"I just wanted to apologize. You know, for coming after you so suddenly," Heather says, filling an awkward silence in the middle of their date.
"It's okay, Heather," Jack assures her, "I think we should take things slow, but it is nice to feel wanted."
That's some deep insecurity there, she notes, preparing to take advantage of it, "I know what you mean," she says with a shy smile, "I guess that's why I was so forward with you. My last relationship, well, he cheated on me, and I came out of it feeling so worthless."
"You shouldn't feel that way; you're a great girl. He was the one with the problem."
With that little bonding moment established, Heather moves on to more fruitful subjects. "It must be so hard for you, living apart from your son."
"His birthday is coming up. He'll be a teenager. I'm so not ready," Jack laughs, "It has been hard for me, to not be with him all the time. But, it's not that bad really. And he's with Delaney's family, so at least I know he's growing up with a lot of love."
"But doesn't her father being there make it hard for you to see him? You said he tried to separate you," Heather leads.
"Yeah, her dad's a real hard ass about me, but he moved out of the family house. Delaney lives with her uncle Farrell. Her cousin Shadow lives there too."
"You mentioned him before, you said he was a shaman? I'd love to meet him sometime. In my line of work, it's always so inspiring to meet people with true mystical abilities."
"Yeah, that stuff just goes right over my head," Jack laughs, "But you'd probably fit right in with the Brannons. When they moved into town, they took over the Hawksquill's place as 'that weird family'. And of course Shadow married a Hawksquill, because I guess weird attracts more weird. They're great people though, I don't want you to think I'm making fun of them."
"Oh, I know you aren't," Heather says, "Your town sounds really interesting and quaint. I wish I came from a place like that. This," she gestures around her, "Is very pretty, but it lacks soul, you know?"
"I finally moved out of my brother's condo," Heather says as they leave the pizzeria together, "I'd love for you to come see it." She blushes and smiles, and continues, "I promise to behave.
"It's so nice to finally get my stuff out of storage," Heather enthuses as she sits next to him. It actually took her two whole days of combing through thrift stores to throw together a trailer full of stuff for Heather, and Peridot looks forward to the day when she can go back to her clean, tidy condo.
True to her word, she makes no moves on him, and he keeps to his corner of her love seat while they chat. It's a difficult dance, trying to get him to talk about the Brannons, especially Shadow and his twin sister, without appearing too obvious in her intent. In the end, she doesn't get much more out him tonight than what she got over dinner. More than anything, he talks about Delaney, which would have killed this date hours ago if she actually had any romantic interest in him. Since it's her job to keep him talking about the Brannons as much as possible, she just smiles and encourages him.
Jack kisses her goodnight, because it's just what you do after a date. But something is missing from the whole experience. Heather is pretty, and nice, and she obviously likes him, but he isn't feeling that spark with her that he had with Delaney.
"Is something wrong?" Shadow asks, coming onto his wife brooding their bedroom.
"Ever since you saved Jack, my visions have gotten...muddy, obscure. I can still look forward and catch glimpses of the near future, but all the big visions I've had throughout my life, it's like they've been invalidated."
"Are you saying Jack was fated to die and I've interfered with the balance?" Shadow asks.
"There's no such thing as fate, Shadow, we have the free will to forge our own destinies. We may choose to left or right, and each step we take in that direction sets us up for the next step, and a path emerges. The visions I see are points along the paths of probability, but they only come to pass if we stay on one path. If we turn, we create new paths. I'd seen futures with Jack still alive. But, all those futures happened in timelines where he didn't go into that bar that day, timelines where he never learned about Delaney's infidelity. In every timeline where he did, he died; that was the path he was on. You took him off that path, but there was no returning him to point where he didn't know about Delaney's cheating. The path is changed now, our future is totally new again. I feel like I've been blinded, Shadow. I have no idea what's going to happen anymore."
"That's how most of live everyday, my love," Shadow says with a light laugh, embracing her, "Whatever does happen, you can be sure we're going to be in it together. We don't need visions of the future to know that."
Dropping by her place so early in the morning, especially when she's undercover, breaks protocol in so many ways, and Geoffrey knows his actions defy all logic and even endanger this whole operation, should he find that Horner spent the night here with her. None of that stops him from knocking at her door before the sun has completely risen over the horizon.
"Is he with you?" he asks, keeping his voice low when she opens the door for him.
"No, he was only here for an hour or so last night," Peridot says, stepping aside to let him into her trailer. She's just woken up, obviously, her hair tousled around her face, still dressed in her nightshirt, which looks like it could have from his own closet. It did, in fact, Geoffrey realizes, remembering the crates of clothes he'd given her to catalog for tax purposes before donating them to a local charity. He smiles, just a little, at the thought of her taking one of his shirts to wear to bed. "We're still in the talking phase; Horner has a lot of baggage to work through over the Brannon girl before he can trust anyone else again," she continues.
"As well he should," Geoffrey responds, "But you've got him talking, at least." That joy he just felt, that gushing swell of relief that came over him when he learned of what could be considered a set back in the operation, that she hasn't become intimate with her target, that's a big, glowing sign that he needs to back away from this. But it's been so long since he's felt anything like this, since the sight of a girl's bare legs could hold his attention, distract him so thoroughly, it's a struggle to not simply indulge it.
"Well, he talks a lot," Peridot says, "Most of it about his son and the Brannon girl. Luckily, they live with our principal targets, so I can tease bits of information about them out while asking him about his boy."
"And what have you learned?"
"I was just getting some coffee. Care to join me out on the porch?"
"I don't know if this important, but Horner mentioned that Shadow Brannon married a girl from the Hawksquill family. He said that before the Brannons came to town, the Hawksquills were 'that weird family'. It could just mean they're eccentric, but..."
"No, you were right to bring that to my attention," Geoffrey, genuinely surprised, "Hawksquill...it's been a long time since I've heard that name. Now I know why, they've been hiding themselves behind a dragon ward. And I'm sure they were instrumental in helping set the Brannons up in their new location."
"Are they a threat?" Peridot asks.
"Hawksquills tend to keep to an observational role, they rarely interfere. But anyone with the kind of knowledge they carry in their genes is a potential threat. And, a potential asset, if we can acquire that genetic legacy."
"The male Brannon twin already has one son with his wife," Peridot informs him.
"We may be refocusing his operation down to the next generation," Geoffrey says, "Strange how letting them breed in wild may produce greater results than anything we could have done with them in our facilities."
Peridot stands to lean against the porch railing, getting what warmth she can from the sun as it makes its morning ascent. Geoffrey follows, standing close to her, radiating his own kind of heat, the sun that she revolves around
"How should I proceed with Horner, then?" she asks.
"He's a valuable source of information, so keep on him," Geoffrey answers, "Keep him talking, but don't push yourself into anything more intimate with him. It's not necessary."
"I do what the job requires," Peridot chooses her words carefully, feeling the shift in tone, knowing she needs to step delicately between the professional and the personal.
"This operation has been in the works since before you were created, Peridot, and it's experienced several major setbacks under my watch. Yet, it continues to proceed, almost as though it has a will of its own. You are a more valuable asset to me than anything you can get from Horner. Keep that in mind when you deal with him, don't give him more in payment for his information than what its worth."
Peridot knows she's closer to him than anyone in the company, she's been at his side since she completed her training. She knows how to read between his words and catch the meanings he doesn't always express. "Horner's going back home today, he told me he won't be in the city for a few days, at least. So, I'll be back in my condo for the time being, if you want to drop by for another early meeting." She smiles, catching his eye as she drops that last hint.
"If you have an evening free, I'd like to have you to the mansion for dinner," he offers.
"It would be my pleasure, Mr. Landgraab."
"Please, call me Geoffrey. I think we're past formalities by now."
Ryan has become a toddler. He's the image of his mother, with Ariel Hawksquill's brown eyes.
Too young to understand or harness his abilities as a witch, Ryan is nonetheless innately drawn to the familiar cat in the house.
"How's things with the new guy working out?" Delaney asks. She didn't invite Jack to drop by early before Jace gets out of school to talk about work, but being alone with him for the first time since he walked out on her has turned out to be more uncomfortable than she expected, and saying what she has to say more difficult to get out.
"He's all right. We'll be doing our first big job next week; Cole will be heading it up personally, since he took you out of the picture. Did he do that because of us?"
"No, he just has me on other things," Delaney answers vaguely, regretting bringing up work since she can't really tell Jack everything Cole has told her. "Jack, I just wanted to say, you know, that I'm really sorry about what I did, that I hurt you. You deserved a lot better. And I know this is coming too late, but I'm really trying to get control of my impulses. Cole has got me into martial arts training and meditation, and it's really been helping."
"I started up a meditation class in the city while I was there," Jack says, filing the bulk of what she said under stuff he can't think about right now, "But I just can't get the part where you have to empty your head."
"That's the hardest part for me, too," Delaney agrees, "How is it going for you?"
"I dropped the class and started dating the teacher," he tells her.
Delaney drops her gaze to floor and stands in stunned silence, "I guess I should have expected that," she finally says, "I mean, who wouldn't want to snap you up? And I'm happy for you...I want you to be happy, Jack. Even if..." her voice gets caught on a sob, and she stops talking mid -sentence.
"Even if what, Laney?" Jack prompts her.
"Even if I have to lose you," she finishes. "You've moved on, I should let you go," she says, turning away to go have a good cry in her bathroom.
Jack grabs her and pulls her back into his arms, letting her cry onto his chest instead, "Baby, I haven't moved on anywhere," he admits, "I miss you like crazy, and I'd give anything to make this work."
"Me, too, Jack," Delaney says, hr voice whispery quiet.
"Dad? Are you here?" Jace voice calls up from downstairs, "Mom? Dad's bike is in the driveway! Is he here?"
"I'm up here," Jack calls out, letting Delaney out of his arms, "We'll talk, okay?" he says gently before going out to greet his son.
Tomorrow is a school holiday, but Jace insists on getting his homework done that afternoon anyway, and proudly shows of his skill at long division to his father.
When his assignments are done, father and son go out in the yard to play catch before dinner.
While Jack and Jace play, Delaney focuses all her anger into her hands, which she uses to snap oak boards in half. She's like to do the same to whatever girl has been putting her hands on her man. She knows how hypocritical that is, but it doesn't stop the jealousy.
Cassidy is expecting her first baby shortly after Iola and Shadow's second is due.
The family get together is supposed to be for their weekly book club, but with all the tummy rubbing...
and attempts to communicate with the babies, not much talking about books get done.
Jesse is as excited about his latest promotion at the paper as he is about being an expectant father.
All the standing around and chatting took it's toll, and Iola comes back home with a back ache which her husband does his best to massage away.
"Feel better?" Shadow asks as she turns to face him.
"I feel as big as a house," she laughs, "I swear I didn't get this big with Ryan."
"It won't be long now," Shadow says, rubbing her tummy, wishing he coulddo more to make her feel comfortable.
"I got this for you," Shadow says, giving her a pink diamond he'd had cut into a heart shape for her, "I absolutely adore you."
"I couldn't ask for a better husband," Iola sighs contentedly, curling into bed with Shadow.
Jack meets up with Jace and Delaney bright and early at the Spooky Day Festival.
"Let's get a photo done before Jace gets chocolate all over his face," Delaney suggests.
"I never get chocolate on my face," Jace protests, "You're the messy one, Mom."
"Well, let's get a picture before I get chocolate all over my face, then," Delaney laughs.
With their relationship tenuous at best, Jack and Delaney stand in an awkward pose, arms around each other in a way that isn't quite romantic, their faces stuck in an uncomfortable smile.
"Can I go into the haunted house now?" Jace asked, nearly bouncing in his excitement.
"Go on, " Jack says, "Don't be scared of the ghosts."
"The picture came out nice," Delaney says once Jace has disappeared into the haunted house, "We actually look like a family."
"We are a family, Laney," Jack says. "We're a little messed up, maybe, but we have Jace, and we have our history. We can't get away from that."
"Do you want to get away?" Delaney asks. "I mean, from me. I know you'd never abandon Jace."
"I thought I did. I tried. But you have something no other girl has."
Jace comes out of the haunted house wanting to shoot hoops. "Are you coming trick or treating with me and Mom tonight?" he wants to know.
"I'll be there," Jack promises.
This is as much fun now as it was when she was a teen.
Shadow and Iola bring Ryan out for his first Spooky Day festival.
The autumnal equinox, the day that the spirit realm is closest to their own, would be the perfect time for Shadow to make a spirit journey, but with Iola due to give birth any time today, he's keeping his mind clear and firmly rooted in this realm. With the baby pressing so hard on her bladder, Iola ends up spending more time in the ladies room than out enjoying the festival, leaving Shadow to supervise Ryan on the spring rider.
"Rain," Ryan announces as it starts pouring, holding his arms up to taken off the ride and back to the warm safety of home.
After his mother gets him painted and costumed for trick-or-treating, Jace plays a little rock-paper-scissor with his dad before they head out. Jack has learned not to throw rock every time, but Jace still manages to beat him handily.
Their first stop for the night is Elliot's house.
"Is your Dad going to be okay having me on his porch?" Jack asks under his breath.
"We're taking our son trick-or-treating. He better not have problem with it," Delaney answers, making Jack smile. At the very least, she's come a long way from her Daddy's little girl phase.
Elliot is an old man with a young wife and two twin toddlers to raise; he doesn't have the time or energy to be concerned about his adult daughter's love life anymore, and is just happy to get to see his grandson in his costume.
While Elliot chats with Jace, Jack and Delaney reminisce about the Spooky Day they celebrated as teens. "That burglar costume you had on was so hot," Jack remembers, "Do you still have that?"
"Probably, I never throw anything out. But I doubt I'd fit in it. And, dressing up like a burglar, I don't know, it's kind of less sexy now than it was back then."
Back at home, Iola goes into labor.
Their second son, Fergus, is born late in the evening of Spooky Day, and fittingly enough, he's inherited his father's gift of magic.
"I had a lot of fun today," Jack says after Jace is put to bed for the night. "That's such a first date thing to say, isn't it?"
"Well, one step at a time," Delaney says with a wry smile, "Do you have the time for some stargazing?"
"What about this girl you're seeing?" Delaney asks hesitantly. Maybe she should have brought it up sooner, before she started to let herself hope.
"It was just a couple of dates. It's not really serious," Jack says, "She knows about you. I talk about you, too much, probably, so I doubt she'll be surprised that I want to work things out with you. But, to be fair, I should talk to her before we get ourselves together again."
"I know I shouldn't ask this, it's none of my business..."
"I haven't slept with her," Jack answers her before she gets out the question.
Delaney sighs in relief, "Just thinking about it was making me boil over," she says. She waits for a remark, but it never comes. "Jack," she continues with a quiet voice, "I don't know if you can forgive me, but I am sorry."
"I can forgive you, Laney. I'm a little afraid to trust you, but I want to give us a chance."
Shadow gets up around midnight to feed Ryan and get him back into his crib, not regretting for one second his decision not to take a spirit journey tonight. There will be other equinoxes, but he'll only have one life to spend with his family.
Shadow turns to fins a woman standing the nursery, both familiar and strange at the same time.
"Do I know you?" he asks.
"I'm your grandmother, child," she says, "It's the equinox of autumn, and the spirits of the dead visit the realm of the living."
"You're a spirit, then?" Shadow asks.
"Childbirth is a liminal moment, as the child crosses from the spirit realm to the living world. For children born on the equinox, it's an especially dangerous moment, as the veil that separates the worlds is at it thinnest. Be wary, Shadow, for not all your ancestors have your best interests at heart, and your grandfather's spirit still burns with the rage of his loss."
"My grandfather? The rage of what loss?"
Shadow wakes with a sudden jolt before his question can be answered. The dream was so real, he's disoriented at first to find himself in his own bed, Iola sleeping beside him, the house quiet. He glances over at his clock; it's not quite midnight, a few minutes earlier than it was in his dream. With considerable trepidation, he creeps into the nursery to check on his sons, both sleeping soundly with no spirits in sight.