Heritage

Dragonlots aka Dana Bell

Thunder rolled over Zack reminding him of the old fashioned pins being knocked over by a bowling ball. He grimaced at the familiar sound as he paused before the double oak doors. Nervously he bit his lip before raising his hand to knock. The sound echoed like he remembered.

Soft rain began to fall getting his uniform and curly brown hair damp. Luckily, since it seemed like an eternity before the front door opened, his lone bag wasn't too heavy. He tried to smile at the woman in the black dress who finally answered.

"Hi, I'm Zack Allan. I grew up here," he explained to her frowning prune face.

"I know who ye are," she snapped back. She made no move to allow him to enter.

"The master of the house sent for me." He had no idea if she was going to let him in or not.

She snorted and grudgingly moved aside. Zack slid past her and glanced around. It amazed him the various masters and mistresses of Collinwood had never updated the windows or doors of the great house. They're preserved it just like it had been built back in the late1700s.

"I'll tell 'em yer here." She skittered past the long table in the entryway and disappeared through a door under the stairway.

"You do that." He put his bag down and gazed at the almost life sized portrait which had hung there for as long as the family remembered. The man had a regal face, with dark brown hair and piercing eyes. He had on an old fashioned black cloak and held a silver wolf head cane.

"Zack?" He glanced up as his cousin Prudence hurried down the carpeted stairs and threw her arms around him. Her dark blue dress fluttered as she moved. "Oh, welcome home!"

He returned the embrace. "Hi, Pru." No one called her by her full name except their distant British cousin, Barnabas.

"I take it the old crow deigned to let you in." She pulled back and flashed him a smile.

Gently he pulled a bit of dark brown hair out of her heart shaped face. "She didn't want to."

"You have a right to be here." She hooked her arm around his and dragged him into the drawing room. "We're all very proud of you." Pru turned on the light and went to the side bar. "Care for a drink?"

"No, thanks." He sat down on the red velvet couch. As a boy, he'd always been afraid of all the antiques in this room and terrified he'd break something bringing his aunt's wrath down on him.

Pru sat down on the matching settee. She took a sip of a bubbling drink. "Tonic," she told him when he threw her a questioning look. "I don't drink because of what happened to mother."

"I heard. I'm sorry."

"Crazy thing is," she put her glass on the coffee table, "she was rambling on about some dark family secret and how she had to stop the evil."

"Nothing in the family histories. I know, I read them."

"Me, too." She clicked a perfectly polished nail against her glass when she picked it up again. Her golden brown eyes met his. "It was quite a shock for Uncle Daniel to find her at the bottom of Widow's Hill."

Daniel Collins Allan, he automatically translated. His disapproving father who never had understood Zack's desire to make his destiny among the stars instead of being a proper Collins and staying put in a town where he felt stifled.

"So," Pru leaned forward, "what was Babylon Five like? Do you like it there? We hear all kinds of stories."

"Yeah, I do. I'm the head of security."

"Good for you." She glanced toward the door and then back at him. "Was there really a war out there we never heard about?"

"Yeah."

"And here Uncle backed President Clark."

Why didn't that surprise him?

"Put his businesses in a bad position when everything came out about Clark. If it hadn't been for Cousin Barnabas, the Collins would have been ruined."

"We heard Clark tried to kill all the senators."

His cousin shrugged and sat back. "So Barnabas said."

"You don't believe him."

She glanced down. "Actually, I do. That's the scary part."

In the silence following her admission, another roll of thunder tumbled over the ancient house. Zack saw a flash of lightening out the bay windows. He remembered they overlooked a small garden where he used to play hide and seek with Pru.

"The fountain still out there?" He pointed out the windows.

"It is." She took her glass to side bar before going to gaze out into the storm. Rain fell heavily, splattering against the panes. Pru rubbed her upper arms with her hands as if she was cold.

"I'm sorry I wasn't here when Aunt Laura died." He got up and stood beside his cousin. He wanted to reach out and comfort her, yet he sensed she wouldn't accept any sympathy from him. She'd always been like that.

"There was nothing you could do." She turned and went to sit on the marble bench before the stone fireplace. Dropping a couple of logs in, she lit it, and stared into the flickering yellow orange flames.

"I couldn't get away for the funeral. President Sheridan and Delenn were leaving and,"

"You don't have to explain anything to me."

"I should have been here."

"No," she replied softly. "No, you were where you were supposed to be. Don't let Uncle or anyone else ever tell you differently."

The front doors suddenly flew open. Wind whipped through causing various objects to flutter about. Zack was on his feet and moving toward the drawing room doors. He wished he had his PPG instead of having to leave it on B5.

Rain glistened on the stone floor and a dark figure pushed the doors closed. It turned and greeted Zack with a friendly smile. "Hello, Zack."

"Senator."

"Barnabas!" Pru skipped past him and gave their British cousin a hug. "Ugh, you're wet. Don't you ever carry an umbrella?" She stepped back and put her hands on her hips. The front her dress was now damp and clinging to her curves.

"Better things to use than umbrellas," Zack reminded them both.

She clenched her hands against her heart. "But they wouldn't be nearly so romantic."

"Pru." He shook his head wishing his younger cousin had been allowed to travel more and experience life. Instead, she'd been locked inside their ancestral home.

"I have not," she replied.

Zack started wondering if she'd read his mind. Granted, the Psi Corp didn't exist anymore, but there were new rules for telepaths.

"I'd better change." Pru ducked past both men and hurried back up the carpeted stairs.

Barnabas hung up his fashionable long coat and wiped his feet on the rug Zack supposed the old crow kept there. "It's good to see you, Zack."

"And you. Mr. Garibaldi told me you attended the opening ceremonies on Babylon Five when it officially went on line."

"I was one of its supporters. I felt it was my duty to be there."

"I see." Uneasily Zack glanced around. "I wonder what's keeping my father."

With a frown Barnabas answered, "Didn't Daniel tell you?"

"Tell me what?"

"He isn't here."

"But he asked me to come." Zack couldn't believe it. He'd taken time off from his job and traveled light years on what he assumed was an invitation from his estranged father.

"I'm sure he did. But the Collins have a vested interest in Edgar Industries and he's gone to Mars to discuss the matter with," Barnabas smiled, "Michael Garibaldi."

"Unbelievable."

"Something to do with the role it played in the cure for the Drak plague."

"So I'm just supposed to sit around here and wait for him to come back." He glared at the door where the old crow had disappeared. "And why didn't she tell me?"

Dark brown eyes drifted to the door as well. "I half suspect she wanted you to feel unwelcome in your own home."

"Collinwood hasn't been my home for a long, long time."

"You are a Collins."

"No. I'm an Allan."

Zack stared out the window of the room he'd had as a boy. His toys were all gone probably stored in some spider webbed room in the East Wing. The storm raged, dropping gallons of water onto the house and grounds. The old crow had made up the bed and huffed about how he had no place here. When she'd shuffled out and slammed the door, he wondered why he'd even bothered to come back.

You are a Collins, echoed in his mind. Barnabas and their more distant cousin Quentin were the only ones who still used the original family name.

"At least he didn't stay long," Zack muttered. Barnabas had only waited until Pru rejoined them to say goodnight before the Brit had once again donned his damp coat and returned to the Old House.

After that, Pru had summoned the housekeeper, or the old crow as they both tended to call her, and had his room made up. His cousin had then retired to her own and with a soft, 'Good night. Sleep well.'

"Like I can." Zack again heard the thunder and the pat-pat of rain against the glass. He never remembered sleeping well in the house. Maybe it had been all the ghost stories his aunt had told him. Maybe it had been his overactive imagination making him think he heard the voices of Collins past. Maybe it had been the disappointed look on his father's face when he'd finally gathered enough courage to leave.

With a sigh, he moved away from the window and stripped off his uniform. Stepping into his bathroom, he showered with real water, a treat for anyone used to sonic ones, and pulled on his robe.

Back in his room, he saw a flash of lightening, immediately followed by a crash of thunder. Crawling under the covers of his full sized bed, he pulled them over his head and tried to sleep. How long it was before he fell into slumber, Zack didn't know, but he swore he heard Pru's voice and some sort of chanting.

"Morning, Zack," Pru greeted him as she joined him in the small family dining room. She poured herself some hot water and dropped a tea bag in before she sat down across from him. "Sleep well?"

"Not really." He lifted his coffee cup to his lips, took a swig and sat it back down on the ivory table cloth. He tiredly rubbed at his brown eyes.

A plumb woman waddled into the room with a cheery smile matching her yellow dress and prim white apron. "Would you like an omelet, Master Zack?"

"Just Zack, and that would be great. We don't get many real eggs on the station."

"What would you like in it?"

"Any way would be fine." He frowned trying to recall if he should know her. "Penny?"

Her face beamed. "That's right, sir." She turned her attention to his cousin. "And you, Miss Pru?"

"Just one of your wonderful wild blueberry muffins, please."

He remembered Penny's muffins and his mouth watered. "I'd like one, too, please."

"Coming right up." She shuffled out and through the door Zack remembered lead to the kitchen.

"She stayed all these years?" he asked Pru.

"We're all the family she's ever known." She got up and poured more hot water into her cup.

"When will my father be back?"

Pru gave him a sad smile as she sat back down. "I don't know. He left a couple of days before you arrived."

"Same as always." Zack stared at his empty cup before he got up himself and refilled it. His pants rasped slightly as he moved. "So I'm guessing you have no idea why he asked me to come back?"

"Sorry." She pushed her cup away from her and rested her forearms on the table cloth, her fingers laced together. "I'm glad to see you."

"Yeah, me, too." He grinned at her. His cousin had grown up into a beautiful young woman. She didn't seem to be the shy skitterish girl he remembered.

"So," she leaned across the table, her robe tugging dangerously close to opening and revealing more than he wanted to see, "tell me about some of your adventures on this station I've heard so much about."

"I don't know where to start."

"Start with Sheridan and Delenn. I'll bet it's a wonderful love story."

"With a lot of bumps."

"I want to hear all about it."

Hours later Zack got tired of being cooped up and decided to brave the drizzle lingering outside. He grabbed one of the yellow slicker raincoats and tossed it on, hoping the thick sweater he'd put on for the day, kept the damp chill out. He slipped out the double door, making sure it was securely closed. The old crow was a stickler about that.

The fresh air still surprised him after being used to the recycled air of the station. Zack took a deep breath and pulled the hood up over his curly brown hair. Trees that had graced the estate for centuries loomed above him filling him with an odd kind of safe sensation. He guessed it was because he'd been confined between metal walls for so long it felt normal to him.

He glanced around trying to decide which way to go. To the south east was the family graveyard filled with Collins from as far back as the 1600s. Originally they'd lived in England and had migrated to America to plant a new line. To the north and closer to the ocean stood the Old House where Barnabas chose to reside when he wasn't in Geneva. There was a run down cottage on the shore and he knew his father had always intended to tear it down but never had gotten around to it.

"Which way to go?" he muttered, trying to decide if any of boyhood haunts appealed to him.

"Rerow."

"Well, hello." Zack knelt down to pet the head of large black and white cat. A rumbling purr told him his attention was appreciated.

"That's Leo," a cheery voice informed him.

"Been a long time, Quentin," he stood up. "What've you been up to?"

"Not much. Traveling mostly." His distant cousin offered him a cheeky grin. Quentin had frizzy black hair, with very dark brown eyes, and dressed fashionably in the latest suit. It was an almost chocolate color. From what Zack had heard growing up, his relative had broken more than a few hearts.

"I was going to take a walk."

"Don't let me stop you."

"You staying at main house?" He didn't remember seeing another place set at breakfast.

"No. Barnabas has graciously allowed me to stay with him."

For some reason, Zack's father didn't like Quentin, although he didn't understand why. From what he remembered, his cousin had told very entertaining stories during family gatherings and dinners.

"Just thought I'd come by and say hello to Pru."

"You just missed her. She's already left for Bangor."

Something flitted over Quentin's face before his cheerful grin returned. "No matter. I'll come by tomorrow." He gave Zack a half salute and sauntered off.

"I have a weird family." Zack rubbed the cat's head one more time before heading in the direction of the cemetery.

Water dripped off the leaves and plopped on his hood. The ground was saturated and in places the trail was muddy. After about thirty minutes he reached the old iron gate. It still sagged on its rusting hinges. Another item his father had never bothered to fix.

Before him was the family plot filled with crumbling grave stones of long forgotten ancestors. In the center stood the marble mausoleum and to one side the ill attended section reserved for loyal servants who had died in service to the Collins.

Not sure why he'd come here, Zack inched his way among the dead, finally stopping in the servant section. He read names there, Benjamin Stokes, Willy Loomis, Mrs. Johnson. All but forgotten except for the markers left behind and the fading dates etched in corroding stone.

He vaguely remembered Stokes and Loomis from the histories he'd read. If he remembered correctly there had been another Stokes who had been an expert in the occult. Not to mention a Dr. Julia Hoffman, although her role had never been clearly explained.

With a shrug he moved on reading more names of numerous Collins. He stopped beside a lonely grave. It read 'Angelique Collins, beloved wife' and the date seemed to be 1840. The history said she'd been shot by a renegade priest and buried here. There was a footnote saying her husband and his sister returned to England. Odd he should remember that detail.

"I heard you were beautiful," he told the woman he'd only read about. "Too bad what happened to you."

"According to my ancestor, she was."

Startled, Zack turned, angry with himself for being caught unaware. On B5 he'd be dead right now. "Hello, Barnabas."

"Zack." Barnabas moved past him and placed a single rose on the woman's grave.

The Brit kneeled down and gently touched the stone.

Something about his cousin's actions made him uneasy. "I'll uh, leave you alone."

"Thank you."

Retreating out the way he came, Zack retraced the trail back to the main house. Leo blinked up at him with bright yellow eyes. The cat had sheltered himself under an overhang.

"Don't blame you. I don't like getting wet either." He opened the door and the cat ran inside. Zack hung up his slicker and watched Leo slink up the stairs. At the top of the landing he twitched his tail before hurrying through the open door to the upstairs. Vaguely, he wondered if the cat was Pru's.

Since it wasn't really his concern, he went into the drawing room. A fire crackled cheerfully and the room was pleasantly warm after the chilling damp. Zack found a carafe of coffee sitting on the sideboard and plate of chocolate chip cookies, his personal favorite. He'd have to thank Penny later for her thoughtfulness.

With a steaming cup and a still warm cookie, he went and sat on the couch. He put the mug on the coffee table, which he now saw was an old lobster trap with a piece of clear glass over it. On the far wall was the bookcase filled with the handwritten and later typed histories.

"I wonder." He got up and retrieved the books from 1840 and late 1960s. He settled down to read, happily drinking his coffee and munching on his cookies.

"Don't tell me you've been inside all day," Pru teased as she stepped into the drawing room. She set her purse and a bulging bag down on the table beside the double door.

Zack shook his head. "Took a walk out to the cemetery after I bumped into Quentin."

Pru made a face as she sank down on the marble bench." Uncle will be most unhappy to know our cousin is back."

"Said he was staying with Barnabas."

"I don't doubt it." She turned slightly and reached her hands out to the crackling fire.

"What did you do in Bangor?" He laid the 1840 history on the seat beside him.

"Some shopping, ate lunch out, took a drive by Arcadia."

"I only see one shopping bag." As he remembered, Pru liked to always be fashionable dressed and often came home with an entire new wardrobe.

She tossed him a look he couldn't read before turning to face him. "I'm not the young girl you remember, Zack. I had some special shopping to do for items I need for," she stopped. "Well, for my new interests."

He raised his hands as if to warn off her hurt tone. "I've been gone a long time remember?"

With a sigh his cousin said, "Sorry. It's just that everyone around here still treats me like a child."

"So, what kind of new interests?" He was curious what she seemed to think she needed to keep a secret.

"Just something my mom shared with me a few days before she died."

"More family secrets?"

"In a way." She glanced away from him like she'd said too much. "Had dinner yet?"

"Naw." His stomach growled and he grinned embarrassed. "I was engrossed."

She made a face. "I always found the way they wrote back then just droll."

"Yeah, it is," he agreed. "I was really curious about Angelique Collins."

He heard her catch her breath and he wondered why. "Something wrong?"

She shook her head. "No. How about we go into town? There's a new retro diner I've been wanting to try."

"Afraid to go by yourself?"

She got to her feet and glared at him. "No."

"Fine." He replaced the two histories he'd been reading. "Still raining?"

"When isn't it?"

He laughed. "One of the reasons I ran away to space. No weather."

The diner was indeed retro. Evidently the owner had managed to get a hold of an old railway car like Zack had seen in history books. He squeezed in the door as Pru led him to the long silver bar running down the center. Several patrons nervously eyed them before returning their attention to their plates of food.

"Hi," she brightly greeted the owner.

"Evening, Miss, what can I get for you?" a big beefy man with spiked white hair and a huge grin asked.

"I'll have tea, my cousin likes coffee. What's the special tonight?"

"Burger with chili fries."

"Sounds great. I'll have that. Zack?" She turned to him.

"Same."

"Coming up." The man strode away. Zack noticed he wore shorts and a bright flowered shirt.

"Moved here from the west coast," Pru explained.

"Thought you hadn't been here." His cousin seemed to know more than she should.

"I haven't. But it's a small town remember?"

He whacked himself on his head with the palm of his hand. "I'd forgotten."

"You've been in space too long."

"No. It's the same. I always know when someone new comes on the station. It's my job."

"Here you go." The owner put two cups on the counter. "Hot java and a special blend of tea."

Pru smiled at the man. "Thanks."

He winked. "Anytime."

Zack sipped the coffee. It was strong, but fresh and he savored every swallow.

"You seem like a man starved," the owner commented when he placed two steaming plates before the cousins.

"Been off world."

"That explains it. Earthforce?"

"Was. Now I work for the Interstellar Alliance."

The man made a soundless whistle and leaned down close. "I supported Sheridan, what he did. It was the right thing to do."

Uncomforable Zack squirmed. "Thanks."

"Your welcome." He ambled off.

"Uncle didn't think so," Pru complained.

"What about you?"

She forked a fried dripping in red chili. "I support anything that allows us freedom."

Her reply was good enough and he dug into his food. Real beef was rare and expensive on B5 and he intended to enjoy every bite. Zack even liked the fries, although they were a bit spicy for his taste. He pulled out his wallet to pay.

"Your credits are no good here," the owner informed him.

"But,"

"But nothing. You did us a great service. It's the least I could do for you."

There were rules about these sorts of gifts, yet Zack sensed the owner wasn't going to change his mind. "Uh, thanks."

They got up to leave as thunder rolled over the diner. Zack groaned. "I really hate rain."

When they returned to the house, the old crow scowled at them. "Master Daniel called for you. Said to call him back at Edgar Industries," she told Zack before she scuttled back under the stairs.

Her behavior was beginning to get on Zack's nerves. She reminded him of a Pakmara hunting for dead bodies. The image made him shudder.

"You okay?" Pru asked.

"Yeah. I'm okay. Com still in my father's office?"

"Yes."

"Thanks for taking me to dinner."

She smiled at him. "You're welcome."

Zack went to the door next to the drawing room and uneasily opened it. His father's office had been off limits to everyone while he was growing up. He'd imagined it filled with all sorts of scary things, not to mention the punishment he knew he'd get for disobeying his fathers wishes.

Gingerly he opened the door and pushed it open. The true appearance of the room was almost a let down. A plain oak desk sat before yet another fireplace, walls lined with bookshelves filled with books and other things. An old faded rug adorned the floor and the only window in the room was very small, barely letting in any light.

"Guess you like it dark," Zack said as he sat down at the desk. He activated the Com. "Edgar Industies," he told it when it lit up. It took several very long minutes before his call went through. He tried not to look around the room much. The shadowy corners seemed to wriggle.

"Hello, Zack," Garibaldi greeted him.

"Hello, Michael. How's married life?"

"Been good for me. How's B5?"

"Same as always. Look I hate to cut this short, but my father asked me to call him."

"He's sitting right here." Garibaldi's face vanished replaced by the haggard and wrinkled face of Daniel Allan. Zack couldn't believe how much his father had aged since he'd seem him last. He honestly hoped he wouldn't look like that when he got older.

"Zack," a tired voice crackled. "Glad to see you home."

"I came because you asked me to. I'm not staying."

Again, he saw the disappointed look he'd carried in his memory for all those years. "Be good for Pru if you did."

"Pru seems to be fine."

"She isn't. She's changed since Laura died."

"Pru seems happier than I remember growing up."

"Don't argue, boy."

Zack knew the tone. He'd hated it because it meant his father couldn't be reasoned with.

"Was Pru the only reason you asked me to come home?" He found himself suddenly angry.

"Of course. I need someone to find out what is going on with her."

"You old," Zack stopped himself before he said something he knew he'd regret. "I'm taking the first ship back to Babylon Five."

"Not before you find out what is wrong with your cousin."

"Pru is fine."

"No. She isn't. Laura told your cousin something just before she died. It has to do with the family history." His father leaned forward so all he could see was the face he hated. "It changed the girl. She's different and not in a good way."

"You mean not in a way meeting your expectations." Zack knew about his father's dominating will. He'd had a full taste of it himself.

"She has to be stopped and I expect you to stop her."

"This conversation is over. Don't ever contact me again." He cut the communication and sat back in the chair furious. His father hadn't changed. Daniel Collins Allan was still trying to control everyone. And here he'd thought, he blocked himself from thinking it. He should have known better. "Just great."

He pushed out of the chair, stalked across the floor and slammed the office door shut. "You old," he muttered several choice curses under his breath.

"Such language," Pru chided him. She crossed her arms over her chest and gave him a smile. She looked lovely in her orange-red sweater dress.

"You listening?"

"No. I came in here when I heard you yelling." She gave him a knowing look. "I take it Uncle Daniel didn't say what you thought he should have."

"No. He seemed to think something was wrong with you."

Pru looked surprised. "Actually, everything is finally right with me."

"I agree. I'll be leaving in the morning to go back to the station."

Her face crumpled and she tossed her arms around him. "I thought you could stay at least a few days and keep me company."

He patted her back. "Pru, I love you. Always will. But I can't stay here or else my father will think he won."

"Not even for me?" she pulled back and wiped at her eyes.

"Well, maybe I can stay a day or two. Probably will take me that long to find a ride back anyway."

Zack shuddered as yet another roll of thunder roared over the house. He stared out the window of his room. Rain fell and shadow branches twitched over the glass. Turning away he vowed he'd never return to Collinwood. Not only did he hate the constant storms, but his faint hope that his father in some way had relented, had been destroyed.

A knock sounded on his door. Zack wasn't in the mood for company. He didn't answer hoping whoever it was would go away.

"Zack?" It was Pru.

With a sigh he called, "Come in."

His cousin pushed the door open, balancing a tray with one hand. He hurried over to help her. She smiled her thanks.

"Penny thought you'd like some hot cocoa and cookies."

Seemed the cook remembered a few things about him, like how he had enjoyed a treat before bed, particularly if he was upset. "You can put it there."

Pru set it down on the small table near the window. She handed him a mug and took another for herself. "I'm sorry Uncle Daniel upset you."

"You don't need to apologize for him. I know my father."

"He doesn't need to be concerned about me you know. I'm fine."

"I know."

She tilted her head to one side. It was a habit he'd always found endearing. "You do, don't you."

"Yeah." He took a swig of the sweet hot chocolate. It danced over his tongue reminding him of the few happy memories he'd had growing up.

"Uncle is right. I have changed." She sipped from her cup.

"For the better I'd say."

She made an agreeing noise in her throat. "Me, too."

"Are you happy, Pru? Do you like living here? You know I could take you with me." He had to at least offer. His cousin deserved to see more of the galaxy.

"You're sweet to offer, but no. I'm fine living here."

"You ever change your mind, let me know. I've got some friends who can give you a lift out to B5."

Pru laughed and kissed his cheek. "Dear Zack, thank you. You're so sweet to offer." She nabbed a cookie and headed for the door. "Night, Cousin."

"Night." He finished his cocoa and nibbled on a cookie before taking another real water shower and crawling under the covers of his bed. Zack finally understood he would always just be a guest here. Babylon Five, not Collinwood was his home.

In the morning, he packed his bag and put it by the door. He joined Pru for breakfast and helped himself to hot coffee and several blueberry muffins. How he wished he could take some back with him to the station!

"You're leaving," Pru said. She looked up at him with a sad expression.

"Time for me to go home."

"I will miss you. Try not to stay away so long next time."

"Maybe I'll come visit when my father is away again." His promise sounded hollow to his ears. Daniel Allan wasn't away from the ancestral home very much. The chances of Zack ever returning before his parent died was astronomical. He knew it and he knew Pru did as well.

"Maybe." She pulled something out of robe pocket. "I made this for you."

He took the odd little bag on a string and stared at it. It emitted a type of spicy odor. "What is it?"

"Let's just say it's a type of charm."

"For good luck?"

"For protection. Living out there in space I think you need it."

Zack was touched by her concern but not too sure about the gift. He shrugged and put it around his neck. It might take a bit of doing, yet he was sure he could get it through customs. He'd claim it was some sort of religious symbol. Exceptions were often made for that reason.

His cousin giggled. They chatted over breakfast and afterward, Pru made him promise not to leave until she could come down properly dressed and say goodbye. He agreed.

As he stood in the great hall for what he was sure the last time, he gazed up once more at the life sized portrait. His father really should move it away from the door and elements. It might fade eventually and no one would be able to tell which ancestor it was.

"I've suggested Uncle Daniel move it several times. He never listens." Pru kissed his cheek and hugged him. "I'm really going to miss you."

"Yeah, Me, too." He planted a kiss on her forehead. "You need to stop reading minds or else they'll make you take the new telepath classes."

"Oops!" She pulled away. "It isn't what you think, Zack."

"No? I remember Aunt Laura sometimes saying what people thought. I swore my father was going to call the Corp."

"But he never did thankfully."

"Naw, he didn't." He squeezed her shoulder. "Just be careful, okay?"

"I promise."

He grabbed his bag, but paused before leaving. Zack was curious so he had to ask. "Just what did Aunt Laura tell you before she died?"

"The truth."

"And that was?"

"What my real last name is and my true heritage."

"You gonna tell me or make me guess?"

Pru laughed and there was such freedom in it he envied her. "I'm a witch, Zack. My name is Prudence Collins Wyatt Haliwell."

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Though I normally use the 1990 version of Dark Shadows in my Babylon 5 stories, the 1960 one fit better for this one. 'Vampire's Curse', posted online at .net/~dragonlots, is an indirect prequel to this story.