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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Hope from the Ocean: 51

"Are you buckled in?" Todd said to Aiden, who was sitting in the back of the copter.

"Ya sure ya can drive this thing, Todd?"  Aiden said, as nervous as Todd had ever seen him.

"You face off against those sickos, and you're afraid of this machine?"

"We're going in the sky, Laddy, that's not a place for humans to be.  Birds, perhaps, not humans.  I really don't need to see a doctor.  I have a rule about this."

"And how's that been working out for you?"

Aiden didn't respond at first.  After thinking a few minutes, he added, "What was the use?  No insurance and no money, Pal.  No way for me to afford this kind of treatment."

"Well those days are over," Todd said, lifting off.

***

"Bea, come inside, now, it's quite cold out here," her nurse said.

Bea ignored her, sitting in the midst of the snowy patio, looking out to the mountains and the lake at Mountainview.

"Bea, did you hear me?"

Bea looked at her nurse, finally making eye contact.  She shook her head "no," and then smiled.

"You did hear me.  It's amazing how much you love it out here in the cold.  I bet it's the snow?"

Bea nodded.  The nurse hugged herself to try and maintain warmth.  "Bea, I just can't take much more of this cold.  Please?"

Bea hesitantly got up, the nurse spying the pad with her latest drawing.  It was a likeness of a handsome, but scarred, man, who the nurse recognized as Bea's son.  He was standing, hands in his front pants pockets, with a winter coat on, and the mountains as a backdrop.  The nurse said, "I do love your artwork.  That one of Mr. Manning is particularly lovely."

Bea smiled at her, and began to walk toward the building.  The nurse followed, and soon, they were back in Mountainview's lobby, and began to thaw.  Bea's nose was red at the tip, and her cheeks were blushing with the relief of the chill.  She undid her scarf, and smiled, holding the artwork toward Ray, who happened to be crossing through the main hall.

"Beautiful, Bea.  Looks just like him.  Very good likeness,"  Ray said.

She smiled again.

"Would you like to come early, today, for your session?  My office is cleared from now until late afternoon."

She nodded and handed her coat, scarf and hat to her nurse.  She was careful with the scarf and hat; they were cashmere and from Little Sam.  They were both red, one of her favorite colors, with little white snowflakes hand embroidered on them.  She followed Ray into his office.

***

Shaun, getting his coat and gloves on, looked into the mirror.  "Big guy, you'd better be sure about this."  He'd been thinking of it all morning, since Aiden's collapse.  Something about the guy wasn't sitting right with him, and he wanted to make his own head clear on the topic, and move forward.  Todd wouldn't be angry with me if I found something out to protect his family?  Something just wasn't right.

He understood why Todd Manning might take the guy in, and sort of overlook the fact that he didn't even really KNOW Aiden.  The guy had a scar, the guy belonged to a group that saved Todd's life, and the guy has a bad childhood - all things Todd would take pity on, and identify with.  

He left cabin two, and headed to cabin three.  Opening the door, quietly, he crept inside and closed the door behind him.  Where do I start?  After a few moments, he knew the answer.  The man had almost nothing.  There were very few things to poke through.  In finding a beaten, weathered bag, he dumped the contents onto the bed.  

There, shining in the light, was a knife, menacing in appearance, with a rather worn, curved handle.  It was sharp and polished.  Shaun picked it up, and examined it closer.  Wonder why Mr. Aiden has this?

***

The limousine pulled up in front of Courtown Demesne.  As the door opened, Jack, hands in his coat pockets, was standing there, smiling, and she stepped out of the car.  

Blair watched discreetly from the front doors, as her son and his girlfriend rushed to an embrace.  She smiled and closed the door to give them privacy.  Turning to Sister Rebecca Katherine, she said, "My son's in love, Sister," with a bit of wistfulness and pride.  "And my daughter, she's a wonderful mother, and on her way back to her home."

"He is.  And she's a sweet girl, really, Bridgette.  And Starr, she's someone to make ya proud."

"I know.  Both have made a good choices.  Hope's missing Addie too much, and her room, and her toys.  She's doing what's right for her little family.  I'm very proud of her."  She choked up.

"Likely modeled after their mother, Dear Heart."

"Well, how long do I give them out there?"

"Just a few minutes more.  In fact, I think I hear them on the front stoop now."

As they approached the house, Starr and Hope were just coming out, with complete with baggage.  Jack said, "Where are you going?"

"Home.  To Llanview.  With Jenna here, and Lynnette alone at home with the gallery, I offered to go and help.  Besides, I think Hope wants to be there.  She misses Addie.  I do, too.  As long as Mom and Dad are okay, then I'm all right to leave."

"Well, okay," he said, reaching out to hug her.

She said, "What was that for?"

"I dunno, just wanted to."

"Dorian and Sister Rebecca Katherine will help with everything here.  I'll see you soon, Jack."  She turned and hugged Jenna, "and you, too, Jenna.  Enjoy your stay."

Starr went to the car, and Jack watched her go.  "She's like totally grown up."

"Yeah, she is."  Jenna said.

***


"Were ya upset because I was a dead man on the lawn, or were you upset because it was me who died?"

Tina sat, by Ray's crib, with her book, and looked out the windows.  Remembering back, she could almost feel Aiden's lips on hers.  

She had been so frightened when she saw him, lying on the ground, arms and legs sprawled out.  His skin was whiter than she had remembered it and stark in contrast to the grass.  Her heart had almost broken thinking how still he was.  But, he wasn't dead . . .

She touched her fingers to her lips, and closed her eyes.  He's way younger than you are.  What do you think you're doing?  You've got to have a good 15 years on the guy.  Still, rational thought like those took a back seat to how she felt from the first time their eyes connected: his blue, crystalline eyes, his winning, magnetic smile, and the way he looked at her, like she was the only person in the room.  She smiled and went into a daydream about him: his muscular arms wrapping around her and bringing her close, her knees giving way, ever so slightly, his mouth on hers again.  She imagined wrapping herself around him, leading him backward onto her bed, and opening herself to him. . .

Tina.  You had better cut that out.

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Monday, March 24, 2014

Hope from the Ocean: 50

The next morning, Todd was up early, with the rising sun, and watched it as it made its way into the low portion of the sky.  Pinks, oranges and purples burst around the sun, and he studied the way it brought magical shadows to the backyard.

"I know it's a touchy subject with you, Blair, but I want us to stay on here in Ireland for a little while longer."  Todd said, his back to her as he stood, looking out the French doors.

Her heart felt as if it was deflating.  "I was kind of looking forward to going home."

"I know," he said, turning to her.  He approached the bed, and sat by her.  She was propped up against pillows, and the last of her breakfast tray that he had fixed was over her lap.  He gently picked it up and moved it.  "I understand, but I have my reasons."

"Okay," she said, folding her arms, "what are they?"

"First, I just shipped Jenna here.  I mean, she's getting off the jet in a couple of hours."


"That can't be it."


"It's not.  It's about Aiden."

She became pensive, and looked puzzled.  "Aiden?"

"Yeah.  He has that affliction, the condition, whatever it is.  I want to see it through, get him some medical help.  Maybe he can try to live a normal life.  Maybe someone can help with his memories."

Blair had a sudden realization.  Todd identified with Aiden because he, too, had blocked painful memories.  But she also knew that in some way, Todd was saying that remembering had healed him, or at least was in the process of doing so.  She said, "You really want to take that on, right?"

"Yeah, I mean, he's a good guy.  Committed to this RA21, and somehow inadvertently was part of saving me and us, a few years back."

She unfolded her arms.  "I guess so, Todd.  Whatever you want.  As long as you don't go off into the catacombs again, or go anywhere dangerous."

"That, I can promise.  Unless you call Sister Rebecca's kitchen dangerous."

"Well, not exactly."

"Settled?"

"Sure, why not?  Jack is going to be so happy about Jenna.  He was just telling me he missed her."

"Well, not anymore, and I aim to please.  She has the first cabin."

"All right.  Is it ready?"

"I had Tina go and spruce it up.  You know, it happens to be two cabins away from Aiden's, and he's there right now."

"I see what you're doing, you little matchmaker!"

"Me?  Nah," he got up, taking her tray.  She began to throw her legs over the side of the bed, and he said, "No, no.  You stay here, I'll be back.  Rest is good.  You know what Larry said."

"Larry?  When did you talk to him?"

"Last night."

"You called him?"

"First, I put you to bed, then I called him.  I told him what was going on, and he told me bed rest as much as possible to make sure things stay good."

"What about a doctor?"

"Thought of that.  Your aunt should be up here in, like, . . ."

"All right, Blair, let's talk,"  Dorian said, walking in the room, without announcing or knocking.

"I'm going to take these dishes down, Babe.  I'll be back in a little while."  Todd said.

Dorian walked toward the bed, and sat where Todd was not moments before.  "Blair," her voice was sweet and comforting, "tell me what happened?"

"I don't . . . I just get scared, Dorian.  I've tried to fight it, but it doesn't work.  It just keeps happening, over and over.  I'm afraid," she broke down in tears, "so very afraid."

Dorian took her niece in her arms.  "Don't be afraid, Blair.  Everything's fine.  Todd's all right, the baby's healthy.  You have to stay calm for her sake.  Another Cramer woman in there."

"Manning," Blair corrected, "She's a Cramer-Manning.  Jewel."

"All right, Jewel, then.  To protect her, you can't be getting all nervous, and out of sorts.  You need to stay calmer."

"I was sick over Todd going to Dublin.  I just . . . I thought somehow I'd lose him, like I did before.  It scared me to death."

"I know, but remember, he's tough.  And he's here.  And he loves you, very much."

Blair sniffled.  "Well, you are certainly telling a different tale these days."

"Maybe I've learned a thing or two."

"Maybe."  Blair sniffed again, and looked at her hands.  "You never understood him, or us.  Not really, anyway."

"Well, give me a chance, at least.  I think Todd has."

She looked up at her aunt.  "He has.  You know, lately, he's not said too much bad about you.  He kind of thinks you're okay.  Except he still thinks you're not a real doctor."

She rolled her eyes, "Now, let me give you my best medical advice.  Trust him, trust yourself.  Relax, Blair.  Relax and try and enjoy this pregnancy."

"It's my last," she said through tears.

"Yes, for all intents and purposes, it's your last.  So let's enjoy it.  You and Todd should relish it.  Don't be afraid."

"You're telling me to trust him.  I should be afraid of you.  I think you're losing your mind!"  She smiled.

"I mean it.  No one would give his life for you the way Todd would.  And that makes me trust him.  If I do," she stood up, "then you definitely should."

Blair smiled, but her eyes were still tearing.  "Thank you."

Dorian said, "You're welcome.  But I still think a check-up would be a good idea.  Maybe at Dublin Hospital?"

"Maybe.  Today, I'd just like to rest."

"All right," the older woman said, "I'll see you later."  She exited the room, and Blair watched her go.  A few seconds after her leaving, Todd's head poked back in the door.  

"Is it safe?"

She smiled, "With you around it is."

He came into the room, in the lightfooted way he did, and jumped onto the bed next to her.  "Just fooling around.  She's okay, that Dorian."

"Funny, she said the same thing about you, more or less."

"Times change."

 She took his hand, and placed it on her belly, in time for him to feel the movement of their next child.  "They do." 

***

Tina puttered around the cabin, trying to neaten it as her brother had asked.  She had added fresh flowers, and a table-top easel with paints and brushes, as requested by Todd.  Everything seemed arranged perfectly, and she went to the far side of the room just to open a window and air the place out briefly.

She opened the glass panes, and it was colder than she thought, but the air was fresh and the place needed a bit of air, to release the stuffiness.  She put her jacket on, while she waited for it to do its trick, and then heard a crash from outside.  

Opening the door, she peeked out, seeing Aiden, sprawled on the ground.  She ran over to him, leaving the door to cabin one ajar, and knelt on the cold ground beside him.  "Aiden?  Aiden?  Can you hear me?"

He didn't respond, so she took her cellphone from her pocket and dialed Todd's number.  "Todd, it's Aiden, he . . . it looks like he collapsed outside.  He was trying to carry his tray back to the house, and . . . yes, okay."

She shut her phone, and patted his face lightly, saying, "Aiden, open your eyes," and received no response.  Todd was on his way out there, and Perzno was already alerted, for he heard the noise and barreled out of cabin two, and came to them.

"What happened?"  The copter pilot asked.

"I think he . . . collapsed.  Something."


He said, "Miss Tina, you're shaking.  It's all right."  Perzno knelt beside them, and felt for a pulse.    

Shaun, who was just getting himself out of the shower, said, "Hey, everything all right?"
as Todd made his way across the lawn.  

Aiden opened his eyes, and spied all four of them leaning over him.  "Ay, top of the morning, all of ya.  What's the news?  I'm winning the Irish Sweepstakes, am I?"

Tina sat back on her heels and sighed, tears springing to her eyes.  Todd spoke first, "Hey, Buddy, you all right?  What the heck happened to you?"

"It happens all the time.  I guess I should have warned ya.  I can't help it.  Another side effect.  Sometimes, the pain, other times, I faint dead away."

Todd put his hand out.  "Can you sit up?"

"I can.  I am very capable of sitting.  I do it often," he said, lightheartedly, but needed a great deal of support to be able to sit erect.  "There," he said, looking to Todd for approval.

Perzno said, "I don't think you need us, Mr. Manning.  We're going back inside."  He and Shaun retreated with a nod from Todd.  Aiden, looking after them, saluted and smiled.  It was then he caught Tina's eye.  Immediately, his expression changed.  He reached out and touched her face.  "Dear Lady, why are ya crying?"

Todd, standing, called the house to let Blair know Aiden was all right.  Feigning reason, he stayed on the phone, off to the side, while his sister and Aiden spoke.

She sniffed.  "I . . . was scared, I guess."

"Well, I'm sorry.  I probably should have warned ya about the perils of being me."

"It's not that.  I thought you . . . I feared that . . ."

"Ya thought I went to meet my maker, did ya?"  He threw back his head and laughed.  "Not my time.  He wants nothing to do with the likes of this one.  Shot in the head, I was.  That's leaving me half a man, I guess."

Todd looked at Aiden, the phone still dangling from his hand against his ear.  He could hear Blair, "Todd?  Todd?  Are you there?"  

Todd stared at Aiden, and made his way to his side again, saying into the phone, "Babe, I have to go," and ending the call.  "Aiden, you're all right, huh?"

"Ya might say that, though not really.  Ya know I don't know my life, Todd.  And Tina, I should have warned ya more about my affliction.  I only know a certain part of my past, and the cause of it.  But before I was found, I have nothing but blank in here."  He tapped his head.  "But more importantly, I want to make sure you, little lady, are all right."

Todd accepted his word, and turned to go back to the house.  His head spinning, he wondered if there could be any possible way . . .

"Tina," Aiden said, still cradling her face in his hand.

"Yes, I'm being silly.  I'm all right.  Perfectly fine."

"Were ya upset because there was a dead man on the lawn, or were you upset because it was me who died?"

She looked into his blue eyes.  They were similar to hers, slightly familiar, as if she had known him all her life.  "Both.  But mostly the second."

He grinned, and said, "Well, then, that's a 'Yeeoooo' if I ever heard one."  He'd shouted the expression, mid sentence, and then moved in and took her lips with his.

***

He walked into the bedroom, feeling a bit numb.  He sat on the bed.  Blair looked at him, glancing up from her magazine.  "Todd, what's wrong?"

"I don't know."

"Well, something's bothering you.  Is Aiden okay?"

"He seems to be fine.  He collapsed."

"What is it, my love?  A memory?"

"No.  Nothing like that."

Blair hated to admit to herself that she was selfishly relieved.  He'd come so far.  "What is it, then?"

"Aiden.  I should have told you about this before.  Now, it's just . . . well it's crazy, that's what it is."

"All right, he's not dangerous or anything?"

"No, not that.  He . . . he showed me a picture, Blair.  In the tavern.  Of his mother.  She was about Jack's age in the photo.  She looked so familiar.  I couldn't place her."

She touched his arm.  "What are you thinking, Todd?"

"He was raised on the island of Innishcreg.  They supposedly found him, as a child, injured to the head.  The picture, the familiarity, and then today, he said aloud how he got the wound."

She sucked in air, "Oh, Todd.  I wish I could say I am following you, but I don't think I understand."

"He was shot.  In the head.  He lost the early years of his life.  He was found, by a family, and raised by them."  He was pacing, and his voice was escalating, "His mother, was familiar to me.  Blair, I just . . . I think . . ."

She stood up and went to him.  She took his face in her hands, "It's okay.  Just say it.   I won't hold you to it, if that is what you're thinking."

"I just know I saw her before.  I can't think of where I've seen her.  It's kind of been on my mind.  Did I run into someone who looks like her at Dublin Hospital?  Or what if it has to do with the time I was here in 1995?  Could it be someone from then, when I was in Innishcreg?  I don't remember much of that, you know, it was . . ."

"It was a hard time for you.  Painful, you were in recovery from so many wounds.  You were . . . almost dead."

"Yeah.  Right.  I'm confused.  It's on the edge of my mind, and I can't grasp it.  What if I'm confusing things from the eight years . . ?"

She felt a hollow pity in her heart, followed by a wave of nausea.  "I don't know, but I do think it will come to you, My Love.  Maybe you should just let it."

He pulled her into his arms, and let her wrap hers around him.  She fondled the hair at the back of his neck, and he gave himself to the feeling of her, against him.  "Blair," he whispered.

"Yes?"

He looked into her eyes, and touched her nose with his.  He took her lips in his, and his tongue ran around hers, as he felt her hands slipping further into his hair.  She pressed herself against him, and felt him respond to her.  Pulling back, she said, "I love you very much."

"I'm grateful.  I love you, too," he said, stroking her hair and leading her to the bed.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

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Friday, March 7, 2014

Hope from the Ocean: 49

"You're back," Blair said.

"We are," Todd said, leaning forward to kiss her.  He caught her top lip between his, and ran his hand along her face.  

Aiden leaned out from behind Todd, "Come up for air, why don't ya?  Ya forgot me, Laddy."

Both Todd and Blair laughed, and Todd turned back to him.  "Sorry, Buddy.  Why don't we all go in and see if there's any dinner cooking?"

"I think there is," Blair said, pretending to hold a tantalizing secret.

Todd said, "What, pizza?"

"No, not pizza."

The three of them strolled toward the kitchen, Blair with her arm through his, and Aiden behind.  Todd said, "Um, I don't know, that tuna mess?"

"Nope, not Tuna Casserole."

As they stepped into the kitchen, the odor was familiar.  Todd said, "Oh God, something died in here."

Aiden said, "Ah, pork chops and sauerkraut.  It's not particularly Irish, but one of my faves.  They make it at the tavern all the time.  Ah, Dear Lady, this was your work?"

The nun looked up from her pot.  "Yes, and ya are?"

"Aiden, Sister," he shook her hand, "Pleased to meet ya."

"And to meet ya, too."  She studied him, briefly, and then looked to Todd and Blair.  "Are the both of ya hungry?"

"We are, but not sure it's going to be that."  Todd said, looking at Blair, who appeared a light shade of gray-green.

"Sister, you know I loved this dish before, but . . ." she left the room, hurriedly.

Todd turned to Aiden and the nun, "Uh, I'd better go after her," and left the room, but not before grabbing a large bowl of salad, a water bottle, two forks and some dressing.

Aiden said, "I guess we're on our own."

"Those two could live together in that room, if ya let them."  She motioned with her eyes to the upper level. 

Tina walked in, and seeing Aiden there, changed her facial expression unwittingly.  "You're back.  Good to see you again.  How are you feeling?"

"I feel fine.  I was looking forward to running into ya again.  I met another lovely lady as well."

"Yes, Sister Rebecca Katherine is a fine woman, and a good friend.  Are you staying for dinner?"

"If ya'll have me."

"Of course we would, Dear Boy.  Now, grab a plate and line up here, we'll get our grub and sit and have some,"  Sister Rebecca Katherine said, and Aiden's eyes sparkled and he smiled broadly.

***

"Babe, you all right?"  Todd said, standing by the bathroom door.

"I don't feel so good, Todd," Blair said, after throwing up into the toilet.  He went to her and sat her on the edge of the tub.  "I feel so sick."

"You're tired."  He put his arm around her, and brought her close.

"I might be."

"It's been stressful.  It's over now.  Plus, the smell of that meal . . . could make anyone hurl."

She gently laughed.  Closing her eyes, she said, "I just feel so crummy.  Can I lie down?"

"Sure," he said, and supported her weight and stood up, and she leaned into him.  Without warning, she doubled over and moaned.  "Babe, what's the matter?"

"Oh, God, Todd, it's cramps.  I think I'm cramping."  Her voice was laced with fear.

"It's all right, don't get upset, Blair.  Maybe you just don't feel good, let's get you to the bed."  He lifted her like a child, cradling her in his arms, and she had her head on his shoulder, crying quietly.  When he placed her on the bed, he became aware of her tears, and saw the terror in her eyes.  He brushed her hair back.  "Hey.  It's all right.  Just stomach trouble."

"I don't know," she said, teetering on panic.  "I don't think it's stomach trouble, I think . . ."

He put a finger to her lips.  "Shh.  None of that.  Just lie down, and if it gets worse, we'll deal with it then.  You're minutes from the hospital, because of old Perzno and the copter.  Now just lie back, and breathe."  He stroked her hair.  She closed her eyes.  After a few minutes of him caressing her, and his other hand gently massaging her belly, she was almost drowsing.  He said, "See?  It's okay.  Nothing's going to happen to you, or our Jewel."

She opened her eyes, and her expression was relieved and peaceful.  "I'm okay."

"I know.  You're beautiful."

"Todd.  What would I do if . . .if something had . . ."

"None of that, now.  I'm here, right?  We're together.  Want some salad?  I brought it up for us."  

"No, I'm not in the mood for eating.  But I know you always are, so go ahead.  I'm okay just resting."  She watched him, lifting the cellophane off the bowl, and pour some dressing over the greens.  

He brought the bowl to the bed and started eating, keeping a watchful eye on her.  "Any more pain?"

"No."

"Okay.  Just let me know, if you need something."  He kept eating.  Halfway through, he offered her some, and she refused again.  He watched as she fought to keep her eyes open, but slept instead.  

Putting the bowl to the side, he rubbed her forehead gently with his thumb, and took her hand.  "No one will hurt us, or the baby this time.  You can bet on that one."

***

"This is a fine creation, it is."  Aiden said.  He ate heartily.

"Glad ya like it, there's more in the pot.  Just save some for that teenager we have roaming the house somewhere."

"The boy, yes.  Todd's son.  I've forgotten his name."

"Jack."

"Yes, Jack.  He could finish it all, ay, Sister?"

Tina jumped in.  "Possibly.  But he's lovesick, might not eat as much as we think."

Aiden looked at her, and the nun could not help but notice the way their eyes lingered.  She said, "More anyone?"

"No, this is fine," Tina said.

Aiden smiled, "Fine."

Jack rushed into the room, with his cellphone in hand.  "Sister, what do you know about this?  Jenna said she can't talk, she's on a plane?"

"A plane?"  the nun said, putting her fork down, "Let me see.  Yes, it seems that's what she said."

"You know something, don't you?"  Jack said.  Then he turned to his aunt.  "Uh, sorry, for bursting in this way but it was important."

Tina said, "Jack, this is Aiden.  A friend of your father's."

"Hi."

"Hi, Lad."  Aiden said, and continued eating.

"Sister, what do you know about this?  Dad tells you everything.  Is this a surprise?  Is Jenna on a plane here?"

"I don't know, Laddy, but ya can't ask your father right now.  He's tending to your mother.  They just went through a very stressful separation."  Sister Rebecca Katherine cautioned him.

"Oh, don't worry, I won't bother them.  I went past the door, and he was busy looking at her.  Just looking at her."  He rolled his eyes.  She was just lying there, sleeping I think, and he was staring at her.  Believe me, I know not to bug them.  That's why I came to you."

"Well, it's less than 24 hours off now, so yes, she's on her way.  Your father arranged it to surprise ya!"

He smiled, and Tina noticed how much like Todd's his smile was.  She said, "Nephew, careful, you're giving yourself away."

"I'm going to get ready.  Where is she staying?  In the house?"  Jack asked.

"No, she'll have the first cabin, closest to the house for her safety.  Aiden here has the third."

"God, I'd better take a shower and get some rest.  I'll see you guys later."  Jack said.

"What about dinner?"

"I ate already," he jumped the stairs, a few at a time.

"Teenagers," Tina said, looking still into Aiden's eyes.

"Trying to work with the ladies," he said.  "That I can relate to."

***

Blair was groggy, as Todd crept into bed next to her.  He lay on his side, still looking at her.  There was still so much to see in the face he'd already studied for years.  He sighed, and closing his eyes, he let himself drift into rest next to her.

In the darkness of the night, he heard her, murmuring.  "Don't."

He opened his eyes.  She was in the same position she had been when he closed his eyes, hours before.

"Don't take my baby."  Her voice was husky, soft, and she reminded him of times she had drunk too much champagne.  And in her sleep, "Todd.  Todd."

He wasn't sure what to do, so he answered, "Yeah?"

"Todd.  Don't let them.  Not Jewel.  She's our last one."

He gulped quietly.  "I won't."

She didn't seem very distressed.  Instead, she sounded dreamy, as if she were half awake.  She turned on her side, and her hand went across his chest.  Her head was nestled against his shoulder.  He wrapped both arms around her.  "I won't.  Don't worry.  Now sleep."

She didn't say another word.  

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