§ § § - November 20, 2006

Before Christian could give in to his sorrow, the lights went out, the triplets squealed in protest, and the door opened. "Come out," Roarke invited them. "Come and tell me how it went, Christian. Are you all right?"

"G'ampa," Tobias blurted before his father could speak. "We saw farmor and farfar!"

"Yes, indeed you did, young man!" Roarke agreed, grinning at him. "And what did you think of them?"

"I wike farmor," Susanna announced. "Her Susanna too."

"Farmor pitty lady," Karina ventured, looking a little left out. Roarke lifted her into his arms and smiled.

"I have no doubt about that," he said. "Well, would you three like a little milk and some of Mariki's cookies?" This met with approval from all three children, and he nodded and urged them to settle down around the tea table, giving Christian and Leslie time to compose themselves. When Mariki had delivered the children's snacks, Roarke turned to them and asked again, "Are you all right?"

"I think we will be," Leslie said. "Poor Christian, he has to readjust to his mother's absence all over again. But Madame promised we'll see her again one day. I'm glad about that, because she's so sweet and kind. If somehow we could have her back again, it would be wonderful to have her in ours and the children's lives." She hesitated. "Oh, listen to me…I've been speaking in the present tense."

"That's quite all right, Leslie," Roarke assured her. "Her Majesty is merely on another plane of existence, that's all. And Christian, what of you?"

"Another plane of existence," Christian repeated, staring into space for a moment before focusing on Roarke. "I like how you put that. It makes Mother seem less…less unreachable somehow." He returned Roarke's smile, though his own was a little wan, and drew in a long, fortifying sigh. "And you know, I think somehow my father and I finally connected, after all those years of being more or less at each other's throats. It simply stunned me when he said that, had he been alive when I met Leslie, he would have fended off LiSciola and allowed me the chance to marry Leslie when we originally intended to."

"Indeed!" Roarke remarked with interest. "And were all of your questions answered to your satisfaction?"

"I believe so," Christian mused. "I have a lot to think about. I'm still amazed by some of the things I learned." He looked up and then reached out to shake his father-in-law's hand. "Thank you for this opportunity, Mr. Roarke. I can really never thank you enough, but I can certainly try. Mother said she just wanted me to have the peace that eluded me while Father and Arnulf were alive, and I think you've given me that. I'm deeply grateful for that gift, and mere words are completely inadequate."

"I am only the facilitator," Roarke told him. "Your mother did it all. However, I am more than happy to accept your thanks on her behalf." He smiled. "Now, perhaps you two would like to sit down and relax a little before the evening meal. You must have been in there for some three hours."

"Three hours!" Christian echoed. "It hardly seemed like one."

"All time is subjective, my dear Christian," Roarke said, amused. "I must admit to immense curiosity about what you discovered, but unless you're inclined to talk about it to anyone other than Leslie, I certainly won't insist you tell me. Although I should tell you that your mother was right: you will indeed see her again one day."

"Father, were you eavesdropping?" Leslie asked.

"Leslie Susan, what an accusation!" Roarke exclaimed, his affrontery clearly exaggerated. It made her grin. "It's simply something I've always known, and I think it wise if you and Christian both would remember that, when you begin to feel too sorry for yourselves." He winked at them. "How did you find your in-laws, then, my child?"

"I loved Madame," Leslie said. "Almost right from the start. I could see the bond between her and Christian—it was a lot like the one between Mom and me. His father was a little harder to warm up to."

Christian laughed. "No wonder, my Rose," he said. "As blunt and gruff as he is, I'm a bit surprised you spoke with him at all. Perhaps now you see the roots of all the madness, all the arguments and tugs-of-war we went through before he died."

Leslie nodded and admitted, "Yeah, I understand. But I think he was really remorseful for the mistakes and misdeeds he left behind. Somehow I can't quite imagine Arnulf being the same way. Arnulf struck me as cold, the day we talked with him."

"Cold and quite distant," Christian agreed. "Kristina saw another side of him, one I never had the privilege of witnessing. Father said it was because he took care to make his peace with me before his passing that he wasn't present at this session. In some ways it's almost a shame. Much of the time Arnulf was actually worse than Father."

Leslie shuddered. "Well, all I can say is, I found Sire easier to speak to than I did Arnulf that time. They're like fire and ice, and it's easier to warm up beside a fire."

Roarke and Christian stared at her, both impressed. "Very good, Leslie," Roarke said.

"That's a perfect analogy," Christian agreed. "How did you happen to think of it?"

She shrugged. "Just a random moment of genius," she said lightly, and Christian let out a groan, making her laugh. "I know one other thing, though. You have more of Sire in you than you want to confess to, my love. It's just that you know how to temper your fire." She smiled at him. "And that's the fire I feel safest with."

"Think we were too much alike, do you?" Christian chuckled. "I suppose that's possible. And perhaps it will be somewhat the same with my son and me, but I resolved eons ago to treat my children differently from how my father treated me. So if we are in fact too much alike, I have hope that we'll still always love each other."

"Then your father taught you better than he will ever know," Roarke said, and fielded their smiles with another wink.

Next up will be a holiday story…this idea has been sitting around for a while, waiting for the proper time of year. As I mentioned at the beginning of the story, it may not get posted quite in time, but I'll do my best to try. In the meantime, happy holidays to everyone!