Seduction--Part Seventeen

Recoiling from his mother's form in surprise, Todd struggled desperately to bring order out of the chaos around him. The sudden reappearance of his mother at this unlikely moment jolted his sensibilities completely off track, derailing his strained emotions with soul shattering force. He shook his head in disbelief and tried to scramble farther away, refusing to accept the inescapable proof of his own vision...

Her earlier visit had inflicted unimaginable damage upon his heart, injuring him in ways he could only barely endure. In urgent self-defense, he had closed off his mind to her, locking away the pain that she incited. As he stared at her now in trembling, heart broken awe, the thought of inviting that unbearable suffering back into his consciousness filled his soul with nameless terror...

He began to feel disoriented as time altered, transforming weirdly around him. Slowly, soundlessly it slid to a dead, foreboding stall. Unable to pull his bewildered gaze away from her, he found himself isolated, suspended in an endless moment of piercing uncertainty and apprehension. All other visions fled from sight, dissolving into the inky blackness, heightening the eerie beauty of his mother's glowing image...

As they knelt facing each other in the now empty, silent darkness, the strange feeling he had experienced earlier returned to plague him. In spite of his mind-numbing shock and misery, he was again assailed with the frustrating sensation that he was missing something--that there was an answer somewhere right in front of him, waiting to be uncovered. He groaned, running his hand across his eyes to break the spell, trying to shut out the wrenching sight before him, wishing in his soul that he could just disappear and end this ceaseless torment. Where was his father...? What had he just witnessed only moments ago...? What did all this monumental insanity mean...? He was weary beyond caring in every fiber of his being...feeling completely certain that he was hopelessly mad. Aching for just one moment of distraction from all this craziness and torture, he opened his eyes and looked at her again...

Kneeling Geisha-like before him; she remained as before...her slender hands resting lightly on her thighs, brown hair soft and loose about her shoulders. Wistfully he studied the luminous beauty of her face, knowing in the shadows of his heart that she wasn't real, but not caring. Slowly he let the carefully tended shields that protected his heart from her memory drop inside his mind. For one brief unguarded moment, he blocked out the horror of his life and allowed himself to bask in the heady luxury of a forgotten, long forbidden feeling...a little boy's measureless delight in the beauty of his mother...

Pushed by subconscious need, he felt himself drawn irresistibly towards her, a sacrificial moth to her ethereal flame. In broken supplication, he slowly edged closer, coming to a hesitant stop just within her reach. "I don't understand...any of this..." he murmured softly, his eyes straying to the wave of soft, brown hair that cupped her ivory cheekbone. Her beauty pulled unmercifully at his heart, provoking him to reach out suddenly, compelled beyond rational restraint to caress the soft illumination of her face. But, fear overruling impulse, he hesitated, his fingers poised in mid air, remembering how he had been unable to touch Peter...

Her face, which had sobered under his scrutiny, brightened once more with the presence of a soft smile. Her hand slid over his gently and drew his palm slowly to her cheek. Todd's eyes closed, a rush of thankful, shivering release washing over him at the warm feel of her skin. Her lips brushed his palm in reassurance as her velvet voice spoke in gentle reproach... "Between the two of us there is a lifetime of misunderstanding, of betrayal and pain...years of loneliness and sorrow beyond measure," she sighed, letting her eyes wander lovingly over his features. "With the weight of that ponderous debt so heavy on my heart, did you think I would now begrudge you the simple comfort of a touch...?"

He searched her eyes, finding no words to convey the jumbled, tormented thoughts that racked his soul at the sight and feel of her. His thumb slid softly across her cheekbone, his fingers slipping through the silken hair covering her ear. Uncontrollably his body began to shake in deep racking sobs, as memories of their life together before her disappearance washed over him...

Gently insistent in the face of his obvious need, she grasped his forearm and pulled him towards her, stretching out her other arm to take him in. But he pulled back, unnerved by her open display of affection, tears beginning to trickle down his face. Trembling, he turned his face away from her, unwilling to let himself be comforted...

"No..." he pleaded, heartache softening his voice to a shuddering whisper. "It's too late... I...I can't..." He sought to turn further away from her, but paused when she refused to release his arm. Shaking helplessly, not daring to look at her lest he lose control completely, he searched for the words that matched his emotions. "I...I don't know how...to love you anymore..." he stammered softly, laboring to form each word. The gentle tug on his arm grew stronger, forcing his body to lean slightly towards her. He shivered violently in gut wrenching waves of grief and pain. "I've lived for years with nothing...but hate... I...I can't love...It's all dead, inside...It's all dark..." he whispered, wiping his free hand across his tear streaked face despondently...

The soft pressure increased on his arm, pulling his body ever closer. He turned back halfway, still refusing to make eye contact. His outstretched hand, which had closed to a fist as he tried to pull away, opened against her face once more in tender contact. For a breathless instant, his eyes closed as he soaked in the silky, comforting warmth... Then, his battered spirit recoiled from her beauty and gentleness in misery, as the loathsome memories descended without warning to frost his heart. Vicious and unmerciful the bitter visions pierced and poisoned his brief moment of rapture. His mind staggered and reeled drunkenly under the weight of countless fragmented pictures; images of lonely, joyless days, of endless terror in the night, of crying out her name and begging God to make her appear...as Peter's footsteps paused at his bedroom door...

Driven by malevolent perversity...by an irrepressible, sickening urge, his hand slid slowly down to encircle her neck. A violent tremor shook his body as he felt the soft vulnerability of her bare throat against the suppressed tension in his hand. His fingers twitched involuntarily against her as he reluctantly dragged his eyes up to meet hers. "Why...?" he hissed, almost inaudibly, his lips trembling around the barely voiced words. "Why...did you leave me...?" His hand tightened slightly as he leaned in closer. "Why did you leave me with...him...?"

His eyes searched the depths of hers, desperately begging for some release from the anger, for a way out of the bottomless pit of his lifelong rage. She delayed answering, lightly caressing his jaw and chin with the back of her free hand--a gentle, soothing stroke to ease the sting of bitter truth. "You already know the answer to that, Todd..." she redirected softly. "I tried to take you with me...I was sure that Peter would let you go... I didn't think that he wanted either of us. But, I was wrong...I was stupid. I forgot about his endless capacity for revenge...and his monumental greed. I miscalculated and he punished me in the cruelest way possible...I gained my freedom, but he took everything...he took you..." A haunting sadness stole into her eyes as her fingertips moved from his chin to his cheek. She touched his scar lightly, the pain now evident and heart breaking in her gaze. "You read my letters, darling...You know what I went through, how I never had a single day of real happiness after I had to leave you behind. I lived in torment, worrying about you...I pleaded with your father for contact, for visitation rights... But he had all the power..." Her eyes softened, suffused with affectionate devotion. Her fingertips slipped gently across his cheek and into his hair, her other hand still on his arm, pulling him nearer. "Todd...I would have given my life to make things different... You know that in your heart..."

Todd's chest rose and fell shakily, his breath escaping in labored gasps between the sobs that shook his body. He fought with himself inwardly, trying to see the logic in what she was saying, remembering the content of her letters, trying to stifle the awful impulses that were stampeding unchecked through his mind. He knew she was telling the truth...that she had never really wanted to leave him, but in the depths of his abused soul reality didn't matter. All he could hear were the poisonous, disjointed voices of his lifelong misery whispering in his mind. In maniacal contempt they chanted their vicious, damning names for her...liar, betrayer...whore... In rising panic he felt her pulling him closer, provoking his temptation to violence, but he didn't try to back away. His hand flexed in restless agitation against her neck as her fingertips made gentle contact with his face. "But...you don't know..." he whispered in strangled misery, raising his other hand, palm out in belated warning. "You...don't know what he did..."

His voice broke in choking sobs, his face twisting in uncontrollable agony as his restraint finally shattered. Lightning fast, his raised hand darted forward to join the other, snapping tightly around her neck... "You left me...! You left...! You didn't care what happened...!" he hissed through clenched teeth, his grip hardening around the white softness of her throat. "You didn't care! You never came back...! You never came when I needed you...!" He rose up on his knees, pulling her up towards him roughly, his face scant centimeters from hers. "I hate you!" he snarled, his body trembling violently, his squeezing fingers savagely desecrating her smooth, porcelain skin. "I...hate...you...!" The scathing venom in his words ricocheted wildly through his own mangled consciousness, each syllable burning into his bleeding soul like a stabbing shaft of blistering fire...

*   *   *   *

Téa felt herself sinking, falling deeper and deeper under the spell of his incredible eyes. She wanted to look at him forever, wanted to forget everything that was happening and take refuge in his gaze. The eyes that looked out upon her were those of the man she loved, but there was an immeasurable depth...a soft, peaceful beauty in them that she had never seen before. Todd had always been uncomfortable with long eye contact and she had never had the opportunity to study his eyes at length. Now she noted every beautiful fleck of gold and green embedded in the soft, liquid amber of his irises as the light from the tall candles near the bed danced upon his face...

Lost in her reverie, she jumped violently as his hand moved. His arm had been wrapped tightly around her, holding her close, but now he reached for the side of her face, smoothing her hair back from her tear streaked cheeks. "Shhhh..." he said softly, brushing his knuckles under her eye, wiping away the wetness. "You're safe...No one can hurt you now..."

"Todd...?" she asked, her voice tremulous and small. "Is it you...?"

There was no response to the question. He spread his palm out over her forehead and pushed her tangled hair away from her face. "Don't be afraid of us..." he soothed, his beautiful eyes returning to lock with hers once more...

"I'm not afraid..." Téa snapped, pulling away from his hand, bringing her fingers up to her face to wipe under her eyes. Knowing that she was a mess, she tilted her head down, embarrassed suddenly under his keen, unwavering scrutiny. She had instantly recognized that his voice and his manner were nothing like Todd's and her disappointment flared bitterly. "I'm angry..." she continued, yanking up the edge of the sheet under them to dry her face...

Repairing her face quickly, she glanced up at him, expecting some kind of reaction to her petulance...but he was calm and unchanged, merely waiting for her to continue. "Who are you...?" she asked, suddenly insecure, realizing that she could still be in danger. "You're certainly not Todd...I know that much...and you're not the other one, either...or we'd be..." She cut herself off in mid sentence, swallowing hard as she looked at him, unwilling to revisit or even mention her earlier desperate situation. In spite of her extreme relief that the guardian was gone, her anger and distrust had not fully dissipated, nor had she recovered from the trauma of fighting with him. All her volatile emotions began to bubble to the surface again and the sarcasm became clearly evident in her voice. "So...tell me...who the hell am I talking to this time...?"

"Why are you so angry...?" he asked softly, his gaze never wavering. His arms tightened around her reassuringly... "You're shaking..."

Téa dropped her eyes again, nonplused by his unswerving attention and gentle manner, unused to an alter that wanted explanations from her. "I...I've got a right to be angry," she defended. "This is not exactly the wedding night that I had planned..." she added curtly, then immediately regretted that she had expressed her feelings so childishly. The fact that their wedding and wedding night had been ruined might have figured prominently in her mind under normal circumstances, but those petty concerns were hardly her top priority in the midst of their present, harrowing predicament. "No...no, it's not that," she stammered, closing her eyes and rubbing her fingers lightly across her forehead, trying to regroup and reclaim her perspective. "It's just that I'm so worried about what's going to happen... I'm so afraid for you...for us..." she said quietly, looking up at him again...

"You are safe..." he answered reassuringly, pushing her hair back over her shoulder. "Nothing can happen to you while we are here..."

"But...who are you...?" she asked again, emboldened by her frustration, feeling brave enough in the face of his gentleness to press for answers. She had no idea how to deal with him, or what his sudden appearance meant, but he seemed willing to talk...and she desperately wanted to know what was going on. She wondered frantically where Todd was...and what he was going through. For one awful, sickening moment it crossed her mind that she might never see him again...

"We come from far away..." he sighed, finally breaking his intent gaze on her. His eyes traveled to the wall behind the bed, then across the room, slowly taking everything in. "We have...never been here before..." he said hesitantly...

"Do you have a name...?" she breathed, almost afraid to imagine who he was...

"We have no...name..." he replied, a confused look gliding over his features. "We felt your pain, your fear...so we came..." he continued, caressing her arm softly, his touch unbelievably gentle and light. "We care for the frightened... We ease their suffering..." He wrapped his arms around her tightly, pushing her face back under his chin again...then began to rock her slowly against his body. "We love you...We will keep you safe..." he whispered, squeezing her protectively, enveloping her in a soft web of security and warmth. "Nothing bad will happen now..."

*   *   *   *

His mother never changed her expression as he rose to tower over her, bristling with unquenchable rage. Her eyes remained totally soft with love and tenderness, her gaze radiating pure compassion. As he clutched her roughly to him, her hands moved to rest gently on his forearms. Looking deep into his tortured, burning eyes, she faced him unflinchingly. "Do you really hate me, my love...?" she whispered, her words dropping like soothing, cool tears in the burning recesses of his mind. She stretched the fingers of one hand up to touch his jaw softly. "Have the long years of suffering blocked out every trace of the love that we once shared...?" Her hand shifted slightly to caress his cheek. "When you feel my touch...when you hear the sound of my voice...is hatred truly the only thing you feel, Todd...?"

He shook violently as her fingers made contact, the path of each one a searing tingle across his skin. He had wanted this moment all of his life... He had dreamed of having the opportunity to vent his bottomless rage against the one person he had blamed in secret for all his misery. His palms began to sweat against her neck, his thumbs pressing into the hollow at the base of her throat. Bitter tears still slid unchecked down his face, a few diverting to roll fluidly over the trembling curve of his upper lip as he tilted his head to the side slightly. Slowly his face distorted, twisting into a menacing sneer just a breath away from her face...

"Search your heart, my love," she whispered, her eyes never leaving his. "Search for the answers to all your questions... They are here...right before you..."

His muscles taut as flexed steel; he struggled to control the creeping squeeze of his hands. His body shook in rippling waves with the bottled tension, his nerves stripped to raw strings as he fought with his mind to block the wicked impulse. The soft, pure beauty of the only unconditional love he had ever known in his life lay balanced, knife-edge sharp, against the raw, open wound of his abandonment and suffering...

"Kill her...!" a young voice suddenly shrieked in his ear. "Kill her, you stupid shit!" Instantly appearing beside them, bursting from the inky darkness without warning, stood the boy. Working his fists feverishly, shifting his weight back and forth from one foot to the other in a flurry of nervous agitation, he glared at Todd angrily as if he ached to hit him. "What are you waiting for?" he screamed... "Do it...! Do it, now!"

Todd turned to stare at him in frightened amazement, his hands still encircling his mother's neck. His mind churned in uncontrollable denial as he realized that he knew the child only too well. In shock, he noted every familiar detail; the rage gleaming from the boy's haunted eyes, the disheveled, wild appearance, the barely caged restlessness in his movements, the slender, wiry body. Every detail rang true and painfully real...He was face to face with himself, at age fourteen. He even recognized the clothing...it was the same he had worn the night his father had caught him with Michelle...

"What are you doing?" the boy shouted again. "You've got her...kill the bitch! Make her suffer!" He edged closer to them, his burning eyes shifting to fix on Todd's mother. "Show her how it feels to be betrayed by the only person you love in the whole damn world! Show her how it feels to be tortured, to be treated like shit!" he screeched in anguish, his thin body shaking with uncontrolled outrage. "Show her what it was like for us while she was off fucking her new boyfriend every goddamn night! Show her what is was like to live with Peter...!"

With the speed of a striking viper, the boy lunged at his mother. Todd reacted instantly; releasing her neck and tackling the child as the boy tried to plow over him to get to her. Uttering a sound that blended primal scream with animal growl, the boy fell, then threw himself full force against Todd's body, straining violently, stretching his arms past Todd's neck and shoulder, grabbing in murderous fury for his mother's form. Foiled in his savage attack, the child clawed viciously at Todd's chest, then tried to punch his face as Todd fought to restrain him...

"No!" Todd cried, wrestling with the frenzied child. "Stop it! You're wrong...It's not her fault!" He pulled the struggling boy into his chest roughly, grabbing his flailing arms and pinning them motionless to his sides. "She didn't know...!" he shouted as the child squirmed against him. "She didn't know what was happening...! She never knew the things that Dad did...!" he continued, speaking sharply into the tousled hair, as the child growled again and rammed his face into Todd's shoulder, struggling to free his pinned arms. "...And even if she had known, how would she have stopped him?" Todd jerked the writhing boy back away from his body, holding him tightly by the arms. As the child twisted to the side, Todd shook him hard in frustration, forcing him to turn back to meet his gaze...

His heart almost failed him as he took full measure of the familiar eyes before him. The horror of that night so long ago was etched in every burning facet of their restless hazel fire. The fierce hatred radiated out in waves of immeasurable proportion, beating against him. "What could she have done...what?" he asked, searching deeper in the child's blazing eyes. "He broke her nose, her wrist, dislocated her shoulder... After she left he had her declared an unfit mother...remember...? If she had stayed, or tried to interfere, he would have crucified her. He would have destroyed her completely...and nothing would have changed..." he continued, shaking the boy again as he kept up his struggle. "Do you hear what I'm saying...?" he shouted angrily in the boy's face. "We still would have ended up alone with Peter... Nothing would have changed...!"

The boy stopped twisting and went limp in Todd's arms. For one brief moment, a defeated, frightened look swept his features, conjuring the vivid image of a cornered animal in Todd's mind. For the tiniest fraction of time, Todd thought he saw comprehension, the glistening surrender of tears forming in the depths of those haunted eyes. Then, in a flash, new rage boiled to the surface, washing away any trace of vulnerability. "You fuck...!" the boy snapped, his voice dripping with icy contempt. "You're pathetic...! You're afraid...! You've always been afraid to make them pay for what they did..." An evil, leering smile twisted cruelly at the corners of his mouth, distorting his face into a hideous mask of hatred. "You never were worth a shit..." he taunted, laughing wildly--the sound hollow and metallic. Jerking his arms free, he grabbed Todd's head in his hands, pulling him close. "Never...!" he spat, his vicious snarl echoing away into the eerie darkness as Todd's arms suddenly emptied...the apparition vanishing as quickly as it had come...

Stunned, Todd sat motionless for several seconds, replaying the horrible scene, hearing his own words echo repeatedly in his mind. Desolate and shaken, he slowly turned to face his mother again, wondering if she too had disappeared. Unexpected relief flooded through him when he saw that she still kneeled in the same place, her face unchanged, composed and serene. His eyes met hers, final realization searing through his consciousness with unforgiving ferocity. He was stripped of justification, fully denied the childish comfort of placing blame for the first time in his life. His mind whirled in torment, overcome with feelings of deep remorse at his own senseless actions...at a lifetime wasted in self indulgent, useless condemnation...

He dropped his eyes and turned away from her again. Pulling his knees up, he jammed his elbows into his thighs and covered his face with his hands dejectedly, unable to bear the intensity of his experience, the depth of love and compassion he saw in her expression...

As he sat, lost in desolate contrition, the impenetrable darkness at the core of his soul began to split, then shattered completely--brittle, black layers of anger cracking away--exposing tender, vulnerable areas that had been kept fully armored in hatred since his childhood. His body shivered in agonized rebirth, in sudden rediscovery of lost mercy and understanding...and the tears came flowing from deep within, unchecked and measureless...

With the weight of a whisper, her hand came to rest upon his shoulder, her soft fingers exerting a gentle, comforting pressure... This time he had no strength to fight or pull away...he had no taste left for bitter revenge or useless violence. He felt her nearness as a compulsion in his soul that he was powerless to deny. His body thirsted desperately for hers in a way that he had not known possible. Suddenly helpless and terrified in the empty darkness, as all the hideous memories of his life without her swept down upon his newly bared emotions, he dropped his hands and turned, throwing himself into her waiting arms...

Soft hands slipped around his ribcage and across the back of his shoulders, pulling him in...she cradled his head tenderly against her breast as he clung to her, his arms encircling her waist. Smoothing the hair away from his face, she murmured the words he had longed to hear in the cold dead of all his endless nights of torment. "My sweet love, my sweet, sweet boy..." The words fell cool and soothing over the jagged rawness of his shredded mind. "Oh Todd, I've missed you so..." she whispered. He closed his eyes and sank into the warmth and softness, holding her tighter, never wanting to let her go. His body shuddered with healing release as the tears continued to flow. They moved as one, rocking slowly, his body draped across hers, her head bowed over his, her gentle fingers combing through his hair...Softly, she began to hum a tune...a lullaby that he had loved as a small child. For one brief second...for one timeless, floating moment, Todd knew nothing but absolute, perfect peace...

*   *   *   *

Téa didn't know what to do or say in the presence of this new, unsettling being. She quickly cast about in her mind for answers, for clues as to how to handle her situation. She felt uncomfortable with his strangeness, his alien demeanor. She knew he was a part of Todd...but he was so different...so far removed from Todd's normal personality. He's not just far removed, he's so strange that he almost seems non-human...she thought privately, with a little shiver. But that doesn't matter... The only thing that's important is that the guardian is gone... She closed her eyes in silent gratitude, remembering how very close they had just come to total disaster. Regardless of his disturbing strangeness, she was completely thankful to be in the arms of this alter instead of the other... But...she wondered...can I trust him...?

She sensed instinctively that no matter how strange he seemed, this alter had no violent intentions--no hidden, dangerous agenda. He doesn't seem like a trickster, he's not mean or calculating...she speculated, praying that she wasn't being played for a fool again. She was beginning, in spite of herself, to enjoy his gentle caresses, the warmth of his reassuring embrace. I think he's just what he says he is...Todd's nurturer. He must take care of all of them, soothing their pain and fear when it gets to be too much to handle... Her hand, which had been closed in a fist under her chin as she lay with her face against his neck, opened slowly, her fingertips touching his chest. As her fingers made contact with his skin, her heart began to ache with overwhelming compassion for Todd. The thought of how he must have suffered made her long desperately to console him, to help him deal with all the ugliness. He grew up with no love...she thought, brokenheartedly...so this alter must have been created to fill that void...to make them all feel like someone cared. If this alter had never been born...she suddenly realized with a wrenching chill... Todd would never have survived his childhood...

She pulled back from him slightly again, her hand pressing against his chest. As she glanced up, she was surprised to find him watching her. Stung by the intense, compassionate beauty of his eyes, her throat constricted and she found herself fighting back unexpected tears. She suddenly wanted to tell him everything, to confess every thought and fear that burned in her mind. As she searched the infinite calm of his eyes, the terrifying question came rushing from deep in her soul, forming on her lips before she could stop it. "Where...is Todd...?" she whispered tremulously, helpless tears forming in her eyes again. "Do you know where he is? Can...can you see him...? Is...he okay...?" she added, her voice delicate and childlike, breathless in her struggle to keep her composure...

His eyes softened, his fingers stealing to her face to wipe the tears away. "Todd is here..." he answered softly. "Inside..." He touched his fingertips to his temple. "He's confused...he's searching..."

Sudden hope blazed in Téa's heart. She grabbed his wrist, pulling his hand down to rest against the hollow of her throat, placing her other hand gently over it. "Tell me...please..." she begged softly, squeezing his hand tightly in hers. "What's happening? Why doesn't he come back to me...?"

For a long moment he said nothing. His expression was distant, unreadable. He pulled his hand away from her throat and laid it gently against the side of her face. "He must find the key..." he explained, stroking her temple tenderly. "He's lost... The burden became too heavy after all these years of struggling...and he locked himself away. Now...he must find a new way to carry the weight of his life again...he must find answers to unlock the door and come back..."

Téa searched the velvety, amber green of his eyes in mounting desperation. "He's searching...? What if he can't find what he's looking for...?" she breathed in a choked whisper, tears cascading down her trembling face...

He studied her stricken eyes for a moment, then leaned into her and kissed her temple gently. Pulling her tightly into his body, he began to rock her slowly once more. "Then...he will stay lost forever...and another will take his place..."

"No..." Téa wailed, struggling against his gentleness in desperation. "No...! That can't happen...you can't let that happen! Todd...!" she screamed, despair taking her. "Todd...!" Hysterically, she pushed against him, her fists pounding weakly into his chest. "Where are you...? Don't leave me...!" She gripped his face between her palms, searching his eyes frantically, glistening tears sliding slowly down her face. Her fingertips strayed to touch his lips; her eyes shifting to covet the full fleshed beauty she traced there. As her trembling fingers slid across the softness of his mouth, her face slowly dissolved in shuddering anguish. "Come back...to me..." she whispered piteously, meeting his gaze again. "Come back..." She closed her eyes and sank into his chest, helplessly sobbing in total devastation...

*   *   *   *

Todd knew nothing but sweet release. He could feel years of misunderstanding and hatred dissolving inside his mind, leaving him free to love her openly once more. He basked in the warmth and safety of his mother's arms. He held her tightly, breathed her in, nuzzled his face into the softness of her body. "I'm sorry..." he whispered plaintively. "I'm so sorry..."

"Todd..." Her gentle voice broke through his blissful reverie, bringing him back to the reality of darkness and uncertainty once more. "I know you love me, darling... You never have to be sorry..." she sighed. "I failed you miserably... You survived the only way you could..." Gently she cupped his chin and raised his face to hers. "Hating gave you a way to deal with your pain..." she soothed, her palm caressing his cheek. She paused, her eyes searching his lovingly. "But the hatred has made you sick, Todd...and it's time to let it go..."

His eyes closed as her lips brushed his forehead, silky soft and comforting. Her hand slipped down from his face, her fingers moving over the curve of his shoulder. "Do you understand things better now?" she questioned gently...

"I think so..." he murmured, his voice muffled as he snuggled against her. As a little boy, he had dreamed vividly of being in her arms this way again, of being safe and secure...and loved. But he had always awakened to the ever-enduring nightmare...his life with Peter. The unwelcome memory whispered against his consciousness, making him flinch and shiver as if an icy breeze had touched his skin..."I understand that I've been blaming you for something that you couldn't control any more than I could, for something that you never even knew about..." he continued, trying to ignore the disturbing feeling that was stealing over him. "I've been wasting time all of these years...hating you for being just like me...a victim..."

She sighed deeply, then tenderly broke his embrace and sought to push him up to a sitting position... He fought her gently; not wanting to let go...but finally relinquished her body and pulled back as she wished...

In growing uneasiness, he looked at her, seeking to meet her eyes. But her gaze shifted away from him, her focus fixing on a point a few feet away. A cold chill snaked through his nervous system as a jarring sound reached his ears, emanating from somewhere to his right. He turned slowly as the sound grew in intensity...

There, as if no time had elapsed, were the two straining figures still locked in deadly combat, gruesomely sprawled in a puddle of stark, white light. The growling fury of the child was increasing in intensity and volume. His murderous intent was plainly visible as his fingers dug into his father's neck fiercely...

As Todd stared in confusion, fear returning to grip him again, his mother's smooth hand caressed his face in reassurance. "I'm sorry my love, but there is more to see..." she said quietly...

Watching in growing dread, he shrank slightly against her as Peter turned his head slowly toward them. The expression he read in his father's eyes struck the inner fabric of his psyche with the force of a battering ram...stunning him beyond reckoning...

To be continued...

Part Eighteen

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Back to Remember Roger Howarth