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Tara left the MedLab feeling good. With a few small exceptions, the day had been filled with interesting and exciting events. As she entered the room she shared with Dawn, her attention was immediately drawn to a piece of jewelry laying on her pillow.
Tara walked to the bed and looked with wonder at the golden snake covered with jewels. Her first thought was that Dawn had bought her a gift, but when she looked more closely at the snake, she had a vague memory of seeing it in a picture.
Tara hurried to a bookcase and began looking through books, trying to identify the mysterious gift. After only a few books she stopped. In her hands she held the ancient book which told of Astarte and the gifts she had been known to bestow. She carefully read the properties of the Serpent of Astarte and her spirits fell. She knew within herself that she had been given a great duty to perform... and it might destroy her.
* * * * *
There was a knock on the door of the boathouse.
After a moment of waiting, Andrew opened the door looking exhausted.
"Come in Wesley." Andrew said with honest happiness at seeing him.
"Just for a moment. I am leaving and needed to say a few things before I go." Wesley said as he walked into the room.
"Sure, what is it?" Andrew asked and took a seat on the sofa.
"First I wanted to thank you for inviting me to join you this afternoon. Everyone here has been very kind to me since my arrival, but most especially your family." Wesley said quietly.
"Of course Wesley. Alan was speaking for both of us at dinner today. You are welcomed as part of our family anytime you want to join. Anytime you are able to visit, you're welcomed here and I'm inviting you to spend Christmas with us." Andrew said with a gentle smile.
"Thank you. My work for the council is such that I cannot predict my whereabouts that far in advance, but I will make every effort to join you for Christmas." Wesley said happily.
"Good, we'll be expecting you then." Andrew said with tenderness.
"I have something of a serious matter to discuss with you in regards to your family." Wesley said carefully.
"What is it Wesley?" Andrew asked with immediate concern.
"Since Spike was resurrected using your father's blood, there is a distinct possibility that he is biologically your brother... I just thought you would want to know." Wesley said quietly.
Andrew sat stunned for a minute, then shook himself back to the present. "Thank you for telling me Wesley. I hadn't considered that." Andrew said carefully.
"I must be going now if I'm to make my plane. Enjoy your wonderful family, I hope you know what a blessing you have received." Wesley said as he walked toward the door.
"I do, believe me. And may the gods protect you on your journeys Wesley. All our best wishes go with you." Andrew said as he watched Wesley walk toward his rental car.
* * * * *
Dawn walked into her room to find Tara sitting and staring into space.
"What's going on honey?" Dawn asked as she walked to Tara's side.
"This." Tara said darkly as she held out the Serpent of Astarte.
"It's beautiful. Where did you get it?" Dawn asked curiously.
"Why don't you call on the air and see if you can find the answer?" Tara asked quietly, trying to keep the menace out of her voice.
Dawn shrugged and called on her command of the air.
"There's nothing." Dawn said in confusion.
"I know. The water won't tell me anything either." Tara said solemnly.
"You obviously have an idea of what this is about. What gives?" Dawn asked with the beginnings of worry in her voice.
"Marguerite." Tara said quietly.
"What about her?" Dawn asked in confusion.
"This is the price." Tara said as she looked at Dawn with sad eyes.
"Tara honey, you're freaking me out. What is this thing? Is it cursed or something?" Dawn asked in an imploring voice.
After a long moment of thought Tara said, "It's the means to link the life of a mortal to that of an immortal."
Dawn stood in stunned amazement for a long minute before saying, "This is great! I've been worrying about the future. I've never told you but I think that since I'm a key, I'm immortal. This way we can be together forever."
Tara shook her head and remained silent.
"What am I missing?" Dawn asked, confused by Tara's dark mood.
"It's not for us." Tara said firmly.
"What? What do you mean?" Dawn asked curiously.
"I mean, it's not for us. We were given this... thing, so we can bestow it on someone who needs it. The price had to be something precious to us. The price we have to pay for restoring Marguerite to health is giving up this chance." Tara said with certainty.
"No, no. You said that the water isn't showing you anything. The air isn't talking to me. How can you be sure?" Dawn asked with desperation.
"I am sure. It's the natural order. What we've been given is a gift to bestow or a curse for us to bring down on ourselves." Tara said, imploring Dawn to understand.
"What do you mean a curse?" Dawn asked, still not believing.
"If we refuse to follow the natural order and bestow the gift, what do you think will happen to Marguerite?" Tara asked with force.
"You're just guessing. You can't know..." Dawn said, beginning to get angry.
"I do know." Tara said firmly.
"I'm sorry I didn't tell you about me maybe being immortal before. But I've been trying to find something like this since I met you." Dawn said hopefully.
Tara looked deep into Dawn's eyes and said, "I've known for a while now. When you told me you were a key, I did some research to see just what that means. And I think you're right, you're immortal, it's your natural state... But it's not mine."
* * * * *
"Scott, will you help me? I don't know what to do." John said quietly.
"What do you want to do?" Scott asked in a voice that was much calmer than he actually felt.
"I want to talk to my dad and believe that things can be okay between us. At the same time I want to never talk to him again. And there's another part of me that wants to go there and tell him how much he hurt me." John said with despair.
"John. I'm sorry I don't know what to tell you. If I had any idea of what would make you happy in the long run, I'd tell you to do that. I honestly don't know." Scott said with apology in his voice.
John stopped his thought an looked carefully at Scott. After a moment of consideration he said in astonishment, "You really care."
"Of course I do." Scott said immediately.
"But... I mean, I know it's your job to care about us, but you *really* care." John said as a statement, but it was obviously a question.
"John, you remember that I promised you a happy ending? That's what this is about. You have a series of choices to make and hopefully the right combination of choices will lead you to that happy ending. I can't make the decisions for you, but I'll do everything I can to provide you as many choices as I can." Scott said seriously.
John nodded and said, "I think I'm going to go and see what he has to say."
"If you want me to go with you or to talk with you afterward, all you have to do is ask and I'm there for you." Scott said seriously.
"Because I was telling your dad the truth, you used to be a student, but now you're a friend." Scott said and let the honesty be seen in his face.
"Thanks Scott. I've never been real good at the friendship thing." John said simply.
"Neither was I until recently. But now we've fallen in with a pretty good group." Scott said happily.
"Yeah. All you guys are pretty cool. I thought when Marie outed me to the entire school that my life was over. But maybe it was just beginning." John said in thought.
"You know your orientation doesn't make any difference to me, don't you?" Scott asked and looked into John's eyes to gauge the truth.
"Yeah, I guess I do... Scott, can I tell you something?" John asked and looked over to see Bobby with his attention turned fully toward the direction where Robert and Ronny had traveled.
"Between us?" Scott asked quietly.
"Of course. John, you can tell me anything." Scott said with a shiver of dread at this turn in the conversation.
"Right before I got Bobby's message, I was thinking about ending it." John said quietly.
Scott nodded, then asked in a whisper, "How close?"
John reached into his pocket and pulled out a bottle of pills. "This close." John said as he handed the pills to Scott.
"This would do it." Scott said absently, then looked at John again.
"Yeah. I figured I'd see Bobby one last time, then... that's all." John said with a tremble in his voice.
"And now?" Scott asked, hoping he was right.
"You already said it to my dad. I got friends and respect. Plus I got a future thanks to you. Would you get rid of those for me? I won't need 'em anymore." John said with a note of peace in his voice.
"Sure. Glad to do it... is it getting colder?" Scott asked as he pulled his coat tighter.
"Yeah, either that or Bobby's worried enough about Robert that his power's getting away from him." John said with a look of concern toward Bobby.
"You still love him, don't you?" Scott asked in nearly a whisper.
"Yeah, but like a friend. I'm not going to come between him and Robert." John said with a wistful tone in his voice.
"It'll happen for you. Don't worry." Scott said gently.
"What about you?" John asked with a curious look.
"What about me?" Scott asked suspiciously.
"When are you going to find someone?" John asked seriously.
Scott was taken aback by the direct question and responded, "Who's the adult here?"
"No one. We're just two friends talking. Now tell your friend what's going on with you." John said seriously.
"For years I've been a part of a couple and I lost my own identity, so I'm taking some time to be single and figure out who I am." Scott said honestly.
"That's deep. You think you could talk with me about that sometime? I've never really figured out about myself, I've kinda gone along with whoever was running my life at the time." John said and glanced at Bobby again.
"Which explains why you were so lost when Bobby moved on to Marie." Scott said in a speculative voice.
"Yeah." John confirmed in a whisper.
"Sure, I don't know how much I can tell you. Most of it's feelings more than words." Scott said with a slightly pained look at the thought of having to explain all that.
John giggled and said, "I'm not going to ask you to tell me all your feelings and junk. I'd just like to know how to understand my own, maybe you could help me with that." John said with a smile.
"Yeah. I'd be happy to." Scott said with relief.
* * * * *
"But we need to be together." Dawn pleaded.
"Please stop trying to control me." Tara said desperately.
"I'm not, I just want you to understand that this may be our only chance. We've got to go for it." Dawn said with a pained look.
"The Undine and the Sylph defied the natural order on our behalf. They expended energy to do our bidding. Now it's our turn to do the same in return. We must alter the natural order in a way that they cannot and expend energy to repay them for what they spent." Tara said carefully.
"But you can't know that. The elements are silent." Dawn said defensively.
"Exactly. When have you ever known the elements to be silent when we've asked for guidance. We are being tested. If we fail, we're cursed." Tara said, pleading for Dawn to hear her.
A moment of understanding crossed Dawn's face, then faded with a shake of her head.
"No. You just don't want to commit to me. You want to be able to leave anytime you want without obligation. If we did this you'd be bound to me forever." Dawn said with a look of speculation at Tara.
Silence fell over the room as Tara thought about Dawn's words.
Finally Tara got up from her chair and walked toward the door.
"Tara?" Dawn asked with panic.
"That hurt Dawn. I love you. I've told you, I've shown you... I need some time." Tara said and walked out the door.
* * * * *
"Well, do you have any questions?" Ronny asked as he pulled up his pants.
Robert thought carefully, then said, "No, I believe I understand. Thank you for demonstrating Ronny. I don't think I would have understood a description of the act."
"Sure. I guess we'd better fill this thing in." Ronny said and held out his hand for the shovel.
"I am feeling some pressure in my lower abdomen. I believe it is nearly time for me to... crap." Robert said with difficulty.
"It sounds funny when you say it." Ronny said with a chuckle.
"What would be the proper term for me to use?" Robert asked seriously.
"I dunno. I suppose a technical term. That's kinda the way you talk." Ronny said in thought.
"Very well. I believe it is time for me to defecate." Robert said and lowered his pants.
"Okay dude. I'm right here if you have any problems." Ronny said, back to a serious attitude.
Robert squatted at the edge of the hole and nature took it's course.
"That was simple enough." Robert said in thought.
"Woah man! That shit is rank!" Ronny said and quickly moved upwind of Robert.
"Yours did not smell like wildflowers." Robert said simply.
"Well, yeah." Ronny said and let it go, remembering what Scott had said about teasing.
"Would you hand me the paper, it is beyond my reach." Robert asked quietly.
"Sure buddy." Ronny said and handed him the toilet paper.
"That was not scary." Robert finally said as he fastened his pants.
Ronny shrugged and shook his head.
"But it could have been without your demonstration. Thank you again Ronny." Robert said fondly.
"Yeah, no problem. Let's get that hole filled in and get back to camp. It's getting colder." Ronny said in thought.
Robert nodded and began to shovel.
Ronny pointed the flashlight up for a second and said, "That tree's gonna die!"
* * * * *
At the ringing of the doorbell, Orroro went to answer it.
She opened the door and was surprised to see Mystique and a young man who looked vaguely familiar looking back at her.
"Can I help you?" Orroro asked carefully.
"I think that's my line." Mystique said as she walked past Orroro into the entry hall.
"I don't understand." Orroro said honestly.
"I was told to offer my help to you. That's why I'm here." Mystique said simply.
"Oh, why?" Orroro asked in confusion.
"Magneto said he was going away and I was to offer to help if you needed it... do you?" Mystique asked shortly.
"Not at the moment. I was about to walk the halls. Perhaps you could join me and we could determine if there is any need at the same time." Orroro said speculatively.
Mystique seemed surprised by the invitation, but only for a moment before nodding and walking to Orroro's side.
"I was looking for a girl." Lance interrupted.
"One in particular?" Orroro asked gently, with a touch of humor.
"She was about this tall and had brown hair... she's nice." Lance said with difficulty.
"He's looking for Shadowcat." Mystique said with a roll of her gold eyes.
"Oh, you'll find her in the common room, just through there." Orroro said pointing.
"Thanks." Lance said quickly and left to find her.
"He's smitten." Mystique said in explanation.
"Oh. Kitty is a challenge to get to know. I wish him luck." Orroro said and began to walk down the hall.
Mystique thought about her words as she silently followed.
* * * * *
Chris opened the door of the library and stopped just inside.
"I'm sorry. I didn't know anyone was in here." Chris said quickly.
"Do not worry Chris. Come in, ve are simply talking." Kurt said kindly.
Chris walked further into the library followed by his father.
Julia's eyes got big and her mouth fell open at the sight of Angel.
He noticed her shocked expression and looked curiously at her. She looked familiar, he searched his vast centuries of memory trying to place her.
"Master Angelus?" She finally said.
The voice. He recognized that voice. Deep within him he felt his demon arise and take notice.
"Julia?" Angel asked in wonder as he walked to her.
She got up from her chair and ran to him. She pulled him into a tight embrace and buried her face in his shoulder.
"Oh God. I never thought I'd ever see you again! I'd heard you'd been killed in Russia." She said as her tears began to soak through his shirt.
Hesitantly he put his arms around her and whispered, "Be calm good doctor. I promised that I would return, and so I have."
"You know ze doctor?" Kurt asked in surprise.
"We met... about two hundred years ago." Angel said, trying to remember the date.
"It was the spring of seventeen ninety four in Collinsport, Maine." Julia said with adoration in her voice.
"Dad?" Chris called hesitantly.
"Chris, I'd like for you to meet Dr. Julia Hoffman... Is it still Hoffman? Have you married again?" Angel asked carefully.
"It's still Hoffman. There hasn't been anyone else since you. You're a tough act to follow." Julia said and pulled back to reveal a smile of love and tenderness.
Angel nodded and continued, "Julia, this is my son, Chris."
"Your son? I thought you couldn't father children." Julia said, her scientist eager to understand.
"I adopted Chris. But he's as much my son as a child I had fathered myself would be." Angel said firmly.
"I'm pleased to meet you Chris. I knew your father a long time ago." Julia said with a fond look at Chris.
"Do you love my Dad?" Chris asked seriously.
"Very much." Julia said quietly.
Angel looked surprised by the admission.
"Master Angelus, do you remember the last thing you asked of me?" Julia asked hesitantly.
"I sent you to find the gem of Amara." Angel said in thought.
Julia pulled a chain from around her neck to reveal a yellow gem set in a ring.
"You found it?" Angel asked in wonder.
"After I returned to this time it took me two years, but I finally found it." Julia said with a voice filled with accomplishment.
"Julia, I'm not Angelus anymore. I was cursed with a soul and I'm known as Angel now." Angel said with difficulty.
Julia looked into his eyes and saw the truth.
"Angelus is still inside me, a part of me. But I'm not the same man you knew." Angel said, trying to be gentle.
Julia thought about the words, then handed the chain and gem to Angel.
"I want you to have this. I've kept it as a symbol of our love for all these years, now you should have it. If Angelus is in you, I know he'll understand." Julia said seriously.
"I do not understand." Kurt said into the intense moment.
At Angel's questioning look, Kurt continued, "If your demon vas in control. Vhy vould she love him?"
"Julia is the only human Angelus ever loved. That's why he didn't turn her. He wanted to keep her just as she was. He sent her off on the quest for the gem to protect her from his enemies." Angel said in distant thought.
Tears fell down Julia's cheeks at the words. "He's the only man I ever truly loved." She whispered.
Angel saw the sight and felt his demon wanting, needing to comfort his chosen mate. Feelings rushed through him and he realized that it wasn't only Angelus that had loved her.
"Julia, if you'd be willing... we could give it another try." Angel asked hopefully.
"Really?" Julia said in wonder.
"Really. But you'll have to get to know the man that I am now. I'm not the same as before." Angel said quietly as he fell into the loving gaze in her eyes.
"I'd like that... what do I call you now?" Julia asked with a voice between nervous laughter and frustration.
"Call me Angel."
* * * * *
Ronny and Robert had returned to the campfire without saying much more than 'everything came out okay'.
An uncomfortable silence fell over the camp that Scott couldn't account for. Finally he had to ask, "What's got everyone in such a depressed mood? I thought we were going to have fun."
Bobby and John both looked to Ronny. He had a momentary look of question and both gave barely noticeable nods.
"Bobby, John and I all had blood tests today. We're a little nervous about getting the results." Ronny said honestly.
"Blood tests... like for HIV?" Scott asked carefully.
All three nodded.
Scott absorbed the implications of that, then said, "So what are you going to do if it's good news?"
All three boys thought, then Bobby finally said, "Nothing I guess. Just business as usual."
The other two nodded.
"And what if it's bad news?" Scott asked in a voice more like his teacher's voice.
The boys looked at each other, but no one would answer.
"Okay guys. Let's think about it like this. Bobby, your test comes back positive. Ronny, what are you going to do?" Scott asked directly.
"Um, be sorry. Be sad." Ronny said quietly.
"Would you refuse to talk to Bobby anymore?" Scott asked carefully.
"No way. After what he's done for me in the past two days? I'd be right there for him... whatever he needed." Ronny said definitely.
"John?" Scott asked quietly.
"Same." John said with force.
"Robert, do you understand what we're talking about?" Scott asked, hoping he didn't have to explain it.
"Yes, I understand." Robert said gravely.
"And how would you treat Bobby if he were infected?" Scott asked, hoping Robert truly understood.
"I would hold him close and let him know that it didn't make any difference in the way I feel. I would love him as much as I do now." Robert said with certainty.
"Okay guys, what if it was Ronny?" Scott asked the group in general.
"Same." John said without inflection.
"Me too." Bobby said, looking at his brother with love.
Robert nodded, looking to be sure that Ronny saw the move.
"I think you guys get the point I'm trying to make. Some things are out of our control. We have to deal with what's already been done the best we can. But all of us here, me included, will be with you all the way no matter what the tests say." Scott said honestly.
"Thanks Scott. You know if you ever need us, we're there for you too." John said seriously.
"I know." Scott said with a smile.
* * * * *
Orroro and Mystique came upon Tara who was quietly crying in a small alcove off the main hall.
"Tara, what is wrong?" Orroro asked with immediate concern.
"I... I don't know what to do." Tara said helplessly as tears ran down her cheeks.
"Be calm child, let me help you." Orroro said in her most soothing tone.
"But you can't. There's no way you could understand." Tara said in anguish.
"Then who might be able to understand?" Orroro asked calmly.
Tara thought about the question, then realized. "Andrew! He'll be able to understand. Maybe he can help." She said with a glimmer of hope creeping into her eyes.
"Then I will call him immediately." Orroro said and moved to go.
"No. It's something I need to show him... I need to go to the boathouse." Tara said quickly.
"Child, you are not in a state to go out by yourself." Orroro said in a gentle but firm tone.
"I will go with her." Mystique said simply.
"Are you sure?" Orroro asked, not understanding the blue woman at all.
"I am here to help, this is how I can help." Mystique said frankly.
"Very well. Tara, Mystique will accompany you to the boathouse. Is that alright with you?" Orroro asked carefully.
Tara looked at Mystique and shyly nodded.
* * * * *
"I'm so old now." Julia said in despair.
"You're as beautiful as you ever were. The wild rose, blooming without permission or regret." Angel said with a smile.
Julia laughed and said, "You always were enamored of bad poetry."
Angel smiled and said, "The worst. But you always found some way to overlook that."
"Every word, no matter how badly written was said with such honest emotion that I couldn't help but respond... Do you think we can? What will people say?" Julia asked with worry.
"The people who matter, our friends and family, will know the truth of our love and will accept us as we choose to be. Please Julia, no one is promised a second chance, but we've gotten ours. Let's take it." Angel said with hope.
"I could never deny you anything Angel. But if you're spouting bad poetry already, and I'm as giddy as a schoolgirl, there is little left to chance. I love you Angel." Julia said and moved in for a full kiss.
"Is Julia going to be my mother?" Chris asked in confusion.
Angel pulled out of the kiss and asked, "How would you feel about it if she was?"
"Do you love her?" Chris asked carefully.
"Yes son, I do." Angel said, looking Chris in the eyes.
"...And she already said she loves you..." Chris continued in thought.
Julia nodded and gave Chris time to work it through.
"Do you want to be my mother?" Chris asked her as he looked in her eyes.
"I've always wanted a little boy of my own." Julia said with a tender smile.
Chris nodded. "Yeah, okay. But will I still be able to visit with William and the guys?" Chris thought to ask.
"Sure, we'll work it out." Angel said and put his arm around Julia.
"I still do not understand. How could you have met Angel in seventeen ninety four?" Kurt asked in confusion.
"It's a very long story that I'll tell you sometime, for now let's just say that I was sent into the past for a few years, then found my way home." Julia said and gave a look of love to Angel.
Kurt thought about Andrew and Alan's encounter with time travel and accepted the explanation.
* * * * *
Bobby reached into a cooler and produced a pack of hot dogs. From a bag he pulled marshmallows.
"Who's up for munchies?" Bobby asked with a smile.
Nods and grunts of agreement went around the fire.
"We'll need to get sticks for toasting the marshmallows and the hot dogs." Bobby said simply.
"Come on then. Now that I'm thinking about food, I'm hungry." John said impatiently.
"Robert, can you stay for a minute?" Scott asked as the others headed away from the campfire.
"Yes Uncle Scott?" Robert asked happily.
"I just wanted to be sure that you're okay with the new..." Scott trailed off.
"Bowel function?" Robert asked helpfully.
"Yeah, that." Scott said quickly.
"I am well. Ronny demonstrated what I was to do, then I did it. The sensation was unusual, but not painful or frightening at all." Robert said calmly.
"I'm glad. Your Uncle Alex was concerned. I thought about taking you back to the boathouse so you could be with your brothers and sister... I thought it would be easier if you weren't the only one going through it." Scott said seriously.
"Uncle Scott, I am fine. And I am glad I was able to stay here. I have never had friendship on this level before. Thank you for including me." Robert said honestly.
"The guys invited you. I had nothing to do with the guest list." Scott said honestly.
Robert thought about the words and finally said in a voice of absolute wonder, "I am happy."
To Be Continued...