Chapter 18

"You've grown again."

Griffin smiled as he turned away from the window and its fog-capped view. Catrina Alder crossed the room, her arms spread to pull her son into a long embrace. She always said that to him when she saw him again, never mind he hadn't grown an inch since he was seventeen. Years ago, when he was still angry with everything and everyone, he had thought it was an accusation, a passive-aggressive reminder of how little he visited. Now, though, he heard it for what it really was; her way of saying I've missed you.

"Hey, Mom." She felt a little thinner in his arms than he remembered, and Griffin pulled away to peer down at her. "Is everything okay? Anna and Gwen not-so-subtly hinted about me coming back. And then you called—"

Catrina waved his concern away. "I'm fine. I told them not to fuss, it's only a cough. These wet summers, you know."

Griffin's hands tightened slightly on his mother's arms. "What did the doctor say?"

"Pneumonia. But not serious. I'm the very picture of health, otherwise."

She led Griffin to a plush, cream leather couch and gently tugged him into the seat next to her. Folding long legs underneath her, she propped her elbow on the cushion behind her and rested her cheek on her hand.

"If you don't want me to fuss over you," and his mother laughed softly, "then why call and ask me to come back?"

"It was time," Catrina said. "Time to take care of the things you left unfinished."

Griffin sighed. "I'm not working for Bertram, Mother. We've talked about this."

But Catrina shook her head. "That's not what I mean." She paused, tilting her head to the side, before saying, "I hear you've been making new friends—one in particular who seems to be important to you."

"Gwen talks too much."

Catrina laughed, a light sound that made it hard for Griffin to truly be mad at his sister. Too many memories from his childhood lacked his mother's smile, so he was grateful for anything that made the expression appear.

"I'm your mother, Griffin. Of all the people in your life, I'm the one allowed to know everything." Delight shone in her eyes as Griffin made a half-hearted sound of disgruntlement. "Were you ever going to tell your old mum?"

Griffin shook his head and chuckled. Catrina could hardly be classified as an "old mum." Gwen's tall, willowy figure was an echo of Catrina's. Their mother's dark brown hair showed no signs of graying any time soon. Her face still held all the smoothness of a woman half her age, the faint lines feathering from the corners of her eyes the only hint she might be older than she looked.

"It's nothing…serious," Griffin began.

"You like her," Catrina said, a soft smile lighting her eyes. "Tell me."

So he told her about Seraphina Yates, all of it. Because Catrina Alder didn't have a judgemental bone in her body, he told her about his first impression of Sera, how his second and third hadn't been much better. He found himself smiling as he told his mother about Sera's fondness for old movies, about their disagreements over music, and about her incredible talent at wielding a camera. He talked about the car accident, and all the terrible memories it had brought back. He talked about his struggles, his concerns that he would become too wrapped up in her only to lose it all again.

"I know what you want, Griffin. But I can't give you that."

She had given him exactly what he wanted, though. It wasn't much—hardly anything at all, that mere act of not disappearing as soon as he'd closed his eyes.

And despite the uncertainties he'd left behind when he'd boarded a plane to fly halfway across the world, despite his fears, those he'd acknowledged and those only half-realized…

"You're happy."

"I am," Griffin admitted. His brow furrowed as he contemplated the feeling. "Maybe more now than…"

When he faltered, Catrina placed a hand on his and squeezed gently. "Than with Rosalina. It's okay, Griffin, to say it." She patted his hand before settling back into the couch. "I take her flowers every week. Would you like to join me?"

He looked at his mother, then nodded. She was right. It was time to take care of things left unfinished.

0o0o0o

When he'd said he'd be leaving the next day, when he said he'd be gone for a week, something inside of her had jerked, desperate to seize onto whatever it was she'd only recently discovered, afraid it might dissipate between her fingers like wisps of a dream if she didn't hold on tight enough.

The more rational side of her forced a sincere smile onto her lips, made her nod her head, and take the whole thing smoothly in stride. Because she needed the time, that voice of reason told her. Time to make sure she wasn't simply being swept up in all this want and need. And sooner was probably better—if she realized, later, she'd only been caught by Griffin's bedroom eyes…if there was nothing beyond the physical…

Sera was sure there had never been a time thinking about breaking someone's heart was almost enough to break hers.

The week had dragged by, the days not ending fast enough, the next one not coming soon enough. But Monday, with great reluctance it seemed, eventually came. And she was all twisted up inside like a kid equally nervous and excited about her first day of school, giddy down to her toes with anticipation. Not even Richard Morgan's snarky comments and oily smirks during work had been able to wipe the grin from her face today.

"Griffin's coming back today," she told Zoe over the phone as she puffed up the three flights of stairs to her apartment.

Zoe laughed. "Leela was wondering why you canceled coming to Dinner so early. I take it you're looking forward to seeing him again," she added, dryly.

Sera pulled a face even though the other woman couldn't see it. "Not in the slightest," she replied with an equal amount of dryness.

"Have fun tonight."

She was planning on it. Except now…now her idea of having a good time was simply being in the same room as Griffin, curling into his side, breathing in his warm, comforting scent while maybe just listening to him talk about his trip. A year ago, Sera would have sneered at the very idea. Now, she could hardly wait.

Who would've thought? A soft chuckle slipped through her lips as she unlocked her front door.

"Ah, Sera, you're home."

Her head snapped up. Her eyes jerked to the person lounging insolently on her couch. She stood frozen in place as her stomach lurched sickeningly, as her heart plastered itself painfully to the inside of her chest.

"Old habits die hard, hm?"

The man in her living room held up a shiny silver object; the key she left on top of the door sill in case—

"Still afraid you're going to lock yourself out." He twirled the key between his fingers, making it glint in the bright afternoon light pouring through the windows. "You always were absentminded. Part of your charm, I suppose."

The breath she'd been holding stuttered from her lungs. "What…what are you doing here?" The question came out soft and thready.

Acen Rivers smiled as he unfolded from the couch, a self-satisfied expression Sera had thought she'd never have to see again—had hoped she'd never see again.

"You were more difficult to track down than I'd anticipated."

His tone held a hint of anger and a part of Sera scrambled to come up with an excuse, to breathe out an apology. She pressed her lips firmly together. Never again. Never again would she say she was sorry to this man.

"Luckily, your father was more than happy to tell me where to find you."

"My…" …father.

She was going to scream. If she didn't leave immediately, she was going to scream. Or cry. And she didn't know which was worse. Either reaction would only make him smile, that smug smile she hated.

"I'm calling the cops."

"And telling them?"

"Someone's broken in." She didn't even know why she was explaining anything to him.

"I have a key."

"You're fucking trespassing," Sera spat. "I don't want you here!"

A slow grin lazed over Acen's face as he regarded her. After a moment, he smoothed the expression away and sighed. "I'm just here to talk, Ser."

"Don't think you're keeping that." She took an angry step forward as he began to slip her extra key into his pocket. "Put it on the table," she stabbed a finger at the shabby piece of furniture, "then get out," and she jabbed the same finger toward the door.

"Sera—"

"No. I have nothing to say to you. Not anymore. Not ever."

"Then listen."

She shook her head vehemently. "I was done listening the day you left me." She stormed across the living room and snatched her key up from the table where he'd tossed it. When he reached for her, she recoiled and snarled at him. "Don't touch me! You have no right—" She had to catch her breath around the fury whirling up her throat. "You have no right to come back here and ask me to listen to anything."

"You're beautiful when you're angry."

The comment only infuriated her further. She took a deep breath that was hardly calming, and spun around on her heel. "I have a date to get ready for," she threw over her shoulder. "You know the way out. I expect you to use it."

A/N: As requested ;) Happy (not too very, but still belated) Birthday, E.