"Whenever I've had dinner with a man, I've always been playing a role," Perido says, breaking the long silence she and Geoffrey have shared as they ate the trip tip steak he prepared, "I've always had a script prepared, and arsenal of small talk I could deploy to keep him interested. But, being just myself, I'm finding I'm not very good at this, after all." Her lips curl into the slightest smile, self-depreciating, as she finishes.
"We don't have to make small talk, Peridot," Geoffrey says, "Says what's on your mind, or don't talk at all if you prefer."
"I was wondering..." she says, hesitates, then continues, "I studied your personal history. You were a media darling once, a playboy, dating models and actresses, always in the spotlight. And then you just stopped suddenly. No more articles about you and your lifestyle, no more charity balls or public appearances. I think I know you well enough to guess that that billionaire playboy was an act, and I was wondering if you just got tired of maintaining that pretense, or if your current reclusive lifestyle is also just another cover."
"You prepared for this like you would any assignment," Geoffrey observes.
"The information I got was a matte of public record. I looked it up when I was firt assigned to you," Peridot explains.
"And you've been wondering about me all this time?"
Peridot nods. "I think about you a lot, Geoffrey."
"Well, let me tell you some things that aren't in the public record," Geoffrey offers, "You're one of the very few people that know I'm a clone. The man the world thought was my father, the Geoffrey Landgraab that came before me, wanted to end the cloning projects. He intended to father his children naturally and continue the family dynasty the old-fashioned way. But then he discovered he couldn't. He was supposedly a physically perfect replication of Harris Landgraab, but he was also sterile. So, when he wanted a son, my father had to make do with a clone. I was trained and educated the way my father was, the way you were, to be physically and mentally superior. And when I came of age, I had nothing to do. My father ruled MorcuCorp, Landgraab Industries, everything, and had no use for me. I think it disturbed him, just having me around, a reminder of his failure. So I did what most young men in their early twenties with enormous wealth and nothing to occupy him would do. I don't know that I would call it all a pretense, Peridot. I wasn't putting that much thought or effort into it. There was no 'real me' to provide cover for."
"So what happened to change all that?" Peridot asks.
"I may share that story with you someday," Geoffrey says, "But right now, I think I'd like to dance with you."
She's an excellent dancer, of course, trained in all the social graces exactly as he had been. Her body moves with his, effortlessly. Her mind is busy with something else, he can tell by the glimmer in her eye as she looks out over the water. "Go ahead," he encourages, "Ask me."
Peridot takes a deep breath, "Are you immortal?"
"Not exactly," he answers, "I won't age, and I won't die, as long as certain conditions are met."
"That sounds a lot like immortality," she says.
"Maybe," he says, "But the price for it has been rather steep."
"You won't tell me what these conditions you have to meet are," she says, not a question.
"No," he says, then stops the dance to pull her in for a kiss, the first he's had in a very, very long time, so he savors it, the softness of her lips, the sweetness of her tongue. Then, he pulls back sharply, gasping, fearing what falling in love with her would mean.
"You know what I was created for, what I was trained for," Peridot says gently, her fingers brushing lightly over his face, "I understand why you'd be hesitant to trust me. But you've already given me everything a gold digger would come after you for, more wealth than I can ever spend, the finest of everything in my reach. And all I ever really wanted is you, Geoffrey. I'd give up everything else, jut to love you, and be loved by you."
She says the words easily enough, maybe because she knows no real sacrifice will be asked of her, Geoffrey thinks. But she feels too good in his arms to let her go, even if he has to lose everything just to love her.
Geoffrey did a lot of very foolish things in his youth, and has suffered under the fairy's curse for more than a lifetime. But if it hadn't been for that fateful night and curse of an spurned fairy, he wouldn't be alive now to experience the pleasure of Peridot giving herself to him, and to really understand what it means to fall in love.
"I want you with me every night," he says decisively, before they fall asleep, "We'll have your things brought here tomorrow."
"I don't have things," she murmurs sleepily, "Everything important to me is right here."'
Shadow didn't want to worry his mother, so he kept the dire warning out of his explanation when he told Aouregan bout seeing her mother's spirit in a dream.
"She mentioned something about my grandfather, your father," he finishes, "Can you tell me anything about him?"
"My father was a farmer," Aouregan tells him, smiling fondly as she remembers her childhood, "He was truly the best of men. Kind and understanding. And he was so devoted to my mother."
"Your mother's spirit said something about a loss he'd experienced?" Shadow prods, unable to reconcile the spirit's warning of a raging, unsettled spirit with his mother's description of her father.
"He was married once before he married my mother. His first wife died of the sweating sickness. It devastated a lot of families in my day."
Iola sat in uncomfortable silence until she could take it no more, and stood to gaze out the window, brooding, while Shadow continued with his questions, dancing around the issue, trying to get answers that she knows he won't find from his mother.
"It just feels wrong," Shadow confides to his wife while they tend their sons in the nursery, "I know the spirit meant my mother's father, but I can't reconcile my mother's story with what my grandmother said about him. The loss of his first wife...that just doesn't seem enough."
"Shadow, we need to talk," Iola sighs.
Their bed is the best place for sharing confidences. "What is it?" Shadow asks, laying his had across her lap.
"When I was very young, my father explained to me how devastating the kind of knowledge we have of the pst could be to people, and he taught me to keep private details of people's histories to myself," she begins.
"You've been keeping something from me," Shadow surmises, "To protect me."
Iola nods, "My father made me swear to never tell any of you. And I didn't think it mattered, it was so long ago. But now...this vision you had, and Fergus..." her voice trembles and Shadow squeezes her hand comfortingly.
"Tell me," he encourages her.
"The man your mother believes is her father, isn't," she says, getting it out in a rush of words. "Her real father was a dangerous man, a warrior."
"The kind of man who would take his rage with him beyond the grave," Shadow says.
Iola's eyes tear up as she nods, "I'm afraid for our son," she whispers, "Your grandfather...he would stop at nothing to get what he wanted, or to get revenge."
"We can protect Fergus," Shadow says with a confidence he wishes he felt, as frightened as his wife but wanting to appear strong, for her sake.
Guests for Jace's birthday party start arriving before his school bus drops him off. Cassidy is among the first; she and Jesse have just had a baby girl they named Laurie, shortly after Shadow and Iola brought Fergus home.
Claire never minded the difference in age between herself and Elliot, but now that he's gray and elderly, fears of his mortality have begun to worry her.
"Our son is becoming a teen," Jack says, "I can't believe how much time has passed."
"When we were his age..."Delaney starts but Jack raises a hand to stop her.
"I don't even want to think about that," he laughs, "Jace is a good kid. Smart. He won't be like either of us."
Life has been easier for his brother, Jack thinks, watching Jesse dance with Cassidy. He got his dream girl, his dream job, and started his family at an appropriate age. Jack might be jealous, if he weren't aware of how hard Jesse worked for what he has, while Jack just let life happen to him, and took whatever fell in his lap. He doesn't want what Jesse has, exactly, but he knows he wants something more than what he's got, and Jack decides it's time for him to put in that effort,and make life happen for him.
All the family and guests gather around as Jace blows out the candles on his cake.
Jace becomes a teen.
Cassidy spends some time getting to know her young half-sister, Corrine. Kyle is once again absent from the family party because of his game, but his pregnant wife Wren is on maternity leave, and so came without him.
Jace enjoys sometime with his grandfather over cake, but his attention keeps straying out to the living room, where his one birthday wish is maybe, possibly starting to come true.
His parents are making steps toward reuniting.
Farrell of course couldn't let the day go by without a gift for his great-nephew and biggest fan. Jace is thrilled to receive one of Farrell's own inventions, a Localized Static Tester.
As the party winds down and guests start trickling out, Jack takes Delaney upstairs to talk in private. "The job hasn't been the same without you," he tells her, "To be honest, it was never what I wanted to do. I got into business with Cole because I thought it was the only way I could provide for you and Jace. It's time for me to get out, and find something better."
Delaney nods, "Cole will understand. Luckily, he's not your average crime boss. I haven't quite figured out why he stays in the business, but it's obviously a secondary concern for him. He'll let you go."
"I'll have to be in the city," Jack says, "No one here would give me a chance. Are you- are we- going to be okay with this? I'll come home every weekend..."
"We both have things we need to do for ourselves, Jack," Delaney says, "Things that will make us stronger. Wherever you have to go, whatever you have to do, I'll always have your back, and I'll always, always be your girl."
"I miss you, Laney," he says, his voice husky with desire. She wraps her arms around his neck and presses close to him, kissing him.
"I miss you, Jack," she whispers, her lips still close to his.
He'd meant to wait for this, to make a clean break with Heather before starting up with Laney again, but tonight his need comes out ahead of his good intentions, and he spends the night making love to the only girl he ever wanted, the only girl he will ever truly love.
He falls asleep holding her tight, dreaming only of her.
And there was much rejoicing at the reunion of Jack and Delaney.