Week 35: Part Two: Story Conclusion

(The epilogue is mostly for Pretender fans, but feel free to get someone to give you a brief synopsis of that show and the relevant character if you feel like reading the last piece. I've loved writing this and I loved the amazing response I got to it. There may be more coming, once I've gotten my other WIP's on the move again. Thanks for being such awesome readers. You truly are the greatest.) ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

TRIO- ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

'Nothing in any book anywhere says that we have total control over our lives. Destiny is a legitimate, logical, plausible concept for a lot of people. I'm one of them. I truly believe that things sometimes happen for a reason. It isn't always our reason, or even one we understand, but there you are. It is what it is. The people we eventually meet and fall in love with (we're talking my heart was here a minute ago, me and you forever, leave me and I'll die of a broken heart, love) are rarely the ones we would have chosen for ourselves, given a cup of coffee and a few minutes to think about it.

They're the ones we're supposed to be with, supposed to have children with, children who might not change the world the way they're destined to if they didn't receive a specific combination of genes, chromosomes and parental personality. If we always chose our own path in love, if that intangible... whoever didn't nudge us toward the right one, what a sad, desperate and painful world this would be....'

Tariv Ginck- Beings Together: The Art and Architecture of Love ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Just at that moment, Eberts strolled back into the anteroom where the other three waited. When Claire had announced she was about to administer the spinal block, his stomach had leapt into his throat and he'd beat a hasty retreat into his safe world of paper and numbers, promising to return when the procedure was over.

"Albert. Your timing is impeccable. Come hear some very good news."

"I have some of my own. An even trade?"

"Fine. You look as if you're about to burst so I'll go second. What is it?"

"My plan went off without a hitch. Your little girl will be perfectly safe from the Official, gentlemen. He won't dare lay a finger on her and he won't be recruiting anyone else to do it either. Not if he knows what's good for him."

Though the medication was finally beginning to make him drowsy, Darien forced his eyelids open and managed a tired smile for Eberts.

"You're incredible, man.... thanks isn't half enough...."

"Please. My actions weren't entirely altruistic. I did get a perk or two for myself out of the scheme. So let's hear your good news, Claire. You look as if you're chomping at the bit, yourself."

"Arnaud's notes were the key I've been waiting for all these years. I administered the serum this morning and it worked! The defect in the gland has been repaired. Darien is finally free."

"Oh.... oh my. This is an exceptional day.... Darien? Is he alright, doctor?"

"He's just dozing. For him it's been a stressful, exhausting day. If he can sleep then his pain is sufficiently damped to perform the C-section I think. You can wait here if you like, Albert. Bobby, you go wait for me in the scrub room, alright?"

"No way. I said I wouldn't leave him alone..."

"As did I. I don't feel right breaking that promise...."

"Okay, okay." Claire chuckled, amused by their overprotectiveness. "Both of you go to the scrubroom. Show him where everything is, Bobby, would you? I'll be there as soon as I can to get you both washed up." ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

"Bobby..... Bobby, hold still or I'll never get this mask tied."

"Hey, don't be bustin' my chops here, Claire. I got a right to be nervous. This is my kid about to be born!"

"I was aware of that, actually." she laughed gently. "Okay. Over here, both of you. Do exactly as I do, alright?"

Swiftly, Claire led the men through the procedure for sterilizing their hands and arms. "Okay, hands up and away from the body. Back through the doors and don't touch anything or you'll have to start all over again. Good."

In just a few minutes, all three were gloved and had taken their positions; Bobby and Eberts on either side of Darien, Claire on the far side of the cloth screen that had been erected to keep mother and cheering section from seeing anything they might wish to avoid.

Darien was slipping in and out of a mildly drowsy state, only half aware of what was happening around him. He kept trying to apologize to Bobby for his harsh words, Hobbes kept trying to quiet him. Neither was having much success until Eberts intervened.

"I'm really sorry.... I didn't mean any of it.... you gotta know that... I was hurtin' so bad.... I'm so sorry, Bobby..."

"I know, Fawkes, I know. Take it easy and don't try an' talk, okay?"

"Don't do that, Bobby.... I really, really am sorry.... Tell me you understand that..."

"I do, I understand. Relax, partner. Just calm down."

"Darien. Look at me. That's it. Close your eyes, Darien."

"I can't.... what if..."

"All the what if's don't matter. Robert and I are right here with you, holding your hands. Claire is taking care of you and the baby. It's safe to close your eyes and drift away for a while if you want to. Go find someplace quiet and peaceful. When you come back your daughter will be in your arms. You're safe, Darien. Safe... go on. Close your eyes. That's right. Good."

Bobby mouthed a silent thank you across the table. Eberts blushed and grinned softly.

For a brief time, Darien floated contentedly in a peaceful fantasy, marginally aware of the pressure of his friend's hands, gliding along on a river and watching remnant memories from the pregnancy move by him. As he passed, he pulled the joyful, intensely loving images and words to his chest and held them close. The heart-rending, painful moments he shrank away from, keeping his gaze averted as they fell behind him and were forgotten.

When Claire made the initial incision and he felt the scalpel slide through his skin, his idyllic dream world fragmented and Darien was thrown back in time three years and into a vivid nightmare. Muddy images of a different room, and a very different surgical procedure, assaulted him, swirling around and becoming enmeshed with what was happening in the world outside his narcotic-weighted mind. The result was chaos, confusion and overwhelming fear.

Bobby's only warning was seeing Darien's eyes fly open and realizing that his partner was whispering 'no' over and over under his breath. Hobbes glanced at Eberts, delivering an unspoken, but clear, message and the two men put all their strength into holding Darien down just before all hell broke loose and Darien began to scream.

"No! No... I won't let you cut me open.... Noooo! Stop it...."

"Fawkes, calm down! It's okay.... you're safe... easy, buddy..."

"Make it stop.... don't let him.... I'll die.... my hands.... my whole body's numb... can't move.... can't make him stop.... I'm dying! Don't let me die.... make it stop! Don't let him...."

Bobby's first thought was to go with what Darien was saying, knowing that if he could understand what the younger man was seeing, the knowledge could be used to break the vision's power. His attempt only made Darien fight harder.

"Stop who, buddy? Tell me an' I'll do it."

"Kevin, don't! Please.... it hurts.... it hurts so bad.... make it stop.... I know I said I would.... I can't.... I'm *not* strong! You don't know.... you don't care... god, let me die... no more pain...."

"Shhh. Hey, partner. You're not dyin'. I won't let anything happen. I won't let you die. Hang on, Darien.... just hang on...." Bobby soothed. "Can you hold him on your own, Ebes? There's one thing I can try, but I need a hand free."

"I'll do my best."

"I'll take it. Darien! Darien, it's Bobby. Ease up, okay? I'm not gonna leave you. Please, buddy.... you gotta hear me, see me...."

As Bobby spoke, he began the familiar ritual of strokes across Darien's forehead, down his nose and over his cheek. Eventually, words gave way in favor of humming his mother's song. To Ebert's surprise, the touches and the soft, off-key music calmed Darien in only a matter of minutes. Though his fears still seemed to hold him captive, he no longer struggled or thrashed and his shouts subsided back to mumbles.

"Robert... that was amazing. How...."

"My mom. It was her way of gettin' me to sleep when I was really scared. Whatever works, ya know?"

"Yes. Absolutely. Whatever works, indeed..."

Suddenly, both men's attention was pulled elsewhere by an excited voice.

"Bobby! Look up! Look here, Bobby!"

Raising his eyes, Bobby was met with the one sight he'd believed he might never witness; a doctor held his child, his beautiful, howling child, in her hands. From one moment to the next, the world doubled and tripled before him as tears of joy clouded his vision and he nearly stopped breathing all together as his body tried to produce deep, racking sobs and joyful laughter at the same time. The baby was immediately placed on Darien's chest, but he was too weak and disoriented to hold her securely, so Bobby swiped at his eyes and reached out to support her. A moment later, Claire was at his side pressing scissors into his hand. "Do it just the way I showed you. Between the clamps... it may be a little difficult to cut... there. Well done."

Lifting the baby away from Darien, Claire turned, but only managed one step before Bobby halted her.

"Where do you think you're going?! Bring her back!"

"It's alright, Bobby. I'm just going to take her to the warming table to have a look at her. You're welcome to join me."

"Oh. Sorry. All this crap with the Fish, it's got me nuts..."

"I know. Come on. Let's get this little miracle cleaned up and see how she's doing, hmmm? There... that's better isn't it darling? Yes, sweetie..... let's have a listen." Claire cooed at the squirming infant as she placed a stethescope on her chest.

"Well? Is she alright?"

"She seems to be. Her heart and breathing are strong.... all toes and fingers present and accounted for. She's perfect as far as I can tell. Perfect and gorgeous."

"If she's breathin' okay, why'd she stop cryin?"

"Perhaps she doesn't feel the need anymore. You know the worst is over, don't you little one?"

Eberts stepped up to the pair just as Claire finished weighing the baby. "Six pounds and eight... no, eight and a half ounces. Very nice."

"Can I hold her now?" Bobby asked, fidgeting with the need to touch the child again, to prove to himself that the past few hours were not just a dream.

"She has to do another test or two and get her wrapped up in a warm blanket, Robert. Why don't you and I go see to Darien while we wait?"

Though his heart screamed at him not to take his eyes off Bobbi, the new father reluctantly allowed himself to be guided back to his partner's side. What he found frightened him enough to call for assistance.

"Fawkes? Hey, wake up, partner. Darien, c'mon, open those big brown eyes for me, buddy. Claire! Claire, help!"

"What's wrong, Bobby?" Claire responded, rushing over to him.

"He's out cold."

"It's alright. I expected this, Bobby. He's lost a significant amount of blood and Quicksilver, the new serum took a lot out of him.... He's used up all his energy reserves just getting to this point. He'll wake up when he's ready." she assured him, turning to receive the tightly swaddled infant from the arms of a nurse then passing the bundle on to Bobby. "Here. You watch over this precious girl while I go get her mum settled in recovery."

"What? Wait.... what do I.... I don't.... I never..... Ah, crap."

"Don't panic, Robert." Eberts reassured him. "You're doing fine. Look at her face. Perfect peace is what I'd call that. She knows you and she trusts you."

"She only trusts me 'cause she *don't* know me. Poor kid has no idea."

"Robert.... you've accepted that Darien has changed a great deal over the two years he's been partnered with you. Why can't you accept that you've undergone just as significant a change?"

"Fawkes' biggest problem was his attitude. Attitude adjustments are a matter of time and effort. My problem.... time ain't gonna solve that and it's not goin' away no matter how hard I try. What's screwed up in my head ain't gonna get fixed just 'cause I want it to be."

"When was the last time you had a serious paranoid episode?"

"It's been a while. A long while. That don't mean squat, though. It don't mean it won't...."

"No. Listen for once. Just listen. You helped Darien through almost every episode of Quicksilver madness he ever experienced. You were with him during the worst pain, the worst fear he ever knew. What makes you think he isn't willing to take his turn in supporting you? What is that phrase you two always use...."

"You never bail on your partner." Bobby replied quietly, his voice cracking as tears began to course down his face again. "It was a vow... a trust between us an' I broke it... I stomped it into the dirt.... I can't expect him to be there for me now...."

"It was bad judgement and you've been forgiven many times over for it. Don't you think it's time you forgave yourself and moved on?"

"That's what Fawkes said this mornin'.... if you always look back you can't see the good stuff that's comin'....."

"He's right. It's time to look ahead. You've got a child to raise and she's going to need both her parents focused on her, not on past mistakes that can't be changed. I have a wonderful idea. There was a rocking chair in the storage room at last inventory. I'll go see if I can find it and meet you in recovery in a few minutes."

"Yeah. Okay. Thanks, Eberts. You saved my little girl.... I'll be in debt to you for a long, long time, my friend. I'm sorry as hell for underestimatin' you all this time. I won't do it again, promise."

"It's alright, Robert. Everyone underestimates me. How else would I ever get anything accomplished?" ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ EARLY WEDNESDAY EVENING

When Bobby finally woke in the rocking chair, it was close to dinner time. As the fog of sleep lifted from him, he panicked for a moment when he found Bobbi was no longer in his arms, but Claire quickly relieved his fear.

"It's alright, Bobby. She's right here, in the isolette. Relax."

"Thank God.... I must've dozed off."

"Yes, for about seven hours." she informed him gently. "It's been a difficult day for everyone. I knew you needed the rest so when I noticed you falling asleep, I just tucked her in over here."

"She's still okay?"

"Just fine."

"Darien?"

"He's had a rough moment or two, but he's stabilized now."

"Rough? What's rough mean? Be straight with me, Claire. Is he gonna wake up?"

"Of course he will. Trust me, Bobby. Darien's in no danger..."

"Yeah? Then why the oxygen mask, huh? You're not tellin' me somethin'. I wanna hear the whole truth, right now!"

"Bobby, please calm down! The rough moments I mentioned happened to involve his breathing, but he's perfectly stable now and he has been for hours. At this point the oxygen is nothing more than a precaution, but I don't want to remove it until he regains consciousness...."

"Guess it's about time, then." A raspy voice commented from the bed beside them.

"Darien!"

"Hey, about time you woke up, partner."

"Who could stay down for the count with you two havin' the fight of the century three feet away?"

"I'm really sorry, kid, I was just so worried. Claire says you're doin' great, though..."

"The baby! Where is she? Is she okay?"

"Absolutely perfect, Darien. Here she is. Here's your little girl." Claire said, gathering Bobbi into her arms.

"You checked her out? You're sure there's nothing wrong?"

"I did the preliminaries; heart, lungs, number of fingers and toes. She's beautiful and perfect. Bobby? Why don't you do the honors?"

"Thanks, keepie. Partner, say happy birthday to your baby girl." Bobby encouraged, carefully laying the baby in Darien's arms.

"Which reminds me, who are we saying happy birthday to? I haven't heard either of you mention a name even once during all of this."

"That's 'cause she picked her own name, right from the beginning." Bobby explained.

"What?"

"He's right. I told you she talks to me.... one of the first messages I got was what her name was gonna be."

"Strong-willed before she ever made it into the world. She's going to be a double handfull, I'm afraid. Well? What name did she choose? Is it that bad? You both look distinctly nervous."

"It's not bad.... we haven't said anything 'cause... we weren't sure how you'd feel."

"You won't know until you tell me."

"I guess.... Claire, say hello to your god-daughter... an' your namesake. This is Roberta Claire Fawkes. Bobbi with an i for short."

"You... she.... oh my. I don't know what to say.... I'm stunned beyond words.... Bobby.... Darien...."

Gazing down at Roberta Claire, Bobby grinned.

"I think she's okay with it, don't you?"

"Oh, yes! I am! More than okay! Thank you, both..."

"Thank her. Like I said, it was her decision."

Darien suddenly realized something was wrong with the name as Bobby had recited it and he quickly voiced his objection.

"That's not right."

"Huh? That's what you told me she wanted to be called. Roberta Claire..."

"Hobbes. She's supposed to have her father's last name."

"No way. Not after all you went through to get her here...."

"My body'll bounce back after some down-time. You.... you opened your heart. You took the risk and you trusted me. I know what it cost you to do that. She gets your name."

Bobby stared at his hands for a long moment before answering.

"If that's the way you want it."

"It's the way Bobbi wants it."

It took a few seconds for Hobbes to get the full meaning of Darien's statement.

"Wait a minute... you don't mean she's still doin' the brain to brain thing..."

"Clear as a bell. I'd say the next twenty-five years are gonna be one big Chinese proverb."

"Chinese... huh?"

"I know what he means." Claire interjected. "It's actually a curse in proverb's clothing. It says 'May you lead an interesting life'."

"For interesting read eternally chaotic with never a quiet moment to yourself?"

"Something like that."

"I've been living like that for the past eight months. How could life possibly get anymore "interesting" than my male partner gettin' pregnant and havin' my baby?"

"He has a point."

"Yeah, I guess he does." Darien agreed, retutning his attention to the tiny child in his arms. "Let it get crazy, right Bobbi? We've got the most incredible people in the world to see us through whatever happens. They kept me together while I was waitin' for you, you know. They kept my pieces from goin' missing when I didn't even know where the puzzle was. They're gonna be a big part of your life... just like they're part of mine. And here comes one of 'em now. Hey, Ebes. C'mon in."

"Good evening. I'm so glad to see you're awake. I was becoming quite worried. My, what a pictue you three make. Suitable for framing. She is a lovely child. Healthy, I assume. Doctor?"

As far as I can tell at the moment, yes. The more involved tests aren't on the schedule for a few weeks, but she seems to be fine."

"Thanks to Eberts, she is." Darien declared. "You really pulled it out in the bottom of the ninth. We'll be payin' you back for the rest of your life and ours."

"It was the right thing to do. I couldn't have lived with myself if I'd done any less."

"Yeah, well I can make a start on that payback. You thinkin' what I'm thinkin, Fawkes?"

"Probably. I get to ask him."

"Go for it."

"You up for bein' a Godfather, Ebes?"

"G... Godfather? You can't be serious... I mean..."

"Damn right, I'm serious. You put your ass on the line to knock the Fish outta the box and help us keep our baby. You've earned the privelege. Say yes."

"I... I suppose.... Yes. Of course I accept. I'd be honored."

"Good. You hear that, Bobbi girl? You got an amazing daddy an' a set of top- of-the-line Godparents. What more could any kid ask for, hmm?"

"Bobby? I assumed... the child is a girl, correct?"

"All girl." Bobby responded. "It's Bobbi with an i. Roberta Claire Hobbes."

"Claire? How marvelous for you. Congratulations, doctor."

As Eberts moved forward to embrace Claire, he accidentally knocked against a table and sent a metal tray clattering to the floor. A sudden chorus of gasps and oaths from the other side of the room drew the pair's attention away from the mess. When they discovered, only a few seconds behind her parents, that Bobbi was indeed the proud owner of her own Quicksilver gland, the room overflowed with stunned silence for several seconds. The shocked reticence was broken by Claire.

"Well, that's one test I can cross off my list. It seems yours will be an interesting life indeed, boys. *Very* interesting."

Stepping closer to the bed, Bobby gazed lovingly down at his daughter then turned the look on Darien.

"We can handle interesting. Right, partner?"

"Oh yeah. Not a problem." ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ THURSDAY MORNING

"Quit bein' a wuss, Fawkes. Claire said she wanted you up an' walkin as soon as possible, so I got rid of the wheelchair."

"You're being.... a creep. She didn't say she wanted me.... luggin' stuff around that you... could've carried yourself." Darien spat back, grimacing as residual pain from the surgery made its presence known. When Bobby saw this he immediately felt guilty and rushed to relieve Darien of the burden; a portable stereo and a small bag containing tapes, CD's and various other items he'd thought might keep his partner from getting bored over the next two days.

"You really in that much pain, still? I can get Claire to up your meds...."

"No. No way. All they do is make me sleep. I wanna spend time holdin' Bobbi, not showin' her how bad I snore."

Finally making it back to the bed, Darien leaned on the footrail for a moment, catching his breath and watching Bobby set up the music system and pop in a tape.

"Is that the one you've been makin' for me all these months?"

"Nah. Same brand though. This one is for Bobbi.... an' you too, I guess. Mostly for her. I couldn't sleep without you there last night.... so I stayed up with the radio and Claire's big stereo back at the house.... I made some requests, took a couple songs from CD.... I didn't get everything I wanted till three-thirty."

"I never knew you were so into music. You never really talked about yourself that much, about likes an' dislikes, what you were into."

"Nobody ever wanted to hear it before. I did my job, went home, slept bad, got up an' did it all again the next day. I didn't care anymore so I didn't figure anybody else would. You.... you were different. It almost took me too damn long to see it.... anyway, you feel like hearin' this now? If you're wiped out, it's okay..."

"I'm terrific. Play it."

Bobby pushed the play button and strolled away from Darien and the machine. Despite how much the other man had opened him up and made emotion easier for him, Bobby still wasn't competely comfortable with his own tears. Recording the first piece on the tape had taken him two hours all by itself, though it only lasted six minutes. He had had to keep going back and starting again every time his voice broke or he began to cry, which was every few minutes.

He realized that nothing he could have done would have kept the listener from clearly hearing how much of his heart had gone into the words he'd written, and in truth, as long as the the listener was Darien Fawkes, he wanted his feelings to come through. Bobby was desperate for Darien to know and understand all he hadn't yet found the courage to say while they were standing in the same room and as his words poured from the small speakers, he prayed they would be enough.

# Welcome to the world, Roberta Claire Hobbes. It's your dad. I know you won't understand this right now, but later.... I hope I'm around when you're older an' I can watch you listen to this and see how you react. I might not be, your mom might not be, but trust me you've got the greatest Godparents in the world, an' they'll take care of you. Treat Claire an' Eberts like gold, kiddo, 'cause they're worth their weight in it.

I've heard people talk about moments that, when you go back an' remember, they're like snapshots in your head. Those moments that never leave you, that turn your life around 180° and send you shootin' off in a direction you never expected. Your old dad's one of the luckiest guys in the world, baby girl, 'cause I've had three of those moments; the day I first met your mom, the day I found out he was carryin' you an' today when you were born. I'm still reelin' from that. I just watched my child, my sweet little Bobbi, be born. I never dared to think I'd ever have a kid. Wasn't sure God wrote it in my script, but you're here. Through hell an' high water an' a lot of pain on your mom's part, you're here. Your mom... boy is he a story. A really, really long one. I'll try to just hit the highlights an' the happy endin'.

Your mom is.... geez, what is he, exactly? That's too long a list to get into right now. I'd need another tape. What matters is, he's everything to me. He made me believe in myself again. When he an' I met, the world thought I was washed up an' so did I, but he showed me the truth. He taught me how to spit on what the world thought about me. He gave me back my confidence, my strength an' my self-esteem. If I'm worth a plug nickel to anybody today, it's because a'him.

I do love him, Bobbi. No matter how much we fight, or what we might say. I couldn't stop lovin' him now, even if I wanted to, which I don't. I'm pretty sure he still loves me too, though Lord knows why. I've done enough stupid stuff to make a saint break camp an' hop a flight for the Bahamas, but he never turned his back on me. Not for long, anyhow. By the way; he'll tell you I saved him too, but don't you believe a word of it. He's the strong one. He changed his life all on his own. I just gave him a solid pivot point an' a place to go when he'd turned himself around. That's all.

Your parents had it rough growin' up, baby. My biggest hope is that we can make it better for you. Your mom an' I both love you to the stars an' back, Bobbi. As long as you know that, you'll always be okay. The songs I put on here are for you..... to tell you how I feel. Your mom's a master at pullin' me outta my shell, but I'm not all the way out yet, so it's kinda hard for me to just... say it. These guys do it better. Happy birthday, Bobbi Claire. Hope you like your present.#

'Good mornin', beautiful. How was your night? Mine was wonderful with you by my side. When I open my eyes to see your sweet face, It's a good mornin', beautiful day.

I couldn't see the light, I didn't know day from night. I had no reason to care. Since you came along, I can face the dawn 'Cause I know you'll be there.

Good mornin', beautiful. How was your night...'

As the first song faded into the second, Bobby finally turned around to seek out Darien, unable to stand not knowing any longer. He found the other man seated on the bed, cradling Bobbi over his shoulder and slowly rocking her forward and back, his tears soaking her one-piece jumper. Moving to the other side where there was empty space, Hobbes sat down beside him and circled his partner's waist with one arm.

"You okay, kid?"

He was rewarded with a slight nod.

"When it finishes...."

"Yeah? What?"

"Bobbi says rewind it and play it again."

"How about you?"

"I'm with her."

"Okay. You got it." ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Standing outside the room where Hobbes and Darien sat together, Alex Monroe watched the new family through the small window. Slowly, the path to redemption she'd once considered a viable option became consumed in blackness. The same dark energy, the force that had been eating away at her for months, finally claimed her. Her heart turned to a bright flame fed by jealousy, imagined betrayal and self-righteous fury and that flame made soft gray ash and bitter, malodorous creosote out of the contents of her soul. When the Official slid up beside her and laid a comforting hand on her shoulder, she allowed it to remain, even welcomed it.

"You don't need to be here. You're only torturing yourself. Put them out of your mind for now. We have far more important things to focus on. Let's go."

When he turned away, guiding hand still on her shoulder, she moved with him willingly, hoping against hope that anything and everything he had in mind would feed the developing black hole within her and complete the brutal execution of whatever pieces of her conscience she hadn't already allowed to be destroyed. ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

EPILOGUE:

As the doctor slowly strolled into the room, he gazed around, confused. The occupant of the chamber usually rushed out to see him, glad to have someone he trusted nearby instead of the ghouls and uncaring attendants whose attentions took up the majority of his time. When noone immediately appeared, the doctor became concerned and began to search the room. He found nothing, except, on his last frantic circuit, an object he had somehow missed up to that point; a sheet of notebook paper carefully placed on the table that sat in the center of the large open space. Just seeing the paper made his heart sink and his stomach knot. He knew it could mean nothing good, not in a place such as this. Despite his fear and misgivings, he walked to the table and retrieved the paper and found it not so terrible as he'd thought.

#Dearest Sydney,

You'll know who this is from, I think, so I won't bother telling you at the outset. If you can't guess you aren't as smart as I thought you were, but just in case I'll sign all my names, real and false, at the close of this letter.

Several weeks back, I heard you discussing with a colleague the anticipated arrival of an "orphaned" baby girl and decided to look into the situation myself. What I found apalled me. No child brought here has been abandoned, orphaned or surrendered. I have to believe you know that now, Sydney, even if you didn't always. Her case is no different. After discovering where she would be coming from, I began communications with someone on that end and enlisted his help. I provided him... useful information that would make life extremely difficult for the man who set this in motion if it ever got out. I also arranged for a few messages to be sabotaged and altered on my end, and together we have assured that she will not fall into the hands of this wicked, monstrous place, a place that has spawned so many broken, lost adults from innocent babies.

As you must realize by now, I am much more than any of you here believe I am. That has been a deliberate deception on my part.The treatments you provided me so long ago worked beyond even your considerable expectations and they continue to do so. The final shot was never necessary, I'm sure you'll be relieved to know. The formula has stayed in my system performing its wondrous and magical transformations. I think you've suspected this for quite a while, but if so, it's because you were always the only one to see me as a human and not a tool.

You'd be so proud of me, my friend. I've read every book you ever brought me and I often sneak to the library to obtain more.You restored my mind to me, Sydney. I am almost whole again. Almost. None of us who've been touched by the darkness here, Jarod, Parker, you, can ever be whole again. They've stolen something from us, something precious and irreplaceable that will always stay here, even after we leave.

Which brings me to my point. I have to go, Sydney. As dear as you've been to me and as grateful as I am to you for my mind, I can't be aware of what this place truly is and remain in it. Jarod chose his breaking point, his time to re-enter the world. I've chosen mine. In fact, if you're reading this. I'm already gone. I've made plans to meet with Jarod. He'll see me safely to a new home.... and a new life. Good-bye my savior, my friend. Assure Parker that I'll be alright. If you'd pass this on to her, I'd appreciate it. On the condition that she keep it to herself, of course.

No. On second thought, I'll be safe by the time she sees it, so she can tell anyone she damn well pleases.

My love to Broots, Miss Parker and to you,

Angelo/Timothy/William Aidan Bradley

END EPILOGUE

END STORY

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