A gentle hand on his left wrist, and a soft voice whispering his name, woke Philip. He blinked, not entirely sure where he was, and struggled into a sitting position. A blinding pain shot through his body and Philip gasped, now fully awake. However, he wished he wasn't.

"Easy, Philip! You're still recovering, so don't move so quickly! Damn, you're determined to scare the hell out of me, aren't you?" Nick said. Philip smiled weakly, closing his eyes as he got his breath back. He had been dreaming that he was seven years old again, and his parents were still alive. Why he had dreamed of that time, Philip didn't know

"I'm sorry, Nick, I didn't mean t' scare you. I. . .I was dreamin' about m' parents," the young priest replied. Lissa, who had been unstrapping herself from the front seat, turned to look at him. She was frowning thoughtfully, but said nothing. After a moment, Philip continued, "If you'll give me just a minute t' orient myself, I'll be ready t' go inside." Lissa nodded and got out of the Range Rover.

"I'll go inside and call Dad, Nick. If I know my father, he's probably climbing the walls," the young woman said and Nick nodded. Lissa stopped at the cabin door and turned, looking as if she wanted to say something. Then she shook her head and went inside.

"I rented a couple of movies. . .I know how Lissa gets when she watches stuff. Her guard goes down and she gets completely immersed in whatever she's watching," Nick said. Philip looked at his friend, trying not to smile, and Nick didn't even bother to hide his grin. Then the ex-SEAL asked, "Hey, Philip. . .why would Lissa ask me to rent 'The Empire Strikes Back,' in addition to the other stuff? Does that have special meaning for you?"

The title gave Philip a jolt, but he replied, "Yeah. That was the last movie we went t' see t'gether when we were kids. . .Fiona was less than truthful wi' Derek, but didn't tell us until we reached the movie theater.

"So that you and Lissa could honestly tell Derek that you didn't realize she was taking you to the movies. Fiona sounds like she was a sly lady. . .I think I would have liked her," Nick replied. Philip would have laughed, but he needed all of his concentration to get out of the Range Rover.

"No, actually, she kept it a secret from Derek even after we got home. She told us that Derek had enough secrets of his own, that little boys and girls needed a few secrets. She said that it was our magic secret. I remember, I felt so wicked, but at the same time, special," Philip replied.

"I can understand that. You were what, twelve at the time?" Nick asked and Philip nodded. Nick continued with an impish smile, "I hate to tell you this, Philip, but five will get you ten that Derek figured it out anyhow. Secrets don't stay hidden long around him, you know that."

Secrets. . . The word spun through his brain as he and Nick slowly headed for the cabin. Lissa had left the door standing open for them, to make things easier for Nick. There was a secret he knew, but he couldn't remember what it was. It was something important, something which dealt with Lissa. What was it? Philip shook his head, trying to clear it, and Nick asked anxiously, "Philip? Are you all right?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. . .I just had a thought that slipped away from me, that's all. I'm fine. Sorry. . .I didn't mean t' frighten you, Nick," Philip apologized. They were inside the house and Philip could hear Lissa's soft, matter-of-fact voice as she talked with Derek.

"Yeah, I know. . .I'm sorry. Nick decided that I was going to watch a few of last summer's blockbusters, come hell or high water. Dad, there are times when trying to tell Nick 'no' about something is as impossible as trying to say 'no' to you! And this is one of those times!" Lissa was saying. She was pacing back and forth in the kitchen, her fingers twisting in the coil of the phone cord. Nick and Philip exchanged a grin as Nick settled Philip in a chair.

There was a brief moment of silence, then Lissa laughed outright. She said, still laughing, "Hey, at least I didn't make you find out from tv or worse, the police! And Philip is fine. . .I locked the door to the Range Rover as soon as things started getting nasty. C'mon, do you really think I'm gonna take any chances with his life? Nick and I can defend ourselves, no problem."

There was another silence and Philip whispered to Nick, "That's a sorry state of affairs, when a wounded woman feels that she has t' protect me." Nick just looked at him, his grin all but obscuring his eyes. Philip blushed and admitted, "All right. . .maybe she does. That doesn't mean I have t' like it!" Nick got up, his shoulders shaking, and Philip whispered, "Where are you goin,' then?"

"I have to bring in the bags from the car, remember? I'll be back in a few minutes," Nick replied, barely suppressing his laughter. Philip glared at him and Nick escaped. Only a few minutes after he was out the door, Philip heard a yelp of laughter. The young priest muttered under his breath, but reclined back in the chair.

"Well, Dad was. . .where's Nick?" Lissa asked, coming back into the room. She was frowning, and that reserve, which had disappeared during the crisis in the parking lot, was back in place. Philip looked at her helplessly, and Lissa glanced out the door. She added, with more relief than Philip felt was warranted, "Oh. He's getting the bags from the car. Will you be okay for a few minutes?"

"I'm not a child, Elizabeth, I don't need a babysitter!" Philip snapped. Her face tightened and Philip immediately whispered, "I'm sorry, Lissa. . .I'm so sorry." The young woman just shrugged and went out to the car to help Nick bring the bags in. Once more Philip sank against into the chair. Dammit, he thought wearily, I can't seem t' do anythin' right! She was only tryin' t' make sure I would be all right until she and Nick were done unloadin' the Range Rover! And I had t' go and snap at her!

If he had been well, Philip would have gone outside to apologize to Lissa. But he wasn't well. . .much as he hated it, the slightest motion resulted in pain that took his breath away. He slumped back again, swearing at himself. For good measure, he cursed Randolph Hitchcock for what he had done. Nor did he apologize for his sinful thoughts.

. . .

"So they got in okay?" Alex asked as Derek hung up the phone. Derek nodded, looking thoughtful, and Alex continued, "So why do you look worried, rather than relieved? Did they run into problems along the way?" Derek rose slowly to his feet and Alex waited patiently.

"They were accosted in a Baskin-Robbins parking lot. They had stopped for ice cream and water for Philip to take his medication. Three young thugs tried to attack. Lissa didn't give me the details. . .just said that she and Nick dealt with them, with some aid from a young girl named 'Katy.' I'll have to ask Lissa her last name, so I can help her in the future," Derek replied.

"But they're okay? I mean, Philip wasn't hurt?" Alex asked anxiously and Derek shook his head. Relieved, the researcher continued, "Okay, I'll see what I can find out about Katy. Although, a simple card and flowers would be nice." Derek shook his head and Alex sighed. She hadn't thought he would go for that. . .but she had to try.

"No. . .no, she deserves more than a card and flowers. I'll let Nick take care of that part, if he decides to ask her out. Lissa had that matchmaking tone in her voice," Derek replied and Alex laughed outright

"I know what you mean. She had that matchmaking tone in her voice most of yesterday, when we were helping George settle into his new apartment. But they're okay. . .none of them were hurt in the scuffle?" Alex asked once more and Derek smiled this time.

"They're fine. But you didn't come in here about them, did you? What's troubling you, Alex?" he asked. The researcher walked further into the room, trying to put into words what had been troubling her for the last few days. . . more to the point, for the last few weeks.

"Derek, it's Hitchcock. We now know that he has tried to kill you three times. . .the first time, when he murdered Fiona. . .the second time, with the scroll. . .and this most recent attempt. I'm worried about a fourth time," she replied. Derek nodded, looking very, very tired.

"I know, Alex. I'm worried about who will get caught in the crossfire next time. . .will it be you? Will it be Nick, or Rachel, or God forbid, Katherine or Maeve?" he asked. Alex nodded. . .that had concerned her as well. Hitchcock had proven that he wasn't above using them to get to Derek. The precept added, sighing, "I wish I knew how to protect you and the others, Alex."

"We'll protect each other. That's what we're here for. Derek, is there anything you haven't told us? The more we know about Hitchcock, the better prepared we will be to deal with him," Alex reminded him. Derek shook his head wearily, though the younger psychic could see the anger burning in his eyes. Not anger at her, however.

"Hitchcock hated Fiona. . .he hated Lissa, because Alicia loved her. He hated Philip for the same reason. I should have seen the signs, Alex. . .my blindness nearly cost my daughter and Philip their lives. Hitchcock also hated Thomas and Maeve, though God only knows why. They were never a threat to his relationship with Alicia," Derek replied. Alex couldn't help her bitter reply.

"It seems to me that the only real threat to his relationship with Alicia was his own jealousy. He was jealous of Lissa, and that turned Alicia against him. And what kind of man would be jealous of two little kids, anyhow?" Alex asked, shaking her head.

Derek didn't answer immediately. . .his hazel eyes were distant, and Alex wondered what he was thinking. Or even if she wanted to know what he was thinking. At last, however, Derek replied in a low voice, "I fear I am becoming paranoid, Alex. Ever since Hitchcock's tape arrived, I keep thinking back to Thomas and Maeve's deaths."

"You think he was responsible for the plane crash?" Alex queried, her heart beating faster. In the last few months, Alex had begun seeing traces of the little boy Philip had been before the loss of his parents. Derek shrugged and Alex asked, "What was the cause of the crash?"

"After Philip came to live with me, I investigated the crash, under the auspices of the Luna Foundation. There was a mechanical error of some kind, according to the reports I received," Derek replied. He paused, then added, "But I think another investigation is in order." Alex nodded, understanding his meaning at once, then left the room. She had a lot of work to do.

. . .

The tension was back. Nick could see it in Lissa's shoulders, he could sense it in her silence. There were no jokes about how much Derek worried, or anything of the sort. What the hell happened, Nick wondered, don't tell me that she and Philip had an argument?

However, he didn't ask any questions. Instead, he carried his bags and Philip's into the cabin. Philip was slumped in the chair. . .he looked worn out. Nick asked quietly, "What did you and Lis argue about?" The young priest looked up with a sigh, then a spasm of pain crossed his face. Nick put down the bags and sat beside him.

"I snapped at her. She just asked if I would be all right while she helped you wi' the bags. . .and I snapped at her. I can't seem t' do anythin' right, Nick. . .I don't know how t' reconnect wi' her," Philip replied at last. Nick looked at his hands as Lissa quietly entered the cabin.

There were no dramatic flourishes, she didn't slam the door. . .in fact, she entered the cabin so quietly, Nick would have never known she was there if Philip hadn't looked up. Nick started to speak, but Philip shook his head. Lissa paused and asked quietly, "Nick, do you have any preference for the rooms? I hadn't thought that far ahead. . .and did you bring the video bag inside?"

"Take whatever room you want, kiddo. . .doesn't make a bit of difference to me. And I'll get the bag with the movies in just a minute. Do you want me to cook tonight?" Nick asked. The barest hint of a smile quirked at the edges of Lissa's mouth.

"No. I'll cook. The last time you cooked, Nicholas, we were lucky no one came down with food poisoning," she replied. Nick glared at her. . .he wasn't that bad. . .and Lissa laughed this time. She chortled, "Nick, honey. . .not all of us are ex-SEALS, remember!"

She was still laughing as she walked down the hall and Nick looked at Philip, who said with a wry smile, "Well, she is the better cook, Nick. She may not be able t' fix all of Cook's delicacies, but at least she doesn't overcook the pasta for spaghetti." Under normal circumstances, Nick would have thwapped his friend's arm, but he had no wish to hurt Philip more than he was already hurting.

"I'll remember that, Philip, the next time you need help with one of the cars," Nick promised, satisfying himself with a threat instead. Philip just looked at him, and Nick burst out laughing at his friend's expression. He continued, still laughing, "Okay, okay! I get the picture!"

"Good. Then would you mind choosin' a bedroom for me? I'd really like t' lay down for a while," Philip replied. Nick nodded and gently helped his friend up from the chair. Even as gentle as he was, Philip gave an involuntary moan of pain. It took all of Nick's self-control to keep from gripping Philip's hand. Damn Hitchcock!

"Sure. . .come on. I'll put you in the room at the corner of the hall. Easy does it. Your next medication isn't due for another few hours, right?" Nick asked and Philip gave an unsteady bob of his head. The ex-SEAL continued, "That will work out fine, then. You'll have time to rest properly, while Lis and I finish unloading things. You need anything after I get you settled?"

"I'll be fine. . .just help Lissa. Maybe by dinner, she'll be calm enough t' accept my apology," Philip replied. Nick looked at his friend compassionately, though he was starting to feel like a marriage counselor. I couldn't get that lucky, Nick thought.

"Okay. . .here we are," the ex-SEAL said, cautiously helping Philip into the first bedroom. Every step seemed to take forever, but at last, they reached the bed. Very, very gently, Nick helped Philip to sit down, wincing at the obvious pain in his friend's eyes.

"Thanks, Nick," Philip murmured as he carefully lay down on the bed. The tension seemed to leave his body as soon as he was prone on the mattress, and his eyes closed. Nick stayed in the room an extra few minutes, but Philip seemed to be all right, so the ex-SEAL slipped away. He walked into the living room. . .Lissa was still in her chosen room, probably unpacking her bags.

Nick sat down in the chair Philip had just vacated and buried his face in his hands, dangerously close to tears. It tore his heart out to see Philip in such pain. His friend would never admit to hurting so much, but the pain was there. Lissa asked quietly from the door, "Is he okay?"

"Yeah, I think he's all right. . .just really worried about you. He didn't mean to snap at you, Lis," Nick said, then shook his head. Dammit, he didn't interfere in the relationships of others! Lissa sighed and sat down beside him. For the first time, he saw the dark circles under her eyes and the lines around her mouth.

"I know that. He just caught me at a bad moment, that's all. It's eating you up inside, too. . .isn't it? The anger, the frustration. . .the grief," she said quietly. Nick nodded and Lissa continued, "You know, Mama always wanted me to marry Philip. When I was a little girl, she would talk about the future, about how Philip and I would be husband and wife, and we would be part of the Legacy, too."

She paused, brushed a stray lock of hair back from her eyes, then continued, "I don't think Mama ever believed that Philip belonged in the priesthood. God forgive me, Nick, there are times when I'm not sure he does, either!" Her voice cracked and Nick put his hand on her shoulder.

Before he could say a word, however, something flashed through his mind. Her words in the car, about Philip never forgiving her. The look in her eyes when she glanced at Philip. And Nick felt as though the air had been sucked from his lungs. Looking back at Lissa, the ex-SEAL managed only to say, "I think Philip understands, honey."

Lissa smiled sadly, putting her hand over his, and replied, "I hope so. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to unload on you like this. . .you have your own worries. And I need to get a few more things out of the car." Nick nodded, unable to say anything, and Lissa squeezed his hand. She rose to her feet and left the cabin. Nick stared after her.

Lissa was in love with Philip. She had been in love with him all along, and that was the final part of her sacrifice. She had to admit, out loud, that she loved him. Dammit, didn't she give up enough by turning in her badge? Nick thought, his eyes welling up with tears, Why did You ask that of her as well? What kind of God does that to two of His most faithful servants?

The ex-SEAL closed his eyes. So many things made sense now. . .the tension between his brother and sister, Lissa's fear that Philip would never forgive her. In the last few hours, Nick had seen just how vulnerable his little sister was. . .it took very little imagination to understand why she was afraid Philip would never forgive her. It all went back to that bitch, Ellen. Years after her death, she was still hurting the people whom Nick loved.

. . .

I don't suppose it would do any good to tell Nick that the Father doesn't like what's going on, either, Fiona asked with a sigh. Winston shook his head and the woman continued, didn't think so. He's a very stubborn young man. . .every bit as stubborn as Jonathan.

Don't let Nicholas hear you say that. . .the boy's wounds still haven't healed. I don't know where in Purgatory Jonathan is serving out his penance, but I'm sure he knows how much his son hates him, Winston replied. He paused, then continued, However, I most certainly will not tell Nicholas that he is wrong to be angry with Ellen. The Father lost no time in pronouncing judgment on that woman. Fiona smiled grimly. Oh, yes, she had enjoyed watching Ellen's torment over the last few years!

Of course not. . .Ellen took her own life to destroy Philip. You didn't really think the Father would allow that to pass, did you? the woman asked and Winston shook his head. Fiona added, But I do worry about Alicia, she derives such pleasure from Ellen's punishment.

Ellen hurt someone your sister loved, Fiona. . .and you didn't hear the things she screamed when her ex-fiance sent that demon after my grandson. I didn't think your sister knew most of those words, Winston said, shaking his head in astonishment, and Fiona laughed.

Just because she rarely swears doesn't mean that she doesn't know the words. She knows. Thomas taught her a few interesting phrases when I took her, Lissa and Molly to Belfast back in '71. . .away from the children, of course, she answered.

Of course, Winston agreed gravely and Fiona grinned. The man continued after a moment, Is there anything we can do to help Nicholas? I know we can't interfere until it's time, but isn't there some other way we can help him? Fiona shook her head sadly.

I wish there was, but the healer angel was very specific. Just out of curiosity, where did you go earlier? While Philip was sleeping, I mean, she queried. A guilty expression crossed her companion's face and Fiona asked with a sigh, What kind of trouble are you stirring up this time, Winston? Or do I really want to know?

I went to see Molly and Cassandra in Toronto. Your granddaughter is growing like a weed and thriving. She looks so much like Elizabeth at that age, it breaks my heart. The new member of the Legacy House in Toronto, Natalie, is doing very well. Molly has been taking very good care of her, Winston replied. Fiona narrowed her eyes at her companion and he sighed, All right. . .I told Molly about Elizabeth's difficulties with Dr. Corrigan. She was planning a visit, and I thought it prudent that she know.

Fiona looked at him in disbelief, but what could she do? The damage was done, and if Fiona knew her baby sister, Molly would be on the first flight out to San Francisco. With Cassie, of course. She sighed and stated, Winston, don't force that issue. Lissa isn't ready to tell Derek about Cassie, or the other things, yet.

I wasn't. . .oh. Oh God. Molly would take Cassandra with her, wouldn't she? Anna, not a word, and tell that priest-hating brat to keep her mouth shut as well! Winston snapped. Fiona mentally thwacked her companion, glaring at him. While she had been furious with Senephra for harming Fiona's beloved godson, that was in the past.

Winston! Don't talk to your wife like that! She was probably chewing you out up one side and down the other, and you deserve it! And Senephra has redeemed herself. . . she apologized to Philip in his dreams, a very nice apology it was, too. Now leave her alone! Oh, damn! We've woken up Philip! Fiona swore. That silenced Winston and they both turned their attention back to the young priest.

As Philip slept, he returned to the in-between place with Michael, listening to a telephone conversation between Molly and Lissa. There was a part of Philip which realized he was wrong to eavesdrop, but he was hearing this for a reason. Of that, Philip. . .Lissa has a daughter?

The young man awoke with a start and screamed, as a white-hot bolt of pain shot through his rib cage. He collapsed against the pillows, gritting his teeth to keep from sobbing aloud. Nick burst into the room.

"Philip! God, what is it, what happened?" Nick asked anxiously. He sat down on the bed beside Philip, and the movement of the mattress caused another spasm of pain. Philip nearly passed out. . .he would have passed out if Nick hadn't grasped his good shoulder. After a moment, the dizziness passed, although the pain lingered.

"I'm sorry. . .I didn't mean t' scare you, Nick. I just woke up suddenly. . .guess I forgot about m' ribs," Philip managed to whisper. The fear left Nick's face and for the first time, Philip saw Lissa standing in the door way. She looked frightened. The young priest licked his lips and whispered, "I'm okay, Lissa. . .I'm okay. I'm sorry for snappin' at you earlier. That was un-called for." Lissa smiled and walked further into the room.

"It's okay, don't worry about it. I didn't take it too personally. Did you have a nightmare? Is that why you woke up suddenly?" she asked, her expression both concerned and thoughtful. Philip nodded. He wasn't ready to tell her that he knew about her daughter. Her daughter. It still shocked Philip, knowing that Lissa had a child. He wasn't entirely sure why. . .she was almost twenty-seven years old. . .but Philip had been under the impression that Lissa hadn't been involved with a man to that degree.

And Philip knew Lissa. . .knew that she wouldn't sleep with a man she didn't love. The young priest cast his thoughts back, trying to think of anyone whom Lissa had mentioned, but came up blank. Lissa was now looking at him, her expression changing from concerned to anxious, and Philip said, "I don't remember what the nightmare was about."

"Look. . .Nick, why don't you stay with Philip? I can get the rest of the stuff put away, then I'll check the kitchen to see what we have. If necessary, I'll walk to the grocery store I saw when we drove through that last town. It isn't that far," Lissa said. Nick started to protest, but nodded after a moment. The young woman smiled and said, "Good. I'll be back in a while. Take care of him, Nick."

"I will," the ex-SEAL promised. Lissa smiled once more and slipped from the room. Nick turned his attention back to Philip, asking, "You need some painkillers, or can you handle it? If you need them, I'll get them." Philip smiled weakly. Nick hadn't asked further questions about the 'nightmare,' for which Philip was deeply grateful.

"I think I can handle it. How long was I asleep?" he asked. Nick was still looking at him anxiously, and Philip repeated, "I'll be okay, Nick. Just have t' remember not t' move too quickly. How long was I asleep, any ideas?" At last, Nick looked away from him, and at his watch.

"About a half hour, maybe twenty minutes. You feel like going back to sleep?" he asked. Philip closed his eyes, considering the question. He didn't have the energy to talk, but he wanted to reassure Nick. However, before he could make a decision, the ex-SEAL said, "Why don't I talk for a while, until you fall asleep again?" Philip opened his eyes and looked at his friend inquiringly. Nick just smiled and said, "I was four years old the first time I came here. . ."

At last, Philip drifted back to sleep. He had fought it, of course. . .Nick could see his friend fighting the exhaustion, but it proved to be too much for him. The ex- SEAL was sure he didn't want to know anything about the nightmare, if Philip was afraid of going back to sleep.

When he was certain that Philip was asleep, Nick slipped from the room. Lissa was returning from the store and Nick opened the door for her. She sighed as she entered the cabin, "Thanks, Nick. Is macaroni and cheese ok?"

"Anything you fix is fine. . .I know you're a good cook. Philip is asleep. . .took him a while to let go. He must have had one helluva nightmare, if he fought going back to sleep that much," Nick stated as he followed Lissa into the kitchen. She was silent at first.

"You know, I'm not entirely sure it was a nightmare, Nick. I do believe that he saw something, something which upset him, but I'm not certain that Philip had a nightmare. I think he just told us that to keep us from worrying about him," Lissa replied slowly. Nick looked at his sister, frowning thoughtfully.

"Got any ideas what it might be?" he asked as she began putting away the food. The young woman shook her head with a sigh. She opened the cabinet doors, looking from the bag to storage space inside. For a brief, breathless moment, Nick was ten years old, watching his mother put away the groceries after arriving at the cabin for a weekend. She had been tense, and trying not to cry after another violent confrontation with his father. Nick shook himself and to banish the painful memories, asked, "Can I help you?"

"You can put the perishables in the fridge. I got some milk and cheese and some other goodies. Hey, Nick, do you know if Philip still likes strawberry jello?" Lissa asked, turning to face him. The question was so unexpected, Nick started laughing. Lissa looked at him, frowning, and asked, "Okay, would you mind telling me what was so funny about that particular question, or is it an inside joke?"

Once Nick had his laughter under control, he replied, "I'm sorry, Lis. . .it's just that I wasn't expecting you to ask anything like that. Philip liked strawberry jello when you were kids?" Lissa nodded, now smiling wistfully, and Nick continued, "Tell me more about that. I know Philip teases you sometimes about not liking cold food, but I saw you with that ice cream. You were like a little kid." Lissa grinned mischievously as she closed the cabinet doors, and jumped up onto the counter.

"He was just being silly, Nick. When we were kids, Cook always kept dinner warm for us, no matter how long Dad, Mama, and your father talked, and pretty soon, I preferred my food that way. It wasn't until I got to college that I didn't mind cold pizza or cold chicken," Lissa explained.

She drummed her heels against the sink doors, adding, "Even if you hadn't told me that this cabin belonged to your family, I would have known. I can sense your father here." Nick looked away, and Lissa touched his shoulder. She said, "I know how badly he hurt you, Nick. I wish I could help."

Nick put his hand over hers, squeezing it. Once more, he thought about a wonderful mother she would be, and started to tell her so, but he heard a thud. He could tell from Lissa's expression that she hadn't heard it, so he said, "It's ok, kiddo. Listen, do what you gotta for dinner. . .I wanna check on Philip." Lissa nodded and hopped down from the counter, then kissed his cheek. Nick smiled and slipped from the kitchen.

Once in the hall, he cautiously slid along the wall, cursing himself for not having his gun with him. The sound came from the room Lissa had chosen as her own. As he got closer, he heard what sounded like children laughing. Carefully, cautiously, he opened the door to Lissa's room and gasped at what he saw in front of him.

"One fell off and broke his head. . .Mama called the doctor, and the doctor said. . .no more monkeys jumping on the bed!" a little girl chanted, jumping up and down on the bed. She looked to be about five or six years old, with dark brown hair. The child wasn't alone. . .there was a little boy with her, also with dark brown hair.

The little boy said with a soft accent, "That was fun, Lissa. . .but what if Derek and your mum find us? Then Derek will be mad at me, and we won't be able to play anymore." A shock shot through Nick's body. . .Lissa? Had the little boy called his playmate 'Lissa,' and if he did. . .?

p"It'll be okay, Pip. Mama says that Derek won't ever send you back to Ireland, not if you don't want to go. She said that Derek is real mad at your grandma. And even if he tried to send you back, Mama wouldn't let him!" the little girl said. They were both lying on the bed, and for the first time, Nick realized that it wasn't Lissa's room.

No, he thought, no, it looks like one of the rooms in the House! A chill zapped down his spine. He *was* seeing Philip and Lissa when they were small children! The ex-SEAL took a closer look at the boy. . .yes, the hair was the same dark brown color, and the accent was about right. I'm really seeing Philip and Lissa as they were twenty years ago, Nick thought in wonderment.

"You promise? I don't want t' ever leave Derek, Lissa. I don't want t' live wi' Grandmother again," the little boy said, and he sounded dangerously close to tears. At that moment, all Nick wanted to do was pick the child up and protect him, to never allow another person to hurt him.

Instead, he stayed where he was. The little girl took the boy's hand and said, "I won't let Derek send you away, either. Pip, did you know that Jonathan has a little boy, too? His name is Nick. I like that name. I asked Jonathan if I could see a picture of him, and he said that he didn't carry one of Nick. Isn't that silly? But he said that he was afraid that if he carried pictures, Nick would be hurt."

"Derek says that if Jonathan did carry pictures in his wallet, then if someone bad ever found his wallet, the bad person could hurt Jonathan's little boy," Pip answered. He looked around and asked softly, "You promise, Lissa? Derek won't send me away if he finds us?"

"I won't let him!" the little girl answered fiercely. Both children rose to their feet and began bouncing up and down on the bed, chanting at the top of their lungs. Nick smiled, not noticing the tears that streaked his face. The door opened and two people emerged as the children's voices rose ever higher. The woman grasped Pip, laughing.

"No more monkeys jumping on the bed! Derek, I think we need to switch monkeys. . .I seem to have yours!" she said. Nick caught his breath. . .so this was Fiona Reynolds! Looking at her now, Nick could understand why Lissa felt so plain. . .Fiona was a startlingly beautiful woman. She had long black hair, coal black eyes, and an olive complexion. The man was a very young Derek.

"Yes, I do believe you have my monkey. Come along, Philip, it's time for dinner. You and Lissa need to get washed up," Derek replied. The two adults switched their children and Philip looked up at Derek with a worried expression. Nick tried to swallow the lump in his throat.

"Derek, you won't send me back t' Ireland, will you? I can still live wi' you?" the little boy asked. Derek stopped in his tracks, looked at the child in his arms with a startled expression. Without even realizing it, Nick was holding his breath, waiting to hear what Derek would say.

"Of course I won't send you back! Your home is with me now, Philip. Your home is with me, as long as you want to live here. Besides, I told you not to jump on the bed with your shoes on, and you did kick your shoes off," Derek replied. The pure joy in the little boy's eyes nearly broke Nick's heart. He had never hurt a woman, had never thought of harming a woman, considered any man who did so a coward.

But in that moment, seeing his friend's childish face turned up toward Derek, Nick could have cheerfully strangled Nuala Ryan for what she had done to her youngest grandson. The ex-SEAL wiped the tears away with the back of his hand. And when his vision cleared again, Lissa's room was back to normal. . .empty, aside from Lissa's bags on the bed.

Nick walked over to the bed and sat down, burying his face in his hands. He couldn't go back to the kitchen. Not yet. He knew he hadn't imagined it. . .knew that he had seen Philip and Lissa when they were small children. But until he knew what the hell was going on, he couldn't tell Lissa a damn thing. Nick didn't have the Sight, and they weren't in the House, so what he had seen made no sense. But he had seen it. . .of that, he was certain. Once his legs stopped trembling, he rose to his feet, to check on Philip.

Would you mind telling me what that was all about? Why did you show that to the boy? Winston asked as Nick headed to Philip's room. He and Fiona were floating around the window, and the woman shrugged. Winston continued, his irritation growing, What are you trying to prove?

Nothing really. . .just seeing if I could do it. I haven't spent as much time in this place as you have, Winston, I don't know what I can and can't do. Besides, just seeing Nick's expression when he saw Philip and Lissa bouncing up and down on the bed was worth it. Don't tell me you didn't enjoy it! Fiona replied archly. Winston responded with an annoyed glare. He was destined to be surrounded by women such as these. . .his wife, his granddaughter, and the mother of his granddaughter.

As long as you do what's necessary, when the time comes, don't worry about your abilities. That had no purpose, Fiona, no reason to it, Winston answered, shaking his head. He was unprepared for the expression that appeared in the woman's dark, dark eyes.

Oh, there was a purpose to it, all right. You'll understand the reason why I did that, eventually, assuming your wife doesn't tell you first. But enough of this. I have accomplished what I set out to do. That's good enough for me, Fiona replied and fell silent

By the time Nick reached Philip's room and checked on his sleeping friend, the ex-SEAL had recovered some of his equilibrium. Philip lay on his back, arms at his sides, palms flat against the sheet. Nick noted that with a smile. Over the last few weeks, if he or Derek or Alex noticed that Philip's good arm was draped over his torso while he slept, they would place it against his side.

They had gotten into that habit after Philip had awakened in agony. . .his internal injuries were still healing, and he didn't need the pressure from his arm. But now, he was sleeping peacefully and Nick could see the little boy in the man. Alex or Lissa would have dwelled on that, but Nick was satisfied that the little boy he had seen only a few minutes earlier was the childish version of his friend.

With his concerns about Philip put to rest, Nick left the room and headed to the kitchen. He smiled to himself. He could hear Lissa singing to herself as she started dinner, though he couldn't tell what she was singing.

Not that it mattered, really. . .Lissa was singing as she made dinner, and that, to Nick, was a very good sign. He entered the kitchen as her singing trailed off to humming, and said, "Need any help?" Lissa jumped a mile into the air and spun around, her hand pressed against her chest. Nick started laughing and said, "I'm sorry. . .didn't mean to scare you. Just wanted to know if you needed help."

After a few moments of catching her breath, Lissa replied, "No, I'm fine, thanks. How's Philip?" Nick just smiled and Lissa continued, "Well, he can sleep a little longer. . .the water just started boiling. The pasta will take some time, then I have to melt the cheese, and why the hell are you laughing at me?" By now, Nick was laughing so hard, he was almost doubled over.

Once he could draw a breath without wheezing, Nick replied, "I'm sorry. You're cute when you're exasperated." He yelped as Lissa threw one of the pot-holders at him, and added, "You have a lousy aim, Lissa Marie. Philip could have caught that one, as badly hurt as he is."

"Speaking of Philip, keep your voice down. . .I don't want to wake him up. And you haven't seen me truly exasperated, not yet at least. Wait until my father catches me folding towels again in the laundry room, while I try to explain to him it helps me think," Lissa replied.

The reminder of that incident nearly sent Nick into fresh spasms of laughter. . .however, he contained his amusement. Instead, he replied with a broad grin, "I wish I could have been there to see the look on his face when he found you in the laundry room that one day. . .I did see Duncan's face, however. He was laughing so hard, he was almost in tears. And you know how Duncan is!"

"Duncan knew better than to let someone seeing him laughing. 'Sides, I was having fun. Tiffany was telling me some very interesting stories about the goings-on at her high school when Dad walked in," Lissa replied.

"Now, is Tiffany the one who is constantly making eyes at Philip?" Nick asked, leaning against the table, and Lissa nodded, smirking. Nick continued, "Thought so. He turned several shades of red when he found her in his room, collecting his dirty clothes." That provoked fresh laughter from his companion, and Nick looked at her in amazement.

"Tiffany was folding one of Philip's t-shirts when Dad and Philip came into the laundry room, looking for me. You should have seen her expression. . .she was *hugging* his t- shirt. I don't know who was redder, actually. . .Tiff or Philip," Lissa explained. Nick roared with laughter, then clapped his hand over his mouth, still laughing.

"I can just about imagine. Uh, Lis? You might want to turn that down, before the pasta turns to mush," he pointed out helpfully. Lissa spun around, muttering curses under her breath as she turned down the pasta. Nick escaped while he could, still laughing. As he went into the living room, he began to hope that his brother and sister would be able to work things out.

Much to Lissa's relief, there were no more incidents, before or during dinner. Nick woke Philip while the macaroni and cheese cooled, and while Lissa washed dishes. She had the table set by the time Nick and Philip reached the kitchen, with a generous helping of macaroni and cheese on each plate. She looked up with a smile as she placed a glass of milk in front of Philip's plate. The young priest smiled weakly as he and Nick entered the kitchen, and said, "It smells good. The last time I saw you, when we were kids, you wouldn't go near a kitchen. . .who taught you how t' cook?"

'"Sister Lourdes, the nun I told you about earlier. She taught me. . .well, she taught me what I needed to know about being a woman. After Mama died, she was kind of a second mother," Lissa explained. As ever, there was a rush of warmth through her soul as she thought about the kind nun who had taken pity on the motherless little girl.

"I hope we get to meet her some day, if she's the woman who taught you to cook," Nick replied, helping Philip into a chair before heading to his own. Lissa had bought a six-pack of beer, and six-pack of Coke at the grocery store. . .the Coke was in front of her plate, while the beer was poured into a glass for Nick.

"I hope you get to meet her, too. She's running the retirement home for nuns, priests, and monks these days. . . St. Aloysius is the name of it. I worked there when I was in college. She's the best. Any woman who takes a child like I was after Mama's death, and does what Sister Lourdes did. . . well, she's special," Lissa replied.

She didn't tell either of her friends about the nights when Sister Lourdes would rock Lissa to sleep, or comfort her after a nightmare, or gently brush her hair. There was no need for them to know that, to know about the special little things which kept Lissa from going under. Philip said quietly, "Bishop Douglas speaks often of St. Aloysius. It irritates him, Sister Lourdes bein' in control.

"I'm not surprised," Lissa replied bitterly, "he hates women being in control of anything." It sometimes amazed her, how quickly she had turned against the priest who had baptized her. It wasn't just his silence about her true paternity, though that was part of it. There was also his growing possessiveness of Philip, which worried her.

After a moment, she continued, "Besides, if the bishop's former mentor doesn't mind the way Sister Lourdes manages the retirement home, then neither should the bishop. Father Hammond is nobody's fool. . .just like Dad."

Philip said nothing. . .just concentrated on eating dinner. Lissa wasn't sure if it was because the topic bothered him, or if eating required all of his energy. Nick said into the silence that followed, "Well, if Father Hammond is anything like Derek, working at the retirement home must have been really interesting!"

Lissa laughed and answered, "It was, actually. I'll tell you more about the jobs I've held one day. Before I worked at St. Aloysius, I worked as a box-maker at a Tapestry distribution center." Nick looked at her thoughtfully, and for a moment, Lissa wondered if Xan had mentioned their one argument while they were college roommates.

After a moment, he said, "Well, kiddo, you've had an interesting life so far, and you're not even twenty-seven yet!" Lissa smiled faintly. . .he didn't know the half of it, and she wasn't ready to tell him what he didn't know. Not yet, at least. She still owed him answers, but thank God, he wasn't trying to push her. She just smiled and the rest of the meal continued with chit-chat about the area.

After dinner was the main event. . .the trio went into the living room, and Nick set up the VCR while Lissa made sure Philip was somewhat comfortable. She got pillows from all three beds, as well as the pillows from the Range Rover, and arranged them around Philip.

"I'll get the popcorn started," Lissa said once Philip assured her that he was fine. Nick gave her a half-salute and Lissa went into the kitchen. Nick looked over his shoulder at Philip, who just smiled.

"How are you feeling? I mean, aside from your ribs still hurting from the jolt. You didn't say much at dinner," Nick said quietly. Philip just shrugged, and a spasm of pain crossed his face. Nick snapped, suddenly fed up with his friend's attempts at hiding his pain, "Damn you, Philip! Quit being so goddamn brave, and be honest for once!"

The pain that flickered in Philip's eyes had nothing to do with the injuries he had suffered a few weeks earlier. Nick whispered, already swamped with guilt, "I'm sorry, Philip, I shouldn't have said that." Philip just looked away, and Nick started to say something else, then shook his head. Anything he said now would make things worse.

Lissa re-entered with a large bowl of popcorn. Frowning, she looked from one man to the other, obviously sensing the tension between the two. However, she didn't comment on it. Instead, she stated, "Well, all they had at the store was buttered popcorn. Nick, start up the VCR. . .I want to get this over with." The ex-SEAL rolled his eyes, but did as he was told. He wasn't dumb enough to cross her!p

Lissa was all too aware of the tension between Nick and Philip. . .a tension which she thought had totally disappeared. Now that's a switch, she thought, shaking her head as she sat down between the pair, for most of this trip, Nick's been playing peacemaker!

Then the movie started. . .very slowly, Lissa thought. However, her attention was caught when the moon began to tremble under the giant spaceship heading for earth. . .and from that point, she was hooked.

Over the next two hours, Lissa was spell-bound as the giant fleet took up positions around the earth. . .as the residents of New York, Washington, and Los Angeles sought to escape (except for some morons on top of a building, who didn't have the sense God gave an ant). . .as those cities were blasted to cinders.

It was while the White House was being evacuated that Lissa found herself reaching over to take Philip's hand. It was a totally unconscious reaction, and she would have pulled her hand back, but Philip wouldn't let it go. Lissa gave up, and didn't even notice Nick grinning broadly.

When the movie ended, Lissa looked at Nick and said, "Damn you, Nicholas. . .I'm gonna dream about this movie for the next week, you know that!" Nick just laughed as he rose to his feet, stretching, and started to pull the tape out of the VCR. However, Lissa had pulled one of the pillows off the sofa, a pillow which hadn't been supporting Philip, and threw it at the ex-SEAL.

It hit him squarely in the back of the head, and Nick turned, a dangerous gleam in his green eyes. He picked up the pillow and threw it back at Lissa, and the battle was on. For the next few minutes, they pummelled each other with pillows, forgetting about their injured friend.

He was forgotten, at least, until Nick and Lissa heard him wheezing and gasping. The fight quickly abandoned, Nick grasped Philip's shoulders to steady him, while Lissa ran into the kitchen, screaming, "I'll get his medication!" She was back in a moment with a glass of water and his pills.

Philip was so weak, Lissa had to put the pills into his mouth, then raise the glass to his lips. It took her and Nick another few minutes to get the story out of Philip. He had been relaxed for the first time all day, alert relaxed, and started laughing when Nick and Lissa started battling it out with pillows. Except, laughing really wasn't good for the stitches which remained, or his healing body.

Once Philip had caught his breath and gotten the story out, Nick asked, "Are you all right? I mean, are you feeling better now?" There were tears in Philip's eyes, but the pair weren't sure if they were due to laughter or pain. And they were both afraid they had hurt their friend.

"I'll be fine, Nick. I just hurt when I laugh, that's all," Philip replied wearily. He looked exhausted, and Lissa traded a look with Nick. The ex-SEAL nodded, evidently sharing Lissa's thoughts, and very gently helped Philip to his feet. The priest said, shaking his head, "No. . .no, Nick, I'm fine. I'll not let this ruin our fun."

"Hush," Lissa said firmly, "you're recovering from very severe injuries, Philip, you're exhausted, and you need to rest. We can watch the other stuff in the morning, or later on. Right now, Uncle Nick and Aunt Lissa will put you to bed, and I don't want any arguments out of you, young man!"

"I'd listen to the lady if I were you, Philip," Nick said with a grin, "she doesn't take no for an answer when she's that determined!" Philip just rolled his eyes, then caught his breath as Nick adjusted his hold. Lissa took his other arm, his good arm, stabilizing both men. She was afraid of what would happen if Nick let go.

"Quit jawing, you nitwits, and let's get Philip to bed before he collapses," she said severely. Nick nodded, the laughter in his eyes now gone, and the pair gently helped Philip to his room. As Nick lowered Philip to the bed, Lissa got out a blanket from one of the dressers.

Meanwhile, Philip was slowly unbuttoning his shirt with his left hand. He was grimacing in pain, and Nick took over, easing him out of the flannel shirt. For the first time, Lissa saw the scar from the surgery on her friend's abdomen, as well as his bandaged ribs. Lissa's teeth clenched, and she wished Nick had been given the chance to return the favor to Randolph Hitchcock. No matter, she thought, he'll pay eventually. For everything.

"This is humiliatin,' dammit," Philip muttered with obvious frustration and embarrasment, "unable t' dress myself, like I was a wee child again." Lissa bit her lower lip to keep from smiling at his red face, as Philip continued indignantly, "I've been dressin' m'self since I was four years old! Now I can't even unbutton m' own shirt!"

"Quite whining, Philip, it's unattractive in a grown man. Just let us take care of you, for a change, all right?" Lissa advised as she covered him with the blanket. His jeans would remain on. . .they were baggy, the way Philip preferred, and Lissa was grateful for that. The last thing Philip needed was tight jeans. It was hard enough for him to breathe with his broken ribs, without making things worse with tight jeans. Philip glared at her, but subsided.

Nick stood back in silence, watching as Lissa covered up Philip. The ex-cop couldn't help herself. . .a large chunk of the wall around her heart had fallen out when she took Philip's hand during the movie. Now, she leaned forward and kissed his forehead, murmuring, "Sleep well, Pip."

"You, too, Elizabeth," he answered. Lissa smiled at him, then she and Nick left the room together. As they left, Nick turned out the lights, and there was silence in that part of the house. Nick and Lissa walked back into the living room together, a companionable silence between them.

"It's only nine. . .I'm not really tired. Is there anything good on?" Lissa asked. Nick shook his head, sighing as he sat down on the sofa beside her. Lissa adjusted her position so that she was leaning against him, her head resting on his shoulder. Nick put his arm around her shoulders and Lissa smiled to herself. She murmured, "I always wondered what it would be like, to have a brother."

"A big brother, one to protect and love and take care of you?" Nick asked and Lissa nodded. Nick tightened his arm around her, adding, "Now you know. How does it feel?" Lissa smiled again, though Nick couldn't see her face.

"I like it. You have to understand, Philip and I were never really like brother and sister, although he would tell you that we were. With Pip and me, it was more like two halves of the whole. There weren't too many things we didn't do together. I was the ringleader, though. . .I would talk him into doing things while we were at the castle, things that he was certain would get us into trouble. I was a terrible little girl," Lissa said, laughing.

"You mean like, talking him into playing monkeys jumping up and down on a bed? Things like that?" Nick asked and Lissa looked up at him quickly, barely missing his chin in the process. How had he known about that? Had Pip said something about it? Nick smiled at her expression and said, "A lucky guess, kiddo. . .most kids play that."

Not totally convinced, but unwilling to call Nick a liar, Lissa accepted this and said, "Yeah, that was one of our favorite games. Poor Philip, he was so sure that Derek would send him away. The opposite was true. . .he was so happy when Philip started coming alive again, he actually encouraged us to be as loud as we wanted."

She stopped, considering her words, then added, "And you know, he did come alive finally. I remember when I first met him. . .he was so shy, so afraid of Mama, so afraid to leave Derek. It was as if a large part of Philip died in that plane crash with his parents. Truthfully, I'm not sure if he's ever really come alive again since then. I mean, he's not as withdrawn, of course, but I wonder. . ."

"Do you ever stop trying to take care of everyone else? I mean, you take care of Philip, you take care of me, you take care of Maeve and Kat when they're around. . .who takes care of Lissa Rayne?" Nick asked and Lissa grinned.

"My father takes care of me, Nick. . .my father and Xan. And don't sell yourself, or Philip, short. You both take care of me as well. I mean, look at what happened in the parking lot at Baskin-Robbins!" she exclaimed.

Nick rolled his eyes, but Lissa persisted, "Nick, that was the first time someone had fought another person on my behalf! Actually fought someone, not with their words, but with their fists. And Michael Callaghan doesn't count, because when he decked my stefather, it was to protect Philip, not me." Nick laughed softly.

"You're my little sister. . .I was doing what big brothers do. But it sometimes seems that you take care of me more than I take care of you. Lately, I've been feeling so helpless. I couldn't protect Philip from that maniac Hitchcock, or you, or Derek," he admitted with a sigh.

"Bull!" Lissa said firmly, "And if I didn't know better, I would say that you're fishing for compliments! FYI, I would say that you were one of the firmest anchors Philip had while he was in a coma. He had all of us, yes, but you were there from the beginning. And maybe you didn't help his physical injuries by pulling him into your arms, but I truly believe you were a buoy for him."

"You went in after him, Lis," Nick pointed out, "it was a team effort. He heard all of us, yes, but you were the one who finally went in after him and brought him home to us. Your eyes are getting heavy. . .I think you should go to bed." Lissa glared at him, then squeaked in protest as Nick swung her into his arms, adding, "Then I'll carry you!"

They were halfway to her room before Lissa could whisper, "Nick! Put me down, dammit, I'm too heavy for you to carry!" In true form, however, Nick refused to put her down until they reached her bedroom. Lissa flicked on the lights and Nick set her on her feet once more.

"G'night, Miss Liss, sleep well. I'll be up for a while yet, but Philip isn't the only one who needs his rest. You've had an exhausting day," Nick admonished. He cupped her face in his hands, kissing her forehead, and added, "Love you, little sister." Lissa was so surprised by this, she was barely able to mouth 'good night' before Nick left.

Well, she thought, sitting down on the bed, that was a surprise! Lissa knew that Nick loved her, that wasn't the surprise. The surprise was that he had said it. Nick, as sweet as he was, didn't say those things. Maybe Philip's brushes with death shook him up more than I realized, she thought as she changed into a nightgown and loosened her hair from its customary ponytail.

Sighing, she turned out the over-head lights, and turned on the lamp that set atop her bed. She leaned down, glancing through the paperbacks she had brought with her from the house, and chose one. It was 'Texas,' her favorite James A. Michener book. She had given up Stephen King and Dean R. Koontz after joining the Legacy. . .she lived what they wrote about, after all. But Michener would be a favorite, she was sure, as long as she lived.

It will be time to move soon, Fiona observed as they watched Lissa read in her room. After pulling the book from her duffel bag, Lissa had found her little CD player and a CD, to which she was now listening. Fiona was willing to bet it was one of her Loreena McKennitt CD's.

I know. Tomorrow night, perhaps, when Philip is a little stronger. He frightened me earlier, Fiona, he frightened me greatly when he started laughing. I was certain that he had re-injured himself, Winston replied.

Fiona nodded, commenting, I know. I was afraid of that, and I know the other children were as well. But, you know that only speeded up the process. It also makes our work here much easier. Winston rolled his eyes.

How did I know you would think of it that way? Anna, don't start! Winston sighed and Fiona couldn't help herself. She threw back her head and laughed. In all honesty, she hadn't had so much fun in years, alive or dead. Winston just glared at her, but said nothing, and they returned to watching the three children.

It actually took Philip a long time to get to sleep. His mind was racing, not just because of the hand-holding during 'Independence Day,' but also for his recollection of Lissa's daughter. He had no idea how to handle that situation. . .every instinct he possessed cried that Lissa wasn't ready to deal with the fall-out from that revelation.

Not that Philip blamed her. . .Derek had only just learned of his daughter's existence in the last half-year. Lissa was nervous about revealing that he also had a granddaughter. Any sane person would be nervous under those circumstances, especially a woman like Lissa.

No matter what happens when Derek does find out about her daughter, Philip thought sleepily, I'll be there for Lissa. She has said that I'm not t' blame for what happened after she was taken from our lives, and maybe I'm not. But she has been there for me so many times, it's long past time for me t' start repayin' the favor! With that resolved, Philip at last dropped off to sleep.

-The following morning, Lissa was awakened by the sun streaming into her room. . .as well as muffled groans. Blinking, Lissa threw back the covers and padded into Philip's room, the source of the groans. No Philip. Lissa frowned thoughtfully, then she saw one foot sticking out from the other side of the bed.

"Philip!" she gasped, racing across the room. He was lying on his left side, trying to sit up. Lissa dropped to her knees beside him and helped him into a sitting position. She exclaimed, "My God, what happened? Nick? Nick, get in here!" Philip couldn't speak right away.

Nick appeared in the doorway, dressed in a t-shirt and running shorts. His eyes widened and he quickly joined Philip and Lissa on the floor. The ex-SEAL said, "On three, we'll get him up onto the bed. One. . ." Lissa nodded, slipping her hands under Philip's arms, and Nick continued, "Two. . .three!" Together, they lifted Philip onto his bed, and Nick asked, "What the hell happened?"

"I fell out of bed," Philip gasped. Lissa was still holding his shoulders, and now she released him, easing him back onto the bed. She looked down at her hands, clenching and unclenching at her sides. She had touched Philip. He hadn't pulled away. . .because he couldn't?

Nick must have noticed her discomfort, for he said, "Lissa, would you mind making breakfast this morning? I'll see to Philip while you get that ready." Lissa smiled and nodded, trying not to let too much of her relief show on her face. She started to leave the room, but Nick said, "Hey, Lis. . .how about some English muffins?"

"I'll see what I can find," Lissa replied with a smile. She left the room, and heard Nick and Philip talking softly as she returned to her room to dress. I blew that but good, Lissa thought, but dammit, I don't know what to do anymore! She shook her head as she dressed, then drew her hair back into a ponytail.

Now suitably clothed, Lissa went to the kitchen in her bare feet. She studied the contents of the cabinets with a critical eye. No English muffins, of course, she hadn't thought to buy them while she was at the store. However, they did have bread. She smiled to herself, her eyes gleaming. On the other hand, she could make French toast!p

"I don't know what t' do, Nick. . .I don't know how t' break through t' her," Philip said softly as Nick helped him dress. He grimaced in pain, growing frustrated once more with his weakened condition. His friend looked at him sympathetically, and Philip added, "Any suggestions?"

"Not really. Look, Philip. . .I know all of what happened before you and Lissa came back to us. I know about the other part of Lissa's sacrifice. No. . .she didn't tell me, I figured it out on my own," Nick said. Philip closed his eyes. There was a part of him which was glad Nick knew.

"I feel like I'm goin' 'round in circles, Nick. I want so much t' reassure Lissa that I'm not angry wi' her, that it's all right. . .but I can't tell her that everythin' will go back t' the way it was before Hitchcock had me beaten. We can never go back," Philip sighed. He paused, then said very softly, "What can you say t' a woman who loves you enough t' give up the only thin' that kept her sane through years of hell? How do I make that up t' her?"

Truthfully, Philip knew the answer to that. . .there was nothing he could do to make that up to Lissa. He would have gladly died for her, in an instant, but he knew that was no way to repay her for the choice she had made.

Nick, however, had a better idea. He replied, "Let us take care of you, and just get better, so Lissa's sacrifice won't be in vain. That reminds me, we should get to the kitchen. I think I smell French toast." Philip grinned, though he was still thinking about what Nick had said. That was a start, of course. . .but something was still missing.

This ends here, and it ends now. I will not tolerate any more of this bullshit! Fiona seethed. Winston said nothing, allowing his companion to blow off some steam before she exploded and threw something at her daughter and Philip. Fiona continued, This must stop. . .now! Lissa is being foolish now, and Philip is even worse!

Your daughter is being cautious, Fiona. I think it's time for us to intervene. After they eat, however. I'm afraid that our appearance at the breakfast table would give all three children heart-burn, Winston observed wryly. Fiona looked at him in astonishment, then began laughing.

You actually have a sense of humor. I wasn't sure about that until just now. All right, we'll wait until they go into the living room to watch 'The Empire Strikes Back.' Oooh. . .I just had a wonderful idea, Winston! Fiona said, clapping her hands with delight.

Winston looked at his companion warily and asked, Should I even bother asking what you're planning? I know you would never do anything to harm any of the children, that's not what worries me. However, you won't ask me to make a fool out of myself. . .will you? Fiona merely smiled mischievously, her eyes sparkling.em

Not to worry, Winston, she laughed, my plan won't lessen you in Anna's eyes! Winston tried not to groan aloud. Now he knew he was in trouble. Between his wife and the mother of his granddaughter, there was nothing that could save him. Absolutely nothing. Fiona smiled and said, You're right. Now here's what we'll do. . .

"You doing okay?" Nick asked softly as he joined Lissa in the kitchen. She spun around to face him, the spatula raised in the air to defend herself if necessary. Nick threw up his hands and said, laughing, "Whoa, kiddo! You can do serious damage to somebody with one of those!"

She glared at him, lowering the spatula, and replied, "That's sort of the idea, Nicholas. You scared the hell out of me!" Nick looked at her questioningly and Lissa sighed, "I'm sorry, brother mine. . .I'm just a little on edge this morning. Okay. . .more than a little on edge."

"Look, Philip is fine. . .but tonight, we need to put pillows on either side of him, so he doesn't fall out of bed again. Thank God he landed on his left arm, instead of his right, although that didn't help his ribs much," Nick commented and Lissa smiled despite herself.

"No, I don't imagine it did," she agreed, then continued, "You remember when you were a kid, and you used to build a house from cards? How fragile it was. . .how easy it was to knock it over?" Nick nodded and Lissa continued, "That's how I've been feeling lately. Like a house of cards, between worrying about Philip and dealing with Rachel. One problem has been dealt with, but the other. . ."

"The other will work itself out. . .you just gotta give yourself, and Philip, time. That reminds me, I should go check on him. He was pulling on his socks when I left him, I don't fully trust him with his shoes. You'll be okay?" Nick asked and Lissa nodded. Nick squeezed her shoulder, then left the kitchen. Lissa sighed. . .she hoped he was right.

Breakfast passed without incident, though Philip was clearly frustrated by the difficulties of using a fork with his left hand. There were several times when Lissa was afraid a food fight would commence, given Nick's nonstop hassling of Philip. The ex-SEAL was taking an undue amount of pleasure in their friend's aggravation.

After breakfast, Nick went into the living room to set up the VCR. . .they hadn't finished watching movies the previous night. Lissa filled the sink with water and soap to wash the dishes from the previous night as well as that morning, while Philip sat on a chair beside the sink.

Out of consideration for his broken right arm, Lissa only gave him silverware to dry, feeling certain that the knives and forks would be much easier for him to handle than the plates and the glasses. Those would be left in the sink to dry. Silence reigned between the two friends for a long time. Lissa didn't want to break the spell which seemed to exist in the silent kitchen.

At last, however, Philip said quietly, "I'd like t' say this reminds me of when we were kids, but I never saw Fiona washin' dishes. Then again, at the House, it was never necessary for her t' wash dishes."

Lissa smiled and answered, "We washed dishes at home, though. It was our special time together, as strange as it sounds. She would teach me how to wash and dry dishes, or how to sweep, or how to do laundry, and as we worked, she would talk about growing up in New Mexico, or she would tell me about some of my antics when I was a baby."

Philip smiled sadly and replied, "That was always somethin' my mother enjoyed as well. . .tellin' me about the funny thin's I did when I was just a wee babe. Her favorite story was how I sat on the paw of a poor Shepherd puppy when I was learnin' t' walk. The poor thin' had never seen a babe before, so instead of tryin' t' push me off, it just sat there and whimpered until Mum picked me up. As you can imagine, I was mortified when she told me that story."

Lissa controlled the quirking of her lips with some difficulty. Had never seen a babe, indeed! Philip blushed as he evidently realized what he had said, and continued, "Now that wasn't what I meant, and you know it, Elizabeth!" Lissa threw back her head and laughed aloud.

"I didn't say a word, Philip! Then again, I won't protest what you did think. Nick's not the only one around here who enjoys counting the various shades of red you turn when you're embarrassed. I think you just reached the level of a coke can," the young woman replied, still grinning, and much to her delight, Philip's blush deepened.

"Hey, it sounds to me like you are having too much fun in here without me. . .that's not allowed!" Nick interjected as he rejoined them. Lissa was still laughing and the ex- SEAL asked, "Okay, so what did I miss while I was slaving over a hot VCR for the two of you? Philip's face is starting to match his t-shirt.

"You noticed, huh?" Lissa asked with a mischievous grin, then added, "And slaving over a hot VCR? Come ON, Nick! Just who do you expect to believe you when you make crazy claims like that one? Surely not either of us?"

"Yes, the two of you, and don't call me 'Shirley,' little sister!" Nick shot back, his eyes all but disappearing as he grinned. It was one of the oldest lines in the book, but Lissa still cracked up. Philip, evidently remembering his spell the previous night, had pressed his lips together, trying desperately not to laugh.

"Ayy, I've got a comedian for a brother! All right, the dishes are done and presumably the VCR is set up. Shall we, gentlemen?" Lissa asked. Nick nodded and carefully helped Philip from the stool, then they went into the living room.

All right, Fiona. . .so what is this wonderful idea of yours? Winston asked impatiently as the three young people went into the living room to watch 'The Empire Strikes Back.' Fiona didn't respond immediately. . .her eyes had glazed over, and for the first time, Winston realized that the movie would bring back memories for her as well.

After a moment, however, she composed herself and replied, Last night, when I made that image from the past appear to Nick, I had the glimmer of an idea. It took me until this morning to work out the bugs, so to speak. Winston rolled his eyes at her metaphors.

However, he was too interested in her idea to complain, so he said, All right. . .tell me what this brilliant idea is. I can't very well help you carry it out, if I don't know what you're planning. That part, at least, seemed logical to the late precept, but Fiona simply shot him a disgusted look. Winston had no idea what he had done to deserve that, but he was sure she would tell him.

I'm going to recreate the past again, after the movie is over. I'll need your help to do that. I don't have the sufficient. . .ower to do it alone. And then, then, I can finally make peace with my little girl. While I do that, you can go back to Toronto and see if you can talk my baby sister out of going to San Francisco, Fiona replied.

While Winston deeply resented being dismissed like a recalcitrant school boy, he recognized the wisdom of the words. The battle royale between Molly Summers and Rachel Corrigan would have been a sight to behold, but now was not the time. Philip was still recovering from his injuries, and quite simply, Derek didn't need the additional aggravation. He ignored the usual sassy remark from his wife, and simply nodded his agreement. They would use Fiona's plan, and then Winston would set things to rights in Toronto.

The memories evoked by 'The Empire Strikes Back' were as poignant and humorous as Lissa anticipated. What she hadn't anticipated, however, was Philip's reaction. Much to her surprise (and delight), he had recalled every line spoken by Han Solo in the movie, including their favorite line as children. . ."laugh it up, fuzzball!"

Philip murmured in response to her astonished look, "I never said I haven't seen this movie since. It's a favorite among the youngsters in the parish on movie night. I seem t' be the only priest wi' enough patience t' deal wi' twenty- five youngsters under the age of fifteen for more than a few hours, so I usually end up doin' movie night. I think I've seen this about thirty times now." Lissa recalled what Maeve had told her about movie night, and nodded.

They again fell silent, watching the movie through the eyes of the children they were once and the adults they had become. Nearly seventeen years after her first viewing, Lissa no longer considered the kissing 'icky.' In fact, now just shy of her twenty-seventh birthday, Lissa rather envied Carrie Fisher for kissing Harrison Ford.

And as it had the first time, the ambivalent ending left Lissa with a feeling of loss. Han Solo's fate was in question, Princess Leia had finally admitted that she loved him, and Luke still needed to finish his Jedi training. And yet. . .and yet, there was hope. Even as a ten year old girl sitting in a darkened theater with her mother and her best friend, Lissa had sensed that. Even in the darkest of times, there was hope. And it was then that she heard it.

Nick heard it as well, it seemed. . .he tensed as he rose to his feet to rewind the VCR. Slowly, Lissa helped Philip to his feet and all three went to the front door. The sound was coming from outside. . .the chatter and laughter of two children. Lissa's breath caught in her throat as she beheld the scene outside the cabin.

A tall, voluptuous woman in her early thirties walked with two children, both preteens. She was a beautiful woman, with long, curly dark hair and dark brown eyes. Lissa knew that woman well, just as she knew the two children skipping a little ahead. One was a little girl of about ten, with curly dark brown hair, and the other was a boy of twelve, with wavy dark hair and a shy smile.

"So, the two of you enjoyed the movie? Good. Now remember, Pip, this is our secret. Would you like to come with us again?" the woman asked as she caught up with the children. The little boy nodded and looked up at her, his eyes glowing. The woman continued, "Then head to the car, I'll meet you there. . .we should get back to the House!" The two children disappeared, leaving only Fiona Summers Reynolds. She smiled at Lissa sadly and said in a gentle voice, "Hello, baby. I've missed you."

Lissa could only stare at her mother in astonishment, and Fiona continued, "I've been watching you three ever since night before last, when Philip came home from the hospital. Hello, Pip. . .it's good to see you as well. Try to avoid hurting yourself further, all right? That's very hard on my nerves." That was so like her mother, Lissa began laughing.

Fiona beamed and said, "Much better! You're starting to sound like my little girl again!" Lissa glared at her mother, remembering the years she had spent away from her father because of her mother's inability to tell Derek Rayne, or anyone else, the truth about Lissa's paternity. She thought about fifteen years of hell, believing that her father hated her. When in reality, her father had never stopped loving her or missing her.

"If I haven't sounded like your little girl in a while, Mother, it's because I haven't *been* a little girl for years. How could you, Mama? How could you keep that from us, how could you keep me from Derek, how could you leave me? How could you leave me with that bastard!" Lissa cried out. Scars which she thought had healed tore open, and her mother's sorrowful expression did nothing to ease the pain.

"I am so sorry, baby. I know it's no consolation, but I am sorry, for everything. I'm sorry for never telling Derek that you were his child, I'm sorry for marrying that bastard Reynolds, but most of all, I am so sorry for leaving you when you needed me most. I will never forgive Randolph Hitchcock for separating us," Fiona replied.

The apology shouldn't have made a difference. . .not under ordinary circumstances. Thanks to Fiona's lies, more than half of Lissa's life had been miserable. Thanks to her mother's inability to stop lying, Lissa had lost a lifetime with her father, time which she was just now starting to make up. But when all was said and done, Fiona was Lissa's mother. She was the woman who had cared for Lissa and loved her since birth, and she was the woman who had given Lissa life. And Lissa had never stopped loving her mother.

Lissa tried to verbalize it, trying to tell her mother that she loved her and that she was forgiven, but the words wouldn't come out. There was, however, no need. Fiona's dark eyes softened and she said, "Oh, sweetheart. . .I love you so much!" The next thing Lissa knew, she was in her mother's arms. Fiona tenderly stroked her hair, whispering, "I am so sorry, honey, so very sorry that he hurt you."

"I'm sorry, Mama," Lissa gasped through her tears, burying her face against her mother's shoulder, "I'm sorry for being angry with you." Fiona's only response was to tighten her embrace, then she kissed the top of Lissa's head. A cough interrupted the reunion, and Lissa looked up.

"Uh. . .I hate to interrupt," Nick began, grinning a little at Lissa's malevolent glare, "but would you mind making introductions? I mean, obviously you and Philip know this lady, but I've never actually met her. I guess I'm not actually meeting her now, but you know what I mean." Lissa sighed, wiping away her tears with the back of one hand.

"Mama, this pain in the butt is Nick Boyle, Jonathan's son. Ex-SEAL, current security expert for the Legacy, and all-around pest, especially when someone he loves is endangered. Nick, this is my mother, Fiona," the ex-cop replied. Fiona laughed, nodding to Lissa's 'brother.'

"Hello, Nicholas. I will trust you to take good care of my daughter. . .there is something I need to clear up with my godson. Lissa. . .the next time you speak to Molly, tell her that Alicia and I are very, very proud of her. We're proud of you, as well. Tell your father. . .tell your father that I'm sorry," her mother said.

"I will, Mama. Don't do anything to agitate Pip, okay? Don't make him laugh, or anything like that. It really hurts when he laughs," Lissa replied. Fiona nodded and kissed her forehead. Lissa looked at her mother, adding, "I love you, Mama. Even when I was angry with you for never telling Dad about me, I never stopped loving you."

"I know, princess. . .and I promise, I will take good care of Pip. Just like when you were children. I'll never leave you, Lissa. Even if you can't see me, you will never be without me. I promise," Fiona said. Lissa nodded and embraced her mother one last time, then Nick led her from the room. In the kitchen, she broke down sobbing in his arms.

The living room was silent as the priest and the spirit stared at each other. At last, however, Philip said, "You haven't changed a bit. I don't know why I would expect you t' change. . .I guess because I have. What is it that you needed t' say t' me, Aunt Fiona?"

His godmother smiled and replied, "I'm very proud of you, Philip Joseph. You were always a sweet little boy, and you've grown into a fine, compassionate young man. But this rift with my daughter concerns me. You know why she's withdrawn from you. Now what are you going to do about it?"

Philip sighed, "I don't know what t' do, Aunt Fiona. I know she doesn't hate me, and I know that things can't go back the way they were. How do I deal wi' a woman who sacrificed so much in order t' save me? I'm not worthy of that sacrifice, but I certainly can't tell her that!"

"No, you can't. Philip, Lissa sacrificed her career, her future as a police officer for you. What will you sacrifice for her? What will you give up, in order to save your friendship?" Aunt Fiona asked. Philip looked at her quickly, and she said softly, "Lissa isn't the only one with a choice, Philip. I love you. . .I always have, and I always will. But now, it's time for you to make your choice."

And then, he understood. Lissa had to give up something important to her, her career. And because Michael had asked her why she would do this, their friendship was now strained-Lissa was worried that Philip was angry with her. There was only one way he could reassure her, one way to restore the balance in their friendship.

"I know what I have t' do, Aunt Fiona. I'm sorry it took me so long t' figure out what was necessary," Philip said with a rueful smile. Aunt Fiona merely smiled at him, and the young priest continued, "I. . .I can't tell her that thin's will go back the way they were. That can't be."

"No, it can't. You and Lissa have to make your own peace with the situation, and find a way to go forward. But I have faith that the two of you can do that. Philip, are you angry with my daughter? Do you hate her for the way she feels about you?" Aunt Fiona questioned.

Philip stared at his godmother in shock, then gasped, "Of course not! I could never hate Lissa, especially not for this! But I can't tell her that, can I? Because no matter how much I reassure her, she will always wonder. Really, there is only one choice t' be made." Aunt Fiona nodded sadly and Philip closed his eyes briefly.

"Yes, dear heart, there was only one choice for Lissa, and there's only one choice for you. I will watch over you, sweetheart. . .I have to go now. Alicia is waiting for me, and so are the others. Your mother wants you to know that she's never been more proud of you than she is now," Aunt Fiona said and Philip opened his eyes, inhaling sharply.

A little too sharply, for pain shot through his ribs. However, Philip asked anxiously, "Mum? Da? You can speak wi' them? And Michael, too?" The warrior angel had told him that his parents and brother were very proud of him, of course, but coming from Aunt Fiona. . . That was a lot different. Aunt Fiona smiled at him with infinite tenderness, her dark eyes glowing.

"They love you very much, Pip, and so do I. Take good care of my little girl, Philip. . .until we meet again," Aunt Fiona replied. There was a white glow around her, which seemed to grow brighter and brighter, until Philip could see no more. Once his vision cleared, she was gone. And it was time for Philip to restore the balance.

After weeping on Nick's shoulder in the kitchen, Lissa retreated to her room. The wounds had been ripped open, only to be healed for all time. But the problem with Philip remained. Lissa closed her eyes, sighing, and the object of her musings said softly, "We can't go on like this, Lissa." The ex-cop opened her eyes and turned to face Philip. He was standing in the doorway, his hand on the knob.

"I can't do this right now, Pip," Lissa replied wearily, but Philip was shaking his head determinedly. He wore an expression which Lissa didn't often see. . .it told her that he wasn't backing down. This time, the confrontation would not be headed off by her silence.

"We must, Lissa! Ever since I woke up, you've been cold as ice t' me. Why? Are you angry wi' me for being hurt. . .for puttin' you in that position to begin wi'?" Philip asked. Lissa's hands curled into fists at her sides.

"How can you ask me that? You know I'm not angry with you, it's not your fault! If I blame anyone, it's Hitchcock, not you!" she retorted, dangerously close to tears. Oh, this wasn't good! She had wanted to be in total control of her emotions when they had this confrontation. . .not still shaken from the exchange with her mother.

"Then why have you been shuttin' me out? What am I supposed t' think, Lissa? You barely speak t' me, you rarely smile at me, or anyone else for that matter. Talk t' me, Lissa! Tell me what I've done t' make you angry, so I can make up for it!" Philip pleaded.

Lissa stared at him in disbelief. He thought *she* was angry with him? He honestly didn't know why she had been keeping her distance? After a moment, she replied, "It isn't you, Pip, it's me. It's what I said when Michael asked why I would be willing to give up my career for you."

Now Philip looked puzzled. He said slowly, "Lissa, I must have been on my way back. I don't remember what you said. . .I'm not even sure if I heard you. But it doesn't matter. I know I haven't sounded too grateful. . .but thank you. Thank you for not givin' up on me."

It doesn't matter. . .you didn't give up on me. Lissa buried her face in her hands. Two weeks of dancing along the edge, for nothing. Philip sat down beside her and she looked up at him, whispering, "I am so sorry for shutting you out. Please forgive me." Philip took her hands.

"There is nothin' t' forgive, Lissa. I didn't hear what you told Michael, but I did hear somethin' else you said," he replied. Lissa frowned, not understanding. Philip added, "I know about Cassie. . .I know about your daughter."

Lissa gasped and Philip continued, "I heard the conversation between you and Molly about you leavin' the force, and that's when I found out about Cassie. Michael made me forget until my body was healed more completely. . . he feared the guilt would impede my recovery."

"Why would you. . .? Oh. Never mind, I didn't ask that. Are you disappointed in me?" Lissa asked, lowering her eyes. She half-feared the response, though her logic told her that Philip would know her better. He didn't disappoint as he placed one finger under her chin and tilted her head.

"Disappointed? In you? Never! Givin' your daughter t' Molly was the right thin' t' do, Elizabeth, and I'm very, very proud of you. I know, you're not ready t' tell Derek about this. But when you are, let me know, and I'll be right there at your side. You will never go through somethin' like that alone again. I promise you, Lissa," Philip replied.

Lissa smiled, by now feeling very foolish. She had wasted so much time being afraid. Philip just smiled and drew her into a hug. Lissa's returning embrace had to have hurt him, but he didn't cry out, didn't even gasp. No, he just stroked her hair, murmuring, "Never think that you've disappointed me, Elizabeth. Never." Lissa smiled weakly. It wasn't even lunch time and a lot had been accomplished. Peace had been made with her mother, and she had her best friend back. Lissa was no longer a house of cards.

Lissa and Philip talked for a while longer. . .at last, Philip returned to his room. He desperately needed to lie down. However, that was postponed when he entered his room cautiously to find Nick sitting on his bed. His friend's eyes had all but disappeared in his smile.

"So. . .you don't remember what Lissa said, huh?" Nick asked and Philip glared at him as he sat down on the bed. So help me God, the young priest thought, if he says a word t' Lissa about this, he's toast! Nick added, "Not to worry, I won't tell her. That was a great thing you did, brother." Philip shrugged, flinching at the pain which resulted. It was necessary. Nick rolled his eyes and said, "No false modesty, please. I'll call Derek. Let him know that his little plan worked. You rest."

"Don't let him gloat too much," Philip said as Nick rose to his feet. His friend laughed and walked out of Philip's room. Despite the ache in his ribs, Philip was pleased with the way things had worked out. He would worry about the Hail Mary's later. . .right now, he had his best friend back.

Derek was in the control room of the Legacy House with Alex and Rachel, going over information Alex had collected in interviews with George Saxon and the members of the Seattle Legacy House, when the phone call came. He picked up the phone and said, "Derek Rayne."

"Derek, it's Nick. I have some good news for you," a familiar voice said cheerfully. The two women in front of Derek stopped speaking, and looked at Derek expectantly. Nick went on, "Your little plan worked. . .but you ended up getting some unexpected help from the mother of your daughter." Derek's heart jumped.

"Fiona. . .Fiona was. . .she was at the cabin?" he asked. Rachel's eyes widened and Alex just grinned impishly. From the other end of the line, Nick laughed, and Derek continued, "Nick, what happened? Fiona wasn't killed at the cabin, there was no reason for her to be there."

"Her daughter is here, Derek, I guess that was reason enough for her. She and Lissa made peace, then she talked with Philip. After that conversation, I guess Philip and Lissa finally got things straightened out. He's resting, and I think Lissa is taking a walk. But we're all fine, Derek. We'll be home in a few days," Nick replied.

"Take care of them both for me until then. I expect to have a full report of what Fiona said during your encounter when you return home. Lissa will be busy. . .I just got a phone call from Molly Summers. She and Cassandra will be arriving for a visit," Derek said.

"So, I finally get to meet the legendary Aunt Molly! I'm looking forward to this!" Nick crowed. Derek rolled his eyes. He wasn't sure he was, though. The conversation with Molly had been abrupt, and Derek had the sinking feeling that the younger precept would make things *VERY* interesting while she was here. On the other hand, he was looking forward to meeting young Cassandra. She seemed like a lovely child, and good company for Kat.

"We'll see. Until then," Derek said and hung up. He turned to the two women and said, "Everything is fine. Now, Alex, there were a few statements from Mr. Lyon which I found confusing. . ." The young woman rolled her eyes, but began explaining what she knew.

As Nick hung up the phone, Fiona smiled from where she and Winston had been watching. She said, I told you it would work, but you were supposed to talk Molly out of going to San Francisco. The man rolled his eyes, but Fiona could see the triumphant gleam that had appeared.

Derek can handle Molly. There's only one person in that House who can't, and I'm looking forward to the fireworks with those two, Winston replied as they faded out of the kitchen and into the backyard, where Lissa was walking. It was Fiona's turn to roll her eyes.

You're forgetting one small, but very crucial, fact, Winston. . .Philip is still healing, and if things get nasty between Molly and Rachel, he'll need to move quickly. Besides, you saw what kinds of problems the tension between Nick and Philip caused during the tribunal, and in general. And they care about each other. Think of what could happen between Molly and Rachel, two people who don't care about each other, the late researcher pointed out.

Winston chuckled, replying, Believe me, my dear Fiona, I have thought of it. And it's nothing Derek can't handle. Have more faith in the father of your child, Fiona. For that matter, have more faith in your own daughter. Fiona looked at him in exasperation.

When she spoke, however, her exasperation was tinged with amusement. The woman said, I do believe you're enjoying this, Winston. Not just any possible arguments between Molly and Rachel, but you've enjoyed all of this, including my daughter putting Rachel in her place.

Oh, Fiona! Of course I enjoyed *that* tete-a-tete, I've been waiting for that for months, ever since that woman told my son she would never forgive him for what I did to her mother! I also enjoyed Nicholas teaching those three brats in the parking lot a lesson, as well as listening to the children banter, Winston replied.

Uh-huh. And pray tell, was there anything about this whole excursion which you didn't enjoy? Fiona asked. Winston looked at her seriously, and the expression in his cobalt eyes took her breath away. In all the time she had known him, she had never seen that expression before.

I didn't enjoy the awkwardness between my grandchildren, Fiona, nor did I enjoy seeing Philip in such pain. And I really didn't enjoy going to Toronto to try to talk Molly out of going to San Francisco. The girl is twice as stubborn as you are. . .I swear, she's only gotten *more* stubborn since she adopted Cassandra! Winston replied.

Fiona smiled sweetly and replied, Of course she has. Now she's a mother with a child to protect. You know, Winston, you may very well be right about the coming conflicts between Rachel and my sister. We shall soon see. We shall soon see! And with that statement, she fell silent, content to watch her daughter.

Lissa had been joined outside by Nick and Philip. The young priest sat under a tree, smiling at the antics of his brother and sister. Nick held both of Lissa's hands, spinning her around and around, to the accompaniment of her delighted laughter, interspersed with gasps of pain. But when Nick tried to desist, Lissa would shake her head and laugh. And off they would go again.

Fiona smiled, tears filling her eyes. Her daughter was in good hands. . .with a brother who would protect her with his life, a father who adored her, and a long-time best friend who had made his own sacrifice, for her peace of mind. But, my sweet daughter, Fiona thought, when you need me most, I'll come back. I promise you. For now, it was time for her to go. Her daughter was no longer a house of cards.

The End.