Author's Note: A thousand apologies, dear readers, for making you wait this long for an update. It's been...what, over a year since the last chapter went up? I've been very, very busy with Real Life™ and things that ate up all of my creative juices. But I did not want to abandon this fic because...well, because I hate when fics get abandoned. Also I wanted to see my ideas pan out. Also also I really really want to finish this thing, because if I do it will be the biggest project I've ever finished.

Disclaimer: The world and all of the recognizable things belong to Diane Duane.

Also, a Warning: I am not the crying type at stories. Never have been. I nearly cried while writing this. Take that as you will.

Chapter 14: What Dreams May Come

Rick was dreaming.

He knew he had to be dreaming for a couple of reasons.

For one thing, he wasn't in pain, which wasn't a feeling he was used to since last week's desperate gambit to defeat the Lone Power.

For another, everything here was perfect. Which was no surprise, really. It was, after all, Timeheart.

The sun warmed his face as a gentle breeze cavorted through his light brown hair. New shoots of grass tickled the soles of his feet. Each individual breath was invigorating and he rolled his shoulders, delighting in the complete lack of tension in his muscles. He hadn't felt this healthy, this whole, since he was fifteen.

"Hummingbird."

Yes, that would be why. He turned with a smile to the young woman standing near him, her sky-blue dress drifting softly in the breeze. "Dove. I've missed you so much."

Mary's own smile was tinged with sadness. "I know," she replied, moving to embrace him. "But Hummingbird...it wasn't in vain, was it?"

Rick buried his face into her raven-dark hair, taking what comfort he could from the feeling of his love holding him so close. His throat closed and his eyes burned from holding back tears. "You know it wasn't. But why did it have to be you? It's not fair."

Mary let out a short chuckle. "Come now, Rick. Since when has wizardry, and indeed the workings of Life itself, been 'fair'? It hurts me to see you grieve. But—" She pulled back and looked him square in the face. Rick Kolibri saw there the bold, determined expression he'd come to know so well as a young wizard and his breath caught once again. "—if we had to do it over again, I wouldn't have changed anything. I couldn't have. I love you, but if I have to choose between my love for you and the service of Life, well...I really can't justify a different choice."

He nodded heavily, and by some sort of miracle he held back his tears. They'd discussed this before. Not often—he hadn't been to Timeheart that many times—but enough that the conversation didn't surprise him.

"Look," she continued. "If I hadn't done that spell, you wouldn't have known how to help Josh, Tom, and Carl. You, the four boys, and that lovely dog wouldn't have lived through it. So my life earlier for six, plus everyone in the city who would have died in the spreading fire? I think it's a worthy sacrifice to make."

Rick nodded again and tenderly brushed a strand of hair behind one delicately curved ear. "You always were the noble one, Dove."

Mary flashed an impish smile up at him. "Well, one of us had to be!"

He laughed. He couldn't help it. His partner's devious sense of humor had never failed to ease the weight on his heart. But he paused as he saw her expression turn from mischievous to thoughtful. "What is it, palomita?"

"It looks like you've been given a choice."

"What do you mean?"

She let out a breath. "Well. You know your physical body is...injured. Badly so."

Rick Kolibri grimaced. "Yes."

"Well, right now, it's kind of—kind of in limbo. Without your presence inside your body, it won't be able to support itself," Mary continued delicately.

His eyes widened. "I'm dying?"

"You always were fond of subtlety," she retorted with a roll of her eyes. "But not quite...I guess in a matter of speaking. As I said, you have a choice."

"One of the choices..." He was having difficulty saying the words through his disbelief. "One is to stay here in Timeheart with you? Forever?"

A serious nod was his only answer. Rick's head was spinning. It could be his reward, his payment for twenty-two heartbreaking years without his love. They had gone by slowly, so slowly without her...

He took a breath. "What do you think I should—?"

She shook her head. "This choice is yours, and yours alone, to make."

"But..."

"You have to choose. I'm not even going to give an opinion. You have to choose based on what you think and feel, Rick Kolibri, without any other influences."

He forced himself to give Mary a teasing smile. "Bossy as ever, I see." The girl rolled her eyes but said nothing. The man sighed and examined his choice once more. Not that he needed to. His decision was already made; it weighed heavily on his heart, but it still stood. "I can't," he whispered, tears blurring his vision as he pulled her to him again, once again breathing in the clean scent of her dark hair. "I can't stay. I'm Area Advisory. I'm the only wizarding authority that Tom and Carl know, and I can't leave them because they're young and bright and could be important...but it hurts, palomita."

"I know."

"I want to stay so badly. It hurts so much."

She held him soothingly, letting him cling to her for as much comfort as he needed, kissing his cheek. "I know, love." Mary pulled back just the slightest bit and gave him a dazzling smile that was as poignant as it was warm. "I'm proud of you, colibrí. So proud. You've been strong and so very, very brave, and I'm sorry to have missed so much of your life."

With a huge, shuddering breath, Rick Kolibri managed to stop his tears and give her a watery smile in return. "Colibrí. I remember when you called me that for the first time."

"Because of your fluttering fingers," Mary replied, her voice full of fond memories, lifting up one of his hands in her own and tracing each line. "Always busy, always moving. Drawing, sculpting, writing, composing, playing music. From the first time I saw you, you reminded me of the flitting colibrí."

"And I got so mad that you were pronouncing my last name wrong," he responded with a light chuckle.

"Until I taught you enough Spanish to know what I was really saying, and you hated that even more," Mary giggled, subjecting his other hand to the same gentle treatment as the first.

Rick smiled and sat on the grass, pulling her lightly to follow him, and let the hand that wasn't being re-memorized whisper over her brow, her nose, her ears, her jaw. Her lips. He cupped her face and ran his thumb along her cheekbone in a gentle caress. "You can't blame me that much. It was a girly nickname."

"'Was'?" Mary asked, raising one eyebrow.

"Mm-hmm. Until it stopped being girly and started simply being mine." Rick noticed a little frown on her face as she continued to trace the lines in his hand. "What's the matter?"

The frown intensified, and Mary said sorrowfully, "They're not as expressive as they used to be. They could be, but they're not. They don't have your writers' or musicians' or artists' calluses anymore. Your fingers don't trace patterns in the air like they did." A sad realization dawned. "It all reminded you of me, didn't it?"

The man hesitated, then nodded, eyes downcast.

"How...how long?"

He let out a long breath. "Twenty-one years since I last tried anything creative. And I did try, I really did, but I ended up splattering the paint on the walls because I was so frustrated with the way my hand would shake every time I tried to paint." He didn't mention that after that he had sat on the ground, shaking and rocking back and forth and hugging his knees to his chest with tears dripping down his face. Nor that his mother had found him like that and sent him to a psychiatrist. Nor still that he was so terrified of the procedure called the lobotomy (for which his psychiatrist had recommended him) that he pretended to heal emotionally at a prodigious rate, only letting himself show moments of weakness when no one else could possibly hear or see him.

Rick didn't need to mention it. Mary could see it in his eyes, could see the terror and pain of a teenager who had lost his love and his best friend, who had striven to rebuild his shattered life around him by building a careful mask and throwing his all into that mask in the hopes that maybe someday it would become the reality. Her own eyes held pain, sympathy, understanding.

She moved close to him and lay down on the cool grass, effectively hiding her face from view. He stretched out beside her, not speaking. It was her voice that abruptly broke the silence. "Can you do me a favor?"

"Anything," he replied immediately.

"Sing to me?"

Another moment of silence passed as a piquant smile flickered across his face. "And what song would you like me to sing?" he asked her, already knowing the answer. It was a ritual they'd gone through when she'd still been alive.

"El Colibrí Que Cortejó a la Paloma," she replied in a quiet voice.

"The Hummingbird That Courted the Dove? It would be my pleasure, palomita." He took a breath and almost tentatively began to sing the song he'd written so long ago. Rick's voice was a pleasant baritone; not the trained singing voice he'd usually used for his other songs, but his raw, natural voice with no affectations or additions. Mary rested her head against his ribcage to listen as she always had.

"Paloma
La paloma blanca
Vuele entre las nubes
Cantando al cielo
Volando sobre todo
Contemplando..."

The haunting melody wove itself into the air around them, and Rick's eyes stung with tears. And yet he still sang through the lump in his throat, knowing that his time here with his lost love was limited, that he'd chosen to return to the living. It was slow and tender, not rushed in the least despite how short a time he knew he had. It wasn't a very long song, after all. Surely the Powers could give him enough time to finish singing it for the first time in over twenty-two years.

"Paloma
Mi paloma
Tus lágrimas
Tu risa
Tu elegancia
Encantándome,
El colibrí,
Sin cesar."

He had only written the two verses. Wanting to savor the moment, the man allowed his eyes to flicker shut, allowed twin tears to trace paths down his cheeks and fall onto the grass below. But Mary had decided that the song was not complete. And so, laying pressed against his side on the perfect grass in Timeheart, she added her own quiet verse to the softening twilight:

"Mi querido colibrí
Vuela conmigo
Encima de las montañas
De los ríos
Entre las nubes
Podemos volar
Juntamente
Para siempre..."

There in Timeheart, reunited with him for too brief a time, Mary sang to her lost love as he drifted off to sleep in the tender and growing night. And there, under the newly emerging, perfect stars, she fell asleep as well, knowing that when she awoke he would no longer be by her side.

Rick Kolibri...I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry.

I thought he deserved another bit specifically about him. Since, y'know, he kind of was awesome in the final battle. And he was kind of hurt pretty badly. I wrote the first bit three months ago and then got stuck, and I just finished it yesterday.

The phrase "tender and growing night" is shamelessly stolen from Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself," number 21, which I do not own either.

Well, as always, reviews are quite welcome! We're coming down the home stretch here, folks. This is probably getting only one or two more chapters before it reaches its logical conclusion. Thank you for your support over all this time and your faith in me that no matter how long it's been between updates, the story will be continued.