xviii. Aubrey

It was a difficult thing for me to leave Dr. Stone standing there in such despair, but in retrospect I think Terry was right in suggesting that I not interfere. We made our way slowly back to the house, neither of us speaking as we followed the overgrown path back to the tended part of the grounds and then inside. I immediately headed for the kitchen, assuming that everyone would want something warm to drink after being out in the chill all morning. Putting a pot of water on to boil, I was surprised to see that Terry had followed me.

He sat down at the kitchen table and did not speak; he seemed content to just be there, so I did not say anything either. I continued about my business, gathering together a light meal, casting occasional glances at him. It seemed odd that such a frightening young man would not want to be alone, but I couldn't think of any other explanation for his presence. Of course, there were many things odd about this young man, as I was finding out. I made no secret of my disapproval of Dr. Stone's lack of faith (though of course I did not attempt to change his beliefs, since it was not my place to do so), but I would have thought that if anyone was a less likely candidate to be a religious man than he was, it would have been Terry. I decided that perhaps I should make a greater effort not to judge people by their appearance in the future.

Several minutes later, as we remained there in a silence which was half peaceful, half uncomfortable, Dr. Stone came in, still looking ghastly. He had removed his shoes to avoid tracking mud into the house, and had not yet put his jacket or overcoat back on. His black tie hung loosely around the open neck of his white, mud-spattered shirt; his damp hair fell disconsolately over his forehead. He glanced around upon entering the kitchen, and seemed surprised to see us there, or at least Terry. "Well," he said softly, "It seems we all had the same idea."

I hurried over to him, trying to steer him to a chair. "Sit down, sir. You don't look well. Let me get you something..."

He allowed himself to be led to the table. With a tiny, ironic smile, he remarked to Terry, "That's our Aubrey: if it moves, feed it."

"You haven't been eating well, sir," I murmured, turning quickly so he wouldn't see my own smile: it was his first attempt at humour in many days, and I was glad to hear it. Perhaps, gruesome as it had been, filling in his son's grave himself had served as some sort of catharsis for him; now he could begin to heal. I hoped it was the truth.

We all sat in that eerie, comfortable quiet for a few more moments, as I finished making the tea and put cups in front of Dr. Stone and Terry, then poured one for myself. Dr. Stone took a sip of the tea, nodded, then looked up at me with a strange expression, serious and sad. "Aubrey, we need to get you some help," he said, his voice soft.

I turned back to him, raising my eyebrows. "Are you unsatisfied with my work, sir?"

He looked immediately distressed, shook his head. "No, Aubrey. No, of course not," he said quickly. "It's just—it's such a large house. There's so much to be done. Wouldn't you—like more time to sit by the fireplace and read those novels of yours? You...shouldn't work so hard."

I stopped what I was doing and looked at him. There was something strange in his expression: something—worried? Under the grime and the sweat and the pallor, his eyes were...anxious. Afraid. Then I understood. "I...wouldn't mind some time to rest, sir," I agreed. Terry looked at both of us questioningly, but I said nothing. Another glance passed between Dr. Stone and myself; I wished I could somehow project reassurance to him that I wasn't going to die like his son had. I thought back to all the years when I had been more of a father to him than his own father, a tall, severe man who had wanted a child only as an heir, who had provided his only son with every material thing he might want, but paid no attention to his emotional well-being, his happiness. A man whose first show of great pride in his son had been when the boy had been identified as a mage—because of the power he could gain from having a mage in the family. I remembered that Dr. Stone had shown no emotion, sadness or happiness, when, at the age of nineteen, he had been informed of the crash that had killed both his father and his mother. He had confided in me at the time that he thought it strange that he felt no grief, but I had understood. How could there be grief when there was no love? Yes, if it would make him feel better to have someone over to help me with the heavy work, I wouldn't object. I wouldn't do anything to add to his anxiety right now.

"Yes," he said. "I'll see to it." That apparently settled in his mind, he turned to Terry. "I didn't know you spoke Hebrew."

Terry shrugged. "I picked it up back in the Barrens. It's called the Kaddish. It's—a prayer for the dead. I've heard old Jakob say it over a lot of my old friends, you know?"

Dr. Stone nodded soberly. He finished his tea and I quickly poured him another cup. "The Barrens," he mused, almost to himself. He looked back up at me. "Aubrey, would you mind packing up for me? I'll be heading back to Seattle tomorrow. I—I think I need to get away from here for a bit."

"Yes, sir." I sighed. I knew he wouldn't stay long after the events that had taken place, but I'd hoped I could fatten him up a bit before he took off again to his dangerous other life. Trying to talk him out of going, or better yet, into giving up that other life, would be futile, I knew. I'd tried before. I was again surprised to discover that I had more feelings of a paternal nature toward him than I would admit to; I didn't want him going off and doing God knows what, risking his life for the thrill of pitting his mind and his magic against the dark underside of the world. I looked at him and then at Terry: two more opposite men would be hard to find, but I could see in both of them that qualities of needing to test one's limits, of scorn for the safe and quiet life, and of hidden danger. The Dr. Stone I knew, the eccentric young professor of thaumaturgy, was leaving again to become Winterhawk, member of one of Seattle's premier shadowrunner teams. I wasn't exactly certain what "shadowrunning" was; he'd tried to explain it to me once, but I had asked him not to. The less I knew of that other life, the more hope I could hold on to that he would soon return to London, perhaps eventually permanently.

"I'd better get cleaned up," Dr. Stone said, looking down at his mud-spattered clothes. "I'm a bit of a wreck." To Terry, he added, "Are you going back with me? You're welcome to stay, of course, as long as you like."

Terry shook his head. "I'm leaving tomorrow too. I'll set up my own transportation, though."

"Yes, of course. I forgot. Can't take your toys on the trans-Atlantic." He smiled a bit, sighed, and stood up. Terry did too. Nodding a farewell, the younger man left the room. When he was gone, Dr. Stone turned to me. "Aubrey—I just wanted you to know...before I leave...that I'm very grateful for what you've done for me. You do know that, don't you?"

I came over and stood in front of him. "Of course I do, sir," I told him kindly. "You know I'll do whatever I can to help."

"Yes, I know," he whispered. He reached out and gripped my arm hard. "Thank you. For everything." Then he let go and swiftly departed.

I looked around the kitchen at the empty teacups and the nearly-untouched plate of food in the centre of the table, at the little mud-clods we'd all tracked into the kitchen from the cemetery, and at the door slowly closing behind Dr. Stone. I thought of Nigel, of Ann Barton, of Dr. Stone and Terry, of danger and friendship and revenge. I quietly left the house, leaving the dishes undone and the floor unmopped, and went to my apartment above the garage, closing the door and the curtains against the world. Then, only then, when all of it was over, did I allow myself finally to give vent to my sadness.


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