Precious Cargo by TalgoM
"Please God, if you can hear me, just don't let them find me." The man ran through the caves blindly. He heard the sounds behind him but couldn't judge how close they might be from the dark and the echoes off of the stones. He glanced down at the object in his hands wondering what had driven him to take it from them in the first place. He had been running from trained hunters for weeks on end and had never managed to get more then a few steps ahead of them at any time. He was a scholar, not an adventurer as his companions had been. He had come on this fools journey in order to chronicle their exploits and instead had been thrown into a nightmare.
They were dead now, yet it was their very bodies tracking him across the coast of this New World. He had seen this as such an opportunity. He would be the first to relate the beauty of this land in words, poems and stories that he had envisioned writing his place in history. Children generations from this day would read his tales of new animals and endless expanses of mountains and see the world through his eyes. He would become immortal through the words he loved so much. Now he was left only praying to see daylight one last time after discovering that there was a different immortality to be obtained. Something much more real then words imprinted on paper that would vanish with time, yet with it came a much heavier price then some papyrus and ink.
He stopped in a small alcove wondering what his next step should be. There was no way to leave these caverns if he did not manage to locate another opening; they would be guarding the one he had used to enter them. Yet there was no certainty that there was an alternate way in and out, which meant he would die here. That left him only two options. Go back and die, giving them what they sought by doing so. Or he could hopefully find a place to hide the accursed object in his hands. Place it somewhere that they could not hope to retrieve it and then accept his death knowing that he had saved countless others.
He may have never classified himself as a brave man before this day but the situation left him little choice but to become one. He could not allow the fate that befell his companions to fall onto any others. Their bodies would never give up until their task was complete but perhaps he could lead them to believe that he had not carried what they sought into this maze of caverns. That would force them to search every place he had been since stealing away with their beloved possession in the middle of the night. They could search the rest of their lives and it would be in vain if he could find a place to hide his cargo.
He took in a deep breath of resignation into his straining lungs and continued to run in the caves. Taking turns when they were offered to them so not to make his path too easy to follow. The sounds of their running footfalls and yelled commands came back to him. They sounded closer but that could perhaps be a trick of the stone walls. He realized suddenly that he felt water coming through the bottoms of his torn soles. He adjusted the small torch in his hands and saw a puddle at his feet. With relief he found that for the first time in weeks something was working in his favor.
If the caves were above water he could drop the object they sought into it and it would be swept away without a trace. But he had to first find where the water was coming from. He got down on his knees and ran his hands over the frigid stone under the water. He glanced over his shoulder several times but no one had located him as of yet and his hand finally located the spot that he was looking for. The hole was barely the size of his fist but he knew that with time it would grow larger as the water wore away at stone. He glanced once more that the object, hoping that if it was ever located it would be years from now and that they would understand the threat it presented to all of mankind. With that prayer said he angrily shoved it through the hole and committed it to a watery grave of sorts.
In a fluid moment he stood back up and continued to run, wanting to remove himself from this place as much as possible. He was resigned to the fact he would meet his death here, but he prayed this would also mean that his pursuers would with time meet theirs as well. 'Let them find me, but let them not find it.' He thought desperately, turning yet another corner in the caves to discover the death he thought of waiting for him. He stared at the hard eyes of men once his friends but did not see them staring back. "It's not here, I discarded it days ago." With those words he sealed his fate, as he felt steel pierce his belly.
"Boyle, have I ever told you that you take me to the most romantic places." She followed behind his shadowy figure and the glow of his flashlight. The cavern was dank and the air moist, she could feel a layer of wet dust attaching itself to her skin as they explored.
"Well it's not easy to find someplace interesting that a girl hasn't been before." Nick responded glancing quickly over his shoulder look at her.
"You succeeded." She laughed slightly. After a few more moments she added more seriously. "If Derek's map was right, the drop should be just a little further up on the right."
"Good, I'm looking forward to getting out of here." Nick answered her with relief.
"Nick Boyle complaining about being someplace gross, you're getting wimpy in your old age." He turned slightly smiling at her but she could hardly make out the features of his handsome face. When he turned instead of seeing her he noticed a light behind her in the tunnel they had just come through. As soon as he noticed it the glow vanished. He reached out grabbing her and dragged her forward to a small alcove, pulling out his gun.
"Tan, are we alone?" His voice was kept low and she could read the anxiety in it.
"As far as I can tell." She watched the tunnel wondering what had got him so worked up and on edge in only an instant. She saw nothing behind them, and more important to her, had no sense of anyone with them in the caverns. Still Nick's locked expression made her put up a guard, knowing there was a chance her sixth sense could miss something.
"I saw a light, just for a second." He answered keeping his voice at a low whisper.
"Maybe it was just your flashlight reflecting off the rock?" Nick shot her a slightly aggravated look that put that thought quickly out of her mind. "Or not."
"Still nothing?" She shook her head. "Okay, I'm going to go check it out, you go tie off the ropes. We'll grab the artifact and get the hell out of here. Scream to high heaven if you run into anyone." She nodded, her instincts telling her that she shouldn't let them be separated, surprised that Nick even suggested it. She could see that the idea also made him uncomfortable but he didn't want her there if someone was behind them. Nick stayed in a crouch and made his way back the way they had come. Tangye watched him until he made it around the first corner and then turned and proceeded forward looking for the right turn that should lead her to the drop off they were searching for.
She turned on her flashlight at the branch off from the main cavern so she didn't stumble blindly into the thirty-foot drop. She just hoped no one was there to see it. The area was empty and she saw the black hole in the floor that was their goal. She dropped her heavy backpack to the ground, regretting the sound it made and how it echoed behind her. She crouched down and quickly pulled out the rope she had stowed in the pack, looking around herself for a place to tie it off. She located an acceptable spot and began the careful progress of tying the appropriate knots. When she was done she stood back up but there was still no sign of Nick. She refused to let that cause her any anxiety and decided to just go down and grab the artifact herself so that they could leave quicker when Nick did rejoin her.
She fastened the rope to the hook in the harness that she was already wearing and edged her way over to the drop carefully, not wanting to suddenly plummet by getting too close unprepared. She had been repelling countless times but she had only done it either free fall or off of the side of buildings and mountains. She had never before attempted to do this down a narrow vertical cave but in her mind the principals of the job were the same. She shot her flashlight down into the darkness but it did little to penetrate the depth. She had an idea of how far she needed to go but couldn't be certain.
She had been told by the man who taught her to repel in the first place that she should never do it without knowing what she was getting into but she cast off that warning. She had a job to do and she wasn't about to let Nick catch her standing here hesitating. With resolve she lowered herself off the edge of the hole barely large enough for her to fit down and began to let herself fall to the floor below in small increments. She didn't allow her downward momentum gain too much speed not wanting to hit the ground with too much force. It only took moments before she did get to the bottom and she quickly pulled her flashlight back out to cast away the imposing dark.
She scanned it across the room and saw the medallion laying on the floor just as the excavators had found it, the chain hooked around a small outcrop of stone. She went over and crouched down beside it, pulling on rubber gloves so she could handle it. It was a gold circle about three inches in diameter with a large symbol in the center made of some green carved stone, there were also symbols etched around the perimeter of the piece. She didn't recognize the writing at first glance but knew they would be able to translate it once back on the island. She lifted it out of the dust, noticing the grime that had built in the crevasses over the years, there even was a bit of mildew growing on it. She flipped it over in her hands to find more engravings on the back. It was a beautiful piece, with a thick gold link chain; her attention was focused on it completely.
"Found it?" She jumped at the sound of a voice above her. She moved back over to stand below the cavern that she had come down. She let out a heavy sigh seeing that Nick was alone above her on the edge of the drop. With light coming from either end of the vertical cave they managed to dispel the darkness of the place that she had come down through.
"Don't do that, make noise when you walk." He laughed slightly at her. She held the prize up not sure if he could actually see it from his vantage at the small opening or not. "No one there?"
"Not that I could find but I want to get out of here." She nodded her agreement, sliding their find into a white cloth bag. "I'll pull you up, it'll be quicker." He instructed. She pushed the medallion down into the pocket of her coat and grabbed onto the rope. Nick was right, by pulling her up and her only having to do a minimal amount of vertical climbing they did significantly reduce the amount of time it took for her to get back up to his level. As soon as she got to the lip of the cave she boosted herself over and rolled onto her back. Nick was already up and gathering their supplies back up clearly very anxious to leave the caves.
"You want to see it?" She asked, climbing to her feet.
"In the car." Nick answered without looking up at her. He didn't like the way his voice came out so dismissive so he quickly amended his words with an excuse. "We do have that shindig to get back to after all. And we don't really look the part right now." Nick pivoted on the balls of his feet and looked up at her. Her face was covered in both sweat and dust from the caves that she had inadvertently wiped on. Her hair was pulled back from her face but several strands had come loose and now hung into her eyes.
"Nick Boyle in a tux, that is too good to pass up." She grinned and took her backpack from him.
"Just a suit sweetheart, sorry to disappoint." Nick bantered back and started to lead their way back how they had come, a path he had just finished exploring without running into a trace of anyone following them.
"If there's a tie involved I'll take it." She patted his back once, hoping that a little teasing would help him loosen up from whatever new anxiety he was carrying. She had not felt anyone in the cave with them but was not willing to discount Nick's instincts. Her abilities were limited she admitted begrudgingly and he had training that she lacked. If Nick thought he saw something she was not going to dismiss that. Still she did not want him to be so tense, on guard was fine, but that look of annoyance his face sometimes got was not something she enjoyed and he had it right now.
"Well don't you look nice?" Alex teased as Derek entered into the first floor living room. He wore his black tuxedo and did indeed look excellent in it. Somehow Derek just had the right air about him to wear such an outfit and look comfortable, unlike so many other men she had known. He grinned at her straightening his jacket. "I just spoke with Melissa, the caterers are here and ready. Though I think she wants bonus pay for letting them into her kitchen."
"I'll probably concede to that wish." Derek answered with a small laugh. "Why aren't you dressed yet?" Derek asked looking over the tan slacks and deep green sweater.
"What this isn't appropriate?" Alex joked with wide eyes, Derek missing the humor for only a moment as he looked at her shocked. "Tangye made me promise that I'd wait until she got back. She wants me to help her get ready and this ensures I don't get sucked in to helping you greet guests. I think you're going to be impressed by our little tomboy tonight. She cleans up well."
"I don't doubt that." Derek agreed. Tangye had only put on a dress on rare occasions since moving in but the times that she did she wore them with a grace that was surprising considering how she normally behaved. He had talked to her about sitting on tables or even just sitting properly in chairs but those words were never taken to heart.
"Derek?" Alex struggled to find the right words. He had not mentioned anything since his mother had gone back home about their conversations and Alex wanted to make sure that he was okay. Whatever had happened had deeply hurt him and he appeared to be using tonight's affair as a way of avoiding those lingering troubles. Alex wanted to make sure that he knew he did not have to face all of this alone. "I know your mother went home, but will she be visiting again?"
Derek couldn't help but smile to himself at the concern he heard in Alex's voice. He wasn't sure why he had ever doubted that his friends wouldn't understand what he was going through. Even when angry Alex had always made a sincere effort to understand him. "Yes, she will be. She wasn't happy with what I did but she seems to understand why I did it now. I think Ingrid was a help in making her see that. She has asked that I am honest with her now, which I should have been in the beginning."
"But you had her best interests at heart, you can't be faulted too much for that." Alex patted his leg fondly.
"I suppose not." Derek nodded. "I'm just glad I now know that I don't have to go through anything like that again." Derek reflected on how easily Liz had managed to manipulate him with just the right words and facts. How she had made him feel so alone so easily. When his team had all converged to rescue him from himself they sent a clear message to him. The same message he had been trying to impart to them all for years. That nothing had to be faced alone because they were a family. One that, no matter what the circumstances, would stand together.
"Triumph Dr. Rayne." Tangye announced walking into the living room holding the small white bag out for him. Derek looked at Nick and Tangye, who were once again both filthy but neither was noticing the trail of dirt their shoes were leaving.
"We are having a party here tonight, do you plan on cleaning that up?" Derek asked lightly standing to take the artifact from Tangye. The pair looked behind them at their footprints and began to pull off their shoes at Derek's unspoken command. "Thank you for going to get this today, I know you didn't have it planned."
"Yet it's our job, so we have little room to complain." Tangye responded. "You ready Alex?"
"We wait much longer and Derek's going to go crazy." Alex said having recognized the stress on Derek's face that the house might fill with guests before anyone was ready to greet them. The two women left the men alone, Tangye taking Nick's boots with her as she went.
"Don't you need to go get ready?" Derek asked, looking at his younger associate.
"Shower, dress, it'll take me five minutes tops." Nick answered, loving the look of annoyance on Derek's face at that comment. He let himself get so worked up about these fundraising parties Nick just felt the need to make them difficult for him to a certain extent. Nick could see that Derek was about to beg him not to push his preparations to the last minute as he clearly felt Alex and Tangye already had but Nick cut off his words. "Don't worry Derek, I'll be a good host."
"You just have to be difficult don't you?" Derek asked exasperated. So far he had yet to locate anything in the house that was ready for the guests that would be arriving in just over an hour. He put those thoughts asked as he turned his attention back to the object in his hands. He went over to the table and poured the amulet out onto the table. Nick pulled a pair of white gloves from his jacket pocket and handed them over to Derek so he could inspect the piece more closely. "We'll need to carbon date it, determine the composition to hopefully learn its origin." Derek spoke his plans out loud. Nick already knew everything that would need to be done in order to learn about the amulet. "Tangye can work on a translation of these symbols first thing tomorrow."
"That was the plan." Nick nodded, standing over Derek's shoulder. Derek took a moment to glance at his friend's face and noticed something there that was out of place.
"Nick tell me about the cavern, what did you see?" Derek's voice remained even as he looked back down at the amulet, studying the stone in the center closely. He couldn't identify it with any certainty but hopefully that too would help place where the artifact had been made.
"Huh, how'd you " Nick started to ask the question then realized that it would be a waste. He had known Derek long enough now to know that there were times when Derek just knew. Sometimes even without being aided by a vision. "It was just a light. I checked it out but didn't find anything, or anyone."
"And Tangye?" Derek continued, now more interested in Nick's words then the piece of metal.
Nick shook his head looking tired by his answer. Whatever he had seen clearly bothered him more then he was willing to admit, but without knowing what it was he didn't know what to say about it. "Nothing."
"And the light?"
"Didn't look supernatural Derek, looked more natural, almost like fire. But it went out suddenly and I can't see how that is possible. When I went back there was no smell of anything burning either." Nick shrugged. "It may have been nothing."
"But we shouldn't discount it as that. Someone may have followed you down there and run when they thought they were caught." Derek sat back on the couch thinking over the information.
"If they did they didn't leave a trace of themselves." Nick rubbed at the back of his neck not sure what to make of any of it. He hoped it was just the trick of the light that Tangye had suggested but it had not looked like reflected light from the yellow beam of his flashlight. "I could go back tomorrow, see if I can find anything with some more equipment." He suggested.
"That might be a good idea. For now though, why don't you go get ready, for my sanity?" Derek asked lightly causing Nick to laugh slightly. Derek slid the amulet back into the pouch. "I'll go lock this up."
"You're the boss." Nick answered following him out of the room and to the stairs.
"I just can't believe that you're here. It's been what, four years?" Rachel smiled at the two people sitting in the living room of her house. Kat was upstairs preparing for tonight's party while Rachel entertained her guests. She did give a quick glance at the clock, knowing Derek's anxiety would build until she arrived.
"More, almost five." The woman answered with a bright warm smile. "Kat was so little the last time we saw her and now she's almost a teenager."
"Tell me about it, I still can't get over how much she's grown." Rachel nodded. "But I watch it happen everyday, I'm sure the changes are much more pronounced to you."
"They are. You have a beautiful young girl on your hands. I'm sure before too long you will have boys knocking down your door to get to her." The man nodded his agreement.
"That is something I can definitely wait to have happen. To me she's still my baby and boys just seem so far away, even if they aren't." Rachel shook her head tiredly not wanting to think about the many changes that the upcoming years would mean for her daughter. Nor how that might effect their closeness. Kat was bound to grow more independent, in fact she already had, but it was bound to get worse. Given time her little girl wouldn't come to her with all of her problems, instead depending on her friends' advice first. Rachel just wanted to hold on as long as she could. "How have you been doing? Tell me everything you've been up to." Rachel asked despite the fact she didn't have the time to catch up on five years she also felt trapped by the pair sitting on her couch. She didn't want to be rude and just run off when they had shown up so suddenly on her doorstep.
"There's too little time to do that, you are on your way out aren't you?" The woman said, indicating with a small motion the black formal gown that Rachel wore.
"Actually, yes." Rachel nodded with relief. "I have a fundraiser to go to tonight. Since I last saw you I have started working with the Luna Foundation and we have one of their parties tonight. Unfortunately I can't get out of it, and Kat is so excited to get to go. She wants to play grown up tonight and two of my associates have really got her going on this. I think sometimes they do these things just to make my life more difficult." Rachel finished with a fond smile. Nick and Tangye had spent hours getting Kat psyched about attending this party and there was no way Rachel would be able to deter her.
"Well we understand that. I went through the same thing with Charlotte when she was Kat's age. She always wanted to get dressed up and go out with the adults. It's a phase, before too long she won't want to spend time with you at all." The woman responded with a chuckle.
"That is exactly what I dread, Claudia." Rachel sighed. "How is Charlotte? Talk about growing up, she's what nineteen now?"
"A sophomore in college if you can believe that. But we should get going, I'll leave you our number and you can call when you have some free time to catch up." Claudia stood up and with her glance Raymond followed suit.
"I wish you could come tonight, I could use you there. Kat may be excited, but mom's not." Rachel said, wrapping her arms around her old friend.
"If you mean that we could." Claudia shot Rachel a sly grin. "I told you that we were in town for a wedding. One of those extravagant affairs, black tie, posh restaurant, blah, blah, blah. We have the attire back at the hotel. But only if you meant it, I don't want you to think I'm riding your coattails to high society parties."
Rachel laughed slightly with pleasure. "No, I don't think that. You'd be saving me. There's only so much I can say to these people but I have to be there. If you're willing to go through it, I'll give you the details."
"Anything to rescue an old friend." Raymond grinned, shooting Claudia a quick pleased glance.
"Mom are you ready? Alex said she'd do my hair and we're going to be late." Kat spoke indignantly from the foot of the stairs causing all of the adults to laugh in amusement at her anxiousness.
"So are these things really as horrid as Nick makes them out to be?" Tangye's voice asked from behind the bathroom door where she was getting dressed. Alex was sitting at her dresser putting the finishing touches on her makeup and hair for the evening. She already had her dress on and was just about ready to go downstairs, if only she could get Tangye to sit still long enough to get dressed, but the younger woman had wasted nearly a half an hour chatting before even showering.
"Nick doesn't like ties." Alex answered with amusement. "But they aren't exactly what I think you'll consider a thrill a minute. There's a lot of schmoozing, niceties, and toasts, that sort of thing. But they are a nice change of pace. I doubt you'll end up covered in mud."
"I've heard that one before, yet I always do." Tangye joked opening the adjoining door at long last. She stepped into the room and Alex turned in her chair to take a look at her.
Before she even thought about what she was saying her reaction was voiced. "Wow." Alex smiled broadly in pleasure at the sight before her. "So that's what was under that mud all along."
"Imagine my surprise." Tangye laughed, causing her dimple to deeply crease her cheek and her eyes to squint ever so slightly. Tangye spun once so Alex could get the complete picture. She wore an ankle length plum dress. It was sleeveless and had a high slit going halfway up her thigh. It was fit to her form beautifully as if made for her. The mock turtleneck was made of lace with the pattern covering the bodice as well. Her hair was curled just a bit and her makeup was subtle but complete. She was a picture of beauty completely transformed from the dirt and sweat covered girl who had entered the bathroom.
"Can I give you a warning? Nick is going to be so possessive of you tonight, making sure everyone knows you are his." Alex shook her head truly astounded by the young woman in front of her. In a few short months Tangye had taken on the role of Alex's little sister and tonight Alex looked at her with all the pride of a big sister who was getting to watch someone she loved grow up.
Tangye paused in front of the mirror, staring at the reflection she saw there that was almost unfamiliar. "You can't imagine how much I like the sound of that." She turned to look back at her friend. "And might I say, wow right back at you. Go girl, men will be tripping over themselves." Alex stood up and gave Tangye a turn of her own, enjoying this silly girl time that she too often was not allowed. Her dress was black lace overlay with an ivory lining. The neckline was low and the back plunged with crisscross thin straps. There was a knee high slit in the back and it came down to mid calf. The back of the dress would be what any man remembered as it displayed her flawless skin but Alex was only concerned with catching one man's eye. "And that does include Gilb." Tangye added with a wicked grin. "But do expect a little possessiveness."
"I don't mind it either." Alex couldn't help but smile as a knock interrupted their chatter.
"Are you two ever planning on being ready?" The tone sent both the women into a small fit of giggles.
"Don't give yourself an ulcer Dr. Rayne. We're waiting on Kat, then we'll make our grand entrance. Go, wait with baited breath." Tangye ordered throwing Alex an amused glance.
"Perfect, the house will be filled and then they'll come down." Derek walked away from the door with an exasperated sigh. He went back downstairs to the living room just as Rachel and Kat were entering. The girl ran right past him without so much as a hello. "Kat please hurry. You don't have much time." Derek called after her as she turned down the hall to the bedrooms. Derek turned back to look at Rachel who was removing her coat and turning it over to Dominick. He took in the sight with a pleased smile as she revealed her short black dress detailed with small black beads. It had a scoop neck and three quarter sleeves made of mesh with more of the beading work along them. "You look beautiful Rachel."
"And I'm ready, which is what you like to see the most." She smiled at him. "But I am thirsty, I think I'll get some water before this begins." She excused herself back to the kitchen knowing that anxious look in Derek's eyes well enough. He was waiting on some catastrophe before the evening's guests arrived and she didn't want to be in his way to provide one.
He continued on to the morning room where he found Nick and Gilby both slouched down on the couches looking bored already. Gilby held his tie in his hands, tapping the knot he had tied in it against his leg. Nick meanwhile was relating some story to his friend in a low voice. They looked to be co-conspirators with their hushed tones and close proximity but Derek reminded himself that these two were boyhood friends. With as much attention as Gilby was directing towards Alex it was easy to forget that he had known other members of the house much longer. It was times like this when he caught him with one of his older friends that Derek was reminded of that fact. It also made him think that perhaps Gilby belonged in their lives. It all just fit together, like some twist of fate pushing them all together.
"No word from the women folk?" Nick asked redirecting his attention to the precept.
"Yours told me not to get an ulcer." Derek said nodding to himself as he sank down into an armchair.
"That sounds like her, but don't let her hear you calling her mine. I don't think that would sit well." Nick threw Gilby a quick glance and gained a nod of agreement.
"What did I interrupt?" Derek asked hoping to get his mind off of his building concern that no one would be ready. Nick still didn't have his jacket or tie on and Gilby's tie was off and his shirt un-tucked but Derek managed to refrain from commenting on that.
"Prom actually." Gilby answered with a grin. "It was the last of these little things I went to and I bailed on it fairly early in the evening." Those words didn't help Derek relax at all. "I'll stick this one out. Won't kill me I assume." Gilby added with a small laugh rubbing at his clean chin. The sensation felt strange to him and once he had done it he had decided to leave his hair alone. He couldn't change that much for one evening of his life.
"I'd guess you were probably closer to dying that night then you will be here." Nick chimed in recalling the events of that evening. Gilby had been a senior and he a junior, they had in fact left the prom after only an hour and nearly been arrested within the next hour.
"I don't want to hear about this do I?" Derek asked like a reluctantly curious parent who wanted to know what trouble their children had found but also hoping to keep a more positive image of them. He was torn between the two options and opted for ignorance.
"Nope, you don't." Nick shook his head and smiled at Gilby in a conniving manner. "Let's just say our dates wanted nothing to do with us after that."
"In fact I think they transferred to different schools." Gilby added, building Derek's curiosity about their exploits. "So they gave you no indication about when they might be ready?"
"None at all." Derek sighed.
"What is it that takes them so long? Dress, makeup, hair, how long can that possibly take? Ten minutes, tops?" Nick asked confused by this trait in women. "Or are they up there totally ready and just loving it that you're sweating."
"I'd say that about one of them." Gilby shook his head, envisioning how much Tangye would enjoy doing just such a thing to be aggravating.
"Kat just arrived and they wanted to do her hair, though I can't imagine that could take long." Derek leaned back his head staring up at the ceiling already exhausted. "They don't need to do much. They're both beautiful women, why must they take so long?"
"Bitch, bitch, moan, moan, all we ever hear from you." Tangye broke into their conversation causing all three men to look up to the doorway. As soon as they took in the sight in front of them they each froze with wide eyes, unable to think of the right words to say as they looked at the women. The women waited for several moments but still the men said nothing. "Okay, so we look so bad you can't tell us?"
"God no, you um gah." Gilby said straining, somewhat breaking the stunned silence.
"Okay, that meant nothing in English and I speak a lot of languages and in none of them did it mean anything either." Tangye shook her head, turning her attention to Nick expectantly. His green eyes just stared at her for a moment formulating the right complement. Before he had a chance to speak Dominick came up from behind them.
"May I tell you both how beautiful you look? Stunning in fact, I'd even dare to say that sunset can't compete." The older man smiled at them both proudly keeping his calm demeanor as he showered the praise on them.
"You are my favorite now Dominick." Tangye said raising up to plant a quick kiss on his cheek.
"See boys, that's a compliment. Learn from him." Alex teased gliding into the room towards where Gilby still stared with his dark blue eyes locked on her. As soon as she got close he wrapped his arms around her in a fond hug. Tangye meanwhile crossed to take a seat beside Nick who had not yet made a noise.
"Anything, Mr. Boyle? Sunset, starlight, c'mon lay it on me." She goaded, expectantly waiting on something from him.
"You're just " Nick struggled to get the words together, making a fist as he searched for the phrase that he felt would do her justice. "Amazing." He finally offered.
"I'll settle for that." She smiled pleased with that single word.
"Dr. Rayne, I wanted to let you know that the guard house called up, the first guests have arrived." Dominick informed and then left the room to man the front door.
"See Derek, and you were worried." Alex taunted him. He rolled his eyes at that and also left the room to greet the first of his guest. "Everyone ready for this?" She asked scanning the room.
"Much as I will be." Gilby answered with a resigned sigh. "You are gorgeous by the way, no poetry but it's true." Those words elicited a bright smile from her and a bit more spring in her step and that was all that he could have asked to accomplish.
"Rachel this house is absolutely beautiful." Claudia commented joining her friend when she was finally left alone for a few moments.
"One of the perks of the job." Rachel nodded taking a moment to appreciate the surroundings that she often overlooked due to their familiarity. "I hope this isn't too boring for you." She said apologetically, knowing how long these evenings could drag. She stole a momentary glance at Kat, who stood on the other side of the room with Alex and Gilby. Alex was talking to a man Rachel recognized as a professor at the university, while Gilby entertained her daughter with a story. Kat was smiling brightly at the handsome man and Rachel could see a crush quickly developing for him. She didn't worry though; she had a feeling Gilby was very skilled at handling such things.
"Not at all. Raymond found one of his friends from the hospital and if anything has bored me tonight that was it. Mostly I've just been enjoying the scenery." Claudia looked over at her companion engaged deeply in some conversation about medicine, a topic not at all to her interests. "So, if you don't mind me asking, how did the renowned psychiatrist Dr. Corrigan get involved with the Luna Foundation?" She redirected her attention to Rachel.
"I think renowned might be pushing it. But as for the Luna Foundation it's a long story, very long. But I do enjoy some of the work I do here. I think you'd be surprised how much my training comes into play, I know I have been." Rachel answered evasively not wanting to reflect on the events that had lead her to this place four years ago. "Now it's my turn. What exactly is going on with you and Ray?" She raised her eyebrows in curiosity. When she had last seen Claudia and Raymond they had been acquaintances, nothing more. But that bond had clearly grown over the years.
"Don't get too excited Rachel. We're just very good friends, it turns out we have quite a bit in common." She averted her eyes for a moment guiltily but did not elaborate. "We've spent some time together over the past few years out of loneliness I suppose. When David left me and shortly after Sharon died we took a measure of comfort in each other."
"I'm glad he was there for you. I wish I could have been, but I didn't hear about it and then I didn't know how to reach you or what to say." Rachel put a comforting hand on her arm recognizing the sadness in her friend's eyes.
"I felt the same way when I learned that Patrick died. I just didn't know what to say Rachel and I'm sorry for that." Claudia smiled at her half heartily, forcing the expression. "But tonight isn't an evening for that sort of thing, we should enjoy ourselves. I want to hear all about you and about this place you've found. It's like something straight out of a fairy tale."
"Tonight it certainly feels that way. Like the princess at the ball, but that isn't how it always is. Most of what we do is research, countless hours at the computers. But I do enjoy the mysteries we get to solve." Rachel nodded admitting that she liked her life in the Legacy. "We get to put the past together for the present and that is exciting."
"It must be." Claudia paused to look around the room. "It must sometimes feel like Rapunsil though. Locked away here on an island castle which I imagine has a fortress's security to protect these artifacts."
"Security is tight, but I'm free to come and go unlike the fairy tale." Rachel smiled thinking of that image. She rarely ever considered the Legacy house as being terribly secure considering how many things had managed to invade it. She knew that Nick would take offense to such a thought and she knew that he did the best he could but considering some of the things that breached his security he couldn't be expected to do much better.
"It must make you sleep better to know that Kat is so safe here." Rachel again allowed her eyes to wander towards her daughter, thinking back to how many times Kat had been in danger in these walls. Yet there was always someone here to protect her, a security she would not have anywhere else.
"I still try to stay at our house as much as possible. I want Kat to have friends of her own age. She loves the others who work here but there is a distinct age difference between them." As if on cue Tangye and Kat walked up to the women, Tangye pushing the girl along in front of her playfully.
"Mom, Tangye's going to take me upstairs for a few minutes." Kat announced excited by something the two had cooking. Tangye glanced down at the girl and then back up to her mother.
"She wants to see that thing Nick and I picked up today." She grinned proudly. "And if I say so myself it's pretty cool."
"Did you hear about it yet mom?" Kat asked with enthusiasm that was spreading from Tangye over her pleasure with her day's work in the caves.
"I'm sure I will. You have fun but don't let Tangye stay up there too long, you know how she gets distracted." Rachel warned, knowing Derek wouldn't like it if Tangye got wrapped up in figuring out what the necklace was so early in the evening when he had guests he wanted to introduce her to.
"You're telling me." Kat laughed pulling the older woman along after her towards the stairs. Kat had quickly grown bored with all the pomp of the evening and was again behaving like the little girl that she was which Rachel enjoyed. She just didn't want her baby to grow up faster then necessary and in many ways Tangye was a good example to help prevent such a thing. At twenty-five she still often acted the part of excited child but balanced it well with more mature behavior.
"One of Kat's friends?" Claudia asked catching Raymond's eye for a moment from across the room. He took a quick glance in the direction of the pair on the stairs and then returned his attention to the doctor with him.
"Yes, playmate if you'll believe it." Rachel nodded with fondness to the pair who vanished on the landing above her. "Enough about the Luna Foundation though, I want to hear about you. What have you been doing with yourself."
"A bit of this and that, you know me I never could decide what I wanted to be." Claudia answered appearing suddenly distracted. Before Rachel had a chance to ask about it they were again interrupted.
"Rachel, I'm sorry, but I was hoping to introduce you to a friend of mine." Derek broke in softly. Without waiting for an answer from his colleague he took her arm and lead her off into the thick of the party. Rachel threw Claudia a quick apologetic look but didn't fight against Derek. He paused in the middle of the room, in the center of a mass of people but not facing anyone that he might want her to meet. "Who is your friend?" He kept his voice low so not to draw any attention to himself.
"Claudia Marin and Raymond Fischer, I haven't seen them in years." Rachel answered, giving Derek a curious look wondering what he might be up to.
"You invited them?" He continued.
"Yes Derek I did. They're only in town for a few days and I wanted to catch up." Rachel's voice started to betray a bit of annoyance over what felt like unjustified suspicion. "They're friends Derek, I have known them for years. Please don't start." Rachel pleaded not wanting to get into an argument for the elite of San Francisco to see.
"I'm not starting anything Rachel, I was just curious. If you say you trust them, I'm sure they are fine." Derek defended himself but Rachel could tell he didn't mean it. She knew him well enough by now to know he'd want to run background checks on them even without cause. It was just Derek's nature, even if he always hid behind Legacy policy.
"Derek, I will you tell you about them later, now just isn't the time." Rachel stepped away from him without attempting to hide her annoyance. She found Raymond and Claudia standing by the fireplace in the living room alone whispering to each other. She hoped that her friends did not see the exchange between Derek and herself. She didn't want them to feel uncomfortable in the house when they really were doing her a favor by attending the party with her. She put on her best warm smile and broke into their private conversation. "I hope that wasn't too rude of me."
"He's your boss Rachel, he needed you. This is still work related for you." Claudia jerked around to greet Rachel, looking caught and guilty for only a moment. Rachel paused wondering about that expression but before she had much time to think about it Raymond put an arm over her shoulder and started asking her about her work at the hospital, derailing her thoughts.
Tangye gave one more careful glance over her shoulder before slipping through the door to the pool. She just had to get away from all of the people for a moment and their many questions. She rolled her head back to loosen the tense muscles in her neck and had her attention drawn around the corner where she heard low whisperings. She walked around the stone pillar to find Nick and Gilby both sitting on one of the benches near the edge of the water. "We figured you'd find your way here." Gilby greeted her, both men moving down a bit on the bench to make room for her.
She dropped onto the bench beside Nick who put his arm around her bare shoulders and pulled her close. He let his fingertips gently stroke the smooth skin soothingly. "So many people." Tangye groaned burying her face into Nick's shoulder.
"I thought girl's loved this kind of dress up evening." Nick joked with her kissing the top of her head.
"You have so much to learn about me. Tell him Gilb, what was the one night I always vanished on at camp?" She looked across Nick to the familiar face that was as much a big brother to her as anyone in the world. A bond they were both working hard to rebuild.
"The end of summer dance." Gilby nodded remembering that it was always his job to find her and year after year she somehow managed to convince him not to go back to the party. Not that he ever wanted to, it just wasn't his idea of fun either.
"So boring." Tangye stated as her explanation.
"What about prom? I know you went." Nick said recalling the first picture that he had ever seen of her, the image he had not been able to get out of his mind until he saw her face in person.
"Left early, went and watched planes take off from the observation deck at the airport and then to some sleazy all night diner in my formal." She recalled.
"The airport?" Nick and Gilby asked in unison.
"Don't ask." She shook her head resting back against Nick. Gilby took a moment to look at them, at how comfortable they were together and couldn't keep the pleased smile from his face.
"I think I should get back. There should be at least one representative from the 'we don't want to be here' factor. You two stay here." He let out a deep breath to force himself to stand, patting his legs. He didn't want to go back but he also wanted to allow them some time alone. Plus Alex was still out at the party and he didn't want her to think that he had left on her. Tangye and Nick both nodded at him in support of his task and he wandered back out of the room making sure the hall was clear so no one would go in and discover their hiding place.
Tangye sat back up, leaning her head back to stare up at the ceiling. Nick turned to study the lines of her profile, the taunt muscles of her throat, the distinct line of her jaw, the gentle roundness of her cheeks, even the slope of her nose. "So Boyle how much " She let her head turn to him and was met by his intense stare which took her off guard. "What is it?" She asked worried as to why he would be studying her in such a manner.
"You're really stunning." Nick averted his eyes embarrassed by his statement. She wanted to tell him how much the compliment meant to her but he didn't let her get the words out. "Can I ask you something Tan?" His voice was low and hesitant.
"Sure." She answered sincerely, very interested in what he might want to say.
"When do you think we might, well, get over this " Before he could finish the question she burst out with a short laugh that she quickly gained control over. "What?" Nick asked shocked by the sudden out burst.
"Sorry." She reached up and stroked his cheek fondly with an apologetic smile. "I heard you saying hump and the choice of words just struck me funny."
"Got ya." Nick nodded, laughing slightly himself at the irony.
"What were you going to say?" She bit down on her lip trying to control her smile and appear serious in the face of the question he was going to ask. She already knew what it was but wanted to let him get it out.
"When are we going to get over this hump?" Nick repeated and this time Tangye didn't even try to control her laughter but Nick joined her. "I know bad choice of words, but you knew it was coming."
"Yet still it makes me laugh." She responded then gained her composure. She took a deep breath shedding the last bit of her amusement and thinking of the proper answer. "Well, Nick, I think we're already, like ready. I mean we've come close but every time something distracts us, puts it out of our minds." She explained hoping that made sense to him.
"I never totally forget about it Tan." He admitted without any shame.