Sabbatical

Based on Sanctuary, created by Damian Kindler

. . . ~ ~ . . .

Helen felt his presence before she saw him. "John," she spoke his name, putting down her newspaper.

"Helen," he replied, his tone equally devoid of meaning. He sat down across from her at the small table; patio seating for a small café in Rome.

"It's been a long time," she said.

"Seventy two years," he replied without missing a beat.

Her eyes lost focus, gazing past him for a brief second. "Has it been that long?"

He nodded. "It has." From his tone of voice she knew he had been counting. He counted more than the years, she was sure. He counted the months, weeks, days, hours. Perhaps the minutes and seconds. That was like John, to measure time if only to use the value poetically when it served him.

Silence fell over the two of them for a moment. She sipped the cup of tea in front of her. "I read your latest work. It was . . ." she searched for a word. Moving was probably the correct answer, but she couldn't bring herself to say it. "Excellent."

He had started writing poetry not too long ago. It was well liked by the public - sold millions of copies around the world - and he had since written two more compilations.

"How did you know it was me?"

"I recognized your style. That and John Smith isn't exactly the most imaginative pseudonym."

He rewarded her a dry smile. "No, I suppose not. Perhaps I wanted you to read it."

"Perhaps."

"You changed your hair back," he said. It wasn't as curly as it once had been in their youth, a little shorter than he remembered, but similar enough.

"You haven't," she replied dryly.

He laughed. "Why, Helen, even after all these years, you never cease to surprise and amaze me."

"How so?"

"I expected an accusation about my motives, perhaps only coming to you because I require something . . ." Her blood, he meant, it had come between them eighty years ago, when they were both still tormented by the demon within him and their daughter still breathed.

She shook her head. The torment of his demon was now an aching pang of regret and remorse and their daughter was dead.

"Why not?" he asked.

Helen shrugged slightly. "I'm tired, John," she answered truthfully.

"Of what?" he leaned forward slightly at his own question.

"Of being angry."

"I'm sorry," he said simply. While he wasn't the entire cause of her anger, he was apologizing for all of it. That was so like John, accepting the responsibility even though very little - or none, in some cases - of it lay with him.

Helen shook her head. "I was angry at you for a long time. And I was angry after Ashley's death. I was angry at the Cabal, myself, the situation I had created . . ." she trailed off. There were far too many things to name. "But now," she paused. "I'm tired of being angry."

"I've built a small life," he began. "Not much, enough to keep myself occupied. I've a small home and small literature collection. Ask of me what you will. I would leave it all and more to make you happy. I offer myself to you, as once I did so long ago."

"Take me there," she said wistfully, looking past him.

"What?"

"Take me there," she repeated, meeting this gaze.

"Your Sanctuary?"

"It can be." That was not the meaning of his question. He wanted to know what she was going to do about her Sanctuary network. Helen watched his expression, almost frightened by her statement; her confession that his life could become her haven. Allowing him to think, she answered his question as he asked it, "Is self-sufficient enough for a sabbatical on my part."

He regarded her carefully, as if he was trying to discern whether or not she was being honest with herself. "What would you do? On this sabbatical?"

She shrugged. "Does it matter?"

He reached across the table and took her hand gently. It was reminiscent of years long past. "I wouldn't want to take you from anything."

"I wish to be taken." A silence passed between them. For his previous statement, he seemed apprehensive. "Take me home, John."

He did.

. . . ~ FIN ~ . . .