Disclaimer: I don't own Human Target and intend no copyright infringement.
Since it was clear now that nothing was threatening Abby except her own clumsiness, Chance decided he could leave her in Guerrero's and Winston's care as the excursion group was getting ready for the bus trip to the last stop of the journey, Holy Island Lindisfarne. There was something he felt he needed to do, but he definitely preferred to keep the exact nature of his little private outing to himself.
Had he let them know, Winston would have laughed his ass off and Guerrero would have probably filed it away for later use as leverage.
No, thank you.
He fed them some vague story about a friend he wanted to see before returning to the States, waved them good-bye and took a bus back to Vindolanda.
Guerrero, of course, didn't believe him for a second, but he decided to let it slide. Chance had known something had been fishy about his insistence to take this particular job, but he hadn't confronted him about it, he had trusted him and waited till he had found the correct explanation. Lesser men would have jumped to conclusions…
The walrus had nosed around behind his back, seriously not cool. Activating his police connections to find out if his story about Ax had been true? In Guerrero's book that called for retaliation… On the other hand… Winston had not shied away from going back to Hadrian's Wall in darkness and rain to get Chance. That meant something in Guerrero's book, too. Ah well, an opportunity for some sort of adequate payback would surely present itself.
Winston didn't believe Chance either. But there was an unpleasant prickling sensation in his throat and his arms and legs felt rather heavy, while what felt like a thick cloud of wet cotton seriously impeded his ability to think clearly. He was definitely looking forward to going home. Maybe it was time to simply trust his business partner. He just hoped whatever Chance was doing was nothing illegal... or dangerous.
Strange, the "dangerous" suddenly made his stomach clench, while "illegal", in comparison...
He leaned his head against the bus window, longing for a bit of sleep. The scratching in his throat was intensifying. Chance had this tendency to pull crazy stunts… On this trip he had shown remarkable restraint so far… what if he was planning on changing that now and bringing everything back to balance with a jump off the roof of a twelve storey building or something in that direction?
Feeling that he wouldn't be able to sleep with this kind of thoughts worrying him, he took out his mobile and texted Chance a warning – STAY AWAY FROM EXPLOSIVES, HIGH RISES AND MOVING BRIDGES
… … …
"Your girlfriend?", the young archaeologist at Vindolanda asked Chance as his cell phone signaled, sighing inwardly. All the good ones are usually taken.
"Overprotective aunt", he smiled, texting Don't worry, I'm on ground level back. Then he switched his cell off, so that Winston's reply – WITH YOU THAT IS FAR FROM REASSURING – remained unread.
The woman's eyes were glued to the small scar on his chin; it provided his face with just the right amount of ruggedness to keep him from looking like Barbie Ken – damn, that man was good-looking. Granted, his request was a little weird, but that scar… she shrugged. "Of course I can write you an official Roman transfer home order."
"In Latin? On a wooden tablet, just like the ones you dug out? I'd need two of them…"
He gave her a boyish smile so bright, she'd have written the telephone book of London in classical Latin on wooden tablets, had he asked her.
The writing of the tablets didn't take that long, having drinks with her, however, took a while, and so did going back to Hadrian's Wall and placing one of the tablets in a crack in a wall of the mile castle. Official order for all soldiers of the Roman Empire still on duty to go home immediately. You are herewith released from all your duties, it read, in Latin, of course. He put the other one in an envelope and addressed it to the guide in York Minster, with the instruction to leave it near the Treasurer's House. Hopefully he wouldn't find the request too weird.
Maybe this was ridiculous.
Maybe it finally sent the men home who still roamed this country, lost in the maze of history.
Chance decided he could live with taking this risk.
… … …
It was early afternoon when he finally arrived at Lindisfarne. Abby was sitting in the ruins of the monastery, another victim of Henry VIII's suppression. The sun was shining and she was stretched out on the soft grass that covered the ground of the former priory.
"Look up", she told him as he approached. "This is called the Rainbow Arch."
Chance turned his head and realized he was standing directly underneath a single, decorated vault-rib, the last remnant of the now vanished crossing tower dating back to the 12th century.
"Even if we never meet or speak", Abby said, eyes wandering along the arch, "my father and I are still connected. He didn't scare the detective off because I am worthless to him but on the contrary, because I mean a lot to him… do you know the legend about St. Cuthbert and the otters?"
Chance looked at her and couldn't help but smile – this was a totally different Abby than the sad and lost woman who had kept stumbling over her own feet and right into disaster.
"One day Cuthbert waded deep into the sea", Abby explained. "He prayed all through the night. At the first light of dawn he returned to the shore where he knelt for more prayer. Suddenly two otters came, dried his bare feet with their fur and then snuggled against his body to warm him. This is a bit like what my father did for me. He sent you to keep me safe."
Abby was at peace with the world that day at Lindisfarne.
And so was Chance. They had really helped her.
He could have done with a couple of St. Cuthbert's otters, though. Just like Winston his throat was feeling a little sandpaperish that afternoon and once they were home it turned into a full blown flu.
Guerrero ordered both of them to stay at the office, placed Winston on the sofa in Chance's living-room and Chance in his bed.
"I know a great home remedy", he told them.
"Not the old family recipe stuff you're using during interrogations?", Chance asked, slightly alarmed tremble in his voice.
"I'll water it down."
Grinning, Guerrero started rummaging around in the kitchen, knowing that walrus upstairs had listened in to their conversation.
Chance would get some hot lemonade and leg compresses.