Chapter Twenty Seven

The night air was brisk – hell, it was damn cold. Fin zipped up his leather coat and headed across the park to Cathy's building, where he'd left his car. Seven days. Damn.

He slid into the driver's seat and pulled his cell from the glove compartment – battery still had some juice – he hit the speed dial.

"Hello?"

"Hey, Robbie – Fin – I'm back topside – Devin's Below, probably in bed by now."

"Caroline?" she queried, anxiously.

"Seems to be fine. You hear about Simon trekking out after us?"

"My God – no – is he –?"

"Meeting Vincent tonight."

"Oh."

Fin chuckled. Oh. That was a good word for it. "Devin'll call you tomorrow – and I think he plans to be on a plane real soon. I just wanted to let you know we were back."

"Thanks – go get some rest yourself – you sound exhausted."

"I am. Night," he started his car.

"Good night."

Fin navigated the never-empty streets back to the Soho loft he shared with the most beautiful woman in the world – at least in his world. The lift seemed to take forever… and when it finally opened out into the warm, welcoming loft, every light was off… Fin flipped the switch, bringing light to the quiet loft. They'd talked about getting a cat – but between them, he and Diana barely had time to take care of their single house plant.

Passing her desk on his way into the kitchen, Fin saw pictures of teenaged girl were thumb-tacked to the cork board – she was a cheerleader it seemed and played the clarinet… looked about thirteen… There was an open diary. Even without reading it, he could tell by the curly, swirly, exaggerated penmanship that it likely belonged to the same teenaged girl in the photos. A shoebox full of typical teenaged mementos sat open next to it – friendship bracelets, a lock of hair, a couple of ribbons and medals from competitions of some sort – Fin didn't recognize any of the organization names… hetried not topay any of it toomuch attention, despite his natural curosity. Diana's desk was the one thing in this apartment that was hers and hers alone…

There was no note in the kitchen telling him where she'd gone. There usually wasn't;she never knew when she would be home. It had been difficult at first, learning not to worry about her – but she'd been gracious enough to give him what space he needed, especially when they'd first started seeing on another, back when he was in narcotics and doing a lot of undercover work.

Fin poured a glass of water, grabbed the cordless phone off the receiver and walked into the living room, to his desk. He found the numbers he wanted in the rolodex and praying for answering machines, he dialed the local number first. His prayer was answered; Fin listened to the message while he poured the water onto the potted rose bush next to the sofa.

"This is Matt and Sarah – you know what to do – and if this is Simon – call mom and dad! They're worried sick." Beep

"Matt – Sarah – Fin Tutuola – your brother's fine," he grabbed the scissors off the coffee table and carefully removed a couple of wilted flower heads. "He'll call tomorrow – but I figured you guys should hear tonight that everything's ok and we're back in the city. Have a good one," he hung up. One down, one to was no luck this time,as a real person picked up the phone; a young voice answered. "Hey," Fin said in what he hoped was a kid-appropriate tone, "Can I talk to Reverend or Mrs. Camden?" He made his way back to the kitchen to get a beer. Fin had the feeling he was going to need it...

Helistened to the child yell Dad – phone – then something went crash – tumble... thud!

Gosh darn it! – cried a female voice in the background – Kevin can you PLEASE get Savannah!

Luce, my hands are kinda full here –!

Another female voice boomed over the noise: Could someone get the phone – if it's a telemarketer I'm not here! - that one was Mrs. Camden…

Fin twisted the cap off his beer and listened to more background noise… if it was ten o'clock here, it had to be about five o'clock there – and dinner at the Camden house sounded even more chaotic than dinner at the Grays… finally, a younger female answered, "Camden residents."

"Hi – can I talk to Reverend or Mrs. Camden, please?"

"Who should I say is calling?"

"Ruthie Camden?" Fin asked – it had to be. He'd heard Simon describe his kid sister often enough.

"Who is this?"

"Fin Tutuola – don't worry," he added to her sharp intake of breath… too late…

"Mom – Dad! It's that police officer from New York – Simon's friend!"

Several moments later, Annie Camden's voice came over the receiver. "Hello? Detective Tutuola?"

"Evenin', Mrs. Camden – everything's fine."

"Where's Simon?"

"He's fine – he's probably asleep by now – he's stayin' over with Cathy and her family tonight." Well, it was close to the truth… in the background, Fin could hear Reverend Camden asking what was going on – the misses shushed him – and everyone else…

"Where was he – we've been worried sick – what's going on!" Annie demanded.

Fin sighed – he'd known this wouldn't be easy. "Caroline and Simon had – whatever it is kids their age have when one decides not to talk to th' other. Me an' Devin took Caroline on a hike – and Simon followed."

"Hike – Simon said she was sick!"

"I know. Look – I just wanted you folks to know he's ok – he did a lot more walking on his leg than he should've – but he's ok."

"Why didn't he call himself?"

"He'll call tomorrow – right now he's just too tired – he doesn't even know I'm calling you."

"Oh. Well – thank you – I mean – I appreciate it. You're sure he's ok?"

"He's fine, Ma'am. Honest – an' I got a kid about his age – I know I'd worry if he fell off the face of the earth, too – I figured sooner was better than later to hear that Simon was ok."

"You have a son?"

Fin chuckled – somehow that revelation always caught people off guard. "Before Diana I was married – we had a kid. We got a divorce," he shrugged. "Anyway – it sounds like you've got your hands full over there – and it's after ten here."

"Right – sorry – thanks for calling," Annie wasn't sure she could remember how to breathe – Simon was ok… really ok… she hung up and relayed the news to the rest of the family…

Caroline tucked her arm into Simon's – then looked up at him, suddenly uncertain – of everything… despite their long talk… but he just smiled down at her… and she knew that smile. It was the way he'd always looked at her – his expression told her that he was happy. Even though she could feel it – she was still uncertain of her sense of empathy – but she knew that her eyes weren't lying. His expression softened as he gazed at her, and even if the broad grin were some sort of sham, his eyes didn't lie… She smiled back and he leaned over and kissed the top of her head – she leaned into him for a moment, enjoying the feeling of being near him again. "I really am sorry," she whispered.

"Don't be – all I care about is having you back," Simon wrapped his arms around her… it was safe to dream again – safe to hope… safe to love and be loved…

"Ready?" She asked, pulling away from him, just a little.

Simon just grinned, "How bad can it really be?"

Taking what she hoped wasn't an obvious deep breath, Caroline led the way…

Simon paid careful attention to the route they took – back down to the main passageway – past Olivia and Kanin's chamber – down past Father's chamber – Caroline pointed out the library and the side passage that led to the kitchen and dining hall. "And if you keep going, you eventually come to the Great Hall," she said, as she turned down a quiet, side passage that was less brightly lit than the main passageway. "My parent's chamber is down this way – Claudia and Jayne share a room further down – Jake has his own chamber now, but William and Charles are in the chamber across from the girls."

"What about you?"

"I've been staying in Elliot's chamber for the last few weeks, since he was laid up anyway – I'm afraid my – darkness – made it impossible for me to be around my sisters. I couldn't stand anyone's company – but especially not other women – it was really Claud who got the brunt of it."

"Have you talked to her since we got back?"

Caroline nodded, "She was just happy I'm all right," she blushed slightly, "And – that you came back with me. She likes you – in a would-be sister in law sort of way."

Simon felt a flush of warmth overtaking his own cheeks.

"I – I'm sorry – that was pretty presumptuous."

"No it wasn't."

Caroline stopped just outside her parents' chamber door, "Mother, Father," she called, not so loudly as to wake anyone else – although there were advantages to her parents not living directly off the main tunnel... "I'm back – with Simon."

"Come in," Catherine called out to them.

Simon felt Caroline squeeze his arm, "You ok?" he asked her.

"I've – never brought someone home to meet my parents before – they always assumed I'd meet someone here – someone – who already knew them – someone who understands."

"Look – I've met parents before – I can handle this."

"My parents aren't like the ones you've met before," there was no backing out now... taking a breath, Caroline led the way in through the wide stone arch that separated her parents' privacy from the rest of their world.

Simon followed her in – of course he was lying, he was nervous as anything. These weren't any parents – these were the parents of the girl he wanted to spend the rest of his life with… and he knew enough to realize that her father was different. He'd known it even before coming here… he just wished he knew what to expect…but in another heartbeat, it wouldn't matter, he'd know… Simon put on his best 'hi, I'm five years older than your daughter, but a real gentleman, honest' smile and stepped fully into the chamber.

It was a spacious book filled room, lit by candles and oil lamps – the first thing that struck him was the beautiful stained glass 'window' behind the bed… the second thing that struck him was the man lying in the bed, reading a book with Catherine… Broad shouldered – tall, he took up the entire length of the bed… his mane of golden hair was swept to one side… and his face was like the one Simon had seen on Caroline, in the darkness… older… masculine… but … he understood now what she'd been afraid of. That really was what was inside of her – not in some literal horror-movie sort of way – but his blood was in her veins. The blood that would run through the veins of any children they had…

Vincent – still dressed for the day in one of his favourite muslin shirts and a soft leather vest – rose and gave the boy a moment to collect himself before crossing the distance between them.

Simon took a breath. And then another… and made himself remember that this was the father of the girl he loved. This was the guy who had bandaged scraped knees and kissed away the tears – the guy who had read to her when she was a little girl – the guy who had introduced her to Rilke and Wordsworth and Shakespeare… This was the guy who had instilled in Caroline all the things about her that Simon loved… he heard her make the formal introduction and took a step forward…

"Father – this is Simon – Simon – this is my father, Vincent Wells."

Simon took another step forward, and meeting the other's gaze full on, extended his hand, "Mr. Wells. It's a pleasure to finally meet you, Sir."

Vincent had great difficulty keeping a straight face – he could not think of a single person who had ever called him 'Mr. Wells' – it sounded oddly absurd… "Please – just Vincent is fine, Simon" he replied, accepting the boy's handshake. He could hear the racing of Simon's heart and smell the slight perspiration gathering… but his handshake was firm. A good sign. "Please – come in and sit down. I believe you are already well acquainted with Catherine."

"Thank you, Sir – Cathy," he nodded in her direction, accepting the seat the Vincent had indicated. It was almost not-too-big – and Cathy's smile was pleasant – just remember, she likes you… Simon tried to re-assure himself… if they were even a little bit like most couples, having the mother like him was over half the battle… he hoped… he had the distinct impression that getting Vincent to like him wasn't going to be an easy task…

Catherine continued to smile, "Would you care for a cup of tea, Simon?" She was partially changed for bed – though she still wore the soft knitted 'day dress,' Catherine had arranged her hair into a braid, which was much easier for sleeping – a trick she'd learned from Mary. She pulled her robe on as she slid out of the warmth of the covers and tucked her bare feet into thick lambskin slippers that sat just beside the bed.

"Oh – no – I don't want to be any bother – I know it's late," Simon told her.

"No bother," she stood and crossed the room to where the teapot was warming on the little stove. "All I have handy is honey, I'm afraid."

"That'd be great, thanks," Simon said, awkwardly.

"Caroline?" Catherine asked her daughter.

"Yes, please – thank you," Caroline said, fidgeting. Finally, she pulled the foot stool across from its usual resting place and took a seat on it, next to Simon – well aware of the scrutiny her father was giving them… she wanted to hold his hand – but… maybe not just yet… not in front of her father…

Not sure what to say – or do – Simon glanced up at Caroline's father. Everything else aside, he was a pretty big guy… "So – um – thanks – for letting me hang around for a little while. I mean – I'm – if it's not a lot of trouble."

"Caroline will show you to one of the guest chambers," Vincent said smoothly. He glanced at Catherine – she was grinning, although no one else could see her expression but him… yes, she was enjoying this just a little bit too much… Vincent had never had to cope with quite this situation before…

Catherine straightened her expression before handing teacups on saucers to both Simon and Caroline – and then took her favourite seat. Vincent's lap… Caroline turned a deep shade of pink and glanced away from them… not that there was anything unusual about this level of affection within the privacy of their own chamber, even around their children… Catherine noticed that Simon didn't seem terribly bothered by it…

Vincent put his arms around her slim waist, grateful for her proximity, and turned his attention on 'the boy' – "So – I have heard a great deal about you from Caroline – including that you have decided to become a teacher?"

"Yes, Sir – um – actually it's kinda Caroline's fault. I mean – I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do – maybe something in math or science, but I didn't know what. Then she handed me some books – the first time I was here, in New York – and – I guess I got hooked."

"So you want to teach English then?" Catherine inquired.

"That's what I'd thought about – but now I'm thinking about trying to stay on where I am – if they'll hire me."

"The school for the deaf?" asked Vincent.

Simon nodded, "I really like it there. The faculty is great – and I love the students."

"It probably won't be the best paying job," Catherine cautioned him.

"Money isn't everything," he blushed suddenly, "I mean – not that I'm irresponsible about it. Well – I used to be – but that was a long time ago – a year ago. I – did some dumb stuff. But I've got my credit cards almost paid off. And – I mean, I like where I'm living, but I'm sure I'll have a house of my own some day…" Simon trailed off – they were giving him – interesting looks… "A some day that's a long ways off," he added, quickly. Next to him, Caroline was beet red.

"I see," Catherine slid off her husband's lap. "Caroline – why don't we take a walk and leave the men to their own. I have the sneaking suspicion our being here is only making things worse."

"Um," Caroline cleared her throat – she could feel how desperately Simon did not want to be alone in a room with her father right now… but there wasn't any getting out of it. "Sure, Mother," she forced a smile and accepted her mother's outstretched arm, giving Simon what she hoped was an encouraging look.

Simon watched her go – and realized he was staring after her – and that might not look good…

"Do you play chess?" Vincent queried, just after Catherine and Caroline had exited.

"A little."

"Come," Vincent rose and walked over to the desk where his chessboard was set up.

"I'm really not very good."

"That's all right – would you like black or white?"

"Either is fine, Sir."

"You really can stop calling me 'sir'," Vincent was still having a hard time keeping a straight face…

"Sorry – it's just the way I was raised, I guess."

"Raised to talk of things like houses and jobs with the father of a girl some five years younger than yourself?"

Simon flushed deep red, "Well – um – that is – she really doesn't quite look her age… I mean – not that I was looking."

"So – either you were looking and you want me to think other wise," Vincent set the pieces up on the board, "Or you think my daughter unattractive."

"She's beautiful!" Simon wiped the palms of his hands off on his pant legs. "But – that's not why I – feel the way I do about her. It's just – when we first met, I honestly thought she was a lot older than she is. Once she told me – it was too late."

"Too late?"

"I'd already – fallen."

"Fallen?"

"In love."

"Ah. I see," Vincent moved a pawn out. "Your move."

Simon looked at the board for the first time… he made a move… and immediately lost a piece to Vincent's next move. They made several more moves in silence before Simon found the courage to speak. "I – really do love her. I know – what you're probably thinking."

"You have no idea what I'm thinking," Vincent realized how much like his own father he suddenly sounded… what a horrifying thought for any child… although he couldn't honestly think of anyone else he'd rather be like… he hid his smile.

"No – I mean – I'm sure you're right. I can't know exactly what you're thinking." He lost another piece, this time a rook.

"So which is it? You know or you do not know what I am thinking?"

"I guess – I can guess."

"Very well. What do you guess I am thinking – if you move just there, you can capture my knight."

"I – um –"

"It's only a game, Simon. I won't think less of you if you beat me."

Simon wondered if it was possible for Caroline's father to think any less of him… still, he made the suggested move… and there was no trick behind it. Vincent's next move seemed innocuous.

Simon considered carefully – then moved a rook…

"So?" Vincent queried, setting up a strategy in his mind that wouldn't make Simon feel too badly about loosing… not everyone had Father for a teacher.

"I – imagine what I'd be thinking if my sister Ruthie brought home a guy like me."

"Like you?"

"Five years older – barely a couple of semesters of college – I should be in my second year. I pretty much flunked out of the first university I went to because I didn't take it seriously enough."

"You aren't doing a very good job of presenting yourself in the best possible light."

"I guess – maybe not. But – I'd rather you hear it from me than someone else."

Vincent nodded and moved a knight into place… at this rate he would win in less than ten moves… Simon was clearly not much of a strategist. "You have a sister Caroline's age, do you not?"

"Ruthie. Yeah – and I'd want to knock the block off some guy five years older than her if he was putting the moves on my little sister – especially if he had my track record. Ruthie and me grew up in the same room," he added. "I almost got into with Martin's friend Mack more than once – Martin's this guy who lives with us. My family. His aunt moved to New York and his dad's in the military. He's one of about a half a dozen honourary Camdens."

"Honourary Camdens? I was under the impression that there were already quite a few of you."

Simon smiled and made his next move – only to get clobbered, as Vincent took out a bishop. "Seven of us. But – there's always room for one more where I come from."

"If you do that, you'll leave your queen vulnerable," Vincent cautioned as Simon started to move a pawn.

"Where?"

"In three moves – there to there – to there – to there. You see?"

"How can you be sure what moves I'll make?"

"There are a limited number of squares – therefore a limited number of possibilities. I have to assume that you will make the wisest choices possible, given the limitations of the circumstances."

Simon studied the options on the board – but the deeper meaning of Vincent's words weren't lost on him. "Sometimes you just have to go with your gut," he said at last.

Vincent nodded – but was impressed when Simon took his advice – on the chessboard at least.

They played for several moves in silence. It was Simon who broke it again, "I do love her."

"That is one thing I do not doubt. You took a great risk in following her."

"At the time it seemed like the only thing to do."

"And in hind sight?"

"I'd do it again tomorrow if she needed me to." Simon moved a knight – and realized that the game was almost over.

"And – would you do it all over – from the beginning."

"What – you mean do I regret getting involved in the first place?"

Vincent just nodded, "Check and mate," he said, as he finished the game.

"I wouldn't trade any part of the last ten months for anything in the world. I mean that."

Vincent met the other's gaze, squarely, though he admired Simon's obvious conviction. "Your family must have given you some grief over the situation – Caroline has said she doesn't believe they like her."

"They don't like her age. And my father has some opinions about the fact that you guys aren't real religious – he's a minister. So's my sister Lucy."

"You sound scornful."

"I guess – I grew up listening to my father preach – and not just on Sunday. I love my dad – but – I'm not him. I'm me. I'm not this perfect kid – I've screwed up – I don't know if Caroline told you – I mean – I'm no virgin. That doesn't mean I want to – this is going to turn into the whole whether or not I was really 'looking at her' isn't it?" he asked as the dark look formed on Vincent's face.

Vincent chuckled, though when he spoke, his voice betrayed the sobriety of the subject: "Let us just leave it that you realize my daughter is far too young for that sort of thing."

"Thanks – I kinda already went there with your father – he said the same thing, that I know she's too young. She's fifteen. But what's important is that she told me she's not ready. I respect that, I really do. It's just – I was ready – or at least I thought I was – a little year ago – and it wasn't like I was a kid. And I was dating a girl who was ready – and then my family found out and they still haven't let me live it down."

Vincent sat back in his chair, folding his hands in his lap – of course the issue of – sex – had always been an issue in his youth… but the feelings coming from Simon were almost violently turbulent. "Did you hurt this woman in some way?"

"No! I mean – yeah, but not – sex had nothing to do with it. We just didn't work out. I know it hurt her when we broke up – it hurt me too. But – it's not like I regret it. Much."

"What do you regret?"

Simon took a breath, "I – she told me she was pregnant – she never was," he added quickly. "And – maybe I should have stopped there. I hooked up with – I mean – you know." But – looking at Caroline's father… could he know? Could he have any way of understanding what went on in the rest of the world… still, it was hard to think of him as naive …

"What matters is does Caroline know?"

Simon nodded, "It was one of the hardest conversations I've had with her. But – I'll never lie to her and I never want to hurt her."

"Sometimes – sometimes we cannot help but hurt the people we love, Simon. What matters is that you will never do it intentionally."

"Never. And I really don't believe I'm sitting here with my girlfriend's father talking about my sex life."

"Sometimes it is easier to talk to a stranger."

"But you're a stranger whose daughter I'm in love with. Look, I know you probably don't believe in this – in us – any more than my parents do, but I love her. I want to marry her some day – when she's ready. When we're both ready. And – I don't know if we'll have sex before we get married or not – but I know it's going to be her call and I know she's more together about that – and just about everything else – than I am." And dear God, if he wanted to, Simon realized that Vincent could really hurt him… and it struck him then the responsibility that Vincent must have to shoulder, living with people… the scar on Devin's cheek… and those hands… "All I'm asking for is the chance to prove myself. I'm in love with her, even if you don't believe it."

"I believe that your intentions are honourable, Simon – and if they aren't, I believe in my daughter's ability to defend her virtue," he allowed a ghost of a smile to come upon his lips.

"She'll never have to."

Vincent nodded, "I do believe that you love her very much – only a blind man could not see that – only the deaf could not hear it in your voice when you speak of her. As a father, these things bring me much joy. I believe that you would never go out of your way to hurt her – and that you want for her happiness as much as she wants for yours. However, setting all of that aside for a moment, what truly concerns me is – the obvious." He spread his hands wide.

"I knew it had to be something – even if I never could have begun to guess that – when she said you were different – I – I'm really afraid I'm going to say something stupid here because I don't really know what to say. I never imagined that someone like you was even possible."

"Yet you have sat with me and treated me as I imagine you might treat the father of any girl you loved so deeply. You have managed not to stare – and to take my hand without fear."

"I just had to remind myself that you're the man who's been there for her, her entire life – she loves you – you're her father. The rest doesn't really matter."

"We both know that is not quite true."

"Maybe – not. In the dark – it was like I was in Caroline's dream with her and – she looked – like you. And now I get what she meant when she said she was afraid for me to see her the way she really is – because – she's like you, even if she doesn't quite look it. She's different. That scares her – she thought I'd – reject her because of it. I don't."

"It is the same fear I have always had, being rejected because I am so different from everyone else – even here, surrounded by people who love me, I know that the outside world would never accept me. They would fear me, lock me away. Each time we bring a new person into our confidence that is one of the risks we must take, Simon."

"I can appreciate that." Simon gazed up at Vincent again, taking in the details… the soft gold fur – the nose – the blue eyes. "You don't have any idea how – I mean – Care said you were just found in the snow?"

"We have always assumed that I was abandoned for the obvious reasons."

"It still seems wrong somehow – I mean, to just dump a baby like that."

"If my mother had not 'dumped' me, I could have ended up in a far worse place."

"You mean like a lab or something."

Vincent nodded.

"Yeah – I guess that would be worse."

"Here, I was loved – and wanted. I was taught to read and write and speak, just as any child might have been taught – but I was always different."

"Not where it counts," Simon ventured.

Vincent smiled, "No. Not where it counts."

"So – what is this – darkness? Jake went through something like it, right?"

"Yes – but it was much more mild. Peter Alcott believes that perhaps it is worse in Caroline because she is a girl, that perhaps it is hormone related."

"That means Claudia – and Jayne –"

"Yes. It is very likely that they will go through what Caroline has gone through. What she could go through again, Simon. There is much to consider – and a finite number of possibilities."

"She can't really leave New York – and – she could never see a doctor who didn't know about you, could she?"

"No, she could not. While physically I am much the same as you, my blood is not human, at a chemical level. We really do not know anything about where I come from or who my parents were. Loving my daughter is much more complicated than loving someone of a different faith – or even bringing home a Tenctonese woman – because at least they are a part of your society. They have a place. I do not. My children do not – my grand children will not."

"But you and Cathy did it."

"Through much hardship – our differences nearly tore us apart on numerous occasions."

"But ultimately it worked."

"Yes. Ultimately it worked." Through darkness and pain… the pain caused by the outside world and in a few instances the pain they caused each other… he and Simon sat in silence for a long while. "Would you care for a rematch?" Vincent finally queried.

"I suppose the worst that can happen is you beat me again."

Vincent chuckled softly.

Simon watched him set up the board – and finally found the courage to ask the only thing he really wanted to know, "Will you at least tell me straight up if you hate me and don't want me to see Caroline again?"

"I could not hate the man who brought my daughter back from the darkness – but I can question him. The path you're choosing isn't going to be easy – especially if you really are in this for that far off someday."

"Even before I met you, I figured that it was going to be hard. There's the age thing – and my family isn't real supportive. At all. But – when she broke up with me, I felt like – there was nothing left. When I thought I'd lost her in that dark place – I wanted to die with her."

"Nobel words," Vincent made his first move and watched while Simon considered more carefully this time.

"They aren't words," Simon told him after he'd moved his piece. "I mean it."

"There will always be difficulties – and limitations."

"I know. That's ok – because there's only one thing I couldn't live with."

"And that is?"

"Living without her."

Vincent was just about to beat him in a third game of chess when Catherine and Caroline returned…

"The hour is late," Vincent rose as they came in. "Perhaps – we will finish this game tomorrow."

Simon laughed, "Sure – ultimate humiliation can wait until after breakfast," he smiled over to Caroline – she looked very tired. But – none the worse for ware. Hopefully her mother hadn't asked her a hundred impossible questions…

"I'll walk you to your chamber," she said softly. "Good night, Father – Mother," she hugged each in turn.

"See you guys in the morning," Simon said – he exchanged a handshake with Vincent and kissed Cathy's cheek… they definitely weren't anything like any of the other parents he'd met…

"How'd it go?" Caroline asked when they were well out of her father's earshot.

"I'm pretty sure he doesn't hate me."

"My father hates very few people."

Simon put his arm around her shoulders, "Well – I think he at least takes us seriously. How about with you and your mother?"

"We talked about all kinds of stuff – most of it had nothing to do with you – I've been pretty hard to live with the last couple weeks."

"The whole darkness thing."

She nodded, "You know – I mean – there's no real guarantee it won't ever happen again."

"We'll just take it as it comes."

"I – wish I could have prepared you somehow."

"Care – there was no way to prepare me for all this. No way to prepare me for your father."

"What – do you really think? Of him – of everything?"

"I think – honestly?"

"Please."

Simon stopped and turned to face her. "I think that you have his eyes. Her nose – and jaw line," he traced the line of her jaw as he spoke – ran gentle fingers over her lips and through her hair, "Maybe his hair – and I think that when it's put all together, you're the most beautiful woman I've ever met – and mostly that's because you have inside all the stuff they taught you. Warmth – a sense of humour – honesty – love. Courage. Those are the things I really fell in love with – not the eyes or the lips – although I love to kiss them," he touched his lips lightly to hers – drawing her in with his tongue – savouring the sweetness he found there… the fire that lay just below the surface… after many long pleasurable moments, Simon drew back before either of them could get too carried away – he was painfully aware of just how easy it would be to loose himself in her completely… "I fell in love with you. The you that lives inside," he touched her heart lightly. "And that means that I pretty much have to like your folks."

"It doesn't mean they have to like you."

"No – but – I'm pretty sure your mother likes me – and I your father is ok."

She snickered – as far as Caroline knew, 'ok' wasn't a word that anyone had ever used to describe her father before…

Epilogue:

Simon made his way through the park at an almost leisurely pace – he was anxious to see Caroline, but it was hard not to enjoy the day. The hour was early – not even nine a.m. – and on a Sunday that meant he was sharing the path with only a hand full of joggers. Winter had finally released its icy grip on the city – green buds were sprouting on the black tree branches – and everywhere in window boxes and around the trees along the Square, tulips and daffodils were blooming. Although it had been a rainy spring, there had been many sunny days... life had gone back to what Simon was sure passed for normal, with Elliot out of his cast and undergoing some cosmetic surgery to lessen the evidence of having been shot – although for his part he hardly seemed to care. Simon was working two nights a week for Henry Pei, instead of the originally agreed upon four – he was in school, at NYU, and Henry wanted him to get good grades. Having Henry and Lin around was like having another set of parents – parents who expected him to ace his tests, learn Chinese, eat healthy and take care of himself. And their four daughters, ages ten, thirteen, fifteen and seventeen, had decided that he was the big brother they'd always wanted… so next Saturday he was taking fifteen year old Lula and her two best friends to the Puffy Ami Uni concert because her parents wouldn't let three teenaged girls go alone… it was almost like being back in Glen Oak…

Caroline had not returned to the prep school – instead, she was being 'home schooled' Below – where she was as much a teacher as a student. Not this year, but next, she was planning on joining Simon at NYU – as a pre-med student, an announcement which had been met with a great deal of pride from her grandfather… And some concern from Matt who kept warning Simon how difficult medicine was and how much of a strain med school had put on he and Sarah – and how hard it was for them to be in school at the same time… Simon was almost used to Matt worrying about his every move… because either Matt and Sarah had developed an unnatural taste for Chinese food or they were checking up on him because they came out to Henry and Lin's, every week and always on one of the nights when he was working…

Back in California, Ruthie had a new boyfriend – some guy named Alan – Martin was thinking about transferring to a college in Kentucky, where his father had just been transferred – and Mary's divorce had finally become final. No one really knew what was going to happen next… but that was typical. Right now, she and Carlos were trying to make joint custody work, with her in the air and his parents wanting him to move closer to them… And Simon's parents had just sent him a plane ticket – and a six hundred dollar check to 'help with summer expenses' – so over the Fourth of July holiday, he was going to go visit…

Simon smiled when he saw Caroline, waiting just outside the storm drain. Her hair was laying loose around her shoulders – just the way he liked it – and she wore a soft green sweater and long wool skirt. It had been a whole week since they'd seen one another – sometimes a week felt like an eternity…

"No chaperone this time?" Simon teased, greeting her with a warm kiss – the sweetness of her mouth never ceased to amaze him.

"Jake said he could probably trust us to walk as far as the stairs without an escort."

Simon laughed. It had been more of a joke than anything else – given her age – and his – Caroline's parents had insisted on a chaperone 'at all times' – or at least enough to make them feel like they were being watched. Usually it was Jake – but sometimes Jayne volunteered – after all, there wasn't much that could be done when you had an eight year old sitting between you… and she'd gone from disliking him to adoring him and wanting all of his attention in less than two month's time… "Do we have time to take a walk?"

"Up top?"

"Not far. I just want a few minutes with you – really alone."

"We're not exactly alone, Simon," she glanced in the direction of the joggers heading their way… she wasn't really dressed for being up top…

"Close enough," he kissed her again, then drew her towards one of the benches nestled amongst the trees.

"What is it?" Caroline asked.

"Guess I shouldn't try to put one over on you for any length of time – that's one thing I'm not sure I'll ever get used to." He pulled the small box out of his pocket.

Caroline stared at it for a moment, trying to decide what to say… it was a ring box… their one year anniversary was almost a month away… and… it was a ring box… "Simon – I –" she looked up at him – his expression was unreadable…other than she was sure he'd expected exactly this reaction out of her…

"Don't panic – just open it."

Taking a deep breath and trying to formulate all the reasons she couldn't possibly accept, Caroline opened the box… it was a sapphire ring. She blinked, started – she'd expected… and felt disappointment stab at her, even though she'd been trying to figure out how to refuse a diamond… but it was beautiful all the same, a square cut stone – just over a karat – set into a silver filigree band. "It's – lovely. What's the occasion?"

"Until – we're both a little older – and maybe a little more ready – I want you to know that I'm serious about you. About us."

All the fear has left me now
I'm not frightened anymore
It's my heart that pounds beneath my flesh
It's my mouth that pushes out this breath

and if I shed a tear, I won't cage it
I won't fear love
oh and if I feel a rage, I won't deny it
I won't fear love

Companion to our demons
They will dance and we will play
With chairs, candles and clothes
Making darkness in the day
It will be easy to look in or out
Upstream or down
Without a thought

and if I shed a tear, I won't cage it
I won't fear love
oh and if I feel a rage, I won't deny it
I won't fear love

Peace in the struggle to find peace
Comfort on the way to comfort

oh and if I shed a tear, I won't cage it
I won't fear love
oh and if I feel a rage, I won't deny it
I won't fear love
I won't fear love
No, I won't fear love

Sarah McLachlan

even though I've officially wrapped up Only Time, I have already started the next chapter of Simon and Caroline's life… their story is far from over (and honestly, I'm having too much time working with them to truly end it here)…there are some threads I want to pick back up, particularly dealing with Anna Pater - and of course the Camdensand their feelings about Simon and Caroline...as well as Mary and Ruthie and the rest of their children... and inresponse to a request, I'll weave in some morestuff on the Tenctoneseinto the first few chapters of the as yet un titled sequel. And again, I think you for reading!