New Kid in Town
By Denise Randall
Chapter One: Ashes to Ashes
Just by how tired he was, Nathan was well aware it was already far into the day. Knowing he should be sleeping already had done nothing to move him from his current perch, however. He'd done nothing but sit on the edge of his bed since returning to his room following the various surreal encounters throughout the previous night – especially the one that occurred just before dawn.
Blinking, he finally forced himself from the mattress and padded catlike to his dresser. Automatically, his hand moved to the cross about his neck, turning the solid band of metal in such a way that he could remove. He laid the necklace on the small pad taking up a portion of the dresser's top. His fingers moved on their own, finding the buttons on the long sleeved shirt and pushing them through the buttonholes. As the pressure released around his throat, he realized just how choking the blouse truly was after so long dressed in it. Besides, the outfit reminded him of the grief and the ugliness of the night and made his want to be free of it especially urgent.
Nathan peered towards the bed again, wondering if his rising had disturbed the rest of its current occupant. Margareta had never made it back to her room after the altercation in the hall, seeming to sense that Nathan needed company – consolation – after all that transpired. Currently, Margareta occupied the far half of his bed, turned towards the opposite wall. He grinned to find that his rising hadn't wakened her. She slept peacefully, dressed in one of his shirts – the best he could do for her when she refused to leave even so long as to go change.
Her thoughtfulness was most gratifying. He really didn't want to be left to his own thoughts this day.
Gently, he tuned into her subconscious. Her thoughts were fuzzy and unformed, proof that she was relaxed and truly sleeping – not just pretending to in order to give Nathan time to think. Warmth moved through him, joy and pride and love flowing through his veins to have Margareta near him again.
As he shuffled his thick shoulders out of the blouse and folded it atop the dresser, he considered that after 70 years apart, people would consider it appropriate for the two of them to ravish each other this day. Beyond that initial fierce hug and kiss – and some holding hands between then and now – nothing more intimate had occurred between them. Neither one of them considered such selfishness appropriate on the day they said their goodbyes to Nathan's father.
With Margareta's news about the reneged betrothal, Nathan consoled himself with the thought that there would be plenty of time for the two of them. At least, they would until she left for Italy again.
His gut squirreled at that thought. Conflict arose immediately on its heels.
Just as slowly as with his top, the vadaryne stripped out of his pants, kicking them to the baseboard of his dresser and promising himself he would clean it up this evening. In that respect he took more after his mother. He hated to have a mess – felt rather claustrophobic about clutter. He was just too tired for that panic to overrule his need to crawl into bed and pull the world in around him.
Padding back to the bed, Nathan peeled back the light blanket and sheet and slipped his body in next to Margareta. Curling himself around her smaller frame caused her to draw a deeper breath. He grit his teeth, chastising himself for risking her waking with that move. Still he laced his arm around her waist, figuring if he'd waken her it was no use being any kind of subtle. He found her nestling tighter against his larger body and settling again. Watching her, Nathan looked for any other signs of wakefulness.
I love you, filtered through their connection, but it didn't sound as if she was truly conscious. Satisfied that he hadn't disturbed her rest, Nathan settled his head on the pillow.
A strange evening it had been – so many poignant, joyful, and painful moments had transpired. The whole series of events seemed so surreal. He wondered if he would find it all to be just that in the evening – a dream. Shaking his head into the pillow, he told himself not to be deluded into thinking that. His dad had died – the funeral had happened. He would only disappoint himself when night fell again were he to allow himself to believe those events never occurred. Considering he's rarely grieved over death before this night, the phases of the process were still messing him up.
He had many more such surreal days ahead of him.
Drawing a deep, unsteady breath and holding Margareta just a little bit tighter, Nathan prayed he could find the strength to get through it all. Turmoiled thoughts continued to chase through his head until slumber finally overtook him.
Nathan stood on the edge of the cliff, peering down its face to the ocean smashing at its feet many hundreds of yards below. The drop didn't frighten him like he thought it might. In fact he was fascinated by the cyclic action of the waves;how the white caps highlighted the otherwise dark ocean. A stiff wind blew in off the water, moisture heavy in its kiss, dampening and tangling the lengthening waves in his brunette hair.
He swept his gaze to the left, watching the jagged weathered pattern of green at the edge of the drop all the way to where it dipped lower towards an unseen vale. His gaze strayed the other direction seeing approximately the same sight..
"I've never seen the sea," he sighed. "Never been to the coast. There was never a need to travel that far back home – at least since I've been alive. From what Dad told me of his experiences it wasn't nearly as beautiful as this is."
The slim arms about his middle tightened somewhat, and, once they loosened, Margareta slipped to his right side. His arm automatically encircled her shoulders. He could feel her measuring his expression, but wasn't ready to take his eyes from the diamond-studded pitch over the nearly gray-green of the water angrily trying to consume the land.
"I love feeling your joy over this, Nate. I am so relieved you like my home."
He peered down and smiled at her. "It's our home now, isn't it? I can only hope it likes me."
Nathan's eyes snapped open, even as a breath caught in his throat. It was quiet to be sure, but vampires were easily able to pick up whispers. He began to glance over to see if he'd waken Margareta with the sound of it, only to find her sitting up, her arms caging his chest, even as her long loose hair swept over his exposed skin. He was still in his bed – surprisingly – the vision managing not to send him writhing to the floor today.
"Good evening." She smiled.
Nathan let out a breath he'd been holding and blinked up at her. Smiling, he lifted his hand to cup her closest cheek, using the contact to pull her gently down to meet his lips. The action lingered for long moments before Nathan released her. Margareta contented herself to remain lying across his body.
"When are you returning?" he whispered, continuing to play with her long blond tresses.
"The end of the week." She pushed up. "I wanted to spend some time with you, before returning."
He almost announced himself – almost told her of the contents of his vision. That squirreling feeling of conflict lit off in his gut at the thought of it and stayed his tongue.
Instead he smiled at her. "I'd like that."
Her face took on an introspective overlay, as if she might have pulled either his original news or the doubt that had forced him to silence from his thoughts. The emotion was momentary and another grin warmed her face. She was toying with his hair now, her fingers straying deep enough to make light contact with the skin of his neck.
"What time is it?" Nathan asked, as much to take his thoughts off his inability to share his vision with his soul-mate as any desire to know.
"About 1900." She shrugged. "We've slept in a bit."
"I doubt anyone was up early this night." His thoughts turned heavy with the reasons why. Slowly he sat up, feeling the weight of urgency settle in his gut. "Still, I have one more matter to attend to."
"Your father's remains." Margareta nodded, even as she encircled his waist with her legs, draping her arms across his shoulders in the same move. "I will head back to my room, then. I know that is your family's time to say goodbye."
He kissed her, pulling her body against him. "Thank you."
"Everything. Being here; your understanding."
"You'll not be able to hide much from me, Nathan Arturo. You understand that right?"
He nodded and smiled. "It is going to take some getting used to. I was never that kind of talented before. Funny thing was…?"
"Though we'd only had that one night of such open sharing…I lamented when I could no longer hear you. I was agonized that it wouldn't cross the oceans."
"I was too. I'm not sure I could stand to do it again." Her statement was heavy with meaning, and Nathan wondered if she had seen what he had witnessed. The possibility she had gave all new meaning to the entire conversation.
He said nothing, merely hugging her tighter.
Appearing slightly disappointed, Margareta untangled herself from his embrace and got off the bed. She moved with that liquid grace he always admired to her things and began dressing. He worried a moment over what it would say to those people in the halls that Margareta was emerging from his room or that she was still wearing the same clothes from the previous evening.
Margareta's knowing grin said she'd picked up that thought process.
Nathan beamed back, realizing he didn't care. Most residents still alive remembered how passionate the two of them had been when she was last here – at least how they finally ended up that way. Upon her return those who didn't know were probably filled in by those who did. There might not be as much surprise as he first considered.
Sitting for a few moments more following her departure, Nathan first blanked his mind, and then turned his focus to dressing once more. He needn't been dressed quite so fancy as the night prior, but still he dressed in another somber blouse and breeches. Pulling his coat on, he headed for his mother's room.
Passing his hand over the door, Nathan waited for an answer. IT wasn't long in coming as the door slid to.
His mother nodded him inside. "I'm not quite ready yet."
Nathan stepped into the dwelling, noting with a twinge that his mother had cleaned. With her emotional state the night prior, he was surprised she hadn't left every reminder of Cabal lying were he'd left it. Instead the living room had been completely straightened, all the furniture had been wiped clean; the floors either vacuumed or mopped depending upon the surface. There were hints she had rearranged.
"Mom, did you sleep?" Worry crept in. This was a lot to take care of and he hoped the cleaning had come before his father's death and not following the funeral.
She reemerged from the bedroom, a guilty expression on her face. Her gaze swept the living room and a flush moved through her cheeks. "I'm not trying to get rid of him, if that's what you're thinking."
Nathan swallowed as the statement confirmed his fears.
"I just…it was too much." Tears threatened.
Nathan swiftly moved across the space to embrace his mom.
"It was too much. I had to remove some of the reminders." She repeated, breaking down against his chest.
"I don't think you were trying to get rid of Dad. I know you guys better than that." His assurance was combined with a tighter hug. "Dad would understand. He loves you."
Miranda backed out of their embrace suddenly, her eyes still wet and puffy, but scrutiny in them rather than grief. She opened her mouth to ask a question when the door chimed once more. Sniffing, she quickly wiped her eyes and swept past him. "That'll be Sagira."
Miranda opened the door and Sagira took two stiff steps into the room. His sister still looked angry, and her deadly glare was locked on Nathan. Their mother didn't seem to notice this charged atmosphere, buzzing about the living room and muttering about needing one or two more things.
"You and I need to talk," Sagira growled, low enough that their mother wouldn't notice.
"Now's not the time, Sagira." Nathan shook his head and gave a weary smile to his mother as she rejoined them – urn in hand.
Miranda drew a deep heavy breath and let it out slowly. Her voice was tremulous as she said, "Shall we honor your father's last wishes?"
The atmosphere in the Mandalay was heavy with silence. None of them spoke as they made the short distance to the point where Renate had ended his time on earth nearly 200 years prior. Nathan set the hovercar down just outside the coordinates, stiffly making his way out of the driver's seat. His mother still hadn't exited the vehicle by the time Nathan made it to that side, and he keyed the door, stepping back as it swung up. When he offered Miranda his hand, she nodded as if convincing herself of something, took it and used it to lever herself out of the car.
They walked side by side, Miranda between Sagira and Nathan until they reached the approximate spot where Cabal's father had moved on. Turning their back to the wind, they stood for a few moments in the chill of the night, thinking private thoughts.
There was the soft "foomp" as the seal was broken on the urn. "Cabe, I'll miss you. You were everything I'd expected in a husband and more."
She peered over at Sagira.
His sister swallowed, nearly unable to choke out the words, "Bye Dad, I love you."
As his mother's gaze lifted to his face, Nathan nodded. The words sounded hollow considering what he knew, that his dad was nowhere now that he could hear all these words. "Thank you for making me the man I am, Dad. I'll miss having your ear."
Miranda lifted the urn, tilting slightly away from her to look at it one more time. "Goodbye," she whispered, and, as if to keep from losing her nerve, she quickly upended the urn and spilled the ashes into the rising wind. She held it in that position long after the last of the fine powder had sifted out from the interior. Slowly, Miranda titled the vessel upright, but still she did not move.
Silence, only punctuated by the wind whistling past the three of them, prevailed for a long time.
Nathan wasn't sure why he said it; the words just seemed to slip out of him. "I saw dad this morning."
He could feel the two incredulous stares pierce the side of his downturned face. Resolutely he continued to watch the spot of sand where his grandfather had died.
"That's not funny, brother," Sagira hissed.
He met her gaze, slowly shaking his head side to side. "I'm not joking – you know I don't have that poor a taste. I saw him this morning…he came to say goodbye."
Miranda's eyes widened, even as tears started to spill.
"He visited each of you." His gaze strayed from his mother to his sister and back again. "He sounded disappointed when he was unable to be seen."
"You're telling the truth?" Sagira made it a question, even when it was obvious that she had confirmed it with her telepathy. It was as if she thought he was admitting insanity.
Nathan nodded once more. "He wanted me to pass on that he loved you both."
Sagira merely blinked, his mother was openly crying again.
"He's moved on." Nathan nodded to cement that. "Mom…"
She focused on him again, and not on hugging the urn.
"Do you remember how Dad always insisted he met Lucinda in Limbo once?"
Her nod began slowly but became short abrupt motions. "I no longer think he was imagining that."
"She was…with him?" Miranda's voice came as a reverent whisper.
Nathan confirmed that.
The urn was hugged tighter to her chest, jealousy hinted in her features, and her eyes turned to the brilliant wash of stars over their heads. "You'd better take care of him."
The conversation took a different turn inside the car. Sagira couldn't manage to hold back what she'd found out, as if her mother had been kept in the dark about Nathan's foreknowledge of the events that took their father.
"I know, Sagira," was his mom's solemn response.
"You knew, too?" Sagira grew more livid.
"And you both just let him go?" She thumped back in her seat. "I can't believe you – either of you! I thought you loved Dad!"
Miranda wheeled around in her harness, livid at the accusation. "Don't you dare try to imply that I didn't love your father, young lady! Don't go off half-cocked about things you have no understanding of! How dare you….!" His mother broke down completely about that point.
Nathan shot a glare into the rear view mirror at his sister. "So much for a private discussion, Sagira. You happy now?"
Sagira looked properly stricken by her mother's reaction. And once again the cabin fell to silence and remained that way until they arrived at the dome. Even then, no farewells were said. Sagira took off for parts unknown as soon as they made it to the main hallway. Nathan stayed with his mother, fending off anyone who wanted to ask her what was wrong. He knew she wasn't up for any kind of sympathy. She was mad – it was all over the set of her body.
"You going to be okay?" He finally managed when he thought she was stable enough not to lash out at him helplessly.
She glared at him, but the expression sloughed off a moment later. "I can't believe…she thought we had a choice?"
"She's…upset…" Nathan shrugged. "It's not just about Dad. Don't take it personally."
"I do take it personally, Nate!" Her voice was shrill with rising anger. "She lived in this house long enough to know better than that!"
"It was a long time ago. Maybe she forgot?"
A frustrated sigh escaped his mother. Then she laughed. "She's as mad at you as me and you still go and defend her. I'm not sure she realizes the quality of her younger brother."
A grin of embarrassment crept over his face. "Like she'd acknowledge it right now even if she did realize."
Miranda stood on her toes a moment and then kissed Nathan's cheek, following the affection up with a pat in the same place. She drew a deep breath once again as she lowered herself to her natural height. With a sigh she said, "I think I'll be okay now." Her gaze lost focus as her hand fell to her side. "I wish I'd seen him – like you did." She tilted her head and smiled, tears starting again. "I felt the brush of something on my cheek today – thought it was a draft. Even looked at the vent thinking someone had adjusted it. I'm thinking now it was his kiss goodbye."
Miranda hugged herself tightly, smiled once more up at him and then walked down the ramp.
A/N: Okay I will tell you up front, I am flying by the seat of my pants on this story. Even the title is tentative, because I was entertaining the notion that Sagira and Garret would have some time in this tale as well. I've had this in mind since I started ALD (or maybe it was at the end of the first Nathan's Tale), but I wasn't quite sure I wanted to go here. I have a general destination in mind for the story, but the adventures in between have not played out in my head yet! So, if this does not have a regular update schedule the lack of preplanning will be the reason why! LMAO!
NEXT UP: (Tentative Title - tentative subject) Difficult Decisions
Nathan's feelings about leaving the only home he's known grow stronger as the visions reoccur and his bond with Margareta grows unshakeable. The problem becomes how his family will take the idea of him moving all the way to Italy.