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Vorondur and Legolas returned to Edhellond and found Finrod, Elrond and Glorfindel at the breakfast nook having toast and coffee. Glorfindel was surprised to see Vorondur there so early in the morning.
“To what do we owe the pleasure?” Glorfindel asked. “And help yourself to coffee if you want.”
“Thanks, but I’ll pass,” Vorondur said, leaning against a counter while Legolas poured himself a mug. “I’ll get right to the point. I am not sanguine about letting you go off to Fairbanks next week, given what we’ve learned about your condition, but Finrod does not wish to disappoint Finda and his gwedyr and especially not Nell.”
“Lord no!” Glorfindel said fervently. “We do not want to disappoint Nell.”
The others chuckled and Vorondur continued. “Yes, well, given that, I think it only prudent that someone go with you just to… help out, let us say.”
Glorfindel’s eyes narrowed as he took in Vorondur’s meaning, glancing at Legolas and coming to certain conclusions. “You mean, babysit me.”
“If you want to see it that way,” Vorondur said, not denying the truth of Glorfindel’s words. “I would prefer thinking of it as safeguarding those with whom you will interact. You’re on a knife’s edge emotionally, Loren. We saw that last night. I think it’s symptomatic of your condition. That being said, I think it’s only wise to have someone along whom you trust to help you if you need it to keep an even keel, emotionally speaking. And let’s face it. With Finda and his gang and Nell on top of it, do you seriously think you and Finrod can handle them all by yourselves?”
Finrod actually snorted at that idea and Legolas grinned. Glorfindel’s demeanor eased somewhat and his expression lightened. “Point taken.” He looked at Legolas. “So you’ve been elected?”
“I volunteered,” Legolas corrected. “Anyone else who might be suitable has left or will be gone.”
“What did Michaelson say about it?”
“He wasn’t happy but he understands,” Vorondur replied. “In fact, he’s planning on giving Liam a midterm on everything he’s learned about police procedure when we get back.”
“Oho! Crack those books, boy!” Glorfindel said with a laugh.
“I do not need to crack anything, Loren,” Legolas said with a straight face. “It’s all up here.” And he pointed to his temple.
“Well, I’m not happy about all this but I get the feeling that I’m out-voted.”
“I know,” Vorondur said, “and we appreciate where you’re coming from, but look at it this way: when you’re camping at Denali, Liam can take over and let you and Finrod relax. Who better to teach the youngsters woodlore than a Wood Elf, hmm?”
“He’s right, gwador,” Finrod interjected. “You and I will have our hands full herding them around Fairbanks. I look forward to sitting beside a campfire and doing nothing more strenuous than lifting a mug of coffee to my lips. We will let Thranduilion have the fun of… ah… herding cats while you and I relax.”
Glorfindel actually burst out laughing, which was a heartening sound for them all. “Herding cats is just about what it’s going to be like. Okay, Liam, you’re with us. I’ll call the B&B and tell them we’re one more.”
“Well, now that that’s settled, I’d best be going,” Vorondur said with a sigh, “I have a couple of appointments, including Alex this afternoon.”
“You don’t sound too happy about that,” Finrod said shrewdly.
“This will be our last session until he returns from Fairbanks after the summer,” Vorondur replied. “I still think it’s a good idea for him to go, but at the same time, I worry about him. We still haven’t figured out what’s going on with him.”
“Perhaps some time away from here will help, though,” Finrod offered.
“That is my hope as well,” Vorondur admitted. “Okay, I’m out of here.” He wished them all a good day and Glorfindel offered to see him to the door and the two left.
Daeron turned to Elrond. “Well, now that that’s settled, if you’re not doing anything at the moment, Elrond, perhaps you can help me in the garden. It’s been neglected somewhat with all that’s been happening lately and I want to spruce it up for the picnic.”
“I would be happy to help,” Elrond said, “and I know Celebrían would as well.”
“We need to come up with a Mortal name for her,” Daeron said.
“Perhaps we can discuss it together while we work in the garden,” Elrond suggested.
Daeron nodded. “I’ll meet you outside, then.” And he made his way out the back door while Elrond went in search of his wife.
From the sealed files of Dr. Ron Brightman:
Name: Alex Grant (Artemus Gordon Meriwether)
Personality Profile: ISTP: Vigilante
Charm: ‘I don’t want to hurt you, but it’s still on my list of things to do’
Planning ability: ‘Plan? What plan? You want a plan? Here it is: stay alive!’
Survival preparations: Needs work
Weapons skill: Utterly lethal: ‘I have a salt shaker and I know how to use it’
Warm fuzzies: Like ice, but colder
Leadership skills: “What part of ‘alone’ do you not understand?”
Motto: ‘I work alone’
Analysis: Alex Grant is a spy and an assassin. Not an intelligence officer. Not an agent. A spy and an assassin, pure and simple. There is no getting around that. That makes him dangerous because while he is definitely on the side of Light, he can very easily slip to the Dark Side, to borrow a popular phrase, without a qualm, and indeed has done so on more than one occasion. He has played so many roles down the years, though, and all of them psychopathic to one degree or another, that it is not always easy to discern who the real Alex Grant is. Even when he is Artemus Gordon Meriwether, that is not always apparent. That being said, Alex is a good man to have on your side when everything goes south in a hurry, assuming of course, you can actually keep him by your side….
Alex has made great strides in integrating and accepting his past, though I fear it will be an on-going process that will take years. His most recent NDE and subsequent confession has seemingly gone a long way in helping him come to terms with the seamier side of his life in the Agency, but the recent incident where Derek was injured, I fear, has caused a setback. And then there is his relationship with Felicity Coh…
Vorondur looked up at the knock on his office door to see Alex Grant smiling at him, and glanced at the clock to see it was just going on four. “Right on time. Come in, come in,” he said as he saved the file he was working on and closed it. “So, all set for your big adventure as a college student?”
Alex snorted good-naturedly as he sat in one of the overstuffed chairs in the corner of the office. Vorondur moved to join him. Over the months since he had first started seeing Alex, they had progressed from sitting across from one another at his desk in a definite doctor-patient relationship to sitting comfortably and casually in the overstuffed chairs as two friends conversing.
“Yeah, I’m all packed, or nearly so,” Alex allowed. “Derek is too. We’re subleasing the apartment and he’s going to stay down at the resort. It’ll be easier for him and less lonely.”
“How does he feel about you going to Fairbanks?”
“Oh, he’s happy enough, I suppose,” Alex answered with a diffident shrug. “And it’s just for the summer and I’ll be up when I can. There’s a short break between sessions around the Fourth, so I plan to come up for that.”
“Good. Good.” Vorondur nodded approvingly and then waited for Alex to speak about whatever subject he wished. With Alex, unlike many of his other patients, Vorondur found it was better to let the Mortal pick the topic of conversation in their sessions rather than him forcing a topic on the young Man. Alex was a very complex person with too many hidden selves and Vorondur had been painstakingly teasing them all out into the open. He doubted he would ever discover them all, but hoped to provide Alex with the means to achieve as much psychological wholeness as was possible.
For a couple of minutes, silence hung between them. Alex, to Vorondur’s eyes, seemed restless, his gaze never landing on anything for long. Finally, still not looking at him, he said, “Felicity left yesterday.”
Ah! Vorondur nodded sympathetically. “I understand she’s joining her parents at some archeological dig in Israel.”
Alex nodded, grimacing slightly. “Yeah, so she says.”
“You don’t believe her,” and he made it more a statement than a question.
The Mortal shrugged. “Oh, I believe her about that, but…” He paused as if gathering his thoughts. From long training, Vorondur sat patiently, letting Alex call all the shots. After a moment, the young Man looked up, his expression troubled. “Do you think I’m evil, Ron?”
“We’ve discussed this before, remember?” Vorondur said, giving nothing away in expression or in tone as to his own thoughts. “You have done things which others might label evil, but that isn’t the same thing as saying that you yourself are evil, not in the way that I think you mean the word. Is there a reason why you ask the question now?”
“It’s just that… I don’t know. Something’s cooled between Felicity and me and I don’t know if it’s my fault or what.”
Vorondur allowed a small smile. “Son, in my experience, it’s always your fault even when it’s not.”
Alex gave him a rueful nod in acknowledgement of that bit of folk truism that every male learned very early on in any relationship with the fairer sex. “Yeah, I figured, but… I don’t know… I think it’s something more. She looks at me and there’s something in her eyes… not fear but… wariness.” He sighed, running his hands through his hair, always a sign of frustration with him. “I thought we were, you know, an item, or getting there. I thought, after I didn’t end up rescuing her,” —Vorondur couldn’t help lifting an eyebrow at that particular turn of phrase— “she and I were, you know, a… a….”
“A couple?” Vorondur supplied. “It’s not a dirty word, Alex.”
“I know that,” Alex protested. “It’s just that this is the first time since college that I’ve even been serious about a woman. It feels strange, is all. For all my adult life, my relationships with women have been job-related, either as coworkers or targets. And with the targets I was usually seducing them into revealing certain information that would put away their compatriots. Those always ended badly for us both.”
He gave Vorondur a sour look and the Elf could just imagine just how badly some of those liaisons had ended.
“You think Felicity looks at you, knowing what she does about you, and sees what?”
“Someone she doesn’t want near her,” Alex replied and there was a little-boy-hurt tone to his words and his expression was one of defeat.
“So do you think her going to Israel is a kind of running away from you?”
“Maybe. I don’t know.”
“How long has she been planning this trip?”
“Uh… She said she does this every summer, meeting up with her parents wherever they happen to be digging. She visits with them for a bit and then moves on to Europe, Germany and England, where she visits with friends before returning to Wiseman for the Fall term.”
“So this isn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision on her part to get away from you,” Vorondur offered.
“No, not really. It just feels like it.”
“How would you feel about it if she were spending the summer here teaching and you were still going to Fairbanks?”
“At least I’d know where she really was,” Alex snapped with a little more heat than Vorondur was expecting.
The Elf narrowed his eyes as he watched the Mortal sitting across from him fuming. “Deep breaths, son,” he said quietly and Alex gave him a startled look and nodded once, taking a deep centering breath and letting it out slowly, doing it a couple more times before he seemed to deflate and his posture became less tense. For a moment, Vorondur sat pondering what Alex had told him, deciding on and discarding a number of ways to approach the problem. Finally, he gave the Man a rueful smile.
“It sounds to me as if you’ve got it bad, to put it in a rather crude vernacular.”
“Alex, when was the last time you ever cared for a woman and felt possessive of her enough that you didn’t want her out of your sight or reach?”
“I’m not like that! What do you take me for, a Neanderthal?”
“Not at all. I take you for a typical male of your species where a potential mate is concerned.”
“Mate? Who’s talking about mates? I’m talking about Felicity.”
“And you don’t see her as your future bride?”
Alex just goggled at him. “Bride? Are you trying to marry me off now?”
Vorondur laughed at the Mortal’s expression and it was such a merry sound that it was infectious and Alex couldn’t help laughing himself.
“That’s better,” Vorondur said when he’d calmed down. “Alex, how many dates have you and Felicity been on since your NDE?”
“Um… well, I guess three or four,” he answered with a shrug.
Vorondur nodded. “Do you think she would have gone out with you if she thought you were evil?”
“Well, no, I guess not, though I know some women sort of like being around men with a bad-boy image. You know, the ones who think they’re the one who’s going to reform the poor bastard.”
“Yes, I’m perfectly aware of that phenomenon,” Vorondur admitted, “but do you see Felicity as that type?”
“No, not really. She’s too… practical, I guess, to get caught up in that particular female fantasy.”
“I hope you don’t say that in her hearing,” Vorondur said with a faint, knowing smile.
Alex gave him a disbelieving look. “I may be royally screwed up, Ron, but I’m not stupid.”
Vorondur allowed himself to chuckle. “On that, we can both agree. So, getting back to your original question—”
“Huh? Sorry, I sort of forgot what it was,” Alex admitted with a look of embarrassment.
“Whether you’re evil or not,” Vorondur supplied and Alex nodded. “While we always want others to think well of us, the important thing at the moment is to decide how you feel about yourself. When you look in the mirror, do you see an evil person?”
“I used to,” Alex replied softly, not looking at him. “After my… um… talk with… ah… Atar….” He trailed off, his expression transmuting into one of wonder as that particular memory surfaced. “He was… confusing.”
“In what way?” Vorondur kept his expression to one of mild interest, but inside he was nearly crowing. This was the first time Alex had actually volunteered something of his encounter with Eru. Vorondur had listened to Glorfindel’s own account of his encounter with the Numinous and Finrod had told him something of his cousin Ingwion’s experience so he knew that every encounter with their Creator was unique to that person. Alex had been understandably reluctant to describe his conversation with Ilúvatar and Vorondur had carefully backed off whenever Alex showed any discomfort about discussing what happened.
“Oh, in every way, I suppose. I couldn’t seem to keep up. He kept bouncing back and forth between topics. It was like watching someone play tennis with himself. It made me dizzy.”
“Did he frighten you?”
“No, that’s the thing, he didn’t. Oh, he said some frightening things but in such innocuous ways that it wasn’t until later that I realized just how frightening some of what he said was.”
“You said that prior to meeting with… um… Atar, you thought yourself evil. I am assuming that by that you mean that now you do not?”
Alex nodded slightly. “After I… um… woke up?” —Vorondur nodded his understanding and Alex continued— “woke up, I remember standing before the mirror shaving and I think for the first time in a long time I actually liked what I saw in the mirror.”
“And what did you see?”
“Just a guy shaving. Sorry, I know that doesn’t make any sense…”
“On the contrary, it makes perfect sense and it tells me that you’ve begun to move past making judgments about yourself, which is why I wonder about your original question. Did you enjoy playing the parts that you did?”
“Hell no!” Alex said vehemently. Vorondur gave him a skeptical look and he blushed slightly, casting his gaze to his lap. “Well, sometimes. Toward the end. Looking back, I realize I was becoming someone my Mom wouldn’t recognize as her son and on one level it scared the hell out of me but on another level I didn’t much care and that scared me even more. I think coming here saved my soul.”
“You’ve gotten the student evaluations by now, I imagine,” Vorondur said.
Alex looked up, his expression puzzled at the seeming non sequitur. “Yeah, so?”
“Have you read them?”
The Mortal shook his head. “Not yet. I’ve been too busy packing for Fairbanks. I probably won’t bother anyway.”
“Too embarrassing,” came the reply and Alex blushed slightly, looking younger than he was.
Vorondur gave him a warm smile. “I think you should read them. They might surprise you. Take them with you to Fairbanks and look them over. I think it’s important that you get a sense of how others see you. The students have no personal stake in their evaluations and they’re completely anonymous, so you won’t know who said what, but I would like you to read through them and try to get an overall picture of how your students saw you. Perhaps when you come up for the holiday, you and I can meet informally and you can tell me what your students think of you. This was your first time teaching, so I’m sure you would like to see where you may have fallen short and need to improve. We all do, so there’s no shame in that.”
Alex nodded. “Okay, I guess.”
“Will you be in touch with Felicity over the summer?” Vorondur asked.
Alex blinked at the sudden change of topic. “Yeah, actually we will. She’s got her laptop with her and she warned me that she might not always be somewhere where there’s wireless and internet might be dodgy, but she would email me whenever she could and she made me promise to email her back.”
“Doesn’t sound like someone who wants nothing to do with you,” Vorondur pointed out.
“People say things they don’t really mean so as not to hurt the other person’s feelings,” Alex offered.
“Who suggested keeping in contact via email?” Vorondur asked.
“Uh… actually it was Felicity.”
“What do you see?” Alex demanded.
“That our time is up,” Vorondur said briskly, standing and Alex did the same. “Now you have my number and my email address. If at any time you feel you need to talk to me, call, day or night. I mean that literally, Alex. You are not released from my care. You’re only temporarily not under direct medical supervision. I want you to enjoy yourself in Fairbanks. Relax. Have fun. Gwyn and Gareth will be there so you already have two friends to rely on. I highly recommend that you join them in their SCA events even if you just go as a spectator.”
Alex nodded. “Okay.” His demeanor became suddenly shy. “It’s going to be so weird.”
“I know,” Vorondur said sympathetically. “But I think you will find that you’ll be able to slip into the role of student without too much trouble, and unlike other times, this time you can just be yourself. You don’t have to pretend as you had to when you first came to Elf Academy.”
Alex grinned. “That was so embarrassing. I did everything wrong. You’d think I’d never been to spy school or something.”
Vorondur laughed. “Well, we now know why. Safe trip, Alex, and have a great summer. We’ll see you in July, then. I’ll see you out.” With that he escorted the Mortal to the front door, then, after seeing him out, returned to his office to finish up his notes on the session. He opened up the file on Alex and reread what he’d been working on.
“…Felicity Cohen. From the way Alex speaks of her, it is clear that he’s smitten. It will be interesting to see how this relationship progresses. I am concerned by his continual need for reassurance that he is not evil. I think the things he has done will always haunt him, but I hope, with time and patience, I will be able to help him put that past where it belongs and have him focus on the future instead, a future with Felicity. The boy deserves some happiness in his life.”
Vorondur sat back to ponder the things that had been said and not said this last hour with the young Man.
“Ron,” he heard Holly call from the kitchen. “Dinner’s almost on. You can play psychiatrist later. Come set the table.”
Vorondur grinned as he closed down the file, put his laptop in sleep mode and went to do his wife’s bidding.
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