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It was nearly midnight when the last of the party guests left. The Legacy members didn't linger much longer. Derek was settled on the piano bench lightly fingering the keys when Professor Washburn came in to say goodnight.
"Are you sure you don't want to stay tonight?" Derek extended the ritual invitation, always eager for company in the big old house. When he became Precept Derek intended to extend an invitation to all the members of his House to come live here. He knew it wasn't procedure for Legacy members with families to be in residence but after all Philip was living in the House and hadn't been harmed by the experience. The truth was that Derek was lonely. He loved Philip dearly but he was only one little boy. Besides Philip went to bed at eight, on most nights anyway.
"Surprise Derek. Tonight I think I'll take you up on that." He spoke the words lightly, enjoying watching Derek's reaction.
The dark head shot up in surprise and a brilliant smile crossed Derek's face. "That's wonderful! What's the occasion though?"
"I'm sentimental. If Philip is planning to start talking I want to witness it!" His smile grew a little sad. "I need to talk to Jonathan too. I'm afraid we had some hard words tonight and I don't want to let things stand that way."
"I understand." Derek told him, rising to go up and check on Philip before going to bed. He had noticed his friend's disappearance early in the evening and had wanted to look for him but Washburn had insisted Jonathan needed to be alone to think something out. The professor had said Jon wasn't feeling sociable tonight and that he had gone to work on the casket for a while before bed.
Washburn went to the lab to see if Jon was still there before looking for him in the living section of the house. All he found was a half empty whiskey bottle on the worktable. Picking it up the old man began to reconsider his apology. If Jon was drinking on the job something had to be done. He never saw the thickset two foot tall creature that unfolded itself from the casket in the glass case that had been left carelessly open behind him. Only felt a moments blinding pain as it brought the heavy wooden war club down on his head, cracking the skull neatly open.
The squat creature, for it didn't quite look like anything human, hopped down from the counter it had crossed and dabbed it's stubby fingers in the old man's blood, sniffing it. Not the right one but it would make good medicine for the quest. It drew fierce stripes down it's cheeks to prepare for it's quest to destroy the ones who had released it from the prison the Dream Doctor had bound it to. The scrolls that had told how to destroy both prison and Nightmare together had long ago been destroyed by the Nightmare's cunning manipulation of the wood that formed it's prison but the blood of he who opened the seal could still put an end to it's games if allowed to live.
That task done with the creature climbed back up the counter to see about transferring the vessel that it was still bound to, to a safer place lest it be used against him by the one.
The old house was silent, the party long over with, when the sound of a soft footfall near the doorway woke Nick. He sat up sleepily peering about the room from half opened eyes. Those eyes grew wide at the sight of his new protector tugging open the bedroom door. He scrambled quickly out of bed, the footed green pajamas he wore making hardly a whisper as he joined Philip in the hall.
"Where ya goin?" Nick asked a little frightened by the lost look on the other boy's face. He hugged Wally close, not willing to touch Philip when he had such an odd look on his face, but determined to tag along and make sure his friend didn't get hurt like before.
The strange little team was soon wandering the darkened halls of the Legacy House. One child's blue eyes searching an unseen landscape for people no longer there while the other's green eyes searched the dark halls for he didn't know what. It wasn't long before their winding path crossed that of the Nightmare.
The Nightmare was such a deep solid black that it actually stood out from the paler shadows of the nighttime darkened hallway. Nick shrieked when he saw the squat wrinkly creature watching them with red eyes from the end of this new hallway they had turned into. Philip awoke with a start to find himself being dragged down an empty hallway in one of the unoccupied parts of the castle by the terrified little boy.
The fear on the little one's face served to steady Philip. How he'd gotten there could wait until he got Nick settled down. He was taking quite readily to the role of big brother and pulled Nick to a stop, giving him a quick hug to calm him down. To his relief he didn't have to ask to find out what was happening. One word had almost been too much for him so soon and he wasn't sure he could handle any more just yet. Nick was already hopping up and down pointing excitedly down the hall as he babbled something about a troll. Philip scowled wishing it was easier to understand Nick. When he was this worked up the kay sound wasn't the only one the little boy couldn't quite manage.
Philip silently pulled the little one around, putting a comforting arm over his shoulder, and started walking him back to the bedroom. He wondered if this was what Michael felt like when he, Philip, was small and ran to his big brother for protection from some made up threat. It felt good to feel the shivering in the thin shoulders lessen as Nick leaned close to him while they walked. Ye're safe now little brother. I won't let anythin' harm you, Philip thought, not quite able to say the words aloud yet, but hoping the little one would understand from his actions.
He was proven terribly wrong when he rounded a corner to find the Nightmare waiting for them. The creature was even shorter than Nick only much heavier with thick corded muscles. The red eyes and sharp white teeth were the only relief from the flat ebony of it's skin. Even the wild coarse hair haloing the round head was deepest black. This time Philip screamed too. The boys turned and ran, narrowly escaping the awkward lunge.
The Nightmare laughed, tucking it's knotted war club securely in the leather belt that tied it's robe closed. He would not need it for this hunt. The crushing strength of it's hands alone would be enough to finish these small humans and the light hunt would hone it's long dormant skills before it had to face the elders who must be nearby. The shaggy head tilted listening for the breath of the children. They had been allowed far enough. The speed and grace with which the creature set out after it's prey revealed plainly enough that the children had been allowed to escape as entertainment for the thing that now stalked them. Let their fears build. By the time I dispose of them their terror will make a feast to sustain me through whatever waits ahead. The smile that appeared on the twisted face was unlikely to reassure anyone who saw it.
In his own room on the second floor of the castle Derek Rayne saw the smile as he slept and shuddered. He saw many pictures cross his mind's eye in rapid succession. A primitive African man chanting as he held the casket they had brought back from Kenya only days ago. Only in the vision the two foot long box was made of fresh new wood not yet smoothed and darkened by the centuries. The twisted creature he had seen smile was bound hand and foot and forced into the box by tall warriors with fear white eyes. Then the vision showed him Philip, screaming, as he ran from something.
Derek bolted from the bed, his heart hammering wildly. He was in the hallway before he was even awake enough to know he'd moved. Philip was in danger! Somehow the box from Kenya was a threat to the little boy. Derek nearly ran the few steps it took to reach Philip's door, fear squeezing his heart as he saw it was open. Please let it just be Jonathan gone in to check on Nick. He prayed before going inside. Both beds were empty, their small occupants gone. Derek continued down the hall wondering how he was going to tell Jonathan his son was missing and probably in terrible danger.
Jonathan Boyle woke to Derek shaking his shoulder. For a moment he couldn't remember where he was or how he had gotten there. The rapid string of words being flung at him simply bounced off until he heard Nick's name and connected it to the fear in his friend's eyes.
"What about Nick? Is he okay?" Jonathan demanded finally waking up.
"I don't know! Neither of them are in bed and I had a vision of some creature connected to the casket chasing Philip. We have to find them." Derek pleaded, repeating part of what he'd said earlier and wishing his friend weren't such a slow starter when he woke up.
Now that he was awake Jonathan wasted no time pulling his clothes on and telling Derek to go get dressed in case their search led outside. No sooner had they met in the hall outside the children's empty bedroom than they heard the screams coming suddenly, faintly from the upper reaches of the old castle.
"Well, at least we have a direction now!" Jonathan said as they began to run towards the sound.
"It sounds like they are above us in the old store rooms just below the attics." Derek told him thinking with dread of the dark warren of cramped rooms connecting endlessly to other rooms up there. It could easily take longer than the boys had to search such a place. He stopped, turning to head in the opposite direction from the screams. "The servant's stairs at the end of the hall are the quickest way up."
They were only halfway up the stairs when the screams stopped.
When Nick tripped on an old picture frame and crashed to the dirty floor Philip thought they were finished. His screams trailed off in a whimper as he crouched down to help his charge. The sharp little chin had slammed hard into the bare plank flooring and Nick's face was covered in blood from the cut chin. The older cut on his head had been widened by the spill and quickly overwhelmed the Band-Aid covering it, making the mess even worse. He pulled Nick close to his chest, not caring about the blood he was getting all over him, trying to protect him from the sight of the monster coming to kill them. It didn't come.
Philip raised his head carefully above the old dresser that shielded them. He couldn't see their pursuer though he was sure it hadn't been far behind. That was the way of it. They would lose the thing only to have it show up again before they could find their way back to the main hall and help. For the past hour it had chased them ever higher in the old house until they reached this place. The seven year old was certain they were going to die here.
Philip clenched his teeth tightly against the sob that threatened to escape. He had to be strong for Nick. A quick scuttling sound by the boarded up window may have been rats or something more sinister but it sent the boys running for the next doorway.
The Nightmare crouched by the dark wet stain on the floor near the dresser, flicking it's tongue over the fluid on it's fingers. Not the one who opened the vessel but the blood of the one! Yessss! Only the one or the blood of the one could destroy it now but if used properly the blood could break the binding that linked it's fate to that of the hated prison.
Now that it had a positive goal in mind the Nightmare gave up toying with the children and moved rapidly through the darkness that held no secrets from it's night-sighted red eyes. He had to reach them quickly before further harm came to the precious sacrifice. Once he had the child it would all be so simple. By dawn the child would be dead and he would be free. Even the one could do nothing if the binding was broken by his own blood!
"Answer us if you can!"
The shouts from the stairwell only goaded the creature to move faster. They also made the children give away their position as the little one began crying for his father. The Nightmare smiled with savage glee, basking in the terror, as it slipped into the doorway of the tiny corner room the pair had chosen to hide in, blocking the only way out.
"Hang on Nicky! We're coming!" Philip heard Nick's father call from what sounded like very far away compared to the nearness of the thing in the doorway. The older child foolishly stepped forward a small distance trembling with fear but determined to shield his small companion as long as he could. The Nightmare gathered itself for a single swift charge that would carry it past the taller boy to it's prey before either child could react.
Philip could hear Nick's breath coming faster with fear from behind him but didn't dare take his eyes off the ugly little creature before him to check on him. He didn't have to. With a wild scream Nick took matters into his own hands. Philip's eyes nearly shot out of his head when the little maniac charged past him straight at the thing, screaming like a banshee the whole way and flailing his fists when he got close enough.
In less than a minute it was over. The squat creature in the doorway grabbed the charging three year old and carried him off into the darkness, one hand clamped down over the child's mouth to stifle the screams that would have led the adults to his hiding place. The Nightmare wanted no interference in what was to come. Let them waste precious time making sure the other is all right, this one is mine. For the first time the creature spoke, using the strange new tongue it had been hearing since it's release, it's voice a dark rumble of dissonance. "You, little one are all that matters now and there is nothing your elders can do to save you."
When the wild scream that had ripped the stillness of the dim storerooms was cut off in mid cry Jonathan Boyle broke into a blind run, not caring what he bulldozed out of his path or that he had outdistanced his companion, who was forced to wade through the fallout. That had been Nick's voice gone ominously still! He started to yell desperately for his son, hoping the boy was just too afraid to scream any more. He can't be dead! Please God he can't be dead!!
A shadow too tall to be his son moved in the far room and the man reached down for anything that seemed like a weapon. His hands came in contact with a length of metal tubing that had once been part of an old brass bedstead and he readied it to swing as the figure entered the patch of light cast by the bare light bulb in the ceiling. Derek had turned on the entire string when they got up here but many of the old bulbs were out.
He nearly sobbed with relief seeing it was Philip. "Derek! Over here! I found Philip." Letting go of the make shift weapon Jonathan hurried to the child dropping to his knees beside him and taking hold of his shoulders. "Are you okay kiddo?"
Philip just stood there hyperventilating, his eyes glazed with fear. Jonathan saw with growing horror that the boy's Huckleberry Hound pajamas were covered in fresh blood. He was also alone. "Philip, where's Nick?" He unconsciously started shaking the boy, his grip grown tight with his own fears. "What happened to Nick, Philip? You have to tell me!"
"Jonathan! Let him go!" The younger man's voice was hard and commanding as he arrived on the scene and pried the terrified child away from his distraught friend. His own heart sick with what he might see Derek pulled the pajama top off, dropping it in a bloody pile on the floor, to find where all the blood had come from. Nothing. Philip didn't have a mark on him. Not his blood then, thank God. He hugged the child tightly, picking him up and turning for the stairs, too guilty at his own thankfulness to look at his friend. If that wasn't Philip's blood it must be Nick's and he couldn't forget that the little boy wouldn't be here tonight in such grave danger if it weren't for him.
"Where is Nick, Philip?" His voice was very gentle as he sat down on the top step with Philip cradled close to his chest, his head tucked beneath Derek's chin. Derek was very aware of the older man hovering over them, wondering what might be happening to his child alone in the dark. "I know it's hard for you to talk to us but we need to find him right away, before he can be hurt worse. Do you know which way he ran?" Derek could only hold his breath and wait for an answer, hoping the child had run. That they wouldn't find the small, lifeless body in one of these empty old rooms. There is so much blood! How much blood can a three year old have!?!
Philip snuffled slightly before answering, drawing strength from the strong steady heartbeat beneath his ear. The voice that finally spoke was very small in the beginning but understandable. "The monster took him." Fresh tears welled faster now as Philip thought about his failure. "I tried to protect him but he ran at it and then it grabbed him and they were just gone!" The steadily rising voice was very close to hysteria.
Derek rocked slightly on the step to calm the boy, kissing the top of his head before he demanded anything else of the frightened child. "Shhhh....Philip. We'll find him but we need you to tell us which way they went first."
"To the other stairs."
"Jon! No!" Derek called as Nick's father turned to pursue the monster that had taken his child. "They are gone by now. If they went down from here we can use the security monitors to find them more quickly."
"What if they didn't? What if they went up?" Jonathan demanded, not far from hysteria himself.
"Then we need to find that out. We won't help Nick by charging off blindly. Remember your training and use it to save your son." Derek kept his eyes fastened on the other man's until he saw the shoulders slump in defeat. Then he rose to lead the way downstairs, still clutching Philip in his arms lest the boy vanish into thin air if he set him down.
No sooner had they set foot in the control room than they knew something was very wrong. The smell hit first so neither man was surprised when they rounded the counter in the lab holding the empty glass case to find Professor Washburn sprawled behind it.
Jonathan Boyle reached the body first and crouched to check for a heartbeat he knew he wouldn't find. Derek stood back pressing Philip's head tighter into his shoulder to shield him from the grisly sight and hoping he didn't see the body when they entered. As a result he never saw the whiskey bottle his friend scooted guiltily under the counter. No one must ever know his carelessness had killed the Precept...and perhaps his only son as well. Schooling his expression to icy professionalism he began to issue orders. "Get the kid out of here. Use the security monitors in the main control room to find my son. I'll handle this."
Derek didn't object to the other man taking charge given the circumstances. He backed toward the doorway of the lab, careful to keep Philip turned away from the body. The boy didn't need to deal with this on top of everything else. This weekend is not turning out at all the way I planned. Derek thought a little crazily. Yes, Philip was talking but this definitely wasn't how he'd wanted it to happen.
Once he was alone Jonathan let the tears blur his vision as he covered the old man with a lab coat from the small closet. While he was in there he tucked the bottle deep in the back of the top shelf where he could dispose of it later. He justified the deception with the excuse that if he could avoid being thrown out for his indiscretion he could somehow make it up to the Legacy. He'd stop drinking. He'd be the best operative the Legacy ever had. He'd never let anything like this happen again.
He wiped the tears from his face before he went to rejoin Derek and Philip in the control room. Derek had Philip cradled in one arm while he used his free hand to switch from one security camera to another, scanning for a two foot tall terror and a frightened little boy. He also had the phone tucked to his ear talking to one of the House members from the sound of it.
"Still no sign of Nick. I asked Christie to call the others. They should begin arriving in an hour or so." Derek told him without looking up from the changing views on the monitor screen. "Hang this up will you Philip?" He let the phone drop into the child's hands, trusting the youngster to do as he was told.
"My son might not have an hour, Derek!" The sick horror of what a creature that could kill a grown man so easily might do to a small boy was growing once more in his mind but he fought to control the fear. "Did you go back to just before we found Philip and just watch the camera in the hall they had to have come out in? That would give us a direction to start checking."
Derek looked helplessly at the board in front of him that ran the state of the art security system. He barely understood how to switch from one camera to another. "I'm sorry. I've never really worked with the system. Harry threw me out while he installed it last month. He says it hates me." Derek offered the excuse rather lamely.
"Move!" Jonathan crowded in and quickly had the remote playback from the camera activated. They saw the dark little creature bound lithely from the stairwell with the blessedly struggling child in his arms. Thank God he's alive! Derek thought to himself as he unconsciously rubbed Philip's bare arms to keep him warm. While he observed in silence from out of the way Jonathan activated one playback after another following the trail that could lead them to his son.
When they lost the trail on the ground floor Jonathan stood up, swearing, slamming his fist into the console to shut it down. At that particular moment he didn't care what the security chief would say about his treatment of Harry's precious new toy. This is taking too long!
"Easy, Jon. At least we know where to start looking when the others get here." Derek tried to offer what comfort he could to his friend, knowing it wouldn't be enough for him if it were Philip who was missing but needing to try anyway.
"You don't get it do you?! Nick doesn't have time to wait for the others! We have to start looking for him now. Before that monster finishes him!" Jonathan stared at the boy who was watching him from halfway across the room. Derek Rayne was still a boy as far as he was concerned and despite the child in his arms Jonathan didn't think he could possibly understand what it felt like to know your child was in danger and be unable to help. "Stay here and wait for the others if you want. I'm going to find my son!"
Derek did know exactly how he felt. He'd felt the helpless fury he'd seen in his friends eyes tonight every day since Philip came to him. Felt it every day he'd tried and failed to free his godson from the silent prison that held him. He looked down at Philip. The child's blue eyes were watching him closely to see what he would do. He couldn't risk leaving him here alone and he wouldn't take him into danger.
"Derek?" Philip tentatively tested the silence left in the wake of Jonathan's angry exit. "We have t'help them. I promised not t'let anythin' harm him."
For a moment Derek was dumbfounded. Here was Philip, half naked, shivering and smeared with dried blood that could easily have been his own, ready to charge off in the middle of the night to rescue his new friend. His plan to draw the boy out by making him responsible for young Nick had worked all right. Nick had broken the silence that held Philip and there was no going back or, it seemed, protecting the boy from things. "Come on then. Let's catch up before Nick's dad get's himself in trouble without us." Swinging Philip up to perch more comfortably on his shoulders so that his hands were free Derek set out after his friend. He paused in the pursuit just long enough to get his father's sword. Just in case.
They caught up with him on the stairs to the basement. They could hear the creature now. A guttural song in no language they had ever heard drifted up the stairs. Jonathan looked a little askance at Philip but said nothing. If their roles had been reversed he couldn't see himself leaving Nick upstairs alone. "Give me the sword." He whispered, holding out his hand. When Derek made no move to surrender the weapon he prodded him. "You can't fight with a kid on your shoulders. I don't have time to argue with you! Hand it over!"
Derek reluctantly released the weapon and shifted Philip to his back where the bulk of his body would shield the boy if things got too rough in there. Then he followed the older man into the basement. Sometime in the night the thing had found the candles kept on hand for blackouts and had used them to light the large chamber. In the center of the room lay the wooden casket. Nick lay curled inside bound with ropes that must have also come from the castle's disaster supplies. His eyes flew open when his father burst in calling to him. The green eyes were glazed with pain and fear but he tried bravely to struggle loose anyway. A difficult task in the cramped confines of the wooden box.
The Nightmare's eyes were glowing pits as it rounded on the men. It had grown strong with the fears of the child and now it used those fears to strike at it's enemies.
The two men felt as though their hearts would explode from their chests as they were struck with waves of fear such as neither could ever remember experiencing before. Derek staggered back a step but caught himself when Philip's arms tightened around his neck. He could feel the shivering of the small body against his back and somehow drew strength from the knowledge that Philip was depending on him to protect him. He could face this nightmare, for that was what it must be. Some twisted dream from mankind's dark past come back to haunt them and he refused to be beaten by a nightmare. Seeing that Jonathan had rallied also Derek moved to block the doorway, letting his friend confront the creature and holding his silence so as not to be a distraction.
Nick stared wide eyed as his father began to stalk the monster, the gleaming sword held before him. The Nightmare stepped forward to meet it's opponent, war club braced between it's two hands to block the sword's first blow. Nick started to twist and kick with his bound legs, not caring about the slivers jabbing him or that he was hitting his head against the sides of the box and reopening the cuts that had just begun to crust over again after the monster had jabbed at them. The little boy fought harder as the dark beast danced nimbly away from his father's blows, frequently landing a glancing strike with the club in passing. Nick couldn't know that it was his own fear giving his captor such nimble strength.
The bound feet connected with one of the symbols that had been drawn in the blood dabbed from his cut chin right at the point where the fault crossed the foot of the symbol. It was the same fault that the Nightmare had coaxed into the wood centuries ago to weaken it's prison. The creature staggered in pain as the rotting wood cracked allowing the man to cut deeply into it's leg, forcing it to it's knees. It didn't matter anymore. The wretched child was destroying the box! Kicking it apart from the inside with the binding not yet broken!
The Nightmare lashed out with the heavy club catching the man across one knee with a sharp crack. The Nightmare rose and half fell towards the box, reaching for one of the candles. The box must burn now with a sacrifice of the blood within or it would all be for nothing. It would be destroyed along with it's prison.
When Jonathan Boyle went down Derek was afraid it was over. He began to edge along the wall to where his friend lay, moving slowly to avoid the creature's attention and carefully keeping his precious burden between the wall and his back. His eyes focused on the sword that was his goal. Only Nick and Philip, peering over Derek's shoulder, saw the light mist that rose from the crack in the wood. The Dream Doctor calmly stepped forward from the gray veil reaching out to claim the bright weapon from the injured man.
For a moment it looked as if Jonathan would refuse to surrender it. "Let him take it! You're in no shape to finish this." Derek saw with relief that his friend was listening for a change. "He was in my vision. He ended this creature's crimes once before."
Derek crouched at his side as the guardian spirit took the weapon. His heart clenched painfully when the apparition turned not toward the monster but toward the child within the casket. Flames were already licking the outside of the old wood and the Nightmare was dancing gleefully nearby in triumph, blind with joy. Derek set Philip down and ordered him to stay with Jonathan. Then he gathered himself to spring.
The spirit circled his open palm above the child and drew it up into a closed fist. The flames seemed to have been sucked up into his hand. Turning the Dream Doctor flung the gathered flames at his ancient enemy. He smiled gently at the little warrior and wiped the fresh blood from his face, smearing the tip of the blade with it. Looking to the corner where the child of darkness was hiding he spoke in the long dead tongue they shared. "Now it ends. This child will not die so quietly as the others you murdered, monster."
All was chaos as the Nightmare charged, roaring it's rage at being beaten. Nick began to kick wildly once more as Derek flung himself between the boy and the battle. The Dream Doctor plunged the sword through the creature's chest just as Nick's foot crashed through the old wood. The Nightmare shrieked. It's glowing eyes faded and went out as it fell shattering to dust. The sword clattered to the floor as a sharp eldrich wind scattered the dust and seemed to blow the image of the tribesman away with it.
Jonathan was past Derek then ripping at the wood and yanking his son free from the casket he had nearly died in. He jerked, ready to lash out, when he felt hands grab him from behind while others tried to take his son from him.
"Easy, Jon! It's just me!" A familiar voice boomed loudly in his ear.
The coffee colored hands that held him belonged not to some ancient evil but to the Legacy's security chief. He let himself sag against the supporting hands of Harry Tanner as his wife, Jessie, took Nick from him. He started to laugh. The cavalry had arrived at last. "You two must have broken every traffic law on the books to get here so fast."
"Yeah, well we knew a hothead like you wasn't likely to wait around for backup." Harry teased, trying to lighten the grim atmosphere that clung to the room. "Derek's the one I'm surprised at. I was starting to think you were never gonna just charge in and get the job done with again, Derek."
Derek was caught off guard and didn't really know how to respond to the serious statement from the mad joker of the House. He contented himself with raising an eyebrow at his friend and dishing out some of the man's own medicine. "You really shouldn't think so much. You know it's not your strong suit, Harry."
Harry flashed Derek a delighted grin as Jessie laughed at him. "Welcome back, Derek." He carefully helped Jonathan up. His eyes were worried at the way his friend was leaning on him and the broad grin had disappeared. "Let's just take it slow and see if we can get upstairs before the others come crashing down here after us."
Right on cue Christie Richmond came clattering down to the basement. "God! Derek, Jon, are you guys okay?" Her hazel eyes were huge as she took in the sight of a bare-chested and bloodstained Philip clinging tightly to Derek's hand once more as his godfather picked up the bloody sword from the floor. Jonathan slumped in the burly security chief's arms covered in blood and bruises and clearly not able to put any weight on his left leg. The little boy still tied up in Jessie's arms was in even worse looking shape than his father. "Never mind. Mark should be here soon. Do you think you can carry him up the stairs Harry?"
Jonathan's protests as he was slung across Harry's back were nearly hot enough to set the fire smoldering again. "Temper, Jon. There are kids in the room." Derek reminded him, slightly giddy with the relief of having the children safe.
Mark Castiletti had his work cut out for him when he arrived after everyone else and found them all in kitchen. Christie was just severing the last length of rope on Nick's legs with a kitchen knife while Jessie held him so he figured he couldn't have been too far behind the others. The twenty-nine year old doctor did a quick triage while Derek took the lead in filling everyone in.
"Harry put Jon down in a chair and get that leg propped up with some ice on it. Jess, let me have Nick while you get these other three blankets and hot chocolate will you? I don't need anybody going into shock on me." He shot down Derek's budding protest with a quick glare the moment he heard about the dream warning. He knew the visions could be a shock to the young Dutchman whether he admitted it or not and it didn't sound as if Derek had really been able to let his system recover with everything else they were telling him. It would all be in the reports. He tuned out the bustle as his orders were carried out and concentrated on his smallest patient, standing the boy on the counter. "Now let's get you out of these nasty things. Okay?"
"Otay." The whispered response surprised him as he undid the snap at the collar of the bloody sleepers and set to work on the crusted zipper. Most kids Nick's age who'd just been through something like this would be either screaming or catatonic.
A quick exam showed nothing more fearsome than some minor cuts and deep bruises on the kid's body. Mark got to work stitching up the cut in the kid's chin, thankful that he kept his bag well stocked. He never knew what he'd be called on to treat around this House.
"Is he all right?" Derek asked still feeling responsible for Nick being put in the line of fire.
"He's fine. Just a little shocky and that's mostly from the blood loss. Head wounds can be real gushers. Lots of blood but thankfully little damage." He grinned at his patient, his dark eyes warm and reassuring. "You'd think he got chased by a monster trying to kill him every day. After I'm done with the chin I'm going to put a few stitches in that cut on his head too."
A small moan escaped Jonathan at the memory of how this weekend began. Mark was just joking to keep Nick distracted but it served to make Jonathan realize that he had a lot to make up for where his youngest was concerned. Where all of them were concerned. He could picture the look that would be on Jenny's face when he brought Nick home all banged up like this. Worse, he could picture his wife's face when she got home and saw what had been done to her baby. Neither of them would ever believe he hadn't done it in a drunken rage. He'd given them plenty of reason to think otherwise in the past.
Mark's head snapped around at the moan. "You going to be okay until I'm done here?"
"Yeah. Just thinking about how close it was tonight." He offered the half truth, knowing that if he said nothing to explain the agonized sound Mark would never let it rest. "Christine's probably never going to leave the kids alone with me again. Would it be okay if I held him while you work?"
"Let me finish this cut first and you can hang on to him for the next one. I don't want this little guy to move a muscle until this is closed. Otherwise he'll end up with a bad scar there."
Harry couldn't watch this. Two things he couldn't handle were kids getting hurt and needles. He slipped out to take care of the most serious casualty of the night. The one that was beyond Mark Castiletti's ability to help.
By the time Harry Tanner slid back into the kitchen both boys had been cleaned up and dressed in the clothes Jessie went upstairs and got for them. Christie was having a battle of wits with the electric percolator and Mark was idly cussing out Jonathan for his stubborn refusal to put his son down while he was examined. Harry grinned as his eyes met those of his wife and he shook his head in fond irritation.
Jessie grinned back and rose to her teammate's defense. "Who do you think you're kidding? You wouldn't let that baby girl of yours out of your arms until she turned twenty-one if it had been her nearly sacrificed down there. Harry and I would be about the same if it had been Holly or Marcus for all that they're nearly grown up now."
"Damn right!" The doctor declared cheerfully as he stood up from popping the dislocated knee back into place. "You! Stay off the leg until I say otherwise." Something in the big man's eyes made him quit the joking. "What's up Harry?"
"The cops are waiting to talk to all of us about the Professor. I made them think it was a robbery attempt. Also I brought you this." His face was carefully neutral as he handed the blue and gold Precept's ring to Derek who loosened his hold on Philip and reached out from the blanket to accept the burden.
Late that evening after the police were long gone and the Professor's body was taken away Derek was at his desk simply staring at the small piece of jewelry. He tried to tell himself that it was only that. A piece of jewelry. He didn't believe himself though. The weight of power and responsibility that clung to it nearly overwhelmed his sight.
His eyes went again to Philip asleep in the big armchair by the bookshelf. He hadn't gotten a lot of sleep the night before and had conked out right after dinner. Derek had carried him in here after getting him into his pajamas, unwilling to let the boy out of his sight just yet. He justified it by telling himself it was because there was no one here to watch the child with everyone except the servants gone home. Even Jonathan and Nick were gone. Christie had driven them home, promising to pick him up once his leg improved so that he could come get his car.
"Philip?" Derek was startled when the child cried softly in his sleep and rolled off the chair, landing neatly on his feet and heading for the door. When he didn't answer Derek hurried in front of him. Philip bumped gently into him and turned to wander along the wall toward the window. But not before Derek saw his eyes. The lost, empty expression was chilling.
Careful not to wake the sleepwalker Derek caught his shoulders and steered the boy back toward the door, planning to get him up to bed and hopefully convince him to stay there.
That turned out to be fairly easy. As soon as they reached the side of the turned down bed Philip climbed in and collapsed on his side. Derek drew the covers up around him and went to make certain the window was locked before he kissed him good-night and went to get his ring of house keys to lock the bedroom door.
Yesterday's fall and Philip's teary reaction to the small hurts suddenly made a horrifying amount of sense. He was asleep and didn't know what was happening. If Nick hadn't been with him God only knows how badly he might have been hurt. He would have to call Jonathan. It wasn't right to let the man go on believing his son had tried to hurt Philip when he had probably been protecting him.
Back at his desk with the phone in his hand his eyes again went to the ring in the center of it. He decided he had another more important call to make first. He checked the number and then sat back to wait while the connection was made to London House. There was no regret in his voice as he asked Sir Edmund to appoint another Precept to the San Francisco House. He could not accept the posting at this time. Philip needed him and that had to take precedence. The Legacy had many people who would make good Precepts. Philip only had one godfather.
The Philip/Derek background is used gratefully with the permission of it's creator ~ :-) Thanks Deb T.!
E-Mail the Authors: Janet and Sandy at Kethrineth@aol.com