The hospital was two hours outside Callico and by the time Jack careened into the parking lot, tires squealing, he'd worked himself into an absolute panic.
Sweating bullets, sick with worry, the wild-eyed family man ate up the parking lot in long, anxious strides, met by Moira, a calm oasis of lavender waiting for him with an easy smile in the lobby.
"Mister Roslyn," catching his arm, Moira pulled him to a stop, furrowing her brows. She wondered what on Earth Catcher had told the man to make him look so frenzied.
Jack took a deep breath, attempting to pull himself together. "Mo," he gasped. "Is everything all right? Did something happen to Ben? Is-? Did he-?" He couldn't bring himself to say it.
"Ben's fine, Mister Roslyn." Moira assured him softly, her eyes warm. No matter how many times he told her 'call me Jack', she still insisted on the formality. "This is something you'll have to hear for yourself."
She towed him along toward the elevators, a giddy smile on her face, like a child who's dreams had finally come true. And, secretly, they had.
"What's going on, Moira?" Jack demanded as the elevator carried them up to the psych ward. Worried sick, his blue eyes stern, he faced down the dazzling blonde, insisting upon answers.
Watching the floor numbers blink, Moira smiled to herself. "A miracle." The elevator dinged and the doors ground open. "You have to meet him."
"Moira-" he chased the girl down the hallway, weaving around a hospital bed. She disappeared like a summer ghost into Ben's room, still smiling that eerie, faraway grin. "Wh-" He stopped short. "You."
"Charlie? C'mon, this isn't funny anymore!"
Dad had told him to keep an eye on Charlie when they were at the park, to make sure nothing happened to him…
Twelve-year-old Jack Roslyn had just lost his little brother.
"All right, Charlie! I give up! You can come out now!" He never wanted to hear the words "hide-and-seek" ever again. The green-eyed eight-year-old had always been able to find the best hiding spots. Jack prayed that that was all this was.
The park was mostly empty. A few parents supervising their little kids on the swing set and monkey bars, a kid from Jack's class trying to climb up the slope of the metal slide.
But no Charlie.
Standing under a copse of trees was an older boy, probably from the high school that Jack had never seen before. He looked funny. Real skinny and blond, covered in freckles like Jenna from the fifth grade. The boy smiled and waved.
"Have you seen my little brother?" Jack asked, frantic. "He's eight, about this tall with brown hair and green eyes."
The blond boy looked down at him. His eyes were green, just like Charlie's. He didn't say anything, but he tilted his head, pointing up into the nearest tree.
Jack could've cried. There, nestled in the gnarled crook of branches, was Charlie. His annoying, ridiculous little brother, taking a nap. "Charlie!"
The stocky eight-year-old stirred, blinking down at his brother muzzily. "Oh, hey," Charlie said, smiling. "Took you long enough to find me."
Torn between fury and relief, Jack turned around to thank the skinny high school boy… who seeemd to have disappeared. "Where'd he go?"
"Where'd who go?" Charlie asked, shimmying down the trunk of the tree.
Jack scanned the playground, frowning. "Huh."
Perched beside Ben on the hospital bed, dressed in well-worn jeans and a flannel shirt two sizes too big was the blond boy from the park, thirty-seven years ago. And he hadn't changed a bit.
Offering that same, sunny smile, the boy pushed a hand through his blond bangs. "Hi Jack."
Jack gaped. "You- you see him too?" he demanded of Ben who nodded firmly.
"Crazy, right?" His nephew asked with a shrug. Crazy was certainly one word for it.
"You know this kid, Dad?" Catcher asked, sitting forward intently. Moira just smiled.
"I-" what the hell? "Yeah." Jack nodded. "From a long time ago… How did you-?"
The green-eyed boy pulled a wry face. "It's a very long story." He sat up straighter, rolling his shoulders experimentally as though something was missing there. "I'm Valoel, this is Ambriel," he gestured to the attractive bi-racial woman leaning by the window.
Jack shook his head, sinking into the available plastic chair. He felt like he'd been clubbed upside the head with a brick. Just… what was happening? "Yeah, that doesn't explain much."
Valoel copped a smile, amused. "It really doesn't, does it?" He hummed. "I'm, well, I was an angel. Your family's vigil."
The oldest Roslyn scrunched up his face with a frown. Vigil. The angel assigned to watch over his family. This scrawny kid? "Hold up, kid," he demanded, practically feeling the gears that turned in his brain stuttering, grinding against one another in attempts to keep up with everything, to process this… whatever this was. "Start from the beginning."
Pursing his lips, the angel danced his fingers over his knee, thinking. "I'm not quite sure where the beginning is, actually," he admitted.
"All right," Jack sat forward, steepling his fingers. A month ago his life had been perfectly normal. Now his brother was dead, his nephew was a professed 'Gatekeeper' and he was chatting up an angel in a hospital. "We'll start with a simple question. Why are you here?"
Unconsciously, Val's fingers tightened around Ben's wrist. "To protect you."
Jack thought his head was going to explode. "The demons," he echoed, disbelieving.
Val nodded. "They went after Charlie," he said softly, a note of mourning in his eyes. "And now they're coming for Ben."
"Because he's a Gatekeeper," Jack murmured, feeling his fingers clench around the arms of the chair. Knuckles white as bone. Good God.
"Does everyone know what's going on except me?" Ben exclaimed, looking equal parts frustrated and entirely bamboozled. He felt exhausted, like his brain had short-circuited and was only managing to process every other bit of information. One of those horrendous puzzles where once you start to put it together you realize you're missing a great many of the pieces.
Catcher raised his hand. "The confusion is mutual."
Jack sighed. "You remember the stories, don't you boys? The ones your grandpa used to tell us when we were kids. The Gatekeeper was a hero born to protect the Three Realms." He ticked them off on his fingers. "Heaven, Hell, and Earth. He was put in charge of the pathways between the realms to keep peace, to make sure no one side got too powerful."
Val nodded, adding his own wealth of knowledge to the mix. "He was created by the angel Azrael. Part human, part angel, and part demon," His voice was soft and reverent, filled with memories of the past, hazy recollections of the future. "The abilities of the Gatekeeper were passed down, manifesting in a son each generation to continue the line." He sighed, nibbling at his lower lip. "In an ideal situation, the Gatekeeper would teach the next generation, prepare them for their duties and help them learn to control their power. However," Ben didn't know eyes could look so sad. "This is anything but ideal."
"What am I supposed to do?" Ben asked, plucking at the sheets. Tension boiled beneath the surface, itched in his veins. He wanted to do something, to feel useful. He wanted to wake up from this dark, miserable haze and live again. His head felt clearer than it had in weeks, and Val's arrival, the fact that this was all real had somehow lifted a great weight from his chest, made it easier to breathe again.
Val considered the question, his fingers tracing patterns on the blank white sheets. Everything was a canvas. "Trust me," he said at last. "Can you do that?"
A boy he hardly knew, who claimed to be a fallen angel come to protect him from demons. An angel who until now he'd thought to be a hallucination. And, yet, there was something about Valoel. Something open and honest and… pure. Something that made Ben want to trust him. He nodded.
Val smiled. "Good." Turning back to Jack, luminous eyes growing serious. "There's nothing wrong with him. At the risk of being offensive, these doctors have absolutely no idea just what they're dealing with." His impish face softened. "Ben doesn't belong here."
Looking past the angel, Jack's eyes filled with a deep, endless sadness. He squeezed his nephew's knee. "I know." He sighed. "I never thought you were crazy, Ben. I knew what this was. I didn't know what to do, and… after what happened, I just…" He shook his head.
"Jack, I thought I was crazy," Ben chuffed, slouching back against the pillows, his body numb with exhaustion. "And I screwed up big time. You had every right to admit me here, as much as I hate it."
Pursing his lips, Jack looked the grey-eyed boy up and down, searching for the forgiveness in Ben's voice. Forgiveness he didn't think he deserved. "I'm sorry, kiddo," he sighed, joints popping as he stood. "I'll see about arranging for the paperwork to be filed with your doctor."
Ben smiled tiredly. "Thanks, Jack."
As the elder Roslyn staggered out of the room, overwhelmed, Moira smiled at Catcher and Ben, her lilac eyes warm. "You seem to be taking all of this rather well."
Catcher shrugged, letting out a gusty sigh. "I'm still trying to decide if we're all absolutely nuts, or if this is actually happening."
"Oh it's happening, chico," Ambriel assured him, making a face.
Val nudged Ben lightly, an impish gleam in his eyes. "See?" he said with a wicked grin. "I told you I was real!"
The grey-eyed boy heaved a deep sigh, shaking his head with a surprised laugh. "Yeah, you sure did," he admitted.
Green eyes sparkled. He was real, he was here, with Ben. It was all real. "I still can't believe it myself…" He admitted, shaking his head. "It… it seems almost impossible."
Ben smiled, his eyes alight with a life that had seemed all but snuffed out. "Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth," he quoted.
Moira laughed. "Sherlock Holmes?"