It's done (and edited)! Thank you to everyone who's stuck with the story, reviewed and helped, especially those I haven't been able to reply to personally. There are some people I have to give an extra big thanks to: Loopstagirl in particular for putting up with all my agonising and complaining and panicking about various parts of the story - couldn't have got through it without you! Also Math Girl for giving me lots of ideas and for encouraging me to write as I went along rather than get it all written first - this would have been a very different (and much shorter) story if I'd done it that way. Finally Whirlgirl - apart from the really helpful reviews, you've given me some great ideas too - thank you again! Bee
Six months later Jeff found himself in a fifth-floor flat in an expensive part of London. The whole of one wall was made of glass, giving a view over the Thames and across the city. He could have stood there for hours watching city life unfold. That had been the point of choosing this place, of course: lots of visual stimulation as well as all the luxury money could buy.
Soft music played in the background. It was a Caparelli piece, one Beth had practised so often in readiness for the session with him which, of course, had never happened. He'd suggested that Virgil go instead – plagued with guilt for the hurt he'd caused his son over Christmas – but Virgil had refused point blank. He never played anything by Caparelli these days, Jeff had noticed, and he knew that if his son had been in the room now he'd already have turned off the stereo or found something else to listen to which wouldn't bring back such awful memories.
He looked up with a smile as Caroline came in.
"Thank you for all this, Jeff," she said once they were settled in a couple of armchairs. "I don't know how we'd have managed without your help."
"How is she?" he asked.
"Just the same. Dr McCallum doesn't believe there'll be any more improvement."
"She's the best there is," Jeff reminded her. "She's worked wonders to get Beth out of the hospital."
"You helped too. Without you she wouldn't be here. I couldn't cope with her myself, not full-time, but the carers you've found do a wonderful job."
She looked around the room. "You didn't have to do all this. After everything she did I wouldn't have expected you to do anything for her."
"I wanted to," Jeff told her. "She was trying to save my mother when it happened." He had his doubts over that one, but he wasn't going to share them with Caroline. She'd had enough to deal with when the news of her daughter's crimes came out.
Caroline smiled sadly. "She did something good, didn't she?"
Jeff forced himself to agree. It didn't matter now anyway.
A door at the far end opened and a woman in a white uniform came out. "Do you want me to bring her in?"
"Yes, please." Caroline looked over at Jeff. "Are you alright?"
He nodded, bracing himself for his first meeting with his niece since he'd seen her in the Kansas hospital. Since then he'd kept his distance, paying extortionate medical fees, arranging for the world's top specialists to look at her, then setting her and her mother up in this apartment. He could have walked away, he could have left her to live on the money he'd already settled on her, but he felt responsible in his own way for what had happened to her.
And so Beth had what she had always wanted. A beautiful place to live, people to cater to her every need twenty-four hours a day, lovely clothes... the best of everything. She was famous too – Wentworth Lovell was currently embroiled in a battle over the Tracys' privacy with a TV company which planned to make a film of her life. Jeff knew that she'd give it all up in an instant – if she'd had any idea was going on, of course.
He stood up as the nurse wheeled Beth into the room. She still looked the same – until you looked into her eyes. All the spark and intelligence was gone. There was an innocence in her expression now that he realised had never been there before.
"Beth, love," her mother said, taking the girl's hand. "Look who's here to see you." She waved at Jeff to come forward. "It's Uncle Jeff."
"Hello, Beth," Jeff said awkwardly, wishing he'd never come. He'd rather have remembered her as she was. He'd said time and time again that she'd paid for what she'd done, but seeing the reality of her existence he now knew that it really was true. No wonder the authorities had released her into her mother's care. They'd never expected her to leave hospital and there would still be the occasional police visit to check up on her, but it really was just a formality.
Beth didn't respond for a moment, then she slowly followed her mother's pointing finger and looked at Jeff. There was no recognition in her eyes, but she finally smiled, holding out her hand to her uncle.
"She likes you," Caroline said. She got up. "I'll leave you alone for a bit, shall I?"
Jeff wished his sister-in-law had stayed. He didn't really know what to do. He sat and chatted to his niece for a while, telling her all about the boys, hinting obliquely at their latest rescues, just in case anyone was listening. He couldn't help thinking that Beth wouldn't really care about any of this, but he didn't know what else to say.
"Kyrano sends his best wishes," he said. It was true – but nobody else had. No one on the island mentioned Beth now; it was too painful and evoked too much guilt. He himself had been happy to bury the memories, focusing on restoring his reputation as a businessman and rebuilding his relationships with everyone on the island. It had been a hard few months. Only now did he feel that his sons were truly at ease with him again. He could finally look to the future with some confidence – he'd been given the all-clear a couple of months ago, following numerous tests to ensure that the drug Beth had given him hadn't had any ill-effects. There had been no celebrations – he'd simply shaken his doctor's hand and gone straight back to work. He'd been a quiet, serious man before all this – now he was even more grave and thoughtful. But life was finally returning to the way it had been before Beth had come into his life. He hadn't got over it completely though – which was why he was here today.
"I brought you a present," he told her, reaching for a rectangular packet he'd brought with him. He placed it in her lap but she just looked at it blankly, so after a moment he picked it back up and unwrapped it himself.
Beth's eyes lit up and she pointed at various features of the picture, smiling again and even laughing a little.
"You recognise it?" he asked. The picture of Tracy Island was one which Virgil had only produced after his father had begged him to do it. It wasn't his usual style, being painted in the brightest of colours, the kind only a small child would really appreciate. Virgil hated it, but Jeff thought it was perfect. Beth certainly seemed to love it and Jeff couldn't help wondering if there were any memories buried deep inside her head which had been sparked off as she looked at it. Even if there were she'd never be able to tell anyone – one thing her injuries had ensured, was that she would never be able to tell anyone about International Rescue.
"There are the boys," he said, pointing at some figures on the beach. "That's me on the terrace. And look, up in the sky..." The vapour trails could have come from any old aircraft – only Jeff knew what had really made them.
"I'm sorry," he whispered. "It wasn't worth it, was it honey?" Then he rose to his feet as Caroline came back into the room.
"I guess that's it, then," he told her. "I'll keep in touch but I don't think I'll be visiting again."
"I understand," Caroline said. "It's hard, I know. But we'll be fine. I've always coped, whatever life threw at me."
Jeff looked uncomfortably at the floor before steeling himself to meet her eye.
"Caroline, I owe you an apology. Lucy cared about you and I know she'd have wanted me to look out for you and Beth after she died. I should have-"
Caroline held up a hand to stop him. "Jeff, let's get something clear. I would have liked to have got to know Lucy's boys, but that's the only reason I would have kept up our relationship. I've never wanted your money, I was happy as I was. Okay, so we didn't have much but we got by. I've never relied on anyone else in my life and let me tell you, if you'd turned up and offered me money, even when times were really hard, I wouldn't have taken a penny. So you can stop feeling guilty right now."
Jeff wished his niece had been more like her mother. Though if she'd known all this maybe everything would have worked out differently...
"Let me know if you need anything, wont you?" he said as he reached the door.
"Thank you, Jeff. Oh, wait a minute!" She picked up something from the table in the hallway. "I understand this was Lucy's. You should take it back."
Jeff looked at the bracelet he'd given his niece at Christmas. He thought about Lucy and Beth, then shook his head at Caroline. "Keep it. You should have something of hers." He hoped Virgil would understand – he knew he personally wouldn't be able to look at it ever again and he thought his son might well feel the same.
Caroline looked doubtful for a moment, then smiled as he continued to insist that she take it. "Well, if you're sure. It would be nice to have something to remind me."
They looked sadly at each other for a moment, both of them wondering why so much tragedy had befallen their families.
"Good luck, Caroline," Jeff said.
"You too, Jeff. Take care of yourself and the boys."
"I will." He watched as the door closed then took a moment to pull himself together. It had been hard but he'd known he'd never be able to move on until he'd seen Beth one last time. Now it was done. As he made his way out to the street where a pink Rolls Royce was waiting, he couldn't help feeling a sense of release. It was finally over.