Highlander is copyrght 1997 Davis/Panzer Productions. Sarah Collins, Collinsport and the history of the Collins family is of Dark Shadows (the original), copyright Dan Curtis Productions, Inc. This is fanfiction, not to be considered canon, nor will it infringe upon the aforementioned copyrights. No money is being made off this story. Darnit.
He came to Collinsport between identities. It was a convenient, out-of-the-way town to lose Charles Keaton during the years before the Adam Pierson identity came of age to slip into. It was time to vanish into the Watchers. Accomplishing that goal had been simpler in the past. A very innocent face, a few faked birth records, a chance discovery of an Immortal whose Watcher was close enough to see the presumed mortal reeling with shock....
He had spent a century carefully maintaining the existence of the extinct Pierson family. Sprung from isolated Welsh countryside, the family had been inclined to produce scholars, recluses and other eccentric types. Over the generations there had been a few Piersons truly in the Watchers.
The things he had to do to maintain his anonymity! Computers were a wonderful invention, but they were also dangerous tools in the hands of someone who might think to use one to find a certain old Immortal. From the Watchers, he could monitor his few remaining enemies and be sure to avoid them. From the Watchers, he could safely pass into the next Millenium.
It was while digging through the dusty stacks of the town library that he came upon an amusing discovery. Collinsport had, naturally, been founded by the Collins family. This in itself was not amusing. However, as he skimmed the records he became deeply interested in the patterns he saw. A son of the family had been murdered without heir centuries before. About a decade ago a dead ringer for the man had turned up going by the same name. Shortly after his arrival another man had turned up following much the same pattern: a dead ringer for another family member dead long ago who had left no progeny. Certain he had stumbled upon his own kind, he delved deeper into the library records.
The young librarian, a lovely, brown-eyed, dark-haired girl about nineteen years old, saw his interest. She guided him to old diary accounts. As he read those accounts he became increasingly amused. The first man, Barnabas Collins, had been feared to be a vampire. The second, Quentin Collins, had been suspected of being a werewolf. Immortals had been mistaken for any number of creatures over the millenia. Of course, these days no mortal put any truck in those beliefs.
"Why are you so interested in the Collins family?" the librarian's voice intruded.
He looked up from the account he was reading and blinked innocently at her. "I am curious about the family that founded this town. It's quite amazing what these diaries have to say about them."
She smiled and held out her hand for him to shake. "I'm Sarah Collins."
Well! She was old enough that she might have known the men who had shown up claiming to be descendants of the two men in the family portraits. He took the proffered hand in his own and brought it to his lips to kiss it gently. She flushed, but withdrew her hand from his without hurrying. Watching her eyes, he introduced himself. "I am very pleased to meet you, Ms. Collins. Charles Keaton."
She was clearly attracted to him. He had no qualms about using that attraction to learn a little more about her family. If those two men were Immortals, he might learn some interesting information to earn himself higher rank in the Watchers when he joined them as Adam Pierson.
Walking over to the diner gave him time to assess her. She followed the modern clothing trends, yet she seemed quite demure. She wore an off-white, ruffled blouse buttoned all the way up. It did nothing to conceal the soft curves of her body. Her neck rose gracefully from its confines. Her skirt was short, revealing a pleasant expanse of thigh. Out in the sunlight her hair proved to have delightful highlights. Her eyes were richer than he would have noticed in the confines of the library
Annoyed with himself for getting distracted so easily by a mere slip of a girl, he backpeddled into arrogance. "Your ancestors certainly had some strange ideas."
Sarah frowned slightly. She did not exactly seem disappointed. Perhaps she was simply resigned to what outsiders always thought. She drew her shoulders back defiantly as she walked. "Not just MY ancestors. Why, my cousin David's mother tried to sacrifice him in a fire when he was ten."
Charles, who had heard many a strange thing in his life, was still surprised. So recently? Though the family HAD owned slaves, he had seen no signs of Voodoo amongst their beliefs. Then again, one vampire and one werewolf in the history.... "What was the reason?"
"She believed it would give her a hundred years of life."
"I guess she didn't get them, then."
"He was saved by the ghost of our ancestress." She was smiling coyly at him, daring him to doubt her.
He found he had no interest in doubting her. Her smile was too sweet. The lingering laughter in her eyes warmed him far too much to dash away. He monopolized her attention at the library that day. They talked the rest of the afternoon. Then they had supper together. Later he took her home and kissed the back of her hand in farewell. The demureness was not an act, much to his consternation. There was still a decade before he would take up the Adam Pierson identity. He could afford to spend some time in Collinsport and get to know Sarah Collins.
Days became weeks and he moved from his hotel room to a boarding house. As he spent most of his time either in the library or seeing the countryside with Sarah, he did little more there than sleep and eat breakfast. Eccentric wastrel sons of rich families did not seem to be that unusual in Collinsport's social scene. Sarah's friends did no more than look askance at him when they became the victims of his rapier wit.
Charles Keaton was thirty years old. He dabbled in history and was obsessed with ancient accounts, but was something of a loafer. Content to just get by, he had never been to any of the higher schools. A disappointment to his family, his father especially, he wandered where he could. His parents had given up all hope for him and had died some years earlier.
Sarah Collins brought out the gallant in him. He had not even known he had any gallant, yet somehow she found it. He opened doors for her. He cuddled her fluffy white cat, Willie. He did not attempt to seduce her. Within a few months, he found himself considering telling her he had lied about his age and was really only twenty. Twenty was a good age to be; it would give him two decades with her. He could pull off "young-looking forty", but he doubted he could manage it for fifty. Indeed, that was why Charles Keaton was being retired in favor of Adam Pierson. So Charles was in one of the worst quandaries of his ten-year existence.
"Sarah, I work for the CIA and they're sending me to England under a new identity...." No, somehow he doubted that would work. Perhaps the reverse! "Sarah, the truth is I am an agent for the British Secret Service. Just like Ian Fleming's James Bond. I am not really thirty, but I can pull off thirty fairly well, wouldn't you say? Would you marry me and move to Paris with me?" No, that would not work either. The Adam Pierson identity was still too young to support that cover. There were two other identities he might slip into; but each one made for a complicated explanation, and Adam Pierson was really the best for his purpose of joining the Watchers.
A half-a-year into their relationship, Sarah received a phone call from an old high school chum, Gregory Morlan, and everything changed.
Gregory was seeing Melissa Allison Moline. She was the only child of the Moline family, who owned a small mansion up the coast from Collinsport. Gregory would not have called except that something strange was going on. He believed Melissa was being haunted. He remembered Sarah from high school. She had always believed in ghosts and premonitions. Betraying his own belief in such things, Gregory had said to her, "You're a Collins, after all. Would you do me a favor? Drive on up here and see what this is all about?"
He explained that Melissa had been cleaning out the attic one day when she stumbled upon a canvas painting of a young woman, fair-haired. Her back was to the painter, who was obviously fascinated by her neck and the way it rose from her collar to her hair, pulled up in a pony-tail. The girl herself was caught in a moment of exhaustion, resting her face in her cupped palm. The fingers were lovingly rendered. There was something about the painting which touched Melissa, and she brought it to her room to study.
That night, she had dreamed of the painting. In her dream the painting changed. Subtly, at first, then it became obvious the woman in the painting was moving. Lifting her face, turning around. Her eyelashes parted to reveal great black pits. Her skin was luminous, but that was not enough to hide the great lines of anger in her face. She began to climb out of the painting. Melissa had woken in a sweat.
The next day she told Gregory about the dream. She tried to laugh it off, and yet she found herself saying seriously, "It was me, Gregory. The girl in the painting looked just like me."
So it was that Charles and Sarah came on Saturday to the Moline mansion, a three-hour drive from Collinsport. As they drove, they conversed in giggles and whispers about the private diary Sarah had lent Charles. The diary had been written by, she said, the family doctor during the late sixties. The last entries, written in a shaky hand, spoke of Cthulhian gods and heads that were still alive even without a body. There were repeated mentions of time-travel. Charles teased Sarah that pretty soon he, too, would start to go insane because of his link through her with the Collins family.
They arrived around nine in the morning. The mansion was a young building on young property, only about a hundred years old. Not like Sarah's family mansion which Charles had yet to go inside. Sarah seemed to be afraid he would run if he met her family. This place was kept up in rather modern styles.
Gregory had been watching for them and greeted them with relief. He was not terribly tall, just a few inches shorter than Charles. He had the build of a football player, all broad shoulders and a thick neck. He was hazel-eyed, with short-cropped brown hair and a decent-enough beard. Not a bad-looking man. He grinned when Sarah introduced Charles, and the two men shook hands. "I'd spare you this if I could," he began, rolling his eyes, "but getting into the house means meeting Melissa's mother. Don't you worry, Sarah, darling. It's really your friend here who has to run the guantlet."
Bemused by the contrast of Gregory's pleasant tenor and obvious intelligence with his all-American strong-man looks, Charles asked, "Gauntlet?"
Gregory shook his head and leaned conspiritorially close, "Just resist the urge to run away screaming."
Sarah and Charles barely had a moment to register the delicate, freckled blond girl who opened the door for them. The woman who descended upon them was indeed startling. The scent of a sour wine billowed ahead of her and she was none too steady on her feet. "Oh, you have visitors, darling! And such a handsome devil!" Her attention was so focused on Charles that he backed away and fetched up against the door. The woman weaved in and practically fell on him. "I am Anastasia, and you are..?"
"Charles Keaton." He caught her hand and shook it, using the action to unobtrusively push her back and put some space between them. In a glance he knew all too much about the woman. She was trying desperately to recapture her lost youth. The impossibility of that had driven her to drink and, he suspected, the use of other mind-altering substances. Her hair was black, with some gray at the roots, her eyes would have been a pleasant deep brown if they were not so bloodshot. Her skin was sallow under its tan and marked by a myriad of fine lines.
"Mother," a soft voice interjected. "This is Sarah Collins."
Anastasia Moline flinched ever so slightly at being called "mother", but despite being nearly three sheets to the wind, she rallied. She released a relieved Charles and turned to greet Sarah. "Oh, yes, darling. Of the Collinsport Collins. Perhaps you would introduce my daughter to that cousin of yours."
Behind her, Gregory rolled his eyes.
With Mrs. Moline focused on Sarah, Gregory introduced Charles to Melissa. After her mother, the girl (who had opened the door for them) was a relief and a pleasure to meet. She was as different from her mother as could be. Composed and serene in herself, she projected calm that was a balm to other people. She had an oval face, as opposed to her mother's sharp wedge-shaped features. A gathering of freckles played their way from one cheek to the other over her nose. Her eyes were a cheerful hazel, her feathery hair a pale blonde, and her smile was both light and friendly.
"You must see my gallery!" Mrs. Moline announced. She caught both men's arms and dragged them towards the stairs. Charles turned a distressed glance towards Sarah, only to find her holding her hands over her mouth and trying not to burst out laughing as she and Melissa followed in their wake.
The gallery was on the second floor. It was a room with no windows, well lit to show off each portrait. Every picture was of Mrs. Moline when she was about Sarah and Melissa's age. One thing was for certain, Mrs. Moline had been astonishingly lovely. Her rich, dark brown hair had curled delicately around her face. Her eyes had been bright and dancing, her skin unblemished and of a delicate rosy hue. The portraits were all dated 1955 and 56, signed Samuel Beck.
"You haven't changed a bit, Mrs. Moline," Gregory told her. Charles hastened to nod agreement, not willing to lie so outright. The woman, however, giggled like a girl.
At last, she seemed satisfied with the amount of manly attention she had received. "I'm going to pour myself a little libation, darling," she told Melissa. After kissing her daughter, she turned. Gregory bowed deeply to her and she giggled as she weaved out of the room.
Melissa smiled fondly after her mother, then turned and laced her fingers through Sarah's. "Gregory speaks highly of you. He says you won't laugh or belittle my dreams, and I trust him."
Sarah clasped the other girl's hand between hers. "I would never do such a thing. I don't know if I can truly be any help to you, but sometimes it's enough just to speak with someone who understands how you feel."
Melissa's smile widened with relief, and she blinked back tears. "Thank you. I... I guess I'll just show you some of the things that have been troubling me."
The men trailed unobtrusively behind the two young women, listening to them speak. Charles, out of curiosity. Gregory, because anything that distressed Melissa concerned him.
She took them out into the woods around the mansion. East, toward the sea, they came to a small cliff. "Ever since I found that portrait, I've found myself drawn here," she explained quietly.
The cliff was about forty feet high. At the bottom there were many jagged rocks. Grass clumps and small trees whose weight was too much for the shallow soil beneath them leaned precariously over the precipice.
Charles had felt uneasy during their walk. The faint prickling sensation at the back of his neck kept him alert. When Sarah swayed, he was quickly at her side to pull her away from the edge. "Are you all right, sweetheart?" he asked gently.
She steadied herself against him and nodded, blinking. "Yes, I just felt dizzy. Like I was falling... vertigo, I think."
Charles pressed his lips into her hair and murmured softly, "Isn't that a Hitchcock movie?"
She giggled and started to speak when a sharp, angry voice interrupted them.
"Here now!" A man shoved his way out of the bushes, his face bright red with exertion. "Melissa! I've told you to stay away from here! It's very dangerous!" He glared at his daughter's guests. "If you injure yourselves, we will NOT be held liable, do you hear me?"
"Of course, Mr. Moline," Gregory said.
Melissa laid her hand upon the older man's arm, smiling fondly. "Don't worry, father."
Huffing, the man stood tall. He eyed the cliff doubtfully, then looked down at Melissa. "Just you be careful." He hesitantly drew away from them and went down the trail.
As Mr. Moline vanished from sight, the uneasiness that had plagued Charles during the walk faded. It was replaced by cynical amusement. The man had been following them. For a moment, Charles forgot himself and saw with the eyes of a five thousand year old man. Mr. Moline was a square-faced man with thick eyebrows. His eyes were hazel, his hair thick and liberally streaked with white. His skin showed the same evidence of alcohol abuse that his wife's did. These aren't her real parents, Methos thought. There was not a single feature that proclaimed relation beyond simple humanity. He shrugged it off. It did not matter to him that the girl was adopted.
When they arrived back at the mansion Sarah said, "I'd love to see that portrait Greg told me about."
"Oh, of course!" Melissa took Sarah's hand and led the way to her room. Once again, the two men were left to trail in the women's wake.
Melissa's room was spacy, a lovely off-white with flowers painted on the borders. No wallpaper for the Molines' beloved daughter. The young woman drew the portrait out from its hiding place under her four-poster bed.
Sarah sat on the bed and curled her legs up as she studied the portrait. After a few moments, tapping her lower lip with her fingertips, she said thoughtfully, "This reminds me of the portraits of your mother. I think it's the same artist." They gathered around her.
Charles had to agree, it was very much the same style as the likenesses in the gallery. He excused himself and went downstairs. The library would still be open, so he put in a call and asked the older woman who answered the phone if she could find anything on a "Samuel Beck." To his surprise, she recognized the name.
She explained, "I remember because I had a terrible crush on him. I studied Art at college and he was one of the few modern artists whose work we respected. It was such a shame."
"That you respected his work?"
"Oh, no! He died in a car accident near here in '56. There were all sorts of rumors about foul play!"
That triggered a familiar sense of suspicion. Curious, he asked, "Do you have any articles about the accident?"
"They would be in the library archives."
She was quite willing to dig through the archives for "Sarah's young man" and have the materials sent up by special courier. Charles, knowing the town had no such service open on weekends, begged an explanation. She explained that her nephew had a new roadster, and would love the excuse to drive it out there, especially if he were payed. Charles laughed with her and they agreed upon a price.
Before hanging up, the woman said sadly, "You know, the case was never solved. The police never even brought in suspects. They eventually ruled it a suicide."
For some minutes after Charles hung up the phone, he sat and stared at it. The phrase, 'opening up a can of worms', kept making its way through his head. He wondered what kind of worms this can would prove to contain.
Three hours later, the young man arrived with a newspaper and an old book about the artist. Closed within the pages was a note exhorting Charles to remember to have Sarah bring both back to the library. Charles skimmed the article in the paper to pick out the highlights. There really was nothing he did not already know. He brought both items up to Melissa's rooms where they had all retired after lunch.
Sarah and Melissa were ensconced in the open windowsill, dozing contentedly in the afternoon sunlight. Gregory had nodded off on the loveseat. Charles walked in whistling cheerfully and smiled at Sarah. "This just in from the Library! In the March 12th, 1956 issue of the Collinsport Tribune we read:" he held up the paper and intoned sonorously, "FAMOUS ARTIST DIES IN CAR CRASH: FOUL PLAY SUSPECTED".
Sarah rolled her eyes. "Oh, you! May I see that?"
He bowed and set it gallantly into her hands, then leaned on the windowframe just behind her to read over her shoulder.
She shifted sideways and rubbed her cheek against his arm, then quickly skimmed the article. "He was southbound on Route 6 when he went over the cliff. His brake-lines had been cut." She looked up at Charles. "They only SUSPECTED foul play?"
He shrugged. "No motive, no witnesses, no one knew he was even in the area. Artists are traditionally temperamental, he might have committed suicide. Lord Byron did."
"Lord Byron didn't commit suicide. Why do you say that?" She was staring at the paper, and thus missed the look of mortification that flashed across Charles' face.
He stuttered slightly answering her. "I read somewhere that he tried to commit suicide because he wanted to find out what happens when you die."
She tilted her head to look up at him and twined her fingers in his, smiling at his embarrassment. "I bet he did. It sounds just like him. He was such a man of excesses!" Charles smiled weakly at her. She turned back to the paper. "This isn't a very good picture of Beck," she said critically.
"Voila!" Charles announced, and handed her the book he had brought.
Samuel Beck's picture showed a round-faced, freckled, fair-haired young man with darker sideburns. His eyes were set wide apart and a bright blue. He wore an off-white turtle-neck and jeans. His biography said he had been born Canadian but his family had moved to the States. Before he died, he was living in upstate New York. His paintings had been famed for their realism and warmth.
"This doesn't tell us much," Gregory complained.
Charles tilted his head and studied Beck's photograph. "Melissa, when were you born?"
"December 16th, 1956. Why, Charles?"
He glanced over and met her inquiring gaze. "Oh, no reason. Just curious."
Sarah punched his arm. "Charles! Out with it!"
He hemmed and hawed for a few moments, then finally said, "It's just that you look nothing like Mr Moline, and we took Route 6 to get to your house."
The three of them simply stared at him for a long moment. Sarah nibbled thoughtfully on her right index finger. Melissa sat motionless and looked appalled. It was Gregory who began to laugh wickedly. "MAN, you are cynical!"
Melissa snapped out of her stunned stillness. "GREG! He's just implied that Mother had an affair with Samuel Beck and Father murdered him!"
Charles drew himself up and said with dignity, "I implied no such thing! I only indicated that I think Beck might've been your real father."
"Uh-oh," muttered Gregory.
Melissa glared at him for a moment before turning back to Charles. "I am aware of my mother's behavior. HowEVER, she has never had an affair since I was old enough to notice!!"
Sarah said thoughtfully, "It would explain your coloring. And the freckles."
"Not you, too!" Melissa sat back down on the windowsill. "Perhaps he raped Mother, and Father killed him in revenge!"
Charles shoved his hands deep in his pockets and looked down at her, "So, you believe your father is a murderer?"
"NO I DON'T! I'm joking! What kind of man are you!?"
Charles looked hurt but Sarah squeezed his hand. She smiled lovingly at him. "He's a cynic."
Feeling better, Charles mustered his dignity. "A realist," he replied. He drew her hand to his lips and kissed each nuckle. They forgot the other two just for a moment, as the world narrowed down to the two of them and the increasing sense of sweet anticipation they shared. Underneath Charles' cynical exterior beat the heart of a true romantic, and he thought, Oh my lady, will you marry me?
Melissa interrupted their meaningful eye-contact. "Some of those portraits are dated '56, I admit. But there's no mention at all of my parents in the news article."
Charles focused on her and shrugged. "They probably didn't want anyone to know he'd been staying here, what with a murder investigation in process."
She threw her hands up in exasperation. "They didn't murder him, so there was no reason to tell the police anything!"
Charles raised his eyebrows. "The curious thing is that no one knew such a famous artist had been coming here frequently."
"Now hold on there, Charles," Gregory cut in, finally sitting up on the loveseat. "What are you talking about?"
The three all stared at Charles. He shifted to lean more comfortably against the windowframe. "I know how such news is reported. It would have said early in the article, 'the famous artist, Samuel Beck, who had been doing a series of portraits of the beautiful Anastasia Moline, died in a car crash late last night. Evidence suggests his brake-lines were cut.' Or something of the sort."
Melissa leaned back and sighed. She looked up at Charles, her expression melancholy. "I understand, now. But it's not like that at all. Father is old money. Mother's family was 'new rich'. Father's always bought the best for her, for me. But he's anti-social. All my life they've balanced each other. Father pays when Mother throws a social for me, but parties can never be on the property. I'm sure that Father hired Mr Beck to make portraits of Mother, but stipulated that his groupies not come around. That's surely the reason no one knew he was here."
"Melissa," Sarah said quietly, her bland tone rivetting the others to her. "Did you ever wonder if your parents are REALLY your parents?"
The fair girl blushed. She finally nodded. "I've wondered for years if I was adopted. When I found the portrait, I thought maybe I was illegally adopted and it was a picture of my real mother. Then I began having those dreams. Something about them terrifies me."
Sarah curled her feet under her and regarded Melissa steadily. "Why don't you hire a private investigator to try and dig up some facts?"
Melissa's face went completely red. "I couldn't do that. If I WAS illegally adopted, I'd rather find out on my own that expose my parents to public embarrassment. They've been wonderful to me."
"And if you discover something worse than that? Are you willing to search for the truth even if, for example, the truth is that your father murdered Beck? Even if Beck turns out to be your real father?" Melissa tried to speak, but Sarah continued. "If he does, will you report a nineteen year old murder to the police?"
Melissa shook her head through Sarah's questions. Her blush had faded, determination in her eyes. "I do want to know if I was adopted. I know Father isn't a murderer, so I'm not afraid of what I will find. I can see you're trying to be realistic, and I do thank you." She pushed strands of hair out of her eyes in a self-conscious gesture. "Please, can you help me? I can't leave for any length of time until the fall help arrives."
During the drive back to Collinsport, Sarah asked Charles what he was thinking. "Worm analogies," he replied after a moment.
"Worm analogies?" she asked.
"Opening a can of worms, digging for gold and finding worms." After a moment he began to sing, "Did you ever think when a hearse goes by that someday soon you too will die? They'll take you in, they'll measure you out, they'll bury you in the cold black ground. The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out, the worms play peanuckle on your snout...."
As he sang, Sarah sank into her seat, giggling. "I don't think you have the words quite right," she managed to say between giggles.
"Don't I? Perhaps this one, then. I'm Henry the Eighth I am, Henry the Eighth I am, I am-"
Sarah burst into laughter. "Stop! Stop!" She punched him playfully on the arm. He bent his head over to quickly kiss her knuckles and grinned. She left her hand on his shoulder and looked at him questioningly. "Do you think that's what we'll find out? That Mr Moline murdered Samuel Beck?"
Charles shrugged, casting a reassuring smile at her. "I have no idea. I do think it's interesting that she subconsciously thinks so."
"She..? Oh, yes. Melissa. She WAS the one who first said it."
"A little niggling voice in her head. Probably the same one that's had her keeping such a close eye on her mother."
Sarah shifted her arm under his arm and snuggled up against him, making her eyes wide in mock horror. "You don't think," she dropped her voice dramatically, "it's the ghost of Samuel Beck speaking to her."
"I don't believe in ghosts. If ghosts ever walk among the living, something is seriously wrong. I think she overheard something when she was a child. Perhaps her parents arguing."
"Hmm." Sarah closed her eyes, resting her head on his shoulder. After a while she said, "I'm not sure where to go from here. How to investigate further."
"The butler," said Charles.
Charles chuckled wryly. "They don't keep that house up by themselves. Very soft hands, both of them. I'd like to talk to their butler. He might remember Melissa's real mother."
"You don't think Mrs Moline had an affair?"
"I'm as sure as I can be without proof. That woman is not Melissa's mother. If she did, it's her own affair."
Sarah punched him on the arm as he laughed. Then she closed her eyes and leaned on his arm again. Sighing she said, "Perhaps the ghost is not Samuel Beck at all."
Charles glanced over at her sleepy face. He nudged her. "Who, then?"
"Maybe it's her mother. You get the butler. I'm going to check the town gossips. Whatever Melissa overheard may have been about her mother, not her father."
Charles had many hidden talents. While he had been waiting for the librarian's nephew to arrive with the book and newspaper, he wandered fau-innocently about the Moline mansion. Curiosity had taken him to the servants' quarters.
The photographs and few private possessions in the butler's room showed a man about forty-five years old. An idle search of the man's drawers had turned up matchbooks with the name of a bar in Collinsport, being the nearest town. An older man, set in his ways. It had come up in conversation with the young Miss Moline that this was the man's day off. Charles decided to haunt the bar and wait for the butler to show.
Eventually the butler did arrive. He ordered a lager and retreated to a dark booth. Charles watched him and was amazed at how familiar the man seemed. He was a tall, melancholy-seeming man whose feathery dark hair was liberally sprinkled with gray. He would drink from his lager, then stare at it pensively before ordering another. Though the man seemed steady, Charles suspected he was drunker than he looked by the third. It was time for the master to go to work.
Alan Hodgekins was feeling comfortably numb when a young man weaved past and lost his footing. His emptied mug skidded away. He stumbled back to his feet and looked around pathetically for it. Hodgekins watched him idly. A thin, gangly fellow. All arms and legs. His adolescence must have been a nightmare before he got used to his own height. Not so young, perhaps thirty years old. The impression of youngness had been the result of a glance into bewildered brownish eyes. There were lines of sadness carved into the man's face, and Hodgekins felt inexplicably sorry for him. He waved the waitress over and ordered the other man another beer.
As the waitress left, the young man turned unsteadily and smiled at him, saying "Thank you, sir."
Do I look so old? "Sure."
The young man thrust out a slightly unsteady hand. "Charles Keaton, at your service, sir."
Sighing to himself, he answered dutifully, "Alan Hodgekins." Briefly, he mused at Keaton's accent. The accent of someone who had travelled since childhood. A blending of tone that wavered uncertainly as it tested regional dialects to see what felt familiar.
About an hour later, the two men were still ensconced at the back table, buying each other the occasional drink. Since they were fairly quiet fellows, who after a time had taken to nursing their drinks slowly, the waitresses did not worry too much. Finally Hodgekins asked absently, "Why do you look so sad?"
Keaton, who had spent the last five minutes absorbed in spinning his mug on the table, turned his head and looked doleful. "Do I look sad?"
"Yes, you do."
"Oh." He went back to spinning his mug for a time. After a while, he said, "Today would have been my wife's birthday."
Hodgekins formerly only polite attention was drawn to the young man. He watched the mindless action of spinning the mug. He studied the sad, soulful eyes. He lifted the mug off the table, eliciting an injured look from his companion. "What happened to your wife?"
Keaton leaned back in the booth, his eyes distant and tired. "Complications on the childbed. They died."
"Lost both your wife and your baby," muttered Hodgekins. He was brought up short by Keaton's response.
"Not my baby. I cannot father a child. Didn't matter. Would've loved the little girl." Keaton fell silent, seeming to drop off the face of the Earth.
Hodgekins focused enough to vaguely remember that Keaton was actually a complete stranger he had only just met. The companionable feeling remained so he felt justified in asking, "Did you know the father?"
Keaton shrugged. "Didn't matter. She didn't love him. She just wanted a child so much. Sarah...."
"Sarah. A nice name."
The younger man started. "Oh, no. Sarah's my girlfriend. She's nineteen years old. My wife's name was Annabelle." He sank in his seat and laid his chin on the table. "What if she wants children? I can't go through that again. I won't."
"There's always adoption."
"Yes, but she might want a child of her own body. She's healthy and beautiful. What right do I have to deny her the chance to pass on her bloodline?"
"You do put things in peculiar ways, Keaton," Hodgekins commented. He slumped onto the tabletop and regarded the younger man out of the corner of his eye. "It takes one hell of a man to love a woman even when he knows she's been unfaithful to him."
"Oh, what do you know about such things?" muttered Keaton sadly. He closed his eyes.
"I loved someone that much once. A long time ago."
Keaton opened one eye to gaze blearily at his drinking companion. "Did she die?"
Hodgekins waved a hand at the waittress. His stomache was curdling as it always did when he thought of her. Usually a strong beer numbed it, but talking about her even in passing proved to waken the pain. "Yes, she did."
Keaton tilted his head, leaving it at a bizarre angle with his left cheek and temple pressed into the table. Both shimmering, brownish eyes opened to regard Hodgekins. "Tell me about her?" he asked, like a young boy requesting a bedtime story.
What the hell, the older man found himself thinking. Let someone else remember her with me. "Her name was Laura," he began. "She was a gentle, melancholy girl. Very clean and quiet when on duty. Liked to read, her voice was a pleasure to hear. Off-duty she liked to walk. We walked together sometimes." He felt a warm and pleasant glow in his heart. It was not so hard to talk about Laura, though he felt there was no way to describe all the things that made her special. Too many, too diverse. He was not a poet to string pretty words together. Images jumbled together in his thoughts and refused to become words. "She was enamored of one of our employer's guests, but the young man died. Afterwards she was more melancholy even than before. After a few months she stopped going out for walks and kept to her own quarters. I worried about her, but the Molines took pity on her and decided she should stay the winter at the mansion. The rest of us were let off." That had been odd. No one had argued with a season's paid vacation. Mr Moline was not usually the generous sort. "When I came back, she was gone. She died in winter."
"Left you with no keepsake to remember her by," Keaton said mournfully.
Keepsake? Hodgekins was struck again by Keaton's odd turn of phrase. He smiled slightly. "Oh, no. She did leave a most precious keepsake."
"What was it?"
At that moment, the bartender called closing time. The two men were forced to leave the bar, their mutually mournfull talk unfinished.
Charles meandered along the road, pausing at times to pick flowers from people's yards. When he was satisfied with the amount, he went back to the parking lot of the bar and left there in his station wagon. He drove to a bridge over the nearby river, where he got out and took the flowers to the railing. He bent his head to inhale the thick scent of the flowers, the broken greenness of their stems. He filled his senses with their existence before lifting his arms high and tossing the gathered flowers far out over the river. Leaning over the railing to watch them swirl away, he said softly, "I have never forgotten you, Annabelle. Nor little Daffyn." For, though they had died over two centuries ago, every word he had this night told Alan Hodgekins was the truth.
Two Days Later
"According to the gossips, Mr Moline is sterile. He and his wife were desperate for a baby, but after a few years they stopped talking to their family doctor about it. Then in... June or July of '56, Mrs. Moline started telling everyone she was pregnant. You can imagine the innuendo that flew. Who was the father? Everyone wondered," Sarah said.
She and Charles were curled up together on a sofa at the town library. She tucked her head into his shoulder while he skimmed the two newspaper articles she had dug up from the archives.
The December 20th, 1956 issue of the Collinsport Tribune contained an article titled, "MAID MISSING IN BLIZZARD". The photograph of Laura Brown was not clear enough to see if there was any resemblance to Melissa. There were also several articles about the snowstorm that had hit on December 15th, stranding people in their homes. Two houses had burned down and an elderly couple whose heat had failed had died. The blizzard had knocked out telephone lines in some areas.
Charles finished reading the article. He set the paper down with a thoughtful frown. "So, with his wife and their newborn daughter to care for, Mr Moline was unable to either search for Laura or to contact anyone until four days later."
"Yes, the poor girl."
The other paper was from January 20th, 1957 and the pertinent article was titled "MISSING GIRL FOUND DEAD". Laura Brown's remains, savaged by wild animals and desiccated from the winter weather, had been discovered at the foot of a small cliff near the Moline mansion.
Charles shook his head. "Well, that does explain why Melissa was drawn there."
Sarah snuggled in closer. "She must have overheard her parents talking about finding Laura's body."
"What shall we do now?"
"Oh, the simple thing. Tell Melissa what little we've discovered."
"We have a few facts and some suspicions."
Sarah smiled up at him. "Well, as you would say, if she wants concrete facts she should hire professionals."
The next Saturday morning, the Moline mansion:
Sarah leaned forward in the loveseat of Melissa's room. The other young woman was on the edge of her bed next to Gregory, looking anxious. "What we've learned, so far, won't really help you. These are our facts." She began listing, quietly. "One: Samuel Beck died on Route 6 around the period of time in which you were conceived. Two: He HAD been coming here to paint portraits of Anastasia Moline. Three: there is a portrait of another woman that appears to have been painted by Samuel Beck, but it is unsigned. Four: it was common knowledge that Matthew Moline was sterile and the Molines had been trying to have a baby. Five: a maid of the Molines, Laura Brown, died at the foot of that cliff around the same period of time in which you were born."
"And..?" Melissa asked, leaning forward in her seat.
"Those are all our facts. All else are simply conclusions we've drawn."
"I would like to know your conclusions."
Sarah drew a deep breath and straightened her shoulders. "There isn't much. We believe that Samuel Beck and Laura Brown were your real parents."
Melissa sighed and put her head in her hands. "I think so, too! But what about the murder?"
"Melissa, we have only the suspicion of a murder. We have no evidence. Only the police would have that. If you intend to pursue the idea that your father murdered Samuel Beck, then you should report why you think so to the police."
The young woman dropped her hands from her face as Sarah spoke. She looked haunted, her eyes brimming with tears. "I think so? Oh, oh dear God." She buried her face in her hands and Gregory held her in his arms. She drew in a few sniffles and dried her face as best she could before lifting her head to meet Sarah's eyes. "You're right. I DO think Father murdered Mr Beck."
"Ms Moline," Charles said suddenly, leaning forward so that he was shoulder to shoulder with Sarah. "We have told you the only things we are sure of. It may be enough to cause the police to re-open the investigation. It is NOT enough to prove that your father is a murderer."
Melissa uttered a choked laugh and smiled at him. "You know, last week I thought you were an utter cad. Now you're offering the only words of comfort that make any sense."
Embarrassed, Charles pulled back. "Well, I have studied law."
"I - I should bring us all some tea. I was so worried about what you'd tell me." She slipped off the bed.
Gregory followed. "I'll help you."
Sarah stepped out of washroom, brushing a stray tendril of hair from her eyes. She stopped in surprise. Next to the bannister stood Mrs Moline. She had a hanging plant in her hands, a chair next to her, and was staring up at the hook on the ceiling with an expression of perplexity on her face. Sarah said quickly, "Would you like some help with that, Mrs Moline?"
The woman turned her head, swaying slightly. She stared blankly for a moment, then said, "Oh, Miss Collins. How kind of you to offer. Please, hang this plant for me."
"Certainly, ma'am." Sarah stepped up on the chair and accepted the plant. She stretched up to hang it when hands slammed against her legs. With a scream, she tumbled over the bannister. The floor rushed up to meet her. There was a single moment of agonizing pain and the world went black.
Later, she would tell Charles and her old friend Gregory what happened to her next.
Sarah drifted. The memory of pain receded to a distant rumble. She opened her eyes and saw only greyness and shifting shadows. Shapes hulked toward her. "Charles!" she cried, suddenly frightened. From the far distance, and yet from all sides of her she thought she heard him answer. She chose a direction and tried to pull herself towards his voice. After an excruciatingly long time she saw someone ahead of her in the mists. "Charles?" she called again. The man in the mists turned and looked at her. she stopped in confusion. He looked like Charles, but there was something wrong. His clothing was utterly strange, like something out of a Shakespearean play. He leaned slightly, looking cocky and sure of himself. She met his eyes, and they were utterly familiar; cynical and with a certain wariness. Then his body rippled and he changed. The clothing became more simple. His dark hair was long and wild. He had the look of a person for whom baths or washings were few and far between. His bearing was no longer cocky, instead it was servile.
"Lady?" he asked her tentatively.
Hearing his voice, its tones familiar despite the absence of Charles' usual cynicism, she could no longer bear staring at his shadow and fled. She ran until the insubstantial mist around her shifted and her feet touched dry grass. Then her own sense of self scattered and she dissipated into the dream world she had entered.
Though Sarah's awareness was spread out, there remained a core that drifted until it fetched up against a softness. A woman's cheek, touched by early morning sunlight. The Moline mansion loomed at her back. She was tired, yet cheerful. Melissa? No, not Melissa... The resemblance was strong. As delicate as Melissa, with the same general facial shape but eyes more hazel than blue. Though the woman concentrated on the soft fur and happy purs of the cats under her fingertips, she was all too aware of the man sitting nearby. Sarah's attention shifted with the girl's.
She appreciated the long, sure fingers as they held a brush and tenderly applied paint to the small canvas on its stand in front of him. A blond man with darker sideburns and bright blue eyes. Sarah recognized Samuel Beck.
"Laura, why do you love those cats so much?" he asked. He had a good voice, Sarah noticed. It was a pleasant tenor.
"Oh, it's just that they are beautiful and loving," Laura replied, carefully avoiding looking at him.
The back door opened suddenly, and Mrs. Moline stepped through. She was radiantly lovely. Her hair coiled long and dark, just like in her portraits. Her laughter rang like bells and yet something about it grated harshly to Sarah. "There you are! My husband would like to discuss the price of the portraits with you." The man smiled good-naturedly at her and with a wave to Laura, followed her into the house.
Laura was finishing the dusting later that day when the artist came up behind her and caught her close in his arms. "Come to my room," he said softly.
Sarah could feel Laura's sudden panic. The girl was intensely aware of the man's body. She was also terribly frightened by the idea of showing him how little she knew. "Oh, no, I couldn't, Mr. Beck."
"Sam, you promised to call me Sam." He turned her around and pressed her against the wall, sliding one hand under her skirt. Sarah would have shrieked as Laura wanted to shriek when he slipped his hand inside the maid's pantys. Sarah struggled to pull her mind away from the liquid pleasure that was making Laura's knees go weak. Sam Beck was asking Laura, "Do you really mean that?"
"I've never," the young girl began to say weakly.
Sam picked her up in his arms and carried her into his room, kissing her. His tongue delved into her mouth until she lost her breath.
By the time Sarah managed to wrench herself free, she felt as though her entire body was on fire and she could think of nothing but how much she wanted to do those things with Charles.
As she managed to pull back, there was a sliding sensation and she fell into a morass of jealousy, envy and burgeoning hatred. Anastasia Moline it was, standing at the end of the hall. She stared at Samuel Beck's door with utter rage in her eyes. Then she turned and ran down the stairs to the study where her husband sat.
She ran into the room and hissed, "He's supposed to get ME pregnant, not sleep with that whore!"
Mr Moline looked up from his book, startled. His expression steadied rapidly. "Who would have thought an artist would balk at sleeping with a married woman?" he said wryly. He leaned forward, opened a drawer in his desk and lifted out a small vial. "Here," he handed it to Anastasia. "Give it to him with his tea this afternoon. Then you may have your way with him, and he will be none the wiser."
Anastasia took the vial in her hands and nodded nervously. She snuggled into her husband's arms, crying softly.
The scene shifted. In some part of her, Sarah was aware of time taking a small breath and pushing on ahead. Anastasia was helping Sam walk to his room. He was quite unsteady. Entering his room, she began undressing herself, and then the half-conscious man. Sarah was near panicked, but she did not have to pull away, this time. Intimate though their actions were, the drug muffled Sam's sensations and Anastasia's were less sexual than of an overwhelming need and anger.
It was the horrified anguish that shrieked across Sarah's nerves and caught her attention. Anastasia had not closed the door all the way, and Laura was standing there, her fists balled against her mouth. Anastasia whirled at the sound she made. "Get out of here, you little slut!" she hissed. "He doesn't want a worthless girl like you!"
Laura fled down to her quarters. She closed the door and fell weeping onto her small bed. Sarah, who was getting a handle on her witnessing, let herself slide to taste Laura's thoughts.
He said he loved me! He asked me to marry him! It was all a lie! He's probably laughing. Mrs. Moline was right, I am a slut. I gave him my virginity and he didn't care at all.
Sarah slipped out. Poor Laura, victim of another woman's jealousy. She made her way up in the house. The mass of anger that was Anastasia shifted suddenly. It became cold, calculating and cunning. Sara was drawn to it and found herself outside of the house. Anastasia, wearing gloves and a gardner's work clothes, was underneath one of the cars parked out front. A smug triumph flashed out from her as she pulled herself out, gathered up the box of tools beside her and vanished back into the house. Oh, no. Mr. Moline didn't murder Sam Beck! His WIFE did!
Hours later Sam tried the handle of Laura's door and, finding it locked, knocked hard. "Sweetheart? Are you in there? Please, come out!" he pleaded.
"GO AWAY!" she screamed at him, her voice shaking.
Sam radiated a bizarre mix of understanding and confusion. "I didn't mean to sleep with her! I don't even know how it happened. Please, honey, I love you! I'm leaving, come with me?" he pleaded, his own anguish growing.
Laura curled up on her bed and scrunched her pillow around her head to cut off the sound of his voice. Eventually she cried herself to sleep. When she woke later that evening, Samuel Beck was long gone. The next day they heard about his death. Laura retreated into herself. She worked hard, as before, but she would not speak unless she had to. Sometimes at night she wept for Sam Beck. Other times she was glad he was dead. The days turned into weeks. Then she began to feel terribly nauseated.
Sarah, her attention tethered to Laura, felt time pass in the same way the girl did. It just seemed to happen. It went so quickly, day to day there and gone. As days slipped into weeks, Sarah wondered how much time was passing in the real world. She also wondered why, after so many years, had the weirdness that plagued her family finally decided to touch her.
It was Mr. Moline who discovered Laura's condition quite by accident, catching her throwing up one afternoon. He called her into his study. Sarah, for whom the past several weeks had blurred into a succession of boredom, felt his pleased plotting. She no longer listened to many of their words, she largely only payed attention to the emotional content of their thoughts. Mr. Moline confirmed that Laura was pregnant. He talked of the difficulties an unwed mother had in this world. He spoke of how unfair society was to a bastard child. He talked of how desperately he and his wife wanted a baby. Though sitting, he projected a bizarre sensation of being a circling buzzard.
As he spoke, Laura seemed to shrink smaller and smaller. Her feelings sometimes echoed Mr. Moline's words. Why should she be saddled with raising a child by a man who had treated her like garbage? Why shouldn't her child be raised by such rich parents? Other times her thoughts were a wail of pain. I'm too wretched to live! I'm so alone! How can I possibly take care of my baby? We'll be beggers, starving on the streets.
Laura agreed in a whisper to give her child to the Molines when it was born. They shook hands on the deal. Mr. Moline told her that he trusted her word. He was so smug and pleased with himself, that Sarah wished she could somehow touch this dream-world she was in. She would have loved to tear his face off with her fingernails.
As Laura's pregnancy progressed and became difficult to hide, Mr. Moline put the other servants who maintained the household on leave, declaring that he and his wife intended to "rough it" with only Laura for company. Without a soul to talk to, Laura suddenly found herself a prisoner in the cellar room.
Mrs. Moline watched Laura's pregnancy. She carefully arranged her clothing so that it seemed as though she was pregnant. When they went into town she and her husband would talk about the pregnancy with whomever they met. They bought baby formula, stocking up just in case they were trapped during the winter, as occasionally happened. Then the winter snows hit and reduced their visits to town.
One dark day, a blizzard came in silence. The huge flakes buried cars and trees, the outside became a mass of white and deadening cold. Laura went into labor. The Molines went into a panic. What if something happened? After long consideration, they determined to do the best they could and let chance take care of the rest.
Sarah reached in and wrapped her feelings around Laura's. Though she could not touch or in any way change what was happening, she still felt better not leaving the poor young woman. Someday, I too will have a child. But in heavens name it'll be in a hospital, and not near anyone like the Molines!
Laura's daughter was born around five in the evening. Anastasia Moline cut the umbilical cord, cooing happily as she wrapped the tiny, purple human in a blanket. She and her husband took the baby out of the room.
Weak from the birthing and abandoned, Laura tossed and turned in delirium. Visions of Sam crept through her thoughts. I died, and you gave away our baby? I didn't mean to sleep with her! I don't even know how it happened! It wasn't our daughter's fault. A thin, wailing cut through her thoughts. My daughter, she's crying. Weak as she was, she staggered to her feet. She was unaware of the liquids dripping from her gown. Blood and other fluids slickened the floor as she stumbled to the door. The thin cries led her outside into the darkness. She did not notice the freezing cold snow as she pushed her legs through it. The blood froze even as her skin broke open on her feet. She was too numb to feel it. She followed the cries until the ground seemed to remove itself from beneath her and she fell. She seemed to fall forever.
Sarah frantically drew back, not wanting to go through the moment of impact again. She pulled back into a calculating, smug relief. Mr. Moline stood atop the cliff, gazing down at the dark dent in the snow below.
The world around her swirled up in snow, cold and chill. Sarah shivered and then shrieked in surprise as she lost her footing. The vision was over, the story that had wanted her to see it had released her. She was once again adrift in this strange place. Sarah closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath. Having witnessed two murders and lived with the maliciousness of Anastasia and the calculating coldness of Mr. Moline (what IS his first name anyway? she wondered idly), she felt that not much else could ever throw her. She curled up, mustered her courage, and called as she had called when this began: "Charles!"
Once again she could almost hear him answer from all directions. Once again, with tired exasperation and prayers on her lips, she set off in one direction, to see what there was to see. She came upon a man who sat thoughtfully in the mists. He was dressed in white desert garb, his dark hair matted with days worth of sand. He was stabbing his palm, again and again, with a tiny, sharp dagger. Sarah watched for a short time as the injuries repeatedly closed and he reopened them. His profile, his coloring, was all Charles. Even from where she stood, she could smell the dirt and heat, and blood. The last made her very nervous.
She cautiously cleared her throat. There was no reaction. "Excuse me," she said tentatively. He turned his face toward her and she jerked back, startled. Half of his face was blue. His eyes shimmered with red shadows, ancient rage. She almost fled. Forcing herself to stand still, she asked, "Do you know where Charles is?"
He stared coldly back at her, seeming annoyed at having his self-mutilation interrupted. "You went the wrong direction. Try the other way," he said irritably, pointing.
"I see, thank you," she managed to whisper. As she turned, carefully not running in some bizarre fear that he might chase her, she thought she heard him mutter, "Damned mortals always cling to the past." Having just come from the vision of Laura Brown's life, this struck her as funny and she covered her mouth so that he would not hear her laugh.
Collins family trait, this. She was meeting Charles' past lives. Reincarnation was a very old belief. In this place where the dead spoke, she wondered if she would also encounter the Sarah Collins who had died two centuries before, victim of a vampire's attack. As a child, she herself had looked just like her distant cousin.
She kept walking. After a while, she tried again. "Charles?" she asked. She did not shout this time, theorizing that only the nearest one would anwer her. She thought she heard a response somewhere ahead of her. She gamely continued forward. She stopped and stared in surprise when she finally found a man ahead of her.
He had a yoyo in his hands and was walking the dog. He seemed younger than Charles, close to her own age. Looking pleased with himself, he began to do other yoyo tricks. Sarah almost laughed, but resisted the impulse. "Excuse me?" she tried.
He jumped in surprise and looked around at her. Oh, it was so close to Charles. His eyes were brighter, his gaze shy when he met her eyes. "Yeah, can I help you?" His accent was Charles', at least.
"Ah, I'm looking for Charles. He's supposed to be somewhere around here."
He put his hands in his pockets, the yoyo having disappeared somehow. "Yeah, he's pretty close by," he said, looking shyly mischevious. "Look, you just sit down and close your eyes. Think about your Charles. Count to twenty and open your eyes. You'll find him then."
"Sit down, close my eyes, think about Charles and count to twenty?" Sarah asked him dubiously.
"Yes, but you must remember to open your eyes at the end of that."
Sarah giggled in spite of herself. "Who are you?" she asked quickly.
"Oh, my name is Adam," he answered. He held out his hand for her to shake.
She took it between her own and caressed it just to see him blush. "I'm very pleased to meet you, Adam. Goodbye." For suddenly she felt a sense of urgency, as if she was running out of time in this shapeless place. She let his hand go and sat down, closing her eyes. Charles, his wit and wicked humor, his rakish smile. She smiled to herself at the thought of him. "There's no place like home," she murmured and thought she heard Adam laugh. At the count of twenty she opened her eyes.
A white room, her face swathed in some sort of wrap. Pain throbbing dully. Charles bending over her. She reached her hand to touch his face despite the twinge of sharper pain. "Hi," she whispered.
"Hi, yourself." Charles ran his fingers along her open skin, wincing at the black circles around her eyes. Sarah had been lucky. A cuncussion, a few cracked ribs, one arm broken from landing on it.
"What happened?" she asked him.
"Well," he began.
He explained that he had stepped out of Melissa's bedroom just in time to see Mrs. Moline shove Sarah over the railing. He had run down the stairs as quickly as he could to tend to her. The sound of her scream brought Mr. Moline, Melissa and Gregory running. Charles turned red as he described how, once sure there was nothing more he could do for Sarah, he had very nearly throttled Mrs. Moline. It had taken the combined efforts of the other three people there to get him off of her. He then demanded they call the police and arrest her for attempting to murder Sarah. He accused her of killing Samuel Beck and Laura Brown.
The woman had broken then, weeping. She admitted to sabotaging Beck's automobile in a fit of jealous rage. But....
Sarah interrupted his accounting. "But it was Mr. Moline who murdered Laura Brown."
"Oh, were you conscious?"
She giggled, then wished she hadn't as her head started ringing. She raised her hand and stroked it lightly down his nose. "I'm glad half your face isn't blue," she whispered musedly. Charles went still under her hand. "I saw your next life," she added.
Choking slightly, Charles sat down in the chair. "Will my face be blue in my next life?"
Sarah giggled again, then touched her forehead with a wince of pain. "No, that was a previous life. You're going to be Adam."
It took Charles until three days after Sarah was released from the hospital to get up the certainty to actually say goodbye to her. He wavered a few times. The conviction hit that he could not take her with him and maintain the Adam Pierson identity. She herself had foreseen that he would be Adam. Never mess with prophesy. Just get the hell out of the way of it, if you can. He was stunned when he came to her door and found her waiting for him. She smiled wanly at him and ushered him to a chair. Instead of sitting next to him as she would have before, she sat across from him.
"You know, it's a pity I never took you to see the family mansion at Collinwood. You would have liked it," she finally said.
Charles bowed his head and smiled. "Well, as long as the ghost of your ancestress stays out of sight." He met her eyes, his own full of sorrow. "I hadn't expected," he began.
"I didn't mean," she said at the same time.
They laughed at the confusion. Charles waved at Sarah to speak first.
"I didn't mean to frighten you away," she finally said.
Charles felt a partial relief. It was much better that she thought he was frightened than that she know the true reason he had to leave. Sarah had the Sight. To be with her much longer, to marry her and be with her in the intimacy of their bodies.... He could not have that kind of relationship with her. He could not have that, for he would soon not be able to choose what she would learn about him. The Game would come and while he could protect himself, it was so much more difficult to protect a mortal lover. She had seen him as Adam, in the identity he was still so carefully building.
"Oh, Charles!" Sarah clenched her fists in her lap and began to weep quietly.
Oh, that was wrong. He did not want her to weep. He found himself fighting a desire to stay. No, best go now. There would never be a better time, it would only get worse the more attached they grew to each other. Sarah would live the life of a mortal, at the longest about one-fiftieth of his own remembered lifespan.