oh, right, a wake." T.J. had heard of wakes, but never actually been to one before, only seen them in movies. The ones he'd seen in movies had always involved lots of drinking by friends and family of the deceased; drinking and semi-forced merriment as they recalled the good times they'd had with the dearly departed. But somehow that didn't fit with the straight-laced, sober, almost grim atmosphere that had pervaded Bar Harbor every time T.J. had been there before. What was a Maine wake for a Greek Orthodox fisherman like?

Four hours later, when Johannes brought David Xanatos back to the house, T.J. found out that wakes in Maine did indeed involve drinking. And that cutthroat businessman David Xanatos was indeed capable of tears, at least when he was in his cups. "Boy went three sheets to the wind faster than any wind could carry him," Johannes said wryly as he almost dumped a staggering, sobbing David into his stunned wife's arms.

"You shut up," David slurred back at Johannes as he sniffed and ungracefully wiped his nose on his sleeve. "You were the one who tol' me about my sister!" He turned to the others and tried to explain, "Dad an' Mom had a girl before they had me, a lil' angel named Anna! But she died of a fever when she was only three months old, the year before I was born… and they never told me about her! Dad never told me! An' I never knew about the heart attack he had after I left home, and he never tol' me about… He never told me so much…!"

XXXXXXXXX

The next day, David was grimly sober again, as he escorted his father's body to the crematorium. Many of the community's fishermen preferred to be simply buried at sea, and the rest were interred on land next to their loved ones. But it seemed Petros Xanatos wasn't done surprising his son, even after his death.

He rode in the hearse to the crematorium, and he acted as pallbearer to help carry the cheap coffin inside, his face set as firm as if he were handling any ordinary but tough business deal. But he found that he had to look away and bite his lip to keep from crying again, as the flesh of his father was consigned to the flames.

Afterwards, he silently received two identical urns full of ashes, and looked at them in something close to disbelief. How could the mortal remains of such a man as Petros Xanatos, a man who had cast such a long shadow in his life, fit into two small containers no bigger than mayonnaise jars?

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The next day was the memorial service, and for once the skies weren't overcast; instead, they were sunny and bright blue, as if denying that today was a sad day for the little close-knit community of Bar Harbor. As they gathered for the service, David found himself greeting even more people than he'd seen at the wake, and realizing anew how many people his father's life had touched.

Some of them, people he'd known in his youth, still called him 'Davey' to his face; to them, the fact that he was an international businessman who could buy the whole town a hundred times over meant far less than the fact that he was the son of their friend Petros Xanatos. After offering his sympathies, one old fellow even suggested to him, "It's not too late to come back up here to live, and work the seas like your father did. It's honorable work, and it'll raise your boy up right…" David could only stare at him for a few long seconds, before mumbling something about seeing what the future would hold and turning to the next mourner.

The first part of the service was conducted ashore. The Greek Orthodox priest conducting the service spoke highly of Petros Xanatos' character, his deeds and place in the community, and the glories that awaited him in the afterlife, before the first urn of ashes was buried in the town cemetery; in the same burial plot as Maria Xanatos, David's mother.

For the second half of the service, everyone came aboard the four boats that had belonged to Petros, and set sail out into Bar Harbor. Lydia stood at the prow of the small fleet's 'flagship', the Thetis, carrying the second urn of ashes. Petros had left instructions that while half of his ashes were to be buried with his wife, the second half would be scattered out upon the waves, where he'd worked all his life and indeed spent most of his waking hours.

Standing behind David as the Thetis sailed out, Owen murmured, "A most fitting funeral, in more than one way; first fire, then earth, then wind and water. The four Elements of classic Greek mythology, all being used to lay your father to rest."

Hearing that, David gave Lydia a half-sharp, half-wondering look, but said nothing.

Moments later, Alex piped up from where he was clinging tightly to Fox's hand. "Mom, Dad, look!" as he pointed off the starboard bow. "Dolphins!"

Everyone looked to where he was pointing, to see at least half a dozen dolphins converging on their boat. Standing at the helm, Johannes poked one of the other men and said with a grin, "See, what did I tell you? Missus D has come for the service, and brought an escort for us."

David looked at Lydia in wonder again, and this time she looked back at him and nodded ever so slightly. Somehow, Titania had arranged for this to happen, in one final tribute to her mortal husband.

The dolphins fell into formation around the Thetis with almost military precision, and escorted it into open waters, to the prime fishing grounds. Johannes shut off the engine as the other three boats glided into position, and the priest spoke again, words that were both a variation and continuation of what had been said ashore.

The priest finally ended the service with a solemn, "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust," as he nodded to David and Lydia. David took the lid off the urn, and stood to one side as Lydia hefted the urn in her arms, then flung its contents into the air off the starboard bow. The ashes flew out and were caught up in the breeze, and almost seemed to sparkle for a moment as the wind scattered them across the waves.

David stared at the ashes, dancing in the wind and landing softly on the waters, and finally whispered, "Goodbye, Dad."

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Alex noted with some disappointment that the dolphins scattered and left the boats as they turned around and went back to port. It had been pretty neat, seeing them there to honor his grandpa, and he wondered what they'd been saying to each other; Owen had told him once that dolphins had a language of their own but hadn't taught it to him yet.

On the way back, while still holding onto his mom with one hand, he reached for his dad with the other; he might be a whole eight years old now, but there were some times when a guy just needed some hand-holding.

His dad did more than just hold him; he turned around and swept Alex into a big hug that lifted him clear off his feet. Ordinarily he would have squirmed his way out of it; they were sort-of in public, and he wasn't a baby anymore! But just for today, he squeezed back just as tight as he could. After a few seconds, he whispered, "It was a good funeral, right?"

His father's voice was kind-of choked as he replied, "Yes, Alex; it was a good funeral."

And finally, the question that had been sitting in the back of Alex's head for the last few days squirmed its way out of his mouth before he could stop it: "Am I gonna have to do all this for you too someday?"

And now his father chuckled, the confident sort of laugh that Alex knew well. "Of course not, son! You know I fully intend to live forever… and I will."

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Fox happened to be looking at Lydia just as David laughed and spoke so reassuringly to his son; looking at Lydia while Lydia was looking at David.

Fox frowned in mild confusion. What was with that serenely knowing yet sorrowful look that Lydia was giving David just then? It almost seemed to belong to a different set of features…

THE END