by Tanya Reed
Okay, so this is one of my short "slice of life" stories. Anyone who's read my writing knows that I write them a lot. This story has been in my head for awhile, but I'm not sure if it came out right or not. I really hope I hit the mark, and I really hope that you like it. And I hope it's not too sappy. Please be gentle. :)
This one's for Aryea, Merrybeans, katia1, and kiwi6226. You gals are great!
Disclaimer: I do not own Relic Hunter or any of its characters. This story is just for fun. I am not making any profit from this story, and I make no claim on anything any of the creators have...um...created. I own only this storyline and Megan.
Claudia lay in the darkness listening to the soft, even breathing of her husband as he slept. She smiled fondly at the sound, letting the comfort of it slowly fill her body.
She was happy. For years, Claudia had chased happiness, thinking it was clothes and handsome, dangerous men—and the more of both of them, the better. Then, one day, while visiting Sydney and Nigel, she had met Preston, and her whole view had changed. He was handsome, yes, and a little older than most of the men she dated—and occasionally married—but there was something about his charm and stability that had caught her and held her fast.
Claudia sat up and kissed his forehead, causing Preston to mumble, but he didn't wake. She waited a moment to see if he would, then silently slipped from the bed. Though she was enjoying the feeling of just lying beside her husband, she was restless. She had been trying to sleep for over an hour, but it had been stubbornly eluding her.
The house around her was still and dark as she made her way down the hallway to the kitchen. There, she turned on the light and considered preparing a late night snack. She also considered heating some milk because she remembered it as being soothing when she was a child.
She had almost made up her mind on the milk when a tug on her pajama sleeve made her jump. As she looked down, she let out a little squeak, but it turned to a relieved sigh as she saw a child's face with dark eyes looking up at her.
As usual, just the sight of her niece melted Claudia, and a smile immediately came to her face. "What is it, honeybun?"
"I can't sleep."
Claudia knelt and put a hand on Megan's forehead. "Don't you feel well?"
The child's voice was wistful as she said, "I miss my mom and dad."
"You do, huh?"
Claudia picked up Megan and cuddled the girl to her chest. At four, she was small for her age, and even Claudia's diminutive frame engulfed her. Tiny arms wrapped around Claudia and gave a squeeze. For not the first time, Claudia found herself envying Sydney and Nigel. Megan was a bright, loving child, whose charm was not diminished by her stubborn streak or her unchildlike obsession with facts.
Usually, the little girl took her parents' relic hunts in stride because they'd been going hunting her whole life, but sometimes, like any child, she just wanted her Mommy and Daddy. Sydney and Nigel loved Megan fiercely, showering her with affection when they were home and keeping steady contact when they were on a hunt. Claudia had been given permission to call them any time, day or night, for any reason.
Claudia carried Megan to the wooden rocking chair she'd bought when her niece was just a baby and took the crocheted afghan off the back to wrap around the both of them. She'd found the chair in a quaint antiques shop, and it had reminded her of quiet evenings sitting with her grandmother. Wanting Megan to have the same kind of memories, Claudia had impulsively bought it, and they had spent many hours cuddled in it together.
As they sat, Megan snuggled against her and asked, "Where are they, Aunt Claudia?"
Claudia rocked gently and stroked the back of her niece's head. "Your mom said they were going to Cairo. Do you know where Cairo is, Megan?"
She wasn't surprised at Megan's answer because Sydney had one wall of her daughter's room painted with a map. Whenever she and Nigel went away, they came back with stories and presents, showing Megan on the map where they'd been. Megan loved it.
"It's in Egypt."
"Do you think there are mummies where they are?"
Claudia brushed dark, silky hair from Megan's forehead. "Are you afraid of mummies?"
"Daddy says that mummies are people who lived thousands of years ago. Kings were made into mummies and buried with lots of treasure."
Not knowing if this was a yes or a no, Claudia went with a neutral, "I'm not sure, but your daddy will tell you all about it when they get home."
"Can we call them?"
There was a phone Claudia kept on the windowsill by the rocking chair just for this purpose. "Sure we can. Do you want to dial?"
"Faster, Nigel," Sydney commented as they ran through narrow, crowded streets.
He didn't answer because he was too busy running and gasping for breath. Even after all of their time hunting together, sometimes a good chase left him winded.
Sydney felt exhilarated. The thrill of running with wild abandon from rivals who could catch and kill them thundered through her blood with the beating of her heart. Behind them, she could hear shouts and curses as their pursuers hurriedly pushed their way closer.
Quickly, she ducked into an alley, pulling Nigel with her. Nearby was a pile of trash, and it only took her a moment to decide that this was as good a hiding place as they were going to get. She squeezed Nigel's shoulder and pointed, so he nodded.
They scrambled to the heap and settled down behind it, curled up against each other, trying to make their bodies as small as possible. Despite the circumstances, Sydney couldn't resist throwing her husband a mischievous grin and wiggling her eyebrows suggestively. In answer, he playfully pinched the bridge of her nose before kissing her cheek. Her grin widened, and she hugged him more tightly.
The two of them stiffened as they heard their pursuers approach their hiding place. The footsteps rushed by the mouth of the alley without even hesitating. Sydney felt Nigel sigh in relief against her. She patted his chest in sympathy and felt a vibration at her hip in answer.
Her eyes must have widened in surprise because he quietly asked, "What?
"Phone." She had learned a long time before that it was often better to carry her phone in her pocket on vibrate than in her satchel with ringtones.
Sydney dug out her phone and looked at the smiling face identifying the caller. She shook her head. "Claudia."
Nigel shot her a look of concern, so she once more patted his chest reassuringly.
"Hi, Mommy!" The voice was definitely not Claudia's.
"Hey, Peanut! What's up?"
"I can't sleep."
Sydney frowned. "What's wrong?"
"I miss you." Her voice trembled slightly, almost breaking Sydney's heart.
"We miss you too."
"Is Daddy with you?"
She winked at Nigel, asking, "Isn't he always?"
This caused a little giggle. "What are you doing?"
Sydney ignored Nigel's sticking out of his tongue as she bit her lip, wondering how to tell Megan the truth without really letting her know what was going on. After a moment, she said, "We found the dagger, and now we're heading to the hotel with it."
"You're coming home?"
The joy in her daughter's voice made Sydney smile. "We sure are. We should be home some time tomorrow."
"I can't wait!"
"Neither can I. You'll love the story of..." Sydney trailed off when Nigel reached for the phone eagerly. She batted his hand away, but said, "I think Daddy wants to talk to you. Do you want to talk to him?
"Then, I guess I'll let him."
She passed Nigel the phone, caressing his fingers slightly as their hands met. Nigel gave her a sly wink before saying to their daughter, "Hi, Sweets. What are you doing up?"
Sydney watched Nigel's face transform when Megan answered him. His eyes lit up, and his face nearly beamed. It warmed her to see his happiness, and she knew that, despite all her relic hunts, Megan was the greatest thing she'd ever done.
"Did Aunt Claudia read to you?...Oh, well, we all get a little sad sometimes. I get very lonely for you too. Are you being good?...That's my girl...Yes, tomorrow. It's a wonderful dagger...I'll show you all the pictures I took...Yes, and I'll tell you the story too, unless you'd rather Mommy...I love you too. We'll be back as soon as we can. Remember to kiss Aunt Claudia goodnight...Okay."
He handed the phone back to Sydney, looking just a little misty-eyed.
"Yes, I'm here."
"Will you sing to me?"
As a child, Sydney had once been told that she had a horrible singing voice, and had immediately stopped singing when other people were around. It had been years before she would sing in front of Nigel and, even then, she was very self-conscious, despite the fact that he said he thought she sounded sweet. It was different with Megan. The child loved to be sang to, and the voice she loved most was her mother's. Because of this, Sydney often put pride aside and sang to her daughter whenever Megan requested it.
"Sure, Peanut. What would you like to hear?"
"The lullaby song."
It should have seemed strange, lying cuddled up to her husband in a dirty alley behind some garbage, singing to Megan, who was halfway around the world, but it didn't. It felt right. In fact, it was a rare moment of complete happiness, and Sydney was sure, no matter how bad her voice sounded, the happiness was reflected within it.
As she finished, a soft, sleepy voice said, "Thank you."
"You're welcome. I love you. Go to sleep for Aunt Claudia."
"I love you too, Mommy. See you tomorrow."
Sydney felt suddenly bereft as she turned off the phone and stuck it back in her pocket. She wordlessly looked at Nigel, who gave her a little squeeze and kissed the tip of her nose. She grinned at him and playfully pushed him away.
"We'd better get out of here before..."
A shout from the mouth of the alley silenced her and she went still. "You check down here. They must have gone somewhere! People don't just disappear."
Sydney tensed and felt Nigel tense as well. Preparing herself for the fight to come, she whispered, "Here we go again."
Claudia took the phone from sleepy fingers and put it on the windowsill. With a sigh, Megan settled more comfortably against her. Knowing the child was close to sleep, Claudia just continued slowly rocking the chair.
Peace and silence settled around her. She felt her own lids start to droop. The only thing that stopped her from falling asleep was the knowledge that she'd be really sore in the morning from sleeping in the chair.
As gently as she could, Claudia rose and made her way towards Megan's room. She paused outside the door, studying it in the night light's glow. The room had been decorated painstakingly for the one person she loved more than anyone else in the world. It was actually scary to love someone that much. She had spent her whole life thinking that she disliked children, and now she was coming very close to making a crucial decision, one that would change her life. Megan had shown her that change could sometimes be very, very good.
Claudia crossed the room to the bed. Cats grinned at her from every surface, including the wallpaper and the bedspread. Megan loved cats, and her favorite one—a huge and battered black toy one named Mafdet—dominated the bed.
Megan woke slightly as Claudia eased her between the sheets. She mumbled something, so Claudia soothingly said, "It's all right. Go back to sleep, Meggie."
"G'night. Love you."
"I love you too." She bent and kissed her niece's forehead. "Sleep well."
She tucked the covers around Megan and stood up to leave the room. Her decision had been made in the moment. All that was left was to tell Preston.