xvi. Aubrey

When I saw Terry coming down the stairs, I had just completed my fourth slow circuit around the lower floor of the Manor. I was not even sure what I was doing there; I had no idea if my presence would be required, or even desired, but something told me that I should not return to my apartment and settle in for the night.

The rain had stopped some time ago; I could see through the large dining room window that it was going to turn into a beautiful, if a bit soggy, moonlit night. The house was very quiet, with only the occasional call of a hunting bird or far-off dog bark to break the stillness. I usually liked this kind of night very much. Tonight, I only wanted it to be over and the sun to be out again.

I spotted Terry immediately at the top of the stairway, since with the exception of the pendulum on the old grandfather clock in the hall, he and I were the only moving parts of the Manor at the moment. He came down slowly, not moving with that strange graceful economy of motion that was normally imparted by his enhanced reflexes (Dr. Stone had a similar, but subtly different, way of moving that never failed to unnerve me a bit, though I never let him know it). It occurred to me that he must be almost as tired as everyone else in the household, though he had probably eaten and slept more than Dr. Stone and Nigel combined. I watched him descend and did not approach him until he reached the ground floor. "Sir."

"Aubrey," he said in greeting. His tone was odd. I waited, sensing that he would say more if I gave him the chance. After a moment, he looked at me. "I think you should— go up there. I'm worried about him."

"Worried, sir?" My gaze darted quickly up the stairs. "Nigel—?"

He nodded. "Nigel's...gone. 'Hawk's in there with him now. He—won't leave." His face showed more emotion than I could ever remember seeing on it. "I've never seen him like this before. I've seen him stare down a dragon, and he didn't look like this." He spread his hands. "I don't know what to do. Can you help? I—I don't think it's doing him any good to stay in there."

I closed my eyes, momentarily overcome. Nodding wordlessly, I reached out, squeezed the young man's shoulder briefly, and hurried up the stairs, fighting my whirling emotions. I did not notice whether or not Terry followed me.

Dr. Stone lay across the body of young Nigel. He did not move or even acknowledge my presence as I came into the room. I stood near him. "Sir—"

"Leave me, Aubrey," he said. I swallowed hard at the despair in his tired tone.

"Sir, I can't do that," I told him apologetically. Laying a gentle hand on his shoulder, I continued, "Please, let me help you. Let me help Nigel. You need to rest now. You've done the right thing, sir. You've done what you had to do. Now let us help you."

Under my hand, I felt his shoulder begin to shake. His body stiffened, and his hands clenched into tight fists. "Aubrey—" he whispered, his voice catching in his throat. "I—What have I done? What have I done..." His words trailed off. His whole body shook now, wracked by silent sobs.

Not since he had been a boy had I seen Dr. Stone weep, but I could not console him now in the way I had done then: by pulling him into my arms and giving him the human contact he had never gotten from his aloof and preoccupied parents. Instead, I settled for tightening my grip on his shoulder and sitting down on the edge of the bed to wait quietly. As long as he did not tell me to leave, I would remain.

For a long time, he did not seem to notice me; I knew him well enough to know that this was the only way he could reveal so much of himself: by pretending there was no one else around. I did nothing to challenge this pretense. Finally, though, he pushed himself up on his shaking arms and whispered, "Thank you, Aubrey. But please go now. You'll—make the necessary arrangements?"

I moved my hand from his shoulder and put it on his arm. "Yes, sir. Of course I will."

"I...I want him to be buried...here. On the grounds. In the old family plot."

I nodded. "Of course, sir. I'll—see to everything. You needn't be concerned." I took my hand away and started to rise from my perch on the edge of the bed.

"Oh—and Aubrey?" Now he turned to face me; I was shocked at how wretched he looked.

"Yes, sir?"

"Please...see to it that—well, that it's kept quiet. The circumstances, I mean. I...suppose you'll need to have someone over..."

"Yes, sir, I'm afraid so," I said quietly. "But I'll take care of it. No one will know but the doctor. Please don't worry, sir," I added. "Let me do this for you."

He stared hard into my eyes for a long moment, then nodded. "Yes. Yes—thank you, Aubrey." Then he sank down again, his head in his hands, next to Nigel. I crept quietly from the room.

[Prev] [Magespace] [Blood Ties] [Next]