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  1. #41
    Declan McDermott and Clare Murphy



    That was the one glimmer of hope in this sorry mess, Declan realized - all of this was in the past. They couldn't change things because the outcome was already decided. Fortunately in that outcome, Clare was alive. Not just still breathing, but living a full life on her own terms. Riff was right; Clare had survived. Clare was okay. Declan's breathing slowed slightly. He understood now why they were here, what Iphigenia wanted him to see. And it had changed everything he thought he knew about himself. To think, he'd been foolish enough to imagine Clare would want his engagement ring on her finger. He was lucky she tolerated him at all.

    Declan nodded to Riff, closed his eyes, and waited for the horrible memory to be over. "Thank you," he said softly. "I'm glad you're here."


    ***


    "That's enough!" Clare said sharply.

    "Far from it," Iphigenia said dismissively. "They haven't seen--"

    "Enough!" Clare's tone was so harsh that her mother stopped short and stared at her. "This isn't your memory. This isn't what happened to you. I'm sorry you had to see it with your clairvoyance, but that doesn't mean you have to inflict it on anybody else. Least of all my boyfriend! You've already given me more than enough to apologize for!"

    "Apologize for? But what happened back in the Drowned City wasn't your fault..."

    "No, mother. It wasn't. But now you're using what I went through - using me as a weapon to bludgeon innocent people with. I won't stand for that. Declan and Riff had nothing to do with this. Those humans caused me pain in the past, yes... but the only one causing me pain right now is you."


    ***


    The memory ended abruptly. It was not clear to Declan - since he hadn't heard Clare's last statement to her mother - why Iphigenia chose that particular moment to release them, but the scene blurred again and suddenly their consciousness was back in the hotel, back to their bodies that had never left.

    That didn't mean everything was back to normal, though. Declan's whole world had turned inside out, and he crouched on his hands and knees on the plush hotel carpet, fighting the urge to pass out or throw up, or maybe just scream.

    Clare, clearly worried, dropped to her knees beside him and wrapped her arm around him. "It's alright, love," she said soothingly. "It's over. It's alright. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry... to both of you."

    She closed her eyes and kissed Declan's forehead, fighting to contain her own shame and guilt about the vicarious trauma that had just been inflicted on two good men.
    Last edited by Monkey Kitty; 10-29-2018 at 05:31 PM.
    "Sleep to dream, and we dream to live..." -Great Big Sea

  2. #42
    Paladin Quaxo9 is offline Quaxo9's Avatar
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    Riff was relieved to find himself back in the hotel room, back in his normal clothes, back in a time where everyone he loved wasn't getting torn away from him. The blackness falling from his eyes, he kneeled down and took a hold of Pepper. The dog had been pawing at his leg while he'd been in his trance-like state, working herself into a frantic state when Riff hadn't responded. Now that they were safely out of the nightmare, the tears began to flow. He tried not to be dramatic about it. Still, though that scene from this particular Fae family's past had been awful in its own right, Riff couldn't help how it brought him back to his personal nightmare from not so very long ago.

    It reminded him that he was lonely.

    He allowed himself several minutes on that floor with his dog (currently on loan) before he took a deep breath, kissed Pepper's head and shakily stood to his feet. Pepper leaned into his leg as though Riff were about to disappear into thin air and she was the only one who could stop it. Her protectiveness brought a chuckle from the Lycan, who made a concession and sat on the couch instead. The dog was instantly on his lap and he was very glad for her closeness.

    At least Declan and Clare had each other. Though, as he looked at the scene before him he thought to himself that sometimes physical closeness and personal closeness were two very different things indeed. His heart clenched in his chest. Above many things, Riff believed in love. It pained him to see something he believed in challenged so mercilessly.
    Winner of the dubious Vaarsuvius Award for Verbousness!

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  3. #43
    Declan McDermott and Clare Murphy



    For several long minutes, Declan just felt paralyzed. It was all he could do to keep breathing in and out, let alone move or speak. He was still too shocked - both by the horrific suffering he had witnessed, and by the awful revelations about himself - to know how to react, what to do or say. He didn't want to let go of Clare, though, didn't want to move away from the embrace that was the only thing keeping him at all grounded when his whole world had been upended.

    "Declan?" Clare finally said hesitantly. "Can you talk to me?"

    Declan nodded, took another moment to collect himself, then met Clare's eyes. "They hurt you..." he said.

    "They did," Clare agreed. "What happened was awful. But it was a long time ago. Life went on. I'm sorry you had to see it."

    Declan hadn't wanted to, of course - but he wasn't the one who'd had to live through it. If she could survive the actual experience, surely he could survive the mere memory... though he knew it would haunt him. That he would see those scenes in his mind and his nightmares for the rest of his life. It had changed him in some as yet imperceptible way, and there was no going back.

    "They were monsters," Declan said. "And I... I'm a monster too, I saw it..."

    "No," Clare said firmly. "No, you are not. What they did was not your fault. It was out of your control. You are nothing like them. You were willing to die for me. You just found out about the Fae thing today, but even so you've taken every opportunity to try to protect and comfort us. I've never seen you intentionally hurt anybody, and I know I never will. You're nothing like them - and you know that in your heart. You must know. You would never do those things. Would you?"

    Declan shook his head. She was right. In his heart, he knew he could never commit such acts of cruelty. Maybe it wasn't necessary to hate himself, despite his bloodline.

    Iphigenia was being uncharacteristically silent; even she finally seemed to realize she had gone too far, that she had done something that couldn't easily be taken back. Alessa and Erin were also quiet, unsure how to interact with anyone who had been involved in the painful little drama.

    Clare continued to hold Declan, continued to keep her arms around him. "It's alright, love," she said. "We'll get through this. We'll be alright."

    It was harder to know what to say to Riff. She had been flat-out worried about Declan, but at least with him she didn't have to worry about her weaknesses being exposed. Riff too had seen her vulnerable now, though, and that embarrassed her. Her cheeks were faintly red as she said, "Hey, Riff, I'm sorry you got dragged into this. Really sorry. Apparently my mother isn't going to apologize to anybody, so I will. I hope you don't think less of me."

    She didn't want him to think she was just some fragile little victim who let herself get pushed around.

  4. #44
    Paladin Quaxo9 is offline Quaxo9's Avatar
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    He agreed with Clare - Declan was no monster. The man didn't have a dishonest bone in his body, let alone a violent one. It was truly terrible than a man that careful, that nice, had to see the things that people could do to each other. He'd seen Lycans do similar to Lycans, Vampires to Vampires, Fae to Fae and Humans to Humans - and every match up thereof - and even he hadn't wanted to see yet another scene of hatred and chaos.

    Riff's body felt heavy as the emotional attack left him devoid of energy. So, when Clare approached to apologize, his head swung up to lean back on the couch so he could meet her eyes with minimal effort. He wasn't completely out of energy, though. The Lycan's eyes hadn't lost their sincerity, but had gained a strength often hidden by his smile. He looked at Clare for a full minute, trying to figure out exactly what she meant. Why would he think any less of her? It wasn't like she could make her mother stop the nightmare from all the way wherever she was. Maybe she meant...oh. As the idea dawned on him, a ghost of a smile reappeared on his lips as he pulled himself upright.

    "It's alright Clare, don't trouble yourself. I've seen horrors before and sadly, likely will again. You're not responsible for how others behave. And from what I've seen in this spanse of a day, you ARE responsible for how YOU behave - rare thing these days. I don't know how to say it quite right, but you've got a pair of steel! I would hate to be on your bad side."

    He finished with a wink, then leaned back into the couch. Truth was, Clare reminded him of so many of the amazing women back home who had come through terrible situations and insurmountable odds changed, but still fighting. Riff respected them so much for that. It awed him how someone could bounce back from some of the things they experienced to live the full, amazing lives they did. His Maria did that...but what right did he have to call her "his"? She was her own - and he hoped that she still was.

  5. #45
    Clare Murphy and Declan McDermott



    That actually managed to bring a smile to Clare's face. "Thanks," she said. "I appreciate that. Really."

    Iphigenia, who had been quiet since the memory ended, finally spoke up - and when she did, it was not her daughters she addressed, but Declan, in what at first appeared to be a complete non sequitur. "McDermott!" she said, rotating her image in the water so that she was staring directly at the musician. "I hope you plan on giving me grandchildren."

    For a moment, Declan's brain spun in neutral. It wasn't that it was a matter he and Clare had never considered; rather, it was so far removed from the intense events that had just been happening that it took him a second to process the content of the request. "Yes," he said, still sounding a little blurred. "Clare and I have talked about adoption..."

    "Good," Iphigenia replied. "Clare should have the chance to be a mother."

    The image in the water swirled, and the matriarch of the Murphy family was gone.

    It was only after she had departed that Declan managed to put together the significance of the exchange. Iphigenia hadn't apologized - apologies and admissions of wrong from Iphigenia were rare - but this was the next best thing. By talking about children, Iphigenia was telling him that she had finally accepted the permanence of his relationship with Clare... and that was no small thing.

    Clare realized it too, and was relieved. She had been willing to defy her mother, but the family tension had weighed on her. She was pleased to see that resolution was at least on the horizon.

    For the moment, though, there were practical concerns - the most immediate of which was that everyone was clearly exhausted. They still needed to figure out how much the Cold Iron Brotherhood knew, but they would all be more productive after getting some rest. The hotel suite wasn't huge, but there was enough space to find everyone a place to sleep. Clare's own body was sore from the damage she had absorbed from Declan's injuries, and she knew she needed to give herself a break if she was going to stay on her feet.

    Declan was still looking at her with concern, still struggling to come to terms with what he had witnessed in the memory. "Do you need anything, Clare? Is there anything I can do...?"

    Clare gave him a loving, sad smile, then took his face in her hands and kissed his temple. "No, sweetheart," she said gently. "What you saw tonight was a fresh wound for you - but remember that for me, it's an old scar. I've had many, many years to heal. I'm alright. All I need is for you to keep loving me, and keep being yourself."

    Declan gave her a lopsided grin. "No worries, because I can't help doing either of those things."

    As they set up the sleeping arrangements, Clare turned to Riff and said, "I hope you're planning on sticking around tonight? It's late, and it wouldn't be a good idea for an immortal to wander the streets alone with what's going on." Offering him her phone, she added, "If there's anyone you need to contact, if you need to let someone know where you are...?"
    Last edited by Monkey Kitty; 11-29-2018 at 04:35 PM.

  6. #46
    Paladin Quaxo9 is offline Quaxo9's Avatar
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    "Absolutely. I appreciate you putting me up for the night." Riff was more than pleased to be inside and with friends instead of huddled up in an alley or in the corner of a hostel surrounded by strangers. His smile turned a bit sad as he shook his head at the offered phone.

    "Thanks, but there's no one to call. See, my community was attacked several years ago and we agreed not to try to contact each other for 5 years. The time isn't quite up yet - and anyway, I have no idea where the person I most want to talk to is." He chuckled and rubbed the back of his neck. "Just because we weren't supposed to contact each other doesn't mean I haven't been keeping a look out for any sign of her and her daughter. I know they made it out, but after that..."

    His voice tapered off. It was still sort of hard to say their names out loud. When he did, it made him miss them more. Little Sophie would be five now. Were they both even still alive? How in the world was he going to find two hidden people?

    "Maria. Her name is Maria and her little girl's name is Sophie." It came out in a rush. He needed someone to know. Someone else to know who they were and that they were important to him. "Maria and I were dating and...well...I really wanted to be Sophie's dad. I'm not sure I'm going to get that chance."

  7. #47
    Clare Murphy and Declan McDermott



    Clare's breath caught in her throat. "I'm so sorry to hear that!" she said. "That's awful." It was clear from the intensity in Riff's voice that this woman and child meant a lot to him. It had to be agonizing, not knowing where they were or whether they were safe. Clare had an inkling of how it felt after tonight - losing Declan, the frantic search, the fear that when she found him it would be too late - but her fear and worry had been quickly resolved, and although some scars would linger from this evening, they would be alright. Riff, on the other hand, had been going through it for years. What a nightmare!

    Declan was quiet for a moment. Clare assumed he was processing the gravity of the situation, which he was... but there was another layer in his contemplation. Declan was seeing a glimmer of a solution.

    "Hey, I have an idea," Declan said hesitantly. "It might sound crazy, but hear me out. I bet the only reason she hasn't contacted you is that she doesn't know how to find you. You have no way to reach her, right? But maybe we can show her a way to reach you without putting her in danger by making her reveal her location publicly. What if we... well... we could write a song about her? First names only, keep it general but put in a few inside references that she'll recognize. Then we can have the band record it and release it for free on the internet, get it distributed as widely as possible. We'll say we're doing it as publicity for our European tour. No one will think anything of us releasing a song with some random girl's name - especially a common one like Maria. Musicians write songs all the time using names that just fit the beat or sound good; there would be no reason for most people to think it refers to anyone specific. But if Maria hears it, she'd know someone is looking for her and who she can get in touch with to find you. So... um... what do you think?"

  8. #48
    Paladin Quaxo9 is offline Quaxo9's Avatar
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    Letting out a long breath, Riff realized he'd been waiting a long time to say that out loud - that he was serious about loving Maria and joining her and Sophie's family. Some of the weight he'd been carrying around for the last four years seemed to disappear. Riff almost forgot to inhale when Declan described his idea. A way to find Maria...without putting either of them at risk? His mouth hung open for a full minute before he lept off the couch, reaching out to pump Declan's hand up and down.

    "Are you kidding me? That is the most amazing plan I have ever heard! You'd really do that for me? Oh man...this is going to be amazing!"

    As excited as he was to have a chance to find Maria and Sophie, Riff was also super stoked by the fact that his favourite band was going to write a song about his girlfriend! The Lycan finally released Declan's hand and sat back down with a blush on his face.

    "Thank-you. It's been hard to stay hopeful through all this. You've really given me a boost."

  9. #49
    Declan McDermott and Clare Murphy



    "Hey. Of course. Glad to help if I can." Declan flushed slightly as he shook Riff's hand, pleased that his idea had been so well-received, but a little startled by the effusiveness of the response. Even with all the gigs they'd played and the music they'd sold, it always took Declan a little by surprise when he met a truly dedicated fan. It was a surprise in a good way, of course - but it remained a little baffling for a guy who still saw himself as a normal hometown boy who had happened to make good in a weird career. "I mean, when you love someone... it's worth fighting for. It's worth a lot. And if I can contribute in some small way, I want to. Not just because you helped save my life, but because this... well, it matters. And I want to see a happy ending."

    Clare smiled at that, impressed by her boyfriend but far from shocked. He was a good egg, and she knew it. She was a lucky woman.

    Everyone was exhausted, so it wasn't long before everyone started dispersing to bed. Declan pulled Clare into his arms - gently, mindful that she was still bruised and sore - and she snuggled against him.

    "I'm sorry," Clare whispered. "I'm sorry that I lied to you."

    "It's okay," Declan whispered back. "Obviously I'm hoping it won't happen again. You can trust me. I hope you realize that now. But under the circumstances... well, what else were you going to do? You thought you'd be risking your life if you told me. You didn't know how I'd react. I understand."

    "Thanks, but..." Clare lightly kissed his neck, then went on. "I know you better than that. I should have believed my gut instead of letting panic get the better of me. Next time I won't lie, I swear. Thanks for sticking around."

    "No problem," he replied sincerely. "There's nowhere else I'd wanna be."

    It didn't take much to explain his absence to the band the next day. They'd been told the bike accident story. The three of them knew each other well, though, and had covered a lot of miles together - and they knew Declan wasn't telling the whole truth, especially when he suddenly felt an urgent need to release a song about a "fictional" girl. Fortunately, they also knew Declan well enough to accept it when he admitted that there was more to it, but he couldn't tell them just yet. He planned to. His bandmates were his best friends. But he had to figure out how to do it in a way that wouldn't endanger their lives, and when they were in an uncertain situation far from home, their best protection was not to be dragged into it at all.

    "So what do you want to do now?" Declan asked Riff after the impromptu recording was complete. "We're supposed to leave for our gig in Switzerland tomorrow. You can come if you want? Or we can get in touch if we hear from her?"

  10. #50
    Maria



    Swithin School, Switzerland

    A school maid and the assistant librarian looked up from the computer they were huddled over as Maria walked into the staff lounge.

    "Hey Maria!" the assistant librarian said. "This song sounds like it could practically have been written about you!"

    "That's neat," Maria replied with only vague interest. Songs about people named Maria were not exactly difficult to find. It was a common name with a tidy number of syllables. It wasn't as exciting for Maria to hear her name on the radio as it would be for a listener to whom it was more of a novelty.

    Truth be told, Maria didn't listen to music much anymore. It only made her sad. When a song moved her, her immediate impulse was to talk about it with Riff - and Riff was long gone. Not dead, hopefully. She had no way of knowing for sure, but she couldn't quite imagine him being dead. It was easier to imagine him alive somewhere, happy, establishing a future for himself. He would have moved on by now, of course.

    Maria... had tried to move on. She had really tried. In some ways it had worked well. She had a decent job at a school - just one of the cleaning staff, that was all that her interrupted formal education would allow, but she got to talk to the students and she liked helping them with their problems. The pay wasn't great, but it included lodging and allowed her to support her daughter. Sofie was a kindergartner now, bright and feisty. It made Maria sad that her daughter would have no memory of the home they once had. Maybe it was easier that way, though. At least Sofie didn't know what she was missing.

    Hiding out hadn't been that difficult. Swithin School was remote, and the students and most of the staff spoke a different language than the locals, so no one expected them to interact much. On the rare occasions she had to venture to town, she covered her distinctive curls with a scarf just to make sure she would not be recognized. Not that anyone seemed to be looking for them. An assumed surname seemed to be all it took to keep them safe - at least here. The wider world was a very different matter.

    That was why Maria couldn't look for Riff, as much as she missed him. She desperately wanted to reassure herself that he was okay, but it was too much of a risk. A risk to him, but also a risk to Sofie. Maria was not the sort of mother who would put her daughter in danger to try to reconnect with her boyfriend.

    Besides, what would she even say to him? He would think she was pathetic now. He would ask what she was doing with her life - the question was inevitable - and she wouldn't really have an answer other than that she was keeping her head down and surviving. The worst part would be the pity Riff would feel for her if he realized that she still loved him, because surely by now he had someone else. She didn't blame him for that. It had been more than enough time to grieve and move on... except that she hadn't. She couldn't. He had been the love of her life, and she had hoped he would become the father of her child. It wasn't so simple to just forget him, even if she knew she would never see him again.

    It was better just to imagine him happy.

    And yet... she wished she knew for sure that he was.

    Later, after Sofie was asleep and Maria had returned to the staff lounge to retrieve a book, curiosity finally got the better of her and she sat down at the computer to listen to the song that had reminded her co-workers of her. What she heard took her completely by surprise. This wasn't just a generic love ballad that could have been written for any woman. It was like it had been written by someone who knew her - knew things about her that even the assistant librarian and her fellow maid could not have guessed when they innocently pointed out a song with her name.

    Maria sat at the computer and played the song over and over, tears streaming down her face. Then, resolute, she stood up, wiped her cheeks, and went to tell her supervisor that she needed the following evening off to attend a concert. The supervisor was shocked - Maria had never taken so much as a sick day, and had never expressed the slightest interest in attending a social event - but granted her request.

    The whole train trip, Maria asked herself again and again what she was doing. What did she expect to happen, following a song? She didn't have a plan as she merged into the concert crowd in her oversized coat with with her head down and her hair hidden by her scarf, and Sofie's little hand clinging tightly to hers.
    Last edited by Monkey Kitty; 03-03-2019 at 01:47 PM.

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