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by Patti (email address unknown)
What do you do when the friend you think you know becomes a complete stranger?
Warning! Chapter Six contains material not intended for immature audiences (its a wee bit on the spicy side <g>)
The man, lionine in appearance, tall and slender, with angular features and hair the color of obsidian, sat in his normal corner at Chez Nous. He was elegantly dressed and after taking a last bite of the dish before him, he wiped his mouth delicately, with the air of a connoisseur savoring the meal he had just finished. A waiter stood at his elbow expectantly, waiting for his pronouncement on the food.
He smiled up at the blond standing at his side. "Excellent Christophe. Please convey my compliments to Armand. And now, I'll have my usual, please." His voice was soft, but edged with a steely quality of someone who knows how to get what he wants.
"Tres bien, Mr. Arkadi. First, I'll just relieve you of these..." the waiter picked up the empty plates and strode off purposefully. His customer was not one to brook any delay, and he certainly didn't wish to irritate the man. Christophe deGault knew a will of steel when he saw one, and he also knew that Victor Arkadi had the money to back up his desires. There would be a nice tip in it for him, if he could manage to get through the evening without mishap.
Arkadi sat viewing the other clientele of the five star restaurant with disdain. "Sheep! They come here because they hear food is good. I doubt there's one amongst them with a shred of taste." he thought disgustedly to himself. He had no patience with humankind. In his estimation all men, excepting him of course, were weak. And women...well they were meant to be enjoyed at all costs.
"Like Renee." He smiled at the thought. Here was a man who had no qualms about paying well if the service rendered was worth the price. The dark haired man was determined to summon her when he got home. Just then the waiter arrived back at his side. The young blond looked around surreptitiously. He concealed a bottle of yellowish/green opaque liquid under a napkin. When Arkadi saw the label, he sighed contentedly.
"You've outdone yourself Christophe. However do you manage it?" he asked, then raised a hand as the waiter started to speak. "No, no...I don't think I really want to know. Just pour."
The younger man filled the liqueur glass about three-fourths of the way, glad for the darkness of the surroundings, and the placement of this particular table. He stood up straight while the older man sipped. A fatuous look came over the patron's face as he savored the harsh taste of absinthe.
"Ah...excellent. You may leave the bottle. I'm in the mood to live dangerously tonight." he said, with a wicked gleam in his eye. "Oh, and Christophe. I wouldn't want to find out that you spoke of our little arrangement with anyone else.
The waiter looked horrified. "But NO monsieur! Me, I would never tell a soul."
"Well, just remember that. I believe the Paris police would reward me handsomely if I were to tell them the identity of a man who is responsible for buying banned liqueur on the black market, don't you?" he asked in a threatening tone.
The waiter just shook his head. He knew that Arkadi had the power to remove himself completely from suspicion, and Christophe didn't doubt for a minute the threat would be made real if he so much as breathed a word to a friend. He looked into the dark eyes of his customer, and shivered involuntarily. He could sense that the older man was toying with him. The man was utterly devoid of any feeling...a truly evil person.
Suddenly Arkadi tired of the game. "Leave me!" he said harshly, and the young man rushed away in relief.
He laughed softly at the waiter's retreating back, and sipped the absinthe. He had acquired a taste for the illegal compote shortly after arriving in France. After that debacle in San Francisco.
Victor felt the old fury begin to overtake him again as he thought about Derek Rayne and his friends. He didn't want to start thinking about that episode again...it would just ruin his mood.
At that moment he looked up and saw a young woman stand to leave. He caught his breath in wonder. He felt himself to be a connoisseur of beauty, and although he appreciated the girl's looks, it was her companion who captured his extreme interest. The girl leaned down to say something terse to her escort and stomped out of the restaurant, obviously upset.
Arkadi sat, dumbfounded at first, then with growing excitement. He couldn't believe his eyes. "Impossible! The resemblance is remarkable." he thought. Then as he looked closer he noticed several discrepancies, which seemed to reassure, rather than disturb him.
He laughed as the germ of an idea began to take shape in his fertile mind. "Perfect!" he said aloud softly. As he smiled to himself, he suddenly looked more hawk-like than lionine. Like a hawk, who had just spotted his next meal and is ready to dive in for the kill. He got up and made his way across the room, and soon was engaged in conversation with the subject of his curiosity.
His prey was a young man of indeterminate age. He could appear as young as 25 and as old as 35, but was likely of an age somewhere in the middle. He had thick dark brown hair, short and well trimmed. His eyes were a light blue, under bushy eyebrows. His face was sculpted...like that of a young Greek god. He had high cheekbones and a strong brow. His mouth had a chiseled look to it, and his lips were full and red.
Victor Arkadi sighed deeply with satisfaction. Not perfect, but certainly close to it. Add a birthmark, grow out the hair a little. Even the accent could be refined. Oh yes, he'd found the tool he'd been seeking for longer than he could remember. He smiled to himself. It was a sight that had been known to cast fear into the hearts of even strong men. It radiated complete and utter evil. Arkadi was thrilled. He had found his weapon.
"I wonder if you would consider meeting with me in my home tomorrow, say around 10:00 a.m.? I have a proposition to put to you." he asked the young man, and was gratified to receive an affirmative response before he left for home.
The attractive young priest sat at his desk worrying over the monthly accounts when the phone rang at his elbow, disturbing his concentration. He picked it up automatically. Sydney was always chastising him for performing her function of answering the phone, but he told her it was something he did out of habit. Personally, he felt it was a bit late in the day for him to change his ways. "Hello. St. Patrick's Parish Office. Father Philip Callaghan speakin'." he said into the receiver.
The voice of a young man, filled with amusement answered him from the other end. "Hey there buddy! I was wondering when you were planning on getting here." The statement was immediately followed by a deep chuckle.
The priest shrieked his next few words, then lowered his voice when he remembered where he was. "NICK? Bloody Hell! I'm sorry, I completely forgot...I'm on my way right now...IF ya still wan' me there, tha' is."
Nick laughed again. "Of course I want you here. Why do you think I delayed the start of the game? So I could call you and remind you to get your clerical butt over here! So get a move on will ya? I don't know how much longer I can hold out..."
"Right! I'm there!" Philip said as he hung up the phone. "Sydney!!!" he shouted, frantically pulling out desk drawers, and not finding what he was looking for. A young, attractive brunette stuck her head around the corner of the communicating door to his office.
"They're in the center drawer, behind the roll of tape, next to the vestry keys." she said.
Philip looked up from his rummaging in the top right drawer with a grin. "How d'ya always manage t'do tha'?" he asked, as he opened the center drawer and took out the keys to the parish van.
His assistant looked at him archly and said, "I've worked for you for three years now, Fa...uh...I mean, Philip. I know how your mind works." she said, changing to his Christian name at the cross look he gave her. He'd been trying for over a year to get her to call him "Philip" when they were alone, but she still fell back on her solid Catholic upbringing unless he made a point of reminding her.
"Ha, really?! I don' even know how my mind works, child! I didn'a even remember puttin' 'em in that drawer." he said with a grin.
She picked up his gym bag from the floor next to the couch and held it out to him as she replied, "Vestry...van...you're pretty predictable Father." The smile she gave him took the edge off the words, and she continued, "Oh, and by the way. If you had bothered to mention the soccer game to me, I would have reminded you."
He laughed as he grabbed his gym bag and dashed for the door. "Sorry. I just forgot. I don' know how I'd ever manage t'get anywhere without ya, Syd." and with that he ran out into the hallway.
"FATHER! Don't forget..." she started and stopped abruptly as he stuck his hand around the doorframe for the parking permit card she thrust at him.
Philip was disgusted with himself for forgetting about the soccer game. It was his first with the team, and he knew how important this particular match was to Nick, who had a rival on the other team. When his friend had approached him about joining the team, the young priest had jumped at the chance.
He adored soccer, and was actually an excellent player. He had been the anchor for his high school team, and he'd never given up the sport. In fact, he had actually managed to put together a sort of intramural club within the church organization. Priests and male members from various churches throughout the state participated, and they held a big match every six months. With the popularity of the men's soccer club, Philip actually toyed with the idea of starting a women's club as well. He only hesitated because he wasn't sure that the sisters would welcome the suggestion.
The priest jumped out of the parish van and ran for the field. He had changed clothes while he drove. Not exactly what he was used to, but there was no other choice. While changing his shirt at a stoplight, he'd been the cause of much excitement as a group of teenage girls in another car pulled along side of the van. He had smiled sweetly at their giggles. The handsome young priest had much experience with fascinated young women, and so hadn't given it another thought.
A very colorful group of men were gathered on the field. One half wore red shirts and white shorts. The other half were in yellow shirts and green shorts. Nick looked quite relieved to see his friend coming across the parking lot in his white shorts, red shirt and cleats.
"Okay. He's here! We can get started!" he shouted to the other team, then turned to Philip as he came running over.
"Well, it's about time! What took you so long anyway?" he asked, slightly irritated by the amount of time it had taken the priest to arrive after his hasty phone call.
The young man grinned at his friend. "Ever try drivin' and changin' your pants at th'same time?" he asked as they walked to the center of the field. The ex-SEAL's eyebrows rose and a grin began to spread over his features.
"In this city? Not on your life! No wonder it took you longer than I thought. It's a wonder you got here at all!" he said, jokingly. There was no time for more as the game began.
In Paris, Victor Arkadi sat talking softly with the man called Richard Jaimeson. His astonishment at the resemblance to Philip Callaghan hadn't been lessened in the bright light of day. Quite the contrary, in fact. He had been amazed by the similarity of their coloring, both skin and hair. The young man sitting across from him resembled the priest closely enough that Arkadi began to feel quite gleeful.
He knew there would be no way for Rayne to tell the difference when he was through with his friend. And to top it off, the young man seemed agreeable to the plan he had put forth. Victor had taken the boy's measure the night before, and decided that he was another like himself, who had no real conscience when it came to crimes perpetrated against his fellow man. Men like them lived by an entirely different set of rules.
For the next several hours the two men had talked about strategy, planned where and when to strike, and began on the changes which would need to be made for the plan to work. That evening, Arkadi had his assistant purchase two first class airline tickets to San Francisco on the next available flight.
"So they just sat there giggling and pointing, huh?" Nick asked in amusement.
The two groups of players had retired to a sports bar/pub for drinks after the game. They were all covered in mud and sweat, but seemed to revel in their state. Nick's team had soundly beaten the opposing team. This was due mostly to Philip, who had scored four goals, and stolen the ball six times. The beaten team was gracious and insisted on buying drinks for all. They were on their second round.
The priest's extreme prowess on the field had taken his friend completely by surprise. Nick had known of his friend's penchant for soccer, but even though they had practiced together several times, he had never seen him play like he did today. Obviously, the young priest held himself back during practices. Derek had told him that Philip was good, and that he would do well to get him to join the team, but the thought just never occurred to the ex-SEAL that such a quiet, gentle, and peaceable person could turn into such a tiger on the playing field.
As if reading the other man's thoughts, the muddy young priest said, "It's sorta cathartic, isn't it? I mean, I know tha' it's just a game, but somehow releasin' all tha' energy feels great. Of course, I nearly always have t'go t'confession after a serious match!" and he winked at his teammate and friend.
Nick choked on the mouthful of beer he had just taken, and his friend patted him hard on the back.
Once he had his voice back, the young man said, "Philip, you never cease to amaze me. I had no idea you could be so ruthless."
"Ah, well now...you know I'm not...as a rule. However, when I'm on th'playin' field, I tend t'forget I'm a priest." he responded. "Growin' up in Ireland, I learned t'take my soccer very seriously, ya understand. Also, it was one of the few thin's tha' I was really good at. Well...besides books…and uh…girls, anyway." he finished with a smile.
Nick laughed hard at the expression on his friend's face when he admitted his violent tendencies on the field. He was glad that Derek had convinced him to ask Philip to join the team, and not just because he was a great player, either. The young man felt that they were beginning to recapture some of the camaraderie that they had once shared. He knew that their belonging to the same soccer team would have many rewards.
"C'mon, let's go." the young priest said unexpectedly.
Nick was a little surprised, and very disappointed. He had thought that his friend was feeling the same way he was about spending time together again.
His disappointment was not to last for long, however, as Philip added, "I've got a bottle of Irish Whiskey in ma office. It's from Ireland, and th'brand's th'best I've ever tasted. Michael sent it to me two Christmases ago now." He looked sad at the mention of his beloved brother, but perked back up quickly. "I've been savin' it fer a special occasion, an' now seems t'be a great time. Whatdya say?"
"Sure! Let's go!" he answered, glad to have been correct in his divination of Philip's mood matching his.
The two young men rose, said a hearty farewell to their teammates, and left the pub. When they got to the parking lot, Nick said he'd follow Philip back to the church, so the priest wouldn't be required to bring him back for his car. His friend agreed, and they drove off in separate vehicles. When they got to St. Pat's, Nick got out of his car and looked at his clerical friend. He laughed, and suddenly realized how muddy they both were.
"I don't suppose you'd let me shower and borrow some clothes first, would you?" he asked, chuckling.
The priest looked down at his uniform, caked with drying patches of mud and laughed as well. While their appearance had seemed normal for the pub, they definitely looked like ragamuffins standing in the church parking lot. Philip nodded at his friend in agreement.
"Actually, I think I'll follow suit. If ya don' mind? We can shower, change an' then meet in ma office. Sound good?"
"Uh huh! Real good!" the other young man responded.
Nick was the first to enter the parish offices. Philip had provided him with jeans, a green T-shirt and sneakers (roomy, but not uncomfortable). He and the priest were similar in size, across the board. Now that he had his shower, he felt refreshed. He walked into the office to the sight of a young woman bent over looking for something.
He was so enraptured by the vision that he just stood inside the door, mesmerized, for several moments. Finally, he began to take inventory of her appearance. She was slightly above average height, and had longish dark hair. She was wearing a flowery, bright and quite short spring dress. He caught the faint smell of her perfume, a light and floral fragrance. However, it was her legs that had captured his attention. Long, sleek and beautifully formed. He found himself feeling slightly guilty about the thoughts he was beginning to have.
"Ahem." he said softly, so as not to frighten her.
The girl straightened immediately with a slight gasp. She twirled around and he found himself looking into one of the loveliest faces he could remember. She stuttered that she had dropped the back to one of her earrings, and that she just had to find it before the maid vacuumed the room. He glanced down and saw it right at her toe. He pointed down to her foot, and she followed the line of his finger with her eyes. She laughed as she picked it up. Nick found the sound very appealing, and smiled at her in return.
"Thanks! Oh, by the way, I'm Sydney Halliday." she said, holding out her hand. "Are you looking for Father Philip?"
"Uh…hi. I'm Nick Boyle. And, I'm actually waiting for him. He'll be along in a minute." he replied, reaching for her outstretched hand.
When he had it in his clasp, an instinct caused him to raise it to his lips instead of just shaking it as he normally would. Her eyes widened, and she just stood there trapped by his gaze, like a doe appears hypnotized by headlights. Suddenly, she seemed to realize where they were and she pulled her hand back as if burned. Just at that moment, Philip came in looking very youthful with wet hair, jeans and a white T-shirt.
"Ah, I see you've met m'Sydney." he said to his friend, laughingly.
"…And it's a taffy pullin' contest at St. Peters, not a peter pullin' contest at St. Taffy's!" the dark-haired young man finished in his soft Irish brogue, laughing right along with his friend.
The other young man in the green T-shirt had been laughing uncontrollably for the past few minutes. They had finished Philip's bottle of genuine Irish Whiskey at least an hour before, and the priest had been telling his friend 'clerical' jokes, each one slightly raunchier than the last. Nick in turn had told a few, and the two were well on their way to hysterics.
At the sound of their latest burst of raucous laughter, Sydney popped her head around the connecting door between her office and the parish priest's. She had stayed far later than usual out of some sense of responsibility for her employer, and maybe a bit of interest in his unexpected visitor.
"Uh, gentlemen. I think you need to keep it down a bit. Two of the sisters have passed by several times, and they didn't look too pleased." She smiled at the young men lounging on the couch.
The sight of Father Philip slightly drunk from whiskey and happiness was almost more than she could handle without laughing herself. She'd rarely met anyone more self-contained than the young priest, and to see him with his barriers down was quite endearing. And as for the other occupant of the room. She definitely liked the look of him. He seemed to be on very close terms with her boss, and that was a mark in his favor. However, enough was enough for one day.
"Actually, Mr. Boyle. I think it might be a good idea if you went home. Can I call you a taxi?"
"Why, do I look like one?" he replied and Philip burst out laughing.
"No, but ya do look like…" he looked up at Sydney and said, "oops, mixed company. Here." and he leaned over and whispered in Nick's ear. The other young man immediately cracked up.
"Really Father!" she said, trying to look repressive in the face of their hilarity. "I believe it is time for you both to go to bed. You obviously need to sleep this off."
Nick looked up at her with a suspiciously innocent look and said, "Are you volunteering to tuck me in? I could definitely go for that!"
"Ha! Syd has a great bedside manner. Did I tell you about the time…?" Philip began but was stopped by a squeal from his assistant.
"FATHER! Don't encourage him! Look, you both need rest. I am calling a cab to take Mr. Boyle home, and that's that!" she said sternly.
The young man in the green shirt said, "Nick."
"I beg your pardon?" she responded, since he had obviously addressed her directly.
"I said, it's Nick. NOT Mr. Boyle. Nick. Only old Will Sloan calls me MR. Boyle." He said seriously. Then rose. "I think she's right Philip. I should be getting home, and I'm in no shape to drive. So if it's alright with you, I'll leave the Mustang here and come back for it tomorrow."
"Sure, fine by me. You sure you want t'leave already? I'm feelin' pretty good right now." The priest said to his friend as they walked to the connecting door.
"Uh, yeah. I think I'd better go." Nick said, with an unfathomable look at Sydney, who was dialing the local Taxi Company.
Philip followed his friend's gaze and said, "She's a picture isn't she?"
The other young man turned to look sharply at his friend. Philip just looked at Nick with a smile and said, "I think you oughta ask'er out."
The morning dawned bright and beautiful. Nick awoke with a sense of anticipation that he hadn't felt in quite some time. His head was still a little foggy, but when he remembered that he had to go back to the church to pick up his car, and that he might just get to see her again, he smiled and jumped out of bed. He put on his sweats, T-shirt and running shoes. 15 miles should do the trick.
Finishing his run, he opened the front door and nearly collided with Brendan, who was obviously just leaving. He laughed at the look on the taller man's face, and said, "Don't worry, Derek isn't down yet."
Brendan smirked back at Nick, who he knew through Alex, was aware of the touchy situation. "Thank God. I really don't want to run into him again this morning. He'd know immediately that I never made it home last night. Alex doesn't need that sort of grief from the boss."
Nick just laughed. It had taken him a while, but finally he realized that there was something going on between Derek and Alex. However, it was pretty complicated since she was having a relationship with the handsome young man standing in front of him as well. So far, he thought in amusement, Derek was in the dark about the extent of Alex's relationship with Brendan, but that wouldn't last if he kept spending the night. Then all hell would probably break loose. Derek had a vicious temper sometimes, and if he felt as jealous as Nick thought he would, well….
"Uh, Bren, you better get out of here before he does come down." he said smiling.
Brendan smiled back and clapped him on the shoulder. "Right. See ya Nick." and he headed down the drive at a good pace.
Nick just shook his head and laughed to himself. He really did like that guy. No snooty attitude there, even with his parents being rich as Croesus. He was just plain nice, and he seemed to treat Alex really well. Another point in his favor. She needed a guy who would be good to her. He knew that they tended to overlook her a bit too often, and sometimes he even felt guilty about it.
Then he remembered Sydney, and he bounded up the stairs two at a time. He'd just get a quick shower and then he'd head to the mainland.
The young ex-SEAL got out of the taxi and handed the driver $20. "Keep the change." He said, and the driver looked up in surprise.
"Gee thanks!" he said and drove off.
Nick entered through the back door of the parish offices. He knew his way around the building pretty well by now. He was really good with directions. He walked down the hall and passed several nuns going about their daily duties. They looked at him askance, but said not a word.
Soon he was standing outside Sydney's office door. It was open. As he watched she began furiously scrubbing at a spot on her dress. Then he heard a familiar voice from the other room.
"Ah, here'tis. This should do ya. Just a bit on th'cloth, then rub lightly." He said walking through the connecting door.
Sydney looked up to take the container from Philip and she saw Nick in the doorway. She let out a shocked scream, jumped up and dashed through the connecting door heading for the bathroom in panic.
The priest spun around and started to laugh when he saw who it was. "Well Nick, I think you're losin' your touch, my friend. Now you've got'em runnin' away in fright!"
Nick grinned ruefully. Her reaction was surprising, but when he thought about it, he wasn't disappointed. She obviously was embarrassed at him seeing her in her present state. That fact actually made him feel good, and Philip noticing her behavior was even better.
"Well, it wasn't the reaction I'd hoped for, but it'll do." he said grinning at his friend. "I just came by to get the Mustang. I left the keys here last night and I figured Sydney would have 'em."
"Yeah, I'm sure she does. Somewhere. Fortunately, I've no idea where she might've put'em, so you'll just have t'wait 'til she get's done fussin'." The young priest said grinning as widely as Nick. "Why don'tcha come in an' sit down?" He said gesturing into his office.
The two men went into the priest's office. Philip sat down behind his desk and Nick took the chair in front and to the right.
"Well, I didna ask yesterday, but wha's goin' on out at th'island?" the Irishman asked conversationally.
"Oh. Not much. We've been pretty quiet lately. A family in Sausalito has been having some troubles with an apparition, but that's about it right now. No demons, fairies, vampires or anything. Pretty boring, actually. Oh…uh, Alex had a visitor last night though." He said conspiratorially.
"No! You're kiddin'! With Derek home? Well tha' boy must have nerves o'steel, or the brains God gave a goose, one of the two. Tha's all I can say." the priest said amusedly shaking his head.
Nick laughed out loud. "You got that right. Actually, it seemed accidental. Wonder if they just got a little carried away…you know what I mean? You know Philip, I really like him, and what's more, I think he's been really good for Alex."
Before his friend could respond, Sydney walked in. She still had the stain on her dress, but she had calmed down. She was carrying his car keys.
"I think these are what you came for." she said self-consciously holding them out to him.
Philip excused himself on the grounds that he had to check something in the Church, and left the two alone. Nick recognized the ploy and felt like applauding. The young woman standing in front of him must have seen through her boss's excuse too, because she blushed bright pink.
"Actually, that's only one of the reasons I came over here today." He said suggestively as his fingers touched hers when he took the keys.
He wanted to see how she would react, and he wasn't disappointed. She read him correctly and her eyes got large. She turned a shade pinker, and she looked away from him. He was enchanted.
"I was wondering if you'd consider having lunch…uh, with me that is." He asked. He wasn't sure he had been planning on asking her out so soon, but the impulse took him and he wasn't sorry.
"Lunch? Today?" she asked, sounding like he'd asked her to sleep with him. "Oh, I don't know. Father Philip…"
"Won't mind in the least, I'm sure." He interrupted. "Actually, it was his idea." he said, and mentally asked Philip's forgiveness for using him in this way.
"He did…uh, I mean, it was?" she asked, shocked.
"Yeah. So how about it? I know this great place over near the Presidio that's famous for the number of different sandwiches on the menu. Over a hundred, I think. Maybe more."
"Well…..I suppose there's nothing…uh…well, it's just lunch right?" she asked him as if trying to convince herself.
"Just lunch." He responded, feeling quite amused now.
"Um, well all right. I just need to go let Father Philip know I'll be gone." And she walked out of the room, leaving him smiling to himself. Soon she came back in with a dazed look on her face.
"What happened?" he asked, curious. She just shook her head and told him she'd tell him when they got to the restaurant. Right now, she said, she was quite hungry.
"I can't get over it. He told me to take the rest of the afternoon, if I wanted to." And Nick laughed at the perplexity on her face.
"Sydney, there's something I think you should understand. Philip has been secretly hoping, I think, that I'd…uh…start dating again." He said, wondering even as he spoke the words why he was going to tell her about Julia.
"Why?" she asked, suspecting something bad, but curious still.
"Well, nearly two years ago, I…we…lost a friend. She and I were very close. In fact, I loved her, and Philip knew it. We both blamed ourselves…and each other…but truly, no one was at fault. It was just a stupid accident, and we couldn't have prevented it. Since then, I really haven't dated at all. I've met several women, but they weren't…uh…well, things didn't work out." he explained over their sandwiches.
The young woman across the table smiled at him in understandingly. They went on to talk about many other subjects, and found that they had a lot in common. Not superficially perhaps, but deep down their hopes and dreams were very similar. She was an innocent and he a young man of the world, but instead of being a stumbling block to their enjoyment in each other's company, it actually seemed to enhance it.
When they got back to the parish, Nick asked to see her again, and this time she readily accepted his invitation.
The two men sitting in the nondescript car across from the church, were in complete agreement that they had no idea priests could be such busy men. They had been shadowing Philip's every move for six weeks now, and were astonished at the number of committees and boards he chaired, as well as all the other activities which he participated in.
There were the Marriage Preparation Classes, the Baptismal Catechesis, the Baptisms and Marriages themselves, Parish Council every second Tuesday, not to mention all the societies. It seemed to the two impatient men that every saint ever canonized had their own society, and that Father Philip Callaghan was involved in each in some way. There were visits to the sick and infirm, and the spiritual counseling. And finally there was the soccer. He appeared at least twice a week on the field with the boys from the high school to play a wild game of soccer.
In the meantime, Jaimeson had undergone cosmetic surgery to add, rather than remove, a birthmark on his left cheek next to his nose. His hair was beginning to grow out. He'd also had some minor dental work to simulate the priest's smile. Daily, he looked more like the priest he was going to impersonate. During the day the two men followed their quarry's every move, stealthily. At night, they worked on speech, attitude, mannerisms, and personal history.
The villain had his spies researching every aspect of Philip's life, and they had bugged his office. He had also charged them with obtaining recent copies of the island blueprints, to include the newly installed super security system. He didn't want another repeat of last time's unfortunate turn of the tables. He still ground his teeth when he remembered Derek Rayne and Nick Boyle waltzing into his house and confronting him about that bloody demon.
"I say we pack it in for the day." said the young man.
Arkadi sighed. His young apprentice was a very impatient man, and he worried that this would lead to problems. However, he relented this time. "Yes. All right, let's go home. However, I will expect you to work twice as hard tonight on your mannerisms and speech." he said sternly.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah." His accomplice responded, sarcastically as they sped away. That evening was going to turn out just as disappointing to the older man.
"No...NO! Not like that. He's not effeminate! Just gentle and soft spoken." the older man said sharply. They had been practicing for weeks and he couldn't believe how difficult this one aspect of the priest's personality had become for his young friend to assimilate. Jaimeson had had no problem picking up every other character trait. His demeanor was perfect, but his speech...it was deplorable.
Arkadi sighed with dissatisfaction. "Try again." he said.
The young man glared at his mentor, sighed and began his catechism again, "My name is Father Philip Joseph Callaghan. I was born in Belfast, Ireland on September 29th, 1965. My mother's name was Kathleen…"
Nick and Sydney continued to see each other at least three times a week, and when they weren't out together of an evening, they were normally on the phone talking about anything, everything and nothing at all. The two were practically inseparable, and Philip was elated that they seemed to get along so well. His only qualm was that his assistant was naïve, such an innocent, and Nick…well he was just Nick.
However, he noticed that his handsome young friend was quite gentle and caring with Sydney. Soon the priest decided to just relax and let nature take its course.
One afternoon, while transcribing some Latin texts that Sister Teresa wanted to use in her classroom, he was called by Derek. Their house had received an ancient Greek document from the Milan house, and he needed the priest's assistance in transcribing it. Philip was quite excited and told the precept that he had a meeting that night, but that he'd be happy to come to the House the following evening. The older man was thrilled that his friend could get away so soon, and so they made plans for the next night.
Unbeknownst to the young priest, his conversation had been overheard by Arkadi and Jaimeson, who decided that this would be the perfect opportunity to put phase one of their plan into action. Divide and conquor.
"Well, my friend. I don't know what we would do without you." The older of the two men climbing the stairs tiredly said with a smile and clapped the younger on the shoulder.
"Oh, tha' was th'best thin' tha's happened t'me in weeks! Thanks Derek!" Philip said with a grin. "You know how much I love decipherin' those old papers. And Ancient Greek! What a challenge!"
"Well, you had better get some sleep…we both should. I don't know about you, but I'm exhausted." the precept said, yawning.
His friend was still on a natural high, and denied being tired, but even he couldn't hide his yawn as he walked down the hall to his room. He knew that he'd be late for Mass the next morning, and was glad that he'd had the foresight to warn Sydney of the possibility, who would in turn notify his assistant priest that he'd be needed in the Church at 7:00am.
Nick awoke sharply and rolled over. He looked up to see his friend at the foot of the bed, one of his own Smith & Wesson .38 pistols clasped tightly in the priest's hand, and pointed directly at his heart.
"PHILIP! What are you doing?" Nick shouted, angry. Then again, more softly, in growing concern when he got no reply. He tried to sit up, but the hand holding the gun jerked at him to stay down.
The ex-SEAL could tell by the look in his friend's eye that he meant business. "Not Philip." he thought, confused and then somewhere in his subconsciousness another thought began to grow. "There's something definitely wrong with this picture."
He couldn't put his finger on anything specific, but he knew that something was amiss about the whole scene. This couldn't be happening. Then he noticed the priest's finger squeezing the trigger, and he became really scared for the first time. He thought he had better keep talking to him. Hopefully, his shout hadn't gone unnoticed by the others.
"For God's sake, put the gun down. What's gotten into you? You know you hate..." but he never got any farther, as the gunshot echoed around the room. Nick rolled sideways off the bed to avoid the second blast, and felt the scorching heat in his shoulder that told him he'd been hit.
He lost consciousness wondering what could have so possessed his peaceful, religious friend to do such a terrible thing.
Rachel was the first to arrive on the scene and she screamed and froze when she saw Nick passed out on the floor, bleeding from a gaping wound in his left shoulder. Soon Derek rushed in and knelt down beside the boy, so pale on the floor. He felt his neck and looked up at Rachel who stood by, trembling from head to toe in shock.
"Rachel! I need you to examine the wound!" he shouted at her, in an attempt to bring her to her senses. Obviously the sight of the young man she had become so attached to, lying prone on the floor, had been too much for her.
At that moment, Philip, followed by Alex ran into the room full tilt and came to a complete stop at the sight of his friend on the floor covered in his own blood. He had stopped so suddenly that the tall young woman careened into him before she had a chance to slow down. They both went down, sprawled on the floor, scrambling to maintain a little of their dignity.
When she had regained her feet, Alex moved to Rachel. As the only board-certified doctor on the premises, they needed her opinion, but she couldn't have been more distraught if it had been Kat who had been injured. The younger woman grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her hard several times.
"Rachel! Get a grip! We need you...Nick needs you!" she said. Finally, the doctor began to exhibit signs of recognition.
"Alex?" she asked. Then she looked down and cried out. Rachel dropped to her knees and crawled over to where Nick lay. Precious seconds had been lost.
"Oh Nick!" she cried softly and did a hurried, but complete superficial examination. By the time she had completed the exam, she seemed to be in control once again.
"He's alive, but his pulse is weak...thready...and his breathing is very shallow. I don't like it Derek. He's lost a lot of blood. We could lose him if I don't get him hospitalized immediately." she said, worriedly looking up at their leader.
The precept looked at Alex, who said, "Right! I'll go get Dominick to help us get him into the chopper, and then I'll call the hospital and let them know you're on your way."
Derek nodded and said as an afterthought, "Alex, be careful! Whoever did this may still be on the premises."
The beautiful dark skinned woman looked him in the eye and read the concern there. She nodded and smiled at him. "Don't worry about Me." she said and dashed out of the room.
Philip started to follow her, when Nick began to groan. His eyes fluttered open, and they held a vague wary look in them.
"Philip." he whispered. No one could hear him. His voice was so weak.
"Shhhhhh. Nick, don't try to talk. You're too weak. Just hang on, dear." Rachel said, but he grabbed her hand with a strength that surprised her.
"Philip." he said, more strongly this time. The two-syllable word was slurred, but completely recognizable.
"I'm here Nick." the priest answered, and started to lean down, but the injured man's reaction was so violent that he straightened up immediately, as if slapped in the face.
Nick's voice was raspy, but there was no mistaking the accusatory air of his words. "You son of a bitch! Why'd you do it?...why?........why?" his voice faded out as he drifted back into unconsciousness.
They were all horrified by the implications of what Nick had said. Derek looked at the handsome young priest with deep concern.
"What did he mean, Philip?" he asked, knowing instinctively what his young friend's answer would be. He had felt the atmosphere of danger for quite some time, but not knowing from what direction it was coming, he had kept his own counsel.
"I've no idea! How could I?" he said, then added, "I mean, he actually seemed t'think I was somehow responsible, didn' he?" The young priest was obviously distressed over the accusation that he'd had anything to do with his friend's injury.
Once at the hospital, the doctors wheeled Nick immediately into surgery to remove the bullet in his shoulder. The other four could do nothing but wait. Each was consumed with worry. Not over their friend's prognosis, the doctor had told them he would be just fine, but the accusation he had made against Philip.
When the police had questioned Derek, he had purposefully omitted that little gem. He wasn't about to expose one of his own to that kind of publicity without talking to Nick first. The precept had instructed each of them to remain silent on the subject as well.
As a priest, Philip disliked subterfuge of any kind, but under the circumstances he agreed with the older man's dictate. He knew he hadn't been anywhere near Nick's room that night until they all came filing in, but he also was aware that there would be no way for him to prove that fact. He sat in a chair in the corner deep in thought and chewing on the tip of his thumb, a habit he'd retained from childhood.
Before they could worry themselves sick, the doctor, Ryan Graham, came to tell them that Nick had made it through the surgery with flying colors. The bullet hadn't even hit any major muscle in his shoulder, a near miracle. He told them that they would be able to see their friend in about 1/2 hour.
Derek looked pensive and Alex asked him what he was thinking. "Oh, I was just wondering how someone as unaccustomed to shooting a gun as a priest, especially this particular priest, could manage to hit Nick without really damaging him." he said quietly to her.
Alex, though out of the room when Nick regained consciousness momentarily, had been told the details. She nodded at him. "I see what you mean. There's no way Philip could have pulled that trigger, unless he were somehow possessed or something, and that doesn't appear to be the case."
Derek sighed. "Of course, we'll never be able to convince Nick, of that. He obviously thinks he saw Philip…either by design or by some other means." But before Alex could ask him what he meant, they were distracted.
"Where is he?!" a young female voice echoed down the hall, filled with tears. Philip had called Sydney to tell her Nick had been shot. He got up from his chair and rushed over to her.
"He's alright. They've removed th'bullet, and th'doctor says tha' it missed ever'thin'. He's in ICU right now. They'll let us know when we can go in." the priest said to her comfortingly. He put his arm around her shoulders and led her to his recently vacated chair.
Derek, Alex and Rachel just looked at each other with questions in their eyes. Finally the precept motioned to Philip to come to him. The priest leaned down and said something comforting to the girl, and walked over to where the three stood huddled together.
"Who is that girl?" the older man asked the younger bluntly.
"Sydney Halliday. She an' Nick are friends. She's my personal assistant a'the parish. I called her because I knew Nick wouldna want her t'find out from watchin' TV or somethin'."
Derek opened his mouth to rip into Philip about involving an outsider when the doctor came to the doorway of the waiting room and asked if any of them had the phone number for a Sydney. The young woman got up from her chair, wiped her cheeks and walked over to the doctor.
"I'm Sydney." she said.
"Ah, good. Someone already notified you then?" he was nodding his head in approval. "Mr. Boyle has been adamant about us contacting you. I'm glad to see that someone here knew he would have such a request."
The irony was not lost on four of the six individuals present. Derek was harshly amused that the man who had been accused of shooting their friend was also the one who apparently knew him best. Alex and Philip were both smiling grimly, obviously thinking the same thing. Rachel still seemed angry, but not at Philip.
"Can we see him now doctor?" the precept asked.
Doctor Graham smiled acidly and replied, "Yes. He's been clamoring for you for the past 15 minutes. There's something he apparently wants desperately to talk to you about. He's asked that ALL of you be allowed to see him at once. I don't have to tell you that I strongly disapprove, but since it seems he will not rest until he's seen you, please do. And make it short. The young man has lost an inordinate amount of blood. He needs plenty of rest."
They all nodded silently, and followed him down the hall to Nick's room.
"What the Hell do you mean, Philip did it?!" an angry female voice asked in shock. "He'd never do such a thing!"
"Hush Sydney." Philip's soft lilt stopped her before she really tore into her boyfriend. "If Nick says he saw me, then I'm inclined t'think tha' maybe he did. However, I wan' all o'ya t'know tha' I didna do it. It might have looked like me, but it wasn't!" the young man said desperately.
"Of course it wasn't! How ridiculous!" Sydney said still angry with the man in the bed, despite his pathetic appearance and her partiality for him.
"Miss…Halliday was it? If you would be so kind as to remain silent, perhaps we can get to the bottom of this." Derek said, acerbically.
"Derek! Don't speak to her like that. She's right to stand up for Philip. I don't see him as capable of doing this, and I know you don't either, so don't get high and mighty with us." Alex said to him, taking the bull by the horns.
They were all on edge, starting to turn on one another. Suddenly Rachel spoke out.
"Okay. This has got to stop. We can't chew on each other over this. Philip, what were you doing at the house tonight?" she asked rationally, and far from accusing.
"Well, I had some translatin' t'do for Derek, and it got late, so I stayed th'night." He replied, thinking through his actions of the evening carefully.
"All right. Did you mention to anyone where you were going this evening? Anyone who might have realized that you would probably stay over night?" she probed further.
"Uh, no. Only Syd, but she already knew I was gonna go. I just reminded her tha' if I was late tomorra…I mean today…tha's where I'd be." He said looking at his assistant for confirmation, which she readily gave.
The doctor sighed. "How about what you were doing when Nick was shot?" and she ignored Nick's snorted "He was doing the shooting" comment.
Philip just shook his head. "I was sound asleep like th'rest o'ya." He sighed deeply in frustration.
"Well, either you have a doppelganger, or you must have shot Nick and are repressing the memory for some reason. It could be chemical, emotional, or even…I don't know…" the doctor looked warily at the only non-initiated individual in the room, then decided to say what was on her mind. "…maybe you were possessed, Philip."
Sydney laughed out loud at the thought. The rest of the occupants of the room didn't even smile, and she looked at each one in turn. "You're serious aren't you? You really think that Father Philip could have been possessed…by demons? But…I…he was consecrated when he was ordained! It's not possible…is it?" she asked incredulous.
"Syd, tis a possible explanation. There are some powerful demons loose in th'world. Ones, which would have no problem possessin' a tortured soul like mine." he answered her smiling as he finished. "It would account for quite a bit. However, there's only one wee problem." He finished, serious again.
They all waited for him to tell them what the 'wee' problem was. He looked at them and said, "I don' think tha's it."
Nick had been glaring at Philip ever since they came into the room. He just couldn't get the image of his friend pointing that gun at him out of his mind. Suddenly, he spoke and his tone was accusatory.
"Where's the gun?" he looked directly into the priest's eyes, a deadly look.
"I DON' KNOW! Nick, I'm tellin' ya! I didna do it!" he was getting frustrated at his injured friend's inability to look at the matter from his perspective.
Sydney moved to stand between Nick and Philip, as if shielding the latter from the former's gaze. She looked almost like a mother lion protecting her cub. She stood poised to strike back if Nick so much as opened his mouth to speak to the young priest again.
"This has gone on long enough. If you are going to accuse Father Philip officially, then do it, so I can alert the diocese legal staff. Otherwise, we're leaving." she said through clenched teeth.
Philip had never seen his assistant so angry. He wondered if it was on his account or if it was because Nick was disappointing her immensely. It was probably a combination of the two. She had come here expecting to comfort her boyfriend in his pain, and found herself fighting that same young man on his behalf.
Derek had to admire the young woman's courage in facing Nick down. He liked her in spite of the fact that he felt her presence was an invasion of sorts. Alex and Rachel just stood by and smiled at her.
Finally Derek spoke. "Well, this is really getting us no where. I think we should all go home and get some rest. For the present we will speak of this to no one. NO ONE!" he repeated to Nick who appeared ready to contradict him. "Your eye witness testimony would never hold up under scrutiny Nick, and you know it. It was dark, you were awakened from deep sleep and you thought you saw someone who looked like Philip in your room. Not convincing even in my book, my friend."
"However," he continued, "We cannot discount the possibility that our young friend here was influenced by something, and simply doesn't remember committing the act, either."
It was obvious from his demeanor which explanation suited Nick. He was angry. Angrier at Philip than he could ever remember being. Even angrier than when Julia had died. Then he looked at Sydney and felt a twinge of guilt. Her belief in the priest's innocence was unconditional. "Why can't I feel like that?" he wondered to himself, suddenly depressed.
Looking at his friend the priest thought, "He'll not be acceptin' my story for a long time yet. But he'll accept it in th'end."
The priest's thoughts were disrupted by Derek's voice. "We'll all meet in the conference room at 2:00pm this afternoon. Perhaps rest will help bring things into focus."
They all filed out of Nick's room and went home. None of them slept.
Several weeks had passed since Nick had been allowed to return home. The police had exhausted their leads (not difficult, since Derek had forbidden anyone to mention Philip's possible involvement), and their investigation had petered out.
The five members of the House had been working exhaustively to try to find a rational explanation which would support the priest's assertion that he had been no where near his friend's room that night until they all gathered after Nick was hurt. However, they'd had as little luck with their line of enquiry as the police had with theirs.
Nick was becoming increasingly angry. Angry with Philip for putting them, in his view, in this mess. Angry with Derek for wasting their time trying to prove something that he felt could never be proved because it wasn't true. Angry with Alex and Rachel for not seeing his side of the situation. He couldn't even stand to be in the same room with the priest anymore. He was afraid that if something didn't happen soon, he would wind up planting his fist in the other young man's face.
He could almost understand Alex's desire to believe Philip. It went right along with Sydney's desire to protect her priest, friend and mentor. He knew that since Julia's death, Alex and Philip had become increasingly close, and that she considered their clerical colleague her closest friend, confiding in him things that she told no one else.
However, the fact that Rachel didn't even seem to think Philip guilty, when he had seen him with his own eyes, really rankled.
Finally, he had decided that he'd had enough. He went in search of Derek and found him in his office. Nick entered the room, allowing the doors to close behind him, then locked them.
The precept's eyebrows rose at the unprecedented action on his angry young friend's part, and dreaded the conversation he knew they were about to have.
"Derek, you're gonna have to choose. I can't stay here anymore with him in the house. He goes, or I do. It's that simple." The young man said without preamble.
Derek's heart was heavy with the task at hand. He searched the house for his clerical colleague and closest friend. He finally ran him to earth in the Library with Alex, looking over a stack of manuscripts on out of body experiences. Alex had recalled the situation with Terrance Quartermain, and how she had thought at one point that she might have been astroprojecting herself on a murder spree. She wondered if something similar might have happened to Philip and so the two were deep in their research.
"Philip? May I have a word with you please?" the precept asked, and motioned for Philip to accompany him to his office.
The young priest knew what was coming. He had noticed for several days that Nick could no longer stand to be around him. The ex-SEAL had lost his trust in his friend and colleague utterly, and that was something Nick could not handle. Philip decided to leave voluntarily.
Once they were inside the precept's office, Philip spoke. "Derek, I think I need t'go back t'ma parish. Nick is havin' a real difficult time bein' around me, and I understand why. You don' mind, do ya?"
The older man's heart cried out that someone so caring of others could never in a million years commit such a heinous act. It pained him that Philip had to go, but he was glad that his friend had volunteered. He didn't know if he could have actually gone through with asking him to leave the House.
Aloud he simply said, "Philip, you know that I want to see you vindicated. However, I think you are right about leaving. You will continue to see Rachel regularly, won't you?"
"O'course I will. She seems t'be my only hope at this point." The younger man said despondently.
"What the Hell?" Nick cried as the garage door was thrown open. He straightened quickly to see who had disturbed his work on his cherished '65 Mustang. His head came into contact with the hood so sharply that it drew blood. "Oomph. OUCH! Goddamn it!!!"
He looked over to the doorway angrily, ready to tear a strip off who ever had caused him to hit his head, and froze. It was Sydney, and she looked really pissed.
"Uh…Sydney! Hi! It's...uh…what are you doing here?" he asked, finally. He knew what had brought her to see him, and the ex-SEAL was dreading the discussion more than he could remember dreading anything in a long time. He knew that initiating the exchange would go a long way toward diffusing the situation.
The young woman stood just inside the doorway and her eyes got even bigger at his question.
"WHAT AM I DOING HERE??? You have the nerve to ask me that as if you don't know? Nicholas Patrick Boyle, I'm...well, I'm just at a loss for words." she finished, looking deflated, like a balloon which has lost some of it's air. She stood there for several moments shaking her head and blinking back tears. She had missed him dreadfully, but she was angrier with him than she could even believe.
He began to walk toward her. It had been several weeks since he had seen her, and he was beginning to realize how much he had missed her presence. However, for every step he took toward her, she took one away from him. Finally he stopped.
"What?!" he asked, in exasperation.
"How could you?" she asked him in return, putting all her anger into those three words, then she went on. "You're one of the best friends he's got, and you just turn your back on him! Accuse him of attempted murder, with no proof?! You don't even seem to have listened to his side of the story! And now, when he needs all of you the most, for some selfish reason you have thrown him out of this house!"
"PROOF??? You want proof??? I SAW HIM PULL THE TRIGGER! I can't stand to be around him right now! And we didn't throw him out, he LEFT!!!" he cried, angry with Philip all over again, this time for coming between him and the girl he was beginning to love.
Her eyes widened, and took on a hurt look that said, "You should know better! You, of all people should KNOW he'd never do such a thing!" He turned away from her accusing stare. He knew how she felt. He really did feel the guilt she had implied he should feel, but part of him also felt justified in treating his friend the way he had.
Finally he spoke. "Dammit Syd, what do you want from me!? I can't help how I feel about it. You think I like the idea of Philip shooting me? I only know what I saw, and what I saw was him with a gun. He shot me. I can't explain why, but that's what happened. Believe me, for weeks I've tried to find another rational explanation, but there ISN'T one!"
"But Nick, darling, he says he never took your gun, and certainly never shot you! How can you explain his denial of the events? You know that Father Philip would never lie about it! And where's the weapon?" she said, becoming vehement in her support of her employer, mentor and friend.
"I DON'T KNOW!" he shouted. The more she argued for Philip, the more jealous Nick got. He just couldn't see reason for the green-eyed beast within his soul was taking control. He kept seeing her as she was in the hospital. An avenging angel, fighting them all on Philip's behalf.
Finally, he couldn't keep it in any longer, and so he said, "Maybe he just wanted me out of the way so he could get to you!" He regretted the words as soon as they left his lips. She gasped in shock and the look of disgust that came over her face was frightening. Disgust of him.
"WHAT?! Nicholas Boyle! Father Philip would NEVER...Jesus, Mary and Joseph! I don't believe you could even voice an opinion like that! I thought I knew you Nick, now I...well...I just don't think I know you at all!" she cried and ran out of the garage with him on her heels.
"Syd! Wait!!! SYDNEY, PLEASE! I'm sorry! Stop!" he cried, running after her.
She was so blinded by her tears that she didn't see the root of the tree in the road before her. She tripped and went tumbling down a grassy knoll. Nick was beside her, pulling her into his arms before she stopped rolling and she began to struggle as he felt for broken bones. He winced in pain at the heat in his injured shoulder, then ignored it. His grief over the pain he had caused her gave him something else to concentrate on.
"Arrgh...you...leave me...hrmph...alone! Let...GO!" she cried through her tears. She was like a small tiger in his arms, but he wouldn't relinquish his hold. He just held her, rocking back and forth, whispering softly in her ear.
"Syd, I'm soooo sorry. I never really meant it. Please believe me. I know that Philip would never do such a thing, I just don't know what came over me. Please honey, please forgive me for saying what I did." he chanted softly.
Then as her struggles and tears began to subside, he kissed her. It was the first time he had ever kissed her. A soft kiss...meant to inspire her trust. However, the weeks had taken their toll on the two young people and, soon it became much more. Their previous abstinence only made the kiss sweeter. Her arms snaked up around his neck and she pulled him closer. Suddenly, he gasped in pain.
"Oh Nick! I'm sorry!" she cried remorsefully, looking at his shoulder.
He grinned down at her and pulled her back into his arms, favoring his left side. He began to lay a trail of kisses along her neck and jaw line, and was rewarded by the feel of her shiver in his arms. He leaned back enough to look down into her face, and he knew he was lost.
She looked up at him, bewildered by his expression. There was a look of such sweetness on his face, she suddenly felt like crying again. Instead, she took the initiative and kissed his lips tentatively. Nick knew instinctively that she was untried, and so he let her continue at her own pace for a while. She kissed his lips, his neck, his hair, and then returned to his lips. Soon her arms had crept around his neck, more gently this time, and her fingers stroked the hair on the nape of his neck.
Nick groaned in physical pain, and this time the pain wasn't in his shoulder. He pressed her back into the grass on which they sat, lying across her with one of his legs between hers. He ran his hands over her softly, seductively. Sydney moaned and trembled again, this time with more force. She looked up at him with fear and desire mixed in her eyes. The young ex-SEAL knew she was far from ready for a physical relationship with him, however, he couldn't help but revel in the feel of her beneath him.
"Oh Man! This is torture!" Nick thought to himself, ruefully. With extreme reluctance, he rose and brought her into a standing position in front of him.
"Why'd you stop?" she asked, shyly.
"Syd, you know how much I want this to happen, but I know you're not really ready. I don't want you to regret anything about us, and so I think you should go home, now." He replied softly, his words tinged with sorrow.
She looked up at him with such a look of surprise that he laughed aloud. "You're sending me home…now? After…uh…that?" she asked in shock.
"Especially after that!" he said, still laughing, then grew serious. "Like I said, I want you, but no regrets. I can wait."
"And what if I can't?" she asked, surprising him with the intensity of her gaze.
"Uh, Sydney. I don't think you know…I mean…I just can't continue to play here in the grass like we were. It's too much to ask. I think you should go…that is…unless you plan to finish what you start." and he started to pull her into his arms again.
As he suspected she would, she balked. He knew that she had enjoyed their closeness, but he sensed that anything more than the heavy petting they had been doing would freak her out, and he didn't want her frightened when he made love to her for the first time. He would just bide his time, and be ready when the time was right. For now, he felt good.
"One cold shower, and I'll be just fine!" he thought, ruefully.
Aloud he said, "Well, I'll walk you back to the ferry, okay?"
She just nodded, suddenly shy at the thought of what she had done to him. If he had felt half as wild as she had, she thought he must have reserves of patience unmatched by anyone she knew. He took her hand and they walked in silence, each engrossed in their own thoughts, down the path to the ferry.
Sydney was slightly horrified at her behavior. She was afraid that Father Philip would be disappointed in her, but she could no more help herself than she could stop breathing. The thought of the undisclosed pleasures to which Nick promised to introduce her was almost her undoing.
She came very close to asking him to finish what they'd started right then, but she stopped. Maybe he was right. What if he agreed, and then she felt too guilty? She'd never want to see him again, and that was what he was trying to avoid. The young woman felt instinctively that he cared for her more deeply than she had previously realized. It was a very heady feeling.
When they reached the dock, he leaned down and kissed her longingly on the lips. She realized what a will of steel it took for him to turn away from her and walk back to the house. She nearly ran after him, but in the end she simply boarded the ferry. All the way back to the city, she dreamed of the day when he would take her in his arms again and next time, she assured herself, she wouldn't let him go.
The young priest had been attempting to fill his days with work so that he would have no time to reflect on the situation in which he found himself.
He and Rachel had been working on trying to reconstruct the events of that night, to get to the answer. However, so far they had hit nothing but brick walls. Rachel's assessment of the situation was that he had gone into a fugue state where he was unaware of what he was doing, and in that condition had shot Nick. It seemed the only reasonable explanation, but it still dissatified both the priest and psychiatrist. They had agreed to continue with the sessions and to try hypnosis.
Philip was less than happy with the prospect of being hypnotized, and he wasn't sure why. He only knew that he didn't like the idea of Rachel getting inside his head while he was unable to control his reactions. "Ah well, she's only tryin' t'help" he thought, and sighed.
"Father?" a soft feminine voice spoke behind him, but he was so engrossed in his own thoughts that he didn't hear his assistant's voice.
A hand touched his sleeve and he jumped. She said, "Philip? Oh, I'm sorry to have startled you. I called from the door, but you didn't appear to hear me. I'm leaving now. Is there anything else that you need?" Then she followed up her query with, "Are you alright?"
Philip turned to her and attempted a bright smile, but it fell short. He just looked young and vulnerable. "Ah, child. I'm fine. You go ahead. Seein' Nick tonight?" he asked the last question almost stiltedly with pain in his eyes.
"Uh, yes. Look Philip, he's really sorry about his treatment of you. I know he is." She said concerned for the man before her. "He doesn't really believe you'd do it, but the evidence of his eyes can't let him dismiss the possibility. Give him time Father. He'll come around. I know it."
The young priest then did something very rare. He reached out and pulled the girl into his arms and hugged her tightly. She squeezed him back for all she was worth. It pained her to see him so distraught. Father Philip was one of the sweetest, kindest, and gentlest men she had ever known, and she felt protective of him as she would her own brother.
"Thanks Sydney. You've no idea how good it feels t'know tha' somebody believes me." He said, his voice raw with emotion.
They parted and said goodnight. The young woman got into her car thinking, "We have to figure out what happened. Father Philip can't continue to go on this way. It's tearing him up that his friends think him capable of such a violent act."
She didn't see the young man waiting in the shadows of the parish office building. When she had disappeared from sight, the man quietly let himself in. He padded down the hall like a panther stalking its prey. He stopped outside the priest's office and watched for several seconds to ensure he had been undetected.
Left alone again, Philip had turned back to the files. He didn't sense the danger until it was upon him. Even then it was only the scent of chloroform that alerted him. However, by the time he smelled it, it was too late. The cloth was over his mouth before he could even cry out.
As upset as she was over the situation Father Philip was in, Sydney couldn't help but be excited by the prospect of a night on the town with Nick. She had a 'feeling' about tonight, and so she was extra careful of her appearance.
He had told her he was taking her to a very exclusive restaurant, and then they might go dancing, or for a romantic drive in the mountains. The young woman looking back from the mirror appeared as excited as Sydney felt inside. Ever since that day on the island earlier in the week, she had been feeling this fluttering inside. She loved him, of that she was now certain. The fact that he had pushed her away for her own sake spoke of the love he had for her. Rough and ready, Nick Boyle might be, but she knew he was capable of exquisite tenderness, and the thought filled her with warmth.
When he picked her up in the cherry red Mustang, she could tell by his demeanor that he felt the same way she did. He got out of the car and started toward her house, when she stepped out onto the porch. He stopped and watched her walk towards him. She thought he looked very handsome in his leather blazer, shirt and tie, and neatly pressed black jeans. "I wonder if tonight will be 'the' night?" she thought to herself.
She wore a salmon colored dress, made of the softest material Nick had ever seen. It flowed around her body like water. The sight of her walking towards the car mesmerized him. She had reached his side without either of them speaking a word. He had sworn to himself to let her dictate the pace of their relationship, but looking at her standing next to him, he felt an overwhelming desire to kiss her.
He opened the car door, but when she moved to get inside, he reached out and pulled her to him. She looked at him in surprise as his lips descended to hers. She closed her eyes and allowed herself to feel every sensation running through her body. All her attention was focused on the contact between them. When his tongue entered her mouth, she felt like her blood had ignited and she was starting to melt. She moaned. Her body burned everywhere that he touched, and when he ended the kiss and stepped back, she felt chilled. He took her hand and assisted her into the car, then closed the door with a snap.
"Oh yes. Tonight is going to be very special!" he thought. Nick knew that if things progressed like they had started, the night was bound to end on a passionate note. He noticed that she didn't seem shy or frightened when he had kissed her just now, which had led him to be a bit more aggressive than he had intended. Maybe the time he had given her had done the trick. "We'll just have to see." He said softly to himself as he opened his door and got behind the wheel.
The priest's eyes fluttered open and he attempted to focus, but was completely unsuccessful. He felt rather than saw the two men standing before him. All he could make out were two blobs of color. One bright and cheerful looking, crimson and brown. The other was dark, all black, with patches of beige where the face and arms would be.
"Where am I, and wha' am I doin' here? " the handsome young Irishman asked groggily.
His eyes began to function a bit more clearly. He looked down and noticed that he was no longer wearing his clerical clothes, but a sweatshirt and jeans. He was barefoot. Philip's head felt like it could explode at any moment and he had a hard time concentrating on his surroundings due to its throbbing.
Then he heard the laugh.
"Hello Philip." the voice said.
"Mary, Mother of God! Victor Arkadi!" he said in horror, as he looked up into the older man's face for the first time since regaining consciousness.
"Well, how are you and Philip progressing?" the tall, slender man asked the blond who had just entered the study with a sigh.
Rachel sighed again, more deeply. "I'm really concerned. I can't seem to find anything in his state of mind that would cause him to forget what he did. We're going to try hypnosis." She replied as she sunk into the chair across from her two collegues on the couch.
"Wait a minute. Did you say that Philip agreed to be hypnotized?" Alex asked. She sounded as shocked as Derek looked.
"Yeah. Why?" she asked, perplexed.
The two people seated side by side looked at each other, and then turned as one to look at the psychiatrist. They just looked dazed.
"What is it?" she asked, becoming irritated with their lack of verbal response.
"Uh. Well, it's just that…I don't know. I guess he must want to get to the truth as much as Nick and the rest of us." Alex said.
"More, obviously. And by agreeing to place his mind in your hands Rachel, our collegue has implied that he trusts you. Implicitly." Derek explained further. He, of all of them, knew what faith Philip must have in Rachel for him to consider such an option.
"I don't follow you Derek." The psychiatrist said, confused.
"Philip has quite a haunted past, Rachel. One which he hasn't even confided fully to me. I only know from feelings that I have picked up, in addition to what he has seen fit to tell me." The man among them replied, and Alex nodded.
"Have you considered that he might have been telling the truth all along? That he didn't do it." Alex asked the other woman.
Rachel laughed. "You're kidding, right? I mean you guys are the ones who decided that there wasn't any way someone could have gotten in here and back out again without being picked up by the security system."
"Well, it would be extremely difficult. However, with the right information, I suppose it could be possible." Derek said. "Oh well, if you are going to hypnotize him, then I guess we'll know one way or another, won't we?"
The restaurant was known for it's intimate ambiance, and both the young people seated across from each other in the dim light appreciated the atmosphere. Their feet had found each other under the table soon after they had been seated, and they had held hands, off and on, all through dinner. Nick looked deeply into the eyes of the young woman across from him, and he felt more fiercely protective than he could remember feeling in a long time. She was so sweet, and had so much faith in him.
After dinner he asked her if she would prefer to go dancing, for a drive, or anything else she might desire. Sydney kept her 'desires' to herself for the moment and told him she would like to go for a walk along the pier. She was suddenly shy of being alone with him, so she picked the most public place she could think of.
As they strolled along Pier 59, they stopped and looked into the windows of the shops. At a jewelry store, Sydney saw a sapphire ring in the shape of a small heart. Her birthday was in September, so she was drawn to the lovely little ring. Nick noticed her attention to the ring, and when she left him for a moment to visit the ladies room, he entered the store and bought it. The purchase was impulsive, but one he didn't think he'd regret.
They rode the carousel together, and Nick, who hadn't ridden one since he was a small child, found himself actually having fun. When they were walking back to the car, he produced the small box from his pocket.
"Here." He said, taking her hand and placing the box into her palm.
"What is it?" she asked hesitant to open the box staring up at her.
"Well why don't you open it and find out." He said, amused at the emotions chasing themselves across her face.
She reached down and pulled the top back, then gasped in surprise. Her eyes were lit with a fire from within when she looked at him. He was glad that he had bought it, if only to see that look in her eyes and on her face.
"NICK!! I don't believe it! It's beautiful. How did you know?" her words were tumbling out over themselves.
"Well, you looked at it long enough. Philip told me once that your birthday is in September, so I thought…you like it don't you?" he asked finally as if seeking reassurance that he'd done the right thing.
"Like it? I LOVE it! You're the sweetest…Nick, Thank you!" she said, at a loss for words.
He reached over and took the ring out of the box. He slipped it onto her right ring finger. It was almost a perfect fit. Slightly large, but not uncomfortably so, and she could have it resized. After he had placed it on her hand, Sydney leaned over and kissed him.
"Why don't we go for that drive now?" she asked.
"What're you doin' in San Francisco? I thought the police were lookin' for you in conjunction with the death of those scientists at th'university." the priest said to buy time. He was thinking furiously.
"Ah. San Francisco's finest! I've been here for the past three months, and they have yet to realize that fact." The dark-haired man said with satisfaction. "I'd like to introduce you to my associate, Richard Jaimeson, alias Father Philip Callaghan."
The young man standing beside Arkadi grinned maliciously down at his double on the floor. "Nice to meet you Father. Or should I say, 'Nice t'be you'?" he said the last in an exact duplication of Philip's own soft lilt.
"My God!" The young priest looked at the man standing beside his nemesis with awe. He realized that Arkadi had found someone who looked enough like him to pass for his twin. "A doppelganger!" he thought suddenly, remembering Rachel's words at the hospital.
"So tha's how you did it!" he said aloud.
Arkadi threw back his head and laughed. "Thought you might actually have shot your best friend, eh?" he asked gleefully. "No Philip. Richard here was given that honor. Oh, and by the way, Mr. Boyle was never in any danger of dying you know. My friend here is a very good shot, and his orders were to wound, not kill your friend."
"So what're you up ta?" the Irishman asked suspiciously. "You'll tell me, I know. You've kidnapped me, so I s'pose you eventually intend t'kill me."
"Come now Philip. Such a suspicious nature for a priest." The older man said laughing. "Of course, you're right! However, I don't intend to kill you just yet. I'm holdin' onta ya just in case." He said mimicking his captive's soft Irish brogue at the end.
"So, he's gonna take ma place, I s'pose." Philip said, witheringly. "You'll never get away wi'this. He'll never be able t'pull it off."
"Well, he only has to really convince your friends in the Legacy, you know. That's the important thing, and I must add that your behavior of the past few weeks has helped immensely in that respect. They will expect you to be a bit off center, and once my friend here provides them with the proof that he…uh, I mean you…didn't shoot Nick Boyle, they'll welcome him back with open arms."
"You're mad! Wha' proof could he possibly produce? He DID shoot Nick! And there's no way out of tha' house without bein' picked up on th'monitors. Tha's what clinched it. They'll never believe." He said, and prayed that he was right. And then he had another thought, "Too, there're other security devices within th'house. He'll no be able t'fool them."
"Oh, when my friend here plants the gun with no trace of your fingerprints but only his own, as well as a map of the island, to include the oh so state of the art security system, I think they'll fall in line." Victor chirped, feeling quite victorious. "And we know all about the 'hologram' Philip. That will be no problem, I assure you."
Philip felt despondent. Arkadi was right. It was enough to convince them, at least, it would convince Derek and Alex, who already wanted to believe he hadn't committed the crime. And if they really had schematics of the security system, he knew Arkadi was brilliant enough to be able to outsmart it. He just hoped that Nick maintained his stubborn streak.
At that precise moment, Nick and Sydney were driving along the 101 north of Sausalito. There wasn't a sound to be heard over the hum of the engine. Both young people were silent as the grave, but it wasn't an uncomfortable silence. They held hands on the stickshift. Soon he saw lights ahead and realized that it was a bed and breakfast that he had passed many times. He always thought it looked quite romantic, tucked away up in the mountains, and he was seized by a sudden instinct.
He pulled into the drive and looked over at Sydney asking a question with his eyes. She looked up at the house before them, and simply nodded her acquiescence. He grinned at her, got out of the car and ran up to the reception area to see if they had a vacancy. After he had checked in, slipping the registration clerk an additional $50 to ensure there was a chilled bottle of champagne in their room, he went back to park the car, and retrieve his date.
She was sitting serenely in the passenger seat awaiting his return. He was surprised at her calm appearance, but he would have been far less surprised if he had been aware of the turmoil going on inside her. She was terrified, both of what would most likely happen and the idea of it not happening at all.
When they had parked the car, he came around and opened the door for her. It was then that he saw the fear in her eyes. His heart lurched. Suddenly, he was afraid that he was making a mistake. She noticed his expression and realized what had caused it.
She reached over and pulled his lips down to hers. He was caught off guard by her kiss. It was soft and sweet, but short.
When she drew away, she looked him deeply in the eyes and said, "Don't worry Nick. Just jitters, that's all. I really want this to happen."
He smiled into her eyes, took her hand and they went inside. They slowly climbed the stairs to their room on the fourth floor. He opened the door and she walked inside. She caught her breath at the beauty of the room. A huge four poster bed was placed in the center of the room, opposite a granite fireplace. The furniture was all made of glowing cherry wood and the tables had matching granite tops. There was a fire blazing in the grate, which made the large room appear cozy, and a bottle of champagne had been placed in a chiller beside the bed.
Nick placed his hands on her shoulders and could feel her trembling. He slowly turned her to face him. "Poor kid. She's scared to death." he thought to himself.
"Don't worry hon, we don't have to do anything. Let's just sit down on the bed and have some champagne, huh?" he asked her softly, and was surprised as her fingers came up to undo his tie.
She looked up into his face impishly. His suggestion had erased the fear she had been feeling. She knew that this darling man would never do anything to hurt her, and she had been seized with the desire to initiate their love play. Once she had his tie undone, she pulled it slowly from around his neck. Nick just stood motionless in front of her. She dropped the tie on the floor and began unbuttoning his shirt.
As she got to the bottom buttons, she allowed her fingers to brush against his abdomen inside the shirt, and enjoyed the sensation of his tightening muscles and indrawn breath. He shrugged off his jacket and ran his hands slowly up along her torso, then down her bare arms. She pulled his shirt up out of his jeans and it hung loosely around them, as she wrapped her arms around his waist. He took her face between his hands, bent his head and kissed her passionately.
When he straightened up, he looked down into her eyes and saw the hungry look that was there. He picked her up, carried her to the bed and laid her down gently. She was still fully clothed. He ripped open the fly of his button front jeans and stepped out of them. Then he sat beside her on the bed and ran his hands up the long silky legs that he had noticed first about her.
Sydney threw her head back and closed her eyes. She wanted to concentrate on every sensation he was inducing in her. She felt his hands slide up under the hem of her skirt and caress her bare thighs. She moaned with desire. She was filled with feelings that were nothing short of exquisite, and she realized that this must be why she had been discouraged by both her parents and the church from participating in this sort of activity. She wondered if she would ever be able to get enough of his touch.
"Sydney?" he asked the question softly in her ear. He was kissing her neck and nibbling on her earlobe.
"Hmmm?" she responded, beyond words. She ran her hands over his back, feeling his rippling muscles under her fingers.
"Are you sure about this?" he asked, seeking complete certainty, before committing himself and her, irrevocably.
In answer to his question, she raked her nails down his back and turned her head to kiss him passionately. Her legs came around him of their own volition and she groaned as his hand brushed her right breast. Even through her clothes, she felt every inch of him. He understood her response and sighed with satisfaction. His hands wandered over her body while he whispered to her how beautiful she was and how much he wanted her.
He pulled away and slowly unzipped her dress. When it was loose, he slipped it off her shoulders, and pulled it down past her waist, until she was completely free of the slinky material. Then he bent his head and began to use his lips and tongue where his hands had been moments before. He kissed her all over. His lips blazed a trail down her neck to her breasts. With a quick bite of his teeth, her front clasp bra was open and he pushed it aside with his hands.
Nick had no intention of satisfying himself until he was sure he had brought her as far as he could. It had been years since he had been with a virgin, but his initial experience had remained with him, and now he wanted her to enjoy their union as much as he knew he would. So he continued kissing and caressing his way down her body.
She was beginning to writhe beneath him, but he knew that she hadn't even begun to explore her womanhood yet. He managed to slip out of his shorts and divest her of her panties at the same time. As he slid the silky underwear down her legs, his lips brushed her thighs. Sydney gasped in pure pleasure. The young man between her legs liked the sound and decided to see how many ways he could get her to gasp again.
He probed her sweetly with his tongue and was rewarded by hearing her cry his name. He continued to use his lips, tongue and fingers to bring her to the verge of her first orgasm. When he sensed that she was ready to explode he entered her. She cried out briefly, but then she wrapped herself around him with abandon and met him stroke for stroke. She screamed in pleasure and his cry soon followed hers. Moments later they both collapsed exhausted, into each other's arms. Nick looked up into her face and noticed she was crying softly. He wiped the tears from her cheeks and asked tenderly if she was all right.
She smiled at him through her tears and said, "Oh Nick. That was so wonderful. Thank you....uh...can we do it again? Now?"
He threw back his head and laughed. "And I was worried that you wouldn't ever want me to touch you again!" he said, still laughing.
Sydney was amazed at how alive she felt. She blushed when she recalled how neither she nor Nick had gotten much sleep the night before. When he had dropped her off at her house, she had barely had time to run in, shower change clothes and drive like a wild woman to reach the church on time.
She pulled into the parking lot and saw Father Philip getting out of the parish van. "That's odd." she thought, knowing his dislike of driving. The only time she had known the priest to actually use the van was when he was late or there was some sort of emergency and he couldn't wait for a taxi.
"Father!" she yelled at him as she crossed the parking lot.
He stopped and turned to face her. There was an odd look in his eyes as he watched her cross the space between them. Almost like he was seeing her for the first time. The appreciation obvious in his gaze gave her pause, but she chalked it up to the new dress she was wearing.
"Is everything alright?" she asked as she caught up with him.
"Of course. Why'da ask?" he responded.
"Well, you were in the van. I thought perhaps old Mrs. Taylor had taken a turn for the worse." she said, then shrugged when he shook his head and said that everything was fine.
The two entered the parish offices and settled down to work.
Over the next few weeks, Sydney noticed little things that began to gnaw at the edge of her consciousness. First there was the priest's new attitude toward her. She felt that he was attracted to her, but she was afraid to broach the subject with him. He had never so much as glanced at her in that way before and it was unnerving.
Then she began to realize that he missed quite a few of his normal meetings and conferences. He left a great deal of the parish business up to Father James, which was not odd in and of itself, but normally he only turned the reins over to the Assistant Priest when he was called to the island. Sydney had always wondered what sort of work going on out there could draw her employer back over and over again, for weeks and sometimes months at a time, but she had never asked.
She watched him carefully in the ensuing weeks and finally decided that she needed an objective perspective. However, when she mentioned her concerns to Father James, he didn't seem to think there was anything wrong. His delight in being relied upon was apparently coloring his view, and the sisters didn't come into contact with Philip often enough to make good observers.
She decided that the only course open to her was to mention the subject to Nick, a course of action she had been trying to avoid. However, as she became more convinced that there was something wrong with Father Philip, she steeled herself to mention her worries to the man who knew him as well as, if not better than, she did herself.
Derek and Alex were gone for the day. Nick and Sydney had returned to the house after having lunch on the Wharf. What had ensued was a tumultuous and very satisfying bout of lovemaking. Nick continued to be surprised by her ability to excite him. For a recently deposed virgin, she was feral in her desires, and he loved it!
They lay together on Nick's bed, just listening to each other's heartbeats. Suddenly the girl sat up and looked down at her lover. He looked into her eyes and knew that something was troubling her, but after their afternoon delight, he was certain it wasn't him.
"What's wrong?" he asked, stroking her face softly with his fingers.
She grasped his hand to stop the touch. What she needed to discuss would require the ex-SEAL's complete attention. She instinctively felt he was the best one to help, even though things were strained between he and Philip since the shooting.
"Nick, I want to tell you something, but you must promise not to discount it out of hand. Okay? And after you've heard me out, I want us to take it to Derek." she said, worriedly.
He grinned up at her and said, "Sure, you know me...'Mr. Open Mind'!" He was joking, but she took him at his word.
"Something has happened to Father...Philip." she said without further hesitation.
"What are you talking about? He looked fine this morning, and we've been here ever since lunch!" he asked, a little irritated. He had things he wanted to pursue with the adorable brunette, and his priestly colleague wasn't on the list. He leaned over and began to plant a trail of kisses along her arm.
Sydney pulled out of his grasp roughly. "Stop it Nick...not now. You've got to listen to me. He's NOT Philip!" she said, seriously.
Nick was through humoring her, and sat up. "What do you mean 'He isn't Philip'? Of course he is. Who else could he be? C'mon Sydney."
"Nick. Listen to me. I know Father Philip Callaghan, better than anyone. I've been his personal assistant for three years." she had put her hand on his arm, willing him to believe her.
However, Nick wasn't so easily persuaded. Especially when it came to anything remotely attached to the priest. "Yeah, so what? I've known him that long too. It doesn't mean you really know him...obviously none of us knows him that well."
The girl at his side was shaking her head forcefully. "No, you don't understand. There're things about him that I've learned from my position that a friend, or even a close colleague, might not know...or notice."
"Okay. Like what, exactly?" He decided that he'd play along, since she wasn't going to give up easily.
"Well...for one thing, he wasn't the least bit surprised that you and I…uh…well that we…." she trailed off uncomfortably.
Nick looked at her, horrified. "You TOLD Philip about….about…this!" he asked in a choked voice.
She couldn't meet his eyes when she said, "Well Nick, he is my priest as well as your friend. I had to confess." She peeked up at him through her lashes.
He looked like he could strangle her. Finally he settled down and said, "Well, he probably figured that it was inevitable. I mean…he knows me pretty well, and…well… I've been around the block a couple of times, hon." he finished apologetically.
She actually giggled at his reply. "I know that Nick. Believe me, I'm glad of it…most of the time, anyway." she said impishly, and he gave her a peck on the cheek. Then she remembered what they had been discussing.
"However, the point is, he wasn't surprised in me, and I was certain that he would be. Also, he's normally very forgetful. Especially when he's busy with parish business. He wouldn't remember where he put his head if it wasn't attached to his body. However, for the past few weeks I haven't had to remind him of anything!" She stressed the final word as if it were the key.
"Well, maybe he took a memory course or something. Jeez, Syd! You think that will convince Derek??? That Philip suddenly seems to be less forgetful? Hell hon, I'm not even convinced."
"Okay. How about this, then? He seems uncomfortable performing his role as parish priest. He actually forgot to bless the host last Sunday at Mass. Then he got Father James to take over the Sacrament of Reconciliation on Saturdays. Oh, and he's missed the last eight soccer games with the boys from school. He NEVER misses a game."
Nick just looked at her with raised eyebrows, obviously still unconvinced.
She sighed. Time to pull the ace from her sleeve. "All right Nick. I hate to bring this up again, but do you really believe that Philip could shoot you, even if he were sleepwalking? You know he wouldn't ever touch a gun! Growing up in Belfast and losing his brother to the IRA, has made such things anathema to him."
That point seemed to stick with Nick. He had continued to be troubled by the fact that it appeared to be Philip at the foot of his bed. He knew there was something in his subconscious that would negate the facts, as he knew them, but he could never quite grasp what it was. And he didn't think it was just wishful thinking either, especially in light of the discovery of the gun and security diagram the day before. They hadn't figured out the who yet, but the how was speedily coming to light.
However, he wasn't quite ready to capitulate entirely. He had been hurt by the thought that someone he knew and cared for so well could betray him. He shrugged and said that everything she had mentioned could have been caused by Philip's depressed psychological state. They had only confided in the young priest about their recent discovery that morning.
Up until the day before, Nick had been convinced that his friend had a mental block that had caused the priest to sleepwalk and shoot him. There hadn't been any other explanation. They'd checked everything they could think of. Now he was at least open to other possibilities. However, he refused to go to Derek again about Philip. It had gone against the grain the first time and he wasn't very good at eating crow.
Sydney was very disappointed in her love. He was being far too stubborn over this matter with Father Philip. She knew that there was a history between them, and not a good one, but she had expected more of Nick. She rose and got dressed, still upset with him.
"Well, I'm not giving up on this Nick." She said as she put on her shoes. "He deserves every ounce of support I can give him."
"And just what do you plan to do?" he asked, curious.
"I don't know. Maybe I'll go to the police." She sighed. "Of course, since you don't even believe me, why should they."
"Syd, he's just seemed dissatisfied with himself again, to me. That's normal for Philip, especially under the circumstances." He replied, taking her hand and kissing her palm.
He knew he had disappointed her, but she really hadn't said anything that warranted his getting emotionally involved in the thing again. His anger and disappointment with Philip was only beginning to recede, and he just didn't want to dredge it all back up.
The next morning, Sydney walked through the door of her office and found Father Philip sitting at his desk as usual.
"Good Morning, Father." She said, glancing at him to see what sort of reaction she would get. She had chosen one of her sexiest dresses in an attempt to force his hand. The young woman heard the priest's sharp intake of breath at her entrance, and was almost absolutely certain that this was not her employer.
"Uh…good mornin' lass. I must say, tha's a very attractive dress you're a wearin' t'day." He replied uncharacteristically admiring, and she decided to take it one step further.
She smiled her most seductive smile at him, closed the door and said, "Well Philip, I thought you could use a bit of cheering up. You've seemed distracted these last few weeks, and we haven't really had time to 'talk'." she said, winking at him as she finished.
She walked over to where he sat behind the desk and moved in as close as the chair would allow, then she placed her hand on his shoulder and dropped a kiss on his head. It was all she could do to hide her disgust at her own behavior, but she just had to know if this was really Father Philip Callaghan or, as she suspected, an imposter. The idea of tempting him had been born of her frustration with Nick over the situation.
And before she finished the thought, she had her answer. The handsome young man in the chair pulled her down into his lap and began to kiss her. She immediately struggled free of his grasp and shouted in triumph.
"Aha! I knew you were a fake! Father Philip would never have done such a thing! Who are you and what have you done with him?" she said
"Why you little bitch! You tricked me! I'll make you pay for that! As for your precious priest, well he's not long for this world either. My friend Arkadi will see to him." He smiled at her cry of denial and continued, "But you! I'm going to enjoy this!" and he grabbed her by the hair and swung her around slamming her into the desk before she could run.
Papers flew and the lamp crashed to the floor. No one would hear a thing because everyone present at the Church, with the exception of the two in the office, would all be in the middle of morning Mass in the Cathedral building. Nevertheless Sydney gave a strangled cry as he grabbed her from behind again.
Nick entered the parish office wing, adjacent to the main cathedral building, with some unease. He had been having strange feelings concerning his girlfriend all day. She hadn't called him when she got home the evening before, which wasn't particularly unnatural given her disappointment with him, but it gave him pause. Sydney had been very disturbed by the possibility that Philip might not be Philip at all.
He had initially thought she was just trying to make excuses for the priest out of affection, but after thinking things through, he wasn't so sure. Some of the things she'd said did make sense. And to top it off, he realized when Philip appeared that evening to do some research that the priest had subtly managed to avoid entering the control room alone. He waited for Alex to enter, and then followed her in. The delay hadn't been uncommonly long, but it seemed noticeable to Nick after his discussion earlier with Sydney. That's why he'd come to the church to see them. He planned to get to the bottom of the matter.
Now that he was here, things seemed even stranger. It was very early, but even Nick, who hadn't visited very often, knew that the place had an abandoned feel to it. When he got to the main parish offices where Philip and Sydney worked, both doors were closed and locked.
"Strange. I thought Philip always left his door open. I could swear he told me that once." he thought aloud.
Looking around surreptitiously, Nick pulled a lock pick from his wallet and began to work on the door to the priest's retreat. Within seconds he was inside the room. It was a shambles. The lamp on the desk had been knocked off onto the floor, and the chair was tipped over, backwards. Papers were strewn all over the place. The cushions from the couch had been thrown, helter skelter, around the room. The young ex-SEAL just stood inside the door shaking his head in wonder, and began to worry.
He had still seen no sign of the girl or priest. He moved to the connecting door to check and see if her office was in the same state, when he saw something out of the corner of his eye behind the desk. A hand. A woman's hand...wearing a heart shaped sapphire ring.
"SYDNEY!" he cried and rushed over to where her crumpled form lay on the floor. She was unnaturally pale and her body was lying in a position, which told him she had passed out before she collapsed. There were bruises on her cheek and temple and her dress was ripped. She had obviously struggled with whomever had done this.
The young man felt like someone had put a gun to his abdomen and pulled the trigger. His breath was coming in painful ragged bursts. "If only I'd listened to her!" he thought, angry with himself as well as her, for putting herself in a position to get hurt. He had a fleeting memory of Julia in that field in Ireland, then he mentally pushed the image aside. Sydney couldn't die! She just couldn't!
A nun was passing the doorway of the office and he called out for her to help. Sister Bernadette entered and gasped at the appearance of the room. Then she saw the assistant on the floor. She crossed herself. Nick told her to call the police and to ask for an ambulance to be sent as well. The nun, accustomed to taking orders, hurried to do his bidding without question. She knew the young man on sight, a friend of Father Philip's, and so there was no suspicion in her heart as she picked up the phone and began to dial.
He was really worried about how weak the girl's pulse felt to his touch. He cradled her head in his lap, and stroked her dark hair.
"Oh Syd." he said softly, "What happened? Why didn't you just wait and let me handle it?" he asked her unconscious form, knowing even as he spoke the words that it was his reticent attitude which prevented her from allowing him to take the lead. He should have called her last night to tell her he was planning on coming this morning. It was his fault and he'd never forgive himself if she…. "No! She's not going to die!" he thought to himself fiercely.
Sister Bernadette hung up the phone and told him that the police were on their way with an ambulance. She asked him where Father Philip was.
"I don't know." he said. "I came to see him, but this is what I found instead. You haven't seen him at all today?" he asked looking up at her questioningly. The nun shook her head.
At that moment the young girl's eyes flickered open. They were glazed and unfocused, but she managed to whisper a name before she slipped back into unconsciousness. A name that made Nick's blood run cold in his veins. "Arkadi."
"The game's up." Jaimeson said sharply as he rushed into the room.
Victor Arkadi looked up from his massage in ire. "Leave us!" he barked at the young woman who had been kneading his shoulder blades. After she had left the room, he turned to his accomplice and asked the young man what the Hell he meant by barging in on him in such a fashion.
"Well, I didn't know what else to do Victor." Jaimeson said. "The girl, that assistant, she knows about me...or, at least she thought she knew." he added with a malicious grin.
"WHAT???" the older man shouted and sat up with a jerk. "What do you mean by that? Surely you can't be stupid enough to have killed her!?" he asked, getting up. He put his clothes back on and stood looking at his human tool with concern.
"Uh...well...what else was I supposed to do? She confronted me in the parish office early this morning! I just reacted! I didn't know what else to do!" the young man in the priest's costume cried, looking uncomfortable at the severity of his mentor's countenance.
"God save me from amateurs!" Arkadi cried in disgust. "Well, what did you do with the body?" he asked, and was infuriated by the young man's reply.
"Do with it? I left it in the office. I wanted to get out of there as fast as possible!" Jaimeson said, not realizing the extent of his friend's fury. He was shortly to become intimately familiar with the older man's anger as Arkadi grabbed him by the lapels and threw him against the wall, bringing down several pictures with the force of contact.
Before the young man could catch his breath, Victor grabbed his genitals, and began to squeeze hard. "You idiot! I can't trust you to do anything right, can I? Do you have any idea what an inconvenience this is? Hmmm. Do you? ANSWER ME!" His voice was soft and menacing, and the young man was frightened of him for the first time.
"Aaarrrgggh! STOP! What are you doin'? I know I screwed up! I'm sorry!" Jaimeson screamed in pain.
Just at that moment a movement on one of the security monitors caught the older man's attention. He turned to watch in fascination. The priest had somehow managed to escape from his room and was moving stealthily down the hall toward the front door. He was quite a piece of work, the young Irish priest. The dark-haired man had never expected such ingenuity from his captive.
"Come on!" he shouted over his shoulder to the young man still rubbing his groin in pain.
In the hallway Philip moved as quietly as possible. He saw and recognized the signs of a state of the art security system, but he knew he had to try to escape, for his friends' sakes.
Then the voice he dreaded hearing sounded behind him and he froze. "Hello. Going somewhere are we Father?" Arkadi said, amused in spite of himself.
Jaimeson hobbled up behind his benefactor, and grimaced. "Why don't we just get rid of him now? I mean, we are running out of options, aren't we?"
The older man turned on his functionary and fairly screamed, "Yes, we ARE running out of options, thanks to your stupidity over the girl!" Then he seemed to calm down somewhat as he continued, "However, Philip Callaghan may still be of use to us, so I am unwilling to dispose of him so readily. Seize him."
The young Irishman followed the exchange with concern. Obviously, something had gone wrong with their plan and the younger man was frightened of discovery.
"Wha' girl?" he steeled himself to ask, finally deciding that the worst that could happen would be that Arkadi would decide not to tell him.
However, the older man seemed to relish the opportunity to present him with bad news and he grinned a horrible smile as he said, "Ah. Well you see, your very lovely assistant was foolish enough to let my young friend here know that she was suspicious of him. Obviously he couldn't fool her as well as the others. You have quite a 'special' relationship there, I think."
Philip felt as if his heart was coming out of his mouth. "Sydney?" was all he could manage to say, and even that one word came out strangled. He ignored the implications of Arkadi's last statement, and was overcome with grief at the man's next words.
"Yes. She's dead." The villain said bluntly.
The priest just stood staring at his captors in shock. Finally, when the flood burst, a scream came from his lips of such intense pain and anger that they were caught off guard. "NOOOOOOO! You BASTARDS!" and with that, he lunged at the younger man with an unexpected ferocity. He was furious. The one person who had believed in him unconditionally. An innocent. She had proved to be right, and was dead for her efforts. At the hands of this creature. It was unthinkable.
Philip had never had a chance of success against the two men though, and suddenly he was hit over the head from behind and knocked unconscious.
"Take him into the basement. Bind and gag him. Then put him in the old trunk that's there. It'll be easier to transport him that way." Arkadi said to his young friend. "Given Nick Boyle's relationship with the girl, I expect we will have company eventually."
When Nick arrived back at the castle after assuring himself that there was no more he could do for Sydney, only Alex was home. She was on the phone with Brendan. He decided he'd wait in the control room. He began his search for Arkadi as soon as he entered the room. Soon, the young woman hung up after talking at length with her friend about their plans for the weekend.
"Hey Nick!" she said as she bounced into the room, then looked at him more closely. "What's the matter? You look like hell!"
"I just came from the hospital. Sydney Halliday was attacked at the parish office this morning. She's in serious condition. And, to top it off, Philip is missing." he said, sounding even more weary than he looked. "Where's Derek?"
"He and Rachel went into Sausalito to see the Sharpe family about that disturbance in their home. They won't be back for hours. Who attacked Sydney? Do the police have any leads? It wasn't Philip was it?" she asked concernedly.
Nick didn't respond to her questions right away. He was filled with fury and felt like he could tear something or someone in two. He had been duped, and by no less than that creep, Arkadi. It had never been Philip in his room that night, of that he was now certain. If their arch nemesis was involved, then that was where the explanation lay. He knew it as certainly as if it were a fact.
He was determined to see this thing through at once, unwilling to wait for Derek to return. He knew that there would be hell to pay when their precept returned to discover that he'd taken on Arkadi alone, but he couldn't just sit around after what had happened that morning. He was thirsty for blood, Victor Arkadi's blood.
"Alex, its Arkadi." He spoke the name with venom in his voice.
"WHAT?!" she asked sharply in shock and deep concern.
Nick told Alex everything that had happened that morning, as well as his suspicions about the shooting. He attempted to enlist her aid, but she was less than willing to risk confronting the villain without backup. However, when he made it clear that he was going with or without her, she relented and agreed to accompany him. She simply made him promise that they could call Derek from the car.
"Hi Derek. It's me." Alex said into the cellular mouthpiece. They were travelling along the Embarcadero in Nick's Mustang. They'd only stayed at the castle long enough to finish running the search to discover Arkadi's new hang out. The dark-skinned young woman in the passenger seat took the opportunity to call their leader. "Listen we've got a bit of a situation here. Sydney Halliday was attacked this morning and she's in pretty bad shape."
She listened to the phone for a second and replied, "You know, Philip's assistant. Oh, and it seems that our favorite priest is missing as well." She paused then continued softly, "And Derek. Nick found out that Arkadi is behind it. He thinks that he was behind the shooting in his room as well as the attack on Sydney."
"Um…well…that'll be kinda tough. We're in the car. No, we're on our way to…HEY! You ever tried to stop Nick when he's got a burr up his…Yeah, well! All I could do was agree to come along. There was no way I could get him to wait for you. He's really pissed. Okay, I'll tell him. Yeah, the address is 1515 Marina. Oh, and Derek? Hurry up okay?" they had obviously finished the conversation because she snapped the phone closed.
"Well my bucko, the next time, YOU get to make that call!" she said. Nick grinned over at her.
"Was he really ticked at me?" he asked sarcastically.
"Oh yeah, like it really matters to you, huh?" she grinned back. "Actually, I think he understands. He just said to watch your back. I guess Arkadi is quite resourceful."
"Well, he better be, cause I'm gonna…" he started then stopped mid-sentence when he thought about what he would do to the man responsible for his friend's disappearance and the attack on his beloved Sydney.
When they arrived at the house numbered 1515 Marina, it was dark. It had an abandoned feel to it, and Nick's suspicious nature told him that Arkadi was expecting them somehow.
He and Alex got out of the car and mounted the front steps cautiously. The ex-SEAL had his .45 revolver primed in his right hand. He tried the door and the knob turned easily.
"Be careful Alex. Something tells me this is a trap." He whispered urgently to the tall young woman at this side. She nodded before she followed him into the hall.
They searched the house from top to bottom and found no sign of Arkadi or Philip. Nick spotted a door that they hadn't tried and he moved to it silently. When he opened it, they saw a set of carved stairs leading down into a cavern-like basement. He led the way down the stairs slowly, checking his perimeter just like he had been trained to do.
When they reached the bottom they saw nothing but some boxes and a trunk in the corner. Nick stood in the middle of the room perplexed and angry. Then he heard Alex's cry from behind him. He spun around and a hand clapped him on the shoulder.
"Hand me the gun slowly, or your oh so beautiful accomplice will die." Arkadi's voice sounded softly menacing behind him.
Nick's heart leapt into his mouth at the sight of their clerical friend, pointing a Luger at Alex's head with deadly accuracy. He handed his .45 to the older man, reluctantly. If Philip had somehow been influenced by Arkadi, that would go a long way to explaining what had happened in his room. And Sydney! Was Philip responsible for the attack on his assistant? If so, he would never forgive himself. Nick was terrified by the possibilities.
"So, Mr. Boyle, isn't it? Nice to see you again. And Alexandra. I've always loved your name, you know. It's beautiful and it suits you well." the dark-haired man said leering at her appreciatively.
"PHILIP! What the Hell are you doing? Fight it! You don't want to hurt Alex!" he cried, ignoring Arkadi in view of the more deadly threat to the young woman's life. He was shocked at the cruel laugh that came from the priest's lips.
"Oh, he's not Philip Callaghan, Mr. Boyle. A very good likeness, though you must agree." the older man said with relish. "I'm quite proud of my creation, you know. He was a little rough around the edges, but we managed to smooth that out, very well in fact. And you really thought it was the priest who shot you, didn't you?" he asked finally.
Complete understanding dawned on both his and Alex's faces. "Oh God! Philip! Where is Philip?" the ex-SEAL asked in concern for their friend, thinking he was probably dead.
"You'll be seeing him quite soon. In fact, he's much closer than you might realize." the younger of their two enemies answered gleefully.
"Shut up, you fool!" the older man snapped at his accomplice.
"HEY! I'm sick and tired of you telling me to shut up, and calling me 'idiot' and 'fool'! I'm not unarmed now Victor. And I'm not afraid to use a gun, remember?" he asked menacingly, feeling brave in the face of the older man's ire now that he had the gun.
"Neither am I." Arkadi said and shot Jaimeson dead on the spot. "Idiot!"
Alex had jumped almost out of her skin as the bullet went through her captor's forehead, and Nick took the opportunity to lunge at the other man in an attempt to retrieve his gun. However, the older man had anticipated the ex-SEAL's move, and he sidestepped him neatly. The young man was knocked breathless when he hit the ground. The frightened girl picked up the gun that Jaimeson had dropped, took aim and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. It was empty!
Arkadi laughed. Alex watched in horror as he grabbed a torch from the wall and started toward the old chest placed in the corner. Suddenly she knew that there was someone inside the box...someone she knew and cared for...Philip. His mind touched hers for just an instant, then she felt him fade away, drifting into unconsciousness from lack of oxygen. Time was getting short for the priest. Then she sensed what the evil man was planning to do! "No!" her mind cried out.
"NICK!" she yelled aloud to the young ex-SEAL. He was closer, and far more capable of preventing the villain's actions. "Stop him...I...Nick...Philip's inside that chest! He's going to try to burn him alive!" she was frantically pointing in the direction of the dark-haired man carrying the weapon that could end their friend's young life.
The athletic young man dove into action and tackled Arkadi from behind. The gun left the older man's fingers when he hit the ground and all three watched in fascination as it slid through the holes in the grate that covered the sewer system and disappeared from sight. Nick might not have his gun anymore, but his fists were ready. He wanted to repay the creep in his own kind anyway. When he regained his breath, Nick grabbed the older man and hauled him into a standing position.
Alex was galvanized into action, and sped over to where Philip was bound and gagged inside the trunk. "God, please let me be in time." she prayed, without even realizing she was doing so.
When she opened the chest and saw how pale and lifeless her friend looked, she felt like crying. She knew, however, that crying didn't solve things in a situation like this, so she grabbed at the gag and bonds, untying them as fast as she could. Once he was free, she used every ounce of strength she possessed to haul him up and out of the box.
When she had Philip flat on his back on the floor, she attempted to resuscitate him. He wasn't breathing, so she began mouth-to-mouth. Within a few seconds, her efforts were rewarded by his deep gasp and choking cough.
Alex couldn't hold back the tears any longer, but now they were tears of joy. She hugged the young priest so tightly that he had to complain, but she didn't loosen her hold for a few more minutes.
Finally, the sounds of battle joined permeated the brains of the two young people on the floor. Alex helped Philip into a sitting position and they both watched, the former in fascination, and the latter in slight displeasure, tinged with appreciation, as Nick beat Arkadi into a pulp.
The older man was already beginning to show signs of exhaustion, but was unable to get away from the young fury that was inflicting such grievous injuries on his person. He was already covered in his own blood, caused by multiple blows to his nose and mouth. Nick was smaller in stature, but by far the better fighter. His lightning quick reflexes prevented the older man from ever touching him.
The ex-SEAL was seriously enjoying baiting Arkadi, and toying with him. He had every intention of ridding the world of "this garbage" as he thought of the evil man. However, he wanted Victor to know his fate before he met it.
With each punch, Nick felt better. His guilt was beginning to fade, and he claimed revenge for all the injuries the villain had caused with every swing of his fists. Derek, Sloan, The Cairo House, Sister Jehanne. The list went on and on. Finally, the man had reached his limit. The ex-SEAL knew defeat when he saw it, and he also knew he should stop while the creep was still alive, so he could stand trial. However, he had two more crimes he wanted to exact revenge for. He had saved the most painful ones for the end.
"This is for Sydney!" he said between clenched teeth as he threw an uppercut to the dark haired man's jaw with a force unlike anything he had inflicted before. His opponent's head snapped back and he went slamming backwards into the rock wall.
"And this one is for Philip!" he said, as he brought his fist into contact with Arkadi's mid-section so hard that blood spurted out of the man's mouth. The older man doubled over with a cry and was completely still.
Seconds later Derek, followed by a worried Rachel came rushing down the stairs into the cavern basement. The precept had had a vision of Philip's lifeless body and was terrified for the priest, as well as his colleagues. His heart was heavy as he came off the bottom step and saw what appeared to be his young friend dead. As his eyes adjusted to the dim light, he stopped short of rushing to the young man in clerical garb and viewed the tableau before him.
Jaimeson, in the priest's clothes, was lying spread-eagled on the floor, with a bullet hole in his forehead. Nick was pulling Arkadi into a sitting position against the wall of the cave. Alex and Philip were having a low voiced conversation in the corner next to a large chest.
"So that was it!" he thought, immensely relieved at the sight of Alex and Philip in the corner.
"Well, it seems we weren't really needed here after all." the handsome Dutchman said, looking around him. He addressed his next remarks to Nick.
"Is he alive?" he asked, braced for a negative reply.
"Yeah, barely." the young man responded between clenched teeth. "I'm telling ya, it was all I could do not to kill him, boss."
Derek smiled in understanding and said, "I know, Nick...Good work! And Philip. Welcome back to the land of the living." he said with a smile at the young priest rising from the floor with Alex's help. He was relieved that they all appeared to have come through the affair unscathed. Then a thought occurred to him.
"By the way, Sydney Halliday has regained consciousness. She's going to be fine, and she's giving the police a statement as we speak." the precept told the room at large. The effect of his words on the two other men took him slightly by surprise, however.
"God be Praised!!" cried Philip and hugged Alex with abandon. Nick, on the other hand, said not a word. He simply slipped down the cavern wall like his legs would no longer hold him. When Rachel moved to go to him, he raised a shaking hand to halt her.
"Don't worry, I'll be okay." was all he said. Only the tremor in his voice betrayed the intense emotions surging through him at the thought of his love's complete recovery.
The doctor tried to hide her feelings and expression from the young man before them. She knew that she had been right about keeping their relationship "platonic", and that it was this decision which was partially responsible for Nick's becoming involved with Philip's beautiful young assistant. However, she found that she was disappointed all the same.
The group sat around the huge conference table in the Legacy House library. Derek had asked Philip to come to the house and explain the details of what had occurred during his captivity, at his convenience.
In the days after Arkadi's arrest and subsequent indictment for murder and two counts of attempted murder, it became evident that Philip's staunchest ally had been his young assistant. This made his colleagues feel the lack of faith in their friend all the more. The precept felt quite ashamed that they had failed the priest in his time of need. They all did, and he knew that somehow they would have to make it up to the forgiving young man.
"They planned t'infiltrate the Legacy through our…uh, this house. Destroy it from th'inside, so ta speak. An' they were goin' t'use me as th'means t'do it." The young priest sitting at Derek's right hand explained patiently. Everyone noticed his switch from 'our house' to 'this house', but didn't quite know how to respond.
"I still can't get over how much Richard Jaimeson looked like you, Philip." Alex finally said, awe evident in her tone. "I mean, he had me in his hands and I couldn't tell the difference. You were more alike than identical twins."
The handsome young priest actually smiled at that. "Ah. Well now, some of it was artifice ya know. He didn'a always look like tha'. Arkadi told me everythin'. How he'd had cosmetic surgery and all. His basic appearance was close enough t'mine tho. Tha's what gave Arkadi the idea in th'first place."
The group fell silent. He felt how deeply ashamed each one was over their lack of faith in him, and it worried him. Philip was a very rational man, and he truly understood the position in which they had found themselves. He didn't blame them at all for their reaction to his perceived betrayal. While it had hurt him deeply, he had never really expected any other response. The last thing he wanted from them now was to be treated with kid gloves because they felt guilty. He knew that the only thing he could do would be to address the subject directly.
"Uh, can I say somethin' else?" he asked softly.
Derek responded with raised eyebrows. He knew what the young man wanted to discuss without asking. "Of course."
"Y'all should stop feelin' guilty over this. I understand why you felt how ya did. Don' beat yourselves up. There was no way you could'a known it wasn' me!" he said earnestly looking at each in turn.
Suddenly Nick got up and strode from the room. They all watched his retreating back and then sat in silence for a few moments before Alex spoke what was on all their minds.
"Philip. I'm so very sorry that I didn't believe you. I know what you say is true, that we couldn't have known. However, that doesn't seem to be the issue, does it? I mean, I think I speak for all of us when I say that we didn't want to believe you could shoot Nick, but without evidence to support another explanation, we felt compelled to believe it. And for that, my friend, I will never forgive myself." There were tears in her eyes as she got up from her chair and moved to put her arms around him.
Her pain was so evident that the young Irishman could do nothing but cling to her, the tears choking him. He wanted to reassure her, but knew if he tried to speak they would all break down. Finally Derek broke the spell.
"Alex is right. We let you down. Badly. And while I hope you won't, I for one wouldn't blame you if you walked out of this house never to return. Forgive me my friend…my son." He grasped Philip's hand and the young man squeezed it. Rachel nodded and said, "Me too, Philip."
The priest had his emotions, which had broken down during Alex's speech, under control once again. "I forgave all of you from the beginnin'. I never blamed you. And as for leavin' this house. Derek you know tha' I never could…not for good at least. I just wasn't sure y'all were ready t'welcome me back." The two men smiled at each other at the last part of his speech.
He sighed and said, "Now there's a certain ex-Navy SEAL tha' I think I'd better have a cha' with." He rose and smiled at them before walking out in search of Nick.
He found him in the control room, staring at the computer screen with a blank look. His friend hadn't even heard him enter the room.
"Nick?" he asked softly.
The naked pain that entered the handsome young ex-SEAL's eyes when he looked at him shocked him to the core. "Oh God Philip! What can I say to you? Talk about betrayal! I betrayed our friendship, more than you ever could."
For once in his life, the young priest was at a loss for words. Nick went on, heedless of any response that Philip might have made anyway.
"She tried to convince me that you couldn't do it, you know. That you weren't really you. And I shrugged her off. She was right! Sydney knew you better than any of us! Both of you might have died because I couldn't see the truth right in front of me!" he said, anguished.
"HEY! Now stop right there! None of us had any idea that Arkadi was involved! There was no way you could'a known tha'! And without knowin', you couldn'a prevented any of it! I'll not let you take the blame for this Nick! You hear me?" Philip's face was looking very stern indeed.
Nick gazed up at his angry friend a rueful look in his eye. "Yeah, I hear you. However, the fact remains that if I had listened to Syd, much of what happened, including her attack and your near death, might have been avoided. I was just too blinded by jealousy to see it. I'm truly sorry Philip. I won't be able to forgive myself this time."
"Forget it Nick. I've done worse by you. Remember? There's really nothin' to forgive." His friend said, then he realized what else Nick had said, and continued. "Jealousy? Of what?" he asked, truly perplexed.
The young man behind the computer grimaced as he answered, "Uh…of you. I was jealous of your relationship with the girl that I love…and I do love her Philip." he admitted.
A look of understanding came into the priest's eyes. Obviously, much had transpired between his assistant and his friend during the past few weeks. He smiled gleefully. It had finally happened. Nick Boyle had met a girl who turned him upside down and inside out. Unfortunately it had happened right when he had needed his objectivity the most. That fact seemed to be at the root of all the young man's guilt. Philip decided that he would take a light tack with his friend.
"Well it's about time! I've been tryin' t'bring Sydney t'your notice for quite a while now. She's perfect for you. And as for 'jealousy', you've got t'be kiddin' right? I mean, she's a great kid, no offense, but we've worked together for three years. Believe me, if I' were gonna be tempted, it would'a happened already!" Philip said laughingly. "And as fer her feelin's fer me, well…she grew up in th'Catholic Church Nick. She'd never even think t'have those kinds o'feelin's for me. We're just good friends."
Nick looked at the priest standing before him and realization dawned that Philip was truly unaware of his effect on women. He obviously knew that women found priests attractive due to the nature of their vocation. Forbidden fruit. However, the possibility that some woman might find him attractive for just himself, never entered his friend's head.
Admirable as the quality may be, the young ex-SEAL found it a nuisance in circumstances like these. He may not truly believe that Sydney was enamoured of her boss, but the priest's lack of insight into the female mind concerning his own desirability, more or less nullified his viewpoint.
However, he wasn't about to argue the point at the present moment. It was enough that his friend had reacted similarly to Sydney, if much less violently, to the idea of anything other than friendship between them. Nick was satisfied.
He stood up and put his hand on Philip's shoulder. "Well, what's done is done. I can't change it, but Philip..."
"Yes?" the other young man, asked warily.
"The next time I start to doubt you, remind me of this, will ya?" he asked grinning sheepishly.
Philip sighed in relief. They hadn't completely patched things up, but they were well on their way. "You betcha!" he replied mimicking Nick's intonation, then went on to add, "Hey, I was goin' t'go t'the hospital t'see Sydney. Why don' we go t'gether? She'll be happy tha' we're on speakin' terms again."
Nick smiled at him impishly. "Okay, but you have to promise only to stay 15 minutes. " he said, and the two young men left arguing over who had precedence and by what rights.