"I heard the old, old men say,
'Everything alters,
And one by one we drop away.'
They had hands like claws, and their knees
Were twisted like the old thorn trees
By the waters.

'All that's beautiful drifts away
Like the waters.''
-- W.B. Yeats

-x-

Her name was Iris, and she was a beautiful baby girl.

Or she would have been, had her small, delicate body not been fraught with sickness. She tossed and turned in her crib, occasionally coughing or sneezing pitifully, her sweet, chubby little face flushed with fever. Her usually vibrant green eyes were watery and muddled, clouded by the glassy pall of illness.

"I know we should have called you sooner," Jill said, wringing her hands worriedly. Her brown hair was a mess and there were dark circles under her eyes, a testimony to the very few hours of sleep she had been getting as of late. "But Vesta's home remedies have never failed us before…" She exchanged a frightened glance with her husband, Marlin.

"It's perfectly understandable," Trent said, straightening up and hanging his stethoscope from his neck once more. "It's only a cold, after all. A severe cold, maybe, but a cold nonetheless."

"But she's had this cold for more than a week now," Jill said, still fretful. "Is that normal?"

"Quite. Infants' immune systems are very weak, and they often have trouble fending off the cold virus." Trent rummaged through his bag and withdrew a small bottle, which he then handed to Jill. "Here are some saline drops you can use to clear the congestion in her nose. Otherwise, simply give her plenty of liquids and keep the air in the room fairly moist. You do have a humidifier, don't you?" The brunette woman nodded eagerly. "Well then, I'm sure Iris will recover from her cold soon enough. Don't worry."

Both Jill and Marlin breathed a sigh of relief. The young woman bent over the crib and stroked Iris's flushed cheek lovingly. "You'll be alright," she whispered. "Don't cry."

Marlin turned towards Trent. "Thank you," he said, dark eyes even more intense than usual. He held out a strong, weatherworn hand and Trent shook it, trying not to wince at the vice-like grip.

"It's no trouble, really. Just make sure to call me if her condition seems to be worsening in any way."

Marlin nodded gravely as he walked Trent to the door. "Sorry to make you pay a house call so late, Doctor. It's just that Jill and I are so busy with the farm during the day…"

Trent proffered up a small, tired smile. "No, no, it's really not a problem. I'm actually quite a night owl."

Suddenly, a sharp, barking cough echoed through the room, followed by a strange, hollow wheezing that made them all shudder. Trent turned back to see Jill peering down at Iris with obvious alarm. She glanced up, and her anxious brown eyes found Trent's, seeking reassurance that this deathly sound was nothing to worry about…

There was something about that cough that had sounded sickeningly familiar. He had heard something like it years before, when he was but a fresh-faced medical student learning the basics of diagnosis. But it couldn't be. He had never encountered a case of that in all his years of work in Mineral Town and Forget-Me-Not.

Iris coughed again, her fragile chest heaving from the effort, but this cough sounded normal. Trent realized that he had been holding his breath, and he exhaled loudly.

"Don't worry," he said to Iris's concerned parents, trying to convince himself that it was just a cold, just a cold, just a cold… "She'll be fine soon enough. Good night to you both."

With doubt nagging at the back of his mind, Trent shouldered his bag and stepped out into the night.

-x-

He had lied. He wasn't a 'night owl' at all. In fact, Trent usually made it a rule to be asleep promptly by ten every evening, if not earlier. But he was always willing to go the extra mile for his patients, even if that meant rousing himself from peaceful slumber at midnight to make a house call. After all, the wellbeing of those around him was far more important that a good night's rest.

Trent ran a hand through his dark hair, yawning as he trudged wearily back to Hardy's. The Valley was quiet at this time of night, when shadows drenched the soil and the moon shone with a halo of light amongst the smoky purple clouds. Cool wind swept past, rustling the leaves of the trees: gloomy sentinels of wood and foliage that arched their branches against the darkened sky. The villagers had all retired to their beds, and their houses loomed like the skulls of dead men, with unlit windows like empty, unseeing eye sockets. Except… Trent stopped and gazed up the path towards Romana's villa, which, in glaring defiance against the darkness, was aflame with blinding light. He frowned, blinking in surprise at the brightness, and absently wondered if Romana was hosting a party of some sort.

But then came a shout, reverberating through the stillness of the night.

"Stop! Thief!"

The shout had come from the direction of the villa. Trent's dark eyes widened in astonishment. A thief? In Forget-Me-Not? Struck by a sort of dark fascination, he stared transfixed at the brilliantly lit mansion, listening to the commotion and chaos escalating in volume from within. Muffled shouting could be heard, followed by loud banging and even a shrill scream.

As Trent watched, a lone figure appeared suddenly at the villa's open gate, materializing out of thin air. The figure strolled leisurely down the path towards him with an effortless grace, a ghost silhouetted by the shining illumination of the mansion. Its movements were languid and dangerous, like a snake coiling to strike, but also flowing and gentle like water, and Trent stood hypnotized as the figure drew closer still. It came closer, and closer, until its features were visible in the pale moonlight…

Trent found himself gazing upon an angel.

He was beautiful, with sharp, elegant features, high cheek bones, and a body as lithe as a cat's. His skin was gossamer white, porcelain and luminous against the shadows of midnight, without a trace of imperfection. His captivating green eyes regarded Trent with cool amusement from under a shock of long quicksilver hair, and around his nimble fingers there twirled a bracelet of gleaming jewels and jade.

'He must be the thief,' Trent's mind was telling him. 'He's a criminal. Don't let him get away!'

But his body would not cooperate. He was struck motionless by the ethereal beauty of this man, unable to do anything but stare.

The doctor and the thief stood regarding each other for what felt like eternity, hypnotic green gazing deep into wary black… And then the silver-haired phantom smiled, lips curling into a devious smirk that sent shivers down Trent's spine.

"The good doctor…" he murmured, with a roguish edge to his smooth, lilting voice. "How lovely to finally meet you. I don't believe we've ever been introduced, have we?"

"… Wh-who are you?" Trent demanded, cautious but curious all the same.

"I," the man declared with a grandiose, sweeping hand gesture, "am the notorious Phantom Skye. Thief of gems, trinkets, valuables, and hearts alike. I take it you've heard of me?"

He had. The name 'Phantom Skye' was often whispered fearfully amongst the Valley's inhabitants, though no one seemed to know much about the fatally charming thief. Trent had assumed that he was but a myth, a story invented to explain missing crops and knick-knacks… But here he was in the flesh, smiling a smile full of secrets, displaying his latest conquest with pride.

He was real, all right. And Goddess, he was lovely.

"He went this way!" someone shouted from farther up the path, and the hazy beams of flashlights pierced the sky as the pursuing party prepared for the hunt. Skye glanced back over his shoulder, then sighed and shook his head in disgust.

"Incompetent fools," he muttered. "They'll never catch me." He strode briskly towards Trent, who took a small, cautious step backwards. The Phantom brushed past him, all quick movements and blurred edges, whispering as he did so. "Well met, Doctor. If you think of it, point them in the wrong direction, would you?"

And then he was gone, as if he had pulled the cloak of night about his shoulders.

Trent stood dumbfounded, staring at the spot where Skye had been just moments earlier. 'What in hell's name just happened?' he wondered.

The sound of running feet woke him from his trance, and he glanced up to see a small group approaching, flashlights swinging wildly to and fro.

"Doctor Trent!" a girl's voice called, and as the group neared he saw that it was Lumina. She looked panicked – her usual poise was gone, replaced by worry and desperation. She was followed by Romana's butler Sebastian, as well as two police officers and man enshrouded by a long trenchcoat.

"Doctor, did the Phantom Thief come this way?" Lumina asked. Her eyes darted from shadow to shadow, seeking the man who had stolen her most precious family heirloom.

If you think of it, point them in the wrong direction, would you?

"… Yes, I saw him," Trent said quietly. "He went in that direction." The doctor raised a shaky finger and pointed in the direction that Skye had vanished.

"Thank you!" the girl called, and then she was off running again, determined to catch the lethally alluring Phantom Skye. A small voice in the back of Trent's mind told him that she would not.

The man in the trenchcoat tipped his battered fedora respectfully, and the rest of the group followed after Lumina.

Trent returned to Hardy's in a daze, wondering if perhaps he was still asleep and dreaming.

-x-

The Doctor wasn't muttering to himself, which Elli took to be a very bad sign indeed.

He had been abnormally quiet since his weekly return from Forget-Me-Not, which made Elli wonder if perhaps something had happened… Perhaps someone in the Valley had suffered a terrible accident? No, Elli thought. If something unsettling had occurred, he would have told her straightaway. He wasn't the type to withhold important details from his trusted nurse.

But in that case, the question still remained: What was weighing so heavily on his mind?

Elli had known the Doctor for quite a few years, and loved him for just as many. She often thought that she knew him better than he knew himself. She could tell when something was wrong by subtle differences in his voice, his habits, his eyes…

Yes, Elli knew the Doctor well. Too well.

'In a day or so,' she thought, 'he'll have it all sorted out.' And then she nodded and forced a smile, just like she did every single day.

He was staring absentmindedly into the distance, fingers entwined in an elegant steeple, when she entered his office. Even after all this time, she couldn't help but be awestruck by him – his composure, his intensity, his casual, gentle detachment. Elli had fancied herself the luckiest girl in the world when he had accepted her affections.

But now, although her love still burned passionately within the depths of her heart, sometimes she wondered if she was all that lucky after all.

"Trent," she said quietly, trying not to startle him. "I'm heading home now."

He lifted his dark eyes slowly, expression hardly wavering, and nodded. "Alright, then. Good night, Elli."

There was a distance – a preoccupation – to his tone of voice that disturbed her. Medical issues rarely occupied his mind for so many days on end… It had to be something else. But what? Elli found herself biting her lip worriedly, a nervous habit that she had been trying to break.

"Trent, you should think of turning in for the night. The train for Forget-Me-Not leaves earlier than usual tomorrow morning."

"… You don't say?" was his mumbled response. His eyes were once again fixated on nothing in particular, and she could almost see the well-oiled cogs of his mind turning.

Silence fell. It was deafening.

Elli's gaze darkened, and she left the Clinic without a backwards glance.

-x-

A/N: Before you read any further, let me warn you… This is not your usually fluff-fest of a HM fic. It's M-rated for quite a few reasons: cursing, blood, violence, death, mature themes, sexual situations (maybe), etc. etc. It is also a slashfic. In other words, two guys in a vaguely romantic/sexual/whatever you want to call it relationship. Don't like? Don't read. This is your first and last warning.

Now that that's out of the way… Thanks for reading thus far. I'm so glad to be posting this story finally. It's my baby. :3

~ Zel