Siren's Song (7/2/1997)

by Patti (email address unknown)

continued from first page....

Chapter Nine

It was almost dark when the cherry red mustang pulled up in front of the house on a quiet cul de sac in San Francisco's westend, Richmond Park.  Nick got out and stretched at length.  It had been a very long day.  He was tired and hungry.  Sydney came out of the house she had inherited from her maternal grandmother to greet him and he kissed her gently.

"Hi sweetheart.  How was your day?" he asked her as they moved into the house, arm in arm.

The young woman next to him sighed, "Oh nothing particularly exciting.  Father James is falling to pieces and I can't wait for Philip to get back…but other than that, pretty dull."

The ex-SEAL laughed heartily at the thought of the parish going to pot without their precious Father Philip.  He knew how dedicated his friend was in his duties, and could just imagine that life at St. Pat's without him was quickly becoming far from routine.

"I hope he's not overworking you hon." He said concerned for her welfare.

She laughed softly, and stopped to put her arms around his neck.  "Father James?  He thinks that all the things I'm doing are part of my normal duties, and who am I to contradict him?" she laughed and said, "Actually, I do enjoy being busy, but I'll definitely need a vacation when Philip returns.  Any suggestions?"

"Hmmm, I hear Baia is nice this time of year.  I happen to know of a great little hide-away down there.  Maybe I should take you." Nick said softly in her ear.

Sydney sighed softly into his hair.  "Baia is so far away right now, isn't there anywhere you could sweep me off to, say tonight for instance?" she asked impishly.

He scooped her up into his arms grinning down at her, and headed for the stairs.  He had a devilish light in his eyes.  Amazingly both his hunger and his tiredness were completely forgotten for the moment.

"Just you wait and see milady.  I'll take you to paradise." Alex sat upright in bed with a jerk.   The dreams were back.  This time she got out of bed and headed for Derek's room.  As she got to his door, it opened and he looked out.

"Alex.  What's wrong?" he asked, as he guided her gently into the room and a chair.

"Derek, Philip's in trouble.  I can feel it.  I had the dream again.  I don't know what's going on, but something is." She said.

Finally the precept broke down and told her everything that Philip had confided to him the day he left for Ireland.  He explained about the Banshee, Moira and their friend's own sense of impending doom.

Alex listened attentively then said, "Well, you're sure it's just that Derek?  To be honest, I can't tell, but there seems to be a darker force at work here."

The handsome Dutchman looked down at the girl in the chair and shook his head.  "Surely Eileen or Philip would have called us if anything were wrong.  I'm sure you are simply picking up our friend's disturbed emotions.  You two have become quite close, and I'm starting to think that Philip has untapped psychic gifts."

The dark young woman nodded and agreed that she believed as Derek did.  Philip's gifts were manifesting themselves in odd ways.

She sighed and said that she'd better get back to bed.  Alex had an early morning meeting with a group of college students who had shown definite psychic abilities.  She was to evaluate their potential as new initiates.  The precept walked her to her own room, and kissed her gently before turning and heading back the way he came. Sydney awoke with a scream on her lips.  She clamped her hand over her mouth as she realized that she would wake the man sleeping next to her.  She had dreamt the vision she'd had earlier in the day, and the sight of that beast in her dreams was almost enough to give her a heart attack.

The fact that she was starting to experience visions and dreams frightened her.  She'd never had such things before.  In fact, if pressed, Sydney would have sworn that she didn't have a psychic bone in her body.  However, there was no doubt that these dreams/visions were related and were directly tied to Philip's trip to his homeland.

The single most important thought that occurred to her after waking was that her priest, friend and mentor was in desperate trouble.  She couldn't imagine how that could be, and vowed to call Ireland from work in the morning.  The administrative assistant was certain that she could come up with some pretext to make the long distance call.

Next to her Nick stirred, and she hushed him, then snuggled back into his arms and resigned herself to a sleepless night.

Chapter Ten

Eileen rushed across the room to answer the insistent ringing of the telephone.  "Philip?" she asked her voice filled with concern.

A young woman's voice spoke from the other end, "No Mrs. Callaghan.  It's Sydney…Sydney Halliday.  I was calling to speak with Father Philip.  Isn't he with you?"  The priest's assistant had been the one to direct Eileen to the Legacy house when she had called to speak with her brother-in-law.

"NO!  Saints Preserve Us Sydney, he's gone.  He's been gone since yesterday afternoon.  I'm tha' worried too." She sounded like she was at her wit's end.

Sydney had been afraid something of the sort had happened.  She couldn't even begin to explain what was going on to the widow, but she told Eileen that she was getting on the next plane to Galway.  The other woman didn’t argue because she too knew that only something very bad would keep her considerate brother-in-law away from his family at such a time.  There was also that look on his face when he walked out into the street.  She would be glad to have Sydney's help.

After hanging up, Sydney met with Father James and explained the circumstances surrounding Philip's disappearing act.  He was also concerned, but didn't know what to do.  When the assistant volunteered to travel to Ireland, the priest accepted gratefully.  He told her to take whatever she needed for the trip out of petty cash.  The young woman needed no more prompting and was aboard the next available flight.

"Nick's gonna kill me!" she thought as the plane winged it's way ever closer to the land of Erin. "…An' then he just walked outta th'house like a robot.  I called him, an' he didn'a even look back." The two women were sitting in the parlor, and Eileen was telling Sydney everything that had happened since Philip's arrival.  Neither one could pinpoint a single event that might be responsible for the young priest's disappearance.

"Don't worry Eileen" the younger woman said, already on first name terms with the widow.  "I'm sure he's okay.  I think I would have felt it if he weren't.  I can't explain how exactly, but we seem to be connected somehow.  At least on a very basic level."

Sydney had told her new friend about the vision and the subsequent dream.  Eileen accepted the fact that they were real with what the younger woman considered ease.  She realized that the Irish were prone to believe in fairies and demons and the like, but that someone…a virtual stranger…would believe her tales of demons and visions so readily, she had been utterly unprepared for.  She on the other hand had known that they were real the moment she had met Pip and Moira.

Suddenly they both heard the girl's weakened voice calling for them.  They got up and went inside.  Moira was sitting up against her pillows looking like a wraith herself.  But her eyes, which she had barely been able to keep open a short time before, were a round as saucers.

"Mama!  I jus' though o'somethin'.  What if it was Cliodhna?  What if she's got Uncle Philip?" the thought obviously upset the girl no end.

"Hush love.  What nonsense is this?  Cliodhna?  Really child.  I wish I knew where ye got this stuff." Eileen said exasperatedly.

The look on Moira's face, however, gave her pause.  The child really believed that it was possible.  "All right.  What makes ye think that a fairy spirit like tha' would even be interested in yer Uncle, darlin'?  Not t'mention the idea tha' she might exist at all."

"Oh she exists mama.  I heard her.  Mrs. Mag heard 'er too.  She said that Colin has seen her too.  Why else would Uncle Pip leave us for so long?" she asked, and neither woman had an answer for her.

"It couldn'a be child." Her mother reassured her, and in an aside to Sydney she whispered, "Could it?"

Chapter Eleven

Finally Sydney knew she could no longer postpone the inevitable.  They were no closer to a solution to Philip's whereabouts than Eileen had been before she came.  She knew there was only one option left open to her.  She picked up the telephone and dialed the number she had memorized months ago.

To her surprise, a youthful male voice answered, "Luna Foundation, Nick Boyle speaking."

She took a deep breath and told herself that he couldn't really do anything except get mad.  He'd never hurt her, and even if he was furious, it would be out of fear for her.  She took the bull by the horns and jumped right in.

"Hi Nick.  Listen, I don't have much time, and I need to tell you what's happened." She said, rushing through her statement before he could cut her off.

"SYDNEY???  What do you mean?  Where the Hell are you?  I've been to the church and Father James said you were in Ireland with Philip!" he sounded angry, and she wasn't sure whether it was because she had followed her boss to his homeland or that she hadn't told him where she was going.

"I am.  Well, at least I'm in Ireland.  Look Nick, I don't want to get into a fight right now.  Things have gotten very strange over here.  Eileen was at the end of her rope, and she needed someone to lean on.  Philip's gone missing.  No one has seen him in three days.  I need you guys to come and see if you can figure out what's happening.  Will you come?" she asked the question with a hopeful and slightly pleading note in her voice.

"Dammit Syd.  Wait.  What do you mean Philip's missing?" he asked in surprise, then continuing without giving her a chance to respond.  "That's not like him at all!  Of course we'll come.  I'll fill Derek in on the way.  In the meantime, I want you to stay close to the house and don't leave Eileen alone.  You hear me Sydney Marie Halliday?" he sounded worried.

"Yes." She said in a small voice, but he wasn't fooled a bit.

"I mean it Syd.  Don't leave the house!" he reiterated.

She sighed, "OKAY!  Okay!  I won't leave Eileen or the house.  Satisfied?" she asked, irritated with his overbearing manner.

"Well, I guess that will have to do.  I'm sorry Sydney, I just don't want anything to happen to you!  And if Philip is really missing, things are probably pretty bad." he said, and she was filled with remorse at the thought that he might be imagining her in a situation like the one in which he lost Julia.

She decided that he had a right to be concerned, and reassured him.  "It's okay Nick.  I understand, and I'm sorry for running off without telling you.  I promise I won't go anywhere." She said, and was glad to hear his relieved sigh.  "Oh, and Nicky?"

"Yes?" he asked, warily.

"Thanks.  I miss you!  Lots!" she said emphatically.

He laughed, relieved that she wasn't angry with him anymore.  "I miss you too, babe!  I'll see you soon." And they hung up. Nick slammed down the phone, venting the frustration he couldn't show his girlfriend.  "Damn her independent hide!" he said, then grinned to himself when he realized that it was her indomitable nature as well as her innocence which had initially drawn him to her like a moth to a flame.

"I must be a masochist!  Why do I always have to fall in love with women who insist on having minds of their own and putting themselves in the middle of the action?" he asked himself aloud.

"Because you're an enlightened sort of guy." A laughing female voice said from behind him.

The ex-SEAL spun on his heel and stood looking at a very amused Alex.  Soon his real concern penetrated the tall dark woman's psyche and she raised an eyebrow at him in question.

"Wha'sup?" she asked, when he didn't jump right in and tell her what was on his mind.

Nick sighed and said, "That was Sydney on the phone.  She's in Ireland.  Apparently, Philip is missing and Eileen has no idea where he might be."  He stopped at the look on Alex's face.

"What?  For how long?" she whispered, unable to raise her voice to even a normal speaking range.

"Uh…I think she said about three days.  Why?" he asked, suddenly even more concerned.

Alex's face took on a hard, faraway look.  "Oh Damnation!  I was right!  Why didn't I push the issue?"

Nick reached over and grabbed her arm.  "Alex, what are you talking about?  What issue?" he asked, more harshly than he had intended.

She looked him squarely in the eye and said, "Two nights ago, I had a dream.  I couldn't see much, just a girl and a ghost.  However, I got the distinct impression that Philip was in trouble.  I told Derek about it, but since I didn't have anything concrete to go on, and he seemed to know more than we did about Philip's reasons for being in Ireland in the first place, I didn't push it when he brushed it off."

"Well, I better go get him and fill him in.  Don't worry Alex, I'm sure Philip will be fine.  We'll do our best to see to it." He said and walked off.

Alex stood in the Library for a few moments and made up her mind.  She walked out and up the stairs like a woman with a mission.  Soon she was coming down again with a bag in either hand.  She went to the front door and headed down across the lawn and proceeded to place the bags in the hold of the helicopter.

When Nick and Derek came down fifteen minutes later, they were surprised to see her sitting in the chopper waiting for them.

"What do you think you're doing?" the older of the two men asked her sharply.

"I'm going with you." was all she said.

"Like Hell you are!" he replied.

He reached to take her bags out of the hold.  However, before he had a chance to grasp the first one, her hand clamped down on his wrist like a vise.  He looked up into her eyes and saw the determination written there.  Nick just stood waiting to see which one would come out on top.  He was ready to place bets on Alex, but Derek was just as determined to keep her out of harm's way.

"Derek!  You know that I can help.  I'm involved in this whether you like it or not.  It was me who first saw him in danger, remember?" she asked, pointedly reminding him of that night in her room.

The precept sighed deeply.  He knew that she was right, but he was filled with dread at the thought of her coming with them.  The image of Julia crucified in that field in Connemarra would haunt him till the end of his days.  He knew that he wouldn't be able to go on if something, anything happened to Alex.  As much as they fought, he knew that their feelings for each other went far deeper than they had even admitted to.

"Someone has to stay here in case Philip calls!" he said, obviously grasping at straws.

Alex smiled without humor.  "I've already contacted Rachel.  She and Kat are coming to stay at the house in our absence.  I'm going to Ireland with you or without you Derek Rayne.  You can kick me out of the Legacy, and I'd still go."

Nick got into the pilot's seat knowing that Derek had been checkmated by the spunky woman that he was trying so hard to protect.  "Well, now we have something else in common." He thought, wryly amused and ignited the turbine engine. Derek and Alex patently ignored each other once they boarded the chartered airplane that was to take them to Galway.  Each was furious with the other for doing what they pleased.  Derek had finally had to give in faced with the very real threat Alex made of finding her own way to Ireland.  He was angry that she wouldn't allow him to protect her.  She was angry for what she saw as his lack of trust in her to take care of herself.  Both were right, and wrong at the same time.

If there had been anyone else Nick could have turned to on the flight, he might have found their antics funny.  However, he was too worried to spare much time thinking about how much alike his two colleagues were.  His best friend was missing, and his girlfriend had thrown herself helter skelter into the fray without a thought for her own safety.  He ruefully thought that he couldn't trust either one to do the sensible thing.  "Well, that tears it." He thought, momentarily amused by the line his thoughts had taken, "It's leashes for both of them."

Nick moved over to sit next to his Alex, and tried to get her to talk to him about what she thought was going on in Ireland, but she really had no more idea than he did.

Chapter Twelve

Eileen and Sydney tried to make life seem as normal as possible for the children in the absence of their uncle.  Pip knew something strange had happened, but the women were even shielding him since they had no idea what that something was.

That afternoon, he walked out of the house and went down to the beach.  The young man had begun to spend many hours on the beach just after his father died.  It was a place where he could go to think without the interruptions of a busy family, and mostly girls at that.

He saw his friend, Liam McCrory a.k.a. "Ole Stumpy", so called because of the leg he had lost while serving in His Majesty's Royal Navy, and waved.

"Hiya Pip.  Wha's new laddie?" the old man shouted when the boy was close enough to hear him.

Young Philip simply shook his head and said, "I'm no sure.  Ma uncle was here, but now he's gone.  'Cept his stuff's still a' th'ouse."

The ancient mariner shook his grizzled head and said, "Tsk. Tsk.  No like yer uncle t'go off'n like tha' is it?  Hey, you see tha' there 'ouse?  Th'one on th'cliff?" he asked the boy pointing to an imposing structure on the headland.

"Yeah.  Wha' about it?" Pip asked.

"Wul, I donna believe in ghosties, but I wouldna go near tha' place a' night.  Even durin' th'day sometimes.  All sorts o'strange noises comin' from there, dontcha know?  And lads goin' in, and most no comin' out." The old man said mysteriously.

"Really?" the boy replied, obviously taken with the images described by his ancient friend.  "You think tha' ma uncle might be there?"

"Oh laddie, I hope not.  Yer uncle, Father Philip, isa verra smart lad.  I'm shur he wouldn'a go anywhere close t'tha' place.  Now don' ye go gettin' it in yer head t'go up there.  It's no place fer grown men, let alone a wee lad o'fourteen." The man said, worriedly.

He had only pointed out the house in an effort to take the lad's mind off his missing uncle.  Now he was worried that he'd actually made matters worse.

"Don' ya worry about me.  I've go' th'baby, three sisters and me mum t'look after now." He said, trying to sound mature.  However, in his mind, he was already working out the hows and whens of getting in to take a look around.  He just knew that his uncle was up in that house.

Chapter Thirteen

Alex had decided that enough was enough.  She wasn't going to allow Derek to make the trip harder than it already was.  When they arrived on the ground in Galway, while Nick gathered their bags and got them through Customs, she took the precept aside.

"Alright Derek.  This has gone on long enough.  I'm sorry I stomped on your fragile male ego, but you have got to see that my presence could be necessary." She said by way of an apology.

"What?!  MY fragile male ego?  What about you're damned independent nature?  I was only trying to protect you from whatever evil has found it's way into this mess." He replied, far from appeased by her initial efforts at a truce.

"Okay.  So I tend to go 'off' when confronted with what I see as 'high handed' behavior on your part.  But admit it, I might just be right this once." She said, smiling as she recalled her words and their subsequent effect.

"Well…possibly." He said truculently, then he looked her in the eye.  "However, I want your promise right now that you will do exactly as I say from here on out.  This mission only, of course." He added ruefully, at the look that came over her face.

She opened her mouth, an obvious protest on her lips, and he put his hand over it.  "Promise me Alex.  Promise, or you come no further.  On this I am adamant.  I want to hear no other words emerge from those lips except, 'Yes Derek'…oh, unless, it's 'Yes, Derek darling'." He was smiling broadly as he said the last word, and then let out a sharp yell.

"Argh!  My Got!  You bit me!" he shouted.  The handsome Dutchman put his hand in his mouth to sooth the throbbing, and looked at her with horrified eyes.  He had no idea she could be such a wild cat.

"Yes Derek, darling!" she replied sweetly, and walked away to help Nick with the bags.

The precept shook his head as he followed his two colleagues.  This was NOT going to be easy. When Nick pulled the Peugeot up in front of Greenslea Cottage, a young brunnette came running down the path.

"Nick!" Sydney cried, throwing herself into his arms.

He spun her around, then set her down to give her the once over.  He was glad that she appeared to be completely whole.  Nothing out of the ordinary.  The ex-SEAL pulled her into his arms again and hugged her tightly.

"Uh, Nmmk.  Yrre sqzin mmm hfd." She mumbled into his shirt, and he released her.

"What?" he asked in confusion.

"I said you were squeezing too hard." And she started to giggle.

Sydney's giggling had no sooner started than she was overcome by waves of nausea.  Alex, who had just stepped out of the car, experienced similar feelings.  Derek rushed to Alex and Nick continued to retain his grasp on his girlfriend while they were engulfed in a whirling vortex of images.  Philip tied to a bed, a boy - Pip climbing a trellis, a dark-haired woman laughing maliciously, Moira crying her uncle's name in torment, then the banshee.  Soon the image of the banshee gave way to more a more horrifying image of the demon.  Alex said its name aloud in her trance, and Derek looked worriedly at Nick.  As quickly as the vision started, it ended and both women collapsed into the arms of their waiting escorts.  Eileen was astounded.

"Uh, Sydney?  What just happened to you?" the ex-SEAL asked confusedly.

She looked at him with worried eyes, not realizing the reason behind the question.  "Nick, there's something I have to tell you.  I'm psychic.  At least, I think I am.  It all seemed to start after I woke up in the hospital.  And then, this is more recent, the dreams started.  Mostly about Philip.  That's really why I'm here.  He's in trouble.  I knew it, but I didn't know what to do, so I just came.  I thought if I were closer, the dreams might be, I don't know…clearer somehow." Her sentences were running together in her fear that he wouldn't believe her, or worse yet, that he would believe her and walk away because of it.

Suddenly she was yanked out of Nick's hands and Derek peered deep into her eyes.  She was frightened by the intense look on his face, but soon felt his mind touch hers, and was reassured.  He smiled down at her.

"She definitely has gifts.  Untrained as yet, but there all the same." He said to his two colleagues.

Chapter Fourteen

Philip was awakened by a soft featherlight touch of lips pressed to his.

"Good morning my love."

He gazed up into the gold/green eyes of his captor.  "Oh No.  She's got  tha' look in her eye again." He thought disconsolately.  He noticed shockingly that aside from the color of her eyes, she looked exactly like Sydney.

The creature laughed softly.  "I've found another playmate for you my dear.  You'd hidden this one well from me.  She's lovely."

"NO." he said, and it was a statement of fact, not a plea or a question.  More of a command.  He continued, "Not Sydney!  Don' do it Cliodhna.  Anyone but her."

The woman hovering over him smiled gleefully.

"Anyone?  Oh, my darling Philip.  You really DO care about this one, don't you?" she said cattily.

"She belongs t'someone else, tha's all.  Someone I care about.  Besides, you don' need her. You've got tools enough t'hurt me." He replied, and she began to change.  Alex.

"What about her?" the sprite asked, smiling.

"Alex!  Uh, yes.  She'd do." He replied relieved, but winced when he saw her change again and take the form of his sister-in-law.

"No Alex is too easy.  You are too easy in your mind with her.  Too naturally compatico.  To touch her would not torment you like this one." She said, laughing at the look of disgust on his face and began to kiss him.

She stood before him and slowly removed every stitch of clothing she wore, her seductive movements so hauntingly familiar that he felt tears come into his eyes.  When she had removed the last of her clothing, she bent her head and kissed him longingly.

"Be Michael fer me Pip.  Please luv…just fer a little while." she whispered in his ear, mimicking Eileen's soft lilt exactly.

"Lord God, no…please don' let her do this t'us." He prayed silently, his heart screaming out for Michael, Eileen, and ultimately for himself.

He despised his weakness as he felt himself giving in to her.  Damn her!  Why couldn't she use Ellen?  He was certain he could withstand her touch.  So much had happened to him since that fateful night on the beach.  Then he realized that was the one reason she didn't use the young woman from his past.  She truly meant nothing to him in his heart.  Eileen, on the other hand, was only to be found in his heart.  He would never consider her anything but his brother's wife.  Forbidden fruit.  This woman creature wanted him to feel the guilt right along with the passion.

When she had finished, instead of feeling guilty and filled with sorrow, Philip was angrier than he could ever remember being.  He spoke harshly in his fury.

"Alright, you've had your fun.  Now, why dontcha go an' ask Iuvart how Briony died.  Ask him about the last time I was in Ireland, and how I defeated him.  He wants t'use you t'destroy ma faith, but it's not goin' t'work.  ASK HIM, an' tell him I KNOW!!!" he screamed at her, and was gratified to see the uncertainty written on her face.

The sprite vanished before his eyes.

As his fury began to fade, the pain resurfaced.  The young priest prayed long and hard that God would forgive his weakness, and help him to overcome the guilt.  After a time of fruitless introspection, Philip drifted off to sleep. "Why didn't you tell me about this sooner?" Nick asked from his position at Sydney's feet.

There weren't enough chairs to go around in the small cottage, let alone beds.  Derek had decided that he and Nick could stay at the village inn, and leave Alex and Sydney with Eileen and the children.  The two men would walk to the inn later that afternoon and sort out their belongings.

First, the visions experienced by Alex and Sydney had to be dealt with, and even before that, Sydney's newfound abilities.

"Nick, I had no idea how you would take it.  I didn't know that your friends were actually psychic, now did I.  That was something you chose to keep from me.  So let's just say, we kept each other out of the loop, okay?" she said, more than a little upset that he had neglected to fill her in on his less than mundane lifestyle.

Alex smiled at Nick's abashed look.  "Oh, I'm going to like this girl!" she thought.  Aloud she said, "Well, now's not the time to be discussing our personal problems.  Philip's in trouble and it starts with a giant 'I'." She said, and shivered at the thought of their friend having to face that demon again.

Derek looked worried as well.  "Are you certain it was Iuvart, Alex?  Could it not have been just another demon?" he asked, not really holding out any hope of an affirmative answer.  That was one demon that the young woman would not readily forget, he knew.

"Oh, it was Iuvart alright.  However, what puzzles me is that he wasn't directly tied to Philip's danger.  At least not in my vision.  Sydney?"

"No.  Just tacked on at the end as usual." She replied.

"Ususal?" Nick asked, his hackles going up again.  "What do you mean usual?  You've had this exact vision before?"

"Alright people!" Derek said, interrupting Sydney's heated reply to her beloved's angry question.  "How about this for a theory?  Iuvart, trying to hurt Philip, and realizing the importance of his family to our priest, attacks Moira causing her mortal illness.  Thus he is involved, but only in a roundabout fashion."

"Yes Derek, but that doesn't explain Philip's disappearance." Alex said, and was cut off sharply by Sydney.

"OR PIP!  He was climbing a trellis.  Eileen, have you seen Pip since lunch?" she asked, her voice filled with fear for the young boy.

When they had exhausted all possible hiding places in and around the house, Eileen was beginning to show her terror.  Derek asked her if there was any place Pip might go to be alone.

"The beach!  He's taken t'goin' down there t'be by himself since his da died." She said, grasping at the one hope she had left.

"Okay, Nick you're with me.  Alex…all right, you come too, but Sydney, Eileen needs you right now.  Will you please stay here in case I'm wrong?" and the young woman nodded her assent.

Alex had one thought before she followed the men down the path, "Now why can't he ask me nicely like that?"

Chapter fifteen

"Uncle Philip!" the young boy at the bedside whispered urgently in the older man's ear.  "Wake up!"

The priest's eyes fluttered open and he looked on the face of his nephew.  "Pip!  Whatcha doin' here?  Get outta here before she catches you!"

Since Pip was not well versed in the art of breaking and entering, it had taken him a very long time to pick the lock on the french doors, but in the end he had been gratified to hear the "snap" of the lock.  While whispering Philip's name over and over trying to waken him, the boy had already untied the bonds that held his beloved uncle captive, and was now in the process of handing him his clothes, they had unaccountably been sitting on the chair by the fireplace.

"No, I'm no goin' without you.  Now get dressed!" he said, sounding for a moment like his father causing a smile to appear on the older man's face as he nodded his assent.

Philip looked at the clothes he had been wearing when he walked out of the house and wondered what he had done prior to arriving at Cliodhna's lair.  They were tattered and dirty.  However, they were his clothes, and he scrambled into them as quickly as he could.  His hands and feet began to tingle as the blood started to circulate in them again, but he didn't care.  His only thought was to get himself and the boy as far from the house as they could get before his captor realized he was missing.

Pip lead him out onto the terrace, and the trellis that he had climbed to reach him.  From his vantage point on the lattice work, Philip realized that the boy could see everything that had gone on in the room, and prayed that he had arrived after Cliodhna's departure. "Hey old timer.  You seen a young boy around here lately?  About so high, dark hair.  Nice looking kid." Nick asked the grizzled looking man sitting on a fallen log.

"Happens tha' I might have.  Wha's it t'ya lad?" the man answered.

Alex could tell that the man was playing a cat and mouse game with Nick and was just not the mood.  The townsfolk had been less than helpful, and she was tired and worried.  "Look mister, we're searching for Pip Callaghan.  Either you've seen him, or not.  If not, then we'll be on our way, but if so…he could be in real danger."

The result of Alex's diatribe on the old man was shocking.  "Pip?  Saint's Preserve Us.  He's gone and done it hasn'a he?  I jus knew I'da been better off keepin' ma maw shut.  Poor lad.  I was only tryin' t'divery his min' ya know?"

Derek squatted at the man's feet.  "What has he done?  Do you know where he is?" he asked urgently and the man pointed at a house on the hill.  Even from their extreme distance, they could just make out two figures climbing down the side of the cliff.

"Philip!" Alex whispered in fright and began to run in their direction, the two men following not far behind her. The young boy was very quiet once they reached the bottom of the cliff.  Philip knew from the look on his nephew's face, that he had seen at least part of what went on in the room before Cliodhna left.  One instinct told him to get as far away as fast as he could, but another told him that he had to take care of his nephew first.  The latter took precedence.

He reached out for Pip, who dodged his outstretched hand.  "Pip Callaghan.  Jus' you wait a minute there." He said, shocked and wondered how he was ever going to explain the situation to his impressionable nephew.

He was even more shocked when the boy spun on his heel and said, "I saw what you were doin' wi' mum."

The priest's heart sank.  He was well and truly toppled from his pedestal in the boy's eyes now.  Philip sighed and sat down on a huge rock.

"Pip come here." He said softly.  When the boy made no move toward him, he reiterated his statement, only with more force and his nephew walked slowly over and sat down on the rock next to him.

"Darlin' I don' know what t'tell ya, except tha' you an' I both know it wasn'a your mom.  Wha' tha' woman did, was designed t'hurt me, not make me feel good.  Pip, I've never done those thin's with your mom an' I never will." He said, willing his nephew to understand.

"But you're no supposed t'do those thin's with anybody.  You're a priest." The boy said, unwilling to forgive him yet.

Philip smiled.  A beginning.  The priest knew that the situation he had just been rescued from was a complex one, but he chose the simplistic view to explain things to his young nephew.

"I know tha' Pip…an' believe me so did Cliodhna.  She did those thin's t'me outta spite.  An' usin' your mom's appearance, only made it worse for me.  Do ya see?  No matter wha' you thought you saw, you didn'a see me enjoyin' myself, didya?" he asked.

The boy shook his head and looked up at his uncle.  "No Uncle Philip.  Actually ya told'er off real good."

Philip laughed and put his arm around his nephew's shoulders.  This time the boy didn't draw away.  "Well, not nearly as good as I wanted ta.  Pip, I'm sorry you had t'see all tha', but you were verra brave t'come an' rescue me th'way you did.  Howdya know where I was?"

The young boy's eyes lit up at the praise, and Philip knew he'd been restored to his pedestal, if slightly tarnished.

"Ole Stumpy said tha' stuff happened here.  I couldn'a think o'where else you'da got to." He said, and launched in on a detailed account of his ingenuity as they walked the length of the beach.

Far above them in one of the upper rooms of the house, Cliodhna smiled tenderly.

Chapter Sixteen

"Philip!!!!"  Alex screamed in joy as she neared the two bedraggled figures walking toward them.

The priest's eyes went round and he stopped stock still in his tracks at the sight of his three colleagues running full tilt in his direction.  Pip stopped as well, and looked up at his uncle.

"What the…" he whispered almost to himself.

"D'you know them, Uncle Philip?" he asked warily.

Philip ruffled his nephew's hair and smiled down into his upturned face.  "Yes laddie.  They're friends o'mine.  What they're doin' here I haven't a clue, but c'mon an' I'll introduce ya."

He hadn't taken three steps forward before Alex collided with him, throwing her arms and legs around him and sending them both flying into the sand in laughing hysterically.  Pip just stood by watching, unsure of the woman's closeness with his uncle.  He'd seen too much in the previous hours to accept her joy at seeing her friend whole and healthy, as just that.  However, he sensed from his uncle a happiness at the sight of his friends untouched by any intimacy, and began to relax.  Philip struggled to his feet and reached down to lend Alex his hand.  She in turn kissed him and began running her hands over him, checking for broken bones.

"Well, if he wasn't damaged before, he will be now Alex!" Derek said, only partially kidding, he and the ex-SEAL having arrived on the scene at last.

"Derek!  Nick!  Whatcha doin' in Ireland?  You didn'a come all this way because o'me, didya?  Ouch!  Alex!!!  Stop already, I'm fine!  Just a wee bit bruised in places." he said, the last in reaction to her poking and prodding.

"So you must be Pip.  Nice to meet ya.  Good work on the rescue too." Nick said to the youngest in the group.  "However, I think we should be getting back, Eileen is worried sick about her boy.  Besides, you 'laddie', look like you could use a nice long shower and a shave." Nudging Philip in the ribs.

"Ouch!  I'm kinda sore.  Don' be doin' tha'." He replied grumpily.

The group split up into two.  Nick, Alex and Pip walked on ahead.  As if by unspoken agreement, Derek lagged behind with their friend to fill him in on what had been transpiring in his absence, and their belief that Iuvart was behind Moira's illness.

"I know." The priest said quietly.

Derek looked at him sharply.  "What do you mean, 'you know'?  Have you seen him?"

"No, it's just that Cliodhna mentioned Iuvart in her gloating." He said, and felt like biting his tongue off as Derek's eyebrows disappeared into his hairline.  Of all of them, Philip knew that Derek was familiar of the stories of Cliodhna.

"Cliodhna?  You are kidding, aren't you?" the precept asked.  "Are you telling me that you've been held captive by…well…I can't believe it.  Philip?"

The priest sighed.  "Yes Derek.  It was.  I really don' wan' t'talk about it though, do ya mind?" he asked and his friend nodded.

"So why is Sydney here, again?" he asked the older man.

"Well, it appears that her trauma several months ago had a residual effect.  She and Alex have both had visions of you in danger.  That's why we're here."  Derek answered the younger man, still filled with curiosity about the sprite, but understanding the priest's reluctance to discuss it.  He did, however, realize that the connection to Cliodhna probably had a bearing on Alex's more erotic feelings during her post-dream state recently.

"Amazin'!" Philip said, then thought about his reasons for coming to Ireland to begin with.  "Derek, what are we goin' t'do about Moira.  I can' figure out how Iuvart is affectin' her, an' without tha' information, there's nothin' I can do t'save her."

The handsome Dutchman was dreading the moment when his friend would ask about his niece.  "Well Philip, we are running out of time my friend.  Your niece has gotten progressively worse, and I'm afraid we won't have time to confront the demon." As they walked through town on their way back to the cottage, Alex was shocked at the difference in the attitude they met.  When they had come through the first time, people had glared and some had even gone so far as to turn on their heels and go back inside at the sight of them.  Now, with Pip and Philip in tow, the townspeople came up to them, clapped them on the back and welcomed them with open arms.

"So this is what they mean by 'Failte'." She thought.  The Gaelic "welcome".  A more garrulous people, she'd not come across, so long as you were one of theirs.

Derek and Nick were assured of rooms at the Duck and Drake, the village's primary public house.  All were invited to come by that evening for dinner, but Philip gently declined saying that he was exhausted, and needed to check in on Moira.  The innkeeper nodded his head in understanding and told the priest to convey his prayers to God for the health of the young girl.  Philip thanked him and said that they would stop in later in the week perhaps.

There was a dressmaker shop, a bootmaker shop, a smithy, one lonely petrol station, a postal station, the grocers, several public houses, a Catholic Church and an Anglican Church.  Aside from that, the village consisted mainly of thatched cottages, similar but smaller in size to Greenslea Cottage.  Alex was charmed.

Suddenly Philip stopped and looked around as if searching for something.  His gaze travelled to the wooded area just south of town, which separated the Greenslea property from town proper.  He turned to his friends.

"You three go on and take Pip back home.  I have somethin' I have t'do." He said, a chilling quality to his voice.

Sensing that Iuvart was in the woods, Alex was frightened at the idea of him going in alone. "Philip, don't.  Let us…" she began, but got no farther.

"NO!  Alex, do as I say!" he said sharply, and then put his hand on her arm at the look that came into her eyes.  "Please.  There's nothin' y'all can do t'help me now.  I have t'do this alone."

Derek placed his hand under her elbow and began to pull her along down the path.  She looked up at him as if to say, "How can you let him do this?" and he smiled down at her.

Nick stepped forward and said, "I'm with Alex.  It would be better if we faced it together.  There's strength in numbers."

"No.  Philip is right.  This is one battle that we cannot assist him with.  He will have less to worry about if we are safe at home." He said and reached down for Pip's hand.

The priest smiled grimly at his friends.  "Derek's right you guys, and just remember, it's hurtin' me that this creature wants, not t'take me.  I won' relinquish my soul, but I have t'see if there's anyway I can help Moira."

He reached out and stroked his nephew's cheek.  It was obvious that the boy understood enough of their conversation to realize that his uncle was planning on confronting something that could hurt him, possibly even kill him.  Pip's eyes were round and filled with fear, but he didn't say a word.  His faith in his beloved uncle had been restored, and he refused to let him know how frightened he really was.

"Pip.  Everythin'll be okay.  I promise.  I'll see you back at th'house.  Jus' mind Derek, an' he'll see you safe home.  Remember, your mom is worried sick right now."  His nephew nodded in silent understanding.

With one last look at his friends, he walked off into the woods. "PIP!  Philip Michael Callaghan!  I could turn ya over ma knee!  How couldya worry me like tha'?"

Eileen was beside herself with relief, torn between joy that her son had been found whole and safe, and anger with him for running off in the first place.  Anger won the day and she sent the young man to bed with a flea in his ear.

After watching her son sullenly climb the stairs to his room, she realized that the other four who walked through the door appeared worried about something.  "Wha's wrong?" she asked.

Alex looked at Derek and he nodded.  "It's Philip.  Pip found him, and we were all coming home, but he sensed Iuvart and now he's gone off to confront him about Moira." She said.

Eileen crossed herself and Sydney did the same.  "Alone?  You let him go ALONE?" the clerical assistant asked her boyfriend, and his colleagues.

Nick and Alex both looked to Derek for confirmation, since they too had been against allowing their friend to wander off to meet the demon on his own.

"Yes.  He had to go alone" was all the precept would say.

"Oh I SEE." She said as if his pronouncement had explained everything.  However, since it was uttered in the most sarcastic of tones, no one was in any doubt that she still thought they had behaved atrociously.

Eileen, worried more now for her brother-in-law than she had been before yet still sensible said, "Well, there's nothin' we can do now, but wait.  Right?"

"Uh…well…" Nick began, but was silenced for once by a look from the precept.

"Right." Derek said, and sat down in a chair to wait it out.

Chapter Seventeen

Striding into the clearing with more confidence than he actually felt, Philip looked around.  He refused to allow the fear and desperation he felt in his heart to be seen and used against him.

The priest steeled himself and shouted, "Iuvart!  I'm here.  Show yerself…you evil coward!  Usin' women an' children t'achieve yer means…wha' would your master say, I wonder?"

A malicious cackle sounded all around him.  "So.  It's the boy priest.  Still clinging to your perpetual vow of celibacy 'Father'?" He asked and laughed again.  "Oh, that's right.  You've been a naughty boy, haven't you Philip?"

The Irishman felt his temper rising, but refused to take the bait.  "You of all creatures should know that for there to be actual commission of sin, intent must accompany the act.  God has already forgiven me my weakness Iuvart, and he knows that I did not break my vow to him this time."

"Hmmm, I wonder.  What about your so lovely sister-in-law?  Do you think she'll forgive you Philip?  Will you even be able to bring yourself to tell her about your desires, I wonder?" the demon asked, grinning evilly.

The priest's heart gave a lurch as he recognized the validity of the demon's taunt.  "ENOUGH!  I didn'a come here t'talk about this filth wi'ya.  I want t'know wha' you mean t'do to Moira!" he shouted, at the end of his tether.

The demon just laughed and sat back against a fallen log.  "Well Philip, what do you think?  She's dying you know.  Oh, if you thought that there was a way to stop it, you were right.  Relinquish your soul to me and I will make her whole once again.  She will live and grow old.  She'll have children and grandchildren.  All I ask is for this one small concession.  I will even allow you to continue as you are.  You do not have to come with me yet.  Simply agree to come to me when your time is up, and it's done."

The creature smiling evilly at the priest was surprised when Philip actually began to laugh.  He was becoming annoyed with this very fallible human male.  Just when he was ready to strike out, the young Irishman spoke.

"Oh my, you are th'arrogant one, aren't ya?  So.  Let me see if I understan' ya.  If I give you my soul, you'll let me an' mine live our lives in peace?  Is tha' the deal then?" he asked, as if trying to ascertain the meat of the matter.

"Yes.  Take it or leave it priest!" Iuvart spat, tired of the game.

Philip pretended to consider the matter, then said, "I think I'll leave it, if you don' mind."  He turned to walk away, but he had goaded the demon too far.  Iuvart picked him up and threw him across the clearing.  He heard and felt his hip connect with the base of a tree, and ground his teeth in agony.  The priest reached down and felt his hip.  Not broken, but he would be limping for days.

He struggled to sit up as the evil creature gazed down on him.  "Not laughing now are we, BOY?"

Philip ignored the taunt and said, "Didya really believe tha' I would jus' turn my soul over t'ya t'save Moira's life, when I took Briony's wi' my own hand t'avoid it?  I know my niece, an' she'd never forgive me for making such an unholy bargain.  Moira herself, would rather die than see me in Hell!  At least I know you'll not be seein' her there!"

"So be it." Iuvart said and vanished. The sun had set.  Eileen and Sydney walked from room to room turning on lights and looking surreptitiously out windows for any sign of Philip.  As she crossed the foyer, Alex heard a noise on the porch, and opened the door.

At the foot of the stairs, was a weak and bleeding young man.  It took her almost 30 seconds to recognize the form as that of their friend.

"PHILIP!!  What happened?" she cried, as she reached down to help him into the house.

It had taken him nearly an hour to regain the use of his left leg, and even then his movement had been limited.  He had several deep scratches on his arms and a gash in his left leg, which was where most of the blood had come from.  His weakness, however was mainly from fatigue and hunger.

After they had settled him on the couch, dressed his wounds and allowed him to eat, he recounted his conversation with the demon…leaving out the choice bits about what had happened while he was Cliodhna's captive.

"Well, that was brilliant!  What were you thinking to TEASE a creature like that?" Sydney asked sharply.  "You could have been killed!"

Philip looked abashed at the agreement on everyone's faces.  "Sorry, I guess my temper jus' got th'better o'me.  He was jus' so bloody sure of himself.  I jus' reacted.  I wanted t'strike out at him like he had struck out at me.  Stupid."

Eileen walked in with the tea tray, and she noticed that Philip had yet to look directly at her since his return.  Thinking that he felt guilty about leaving her alone to cope, she shrugged it off as something he'd get over.  However, when he accidentally touched her hand as he accepted his teacup, and dropped it rather than prolong the touch, she wasn't sure.

"Well, it seems that the bottom line is, we're no closer to a solution for Moira's condition than we were to start with." Derek said, taking a sip from his cup.  "Perhaps we are going about this in the wrong way.  Maybe we should be looking for a medical solution."

The group gathered around the tea tray discussed various possible treatments, and one or two more arcane solutions, but by the time two hours had passed, they hadn't stumbled onto anything that could really be considered useful.  Alex looked over at Philip and realized that he must be exhausted.

"I think it's time we all got some rest."  She said, and everybody agreed.

Philip alone had not contributed one word to the discussion of the past two hours.  Alex had attributed this to his state of body, when in fact it was due entirely to his state of mind.  When he had touched Eileen's hand, he had been reminded vividly of the past several days.  The priest had no idea how he was going to manage to remain in the same house as his sister-in-law, let alone speak to her as if nothing had happened.  He had become increasingly depressed.

He made a concerted effort to avoid her as everyone was saying goodnight, even going so far as to walk out with Derek and Nick.  When he noticed that she was still cleaning up with Alex and Sydney's help, he walked around the side of the cottage and let himself into Michael's private study.  Philip discovered his brother's personal store of Irish whiskey, and decided that he would just get drunk to forget everything.  However, soon he became even more depressed at the memories evoked by his surroundings.  Since the others had long since gone upstairs, the priest picked up glass and bottle and walked into the dining room.

Chapter Eighteen

Everyone had gone to bed.  At least that was what the young widow thought until she saw the light coming from the dining room when she got up to check on her daughter.  She made her way cautiously down the staircase, and looked into the room.  The sight that greeted her eyes surprised her.  Her brother-in-law, looking more unkempt than he had that afternoon when they had found him wandering the beach, was sitting at the table staring out into space.

"Philip?  Whatcha doin' up at this time o'night, laddie?  After th'time you've had, I'da thought you'd be right tired." she asked softly, and noticed he'd been drinking from Michael's private reserve of Irish Whisky.  She noted with surprise that he'd made quite a dent in the bottle in the short time he'd been drinking.  "Must be worse than I imagined." She thought.

He had started at her entrance, and downed the last of his glass of whisky.  Then he got up from the chair and walked over to her, unsteady on his feet.

"Sweet Heavenly Days, he's drunk as a Lord" she murmured to herself in shock.  She'd never seen her brother-in-law so inebriated.

His shirt was partially untucked and completely unbuttoned.  He'd obviously been running his hands through his hair.  When he reached her, he pulled her into his arms and held her tight.  She could feel the hair from his chest soft against her cheek.

"Forgive me Leenie" he said in a tortured whisper, and buried his face in her hair.

The widow was astounded.  She leaned back in his arms to look up at him, then hugged him tightly.  "For what luv?  Leavin'?  We know now tha' you couldn'a help yerself.  I'm jus thankful tha' th'good Lord has brought ya back t'us safe an' sound.  You know, Moira was th'only one who believed 'twas the Cliodhna." She said, noticing his jerk at the mention of the creature, and realized that there was much they would never know about what had happened to him in his absence.

She took his face in her hands and kissed him lightly on the lips.  "I don' know wha' I'da done without ya.  You, Philip Callaghan, are my best friend in th'whole world.  Funny tha', isn' it?  Michael always wanted us t'be better friends.  It's a shame tha' we had t'wait until he was gone t'really find each other, dontcha think?"

Her words were like a knife in his heart, which twisted with each syllable she uttered.  Finally the young priest couldn't take anymore.  He wrenched out of her grasp, turned away from her and stood with his back to her, his hands gripping the back of the chair so hard that his knuckles were white.

He stood before her, head bowed like a man vanquished.  His voice was raw with grief when he spoke.  "STOP IT!  Stop it!  Oh Eileen!  Dontcha understan'?  She used ya!  Th'filthy sprite took YOUR form.  She took your form." He said, the last in such a low tone she could barely hear him.

The beautiful young widow stood looking at his back in shock, thoughts flying around in her head.  She tried to make sense of the ideas that were running through her mind.  Cliodhna had taken her form?  Why?  For what possible purpose….?  Then the truth began to seep in.  The petite redhead began to shake in fury at the thought of what had been done to her gentle and loving brother-in-law.

"Jesus, Mary an' Joseph!  Tha' foul, evil minded, bloody…BITCH!  I canna believe tha' even she could do tha' t'YOU!  Oh, my poor precious Philip!  My darlin' I'm so sorry!" She wanted to reach out to him, but realized that such an action would disturb him even more.

He turned to face her with haunted eyes, unwilling to believe her response.  She saw that he had been blaming himself for days, and the thought tore at her heart.  He had actually expected her to walk away from him in disgust.  "Ma poor lamb!" she thought.

She had always been aware of the crush he'd had on her in his youth, but she also knew that as adults, they were closer than lovers could ever be.  They were friends.  Michael would definitely approve and there was nothing for Philip to be ashamed of in his feelings toward her, of that she was positive.

She had the proof in his treatment of her during her time of grief, when she would have welcomed his touch, so much like her husband was he.  However, he had refused to be drawn.  He was the one who put up the barriers between them when they became necessary.  No, Philip had nothing to fear in his feelings for her.

She walked up to him and put her hands on his chest, looking into his eyes.  "Philip, you canna blame yourself for wha' she did t'you.  Think about all th'nights you held me while I cried myself sick over Michael.  We were closer physically than you'd been t'any woman since tha' episode wi' Ellen.  Closer than we'd ever been before.  Did you have…well… those thoughts then?  No!" and she shook him gently.

"Dontcha see?  SHE put these thoughts in yer head.  I know you think I'm beautiful…I think you're incredibly handsome too."  He smiled at that and she continued, "You look so much like Michael tha' sometimes it hurts, but I don' wan' t'make love t'you.  An' I don' believe tha' you WANTED t'make love t'me!  She did ALL th'wantin'!"

With every assurance she uttered he began to look less distraught.  Finally he sighed.  "Oh Eileen.  It was torture.  I didn'a know how I'd ever face you again.  Leenie, I LIKED it!  I responded t'you…I mean, t'her!  I was completely outta control o'my emotions. Tha's what had me so tied up in knots."

His sister-in-law giggled, which shocked him.  "Sorry darlin', but it's a funny thought.  I can imagine you did like it, luv.  How long has it been since you've been…well, since you've made love?  Far too long in my opinion.  Th'body's designed fer it, darlin'.  God built us tha' way.  It's only our intellect tha' sets us apart from th'animals ya know." She stopped, allowing what she had said to sink in.

Suddenly another thought occurred to her, "An' you know what else?  I don' think it'da mattered a damn WHO she looked like.  I mean, it coulda been worse, couldn'a it?  She coulda taken DEREK'S form!" she said, choosing someone who would shock him into recognizing the truth of her words.

"Eileen Margaret Mary Callaghan!  I don' believe you jus' said tha'!!!" he said, then dissolved into giggles at the images that ran through his mind.

The whiskey had made him morose in his depressed state, but now that the depression was lifted, he was an adorably happy drunk.  Eileen decided it was time to get him safely tucked into bed.  He giggled all the way up to his room, and she had to hush him several times.  By the time he was snuggled up in bed, she was exhausted

Thinking about what he had confided to her that evening, she felt the fury returning.  How dare that creature use her sweet, gentle brother-in-law in such a way?  Well, the sprite had better hope she never came up against Eileen Callaghan, that much was certain.  Once the alcohol and amusement had worn off, she knew that he would again feel pain, but at least his soul would begin to heal.  And they still had Moira's condition to deal with. "Philip." A voice whispered in his ear.  He swatted it away as he would a fly, but the whispering just became more insistent.  Finally he opened his eyes and looked up into the face of the one creature in the world he wanted to forget.

"Cliodhna!"  He glanced around to see where he was, and was partially relieved to recognize his room from the cottage.  "What're ya doin' in my room?  H-h-h-ow d'ya get here?" he whispered back in an urgent undertone.

"There's no time for that now my love.  I am here because I've been filled with remorse at what I did to you.  Also, I have learned that you were correct, Iuvart IS behind your niece's illness.  It fills me with fury that he presumed to use me to get to you.  I cannot abide a demon that doesn't know his place.  Therefore, I am here to make amends." She said softly.

"Amends?  You think there's anythin' you can do tha' will make wha' you did t'me ever go away?" he asked in anger.

She sighed.  "No, of course not.  I behaved terribly.  Only understand that I did those things to you because I desired you.  I love you Philip, and when I discovered that my feelings weren't returned…well…they do say there's no fury like a woman scorned.  But enough of that!  I have here a document which I think you might find useful."

"What is it?" he asked, his curiosity overcoming his anger.

She smiled at him and kissed him lightly on the lips.  "A manuscript which will allow you to save your niece…if you have the courage.  I think you do…but I know Iuvart has underestimated you yet again.  Only time will tell.  Till we meet again my love...if we meet again."

When he looked up, she was gone.  In his hands he held an ancient looking document.  He carefully unscrolled it, and began to read.  As the priest read, he became more and more excited.  Soon, the sun was high in the sky and Philip knew what he had to do.

Chapter nineteen

That evening Moira's condition took a turn for the worse, and the priest saw his opportunity.  Philip asked that everyone wait outside while he performed the last rites for his beloved niece.  Eileen didn't want to leave her daughter's side, but also understood her brother-in-law's need to be private with the young girl as he administered the sacrament.  He was bound to break down, and so she acquiesced.

Sydney had volunteered to see the younger children tucked into bed, with a bedtime story.  She wanted the practice.  Therefore, she alone was unaware of the events unfolding elsewhere in the house.  Alex sensed that their friend had a plan, but what it was she couldn't see.  Nick and Derek simply did as their friend had asked, without question.  They all filed out of the room in silence and he closed the door behind them

Inside the room, amidst the wailing of the banshee, the young priest was performing quite another kind of ritual.  He knew that he could never confide his plan for saving his niece to any of them, because he was certain that they would have tried to interfere in some way.  However, he was determined.  Moira would grow into womanhood, and he would sacrifice his own life to save hers.

"En nomine Patris, Filis et Spiritus Sanctus.  My soul for hers, and hers for mine." He chanted, reading the words from the ancient manuscript in his hands.  "In the name of all the saints and the Most Blessed Holy Trinity, I beseech you…accept my soul in the place of Moira Eileen Callaghan, your humble servant."

He continued to chant mixing Latin with English and soon he began to feel weak and started to tremble.  Suddenly he stopped hearing the high pitched wail.  He looked down at his niece.  Her eyes fluttered open with a clarity of vision that told him she was going to live.  She sat up and gazed at him in wonder, which suddenly turned to concern as he crumpled to his knees before her and she noticed the banshee for the first time.

"Uncle Philip!" she cried, scrambling out of bed, and running to the window to close the drapes against the wraith outside.  She came back to the bedside and put her arms around him, hugging him tightly.  Her fear for him was almost tangible, filling the room.

He smiled up at her, serene in the knowledge that he had saved her.  "Ah child.  I prayed that it would work, and had faith that it would." He raised his eyes to heaven and said a fervent prayer of thankfulness.

"What have you done?!  Uncle Philip!!!!" she cried loudly, shaking him in her frustration.

The door burst open.  Everyone gasped when they saw the juxtaposition of the room.  Philip on the floor looking ashen and ill, and Moira kneeling beside him, apparently restored to complete health.

He smiled weakly up at them all and said, "Moira my child, I couldn'a let you die.  It was my fault tha' you were made ill t'begin with.  They wanted t'hurt me.  Well, I've shown'em.  I've robbed'em of their victory…again!  I knew tha' God couldn'a wan' your death."

"PHILIP!  What've you done???!!!" Eileen screamed dropping to her knees beside him.  "No, I…OH God!  Oh Pip!" she was crying in earnest now.  What horrible options…to lose either her best friend or her daughter.   The choice was made for her, but she couldn't help feeling angry that such a choice had been required at all.

"I did wha' I had t'do Leenie.  Moira's safe again, an' don'tcha worry about me.  It was th'right thin' t'do."

Alex was crying openly as she stroked Philip's cheek.  She had failed to protect him.  She couldn't help but feel that she should have known what his intentions were.  Derek and Nick looked like they could almost cry too.  They had all failed him.   Again.  Only this time, the price was his life.

Derek bent down, lifted Philip in his arms and placed him in the bed.  Moira wouldn't let go of her uncle's hand.  She was devastated by the knowledge that he had traded his life for hers.  They all just sat watching as he faded away into nothingness, helpless to stop it.

Nick reached down and clasped the priest's other hand, tears in his eyes.   "God Philip.  You had to go and do it didn't you?"

The priest smiled wanly up at his friend and said, "You know I did Nick.  Take care of Sydney.  She's the best thin' tha's ever happened t'ya, ya know."

His eyes closed, and his breathing became more ragged.  Derek said the last rites, and his words were barely audible over the sobs of the three women in the room.  Nick simply walked out of the room and into the hall.  He couldn't bear to see his friend in his current state.

Philip felt his life slipping away.  He sensed a light in front of him.  It was warm and full of love.  Suddenly, he was standing in a grassy field facing the two most important people in his life.

"Briony!" he said in awe at her beauty, which was even greater in death than it had been in life.

She walked over and wrapped her arms around him, hugging him tightly with tears in her eyes.  She kissed him softly on the lips and said, "Hello beloved.  'Tis wonderful t'see ya, but ya shouldn'a be here yet."

"So I'm dead then?" he asked, diffidently.

His brother walked up next to them and clasped his shoulder spinning him around so he could enclose the young man in a bear hug.

"Hey, little brother." His voice was choked with emotion, and Philip knew that he had witnessed the entire scene in Moira's bedroom.  "You shouldn'a done it Pip.  Even t'save Moira.  I wouldn'a expected it o'ya.  Neither would Eileen.  She NEEDS you laddie.  They all do."

"But Michael, it was my fault tha' she got sick t'begin with." Philip replied with remorse.

"How can ya think that?" his brother demanded angrily.  "You think you can control all th'forces o'evil on earth Philip?  If you start believin' tha' you're doomed!"

Briony chimed in.  "He's right love.  You can't hold yerself responsible for everthin' tha' happens t'those you love."

Philip just stood there facing them and shook his head.  "No, I can't.  However, I can do somethin' about it when evil tries t'use my loved ones t'get at me.  Brie, you know tha's true."

She nodded slightly, and looked at Michael.  <<Leave him t'me.  I'll take care o'it.  Jus' say goodbye, an' I'll send him back where he belongs.>>

He nodded.  <<All right.  Jus' make sure he goes back.  You know wha' th' master said…>>

To his brother he said, "I have t'go.  Philip, I wan' you t'know tha' I love you, and wha' you did took great courage an' self-sacrifice.  Don' you ever think o'yerself as 'th'sinner' or 'blacksheep' o'th family again!  Ye never were an' never will be laddie!" and with that, he hugged his brother again like he never wanted to let go.

Philip had tears in his eyes when he told his older brother that he loved him too.  "I know tha' Pip.  I also know tha' you have no idea how much you mean t'those o'us who love you.  Take care little brother."

When Michael had vanished from their sight, Philip turned back to the love of his life.  "You're goin' t'send me away, aren't ya?" he asked sadly.

She put her arms around him and kissed him lingeringly.  Philip wrapped his arms around her tightly and buried his face in her hair.  Briony pulled back so that she could look up into his beloved face and smiled at him brilliantly, then she nodded.

"Yes my love you must go back, but don' be sad.  It's just not yer time t'come home yet.  God has much more work for you t'do on earth.  Michael was right.  Eileen an' th'others need ya far more than you realize.  They rely on ya t'keep 'em centered.  You're their spiritual compass.  Without you they could easily become lost.  Especially young Philip."  She stroked his face with her fingers and he reached up to grasp them.

"I'm tired Brie.  So tired of fightin' a battle tha' I don' feel I can ever win." He sighed deeply.

"I know love, but we are winnin'.  Everyday tha' Satan is prevented from getting' a foothold on earth, is ours." She put her head on his chest.

"I know, but I jus' want t'stay here with you.  I need you as much as you say they need me.  More!  There's not a moment of a day tha' goes by tha' I don' think o'ya.  I miss you more than I ever thought possible, Mavourneen." he kissed her fingers.

Suddenly a thought occurred to him and he began to get angry.  "Well an', if God knew all along tha' he wasn'a goin' t'go through with my bargain, why'd he let me change places with her at all?  I mean, if I go back she'll…" he couldn't say the word.

"Die?" Briony smiled up at him and shook her head.  "Philip Joseph Callaghan, when will you get it through tha' thick skull o'yours tha' you're here for a purpose.  HE knew Michael needed to tell ya how he felt.  You two had unfinished business when he died an' it was tearin' him up when he saw what you went through with Cliodhna and then wha' you did for Moira.  God's no goin' back on His word now.  She'll be fine.  It was your willin'ness t'sacrifice your life tha' counted, no th'doin' of it."

<<Briony, he must go now, or he won't be able to go at all and he must return.>>

She heard the thoughts in her mind, and sighed.  <<Yes Lord, I know.  I feel it too, but he struggles t'remain.  May I at least tell him tha' we'll meet again?>>

<<You know that isn't allowed.  I'm sorry little one, but he mustn't know yet.>>

"Philip, ya have t'go now." she said reluctantly.

He looked at her perceptively.  He knew she had received instructions, but he could only guess what they were and from whence they came.  "An' what if I choose not to?" he asked, curious.

"Then things will happen on earth tha' should never be." She replied, and shook her head.  "No Philip, you have t'go back.  There's no other choice.  I promise I'll be watching and waiting till we can be t'gether again, my love."

She began to fade before his eyes, and he knew that he was returning to his earthly existence.  "Brie!  Wait!  I'm sorry!" he cried in dismay, but she was gone…as was the field.  He opened his eyes to look down on the top of the head of one of the people who loved him best in the world.  Sydney was sobbing on his chest as if her heart had broken.

"Oh Philip…how could you leave me now.  I need you.  You have no idea how much I'm going to need you in the coming months." Sydney was crying openly.

"An' wha's so special about th'comin' months, m'dear?" he asked, truly curious.

"My God…Philip!" Sydney screamed when she saw his eyes open.  She went deathly pale in shock at his return to life.  Then, pushing the thoughts crowding her mind aside, she bent to kiss him thankfully, and he tasted the traces of her tears on his lips left by hers.  He felt his shirtfront as she twirled around and ran out to the banister to yell "He's alive!!!" down to the others gathered in the foyer.  It was sopping wet, and he smiled to himself.  His assistant had obviously been using his shirt as a crying towel for quite some time.

The young woman had returned from putting the children to bed to discover that her mentor and friend was dead, and there wasn't anything anyone could do to save him.  She had broken down completely and not even Nick had been able to comfort her.  She hysterically refused to leave the priest's side, and so they had left her when they went downstairs to discuss what to do.  Some instinct in her had refused to believe he was really gone.  She sat sobbing on his chest, cursing the God who had allowed him to throw his life away.  Then he had opened his eyes.  When she realized that he had come back to them, her elation knew no bounds.

Everyone came rushing back upstairs and into the room, chattering at once.  He was sitting up in bed, miraculously recovered and looking none the worse for wear.

"Philip!" Eileen cried, rushing to throw her arms around her brother-in-law, and covering his face with ecstatic kisses.  "Thank the Good Lord!  We thought ye were dead.  What happened?" she cried.

"I did die, but apparently it wasn'a my time t'go.  So they sent me back.  Imagine tha'.  I got kicked outta heaven!" He told them smiling, leaving out the details of seeing Michael and Briony.  He wanted that to be his secret for the time being.

Everybody began to talk all at once, putting forth theories about what had really happened.  In the ensuing chaos, Derek leaned over and said softly to the young priest, "Philip, I swear to you, if you ever pull a stunt like that again, I'll..." he stopped, unsure of what he wanted to do to him.  "Well, just don't ever do that again" the older man said sharply.

Philip smiled at his friend and said, "Well Derek, I canna make you any promises, but I'll try t'remember how upset you are, and maybe that'll stop me."

The precept sighed and said, "Well, I certainly hope so.  Try to think about how you would feel if I did what you just did.  Maybe that would help you to see how much you hurt us."

The older man had said 'hurt us', but what he really meant was 'hurt ME'.  The smile vanished from the priest's face and he realized that his friend was still extremely upset. Philip's next words were calculated to appease without backing down.  "Derek, I did what I had t'do.  You'da done th'same thin' if you'd been in my shoes.  I AM sorry if I caused you pain, but I couldn'a let Moira die.  Please understand."

The room had gotten quiet suddenly, and Philip's last words fell like stones into the silence.  Alex looked at Derek's face and realized that he was still suffering from the shock of almost losing their friend.  Philip was like a younger brother, even at times like a son.  Believing him dead had hurt the precept more than any of them had thought possible.  However, he was thinking about what the priest had just said, and realized that his young friend was right.  He would have done the same thing, damn the consequences.

"I do understand my friend.  I guess I just don't want to lose you any more than you wanted to lose Moira." He said, and his meaning was quite clear to the young priest.  He was closer to Derek than anyone, save possibly Alex.  To the precept, losing him had been like Philip losing Michael, or Briony or even Moira.

Since everyone was now watching them, Philip smiled and clapped Derek on the shoulder. "Well, I don' think I'm goin' anywhere in th'near future.  It seems tha' I have a lot o'work left t'do down here, afterall."

Briony, silent witness to all that was transpiring in the room before her, simply said, "Tha' you do m'love, tha' you do." And smiled to herself as she drifted away to watch from a more distant place.