Changehood
The Story of Patrick Leary

The Prime: The Definition of History

March 1st, 991

It was Salem Flash's birthday and Patrick and Riley were cordially invited to partake in the festivities located at Alexander's home near the edge of Ronin. Salem was named after his father who had been murdered almost five years earlier by Dane Slate, though he did not share any immediately noticeable characteristics which related him to the former leader of the Fourth Level Squad.

Patrick was surprised to see three different Head Changes in attendance of a four-year-old's birthday: relatively newly appointed Jordan Hopper, relatively newly retired Shaun Hardlen, and not-so-newly retired Damien Joseph, the one who had been Head Change before Shaun. Patrick could barely remember the man passing his authority to Shaun more than fifteen years ago, but he felt barely speechless in the old man's presence. Patrick wasn't sure if he had ever seen someone so old in his entire life, especially one with such a decorated past which he had read about in his history books when he was still in the academy. Riley spoke fondly of him like a jolly grandfather, but did warn Patrick of his love of hearing himself talk.

"Here he is," Damien Joseph said, looking fondly upon Patrick when he entered with Riley by his side.

"Sir, it's an honor to meet you," Patrick said, feeling a little beset by his present company. "It's an honor to meet all of you."

Most of the current Fourth Level Squad was also there; the leader was called Echo Grace, a powerful Squad member who had been brought over from Ursa when all members of the Fourth Level Squad of Ronin were deemed too young to take over the important role. Newly inducted thirteen-year-old Raymond Leeming was the nephew of former and deceased member, Tyler Leeming. Lucas Haart was a little older than twelve, the first and only Haart to ever serve on the Squad, but fulfilling his role superiorly and was rumored to perhaps be next in line to lead it. Romona See, also twelve, was somewhat shy, but only in the company of people she didn't know. Dani Royberson was the toddler Patrick remembered taking out of the house on they day they discovered Salem's murder, though she was now approaching seven years old, which initially baffled him. Lastly, Roger Elliot was only about three years old, so the party was perhaps going to be most appropriate for him. All of these members were outside with the children and only Echo Grace remained inside with the three Head Changes and Alexander.

Shaun Hardlen's wife and five-year-old son, Roy, were also in the backyard. Freshly retired Ross Simon and his toddler aged twin girls were hard at play as well. Ashleigh Figueroa was rumored to be making an appearance later on in the day but, accompanied by so many high ranking Changes, Patrick found himself almost flustered, stuttering and embarrassed.

"Sorry, Sir," he said, then quickly added, "Sirs. Madams. Everyone."

"Patrick," Riley laughed endearingly, smacking him playfully on the shoulder.

"I can hardly believe the son of Andy Leary is standing right here before me!" Damien Joseph exclaimed, taking Patrick by his shoulders and marveling at him. "You graduated first in your class, didn't you?"

"I did…how did you know?" Patrick said, amazed.

"Damien was in charge of arranging the graduating teams way back then," Alexander explained from across the room. "He still is in charge of that."

"Do you have any idea how many times your father saved my life, boy?" Damien Joseph prodded.

"No, Sir," Patrick said truthfully. "I didn't even really know… you knew him."

"Knew him?" the old man repeated, practically shouting. "I was there the day he was born; I gave that boy his name! I said, 'That child right there looks like an Andrew' and Rup looked right at me and said, 'I think so too.' You never knew your grandfather, did you?"—Patrick shook his head—"We were like brothers, Rupert Leary and me. Grew up on the Squad with him. Excuse an old man for reminiscing…" The old man began to squint at Patrick, leaning into him very closely, as if he could hardly see him from any further away. "Boy, you have the same curls on your head as both your grandfather and your father did."

"I've heard that, Sir," Patrick said.

"How old are you, boy?" Damien Joseph questioned.

Patrick found he couldn't even remember. Riley, still laughing, intervened with, "Patrick will be twenty-five in a week."

"Twenty-five!" Damien Joseph marveled. "Has it really been twenty-five years since I last saw little bouncing baby? Well, I did see you once after that, at your father's funeral, but we didn't talk then. There were things to do that day. Can you forgive an old man?"

"I mean—well, of course," Patrick said.

"Damien, I think you're terrifying him," Jordan said jokingly from the other side of the room.

"My mistake," said Damien Joseph, releasing his firm grip. Patrick had hardly even noticed that he was leaning backwards so far that he almost fell over when the former Head Change let him go.

"Thanks Jordan—Mr. Head Change, Sir," Patrick said.

"Call me Jordan, Patrick," the Head Change said. "I think you babysat me enough to bypass that kind of formality."

"All right," Patrick said with a nod, barely recalling those instances, but clearly they had resonated with at least Jordan. "And happy nineteenth too, Jordan."

"Thank you, Patrick," Jordan said, letting his hand go. Jordan had always been oddly soft spoken, especially in comparison to the other two. There was Shaun Hardlen, who often interrupted and always spoke his mind, and Damien Joseph, who was apparently just Damien Joseph.

"Patrick, good to see you again," Shaun Hardlen said in a welcoming voice as he took Patrick's hand and shook it. "You really do look just like your father."

"Thank you, Sir," said Patrick. He wasn't sure exactly why that statement warranted a thanks, but he was prepared to thank or agree with anything at that point.

"I'll take everyone else's word that you look like Andy," said Alexander.

"I'll bet I probably do," Patrick said. He put his hand out to shake Alexander's, but something about it seemed weird so, instead, he opted to go with a hug. At first, he was fairly certain he had extremely surprised Alexander, but he soon returned the gesture.

"Well, if Patrick gets a hug, then so do I," Riley cheered after Patrick pulled away. She nearly jumped on top of Alexander and hugged him as well, kissing him lightly on the cheek.

"Patrick, can I introduce Echo Grace?" Alexander asked after Riley let him go, gesturing his hand towards the leader of the Fourth Level Squad, a young woman who had stood when Patrick and Riley came in, but had thus far not said anything. Patrick's initial impression of her was that she spent too much time maintaining her appearance, but he wasn't going to pass any judgments on her. Yes, she was very pretty, though he thought she could have been prettier if she tried less.

"Nice to meet you," the woman said. "I'm afraid I didn't know your apparently famous father."

"I can't imagine you did," Patrick said. "He died when you were probably still in diapers."

He said it and felt a little awkward after it came out. She cleared her throat and pulled her hand away, but he didn't think she was offended so he wasn't going to worry too much about it as Riley introduced herself to Echo as well.

"Patrick is basically an honorary Fourth Level Squad member," Jordan remarked somewhat in passing. "He was around so much, I thought he really was on the team when I was little."

"I remember you used to ask why he wasn't there when we went on missions," Riley said, looking amused at the memory she had forgotten about.

"If memory serves me correctly," Shaun said, raising his hand for attention. "He did go on one mission with the likes of you. Damien, the liberation of the Lica prison."

"Yes!" Damien immediately chimed in. "I heard of that masterpiece! Artwork in its execution. The little Haart boy was returned, lovely Hannah was returned, all the hostages were returned and, best of all, that boy from Lica's Squad was brought to us as well. That was the turning point of the war."

Patrick felt like he was trying to stifle his own laughter of awkward embarrassment. Yes, all that had happened, but he had never imagined someone like the former Head Change even gave it a second thought, let alone referred to it as a masterpiece.

"What was a Second Level doing on a mission like that, anyway?" Echo inquired, leaning her chin on her palm.

"Frankly, I've always sort of wondered that myself," Patrick admitted. The Head Changes laughed like a choir and Alexander crossed his arms and smiled. "Of course, you all don't want to just sit around talking about me—"

"Harassing you is their favorite pass time," Riley interrupted, delighted.

"I remember," Shaun said, pointing at Patrick. "When you were just a kid, Patrick, barely thirteen. You wanted to become a Second Level then." His finger migrated to pointing back and forth between Riley and Jordan. "The two of you kids conspired with one another to submit Patrick's name for consideration."

"I remember doing that," Jordan said with a smile. "Riley filled all the papers out and then spread them around on the floor, gave me a pen and pointed where I was supposed to write my name to authorize them."

"At the time, I thought it would be too obvious if I submitted his name because we were friends," Riley said sheepishly. "I guess it was just as obvious that Jordan was doing it."

"I thought of that day when I signed off on Patrick's promotion to Third Level Plus last year," Jordan added.

"That wasn't as easy as you thought it would be, was it Patrick?" said Alexander. "Teaching, I mean. What did you do that made three of them quit after the first day?"

"Actually," Riley said before Patrick could respond. "One of them quit before the first day even started."

"Thanks for the support, Riley," Patrick said sarcastically, and she only shrugged innocently as the others laughed at him again. "Truth is, I don't know why. All I can do is hope for slightly more motivated students next year."

"Motivated students," Damien Joseph said, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "Patrick, next year, you will get the four most motivated students in the classroom, I promise you that!"

"You can't make a promise like that, Sir," Jordan said.

"We'll give it a try," said Damien. "See what happens."

"Thank you, Sir," said Patrick.

Just then, the back sliding door opened up and a woman stepped inside. She was weary looking, but happy, and pretty; very young yet she wore an experienced expression. "All you are hiding away in here," she remarked tiredly. "You're the smart ones."

"Lela, this is Patrick Leary," Alexander said, gesturing towards the general vicinity where Patrick was standing. "And you remember Riley."

"Hi Lela," said Riley, giving the young woman a brief and casual hug.

"Oh, of course I remember," Lela said to Riley, and then directed her attention towards Patrick. "Hello Patrick. It's nice to finally meet you."

"Lela is the mother of Salem's child," Alexander interjected.

"I know," Patrick said, taking her by the hand. "I've heard about you from Riley. I'm glad to meet you too."

Lela held onto Patrick's hand for longer than he expected. She was looking right into his eyes, unblinking, as if trying to stare right through him. At first, he wasn't sure what it was all about but, while everyone around him went silent, he realized what must have been on her mind: Salem is dead because of this man. In reality, the statement was true and there was no getting around something like that. It was the fact of the matter: if Dane Slate hadn't been searching for Patrick, then Salem would not have been killed. Patrick wondered if that was resentment in her eyes looking back at him, or maybe it was anger, or perhaps a feeling of vengeance. He wouldn't blame her for hating him. He would understand it.

Suddenly, she smiled, quickly wiping a tear away from her eye. "I'm thankful you're alive," she said. "Forgive me for speaking about him—that assassin, the one who killed Salem—he could have done it to you as well. There must not be a day that goes by you don't thank whoever's watching over you."

Patrick was surprised. As far as he could tell, her words and her smile were genuine, and she finally let go of him and addressed Shaun Hardlen, asking him something about if lunch had arrived as Patrick stood in puzzlement. Riley squeezed his wrist supportively, as if she knew he wanted to say something to Lela, but he wasn't quite sure what that was yet.

"Lela," Patrick said, raising his voice slightly to get her attention. Even Shaun Hardlen stopped speaking in order to hear what Patrick was going to say. "I got to know a lot of the members of the Fourth Level Squad, but I never really knew Salem well. If I regret one thing, it's that I didn't have an opportunity to become as good friends with him as I was with the others."

Lela looked as though a massive weight had literally been taken off her shoulders. She wrapped her arms around Patrick's neck and kissed him on either cheek. "I hope you haven't been thinking all these years that I resented you," she said.

"Honestly, I had," Patrick said. "And I thought the resentment you had would be justified, completely."

"How could you think something like that?" Lela said, practically beaming with happiness, though there were tears in her eyes. "What could possibly justify that sort of resentment? You avenged Salem's death. You destroyed that awful man who ruined so many lives. You are the hero, Patrick. You're my hero. I sleep at night because of you. I wish I could have told you that years ago."

There was a long pause of silence in the room. Patrick glanced around at the decorated heroes he was in the presence of; three Head Changes and three leaders of the Fourth Level Squad, past and present. Then there was him: Patrick Leary: looking down at a woman who could not even call herself Salem Flash's wife as she tearfully confessed a concept which was so beyond Patrick that he could hardly even believe what she was saying.

Suddenly, there was a knock at the door.

"I'll get it," Alexander said immediately, almost as if he had been hoping for an interruption for a good reason to excuse himself.

Lela finally let Patrick go, patting him on the shoulder supportively, as if to say, "Great job, buddy!" He was glad, though somewhat bewildered, unsure of the next step. Riley leaned against him for a few seconds, but then she spun around as her mouth dropped to the floor, letting out a soft yet extremely excited cry of delight.

Patrick turned to see who had just entered the room behind Alexander. There was a handsome young gentleman with black hair he did not immediately recognize, but when he took a step forward to reveal a woman walking in behind him, firmly holding his hand, he finally put the puzzle together. The man was Xavier Shepherd, the musician from Circa, and he had Ashleigh Figueroa in tow.

Actually, judging by the ring on her finger, Patrick assessed she was perhaps not called Figueroa anymore. Riley nearly jumped her old friend, showering her with hugs and cries of happiness to see the ring. Xavier stepped away from the commotion, smiling brightly, and then started exchanging handshakes with the other people in the room. There had only been a few rare occasions which Patrick had even seen Xavier over the course of the past few years, but all exchanges he had were decidedly pleasant. He couldn't say he ever expected Ashleigh to be so taken with him, but they had basically assaulted each other with their affection.

Xavier was a fantastic musician, Patrick knew that much, and the two of them had married only a few days ago in a private ceremony only attended by a very select group of people. Patrick was not offended that he wasn't one of the invited because he had frankly been awfully surprised to even hear the announcement that they were now a couple. Aside from their age, Xavier and Ashleigh shared very few things in common. What little he knew about Xavier suggested he was soft spoken and even a little delicate, opting to smile quietly at a joke which he understood. Ashleigh was just Ashleigh; loud, opinionated and often dirty from getting home from her missions late. Visually, Patrick imagined Xavier looked like winter; pale skin, black hair and always wearing a high collar. He did not have an ability and he literally had never encountered any Change exposure whatsoever, aside from Ashleigh Figueroa.

"How did the two of you even meet?" Echo asked since she was in the process of learning people's names.

"It's a funny story, actually," Ashleigh announced. "You tell it, Xavier, I still haven't said hi to Patrick."

She immediately left his side and he awkwardly watched her go.

"No, go back to him," Patrick offered.

"He'll be fine," said Ashleigh. "He's good with crowds." She raised her hand to show off her ring. "What do you think?"

"It's very beautiful," said Patrick with a nod, taking her hands daintily and examining the small jewel.

"Mrs. Ashleigh Shepherd," Ashleigh mused. "That sounds almost more appropriate, considering my Change abilities, don't you think?"

"I'm really happy for you, Ashleigh," Patrick said.

Ashleigh bounced excitedly in a fashion which seemed out of character, but then she reached up and wrapped her arms around Patrick's neck. "Sometimes, I think you're to blame!" she said. "I really wanted you to be at the wedding! But it was family only."

"It's an honor to hear that," Patrick said, looking past her to see Xavier was having quite the difficult time entertaining Damien Joseph.

Ashleigh turned around and saw this happening, so she pointed at Patrick and said, "Later, you!" and then promptly went over to Xavier to rescue him from whatever Damien Joseph was going to continue to ramble about.

Riley finally to back to Patrick and held onto him. "How's this craziness?" Riley said. "People getting married so quick…I feel like they only just started dating, right?"

Patrick stared at her, wondering if she was asking to be proposed to just then. The ring was in his pocket, too, so he guessed he could do it. But then, maybe that would be weird. Maybe it would be rude to Ashleigh and Xavier who needed their own moment. Patrick put his hand in his pocket and rolled the band over and over a few times and hoped it would all just pass.

"They both seem so young," Riley said. "Ashleigh's younger than I am. I think Xavier's younger than she is, too. He's so sweet, though. A musician in Ronin! How old were your parents when they got married?"

"My parents," Patrick said. "They married because they got pregnant. And so they were both actually younger than twenty when they got married and when their first kid was born, me of course."

Riley hugged him just as Ashleigh came over to them, dragging a slightly overwhelmed Xavier along.

"Maybe we should let Xavier and Patrick go off and be friends," Ashleigh whispered to Riley, trying to confiscate her from Patrick. "They're really the ones who don't know much about the Squad."

"I think Patrick was doing a great job keeping up with us," said Shaun Hardlen.

"Thank you, Sir," said Patrick. "But it's fine. Alexander, do you mind if I show Xavier your backyard?"

"No, please do," said Alexander simply. "It's a nice backyard. Good acoustics, I'll bet."

Patrick waved for Xavier to follow him, and the younger man nodded his head eagerly to do so. They went through the sliding glass door and into the backyard. A majority of the children froze as they exited the house and felt obligated to wave absentmindedly, and a few of the comparatively older members of the Squad acknowledged Patrick.

He returned their gestures and turned to Xavier who was watching the children return to their frolicking. "Thanks for getting me out of there," Xavier said gratefully. "Sorry you're stuck babysitting me, though."

"It was getting a little stifling in there for me," Patrick said. "They're all nice people, but I think they like to reminisce a little too much."

Xavier smiled and put his hands in his pocket. Just when Patrick was going to awkwardly try to start a conversation, Xavier said, "So I finally get to meet the famous Patrick Leary."

"Why is everyone saying that?" Patrick questioned. "Don't tell me you knew my father too."

He couldn't imagine the Shepherds knew anything about his family because they had always lived in Circa. He had been rather taken aback that Xavier Shepherd knew anything about him in the first place, and especially referred to him as "famous."

"No, I didn't know your father," Xavier answered.

He seemed to think he was finished with the explanation of his rather candid statement, so Patrick pushed him to elaborate.

"Ashleigh raves about you, that's all," said Xavier. "On the way over, she just kept saying, 'So, Patrick will definitely be there' and 'You two should be friends, you'd be really good friends' and those sorts of things. She thinks you're a very interesting person, and Ashleigh is not often impressed by things."

"She's impressed by you," Patrick said, crossing his arms. He felt as though he had already spent enough of the day hearing about himself so if there was a way to turn it around, then he would jump at the opportunity. Besides, this wild notion of Ashleigh suddenly getting married was intriguing; although she seemed like the type who would choose to do something spontaneous, Xavier did not exactly strike him as her type. Still, upon hearing Patrick's statement, Xavier immediately beamed and looked joyfully overwhelmed by merely thinking about their affair.

"My family is a bit offset by her extroverted nature," Xavier confessed.

"When did you two even meet?" Patrick asked. "I didn't hear that story."

"I'm not sure how we first met, actually," Xavier admitted. "The very first time, I mean. I remember seeing her several times over the course of a few years. I would always hope she would speak to me first."

"You came here once eight years ago," Patrick said. "I saw your concert. I was sitting in the front row."

Again, Xavier only looked embarrassed. Patrick remembered the day of the concert very vividly for reasons which didn't exactly necessarily pertain to the music he heard that day. That was the day the Shadow Change and the swordsman had infiltrated the village and had attempted to kidnap Anne, maiming Patrick in the process. That day prompted Alexander to taken an interest in him as a student. That day had given him insight on the future corruption in Lica, which resulted in an invitation to liberate the prison. A lot had changed that day, and Patrick was not certain whether or not Xavier Shepherd was even aware of matters of the Change world.

"That was my first time in Ronin," Xavier said. "It's really beautiful here."

"I went to Circa once a few years ago," Patrick intervened. "I thought it was beautiful there."

"It's too small there."

"That's what I liked about it. Did you know Daniel and Sarella Nevers?"

"To an extent," Xavier answered. "We all knew they were from Ronin, and that there had been an incident which had led to sort of an encouraged relocation. But they seemed nice enough. I can't say I was friends with them, but the village is small enough that we saw them around."

"So what made you decide to move here? Besides Ashleigh of course."

"Ashleigh is the reason. There's no other reason. Whenever Changes were coming to Circa, I would hope she would be among them. But I didn't know how to speak to her."

Patrick uncrossed his arms and leaned against a tree which separated Alexander's property from the next. "When did you know she would marry you?" Patrick asked.

"What do you mean?"

"How did you know to ask her? When did you know she would say yes?"

Xavier raised both his eyebrows in surprise. "She asked me," he admitted.

"Did she?"

"She confessed to me that whenever they needed to send Changes to Circa, she would try to get in the group. Both of us were always trying to find reasons to see each other, but neither of us was brave enough to say anything to one another."

"What? Ashleigh was shy?"

"You wouldn't know it just by looking at her, but she's actually very shy."

"How did she ask you?"

"She just showed up one day and said, 'Do you want to marry me?' The answer was yes, of course. She's not someone who likes to wait for anything. I've never been particularly patient either. So we decided to make it work, somehow." Patrick nodded in agreement, and Xavier glanced briefly up at the tree he was leaning against. "Are you thinking of asking your girl?"

At first, Patrick's first reaction was to deny it. Then, he pulled the ring from his pocket and showed it to Xavier, offering him the opportunity to pass judgment on it.

"I thought so," Xavier said, taking the ring and examining it closely.

"I've never been very good at showing myself to other people, though," Patrick said. "I have a hard time finding the right moment."

"Every moment is the right moment," said Xavier.

"Is that a fact?"

"Patrick, I was supposed to die when I was a baby. My parents were told not to bother. Doctors are still telling me I will die early and unexpectedly. They told me I could offer the world nothing. And now, if you look at me, maybe I'm not all that significant in the grand scheme. I do not have any Change abilities and I do not know any fighting techniques. I can't run fast and I am certainly not a master of wordplay. I teach children how to play the piano."

"I don't think—"

"But I make one woman happy," Xavier interrupted. "I make Ashleigh happy. That is something I offer, and that in and of itself makes my life worth it."

"Do you think I can offer Riley anything?"

"Can you?"

Patrick went silent again as Xavier gave him the ring back.

"If there's one thing I know, it's that this world is less than perfect," Xavier said. "Things are often illusions, so you shouldn't invest much in anything you see. But that doesn't have to be the case if there is something real. One thing real."

Patrick put the ring in his pocket. "I think I've heard something like that before," he said.

"It's something Ashleigh says," Xavier said.

"I think I might have heard it from her," Patrick said with a nod.

"Ashleigh might speak before she fully considers the words, but I think she's often right," Xavier said. "I may be biased. But I think she was at least right about one thing."

"That is?"

"I think we can be friends, you and me. You are a very interesting person. You live up to the hype."

Patrick made a slight laughing sound and looked up with his eyes. He could see into the small house where Riley was talking to other people in the house. She was real, he thought. She was one thing real.

///////

Tell me what you all think. This part will focus more on a single year as opposed to covering many years like the previous two installments. But this year is certainly going to be a doozy. A lot of old characters are coming back, and a bunch of new ones are going to be making appearances as well. Please come back for more!