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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Dance with the Devil: Chapter 18

With Carly away from the hotel, Blair spoke to the manager, Olivia, about moving into a handicap accessible suite in anticipation of Todd’s discharge from the hospital. With that business cleared up, she turned to leave and ran into Tina. Todd’s sister looked at her anxiously.


“Blair, I need to talk to you,” Tina said.


Blair looked at her nervously. “Has something happened?” she asked, fear creeping in on her. All of the family had been put down as contacts, should anything happen, but Blair knew that Tina was quite far down the list.


Tina’s eye widened. “Oh, no, it’s nothing bad. No, no, I haven’t heard anything about Todd,” Tina assured her. She stepped back and took a deep breath. “I wanted to say…I’m sorry.”


Blair narrowed her eyes at the redhead. “What did you do now?” she demanded, anger rearing it head.


Tina gave her a look of annoyance. “It’s nothing I’ve done lately, its…for what I’ve done in the past.” She sat down, avoiding Blair’s gaze. “Look, understand, when we first found out you and Todd had gotten married, it made no sense but then we learned the truth about him being the Lord heir and then, the pieces all fit. I mean, why would Blair Daimler marry some penniless ex-convict. Oh, well, he turns out to be my long-lost brother with a sizeable inheritance. That made sense.” She looked back at Blair. “I was just trying to protect my baby brother from a well known gold-digger. And when you two spilt up the first time and my children were in the his will, well, then, I was trying to protect my children’s future. So, when I saw that you were going round town with David Vickers while you and Todd were seemingly getting closer, well, again, protective big sister.”


Blair was so shocked, she couldn’t even put thoughts together in her head. Was this really happening? Was she about to get an apology from Tina Lord Roberts?


Tina continued, “Look, what I’m trying to say is, these past few days I’ve finally been able to see just how much you love Todd. And I was a fool to try to ever break you two up all those years ago. I can also see how much he loves you. I know he’s difficult, stubborn, arrogant--” at Blair’s look, she stopped, “--but I know the kind of love you have two have, it only comes around once in a lifetime.” With that, she stood up and embraced a stunned, stiff Blair and walked off to the elevator as Sarah and Cord entered the lobby.


It took Blair a few minutes to gather herself. When she did, she made her way to the hospital. Upon entering Todd’s room, he looked up at her with a smile on his lips. When she didn’t return it, he got worried. “Is something the matter Blair?” he asked her.


Blair stared into space for a minute then looked at him. “Your sister just apologized to me,” she said, finally looking at him.


“Why did Viki have to apologize?” he asked, bewildered.


Blair shook her head. “Not Viki,” she said, “Tina.”


Now he was more confused than before. “Tina?” he asked incredulously. “Tina Lord Roberts? Ditzy redhead Tina Lord Roberts?”


As Blair nodded, she told Todd about the encounter in the lobby of the Metrocourt. Both of them were too stunned to say anything when the woman in question sauntered into the room. At both of their looks, she asked in wonderment, “What?”


Blair got up to excuse herself. She had to check in with the doctors about Todd’s status, so that left the brother and sister alone for a chat.


Todd began, “Are you feeling alright?” When she threw him a look, he continued. “Blair just told me about what happened at the hotel. You…apologized.”


Tina merely shrugged her shoulders. “I was wrong. I’ve grown enough to admit that.” She touched his unscarred cheek. “You and Blair have been through so much over the years and yet, you’ve never really lost each other. She still loves you with all your faults. And I know what it’s like to have that kind of love.” She smiled sadly. “I was thinking about it this morning. We may have all had a screwed up childhood. We may have been born to the worst set of parents imaginable. But we, Viki and you and me and yes, even Victor, have all been blessed with someone who will love us forever.”


Todd still thought is was odd to hear these words out of Tina’s mouth. This was more along the lines of a Viki speech. But he had to begrudgingly agree with his sister, even if it was just to himself. After a minute, concern grew in his voice. “Are you sure you’re not sick?”


His answer came in the form of another not so gentle swat on his shoulder. “Oh, you!” With that, she gave him a kiss on his forehead.


Viki and Blair reappeared in the room, and both had a smile on their face. Todd and Tina always had the more difficult relationship. Viki was a stand-in mother for both of them, while they, the two younger ones, had been the more traditional brother and sister. And they played their roles to the hilt. After both had spent years away, last fall, with Todd living at Llanfair and Tina back for the reading of both Victor’s and Irene’s wills, Viki had experienced up close of what it would have been like if they had been a normal set of siblings. The squabbling, the back-biting, the nasty remarks and looks all came to show Viki that, as much as she loved her brother and sister, she was actually glad their lives had played out in the tragic manner they had. But this scene too showed her that they were also both very caring of each other. Briefly, she thought of Victor and regretted that he wasn’t there. He surely would have added a little something else to this family portrait.


Blair held up a duffle bag in Todd’s line of sight. “I have spoken with Dr. Webber. They’ve done as much as they can for you now, so they’re going to release you,” she informed Todd.


“Clint is also working to see if Dr. Evans is available to do your surgery,” Viki added. “However, from what he has learned, that may be a long shot. He’s also getting the names of other experts in the field.”


“Also, we need to set up a schedule for some pre-surgery therapy. You’re going to need to know now to move without the use of your legs,” Blair informed him. When Todd gave her a sour look, she came over to him and lightly kissed him. “Hey, it’s only for the time being. They want you to be fully recuperated from the emergency surgery you needed before you have the operation on your back.”


The door to the room opened and the kids came in. Sam ran to the bed and jumped onto it. “Are you feeling better today, Uncle Todd?” he asked.


Todd had to smile. “Everyday I see you, I feel a little better.” He turned to Jack. “How was your workout?”


Jack nodded. “It was pretty good. I’m going to be trying out for the team and I think I have a shot at varsity,” he said.


Todd looked confused. “I thought you were varsity already at Llanview High?” Todd asked.


Blair turned to Todd. “That was one thing we discussed over breakfast this morning. With you running a media empire from Port Charles and with the months of work you have ahead of you, we thought is was best if we all moved here.” He looked at her with amazement. “I’ve spoken to the hotel and they are transferring our stuff to a handicap room that you can move around in with more ease.”


“Have you thought about something more permanent?” Todd asked, raising a knowing eyebrow at her.


She had to chuckle. “Let’s get you out of here and settled, then we can discuss something more permanent.” When the nurse came in dress him, everyone began to exit.


“Tina, wait,” he said to his sister. Remembering what she had said earlier and still not quite believing it, he decided to give her a little test. “I need you to do me a favor.”


It took the nurse a half-hour to get Todd ready to leave the hospital, but soon, he was dressed and in a new wheelchair. Blair returned with Dr. Webber, who had papers that needed to be signed and then, with that done, the Manning family was off. Todd couldn’t be happier. He hated being stuck in one place for any great length of time. They arrived back at the hotel and were greeted by Carly.


“I see the patient’s been sprung,” she said to Blair.


“Yeah and not a minute too soon,” Todd grumbled. He smiled up at Carly. “When you get a chance, we need to discuss with Blair what we talked about this morning. But right now, I just want to get to my room and rest. It tired me just getting dressed.”


Carly shot Blair a look of concern, but Blair just shrugged her shoulders at the blonde. The family then headed up to the room. After getting there, Sam went to watch TV, while Starr and Jack both left to run errands. Todd wheeled himself into the bedroom as Blair turned to close the door.


“Here, let me help you,” Blair said.


“I’m fine, Blair,” he said in a prickly tone. He locked the chair and proceeded to figure out how to get from it to the bed. He tried a few attempts, but they were halting. Finally, Blair came over to him and was somehow able to lift him out of the chair. Unfortunately, they lost their balance together and landed on the bed.


“Well, this could be fun,” Todd said saucily to her. After positioning him onto the bed, she crawled onto it next to him. He gathered her into his arms and held her. Every fiber of his being wanted to make love to her then, but he was afraid to.


He looked at her and she could tell what he was thinking, because she was thinking the same thing too. “Todd, we will have plenty of time for that. But I think you’ll agree, we have had a long few days.” He nodded in silent agreement as they rested in each others arms, thankful that they were able to be together.
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The Fourth Life: Chapter 9

Jack walked into Shaun's apartment, next door to the penthouse, and threw himself onto the chair.  "Yo, Shaun, you here?"


He did not get an answer, and pulled out his Ipod.  Realizing he left the earphones back in his room, he tossed it onto the couch next to him, and folded his arms.  "Shaun?  You here?"


Again, he got no response.  He got up, and walked around the room.  It was similar in structure to their penthouse, except that his mother and father had decorated it much more richly.  Shaun's looked like a typical bachelor pad: kind of messy, lots of guy stuff, electronics, music.  He walked to the fireplace area, and next to it was a small table with different glasses all over it.  There was an ice bucket, empty.  And, there was a small bottle of Patron.  He looked around quickly, and took it, putting it into his pants pocket, and then seeing that it stuck out of the top of the pocket, he took it back out, and tried to hide it inside his shirt as he turned to go.  From behind him, he heard, "Not so fast."


***


"What is it, Todd.  Tell me?"


He faltered.  "I keep thinking...I keep thinking of killing him.  With my hands.  With a gun.  With a car, a knife, poison.  It's in my mind all the time."


"I think it makes perfect sense, Todd.  He took you, and he put you into bonds for eight years of your life.  As bad as Leona was, it wasn't ever his idea."


Todd stood up, taking her hands and helping her to her feet as well.  She saw him hug himself, across the chest.  He said, "He was sick, Blair.  He was so very sick.  Carlo used him, and used his sickness to get to me.  That egomaniac probably didn't even realize what Michael Leona's secrets were when he hired him for the job."


"Todd, you sound like you, I don't know, understand The Slice and Dice."


"As sick as it is, I think I do, on some level.  He couldn't help himself.  Like Peter."  Like me, sometimes.


She swallowed.  "Todd, I've given you a lot of space, and stood by you, all through this whole ordeal.  I know it's more painful than I can even imagine, what you've been through.  But have you thought that saying it all and putting it out there, into the world, with your own words, might somehow free you?  You've got it all trapped in there."


He turned away, leaning on the desk again for support.  He knew she was right, but....


She continued, "You never told me what happened, when you killed him.  Have you told anyone?  Have you been able to at least talk to Ray?"


He shook his head no.  He didn't turn to her.  She knew that he couldn't look at her and talk about any of it.


She went on, "What if I told you that I already know?  What if I said it for you?  I've known since before you were taken to Ireland.  I thought about this from when you first returned to us, and you talked about what happened, and slowly revealed some of it.  I've always wondered, feared, and then suspected.  What if I said it for you, and you didn't have to?"


He couldn't answer her.  He just stood, as if frozen.  She approached him, hugging him from the back, her arms crossing his  chest and her head resting on his shoulder.  "Nothing will change who you are to me, Todd.  Nothing can.  You are my hero, my everything."


He found himself filling up again, and fought to remain in control.


She said, "Let me be strong for you.  Though I can't know how it is, I do know what it is you're feeling.  I know where this all leads.  You do, too.  You told me that when you killed him, you didn't have a choice, that he was so sick, you knew it was the only way, that it was him or you.  And, you told me that you remembered everything, all of it.  You keep comparing him to Peter."


He said, softly, "No, Blair."


She disobeyed.  "Yes, Todd.  You deserve to let this go and be free of it.  Until you say it, face it, admit it all, how can you get past it?"


He said nothing, just closed his eyes and waited.  His throat felt closed; panic was in his chest.  He grabbed one of her hands, still across his chest.  He said, in a soft tone, "Not now.  Not now, Blair.  Please."  His last word was so pitiful and broken, she paused.


She stopped, thinking.  She knew how vulnerable he was, how fragile, in some ways, he had been since his brush with death in Ireland.  She knew also how the rage was overtaking him.  She ventured carefully, but decided to leave the largest piece for another time.  She gave him respite.  "I know, Todd.  I know, exactly what happened.  If you can't say it, just ask me, and I will," she turned him to her.  He did not meet her gaze at first, and instead, kept his eyes closed, and then slowly opened them.  Hers were staring right into his even before his rested on the emerald greenness of hers.  


"I'll tell you, or I'll ask you, I promise.  I just...I can't Blair, not today.  Not yet."


She pulled him close.  "I'm so sorry," she said, quietly, and resolute.


He gulped, "I love you, Babe.  Every day I was in that cave, I thanked someone-up-there for you. The day's almost over, let's go on home."


***


Jack knew Shaun's voice, and he stopped in his tracks.  "So what, you caught me."


"So what?"  Shaun boomed, and Jack, somewhat scared, turned to face him.  Shaun was in a towel, standing there partially wet.  "So what?  I ought to take you outside and beat your ass for stealing."


"Stealing?  My father basically OWNS you.  I could buy ten of these with my allowance, if I was old enough."


A voice said from the door, "Jack Manning?"


Jack turned to see Todd standing there.


***


Blair tossed her shoes off her feet without bending, and after putting Ray into his crib, crashed on their bed.  Within a few minutes, without provocation, she broke into sobs.  She thought of how Todd had protected her so much through their lives:  defending her against Max, sticking up for her honor with Asa, even lying for her and offering to go to jail for her, and of course, giving his freedom up again and willingly going back into torment to protect her and the baby.  She wondered if he ever would be free of his past, and if he ever would heal.  


This time, she was having more doubts; he was not as strong and confident against his pain.  She knew this was because he didn't have knowledge of it the first time.  His being in his 'safe place' was truly a safe place.  He had been able to survive with those truths hidden.  She also wondered if he remembered on his own, if Leona told him, or if it happened again.  Whatever it was, she was certain; he had been raped in captivity, as part of the recreating of the abuse he suffered as a child, and also, as part of Leona's sickness.


She turned over, trying to fight the nausea she felt.  He'd just about told her, with the way he had been acting and the things he had said.  Now that he remembered this, he had a new trauma to recover from, and she wished it all would stop, and knew it wouldn't, not for a while.  She also knew Jack would continue to be affected by it, and so would the rest of the family.  


She looked at the clock, a small, glowing electronic wonder that showed the time and date in purple LED light that fluctuated through the colors of the rainbow.  The date stood out to her; she hadn't realized how fast time had passed.  In a few days, she and Todd would be married one year.  She almost laughed bitterly, because they had been together much longer than this, and he had never stopped referring to her as his wife, even when he was married to Tea.  She closed her eyes, "Blair, he has loved you since the start, and sometimes, you just threw it away," she said.  "all that wasted time."


She wanted to move on from the pain and find something beautiful to focus on.  Rising off the bed, she went to her baby's crib, and put her hand on his belly and felt him breathing.


***


"Dad."


"Yeah, it's me.  I own Shaun?  People don't own each other, Jack, not in today's world.  Apologize to him, now.  He's been more of a father to you than I have over the last eight years."


Shaun interrupted, "I don't want his apology, Todd, unless he actually means it.  And, unless he gets into some kind of help."


Todd was puzzled at first, then saw the bulge in Jack's shirt.  Reaching out, he grabbed it, but noticed, that when he reached toward his son, he flinched.


Todd took the bottle, and then put one hand on Jack's shoulder.  "Son," he said, "I won't hit you.  I'd never hurt you."  Shaun went back upstairs, to change.


Jack's face twisted with confusion and pain.  "I'm scared, Dad.  I don't know who I am.  I don't know how to . . .feel safe."


Todd thought how ironic it was that he felt exactly the same way.  But, he said, "You are safe.  I'll never let anything happen to you."  He grabbed him and pulled him in, prevailing.  Jack, who was slow to respond, relaxed into his father's arms, and finally raised his own, sighing out, and held on.


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The Fourth Life: Chapter 8

"So, how was your day?  Session with Ray?"  Blair said.  She greeted him at the door.  "Are we still going to The Sun?"

"Sure, are you and my little buddy ready?"

"He's upstairs, I'll go and get him."

"Good, we have lots to do."

"Why?  You look like the cat that captured the canary today, Todd Manning."

"I ran into Zeus, and I've got something really juicy for us to delve into."

"Sounds great, let me go get the champ."  She went upstairs, and stopping at the top, turned back and said, "Glad you're home, Todd."

He smiled up after her, and picked up the phone as soon as she was out of eyesight.  "It's me.  Todd Manning, that's who.  Did you do as I asked?  Is everything set?  Sunday, and make sure it's perfect, or no payment.  Perfect."  He heard her rounding the corner at the top of the staircase and hung up.  "Ready?"  he said, covering.

"Yes, we are!  Aren't we?  Look, it's Daddy!  See Daddy?"

"Yeah, see Jane run, let's go, Blair, the car's in the no parking zone," he said, throwing the door open and holding it for her, as she walked through with the carrier in her hand.  He took it from her, and closed the door behind them.  

The limo ride was uneventful.  She sat, cooing over Ray, who was awake and alert, and he read his tablet on the way, attempting to find information to support or refute the idea that Zeus posed about Carlo Hesser.  At this point, it seemed like a stab in the dark, until he remembered, and got the dazed and amazed look that Blair had come to know.

"Todd, what?  You came up with something, didn't you?"

He said, "Yeah, Blair, are you forgetting my investigative skills?  It's been a lot of years, but you never lose that."

"I guess not," she placed a kiss on his cheek.  "You're a brilliant man."

"Well, wait until you get a load of this one.  Zeus thinks he's Hesser's son."

"Todd, that's not funny.  The guy is delusional, he's sick.  That's not something to poke fun of.  You're not planning to do that, are you?"

"No, I feel for the guy.  He's been through a lot, like I have, and not as long or much, but he was tormented.  Brainwashed.  Besides, I am the reason he was at that weak point anyway, when all this started.  So, no.  It has to do with him, but not the way you'd think."

"All right, spring it on me.  I love the way you think, Todd."

"Well, maybe, but you're the one who lead me to this."

"Me?"

"Yeah, I was just sitting here, thinking about Zeus, how he's certain Carlo's his papa, and how Carlo once slipped a hint to him, and I thought of something you'd never expect."  She was his captive audience.  "Back when we took down Mayor Finn and her establishment, and Carlo escaped, she and I had a very interesting conversation just before her press conference and arrest."

"I'm with you, go ahead."

"She told me about her college days.  She was a hooker, and wealthy men paid for her to be their 'escort.'  One she ran into was Carlo.  He was about fifteen years older than she was.  To make a long story short, they fell in love, believe it or not.  Can you imagine loving that guy?"

"No, can't say that I can."

"Well, she did.  And, she fell hard for him.  Then, she found out that he was a common gangster and dumped his bald little self."

"Okay, call me deadheaded, but I don't see where this one is leading."

"That's just it, you wouldn't, unless you knew that she later found out she was pregnant with his kid."  Todd said, shifting his eyes to the side to see her reaction.

Blair's mouth dropped in surprise.  "Oh my God!"  she said, "Pregnant?  Well, then that's it!"

"Not quite it.  She said that he wouldn't leave her alone, he stalked her, and all that good stuff..."

"Todd, stalking is not good stuff."

"Why?  I always stalked you?"

"Nevermind.  Go on."

"Well, he followed her around and got arrested and beat up for not leaving her alone.  When the baby came, she let him back in her life a bit, and then she lost the baby."

Blair's face changed at the words.  "Oh.  Maybe that explains a little why she was so...I don't know.  Mean."

"Well, I even felt something for her there.  So, after she lost the baby, he blamed her and he took off on her."

"This is getting sadder, and not quite leading to anything yet."

"Yet.  When Carlo was back in jail last year, he contacted her.  He wanted her to free him.  He promised to help her get the governor's seat and she would pardon him.  He also had the hooker stuff to hold over her head, and she thought it would ruin her."

Blair said, "So you're thinking he...wanted to get back at her, blackmailed her?"

"Yeah, but think about it."

"He could have hid the baby from her?"

"He could have."  Todd agreed.

"He could have taken the baby, and told her it died."  Blair said.

He didn't respond at first, and neither did she, because both were thinking about the same thing.  His face changed in a way she didn't want to see.  He seemed greenish, and couldn't find words.  Knowing where his head was, she said, "Are you convinced it's Zeus?"

He said, "What?"

"The baby. Do you think it was Zeus, and that he lived?"

He took her hand.  "Don't pretend that you aren't thinking about Jack, and what kind of man I was."

"I'm not.  I did flash on it a minute, but I'm not thinking of that.  I'm thinking of how you changed and how much you love us."

He kissed her hand, "I'm so sorry, Blair, still.  I hope every day that you know that."

"I do.  It's behind us now, Todd.  Let's go, we're here," she said, as the car drove up to the doorway of The Sun.  "Let's go search out this story."

***

John took a beer from the fridge and sat on the couch.  Slumping against the pillow, he sucked some of it down, and heard her coming in.

Natalie's beautiful red tresses were tied in a loose ponytail, and she had Liam in one arm.  "He's going for his nap, Daddy!  Say night night," she said, leaning over toward him.

He cradled the baby's head in his hand, and kissed his forehead.  "Love you, Liam."  She whisked him off.

Returning, she sat next to him on the couch, and said, "Okay, what's wrong?  I can tell.  You were preoccupied all day."

"I think I made a mistake,"  John said.

"How?"

"I went to see Carlo Hesser.  Today, before we met up."

"You went to see Carlo Hesser."

"I did.  Interrogation room at Statesville."

"Why was it a mistake?"  Fear showed in her eyes.

"I pissed him off, rubbed what happened to Manning in his face.  I don't want you anywhere, with or without Liam, without your piece."

"I won't.  But if he is after you and us, a little visit like that won't alter it, either way.  He's also obsessed with my uncle and Blair.  What you did isn't going to make much difference, at least as I see it."

He hugged her.  She was always pretty sensible about things, but he knew that she was doing this in part to make him feel better about what he'd possibly stirred up.  They separated, and he went back to the kitchen to get another beer.  When he came back, she was looking through the file he had left on the coffee table.  "My God, what are these pictures of, John?"

"Todd's back."

She swallowed, and shuffled through a few more before closing the file in disgust.  "You're spending a lot of time on this."

"Yep."

"These images are ghastly.  You're getting overwhelmed by this John, I'm worried that it's becoming too much a part of you."

"Tell that to your uncle."

***

"There's nothing on the internet about the death of this baby.  Only a little teeny obituary.  Nothing more."  Blair said.

Todd was miles away.  He was sitting by the window, on the mustard couch, staring out.

He closed his eyes, and remembered back to the rock cage, the lighter, his belt, being undone, and shook it off, refusing to let it overpower him.  Instead, he turned his attention to the jail, and Statesville, and Carlo, alone, in his orange attire, in the visitor area.

He imagined the visitor room again, empty, except for Carlo, who was sitting on the inmate side, with his hands and legs chained.  Breaking the glass, as if the place was deserted, Todd walked behind Carlo, lifted the man's hands in front of his own throat, and used his chains to begin to strangle him.  He felt a sort of freeing power as he picture Carlo squirming under the pressure of the metal links against his larynx.  He squeezed the man's hands together, from either side of his head, until he stopped moving and slumped forward...


 "Todd?  Are you listening to me?  Todd?"  Blair repeated, going over and touching his shoulder.  He jumped, and grabbed her wrist.  Looking at her, he immediately let go.

"I'm...I don't know why I did that," he brushed it off, standing and crossing to the easel where the mock-up stood.  The headline was "The Devilfather Imprisoned."  He looked at it, and without warning, pulled the corner and ripped it down wildly.

Blair was unsure of what to do.  Wanting to comfort him, or calm him, she felt the urge to rush to him, but a part of her...

She was afraid.  For the first time in years, she was afraid of what he might do.  Not that he would intentionally hurt her, but, she was not sure about his state of mind, and if he were aware of his surroundings.  This changed within a moment, when she saw him brace himself on the desk, with both hands, and lower his head.  She heard one, short sigh, and saw his shoulders shake.  Without any more hesitation, she was up on her feet, touching his shoulders, and head.  He turned, falling to his knees, and burying his face in her torso and holding her around the waist.  She drove her fingers through his hair, and said, "It's too much, Todd.  You have to let go."

She heard him sigh again, and then, "I know."

She went to her knees, facing him, and ran her hands along his face and hair, using her thumbs to brush away the moisture under his eyes.  She kissed his eyelids gently, then moved to his scar, and kissed it.  He put his hand under her hair and kissed her, hard and longing, and she waited for his lead.  Instead, he pulled back and said to her, "I have to tell you something."

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Friday, June 29, 2012

The Fourth Life: Chapter 7

Mountainview had not changed since his last visit, though it felt like years.  Bringing himself back there was like revisiting an old place that you can't bear being near but are drawn to.  It reminded him how far he had come, as well as how low he was sinking.


Todd had Williams drop him a few blocks away.  It was a beautiful autumn day, the kind that reminded him of his last wedding day.  It was almost a year ago, now, and the weather, trees and air quality mocked the day of their nuptials precisely.  He smiled, in spite of everything, admitting to himself how far away that day seemed, with all that had happened.  They'd had a new baby, they'd been through Hell in Ireland, they'd seen their eldest son slowly fall apart.


Todd kept his pace, and felt invigorated by the pure air and the sunlight, and the thought of Blair, in her vintage gown, wasn't hurting either.  He didn't want his mind to go where it usually did: to Michael Leona, the rock cage, and Ireland.  Rounding a corner, he made his way up the stone path to the oversized white doors, and entered.  It smelled the same, but instead of making him feel apprehensive, it somehow calmed him.  "Ray Martino.  I have an appointment."


After being nodded on and signing in, he made his way to Ray's office, and gently knocked.  Ray was up, and at the door, waiting to greet him.  "Hey!" Ray said, and, to his surprise, actually embraced him.  "I'm glad you're here, Todd.  It means you made it through this last ordeal."


"I did.  You didn't expect I'd die and let you off the hook, did you?"


"No, I guess not."  He sat down, and his face took on a different look.  "Jack's been here, I'm sure you know that."


"Yeah, I do.  Poor kid, he's struggling.  I have to do something.  This is the start of it, I guess."


"He told me some of what's going on.  Todd, he knows a great deal about your torment.  It's greatly affecting him."


"I know.  Believe it or not, he's one teenager who tells us a lot of what he's thinking.  Unusual, but then look at who his parents are."


Ray let out a small laugh.  Todd was down, but he was never fully out.  "Well, you've also made him strong, because, look at you."


"I don't feel so strong right now.  Last night, I had another nightmare.  It made me wake up physically sick.  I woke Jack, disturbed Blair, again.  She fell asleep holding me, and consoling me.  I am supposed to protect her."


"That's what couples do, Todd.  They help each other.  She wants to be there for you, I am one hundred percent sure about that."


"She does, but I can't bear the pity anymore, or the sad way she looks at me.  And, I can't just move forward because something up here," he pointed to his head, "is holding me hostage."


"Then escape."  Ray said.


Todd was silenced.  He never thought of it in those terms.  "How would I do that?"


"Let go of it.  Face it, head on, like you've done everything else.  Remember dealing with the memories of what your father did to you?  Remember dealing with the PTSD from the eight years you were gone?  Face it.  No other way. I'm here to help you do that, Todd.  And it doesn't mean you have to come clean about everything to Blair and the kids, right away, or at all.  She'll understand.  And to be honest, the kids would do much better without any more detail."


He thought about what Ray said, and answered, "It's that simple, then?"


"In my estimation, it is, but doing it is much harder than me saying it to you."


"I don't know where to start."


"That's easy.  Start with the beginning, the day you were abducted.  Move slow into it, and little by little, we'll piece you back together, Todd.  I know I'll have success with you, because, frankly, I've never met a person in my time as a therapist who has faced the things you have and come out even partially whole."


***


The doorbell rang, and Blair, getting herself ready for work after Todd's return from Mountainview, raced to it, fastening an earring.  She opened the door to see a familiar face.  "Hello, my dearie, it's been quite some time.  Feels like years!"  Sister Rebecca Katherine said, embracing her.  


"Hello, Sister.  It's so good to see you, please come in."  The nun was carrying a few toys and other items that she brought for the boys.  Blair said, "I've told you so many times not to buy things for the boys.  You are on a fixed income."


"Yes but they're the closest thing I have to grandbabies.  Who else can I lavish a few trinkets on?"


"Well, we do appreciate it, but you should cut down.  Honestly.  They have so much already."


"I realize but sometimes I just can't help it!"


"Thank you, Sister.  I'll have Todd make a sizeable donation to St. Anne's.  He should, anyway.  Charity."


"Well, thank ya.  That's nice of ya.  I just wanted to see how everyone is doing.  I know it's school time, but by any chance, is the wee one awake?  He's a darling angel."


"He's asleep, but you can just wait with me and chat, while he naps.  Todd should be back soon, as well."


"A cloud passed your face when you said that, dear."


"He's going through...he's dealing with a lot."


"I can imagine, though I can't, not really.  Is he troubled?"


"Very," her face became saddened.  "He's remembering everything, from the whole eight years, all the missing stuff.  He's trying to face it.  I think it's overwhelming."


"It would be, yes.  Have you tried prayer?"


"I can't get Todd to pray, I hardly believe it myself, though I should say that since meeting you, I've  done it a bit more, and thought more about God and what He thinks about things.  I don't think it will bring Todd peace, since he doesn't have faith in it."


"Perhaps.  I may have to have a talk with him."


She smiled, "I am sure he would welcome it, whether or not he listens."


"Perhaps I'll get the chance shortly," she said, as Blair's phone rang.


"Hello?  Yes.  Yes, this is.  Are you certain?  All of his classes?  My goodness, yes, we'll come in for a conference.  Yes, that's fine."  She scribbled on a pad, and said, "Thank you for calling."  She hung up, looking at Sister Rebecca Katherine.  "It was Jack's school.  He's failing almost every class."


"My goodness, this has proven to be quite an upsetting time for the lad.  You must not be so hard on him, or yourselves.  His lifetime hero is...hurting.  He is most likely afraid, to see the strongest man he knows is not infallible."


"Todd said the same thing."


"A perceptive man.  He and that boy, very connected.  I can tell.  I think everyone can."


"I know, sometimes I just sit and watch him interact with the boys, or Starr.  He's got magic with them, somehow."


"He understands children.  He was brutalized as a child, you said."


"Yes."


"And as a man.  He must be hurting deep inside himself."


Blair didn't want to think about how much pain he was in. She loved him, so totally and completely, that it broke her inside whenever he woke in terror or broke down.  "It's been hard.  He's suffering.  He's suffering so much."  Her voice caught in her throat.


"There, there, dear.  He will be all right, he's tough as nails, that one.  He'll come through."


"Now, what do I do with this school news?  We have to go and meet with the teachers."


"Then you do, and then you try and help the best you can.  He sees a therapist, ay?"


"Yes."


"You're doing whatever you can, dear."


Blair looked at the nun, and her face was flushed, her eyes misty.  "I can't help either of them."


"Ya can, and ya are."


"I don't know what to do, Sister."


"Love them," she said.  "Love them fully and completely."


***


Todd, still in Ray's office, was doused in sweat, felt nervous and jittery, and was hoarse from tears and angry outbursts.  He had spent the last fifty-minute session recounting how, in Ireland, he had come upon the traumatic memories from the eight-year captivity.


Ray said, "I know you're tired, and it's hard work."


"I don't think I'm close to being done.  There's so much there.  And, there's the time in the rock cage.  I'm still in the room, with the sun shining in."


"The rock cage was more recent."


"Yeah, that was toward the end of the kidnapping just a month ago.  When I took the bastard out."


"Any guilt for taking his life?"


"None.  The fucker was insane.  It was him or me."


"Clearly.  How did you reach these memories?"


"It's strange but, I went into my safe place.  Blair was there, she told me to go back.  She told me I could not stay with her and that I had to leave her, or I'd die.  I listened to her, and when I came out, I didn't retreat again.  This meant that I learned, first hand, again, what his ritual was about and how painful it was.  Since I was not going catatonic anymore, I was aware of everything.  When he performed the ritual of dressing as the Grim Reaper..." he went silent.


"Todd?" 


Nothing.


"Hey, Todd, don't leave me hanging."


He looked at Ray, with an emotionless face.  "I can't.  Not today."


"You're right, you've done enough.  Get yourself together, we'll see each other next week."


"It's too long away, Ray.  I can't do this for another week."


"Well, then, come tomorrow."


"I will."  He got up, straightening his shirt, and using his sleeve to wipe his forehead and eyes.  


He opened the door, and walked to the lobby.  It was still beautiful outside, and he went into the garden to wait for Williams.  While waiting, he spotted a familiar figure by the pond.  It was Zeus, sitting by the water, and seeming to be basking in the sun.  He got up, and wandered over to him.  Standing near him, he waited, not speaking.  Zeus finally opened his eyes, and looked from shoe to shoulder.  "Todd."


"Yeah, that's me.  What are you doing over here?"


"Just relaxing.  Thinking.  I heard you were kidnapped.  I am glad to hear you're back."


"Thanks."  Todd sat on a small rock nearby.


Zeus looked into the water.  "It's nice being outside."


"I know.  I've been locked up before, a lot of times."


"I'm...I'm hoping you're doing better, Todd.  I also hope you can forgive me for living your life.  I know that sounds lame when I hear myself say it, but..."


Todd put up his hand, "Don't.  You already did this.  It's over with."


"It's not.  Or you wouldn't be back here, again."  Zeus noted.


Todd knew that he was right.  It wasn't over.  The eight years was not behind him.  They were not found; they were permanently lost, never to return.  He would never see his daughter grow up and become a young woman.  He wouldn't be there to help her, or see her go to the prom or her first date.  He couldn't show his son love along the way, and make him feel strong enough not to do the things he'd done.  He realized that the man sitting across from him took all that away, but not of his own doing.  Somehow, through it all, he pitied Zeus and understood what he had been through.


"Maybe.  Maybe not.  I have had a lot of issues in my life, they didn't start eight years ago.  What about you? You're still here, too."


He squinted in the sun, "I'm all right, I guess.  Tea still won't let me see my girls.  You know I have a baby daughter now?"


"No, I didn't.  That's great.  Your first child.  I know how that feels."  He thought about it.  "She'll come around.  She loves you.  You love her in a way that no one else ever has."


"I do.  At least you realize that."


"She does too, believe me.  She'll come around."


"She accepted my calls, that's a start.  It's because of you, and The Sun articles about me helping bring my father down."


Todd was puzzled as to why Zeus still referred to Carlo as his father.  "Your father?"


"Yeah.  Hesser is my father, in the biological sense.  At least, I believe that.  He tripped up and hinted at it once, and I'm determined to prove it, or at least find out the truth.  I went to see him, oh about a week or two back.  He didn't outright deny, but I feel there's something more to it.  He called me names.  I was glad he doesn't consider me his 'type' of heir."


Todd could relate to that.  When his father died, he sat by his bed and realized he was glad to be himself and not like Peter Manning.  "I'm me," he remembered his own voice.  Even at his deathbed, he was still, in some unbelievable way, seeking Peter's love.  Sick.  He speculated that Zeus could have been experiencing the same thing.


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Dance with the Devil: Chapter 17

“Carly,” Ric said, turning on the charm, “So nice to see you again.” He turned back to Todd. “I’ll look into some of the things we discussed. Also, I would like you to reconsider the pre-nuptial agreement.” With that he left without answering Carly’s question.


Carly stared at Todd, who returned the funny look. “Why am I getting that look?” Todd asked in a bothered tone.


“Ric Lansing is your attorney?” When Todd nodded, Carly repeated louder, “Ric Lansing is the attorney who argued insanity?”


“Yeah, so,” he asked again. “Oh, is it because he’s Sonny’s brother? Is that the problem your having?” He put aside his work and a gave off an air of nonchalance. “I knew exactly who he was when he came to me. I’m not stupid, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. I know what kind of relationship he has with Sonny. But, he laid out a pretty good case why I should hire him.” He let out a sigh, “Besides, at the time, I still thought Sonny was responsible for the accident that killed my granddaughter. I figured that Ric could be useful in any plot I came up with for Sonny. But, when I got back here, I came to see what really happened that night. I decided to keep Ric busy on other legal matters. I guess he got wind the shooting and came.”


“So your using Ric?” she asked.


“Well, in all fairness, he was using me. We have a couple of things in common. We both have a fatal or near fatal dislike of our brothers and we both have some kind of mommy issues. When he was able to get me released after I jumped bail, I could tell he was good,” Todd said as he smiled. “Something tells me you didn’t come here to warn me about Lansing, though I am touched by your concern and am thankful for your visit.”


Carly shook her head in amazement. “This may be fun because, knowing Ric, he probably thinks he’s got the better of you. Did you ever let on what you knew?" When Todd smirked, Carly had her answer. “I did come by to offer not only my congratulations on your’s and Blair’s engagement, but also, if you’d like, my hotel for the wedding.”


Todd smiled. “Well, that is kind of you, but I can’t even think about that right now. I have to work on getting better and walking and…I really need to get out of this hospital.” It had taken three days, but finally Todd’s innate antsiness was coming back. “My son and my nephew were going to go to the park. Jack plays soccer and though I never played it, it would be nice to be outside watching them.”


“So, you were a jock, huh? Let me guess, football?” Carly asked. With Todd’s nodding reply, she continued, “Offense or defense?”


“Ah, defense. I really just started playing to impress my father, but he never seemed to be.” Todd looked over at the tablet, then back out the window.


Carly could tell he was upset that he couldn’t be outside with his kids and what his injuries may have cost him. “Hey, I know your type. You’ll get through this. You’ll have this surgery and you’ll be up in no time. In fact, I have another offer for you.” She smiled as she said, “Before I was a hotelier, I was a physical therapist. If you want, I can help you through it after your surgery.” After a minutes pause she added, “If it’s alright with your fiancĂ©e, of course.”


Todd had to laugh. He thought it over. “That’s very generous. If Blair’s okay with it, and I don’t see any reason she wouldn't be, let’s do it.” He turned back to the window, hopeful for the future.


As Todd stared out the window in the general direction of where they were, Jack was running circles around his little brother.


“Jack, let me try! Let me try!” Sam called.


Jack looked up in the direction of the little boy when he saw Molly come towards them. “Here, try what I was doing for a while,” he said as he kicked the ball. As Sam played in his line of sight, he walked over to Molly. “I want to apologize for yelling at you last night,” he said to the teenage girl.


“It’s alright. I understand you have a difficult relationship with your dad,” she replied. “I went to see him yesterday to confront him with what he did to my sister.”


When Jack looked at her with a question on his face, Molly realized she never told him about being Sam Morgan’s sister. They talked about it, as Molly explained what his father had told her when she saw him. “He did seem ashamed about it and very sorry.”


“Yeah, we did all talk about it last night. He told my sister and I about the lousy amount of bad luck that happened, from finding Tea at her hotel to leaving the hospital with her. Did you know he encountered Heather Webber at the shed. He never said what she was doing there but Heather tried to help. Then before he could tell Tea about her son, Heather told him that Sam was abandoning her baby, so since Tea’s was dead but she didn’t know it, she should just keep Sam’s baby,” Jack explained.


Molly looked confused. “Wait, Heather was there that night?”


“Yeah, from what my dad said, the whole idea was hers,” Jack said. “He says he didn’t want to go along because he made my mom think I was dead when I was a baby and how all that turned out. If Todd Manning knows anything, it’s when a plan is doomed from the start.” He could tell by her look she was thinking something through. “What it is?”


“Heather has some kind of grudge against Sam. I don’t know why, but that also fits with something else. I was talking to your mom about it the night of the shooting and she said that when she asked your dad if he knew who shot him, she thinks he was trying to say Heather. If your father knew she was responsible and he finally told the truth, that would give her a motive for murder.” Molly looked up at him with a small smile on her face. “There’s an old saying, ‘The only way for two people to keep a secret is if one is dead’. We need to go tell the police,” she said as she grabbed his hand.


He stopped her. “I’ve got my little brother with me, besides, we’re trying to keep him away from as much of this as we can.” He looked at his watch then at Sam. “Look, I need to get over to the hospital. I’ll meet you at the police station in two hours and we can tell them then. I think they’re already looking for Heather anyway.”


Molly nodded. “Okay, I’ll see you then,” she said as she left. When she got to the entrance to the park she saw a woman pushing a wheelchair. The man in the wheelchair didn’t seem that old, but he had a glassy expression and was drooling. The woman pushing him, obviously a nurse, was talking softly to him. All of a sudden, she stopped, noticing Molly, who was staring.


“It’s impolite to stare at the disabled,” the woman scolded her. Molly walked away, feeling embarrassed. But as she looked back at the man in the wheelchair, she felt there was something about him that was familiar.


The woman pushed the chair to a wooded part of the park. Behind some brush, she saw Jack and Sam Manning picking up their equipment and heading in the opposite direction. “I am sure you’re so happy to see your boys. Sam misses you. But don’t worry, he’ll be getting a new father soon. And Jack has finally accept Todd back into his life, so there would be no room for you, even if they knew you were alive.” The woman stroked his head, putting on an air of melancholy for her patient. “Then there’s poor Tea. She’s lost her beloved and their child. Or at least she thinks she has. Our friend did an excellent job with her end. But alas, Todd had to go and ruin it. The guilt seems to have been too much for him to bare.” After Jack and Sam were completely out of sight, the woman came out from behind the bushes. “Well, he’s been dealt with at least.” She turned to the man. “What do you have to say about all this? Of course, that’s right. A year’s worth of being drugged has taken such a toll on you.” As a cool breeze came up, the woman began to make her way back to the park’s entrance with the wheelchair. “You poor man. Lost to your family. Your wife, your children, your sisters and brother. But don’t you worry. I’ll take good care of you,” she promised as they walked off together.


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The Fourth Life: Chapter 6

Todd wandered back to the office about an hour later, and Blair was nowhere to be found.  Blaming himself, he went to the nursery to see her.  There she was, talking into Ray's little angelic face with hers close, as she sat him back into the carrier.  She looked up from the baby at his entrance, and he stopped at the door.  Against the whiteness of the room, she stood out, with her long legs crossed, shoes off, putting him into his seat and making him smile.  Their eyes connected, and for a moment, both held the other's gaze.  


As he said, "Blair," she said, "Oh, Todd," and they went to each other.  She was in his arms, instantly. 


She cried, "I'm sorry, Todd."


He said, "No, don't do that.  I'm wrong here, don't apologize to me.  I should have never raised my voice to you."


"I pushed you.  I'm sorry."


"No, Blair, it's me.  I just...I was so angry, I should have never acted that way."  The truth was, he couldn't have controlled it if he wanted to, and was feeling apprehensive.  He didn't want her to know that he was losing the ability, on a small scale, to contain his rage.  That was for now.  It flashed through his mind that it could get worse.  He made a decision then to harness it, no matter what it took.


"Well, it's over now," she said, hugging him tighter.


He said, "I'm sorry if I scared you."


"You didn't.  Not for myself."


"I'm just not...ready yet, to say it all.  But I want to.  I know I have to, eventually."


"I know, and I'm sorry.  You will tell me when you are ready."


"I will, you will be the first one I'd want to tell. Maybe the only.  That's once I tell myself.  I'm tough, but I can't face it all.  Not yet."


"I understand."  She touched his face, running her fingers along his scar.  "You know, I've done this millions of times, and it never gets old to me."


"Well, the face is getting old, I know that."


"No, you look as young as you did the first time I met you,"  she said.


"Okay, that's a little much Blair, even for you."


She laughed, "Well, almost.  God, you were just a kid."


"And you weren't that much older."


"I guess not.  We were both so young."  For a moment, she was lost in sitting by him, at the bar in Rodi's.  His long hair touched his shoulders, his face clean-shaven, his scar on one cheek, and the ankle bracelet on his leg.


"You want to go home?"  He asked, putting his elbow out.


"I would love to, but aren't you forgetting something?"


"I'm not carrying you."


"Not that, the baby!"


"Oh him!  Of course," he said, and got the carrier.  They left, closing the lights in the nursery.


***


John walked into the assigned interrogation area, and waited.  It was a dull, gray room, with one table and two, plain, straight chairs.  There was a single light above him.  He noticed that almost everything in the room was the same hue.  Impatient, he checked his watch, when he heard footsteps.  


Hesser entered the room, in chains.  His jumpsuit was shockingly orange against the gray of the room all around them.  John eyed him as he dragged the chains toward his chair.  "Lieutenant McBain, if I knew it was you who were coming, I'd have baked a cake."


"Hesser."


He sat across from the policeman, and folded his hands, exposing the chains on his wrists.  "What is it you want, Lieutenant.  I am interested to hear what you are here for."


"I have some questions."


"Feel free, though I am not positive I can answer them."


"Are you aware of the things that Michael Leona perpetrated on Todd Manning?"


"Are you referring to their retreat in Ireland?"


John felt sick.  "Whatever you want to call it, Hesser."


"I am aware now, yes.  I had no prior knowledge of his plan to exact revenge on poor Mr. Manning."


"I'm not dignifying that bullshit with a response.  I'm referring to the things he did after you assigned him to kidnap Todd."


"Again, I am not sure what you are talking about.  I had no role in that."


John seethed, ready to try and shake the man's conscience loose, if there were one.  "So you did not know about his ritual?"


"Ritual?  What in the world are you talking about?"  


John noticed that he had not faltered in the least.  His intent was not to get a confession of any kind, but to let Carlo know that he was exacting his own kind of revenge, and it included the courts.  "You know the one.  Seems it's something very hard for someone to get over.  And there's more, but I won't go into it today, since it might really hurt your sensibilities."


He noticed a slight change in Carlo's face.  It was not very evident, but he thought he surmized a twinge of disgust.  He continued, "I guess you had nothing to do with the other things he did either, to brutalize this man.  For eight years, and then again, just last month.  But, someone's going to pay for it."  He found himself losing control, "Pay for exposing Todd Manning, his wife and his infant child to a sick, sociopathic maniac who thought he was engaged in a relationship of some demented kind.  Who donned a robe and a lighter at your command, and made this man relive childhood abuse."


Carlo's eyes had become smaller, his face paler.  "I have no idea what you are talking about."


"Did you know that kidnapping is a felony offense?"

He did not respond.  


"Did you know that abduction and torture carries a death penalty in the state of Pennsylvania, Hesser?"


"I believe I've said all I know, Lieutenant.  Now if you will excuse me, I think I should be getting back to my cell."  He got up, and his chains rattled, bringing the guard to the door.  


As he was let out, John called after him, "Enjoy it, while it lasts..." he yelled, and then softly to himself, "you fuck.  I'll see you roast."


***


In the beautiful sunlight, Zeus found himself wandering the grounds at Mountainview.  The guard was never more than 50 feet away from him, but he felt a kind of liberty when he was allowed this outdoor time.  He walked out to the pond, where the ducks swam and the water sparkled when the sun hit it.  He sat along the bank, thinking, and picking grass, plucking dandelion heads or stones and tossing them into the water.  He got lost in a daydream about he, Tea and Danielle, with the new baby, picnicking in the very spot he sat.


He closed his eyes, and leaned back on his elbows, clearing his mind.  In his thoughts, he was back with Tea, before the shooting of Tomas, before everything, and they were happy, eating breakfast at their favorite spot, Danielle asking for more whipped cream on her hot chocolate, and him wanting to give them everything. He had a family, finally.  


His thoughts of them faded, and were replaced with Carlo, holding the remote control to the chair, and pushing the buttons to send the painful electrical current through him.  His fists tightened in the grass and dug into the ground, as he imagined taking them and pounding Carlo's face with them, then, putting them around Carlo's neck, and squeezing until his eyes bugged out and his tongue hung, lifeless, from his mouth.  He opened his eyes, realizing where he was, and at first, he grimaced, feeling a twang of guilt.  Then, he smiled into the sunlight.


***


Todd put Sam to bed, as Blair readied Little Ray for his bedtime.  Jack was studying in his room, door shut, earphones on, oblivious to the sounds of the evening from his family.  After the two youngest were down for the count, Todd and Blair sat together on the couch, and he recommended a fire.  It was September now, and evenings were cool enough.  He lit the fire and made a place for the two of them in front of it.  


"This is how it should be, Blair.  You and me, and the kids."


"I know, it's wonderful.  It's peaceful.  We'll be all right."


"We'll be more than all right.  How long before Ray cries?"


She smiled, "Another three hours or so."


"Three hours, not bad.  What would you like to do during those three hours?"


"Honestly, I think I'd like to sit and talk about christening Ray."


"My God, Blair, how did that get away from us?"


"So much happened, we lost track of it."


He stopped, reflecting, "It seems like just yesterday we were talking about it.  But it wasn't.  It was a long time.  Before, everything that happened."


"We should do it, sometime soon, don't you think?"


"Yeah, I do," he drifted off, and his eyes lost focus.  In his mind, he saw Carlo Hesser, standing at the church during the christening.  Everyone was in white; Carlo was in black.  In his vision, the baby was being doused with water, as he, at the altar with Blair, turned and whipped a gun from his waistband and shot Carlo through the head, which made it explode.  He blew on the end of the gun and smirked.  Someone applauded...


Todd jumped back to reality, as Blair said, "Are you all right?  I think I lost you for a minute."


"I'm sorry, I was...thinking."


"About the christening?"


"Yeah, that's exactly what it was about.  We'd better make some plans."


She looked into his eyes, "Are you sure you're all right?"  she asked.


"Yes, I'm sure.  You want to know how all right I am?"  he asked her, nuzzling her neck.


"If you want to show me."


He kissed her mouth, and made a trail of kisses to her neck.  She tilted her head back and let a small sigh go from her lips.  "I love you, Todd."


"I love you, Blair.  We could make it official here in front of the fire, but Jack might want a poptart and get the show of his life."


Blair said, "Good point.  Upstairs, then?"


"Sounds good!  Let's go," he jumped the stairs two at a time, and his side did not hurt.  "Hey, I'm healed," he said.


She hoped he was.


Later, they slept in each others' arms, the baby in the nursery, Jack who had closed the lights for the night, and Sam, who had been sleeping for hours.  Blair got up at 1:00 a.m. to feed Ray, and stumbled, tired, to the nursery, to retrieve him, and sat in the rocker.  Toward the end of his feeding, she heard noises coming from one of the rooms.  She could not place it, because of where she was, but she was chilled to her bones.  She remembered, momentarily, Leona's appearance at the door of the nursery that fateful night, and she shook.  Little Ray finished his feeding, and she carefully placed him back in his crib.  He was asleep almost instantly, and she crept to Sam's room, and peeked in.  He was sleeping, clutching a Spiderman doll, with his Spiderman night light on, showing the outline of his adorable face.


She closed the door gently, and went to Jack's room.  He had fallen asleep with his earphones on, but the Ipod had long since stopped.  She pulled the blanket up over him.  Three of her boys all right, one left to go.


She was headed to her room, when she heard Todd cry out, "Get off me!" and heard the sound of his movements.  She raced to get to him, and entered the bedroom as he was running to the bathroom, and heaving into the toilet.  She went to him, putting her hand on his back, and rubbing in a circular motion, while running the water on a cold towel and placing it at the back of his neck.  


He struggled to stop the heaves, but couldn't.  She said, "It's all right, just let it go, you'll feel better.  You can't stop it."


He choked and gagged, and in a few minutes, he panted, saying, "Blair, I need help."


"All right, I'll call 911."


"No, not that, I need help.  I have to go see Ray.  I have to."


He was still bent over the bowl when she pulled him to her.  "Whatever you need."


"I can't do this..." he gasped, "anymore."


She waited.  "I know.  I'm here."  He made his way to the sink and ran cold water into his hands and splashed it on his face.  Then, he took some water in a small cup and rinsed his mouth.  "What can I do, Todd?"


"Nothing, babe, just be here.  Don't leave, not now."


Jack appeared at the doorway to the bathroom.  "Dad, Mom, what's wrong?"


Todd said, "Something I ate, I guess."


"Oh, sorry Dad, I hope you feel better."


"Go back to bed, Jack, Dad's all right."  Jack obeyed, and Blair made certain his door was shut.  


She returned to see Todd hugging himself, sitting on the bed, in the dark. "I can't bring back the light, Blair.  Everything's dark."


She sat by him, "No, it just feels like that.  But it will come back.  It will.  Remember what you have been through.  You can't expect miracles."


He looked like a little boy: his lips were inflamed from crying and getting sick; his eyes were a little swollen; tears were on his face without sobs; his arms were wrapped around his middle.  "Blair?"


"Yes, babe," she said, pushing his hair back behind his ear.


"I remember.  Everything."


She did not ask, but she nodded, insistent with herself about holding her own sadness and tears in.


He said, "All of it."  He looked at her then, in such a way that his eyes were speaking to her, and she knew.  She bit her lip, and pulled him to her chest, putting her arms fully around him.  She could feel him trembling, but more, his calm flow of tears concerned her.


"It's okay.  He's dead, Todd."


"He's dead.  I killed him."


"Yes, you did."


"He did everything terrible and horrible that a person could do to someone else."


"I know he did."


"He's worse than Peter,"  he said, softly.  She did not know what to say.  She just stroked his hair, and listened to him.  If he wanted to talk, she was going to be there to hear him.  She didn't need him to say anything more; he'd told her everything with his eyes, and his response to his dream.  She felt pains in her chest, not from physical ailment, but from holding in her own sorrow.  


"I'll call Ray, tomorrow morning, unless you want me to call him now."


"Tomorrow's okay.  Don't leave me."


"I'm not.  Believe me, I won't."  


"Keep holding me."


"I am.  That's not hard."


His ragged breathing was warm against her breast.  She continued to hold him, and his grip on her did not loosen.  "Lie down with me, Blair.  I'm so tired."


She was also tired.  Tired from holding such powerful emotion within her, she cried quietly, hoping he would not notice.  They got under the covers, and she held him, as he rested on her, his head over her belly, like he enjoyed doing when she was first pregnant with Ray, then called "Moonbeam."  She continued to stroke his hair, and he just lay there, holding her hand in his.  He did not notice the crying, or else, he did not mind.  He said, "I have to do something.  I can't keep putting you through this."


She said, "Todd, stop, I don't want to hear that."


He moved closer to her, "I don't want to hear you sad, but you are.  Because of me."


"No.  Because of them.  Now stop, please.  We're in this together."


He let go of her hand, and traced a circle around her belly button, and rubbed her belly absently, with his thumb.  Then, she noticed his hand become still and his breathing change.  She prayed he fell asleep, and would be without nightmares until morning.  She wished she had called Ray, right then, but to get the phone now would wake him.  She looked to the ceiling and said to herself, "God, please, help my husband.  He's in a dark place and needs You."  


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