A Complicated Matter.

Daniel frowned at his supper, as if the lamb chops had personally thwarted all his ambitions. "The boy has his head in the clouds." he said.

"Can't think who put it there, 'Count Rossini' from Toscana." said Estelle.

"Imagination is useful, but his dreams are a little too anchored in her."

"Jealous?" said Estelle.

"Me? Jealous? No. I'm worried about him. You haven't met her, Estelle."

"I'm sure she's every bit as evil as you think, dear. Now eat your food."

"Oh, evil would be good. We know how to deal with evil. If she were evil, he might flirt with her, might even have a fling, but he'd move on with heart and head still making sense. No, this one ... "

"Laura."

"Yes, that one. She's attractive in an unassuming kind of way. She's disturbingly clever. She's frighteningly honest. She's proprietorial towards Harry."

"And Harry belongs to you, doesn't he, Daniel?" said Estelle.

"Of course he does." agreed Daniel, then he looked up, "Very funny!"

"It is, dear, it's hilarious. I've never seen you like this before. Anyone would think she'd stolen him from your safe and left a mocking little note."

"She might as well have done."

"You made him Harry Chalmers, and you did a lovely job. She made him Remington Steele. I would have thought that would give you a lot of common ground."

"She just swans into our lives, for no reason ... "

"He tried to steal something she was paid to protect. I'd say he did the swanning." said Estelle, "A gorgeous bloke like our Harry swans into her life and she has the power to put him behind bars and instead chooses to give him a very good job with a lot of perks."

"To what end? For what motive? What price will Harry end up paying for those gems?"

"His heart, perhaps." said Estelle, "It's time it stopped gathering dust in your study, in that house you steal from its owner."

"Borrow." Daniel corrected.

"Without consent."

"Women like her see men like him as a project." said Daniel, "She wants to reform him."

"Would that be so bad? He'd still be our Harry."

"Would he?"

"Daniel, eat. You know I worry." said Estelle.

He smiled. "Dearest Estelle, you know you have no reason to worry. I look after myself far better these days."

"Thanks to our Harry, who gave you reason to." said Estelle, "Would it really be the end of the world if he fell in love with a lovely young woman who kept him out of trouble and maybe even made him happy?"

"Can anyone make Harry happy? He's complicated, Estelle. I don't think she can fill the void in his heart. I don't think anyone can. Can romance with some ... honest person heal the wounds of a lonely and rejected childhood?"

"What if it can? Would you want to risk denying him that?"

"Love can hurt far more deeply than it can heal. What if he comes to love her and then she decides he's not honest enough or not good enough, or he runs out because he doesn't know how to be loved? Remember the mess he was after Anna died? Remember how he haunted his room like a ghost, lost and broken and in pain? I can't see that happen again."

"I loved my husband, then he died and I didn't know what to do. You loved ... " she stopped, knowing she could not mention the name to him, "You loved too, and lost, and suffered. We're both still here, and though there's pain in both our lives, we've been pretty happy since Harry came into them."

"It's because I've suffered that pain that I know I cannot allow Harry to experience it again. It almost destroyed me."

"He's stronger than either of us. He was stronger than us when he was fourteen."

"He'd had to be. Everyone in his life had let him down." said Daniel.

"But you didn't and maybe she won't. Don't you want him to find lasting happiness? Do you want him to end up a miserable old bachelor with no children who drinks brandy and chases women half his age?"

"There are worse lives." said Daniel, "Besides, there are plenty of pretty girls in London, clever, charming, full of style. He doesn't have to marry an honest one."

"You do think he'll want to marry her, then?"

"Integrity has a dangerous allure. Intelligence too. Heaven knows what will happen if we can't talk some sense into the boy, or warn that woman off."

"Laura." said Estelle.

"Laura Holt. Even the name sounds honest."

"Do you think she likes him?" said Estelle.

"I know she wants to keep him from me." said Daniel.

"So do I, sometimes. You can be a very bad influence."

"You never told me what happened between you and ... "

"No, I didn't." said Daniel.

"But if you loved, you dreamed of a future with her. Maybe he has those dreams too."

"No shortage of dreams in Harry's head, most of them impractical."

"If you really think she can only bring him pain, pick up the phone and tell him whatever it takes to get him over here, but if you think there is even the smallest chance that she could make him happy, please give him time to find out. Harry worships you and you have a lot of influence over him, you could probably tear him away from her if you wanted and he would probably forgive you, but could you forgive yourself?"

"What if the price of her love is giving up his unsavoury associates, like me?" said Daniel, "What if she isolates him, cuts all his ties with his old life and then suddenly lets him down?"

"When he knew Anna was dead, he called you."

"And told me nothing but that he needed to come home."

"Where he told you the whole story." said Estelle.

"Am I being selfish?" said Daniel.

"Partly. Partly you really do want to protect him."

"If she makes him choose his old life or his new, I don't know which he will choose."

Estelle smiled. "Love, that kid came here a bit rough around the edges, but with a heart of gold. There's no ingratitude in him and he loves you as if you were his own father. Even if this is the love of his life, it doesn't mean he'll ditch you. He knows what he owes to you."

"He owes me nothing." said Daniel.

"Well, he doesn't see it that way. Maybe she won't even ask him to choose. But whether she does or not, we can't. He's not fourteen anymore. He's a grown man, and one day, he is going to fall in love, and when he does, because this is Harry we're talking about, it will shake his world to the foundations and it will change everything and he's going to love with every bit of that fiercely loyal heart of his. He went through Hell as a kid and came out with the heart of an angel. We can't ask him not to love, Daniel, not when his whole childhood tried and failed to kill the love in him."

"I don't ask him not to love, just not to love too much and not to love her."

"Why not her? She sounds perfect for him."

Daniel again glared at his innocent lamb chops. He opened his mouth as if to speak and then frowned again. Finally, he looked up at her and said, "It's complicated."

The End.