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The Travelers Return

 
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Natalya Bristol
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 06, 2014 1:02 pm    Post subject: The Travelers Return Reply with quote

The first day behind the mists that now enshrouded Avalon passed quiet and mournful, as the news of Viviane's death spread through those who had chosen to make the mystic isle their home, apart from the world of men. Though there was joy, too, in knowing that Elaine had taken on the mantle of the Lady, there was grief that could not be set aside. For many long centuries, Viviane had been there, the center of Avalon, the heart of the sacred isle. To lose her, even in such a worthy cause, was a blow each person there felt keenly.

As the day fell to dusk, the people gathered on the shore of the lake that still surrounded the isle, to lay to rest the woman they had always known as a guiding influence on their lives. With solemn song and great ceremony, the pyre was lit, and for a long time, the only sound was that of the fire as it crackled over the dry wood, consuming the mortal remains of Viviane of Avalon. Then, as though the powers that had chosen her also grieved and wished to see her laid well to rest, the waters of the lake rose to take up the burning pyre, bearing her in state into the mists that swirled over the surface. The people watched, heartsore and honored, as the first Lady of Avalon disappeared forever into the protective barrier she had given her life to see formed.

The night was a long one, with few seeking the refuge of sleep, many of both the old and the new religions holding vigil together to seek peace for the soul of the woman they had loved and lost. As the new dawn rose, it brought with it a sense of finality, that it was time to look ahead to the future that awaited them, beneath the care of the new Lady of the Lake.

By mid-morning of that second day on the now hidden isle, life seemed to be resuming its usual course, and finally Ian and Aurelia were invited to the Chalice Well, at the heart of the Temple. Elaine awaited them there, her beautiful face pale and drawn with grief, solemn with the burden that now lay heavy upon her own shoulders. She welcomed them with open arms, embracing both Loremaster and witch with a fierceness that could only be earned with the loss they had all endured together.

"It is time for us to say goodbye," she told them softly. "Yet I know I will see you again. Ask your Champion, your Priestess, to bring you to me. I will not rest so easy until I know you have arrived safely home once again."

It had been a difficult couple of days for everyone, including Ian, who'd at first felt somewhat to blame for the Lady's death, though it had been of her own choosing. She had made the ultimate sacrifice in giving her life for the greater good, for Avalon and its people, and he had vowed to make sure no one would ever forget her. He'd made a record of what had happened and entered it in the annals at the library, written in Latin, so that it could be read in this time and in time to come. He signed his name to the ledger - Ian Evans, Loremaster of Avalon. It would still be there centuries from now to be read by future generations. He and Aurelia were part of the history of Avalon now, part of the very lore he had devoted his life to studying.

Two days seemed hardly enough to grieve a life or to prepare for their return to their lives in the future. Ian's heart was heavy at their leaving. He had yearned for Avalon for so many years and now that he had been there, now that it was in his blood and his heart, he knew he would never rest easy on Earth again. He had made his farewells to Pellam, to Morgaine, and to Arthur, knowing he would never see them again. It was a teary-eyed farewell that he gave to Elaine, hugging her close and feeling a little like a father leaving a beloved daughter behind. Or perhaps a sister. He had never had either, though perhaps he and Aurelia would have children of their own one day. He couldn't help but chuckle a little, despite the tears, at Elaine's instructions. "That is many years in the future, Lady. I'm afraid you'll be waiting a long time for that."

"But you will not, and you will recall with clarity," she assured him, raising a soft smile as she turned to envelope Aurelia in her arms. "We can never repay you, either of you, for what you have done for us. Avalon will always open her arms to you from now on - you both risked everything. It is a debt that I cannot repay."

Aurelia shook her head as she stepped back, her fingertips worrying at her throat where, for the first time in her life, no pendant hung. There was no need for her to wear tigers eye any longer. "I do not think there is a debt, Lady," she said quietly, her hand sliding into Ian's. "But I should very much like to come back, someday."

"No," he agreed. "There is no debt." If anything, they had Avalon to thank for freeing Aurelia of the demon. "We were both happy to help and honored to be part of this place." He smiled a little sadly as he took Aurelia's hand in his. "Thank you for everything you have done for us, Lady," he told her with a small incline of his head, just as he would have given Viviane. "I know Avalon will be safe in your hands." Maybe it was cheating, but he knew a little about the future, and he knew Elaine would still be the Lady of Avalon for many years to come.

"Thanks to you," Elaine said gently, stepping back from them in a rustle of skirts. Morgaine and Arthur had already returned to the world outside, Viviane was gone, and now she had to say goodbye to the last remaining people who knew exactly what had happened on the Tor. It would be a long time before she came to terms with her newfound loneliness. "The astrolabe, Ian," she asked, holding out her hand for the precious device. "It is the key to returning you to the home you left."

Ian drew the astrolabe from his belt and laid it in Elaine's hand. "Try to remember us," he told her as he took Aurelia's hand in his once again. He knew that as far as he and Aurelia were concerned, they would never forget Avalon or those they had met there, and with any luck, they would return again and again to find peace and contentment through the mists.

"How could I forget?" For a brief moment, she was simply Elaine, the young woman who had first greeted them when they had set foot on Avalon's soil. Then, as she drew herself to her full height, turning toward the pool at the center of the garden they stood in, she seemed to become the Lady of Avalon, powerful and lonely, resigned to the years ahead of her. "Do not let go of one another until you have arrived," she warned them softly. "I would not have either one of you lost on the winds of time."

Ian's heart ached to know she had so many lonely years ahead of her, but he also knew they would meet again one day and that she would be surrounded with those who loved her. He clutched Aurelia's hand a little tighter as he turned a smile to the woman who had stolen his heart. As far as Avalon was concerned, they were husband and wife. They had already made their vows to each other; it was only a matter of making it legal back home. "I don't intend to ever let go of her," he replied, lifting Aurelia's hand to his lips for a soft kiss.
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 06, 2014 1:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Despite her own heavy heart at the means by which they had achieved their aim, Aurelia couldn't help smiling in answer to her husband's warm promise, stepping close to him as she captured his other hand in her grasp as well. Beside the pool, the Lady chuckled very softly. "Be careful how tightly you grasp her," she warned, moving to kneel by the water. "There is more than one soul in your arms." But she didn't give them a chance to question her cryptic assurance, passing her hand over the pool. The water rippled, revealing the cabin they had left behind what felt like a lifetime ago. As four days had passed in Avalon, so they had passed in Huntingdon, millenia into the future. Two figures were visible in the growing dark of the dusk-touched cabin, figures familiar to the travelers through time.

"Rhys," Aurelia murmured with a smile, her eyes quick to find Natalya and the baby held in the woman's arms.

Ian arched a brow at Elaine's warning, but neither of them had much time to consider her words before a view of the cabin was opening up before them in the waters of the Chalice Well. "They've arrived already," Ian muttered quietly, wondering how long they'd been there and what they thought to find them gone. Had they already ventured into Dylan's cellar? Had they guessed what had happened to the two of them, or did they think they had popped out for a bite to eat or for some groceries? It seemed he did not have long to wonder as they would soon return to that very time and place.

For a moment, the Lady studied the faces in the water, committing them to a memory that would in time become far sharper and far-reaching than anyone could have imagined. She smiled faintly to see the couple with their young infant, raising the astrolabe above the pool. "It is time," she told Ian and Aurelia, and very gently let the delicate device slip into the water and the vision it showed.

Power wrapped about the couple where they stood behind her, no less violent than it had been when they had first tasted this method of travel. Aurelia gripped tightly to Ian's hands, squeezing her eyes shut as the winds of time and place pushed and pulled at them from all sides, bearing them inexorably from ancient Avalon to modern-day Huntingdon in barely the space of time it took to inhale.

Ian felt a mix of anticipation and regret at having to return, feeling the violent tug of time pulling them back toward their own time and place. They could not have resisted the power of that magic if they'd wanted to, so different from traveling through the gentle mists on the Tor. He held tightly to Aurelia, as tightly as he could, groaning as the winds of time spat them back out into their own world in the proper time and place, only four days into the future.

Despite being braced this time, Aurelia still fell heavily to her knees when they landed, coughing as she tried to convince her lungs that breathing in was a good idea and not about to cause imminent death. A thin wail broke the quiet around them - apparently their sudden appearance had startled baby Ana enough to make her cry.

Thankfully, Ian did not become violently ill upon his arrival back home from Avalon, though his stomach felt queasy and his legs were shaking. He reached out for something to steady himself, thankfully finding a chair nearby which he grabbed hold of so that he didn't join Aurelia on the floor. His face had turned pale, and he was struggling to keep the contents of his stomach from coming back up. He'd only had breakfast a few hours ago, but in reality it had been more than a millenia. "Jesus Christ!" a familiar voice exclaimed at their sudden and unexpected arrival - a male voice - and Ian had to smile a little to know they'd arrived home safely. He privately vowed never to travel through time that way ever again.

"Not quite," Aurelia heard herself mutter in response to that loud exclamation, swallowing hard against the bile that rose in her throat before daring to raise her head to look up at the couple they had startled so badly. "Either you arrived early, or we have been away longer than I had thought." Booted footsteps drew her attention away, to where Nat was pacing back and forth, gently shushing the baby settled against her shoulder. Ana had got over her fright, but was still fussing, not at all sure she wanted to go back to sleep. Aurelia smirked faintly. "Bonjour, the Bristols."

It took Ian a moment longer than Aurelia to gather his wits and get his stomach under control, not to mention the dizziness. It was that he decided that caused the nausea, more than anything else. "I don't ever want to do that again," he muttered, realizing he'd somehow broken out in a sweat.

"Where the hell have you..." Rhys started, more concerned with an explanation than with their baby daughter's fussiness, which Nat seemed to have pretty well under control. "Holy sh*t!" he declared as he took in the way they were dressed. He waggled an accusatory finger at them both. "You were in Avalon!"

"In a manner of speaking," Aurelia nodded carefully, easing herself up onto her feet as she turned to look at Ian, reaching out to touch his hand. "Are you well, mon cœur?"

Ian turned to help Aurelia to her feet just as she was easing herself up from the floor. The room was still swaying a little, but the dizziness was slowly fading, and he was finally able to move without feeling like he might lost his breakfast on Rhys' shoes. "I'm fine," he reassured his wife. "Are you all right?"

But Rhys wasn't going to let them ignore him. "What do you mean in a manner of speaking? You just popped in here out of thin air. And you're-you're wearing those clothes..." He swung a confused look to his own wife, who was trying to console their daughter.

"I am well," Aurelia promised fondly, gently touching her hand to Ian's cheek. As much as Rhys might not want to be ignored, he was going to be until she was satisfied that Ian had come through the trip safely.

Ian smiled softly back at Aurelia and took her hand from his cheek to press it to his lips, offering his affection without saying a word.

Nat couldn't help smirking at the look on her own husband's face as Ana finally quieted, returning to join him near to where the other couple - because they were quite obviously a couple - were standing. "Translocation is not a gentle form of travel, dusha moya," she told Rhys in amusement. "You may need to give them a little time."

Rhys swung his gaze from his wife back at Ian and Aurelia, furrowing his brows in continued confusion. Why was she touching his cheek like that? Why was he kissing her fingers? "Wait..." he said, pointing a finger at one then the other. "Are you two... You are, aren't you?" He laughed a little to himself. "I did it again, Nat. I should have been a Matchmaker."
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 06, 2014 1:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Again?" Nat raised her brows, her amusement obvious not just on her face but in her voice, as well. "I was not aware you had done it before, milaya. Were we, malyutka?" she added, looking down at Ana. The baby gurgled softly, inserted half her fist into her mouth, and promptly went back to sleep. Laughing, Nat looked up once again. "I think perhaps you should take a closer look at their hands, Rhys," she suggested mildly.

"Um... Adam and Gina?" he pointed out, with that look on his face that showed he was a little disappointed that she'd forgotten that little fact, though he had really had very little to do with Adam and Gina getting together, other than the fact that they may not have ever met if it hadn't been for him. He gave her a little scowl, but it didn't last long, relieved their daughter wasn't screaming anymore. He furrowed his brows again at her suggestion before turning back to the other couple. "What about them?" he asked as he leaned closer to try and get a look at their hands. In the meantime, Ian had taken Aurelia in his arms and was kissing her, making no secret of their obvious love for the other.

"Ah, so you are no longer claiming the credit for Rachel and Zachariel," Nat laughed softly, rolling her eyes as Rhys peered very obviously at the other couple, who were enjoying as private a moment as they possibly could while under close scrutiny from a man for whom the word subtle was just a collection of letters at times. "Left hands," she murmured to her husband.

"Oh, well..." Rhys shrugged, as he tried to lean a little closer in order to inspect the other couple's hands. "I didn't have to do much to encourage that," he said. He reached out to grab hold of Aurelia's left hand, whistling in appreciation of the ring she was wearing on her hand, which was obviously a wedding band, albeit a rather fancy one. "Nice," he muttered in appreciation, presuming Ian had bought it for her. "So, when did you two get hitched?"

Aurelia squeaked in surprise as her hand was seized and pulled away from Ian, breaking the kiss to turn vaguely accusatory eyes onto Rhys for his lack of boundaries. "Two days ago," she informed him, pulling her hand back protectively. A wicked little smirk touched her face as she glanced up at Ian, remembering just who had stood witness at their wedding.

"Two days?" Rhys echoed, hardly noticing Aurelia's reaction to his nosiness. Even if he had noticed, he was too interested in what had happened to care much about little things like propriety and proper manners. "It's been four days since you called and asked us to come here. Four... days..." he repeated slowly so that it would sink in. So, maybe they'd just arrived, but that was irrelevant. Rhys straightened, crossing his arms against his chest and glaring at the other couple. "Maybe you should just explain."

Aurelia's smirk faded from her face, recalling everything that had happened in the past four days. "This could take a while," she warned them quietly. "Perhaps we should be comfortable before we begin."

Frowning in concern for the witch and her companion, Nat gently shifted Ana to her other shoulder, nodding as she touched Rhys' hand. "She is right, milaya," she said just as softly. "A lot has happened, even we can see that."

Rhys frowned a little, but relented. He'd mellowed a little since he'd met Natalya and even more so since they'd become parents. Whatever had happened, whatever they'd been summoned here for could probably wait a little while longer. "All right. Aurelia, I assume you have a stocked kitchen. I'm gonna make us all my special pancakes, while you two get comfortable or whatever. But no hanky panky until we get an explanation!" He waggled that finger at them again, before heading for the kitchen. "Come on, Nat. Let's give the newlyweds a few minutes to catch their breath."

Aurelia threw Nat a grateful smile as the Bristols vacated the living area for the kitchen, turning once again to Ian. Her hand touched his cheek, drawing his eyes to hers. "Are you sure you are well, mon cœur?" she asked him once again. "It was easier this time, but no less violent. You did not travel so well a few days ago."

Ian had said very little since they'd returned, his head still spinning and trying to wrap around everything that had happened over the last four days or so. He took her left hand in his, pausing to examine the ring on her finger that matched his own. "I'll be fine, Aurelia," he assured her, remembering something Elaine had said just before they'd been sent through the vortex or whatever it was called. "She said... she said something about more than one soul..." He said, though he had a feeling the Lady wasn't referring to the demon.

She frowned thoughtfully, not entirely sure how to absorb this. It wasn't that she hadn't heard Elaine, but she had assumed the woman was teasing them. It hadn't occurred to her until Ian mentioned it once again that perhaps the Lady of the Lake didn't tease about such things. "I ... mon cœur, it is far too soon to tell," she said softly, but there was no mistaking the fragile hope that blossomed in her eyes. "Do-do you think she truly meant what she said? The demon is gone?"

"You're not wearing the pendant anymore. You no longer feel her presence. We both saw what happened to Viviane." Ian kept his voice low, not only because it was his nature, but also because he wasn't yet ready to reveal to the Champion and Priestess of Avalon what had happened over the last few days - more than a millenia ago.

"Then ... then the only thing she could have meant by two souls is ..." For the first time since he had met her, Aurelia had run out of words. The hope in her gaze grew bright and fierce as her eyes widened, astonishment dropping her jaw open as she considered the only other reason the Lady of Avalon would speak of there being two souls in a single form.

Ian smiled as realization dawned on his beloved. It surprised him a little that he'd sorted this all out sooner than she had. It seemed Avalon had already found a way to thank them for what they'd done, intentionally or not. He touched her cheek, his expression soft and adoring. "A child," he said, confirming both by thoughts voicing them.

For the second time, Aurelia was overcome, overwhelmed not just by the events of the past few days, but by the sudden understanding that Avalon had given her everything she could ever have wished for. She was free of the demon, wed to a man she adored, and carrying his child, and it had all been accomplished in just a few short days, albeit days that had taken place millenia ago. Despite her smile, she burst into tears, pressing into his arms as she held on tight. "I can never thank her," she whispered, heartsore at the knowledge that Viviane had granted her heart's desire and never even tried to claim credit for it.
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 06, 2014 1:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ian wrapped his arms around her to hold her tightly against his chest, not so tight as to smother her, but enough that she could feel safe in the warmth of his embrace. "She knows, love," he assured her quietly. Though he had no way of knowing for certain, he felt it in his bones, as sure as the sun rose and set in the sky.

It was strange, how she had never succumbed to tears in his presence before they had ventured into Avalon, and yet he had now held her tight against the storm twice in less than a week. This storm did not take long to pass, the sheer joy of knowing what had been given to them more than enough to dry her tears as she looked up at him. "We should wash and change," she suggested. "Beautiful though these clothes are, I do not feel dressed."

"It seems we're going to about to have Rhys' special pancakes," Ian reminded her with a grin as he brushed the last of her tears away from her pretty face. He didn't like to see her cry, but at least, these were happy tears. "I love you, Aurelia," he told her again, the words coming easier each time he said them.

"Do not be afraid, he is actually a rather good cook," she assured her husband with a tender smile. "I love you, my Ian. Now come, I need a decent shower and clean underwear." She took his hand, giving him a gentle tug toward the stairs and the bedroom she had claimed for her own in Dylan's cabin.

Thankfully, he had some of his own clothes stashed away in one of the closets and could change out of the clothing they'd worn in Avalon and into something more appropriate for the twenty-first century. "Where Rhys is concerned, I'm always afraid," he admitted with a laugh as he followed her up the stairs.

In the kitchen, the sound of their laughter made Natalya smile, listening to the footsteps of their friends as they disappeared upstairs to return themselves to the 21st century. She looked up from where she was sat at the table, Ana temporarily hidden beneath her light poncho as the baby had her fifth meal of the day. "So, milaya," she said gently, watching Rhys as he played with the food, "what do you think of this?"

Rhys swung his gaze toward Natalya and their daughter as he whisked together the ingredients of some concoction he'd scraped up from the contents of Aurelia's fridge. "I think I'm jealous of how much time Ana gets with the girls," he replied, deadpanning. Was he teasing or serious? It was hard to tell.

Nat laughed, rolling her eyes at her husband. "If, at any time, you want to take over, do feel free to grow a pair of your own," she informed him. "Besides, you could have done this if we hadn't forgotten the pump." Pregnancy brain was still affecting Nat's ability to pack a bag in a coherent manner, which had resulted in a few interesting temporary solutions. The one that was going to stick with her forever was the padded envelope filled with cotton balls in lieu of a diaper.

Rhys grunted at the idea of that. "Believe me, if I could grow a pair of those, I might never leave home." But then, what would he need Nat for? He was teasing, of course, as evidenced by the smirk on his face. "I could go buy one, you know," he reminded her. The cottage wasn't so secluded that they couldn't drive to a store. There was a Wallyworld in town, where everyone seemed to do the bulk of their shopping, not only because it had everything at cheap prices, but because the mall was a good forty-five minute drive away.

She smiled, lifting the poncho to take a look at Ana, who seemed to have decided to stop sucking and was now just alternating squeezing boob and gumming on nipple. "I love you, malyutka, but that is not the most comfortable thing for you to play with," she informed their daughter in a droll tone, gently removing the baby from said boob and lifting her to her shoulder. Thankfully this time, she'd remembered the cloth. "Maybe you should teach her how to be a little more gentle with her mama's best feature."

He chuckled in amusement at his wife's remark. "See? Even Ana thinks they're fun to play with," he said as he poured pancake batter onto a hot griddle. "And that's not your best feature," he pointed out, temporarily focusing his attention on the batter pouring. Pancakes were a tricky business. You had to watch them like a hawk or they either end up too gooey or too rubbery.

Nat chuckled, pulling her hair out of Ana's reach as she rubbed her hand against the tiny girl's back. "I do not think I should ask where I went wrong with that assumption," she teased him fondly. "Tell me something, though ... I did not think demons could cross the mists. How is it that Aurelia has been to Avalon?"

He smirked at her teasing, but before he could reply, she had turned serious, posing the question both of them had probably been considering since Ian and Aurelia had appeared in the cabin from out of thin air. "I don't know, but she wasn't wearing the pendant. I checked," he said with a thoughtful frown on face. Rhys' response proved that he wasn't even half as dumb as he looked.

"Could it be that the demon has been exorcised somehow?" Nat asked. She was not as familiar with demonology as Rhys, and not at all familiar with the form of demon Aurelia had been harboring. She had met that demon just once, and sincerely hoped that she would never meet it again.

"I don't know," he repeated, checking the pancakes for doneness with a spatula. "But if they've been to Avalon, anything is possible." He lifted his gaze briefly upwards, as if he could somehow see through the ceiling to the second floor. He knew this house like the back of his hand, but Aurelia had done so much to it, it was almost unrecognizable. He heard muffled laughter, a thump on the floor, and then the sound of water running in the upstairs bathroom. "We're bound to find out sooner or later."

"And we have yet to find out what all those things in the basement truly mean," Nat pointed out, a faint frown on her face as she considered the implications of what Dylan had been hiding away. "I think, milaya, that we may have to take them back to Avalon to get the answers we need."

Rhys frowned again, not because he didn't like the idea of going to Avalon, but because he was as puzzled about the contents of Dylan's secret room as she was. "I think you're right," he replied in agreement. "But not until we've had breakfast," he added with a small smile as he leaned over to brush a kiss against her cheek, followed by another for their young daughter. The longer they spent in the kitchen, the more the smells started to make his stomach growl. Coffee was brewing, and pancakes were cooking, along with some bacon.
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 06, 2014 1:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ana gurgled as her father bent to kiss her, one flailing fist catching him a tidy thump on the chin as a prodigious amount of spit up exploded from her mouth. Nat groaned, deeply grateful that Beth's mother had shown her how to arrange the cloth to prevent her from getting warm milky vomit down the inside of her top.

He only chuckled at their daughter's gastric upset, proof he had taken to this parenting thing with the ease of an old pro. "That's my Anushka," he said with a smile. "Just like her old man. She's already got a nasty right hook." He grabbed a bit of the cloth to dab at her mouth before turning back to the matter of breakfast. "You know, you have to actually burp her, Nat."

"I was burping her," Nat protested, turning her head only to have Ana raise her wobbly head and effectively headbutt her own mother in the nose. This parenting thing might have come easily to Rhys, but Nat was always second-guessing herself, certain she was making mistakes at every turn. It hadn't occurred to her yet that every parent since humanity had begun had made the exact same mistakes. "Ouch! Little monster," she scolded the baby affectionately, easing Ana back to her shoulder to pat with just a little bit more vigor. Irritatingly enough, Ana then burped like a pro. Nat sighed, rolling her eyes. "You know, there are some days when I think you should do all the parenting."

"Well, unfortunately for you, I don't have the right equipment," he countered with a slightly smug grin. He flipped a couple of pancakes onto a plate while the bacon started to sizzle before pouring out more batter onto the griddle. It was almost done effortlessly, like he could do it in his sleep. The year or so spent as a short-order cook had come in handy for something anyway. "So, what do you think they were doing in Avalon? And more importantly, how do you think they got there?"

She stuck her tongue out at him, drawing Ana down to sit heavily in her lap as she wiped the tiny girl's face clean, trying to ignore the gentle throb in her nose. She'd thought baby heads were soft - boy, had Ana educated her on that one. "Perhaps we should buy a new pump," she threatened with a gentle laugh, shifting to lay Ana back into the car seat that was settled on one of the kitchen chairs. His serious question made her frown thoughtfully as she cleaned herself up. "I could not say. Perhaps something of Dylan's took them. But that still does not explain how Aurelia was able to reach Avalon in the first place."

"It doesn't explain how Ian was either," Rhys remarked. "Unless..." No. He trailed off, brushing that thought aside as preposterous. "The Lady gave me four men to choose from. One of them was Ian. She told me he had been to Avalon once before, that he'd found his way there. But that was in Glastonbury, not here."

"The Lady decides who crosses the border," Nat mused thoughtfully, relaxing now that the business of feeding the baby was over and done with. "Perhaps she chose to allow them to cross. Perhaps she knew of a way to free Aurelia from her demon."

"Perhaps," he mused back, flipping out a few more pancakes onto the plate. "I mean, that makes sense, and the Lady did know what was going on here. I mean, she's the one who suggested Ian." Though Rhys was unsure what Ian had to do with anything just yet. He thought this was more about Aurelia than anything else.

"There is a very good reason for that," Aurelia interrupted them from the doorway. Damp, but dressed more comfortably in pants and a sweater, she looked far more herself than she ever had before. With no pendant at her throat, there was no sign of anything out of the ordinary about her. She seemed totally relaxed for the first time since Rhys had met her. "And we will explain. But you must know now, so that it does not concern you. The demon is gone, utterly destroyed. She can never come back."

Rhys turned toward the unexpected sound of Aurelia's voice in the doorway. How long she'd been standing there, he couldn't be sure. "Damn it, woman. You could give someone some warning before just popping in unexpectedly for the second time in one day!" he complained, but he was smiling and there was no anger or malice behind his words. Ian joined them a little belatedly, a shadow at Aurelia's back.

"It is not my fault that you do not pay attention to footsteps within this place," Aurelia informed him with a smile, moving to kiss Natalya's cheek in greeting. And, naturally, putting herself in the perfect position to coo over Ana where she was dozing.

Nat chuckled as they abruptly lost the witch to the baby, rising to her feet to offer a hand to Ian. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Professor Evans," she told him with honest assurance. "I am Natalya Bristol."

Rhys chuckled at Aurelia's response and muttered a quiet, "Touche." In all honesty, he'd known her before he'd met Natalya, though he hadn't had much time to get acquainted with her while in Rhy'Din before they'd gone their separate ways. He smiled as Aurelia greeted Nat and Nat in turn introduced herself to Ian. "And breakfast is served!" he told the threesome as he set it all on the table.

Ian's smile was warm and friendly, and his handshake firm but gentle. "The pleasure is all mine, Natalya."

Nat's smile warmed, her hand squeezing that of Ian's before gesturing for him to take a seat at the table, turning to shoo Aurelia away from the baby. The two women laughed together as they both sat down.

"This looks very good, Rhys," Aurelia complimented her friend cheerfully. "Oh, before we forget ... we require you both to come to city hall with us tomorrow."

Rhys smiled and shrugged at the compliment, knowing it was good without being told, but it was always nice to hear it. "Coffee?" he asked, as he took some cups down from the cupboard and filled one for himself and one for Nat.

Ian would have preferred tea, but he only nodded his head. A little coffee might do his stomach some good after the violence trip back from Avalon.

"City hall?" Rhys echoed. "Aren't you already married?"

Realizing that Rhys didn't know to make tea as well, Aurelia rose, setting the kettle to boil as she pulled out her teapot. "It is necessary, to make the marriage legal," she assured Rhys. "There were no registrars, and, unfortunately, even if there had been ... the date on the certificate would have been utterly implausible."

Nat raised a brow curiously, her eyes turning to Ian. "I think, perhaps, you should start at the beginning," she suggested, before Rhys could ask another question that might throw them into the middle of the story.
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 06, 2014 1:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Rhys opened his mouth to speak but found Aurelia already getting up to get the kettle boiling and explaining why they needed to go to city hall. Of course, he thought to himself. To make things legal. He set a cup of coffee down in front of Nat and claimed a chair at the table, leaving Aurelia to the making of the tea. He was as anxious to hear the story as Nat was, and equally as curious, even as he skewered a couple of pancakes and slices of bacon for himself.

Ian looked between them, unaccustomed to being the center of attention unless it was at the front of a lecture hall. "Very well," he said, clearing his throat before relaying the events of the last four days, starting at the point at which Aurelia showed him the shield.

It was a long story, with a lot of interruptions from the other couple, but surprisingly not so much need to explain the magic that had infused every moment of their journey. By the time Ian and Aurelia were done, the meal was long since finished, tea and coffee had been refreshed several times, and Ana had woken up, demanding to be snuggled by her dada.

As the morning drew on, Nat found herself wondering all over again at the astonishment that was Avalon. "So ... the demon truly is gone?" she asked, wanting to set this more personal record completely straight before they continued. "You have nothing but your own power now?"

Aurelia nodded, her expression bittersweet. "Oui," she nodded in agreement. "I am still a witch, I can still cast and I have my shield, but ... I can no longer shimmer. It is a small price to pay for being free of my mother's daughter, but it will take time to grow accustomed to."

Once they had finished with the meal, Ian had reached for Aurelia's hand, where it remained until the telling of the tale was finished. It still didn't answer all of their questions regarding the items in Dylan's basement, but it helped. Rhys had remained thoughtfully quiet through most of it, but whether he'd been quietly contemplating the story or focusing his attention on soothing the daughter in his arms was uncertain. He had turned especially quiet when they'd spoken of the Elaine, the woman who he and Nat knew as the Lady of Avalon.

"And her knowing of you would explain why she prevented you from entering Avalon when you first discovered it, Ian," Nat went on, wondering if he had made that connection yet. "At that time, you were not the man she knew, and you did not have Aurelia with you."

Ian took a sip of his tea before nodding his head, ever the gentleman. If there could ever be an opposite to Rhys, Ian was it. "Yes, I realize that," he agreed with Nat, though he had thought on it even further. After all, he'd had plenty of time for thinking while they'd been in Avalon. "It was also what drove me to try and discover its secrets. If I had not been turned away but embraced fully, I do not believe I would be sitting here with you now." He was sure he would have wanted to stay in Avalon forever. The library alone was temptation enough.

"Let me get this straight..." Rhys finally said, leaning forward as if to make his point. "You knew the Lady before she was the Lady. Is that right?"

Aurelia smiled over at Ian, glad he had never given up in his quest to understand Avalon and find a way back. She turned her smile onto Rhys, not entirely sure why he was so stuck on that particular detail of their story. "Yes," she agreed with him. "We witnessed the moment when she became the Lady of Avalon. And we grieved with her for the woman who came before her."

"And... Did you happen to mention Nat or I to her?" he asked, pressing them further. There was a reason he was asking them this, but mostly, he was just trying to wrap his head around it. It was enough to boggle the mind, and the implications of such a thing were not lost on even Rhys.

Ian looked to Aurelia, as if he was unsure whether or not to answer that question. He though he understood what Rhys was trying to get at, though it required a certain amount of circular logic. "Your names might have been mentioned."

"And your faces were seen," Aurelia added. "In the moments before she sent us back here, she saw you both here in the cabin, with your daughter."

Beside Rhys, Nat leaned back in her seat, her thoughtful frown deepening. "Then she will have seen the medallions," she said quietly, touching her own where it hung at her throat. It explained an awful lot, to her at least. "So that is why she was so adamant when I first entered Avalon that I would not be a Templar always, that I would serve her in time."

"A-ha!" Rhys declared loudly enough to wake the dead, though it seemed Ana was accustomed to her father's outbursts and didn't so much as flinch. He waggled an almost accusatory finger at the other couple, though he was grinning like a madman. "You cheated! I knew it!" Or the Lady had; he thought it was all one in the same thing. "Only... If that's true, then..." He turned thoughtful again. If that was true, then she must have known about him all his life. Nat, too, as well as Ian and Aurelia. She'd had a peek into the future, albeit a brief peek, but enough to know where and when to find them in time.

Nat met Rhys' gaze, a small smile playing about her lips as she followed his train of thought. "She has been watching over us all our lives," she said quietly. "I think she is the one who has been cheating, milaya."

Aurelia frowned, not entirely sure what they were talking about. Of everyone at this table, she was the one who knew the least about Avalon and its sacred mysteries, not entirely sure she had earned the right to know, even now.

"Yeah, well..." Rhys wasn't sure he had much more to say about that, though he was grinning from ear to ear, like he was supremely proud of himself for figuring that out. "She's probably the one who made sure we were both on the same plane," he told her. He'd always thought it had just been some quirk of fate, luck of the draw. Or maybe it was heaven who'd been guiding his steps. Now, it appeared he'd been wrong about all of it - the Fates, Heaven, Hell, the whole kit and kaboodle. It had been the Lady of Avalon who'd been watching over them all along. For some reason, it made him laugh and once he started laughing, he couldn't stop.
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 06, 2014 1:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

His laughter was infectious, at least for his wife, who couldn't help joining in with her own rich giggles as even their daughter, utterly oblivious, gurgled along with them. Even Aurelia found herself smiling, despite her confusion, rolling her eyes as she looked to Ian. "And it seems she was responsible for our first meeting, too, mon cœur."

"Yeah, only you got married over a thousand years ago!" Rhys pointed out with a grin. Not that it mattered. Where Avalon was concerned, time did not seem to matter, nor was it measured in linear fashion.

"Um, there's one more thing," Ian broke in, his English manner not quite seeing the humor in all this so much as the Champion and Priestess had.

Sobering herself in the face of Ian's more serious countenance, Nat swallowed her smile as he added something more. "And what is that, Ian?" she asked curiously.

"She wishes your presence in Avalon," he said, turning to address Nat's question. At least, she seemed to be taking all of this a little more seriously than her husband, but he assumed Avalon's Champion was only amused at the irony of it. It was better than some other reactions he might have had.

"She asked if you would bring us with you," Aurelia added quietly, unable to mask the hope in her expression. Now she had seen Avalon, albeit an Avalon of the very distant past, she longed to go back there, and to see the young woman who had guided the sacred isle for so many long centuries in their absence.

"Oh!" Rhys exclaimed again with seemingly unbridled excitement and amusement. "Wait until you meet Zach and Rach!" He looked to Ian, with a small teasing smirk. "Would you like to see Caliburnus?"

Ian arched a curious but carefully contained eyebrow. "Caliburnus? I have already seen Excalibur."

"And you will see Excalibur again," Nat assured him. "It is laid within a glass pool before the Temple." She looked at Aurelia as the witch touched her arm, murmuring a repetition of the names Rhys had declared in confusion, and smiled. "Rhys' sister is Rachel, and her husband is Zachariel," she explained. "They live on Avalon."

The names meant nothing to Ian either, but the talk of Excalibur - or Caliburnus - piqued his interest. He frowned a little at the memory of Arthur and Pellam and Morgaine and Viviane, all lost to time. It seemed they had only seen them a few short hours ago, but in reality it had been over a thousand years.

"Yes, and Joyeuse! And Durandal!" Rhys added with a grin of his own. It seemed the Champion was as interested in the heroes of old as Ian, though in a less scholarly way.

"Joyeuse?" Ian echoed. "The Sword of Charlemagne? It's in Avalon? I thought it was in the Louvre."

"What is left of it, yes," Nat nodded, trying not to smile in amusement. She'd been the one who had broken Joyeuse, after all. "I am sure that you will have a chance to explore Avalon in time," she added, gently squeezing Aurelia's hand. "But for now ... are you prepared to travel to Avalon this moment, or would you like a little more time?"

"Then what is in the Louvre?" Ian countered, presuming it must be a fake or a forgery or a mistake. He quieted at Natalya's question and turned his gaze to Aurelia. As for them, they had just returned from Avalon. They had just washed the last vestiges of Avalon from their bodies and changed out of the clothes they had worn there. He thought perhaps Avalon could wait a while longer. There was something he felt was a little more pressing right now, and he was sure the Lady would forgive them. He closed his fingers on Aurelia's, his gaze soft and affectionate as it fell on her face. "I think we'd like to visit City Hall first," he said, turning them to the other couple. "We would be honored if you would witness our vows."

"You are the closest we have to family," Aurelia added in her quiet tone, her hand curling into Ian's without needing to be prompted or coaxed. "It would mean a great deal for you to be there with us, since you could not when the Lady joined us."

Rhys grinned, glancing at the child in his lap. "You hear that, Anushka? You're going to your first wedding!" He was rewarded for his enthusiasm with a little baby spit as Ana gave her father the raspberries, and he laughed again. "That's my girl!"

Chuckling at Rhys' response, Nat reached out to assure the other couple herself. "It would be a privilege to be there for you," she reassured them gently. "Though ... Ian, you may need to call the university. You have been gone for four days - perhaps there is a little smoothing over that needs to be done."

"Already done," Ian replied. He'd already seen to that while he'd been upstairs, waiting for Aurelia to get dressed. Once they'd heard he was getting married, they'd told him to take as much time as he wanted, so long as he was back before the end of the month, which gave them at least a few weeks, more or less. "I wonder if we should honeymoon in Avalon," he ventured with a glance at Aurelia.

Rhys snorted at that. "Are you nuts? Too many people there." He considered a moment before continuing. "If you could go anywhere you wanted to go, besides Avalon, where would it be?" he asked, looking to each of the newlyweds in turn.

It seemed an age ago that Ian and Aurelia had been discussing this very subject, and yet it was one that had stuck in Aurelia's mind. She grinned over at Ian as Rhys asked his question. "Monaco," she said without needing to ask. Ian had already suggested it, and now they were married, she couldn't think of a better place to indulge themselves for a little while.

"Monaco?" Rhys echoed with a chuckle, more than a little surprised. Well, they wouldn't be getting away from it all there, but it might be fun. "Never been there, have you?" he asked, looking to his wife. She had been all over the world and had been nearly every place Rhys could think of, except perhaps the Antarctic. If anyone knew anything about vacation destinations, it was Natalya.
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 06, 2014 1:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Once or twice," Nat admitted with a small chuckle. "Monte-Carlo is a beautiful city, and a very good place in which to lose yourself for a while." She met Rhys' gaze with a raised brow, wondering what he was thinking. "There is plenty to do in the city, and if you stay a little further out, plenty of solitude to be had, on beaches or in the forests."

"It's decided then!" Rhys declared, slapping a hand against the table, which only startled the baby in his arms a little bit. She was mostly accustomed to her father's more exuberant moods. "Monte-Carlo it is. I'll make a few calls." It was a simple as that, really. It was kind of nice to have money. He moved to his feet to tug a cell phone out of his jeans pocket and hand off the baby to her mama. "Before or after Avalon?" he asked.

Ian looked a little gobsmacked, his mouth dropping open, speechless for once.

"What?" Aurelia started in surprise, rising onto her feet just as quickly as Rhys did. As Nat took Ana back into her arms, the witch gripped Rhys' sleeve. "You cannot do this for us, Rhys," she insisted. "Please, you have done so much for me, so much I can never repay. This is a debt that I truly will never be able to repay you."

"Don't be ridiculous," Rhys said, gentling his voice for Aurelia, who he was deeply fond of. "What good is money if you can't use it to make the people you care about happy? Consider it a wedding gift." He leaned close to kiss her cheek, not taking no for an answer. Besides, it could be argued that in a way, he and Nat owed them. Without their help, they arguably might never have met.

Reluctantly, Aurelia sighed, looking up at her friend with a faintly disapproving look in her eyes. "You are not going to let me say no, are you?" she said in a weary tone, shaking her head. She was never going to be out of debt to this truly amazing couple - equally, they were never going to be without a white witch on hand if they ever needed her.

Nat chuckled from where she sat, having inadvertently imprisoned Ian with Ana on his lap. Whether the professor was comfortable with babies or not, he'd been handed the newborn with too much confidence to be able to say no. "Of course he will not," she told Aurelia with a grin. "And even if you win the argument with him, you will not win it with me. I am so stubborn that the last time he wanted to win an argument, he had to sedate me."

"Nope," Rhys replied with a warm and slightly amused smile. "Let us do this, Aurelia. You've done more for me than you can possibly know," he told her quietly, for her ears alone, even as Natalya chimed in to insist. He chuckled at Nat's remark, but couldn't help wincing a little. "She's never gonna let me live that down," he said. There was a story there, but it was better told in Avalon, where they'd have plenty of time to sit and reflect. "So, when do you two wanna do this thing?" he asked, referring to the trip to City Hall. As curious as he was about the contents of Dylan's cellar, he didn't think he was going to get many answers about that until they got to Avalon.

Ian opened his mouth to protest as Nat dumped baby Ana into his lap. He'd never held a small child, much less a baby, in his entire life and wasn't quite sure what to do with her. His hands went about the baby's middle to hold her in place, while he jiggled his knee, thinking maybe that would soothe her a little.

"If I have the date right, we have a slot booked for tomorrow morning," Aurelia admitted, knowing she was already beaten before she even tried to come up with a decent argument. She glanced at Ian, momentarily distracted and charmed by the sight of him jiggling Ana on his knee while the baby girl gripped his shirt, gumming on his buttons. "Do we have time to go to Avalon before then?" she asked softly, eager to see the Lady once more and get something of a confirmation on the fact that she might well be pregnant.

Rhys glanced at Nat for an answer. They could go to Avalon anytime they wanted, so long as they were back in time for the other couple's appointment at City Hall, but he didn't think that would be much of a problem. "We can go now, if you want," he replied with a bit of a shrug. There wasn't really any preparation necessary, and Nat could open a portal easily enough. "You just got changed!" he pointed out with a chuckle.

Nat laughed with Rhys, shaking her head. "It will be nice not to be the only woman in pants for once," she offered, moving to pack up Ana's diaper bag at the very least. "It is a matter of moments to reach Avalon," she added to reassure the other couple with a smile. "And I am sure, should we overrun our time, that the Lady will make certain we arrive back in time for your legal wedding."

Ian chanced a glance at the other couple, while still balancing Ana on his knee. "But... I thought the only portal was in Glastonbury," he pointed out, not realizing that the Lady would have provided a more personal means of transportation to the isle for the Champion and Priestess. Without Aurelia's ability to shimmer, he'd assumed they'd have to fly to England first.

Nat gave him a mysterious smile, her eyes flickering toward Rhys in amusement as she bent to rescue Ian from Ana. "You helped to create the roles of Champion and Priestess, and yet you do not know what it is we can do?" she asked gently.

Ian shook his head, both in answer to her question and in denial of her statement. "Arthur was the first Champion, and Morgaine the Priestess. We didn't help create anything," he pointed out, a little confused. "We only helped hide it from the mortal world," he clarified.

"Surely you have come across references in your research to Morgaine being able to part the mists of Avalon?" Nat asked him, settling Ana on her hip. Belatedly, Aurelia realized that the Bristols seemed to be preparing to leave, confusion crossing her face as she looked to Rhys for some kind of explanation.

"Well, yes, of course, but..." Ian trailed off as realization dawned on him. Nat and Rhys were the current equivalent to Arthur and Morgaine in this time and as such, possessed the very same abilities and gifts. He wondered if he should go down on one knee, though neither of them were of noble blood, as far as he knew. Nor did he know of Rhys' angelic origins.

Rhys couldn't help but smirk a little at Aurelia's confusion. When Nat decided to do something, she didn't waste any time about it. "If there's anything you want to take with you, now would be the time to grab it," he warned.

"We are going now?" Aurelia was utterly gobsmacked by how business-like the Bristols were about going to Avalon, as though they did it more often than not. Given only a little warning, she blinked, shrugging, and turned to slip from the kitchen in search of jackets for herself and Ian.

Nat chuckled, settling Ana finally back in her car seat, a light blanket tucked over the baby's lower half. "Yes, Ian," she answered the unspoken query. "I can part the mists. One day, you should get Rhys to show you Caliburnus."
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 06, 2014 1:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Rhys was still smirking, obviously thoroughly enjoying surprising their friends with these little details. "Oh, I think maybe I'll leave that to Sir Lionel," Rhys remarked, though Caliburnus wasn't in Lionel's possession, but Rhys'. Excalibur and Joyeuse and Durandal were another matter, however, not to mention the Grail. "You don't really need to pack anything. Avalon will provide," he told Aurelia as she slipped away from the kitchen in search of something or other she seemed to think they'd need there. Rhys didn't seem to do anything in particular to prepare. He leaned over to tickle his daughter's cheek, whispering, "All ready to go see Aunty Elaine and Uncle Lionel?" he asked his daughter before picking up the car seat, with Ana settled inside it. Not to mention Aunty Rachel and Uncle Zachariel.

It would be Ana's first visit to Avalon since they had come home after her birth, and no doubt there would be plenty of people willing and eager to take her off their hands for a few hours, if they could be persuaded to part with her. Nat chuckled, touching her fingers to the medal at her throat as Aurelia came back into the kitchen, handing Ian the spare jacket he had left here a while back. "Shall we?"

Rhys went over to stand beside Nat, his free hand taking hold of hers. He'd grown accustomed to their travels through the mists, and though he was still a little wide-eyed with wonder at it, there was no more fear or illness to be had traveling that way. It was no different now than stepping through a doorway from one world to another. "Don't worry. It's as simple as breathing," he assured the other couple.

Ian's face had grown a little pale as he moved to his feet and took hold of the jacket Aurelia held out to him. "I hope it's easier than traveling through time," he remarked. He didn't really feel like losing his breakfast when they'd just finished eating it.

"If Ana can do it without throwing up, then so can you," Nat assured Ian, squeezing Rhys' hand to convey her amusement without smiling. "You do not need to hold onto me, though you may wish to hold onto one another. We will simply be passing through the mists."

Aurelia nodded, tucking her hand into Ian's. "We have done that before," she assured Nat confidently.

While they had traveled through the mists before, they had also traveled backwards and then forwards over a thousand years in time. Ian wasn't quite sure how time was measured in Avalon, but he had a feeling it was many years since they'd been there, as far as the Lady was concerned. She had been waiting a long time. Would she even remember them anymore? Ian tossed his jacket over an arm as he wrapped his fingers around Aurelia's, finding himself breaking into a cold sweat, despite the other couple's assurances. He assumed this mode of travel was something they had grown accustomed to over time. He only nodded silently in reply to indicate he was ready.

"Close your eyes," Rhys suggested. "When you open them again, we'll already be there."

Aurelia did as she was told, closing her eyes as her hand tightened in Ian's. She didn't share his uncertainty when it came to this particular method of travel, having found it very similar to the sensation of shimmering that was now lost to her forever, but out of a sense of solidarity chose to do as he did.

Nat smiled, glancing at Rhys, and concentrated. As she breathed out, the kitchen slowly filled with the mists that surrounded Avalon, gently swirling around them where they stood. A moment later, those mists dissipated, and a low squeal erupted in surprise from not too far away. "Rhys!"

As Aurelia opened her eyes, it was just in time to see a petite blonde in the garb of Avalon throw herself into Rhys' arms, giggling with delight.

Ian closed his eyes, but felt nothing happen. There was no sensation of movement, no dizziness, no nothing, just a faint feeling of dampness like one might feel when walking through a fog. He was about to open his eyes and accuse the other couple of pulling some sort of prank when he heard an unfamiliar voice shout Rhys' name.

Rhys laughed and let go of Nat's hand to wrap his sister in a hug, the baby carrier still hanging from his other hand. "Hey, Rach. Miss me?" he teased, green eyes bright with happiness.

"Oh," Ian muttered, as he, too, opened his eyes and looked around. They were definitely not in Pennsylvania anymore.

Avalon had definitely changed somewhat since Aurelia and Ian had last seen it. There were more buildings - the town was larger, better equipped, and where there had been rolling hills, now there were neatly ploughed fields newly harvested. Even the library, such a central part of the isle, was a little changed; they could see the tops of the trees that grew within it standing free of the tall grey stone building itself. But it was still Avalon, still as peaceful as the place they had left not so long ago, the sense of mourning long finished. Aurelia beamed up at Ian, delighted to be back, and looked across to where Rhys was embracing his little sister.

"We didn't expect you back for ages yet," Rachel was saying as she let go of Rhys to pounce Natalya in similar fashion.

Ian took a moment to look around, amazed at the changes in Avalon, which obviously had taken place over a long period of time, and yet, even more impressed at how similar it looked to the Avalon they had only recently returned from. He exchanged a curious glance with Aurelia before turning back to the little blond in front of them who had just been joined by a man, just as blond, but taller than either himself or Rhys and with an air of calmness about him.

"Rhys," the blond man said in greeting. "Natalya. We were not expecting you." He glanced to the child in the baby carrier and went down on one knee, reaching over to touch two fingers to the child's forehead as if to offer a blessing. "It is well to have you back."

Ana gurgled up at Zachariel - whatever had passed between them had woken her up from her doze in a good mood. As the baby seized his fingers, pulling them into her mouth, Rachel released Nat with a grin, glancing at the others who had come through with them.

"Oh ... Rachel, Zachariel," Nat chuckled, gesturing toward one couple, "meet Ian and Aurelia."
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 06, 2014 1:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Zach seemed content to let the baby gum his fingers for a while. There wasn't much that disturbed that calm, and though he was no longer an angel, there was nothing stopping him from offering a blessing or two when he so wished it. He had a certain way with children and animals, though he was mostly unaware of it. "Yes," he remarked as he looked up from his crouch near the baby to regard the other couple. "We've been expecting you," he told them, though that was information that obviously had to have been gleaned from the Lady herself.

Nat's mouth dropped open in surprise at Zach's calm declaration, her eyes blinking as she navigated that surprise to try and find a reasonable response.

Aurelia, on the other hand, couldn't help smiling. "I told you she would not forget us," she murmured to Ian, and burst out laughing as Rachel, sunny little personality that she was, squeezed Ian about the waist.

"Welcome to Avalon, Loremaster."

Ian echoed Nat's response, his own mouth dropping open in surprise and shock, especially when the petite blond was wrapping him in a most unexpected hug. "Uh..." he stammered, one arm going around her more out of instinct than anything else. "Thank you." It appeared Aurelia was right - they had not been forgotten, not by a long shot.

Rhys reached over with a finger to close his wife's mouth with a chuckle. "I think you just rendered the Priestess speechless," he teased, clearly amused.

"Apologies, Natalya," Zach said as he moved to his feet and offered a small bow, as formal and cordial as ever. "Welcome home."

Offering Rhys an amused glare for his closing of her mouth, Nat laughed, moving to embrace Zach fondly. "You are still too formal, bratishka," she told him, gently patting his cheek. "But it is good to see you again." A squeak from behind her marked Rachel's passage from Ian to Aurelia, drawing another laugh from Nat. "I think, perhaps, your wife is becoming even more tactile since you grew closer in your marriage."

Zach returned that embrace, relaxing just a little at Nat's affectionate scolding. "It is a difficult habit to break, sister," he replied. He smiled softly at the mention of Rachel and turned his gaze that way. "We are both very happy here in Avalon," he said, a few words but with a world of meaning. It seemed whatever problems Rachel and Zachariel had been having with intimacy had been resolved since their last visit. "May I?" he asked, gesturing toward Ana and asking for permission to hold his young niece.

Rhys was only too happy to hand her off for a little while. "Don't blame me if she spits up!" he warned. And it was probably time for a diaper change, too.

"The Lady said you were to go and see her as soon as you arrived," Rachel offered, moving to Zach's side. Her big green eyes focused on Ana hopefully - though she might not yet be ready for children of her own, Rachel adored her niece openly.

Nat smirked, glancing at Rhys, and sighed softly. "Then we had better do that, then," she agreed, unhooking the diaper bag from her shoulder to lay it by Rachel's feet. "Do not hide her," she added to her sister-in-law with a grin, earning herself a wide grin in return.

"Why would we do that?" Zach asked, both brows arching curiously, taking Nat as literally as ever. Rhys handed Zach the car seat carrying baby Ana without hesitation. "Because you want one of your own," he replied, knowing he was only going to have to explain more later. "Come on, Nat. We've been summoned," he said, taking his wife's hand.

"What about us?" Ian interjected, feeling a little like the odd man out.

Rachel giggled as she picked up the bag, her mischievous side well known to her brother and sister-in-law. She loved playing at being an auntie, and watching Zach with Ana, too.

Nat looked to Ian with a warm smile. "She knew we were coming," she pointed out to the professor and his wife. "If you are not with us when we enter the Chalice Gardens, I think we may be spanked by the Lady of Avalon for having left you behind."

"Somehow I doubt that," Ian replied, at least, regarding the part about being spanked. Though they had only departed from Avalon recently, he found his stomach wrapped up in knots at the idea of meeting the Lady again after a long absence that only felt like a few hours to himself and Aurelia. "It was a pleasure to meet you both," he told Zach and Rachel. He was curious what their story was, but not nosy enough to ask. There was something off with both of them, but he couldn't quite put his finger on what it was. Though clearly adults, they both seemed rather childlike in their innocence, though he wasn't sure why.

"We will see you later," Zach assured the Loremaster confidently.

"And you can tell us all about yourselves," Rachel nodded firmly. She looked at her brother. "We'll go to the tower," she told him. "It has enough room for all of us."

Nat chuckled, gesturing for Ian and Aurelia to follow as she and Rhys turned toward the Temple itself. "Come," she told them. "You are expected."

Beside Ian, Aurelia has been absorbing all this in her own time, choosing not to speak as the others did. It was good to see Rhys with his little sister, and how easily he trusted that sister and her husband with his firstborn child. But better was the prospect of seeing the Lady once again.

"There isn't much to tell," Ian started, but he was unable to say much more as Nat was urging them toward the Temple. He took Aurelia's hand and fell into step beside the other couple more out of a sense of decorum than any real need. He and Aurelia already knew their way around Avalon, though it was true things had changed somewhat. "What tower?" he asked curiously, unsure what Rachel was referring to.

Rhys gave his sister another hug. "We'll meet you there!" he told her with a final wave, and he sprinted to catch up with the trio.
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 06, 2014 1:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Our home, here on Avalon," Nat explained as they walked along, secure in the knowledge that Rhys would catch them before long. "It is a round tower house, on the edge of the Temple grounds. The Lady gave it to us on our wedding day. Do not worry, we will take you there later."

Aurelia's smile softened as Natalya spoke of her own wedding day, feeling sure that it must have taken place here on Avalon. The Bristols truly were far too comfortable here to stay away for long.

Ian was unfamiliar with any tower anywhere nearby and assumed it must be a structure that had been built sometime after they'd left. "A lot has changed," he murmured quietly, mostly to himself, but also to Aurelia at his side.

Rhys caught up quickly and easily and fell into step beside Nat, barely out of breath. "Giving them the tour?" he asked, curiously.

"Hardly," Nat snorted with laughter, nudging Rhys' arm fondly. "Just because I am not prepared to guide them through the boundary hedgeways does not mean we are taking the scenic route."

Aurelia nodded in answer to her husband, hugging Ian's arm as they followed Natalya and Rhys. "But so much has stayed the same," she added softly, kissing his shoulder absentmindedly. "And somewhere on this isle, is a ledger more than a thousand years old, holding your account of the hiding of Avalon. It is almost too much to believe."

"It is that," he agreed as they followed Rhys and Nat through territory both familiar and unfamiliar. "It's good to know it's flourished," he said as he took in the view, though he'd already known that it would, if only because of Rhys and Nat's travels here.

"So, what was he like?" Rhys asked, his curiosity getting the best of him. "Arthur, I mean. Was he like the movies?"

Aurelia laughed softly. "Which movie in particular are you referring to, Rhys?" she asked her friend warmly. "There are as many interpretations of Arthur as there are versions of the myth itself." She caught Nat's eye, both women sharing the look of wives who would never be free of their husbands' obsession with ancient heroes.

"Monty Python and the Holy Grail, of course!" Rhys replied with a grin that indicated he was not serious, as if there was any other movie about King Arthur worth watching.

Ian laughed. "I'm afraid there's not much of historical worth in that re-telling," he replied, assuming Rhys was merely teasing. "Arthur was..." He paused a moment to give his answer some thought. "He was different from what I was expecting, but we met him before..." He trailed off with a small frown.

Nat frowned a little, knowing there was one person on Avalon that Ian must be thinking of in that moment. "She has never forgiven herself, you know," she said softly, as they mounted the steps into the Temple itself. "No one can condemn her in a worse manner than she has condemned herself for her actions."

Ian arched a brow, knowing instinctively who Nat must be referring to. "She's still alive?" he asked, obviously not expecting that. "What about Arthur and the others?" Morgaine, Pellam, Galahad... Lancelot, even. What had become of them? Had any of the legends gotten the story right?

Rhys was frowning at the thought of Guinevere. He had met her only once, but nothing had been said between them. "She's condemned herself to an eternity of penance. You might even say this is her Purgatory."

"Arthur is here in spirit, if not in body," Nat added quietly. "The others you met ... they died, long ago. But Rhys is right. Guinevere lingers. She swore she would not rest until she could find forgiveness for what she had done, but until she forgives herself, she will not rest. She took Christian orders, centuries ago, and lives here, in the convent attached to the abbey."

"If she'd lived in our time, they'd have simply gotten divorced," Rhys added, though it was really not that simple for royals, even in modern times.

"I'm not sure it's that simple," Ian pointed out, but didn't want to argue the fact. "Did Arthur ever forgive her?" he asked, unsure if Nat even knew the answer to that. If she didn't, Elaine certainly would.

"I do not know," Nat sighed softly, coming to halt where the vines held the world at bay from the heart of Avalon. She turned to look up at Ian, shrugging lightly. "The legends say she never saw Arthur after Lancelot rescued her from the pyre. It is possible she never did see him again, even after he was brought to the isle."

"And Arthur was a good man," Aurelia added, just as quietly. "He loved her a great deal, and love can forgive a great many things. It is possible that even having his forgiveness would not help her to forgive herself."

Rhys found himself shuddering at the thought of that kind of death and wondering what kind of man could subject a woman he'd once loved to such a fate. "I've never understood that part of the legend. If Arthur was such a good man, why didn't he just let them go?"

"I'm afraid it's more complicated than that," Ian pointed out, knowing the history and legends better than any of them. "But I can tell you that the Arthur we knew was a happy man and a good friend," he said quietly, grieving in his heart for the friend they had lost, along with Viviane and all the others, though he knew it had to be. No one lived forever, after all.

A rustle from the vines that held them out drew their attention away from their conversation as the door to the Chalice Well was drawn open for them to pass through. Aurelia couldn't help smiling at the thought that Elaine had developed good timing over the centuries, squeezing Ian's hand. Though it had only been a few hours since they had seen her, she was eager to see the woman they had watched become the Lady of Avalon in her own right.

Nat chuckled softly. "It would appear the time for discussion is over," she mused. "Come."
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 06, 2014 1:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Rhys let Nat lead the way, though he sensed neither Ian nor Aurelia really needed them to do so. The talk about the tragedy that had befallen Camelot so long ago had dampened his mood somewhat, and he found himself wondering why they'd been summoned here at this moment in time. There was something deeper going on here, something he and Nat didn't know about yet, and though he wondered what it was, he wasn't sure he wanted to know. As for Ian, he was anxious to see Elaine again and find out for himself what had really happened after they'd left.

Usually, when they entered the Chalice Gardens, Rhys and Natalya had to make their way to the Well itself before the Lady of Avalon greeted them. But this was not a usual day. As the four of them passed beneath the boughs, she appeared on the path before them, moving with a quick pace, her beautiful, sad face breaking into a joyous smile. Before anyone could speak, she had wrapped her arms around Ian and Aurelia both, holding them tightly. "Welcome home."

In that moment, it was as if all the years were turned back, and they were standing in the garden not with the Lady of Avalon, but with Elaine of Corbenic, the mother of Galahad, who had become the Lady of the Lake. Ian returned that embrace, not unlike the embrace Rhys had given his sister - just as familiar and just as full of warmth and affection. Home, he thought to himself. Yes, if there was any place he thought of as home, this was it.

Rhys' mouth dropped open as Elaine went first to greet and welcome Ian and Aurelia, like they were old and dear friends, which he supposed they were. He felt just a small stab of jealousy and envy, though he knew it was silly. He and Nat had their own place in the Lady's life and in Avalon, but suddenly he felt like a stranger here, intruding on a private moment between old friends.

As the Lady drew back, she smiled fondly at the Loremaster and his witch, touching Ian's cheek affectionately, turning to press her cheek against Aurelia's in a warm hello. For all that Rhys might feel an intruder, he was not - he was the first true friend to her since she had lost Ian and Aurelia so many centuries before, and he had brought them back to her. With that fond smile still in place, she turned to Rhys and Natalya, and for the first time, embraced them. "And welcome home to you, too."

Rhys returned that embrace, though he was suddenly feeling a little awkward, as though he was the stranger and the newcomer here. "We can go for a while, if you want. Let you have some privacy." He thought she might like to spend some time alone with the other couple, since it was clear they were dear to her and she had not seen them in nearly forever.

The Lady's smile gentled as she touched Rhys' cheek. "You are no less dear to me than they," she promised him, extending her smile to Natalya, who was taking it all rather better than her husband. "It has been a long time since I saw them last. But you have questions, Rhys. Do not feel you must leave. Everyone who stands here now, I consider to be my family. You must learn to be comfortable with one another, for I will not let any of you go."

Rhys only frowned at her, not saying a word. He was happy with his place in Avalon, never really realizing that he was the equivalent to King Arthur in his own right and time. He didn't feel any different. To him, he was simply a hunter and always would be, but to be given a place of honor in this place and by this gentle lady, he felt honored and fortunate beyond words.

"You've changed," Ian's voice interjected, breaking the silence that had fallen over them, Rhys' gaze fixed silently to Elaine's.

And only Rhys saw the ever so slight flicker of annoyance at that stating of the blatantly obvious, followed by the amusement he had learned well over the past year or more. Smiling, the Lady sighed, turning to look at Ian pointedly. "It has been almost two thousand years," she reminded him, her smile flickering into a smirk as Aurelia snickered into her hand. They both knew that Ian had not admitted to Elaine the true length of her service. "I have watched many friends grow old and die. I would be concerned if it had not changed me."

"Two thousand years for you, Lady," Ian asserted with a respectful nod of his head, realizing his mistake. Elaine or not, she was the Lady of Avalon now, and had been for many years, bearing all the loneliness and responsibility that implied. "For us, it has only been a matter of hours."

"And you all have questions," the Lady said softly, opening her arms to all of them as they stood around her. "Come ... sit with me, and we will talk. I do not doubt that there are a few mysteries you would all like solved in these precious minutes."

Ian exchanged glances with Aurelia, something unsaid passing between them. It had not passed his attention that the Lady was obviously fond of both Rhys and Natalya, but he had not really understood just how fond until now.

Aurelia bit her lip for a moment, looking around at the group. "Perhaps we should leave you, for the time being," she suggested quietly. "Our need to know is not so urgent, nor so deeply personal. There will be time for us to talk later, Lady. And I cannot deny a wish to explore the changes I have seen in Avalon." She offered the Lady a rueful smile, an expression which was returned with understanding. "What do you think, mon cœur?"

Ian looked between the small group, and as anxious as he was to renew their friendship with Elaine, they had fulfilled their promise - they had brought the Champion and Priestess to the Lady upon their return. He sensed the reason for that had to do with what Aurelia had found in Dylan's cellar and that it was a personal matter between them and the Lady that didn't have anything to do with them. "I think that's a splendid idea," he replied, turning to Elaine. "With your permission, Lady," he added.

Surprised and simultaneously appreciative of this unexpected decision, the Lady inclined her head to them both, her smile bright enough to crinkle her eyes for a moment. "Thank you," she told them quietly. "We will talk this evening, after the meal. Until then, Avalon is yours to enjoy, as it always was." Aurelia echoed the woman's smile, gently tugging on Ian's hand to draw him away once more as the Lady turned to Rhys and Natalya. One delicate brow arched as she met Rhys' gaze. "Jealousy does not become the Champion of Avalon."

Ian made no further remark and departed quietly with Aurelia. There would presumably be plenty of time to talk later. He was satisfied at least that Elaine had remembered them and kept them in her favor. He could only imagine everything she had been through over the years and felt a pang of grief to know she'd had to endure it alone.
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 06, 2014 1:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Rhys would have opened his mouth to insist that Ian and Aurelia didn't need to leave, but he was too busy brooding on his own confused feelings. He jerked his head up at the Lady's remark, furrowing his brows and frowning a little defensively. "I'm not jealous!" he denied, unsure if it was jealousy he was feeling or something else. "Why should I be jealous? I adore Aurelia and Ian is a good man. I chose him myself! I'm not jealous."

Nat wisely chose to remain silent at this point, not particularly wanting to be present if her husband was about to be scolded. The Lady, on the other hand, simply smiled, touching her hand to Rhys' cheek once again. "You are no less in my affections for their coming," she assured him once again. "You are my friend, the first true friend I accepted to myself since their departure so long ago. Now come, both of you, and let us talk. I know there are many things weighing upon your minds."

Rhys actually flushed a little under the Lady's scrutiny. He didn't want to be jealous, and he knew he was secure in his place in both Avalon and her heart. He wasn't sure why exactly he was feeling the way he was, but he hoped it would pass. He hadn't been lying when he said he'd adored Aurelia. He was fond of both Aurelia and Ian, and knew there was room in her heart for all of them. "I know. I'm sorry," he said at last, a little ashamed of his own stupid feelings, which mostly stemmed from his own insecurities.

"Rhys, you are Arthur's successor," the Lady reminded him gently as she led them to the pool. At a word from her, the vines that filled the Chalice Gardens came together to form seats for them all. "And you are more than worthy of that position. You must learn to see yourself as others do."

Beside Rhys, Nat squeezed his hand. The Lady was saying nothing that she herself had not said to her husband many times before.

"It's not about that," he replied, wondering why Nat had gone so quiet, or maybe it was just because she was in agreement with the Lady. The women in his life tended to be that way. It was a conspiracy of females, he often thought, not that he was complaining. He sighed as he took a seat in her garden, as comfortable there as he would be in his very own living room. "I just..." He glanced to Nat, feeling very much like an errant child, though he was a grown man.

"Tell me, then, what it is that is hurting you so," the Lady told him, almost a command but for the gentle way the words were spoken. She, too, sat, her green skirt rustling gently as she made herself comfortable. Nat sat beside Rhys, meeting his glance with soft eyes. She could not answer that question for him, nor could she guess with any accuracy what was truly bothering him.

He frowned, gnawing at his bottom lip thoughtfully a moment as he tried to find an answer to the question. "I don't know," he replied quietly. "I mean... I'm not Arthur. I'm not a King. I'm nobody special really. It's just..." He glanced to Nat a moment, feeling almost embarrassed to have the attention focused on him. "I thought I put all this to rest. I thought I put Dylan to rest. I thought I knew everything there was to know about my past. Why'd you make me choose if you already knew Ian was... was... what did they call him? The Loremaster? Why didn't you tell me that Aurelia and Ian would be the ones to hide Avalon? What else do you know that you haven't told me? What else am I going to find out that I don't know?"

"To know the future is a burden I would not wish upon anyone, Rhys," the Lady told him solemnly. "Things could have been very different, if you had known all this. The decision had to be yours; I could not make it myself, knowing what I did. That you chose Ian simply proves that it was his fate, that is all. Had you chosen another, perhaps things would have been different after all."

"It's still cheating," he pointed out. "It's like stacking the deck. I assume they told you about us before we were ever born. Don't get me wrong... I'm not complaining, but just how much of our lives did you see in the Well? How much about us did you know before you ever met us?" He included Nat in that equation, as well, judging her just as important as he was. "You don't have to tell me we wouldn't be the same people we are now if we hadn't gone through what we did. I know that. And I know you couldn't save us from anything. I'm grateful. I am. I'm happy with my life the way it is. I'm just having trouble wrapping my head around it all. That's all."

"You do not need to understand it," the Lady told him, and it was clear from her voice that she was not going to be drawn into a discussion about time and paradoxes. "You simply need to accept it. Yes, I have known of you all your life. Yes, I have watched over you in all that time - both of you. But the choices that brought you both to Avalon were your choices, not mine."

He'd heard that same speech from Lailah and even from Nikki, once upon a time, but there was one thing that had always bothered him about it. "I understand that, but... If you were watching over me... over us... Why did so many people have to die? I mean, Lailah told me the same thing. Free Will, I get. But demons? My mom and dad were murdered, and no one did a damned thing to stop it." And then, there was Jessie and Dylan and John and David, not to mention those Nat had lost, chiefly her brother. "Why? Why'd they have to die because of me?"

The warmth in the Lady's face drained away as he spoke, her head turning as though to hide the deep, aching sadness that had taken its place. "I have no answer," she said, her voice tight and pained.

Nat gently laid her hand over Rhys', silently warning him not to follow this particular line of inquiry. Yes, they had lost many themselves, but no one alive today had lost so many friends, or seen so much death, as the Lady of Avalon had in her long lifetime. If she had no answer to give, then it was not a question that had an answer.

He seemed to remember himself as Nat touched his hand and the Lady turned away. His heart turned away from his own pain and remembered hers. "Sorry, I'm sorry. I'm just being a selfish bastard. It's not your fault. You've been a blessing to me, to both of us. Really. I..." He broke off suddenly, tears filling his eyes at knowing he might have hurt her and remembering all she had been through. "You know how we feel about you. How I feel about you. The truth is, I'm terrified of losing you, too."

It seemed to take a long time for the Lady to calm herself, the silence of the garden wrapping around them as she painstakingly shut away the loss and grief of two thousand years of life once again. "You shall not lose me until Ana's daughter is a woman," she said, her voice still shaken but hers to control once more. "We have many more years together, my friends. I do not keep these things close to my heart out of spite or maliciousness. I know what it is to live with the future. It is not a burden I would wish upon anyone."
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 06, 2014 1:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

What had a few moments earlier been about him, no longer was, and he wished he could take back everything he'd said. He didn't blame her; he didn't blame anyone. He knew everything she had done she'd done to help him, not harm him, and the same went for Natalya. "Lady..." he said, gentling his voice, sliding down onto his knees and prostrating himself before her. "Elaine... I'm an idiot. Please forgive me. I never meant to hurt you." He dared to reach for her hands, kneeling before her and bowing his head in full view of Natalya. Thankfully, his head was bowed so she couldn't see his tears or the flush of shame that turned his face to flame.

"Rhys ..." The Lady's hand rose to lay gently against his hair. "There is nothing to forgive. You have a right to feel this way, to think these thoughts. If I could answer these questions, then I would. But I cannot. When I was young, when I first became the Lady, I could not have imagined the pain of loss repeated so often over the years. I watched everyone I had grown with grow old and die. I watched my son age and leave me on this mortal plane, knowing I would not see him again for many, many years to come. Do not ever think that I do not understand the pain of knowing others have died for you, for the same has happened to me. I have learned to accept it, though the pain will never leave me. You must learn to do the same, or such questions will destroy you in time."

He didn't raise his head to her for fear she'd see his tears and know the guilt he felt at having caused her any pain. "I wish I could make it better," he said quietly, his voice clogged with tears. He wasn't even sure what it was that had turned his mood or made him feel this way. He was happy to share Avalon with Aurelia and Ian, excited even. This was his real home, where he felt most loved and accepted, and where those he truly cared about - those he thought of as family - lived. Why was it so hard to know that they had suffered as much or more than he had? Even Nat. Wasn't there some way he could ease their pain?

"You do." Such a simple answer to his heartbroken words, but truth rang out from her. She stroked his hair, aware all the while that his wife was watching them, wishing for some way to reassure them both as their insecurities rose. "Simply by being my friend, and not just my Champion, you do make it better."

Thankfully, he didn't go so far as to lay his head in her lap, though he might have if it hadn't been for Nat's presence. All his life he had longed for some meaning in his life, for someone to look up to, someone to worship, something to believe in, but it hadn't really been until he'd come to Avalon that he'd realized what that something was. He nodded his head silently, unable to reply and lifted his head to wipe the tears from his face, feeling like an errant child before her, like he often did. "I am your faithful servant, Lady. You know this." He wasn't a lover or even a brother or a son. He was a Knight promising his loyalty and fealty to the Lady of Avalon. Was it any irony that his foster father had done that very same thing several decades before?

"Before all, you are my friend, and I care for you deeply," she told him in her gentle voice, that strange combination of mother, sister, and daughter in her smile as she stroked his hair. "Both of you." She raised her head to look at Nat, concern touching her eyes as she noticed the muted pain in her Priestess' eyes. A pain that Natalya swiftly suppressed, hiding away behind a smile of her own. The Lady was not certain which was more worrisome - the pain, or the ease with which it had been concealed.

Rhys was unaware of his wife's pain, at least for the moment. For that moment, he was almost like a child, needing the comfort of a mother figure. Perhaps she was mother and sister and daughter in one, but to him she was more than that - she was a goddess to be worshiped and revered and he thought he'd do well to remember it. "I will try to remember your words," he told her quietly, not quite promising to accept the past, but promising to at least try. He wiped what was left of the tears from his face and moved to his feet to retake his seat, too ashamed to look at his wife for fear she'd think less of him.

Nat welcomed him back to her side with a gentle smile, curling her hand into his even as he avoided her gaze. But even that avoidance, no matter how it was motivated, made her smile falter just a little. She looked down at their joined hands, taking in a slow, deep breath in an attempt to ease her own mind.

The Lady watched them both in silence, wondering how long such feelings had been kept hidden one from the other.

He drew a slow breath, more ashamed of his own emotional outburst than anything else. After a moment, he drew her hand to his lips and pressed it to his cheek, needing to know she was still there and that she still loved him, despite everything.

Nat needed no further encouragement, relieved to have been invited back into Rhys' personal world after the very open display of devotion he had given to the Lady. She leaned into him, touching her lips to his cheek before laying her head against his shoulder, hugging his arm tenderly.

Across from them, the Lady seemed to relax a little, sitting back in her seat. "Now ... there is a reason you both came to Avalon today," she said quietly, moving on as though nothing had happened, understanding that some things just needed to be set aside quickly. "Ask me your question."

He gave Nat's hand a gentle squeeze, as much to reassure Nat and wordlessly tell her he loved her as to reassure himself that she still loved him. He drew another slow breath, this time looking to Nat, knowing their questions were mostly about him again, letting her see the uncertainty in his eyes. He wondered if it was better not to know the answers to those questions.

By the time he met his wife's eyes, there was no hint of the distress she had felt over the past few minutes remaining. Just the familiar warmth of brown eyes he knew intimately as she smiled at him, leaning close to kiss his lips softly. "If you do not ask now, you will never know, milaya," she warned him softly. "I know you. You will never think to ask again."

He frowned a little at her response, as afraid of the answer as he was of the questions making themselves known in his heart. He drew comfort from her kiss and her continued presence in his life, knowing how lucky he was to have her. He nodded in agreement, knowing also that she was right. He turned back to the Lady, choosing to ask his question pointblank. There would be no beating around the bush this time.
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 06, 2014 1:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Aurelia found some things that seem to have belonged to Dylan. Things he never showed me. Things with the Mark of Avalon. I don't know what that means or if it means anything at all. I don't even know if he knew they were there. They were hidden away in a secret room." He withdrew a small badge in the shape of a shield and held it out to the Lady, but it was only one of several things they'd stumbled on in Dylan's secret room. Rhys paused a moment to hand the badge to the Lady and give her time to examine it, but he wasn't stupid. He had already come to the only conclusion that seemed logical. "Lady, was Dylan a Templar?"

The Lady took the shield from him, stroking her fingers over the fine metal with a fond smile of remembrance both for the man who had made it, and for the man who had borne it. "Yes, he was," she answered Rhys' question with the honesty she had always given him. "He was one of Lionel's first students, hand-picked from several hunters who showed promise. I met him only once, when he drank from the Grail and joined Avalon. He never returned here, working with us through intermediaries and the passing of messages."

Rhys seemed to absorb her explanation with quiet acceptance. It was as though the last piece of the puzzle was finally falling into place. It all made sense now. There was only one more question, and it was a question for which he thought he already knew the answer. "He knew who I was, didn't he? He didn't just take me in out of pity or because he was lonely. He knew who I was because he was told." The realization of all this made his understanding go one step further. "His family... They weren't killed at random, were they?"

"Yes, he knew," the Lady admitted quietly. "But I do not know if the attack on his family was calculated or random. We were not aware, in Avalon, until after the fact. Had we known he was under attack, we would have assisted him."

He nodded again, quietly absorbing that. So, she could not see everything. Not everything was known to her. Maybe she hadn't even seen or known that his parents would be killed. She certainly hadn't known about his sister until only recently. Her ability to see the future wasn't as simple as it might seem - the Well only showed her what it wanted or needed her to see, nothing more. "It makes sense," he mused quietly, mostly to himself. "Maybe if he'd lived, he would have told me someday."

"Perhaps he would," the Lady agreed quietly. "You were too young to know, and a little too wild to be trusted with the information."

Beside him, Nat giggled a little. She had seen a few glimpses of Rhys at certain times in his life, finding it only too easy to imagine that Avalon would have been wary of letting him know the truth about them too soon.

He smiled at last, encouraged by Nat's giggle, and he glanced to her with that smile on his face that made him look just a little more boyish than his years. "I was, wasn't I?" he said, not really expecting an answer. He had been wild in his youth, an untamed heart with a terrible case of wanderlust, but it had been Nat who had captured his heart and had tamed him. "He was a good man," Rhys said, feeling only fondness for the man who had raised him, the grief washed away by the tears. "He was good to me. He loved me like a father. I miss him."

"He was a good man," the Lady agreed, "and without him, we could have lost you forever. He will always be remembered on Avalon - though he never stayed more than a single night here, he raised our Champion to manhood." She smiled fondly at him. "And without our Champion, our Priestess might never have returned to us."

Or almost to manhood. Rhys had been sixteen when Dylan had died, give or take. He'd been mostly on his own after that, nearly but not quite a man. Rhys turned to Nat at the mention of her place in all this. At least, he'd had Dylan and David and Adam, who had been like family to him. She'd only had a brother and an abusive father. He'd been the lucky one by comparison. "Well," he started, giving Nat's hand another squeeze. "Without her, I'd be nothing. Without her, I'd probably be dead by now. She healed my heart and gave me something to live for again. And I love her more than anything." He brought her hand to his lips for a soft kiss, knowing words could never express the true depth of his feelings or his gratitude.

"As you have done for me, dusha moya," his wife answered him, leaning close to touch her forehead to his as he kissed her hand. "You gave me life, you opened my heart. And we have given one another the family we so longed for." Her soft smile said everything she could not put into words, keenly aware that without Rhys, she could well have been dead now herself.

"Oh, baby," he told her, a soft smile on his face, green eyes bright with the happiness that lit him up from the inside. "You ain't seen nothing yet. We haven't even gotten started," he teased her, hinting at the family that was yet to come. He was determined they'd have their happy ending. If anyone deserved it, it was them.

She giggled softly at his tease, brushing a kiss against the tip of his nose in answer, a faint blush touching her cheeks as she glanced up to find the Lady smiling at then indulgently. Before she could offer an apology, however, the Lady was already shaking her head. "You should never feel ashamed of such love," she told them both. "There are many here - myself among them - who feel blessed to witness it."

Rhys felt a sudden almost overwhelming urge to make love to his wife, his heart swelling with love and affection, desire warming him the inside out. It wasn't lust he was feeling so much as love and the desire to show her in the only way he knew how much he adored her. "And we are blessed to be a part of it," he replied, though his eyes were all for Natalya now, and he leaned in to press a kiss against her lips that was perhaps a little less chaste than he had planned.

The Lady chuckled as they kissed once more, averting her eyes discreetly for their comfort. "You have an appointment to keep with a sister who misses you when you are gone," she reminded them gently. "As I have, with old friends. Perhaps now is a good time to say our farewells."

And if they kept at it the way they were going, Zach and Rachel might get a firsthand lesson in how to make a baby. At the very least, they might have to watch Ana just a little bit longer. He reluctantly broke from Nat's lips to stand, pulling her to her feet beside him. "Thank you, Lady," he told her with the utmost respect and sincerity. "It's good to be home."
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 06, 2014 1:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Truly," Nat added sincerely. She had a feeling the Lady had seen something in her she did not want anyone to see, needing to assure the ancient beauty that it was nothing to be concerned over. "Avalon will always be home to us."

The Lady's smile deepened as she rose to her feet, taking their hands in hers for a long moment. "There will always be a place for you here," she promised them faithfully.

Whatever had passed between the two women, Rhys hadn't noticed it. He felt secure in Nat's love - secure enough that he had allowed her to witness a moment of weakness, knowing his love for the Lady of Avalon did not compare to his love for his Natalya. Whatever jealousy or insecurity he'd been feeling disappeared completely at that smile from the Lady. "I truly am the luckiest man in the world," he said, a far cry from the self-pity he'd been feeling only a short time ago.

Nat laughed softly, curling her hand into his as she leaned into him, her own sense of insecurity cast aside easily now that her Rhys had returned to her.

The Lady, too, chuckled, shaking her head at his exuberance. "One thing more, Rhys," she added in her gentle voice. "The cabin is under Avalon's protection now, as it always should have been. I do not believe it will be lived in for very much longer."

Rhys' smile faded, replaced by curiosity. He wasn't sure what she meant by that exactly. Was the cabin going to still be there when they returned? "I don't understand," he admitted, not quite putting two and two together on that one. The cabin had been his childhood home and his only remaining connection to Dylan. He wasn't sure he was quite ready to let it go yet, though he'd told Aurelia she was welcome to stay there as long as she wished.

"I do not believe that Aurelia and Ian will make it their home," Nat said quietly, having guessed where the Lady was going with this. "They have a new life to begin together, and so long as Ian is working at the university, it would be better for them to be closer to town."

The Lady nodded in agreement. "There are many memories at the cabin," she reminded Rhys gently. "Some of them belong to Aurelia, or to the demon that once resided within her. I do not think she would wish to bring a child into those memories."

"A child?" Rhys echoed, obviously surprised. The other couple hadn't even made it legal yet. They'd only been together a few months. Aurelia couldn't be pregnant already, could she? She had to be talking about the future.

"That is what happens when a man and woman choose to start a life together, is it not?" the Lady asked him with a sweet smile, not exactly giving away the greatest secret the other couple now held together.

"Well, yeah... Eventually... Sometimes..." Rhys stammered, looking to Nat with a very confused look on his face. Did she know what was going on? Because he didn't. Nevertheless, the point she had been trying to make was that the cabin would be under Avalon's protection now, but he still wasn't sure what that meant. "So, what does that mean, exactly? That the cabin is under Avalon's protection?"

"It will never again be used by evil," the Lady assured him. "I know it now ... now that the secret has been brought to your knowledge, I know the cabin once again. It is only a little effort to strengthen the wards that already surround the place and make it impervious to anyone who does not have good intentions."

"It will be our refuge," he said, turning to Nat again. While New York might be where they lived and Avalon was home, Dylan's cabin could be the one place where they could get away from it all and just be themselves, and alone with each other. And then, there was the house in Glastonbury, the one he'd thought he'd seen in his dreams. That made him frown a little thoughtfully, though he had a feeling they'd work it all out one way or another.

Nat smiled, gently teasing the pad of her thumb over his frowning lips. "We will work something out," she promised him. "Come now, milaya. Your sister may yet have won our daughter away from us if we do not hurry back to her."

"Ha!" he exclaimed, laughing, his worries and troubles dispelled with just a simple touch from the woman he loved. "They can make one of their own. Ana belongs to us!"

"Go," the Lady told them, smiling fondly at the pair she considered her closest family. "Your time on Avalon is limited this time. Make as much of it as you can."

He wasn't quite sure why it was limited, but he didn't want to argue about it. He had given the Lady enough grief for one day. "Thank you, Lady," he told her, always amazed at her kindness where they were concerned. "Will we see you again before we leave?" he asked, slipping an arm around his wife's shoulder, almost unconsciously, without much thought.

"If you wish it," he was promised, but already it was clear that lingering would serve no purpose. She had work of her own to do, before Ian and Aurelia came to her later.

Nat smiled, wrapping her own arm about Rhys' back to draw him away from the Well and the woman who guarded this precious place.

It always seemed that he could not say enough to tell the Lady how much they appreciated everything she had done for them, but he suspected she likely already knew. He knew when he was being dismissed, a small frown on his face as Nat led him away from the Lady's guardian. He had been without a mother for a long time, and though she did not look old enough to play such a role in his life, there was no one who came closer to it than her.

As the vines closed behind them, Nat paused, looking up at Rhys with gentle concern. "Are you well, milaya?" she asked him softly, one hand stroking against his cheek. "You grew very vulnerable for a short time in there."

He paused beside her, frowning a little as she touched his face. "Yeah, I'm okay," he assured her, feeling that flush of embarrassment again, though not as hotly as before. "I'm sorry. I was just being selfish. I know I'm not the only one who's lost people. I don't know what's the matter with me. It just sneaks up on me sometimes." It was the only explanation he could think of to explain his behavior.

"You are allowed to have such selfish moments, milaya," she assured him gently. "We all do. And I do not think you offended her. More that you reminded her of what she has lost over the long years of her life. That is a pain none of us can take from her. But it does not mean that we cannot help her to bear it."
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 06, 2014 1:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"I don't know how, Nat. I mean... I don't know how to help her or even to help you." He looked truly troubled by this, not realizing that he was already helping just by being himself and by loving them.

"Oh, my dearest heart ..." She sighed softly, cradling his face in her palms as she smiled up at him. "You do not need to know how. You simply do, in being the man you are, and in loving us the way that you do. Any pain is easier to bear when you know that you are loved, as I do. I am sure she knows it too."

He met her gaze, falling ever more in love with her with every moment, every day they were together, as though his love for her held no boundaries, no limits. "You healed me, Natalya," he told her, not for the first time, his eyes misty with tears again, needing her to know this simple truth.

"We healed each other," she corrected him in a gentle whisper, rising onto her toes to kiss him tenderly. "I do not know where I would be without you, Rhys. I do not ever want to know. I am happy with you, with our friends, our daughter. We have many years ahead of us."

He returned her kiss, deeply touched by her words, and smiled through his tears to agree with her in a way only he could. "Damn straight we have. I plan on growing old with you, Mrs. Bristol. If she's right about the future, we'll still be around when our grand-daughter becomes the next Lady of Avalon. If that's not worth hanging around for, I don't know what is."

"And of course ... we have two boys in our future," she added, her smile wide and hopeful, already looking forward to their growing family, though she would happily wait at least another year before falling pregnant again.

"As far as we know," he said, wondering if there were any children farther out that they had not yet foreseen, but he didn't want to get too far ahead of himself. "I suppose we should go rescue Zach and Rachel before they get stuck changing their first poopy diaper," he said with a smirk.

She snickered softly. "True, but I think they may already have encountered the business end of your daughter," she mused, tucking her hand into his once again as they began the walk out of the Temple together. "She was rather ripe for it when you handed her over to Zachariel to begin with."

"Was she?" he asked with a snicker. "I hadn't noticed," he added with a gleam in his eyes that hinted he just might be telling a small fib. "I love you, you know," he reiterated, needing her to know that as they made their way out of the Temple and back toward the tower house that had become their home away from home in Avalon.

"I know," she assured him, relaxing fully as they stepped from the Temple. It wasn't that she didn't like the Lady, but she felt small and insignificant in the woman's presence, no matter how warm and friendly their interaction might be. It was hard not to compare herself to the ancient beauty; harder still not to be jealous of the bond Elaine clearly shared with Rhys. "I happen to very much love you, too, you know."

"Oh, good! I was worried!" he teased, coming to a halt and turning to face her, that mischievous gleam in his eyes she knew so well. "What do you say we go sneak off somewhere and make a little whoopie while Zach and Rachel sort out diapers?" he asked, though he knew they couldn't stay away too long or Ana was liable to scream blue bloody murder for her mother come feeding time.

Nat turned, her amusement obvious in her expression as she considered his request, knowing full well what that look in his eyes meant. "Are you suggesting that we break into your sister's house while she is in ours and make use of her bed, milaya?"

"Maybe, but it doesn't have to be her bed. The stables would do fine. Or an empty cottage. A bush. Anywhere, really," he teased, waggling his brows at her. "Care for a roll in the hay, Lady Priestess?"

"Only if you promise to let me play with your sword, Lord Champion," she answered him impishly, only too easily caught up in his desires. He knew her far too well, and though they'd taken a necessary break after Ana's birth, they had fallen back into their loving routine as soon as they were able to. A roll in the hay was nothing compared with a first class airplane cabin.

"Oh, you can play with my sword anytime you'd like, milady. In fact, I plan on using you for a sheath," he teased her again, with a meaningful and rather bold expression on his face, reaching around to grab two handfuls of her derriere to pull her hard up against him.

She laughed as he drew her up to him, letting her arms wrap about his neck as she teased his lips with her own. "Then I rather think you should follow through on such plans, before you daughter decides she wishes to be fed again," she suggested with her own brand of mischief. "I have no doubt she would fight you for access to my bosom is she had to."

"She can borrow it a while, but that bosom belongs to me," he countered with a grin, scooping her up in his arms and tossing her over his shoulder, caveman style, to go in search of a few trees or something that could serve as shelter for the length of time it would take to shag his wife.

Nat's laughter faded into nothingness as they disappeared from view, leaving the Temple quiet and calm in their wake. One thing was absolutely certain - there could be no doubt at all that Ana Clare had definitely been born of love.

((And everything comes together! Just a couple of loose ends to tie up, and we can manage that easily enough! Loads of fun!))
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