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Only in My Mind

By Starsong Lightwing and Caro Roberts

 

"Watch it, Bond."

"I've asked you to stop calling me that."

"Yeah, yeah, just hurry up, will you?" Nosedive was full of pent-up energy in anticipation of the impending prank, and he couldn't seem to stand still for any measurable length of time. Not like that was any change from usual...

Jedar sighed and tossed an annoyed glance at the younger man. "All right, hand me--" He cut off abruptly as the door swung open, and their unfinished trap was triggered. Jedar cursed and tried to catch the sack of flour they had been positioning above the door, but it was too heavy for him to stop, leaning off the ladder as he was. A white cloud poofed into the air as the sack colided with a soft thud, then a louder thud as the unfortunate soul slumped to the floor.

"I told you to lock the door," Jedar jumped down from the ladder.

"You did not," Nosedive protested. Jedar rolled his eyes and sighed.

The two pranksters peered down at their flour-covered and unconscious victim. "Oh, gods, I think we killed him..."

*****

"He doesn't remember anything?"

"No, I don't," the man they called Slake stated in an annoyed tone.

Duke cast a guilty glance at his old friend. They'd been discussing him as if he weren't even present. Well, ya can't really blame us, he's almost not.

"It's temporary, isn't it?" Estelle asked, rather anxiously. Tarrin shrugged.

"Probably. Most likely he just needs to have his memory jogged. A particular, sight, sound, or even smell or taste might bring it all back to him. Or it may simply wear off with time. I can't do any more for him, physically he's fine."

"Thanks, Doc," Duke looked resigned.

Slake looked impatient, his arms folded as he leaned against the wall in a way that reminded Duke of the Slake he'd known years ago.

"Well," Duke said when Tarrin was gone. "I guess we're gonna hafta get ya reaccquainted with yer life." He turned abruptly and clapped Estelle on the shoulder. "Have fun, kid."

"Sir?" Estelle's eyes widened.

"Sorry, I got stuff ta do, so it's up ta you. Besides, he's yer teacher, ya know him well enough ta get by." The former leader was gone before Estelle could protest. She looked helplessly at Slake, who gave her a grin that could have melted permafrost.

"Let's start with you," he suggested.

"My name is Estelle."

"What's the deal on us?"

Estelle stiffened slightly at the implication in his expression and voice. "You're my master and I'm your apprentice."

"That's it, huh?"

"Yes," she said firmly. "In spite of anything you may hear from...others."

"Pity," he commented, straightening and walking past her. "Well, shall we begin the grand tour, then?" He gallantly offered her an arm.

*****

"Who is it?" Slake glanced over at his guide.

"You don't remember her?" Estelle looked dismayed.

"No," he said calmly, looking back at the painting. He studied it thoughtfully, particularly the face of the young woman it depicted, but a profound sadness and longing suddenly tugged at his soul. Slake frowned. The feelings were not terribly pleasant, and the fact that he had no idea why he should feel this way irritated him. "Did I paint this?" he asked, noting the initials in the corner, "S.S.R. What's my middle name?"

"You didn't paint it, she did," Estelle informed him. "And I'm afraid you never told me your middle name, sir."

"The initials?"

"Sienna Roguefeather. I don't know what the second S stands for."

Roguefeather. Isn't that what they said my name was? He looked around at the room they said was his, and studied the collection of pictures and holos. The woman from the painting was in almost all of them, he noticed. Slake picked up one of the pictures and looked at it strangely.

"I'm married? To her?" he waved the photo toward the painting.

"Yes, sir. You--were." Estelle seemed to hesitate. "She's dead, sir."

Slake digested that for a moment and set the picture back where it had been. His expression was unreadable and Estelle fidgeted nervously. "How long?"

"Over three years. I don't know exactly. Duke could probably tell you."

Slake lifted his left hand and twisted the ring he hadn't even noticed until then. "Long time to be still wearing a ghost's ring."

The Raptrin woman looked shocked, but she said nothing.

"There's a kid?" Slake indicated another picture. Estelle's expression softened, and she nodded.

"Rainy--Rain, I should say."

"How old?"

"She's four now. As sweet a duckling as you could ever hope to meet. Bright, too." Slake hid a smile at the proud grin Estelle wore. You'd think the kid was hers, he chuckled to himself.

Slake wandered around his quarters a little more, getting a random flash of emotion here and there but no solid memories. He shook his head in distaste.

"I am a very boring person," he stated with certainty.

Estelle looks shocked. "Sir?"

Slake glances at her. "Please don't sir me, Estelle, I am not that much older than you." He paused. "At least I don't think so."

"You aren't," Estelle assured him.

Slake flashed her a smile. "Then knock it off, you make me feel like I belong in an old folks home." His eyes twinkled. "And I assure you, I am not ready to retire from living on the edge just yet."

Estelle raises an eyebrow skeptcially. I thought he did retire from that. But if he doesn't remember...great duCaine. "I'll remember that."

Slake shrugged as if it wasn't all that important and took one more look around. "This place is depressing, you know that? Apparently I need to get a life."

Estelle looked rather scandalized. "But sir!--I mean, Slake! How can you...what about..." She stopped, realizing that any objections she could raise, he wouldn't remember.

Slake looked at her and lifts an eyebrow. "About what?"

Estelle sighed, feeling defeated. "Rain..."

Slake winced and ran his fingers through his hair in a gesture strongly reminiscent of his younger self. "Geez, the kid. Man...what am I gonna do about that one."

Estelle's eyes flamed. "She is not just 'the kid or 'that one'! She is your daughter and she loves you very much!" She calmed down slightly. "If you don't feel like you can handle her, I'll take care of her. Just until you feel better."

Slake looked rather ashamed. "I'm sorry, it's just...I don't feel like a father..."

Estelle softened. "I know...I want to keep her out of this until you do."

Slake shrugged. "If you think that's best. You'll do her more good as a parent than I would at the moment." He paused and gazed at a picture for a moment, then looked her in the eye. "Am I a good father?"

Estelle smiled faintly, almost wistfully. "The best she could ask for."

Relieved, Slake was quiet for a moment, then he cleared his throat. "Well, what else is there to see around here?"

Estelle thinks for a moment. "I suppose I could walk you around for awhile...maybe something will spark a memory." Though if seeing pictures of Sienna doesn't, I don't know what will.

Relieved to get out of the room, Slake nodded. "Sounds good."

Estelle offered him her arm. It made her feel better, though she knew there was really nothing physically wrong with him. She stole a glance at her watch. "It's close enough to dinner time, we can stop by the mess hall." Maybe Marshall will know something...

Slake took her arm and closed his hand around hers with a warm smile. "Lead on."

Estelle looked down and freed her hand from his. What have I gotten myself into?

Slake just grinned and followed her out the door.

Estelle felt rather distressed by the whole thing, partly because it unnerved her, and partly because she knew that Slake would never act that way if he knew what he was doing. She swallowed her nervousness, though, and lead him to the mess.

*****

I should have known better. Something always happens here. Estelle was distraught, her mouth hanging open in dismay as Slake exchanged increasingly colorful invective with a Blade Brother that had made a rather--inappropriate--remark reguarding her heritage and hygene. Great DuCaine, I didn't think he even knew words that bad existed...and he actually looks like he's enjoying himself!!

What kind of an idiot takes on someone higher ranked than him anyway? Estelle knew the answer to that one. The young bully hadn't expected Slake to react, and couldn't back down now without looking cowardly in front of his friends. Estelle redoubled her attempts to get Slake to walk away as the Brother began to get more and more aggitated. He was steadily losing the verbal battle, and he didn't look very happy about it. Any other day I'd say Slake could take him, but if he doesn't remember his training-- She didn't have time to finish the thought.

Slake saw the blow coming when the kid snapped. Moving practically on instinct, his body dropped into a defensive stance, then dodged and launched a fist all in one move. His attacker reeled, seeing stars, and stumbled backwards into a chair. Slake rubbed his hand, blinking as his mind tried to catch up with what he'd just done. Estelle took advantage of his moment of confusion, grabbing his arm and dragging him away.

*****

Slake leaned against the wall with his arms folded. "I don't see what you're so excited about."

Estelle was still visibly upset, but did her best to remember that he wasn't himself. "No, I suppose you don't."

Slake studied her calmly. "He was asking for it. You're telling me I would have stood there and let you be insulted like that?"

Estelle rubbed her temple, feeling another headache coming on. They were getting more and more common. "No, but..."

Slake looked vaguely annoyed. "I'm starting to seriously dislike myself. Apparently I've done a thousand things I wouldn't do if I were normal--This guy obviously doesn't do a lot, what in the world does he do?" He cast a glare around the room that he was beginning to think of as a prison.

Estelle tried to control her anger. "He takes care of his daughter. He trains me. He helps keep order in the Brotherhood. I confess I don't know much beyond that, we don't spend a lot of free time together."

Slake was starting to get frustrated. "Does my life revolve around that little? A kid, a dead woman, and a student?"

Estelle went white. Her mouth opened, but nothing came out.

"This can't be right!" Slake continued, his anger building. "How can I live this way and be so different from the way I feel now? Why does everything about this feel so wrong?" He threw himself into his chair and glared death at the wall.

Estelle didn't know what to say. She hugged herself and turned to leave.

Slake sighed tiredly. "Wait."

She stopped. "Yes?"

"Please don't go. I'm sorry. This is just--it doesn't make sense. You're all that does right now, I'd--really rather you stayed."

Estelle studied his face, and wondered vaugely if the lost expression on his face was genuine, though she had no idea why it should be feigned. Finally she turned and came back to lean on the back of his chair. "I understand. I'll stay." She had no idea what good she'd do or what he expected of her, but it was a simple request and she couldn't bring herself to deny it.

Slake brooded for a moment and then jerked his head towards Sienna's picture. "Tell me more about her. Why do you look so shocked everytime she comes up?"

Estelle is cautious. "I...never knew her, personally."

Slake studied the portrait for a moment. "I feel--odd, when I look at that. I don't know why. I don't remember anything about her, but it's like that face just triggers these emotions..." He trailed off, looking troubled.

Estelle sighed. "You loved her very much, and you miss her terribly..or you..did."

Slake looked irritated. "Why? What makes her so special? I just don't understand."

Estelle had no idea what to say. "As I said, I never knew her, but I was told that she was wonderful. Duke could probably tell you more about her."

Slake instinctively doubted Duke can answer that question, which was the only one that really mattered to him at the moment. That, and one other. He fixed Estelle with a piercing look, his own thoughts completely hidden.

Estelle looked away, uncomfortable.

"Why do you do that?"

She continued to stare at the floor. "Do what?"

"Look away when I look at you. I've never hurt you, have I?"

Estelle shook her head, her mind involuntarily flicking to that one incident not too long ago. "No."

Slake was silent for a moment, still looking at her. She shifted uncomfortably but made a conscious effort not to look away. She almost succeeded.

Slake returned his gaze to the wall. "I'm starting to think I'm going to end up staying like this for a while. We've been through every part of my life you know, and I haven't had so much as a single flashback."

Estelle drew in her breath as a thought dawned on her. "There is...one...more thing I can try..."

Slake looked at her sharply. "What's left? I thought we'd been through everything."

"There was a song that Sienna used to sing..." said Estelle slowly.

"A song?"

"Yes..."

Slake waited for her to continue. Estelle was obviously hesitant. But if it's our last hope... She sighed and excused herself to get her guitar.

Slake offered her his chair when she returned, and sat on the footstool facing her. Estelle frowned in concentration as she tuned the instrument and tried to bring the words to her mind. Slake watched her intently as she sang, but she was too engrossed in the music itself to pay any attention to him. "...Sometimes you would carry me, and sometimes you would be in my hands...If we could love forever, that won't be long enough for me...I want to be your shelter, all you need..."

Estelle finished the song and looked up at him. "Anything?"

She suddenly realized he was a lot closer to her than she remembered, and her eyes widened as he touched her cheek lightly and laid a warm, soft kiss on her beak. Estelle's eyes flew open, but she couldn't move, frozen in shock. Slake started to slide an arm around her waist.

He suddenly found himself with a sharp point pressing against his chest. Estelle stood and moved away from him, her dagger out. Slake watched her calmly. He stood, moving slowly, his hands instinctively out where she could see them.

"You are not yourself, so this once I will let this slide," Estelle informed him with measured calm, "Try it again, and you're going to the infirmary. Do I make myself clear?"

Slake's expression was unreadable. "Crystal."

Estelle was far more flustered than she would have let on. She suddenly realized that her cheeks were flaming and that the hand holding her dagger was shaking.

Slake met her eyes, and she knew he'd noticed. She looked away quickly and backed up until her shoulders hit the wall.

Still moving slowly, as if he were facing a cornered animal and didn't want to appear a threat, Slake sat back down. Estelle slowly slid her dagger back into her boot, watching him nervously.

Slake continued to sit still with his hands clearly visible.

Estelle edged toward the door. "Perhaps I should...leave..."

"If you like," Slake said in a measured tone. He was tempted to stop her or go after her, but something held him back.

Estelle was confused and scared more than she would have thought possible. She slid toward the door, forgetting her guitar, which was still by Slake's chair. He picked it up and held it out to her.

Estelle looked at him like she was afraid he would bite or worse, but took her prized instrument anyway and managed to whisper, "Thank you."

Slake hadn't taken his eyes off her the whole time. "My pleasure."

Estelle faint a pang of annoyance at the ambiguity of that statement, sure it was intentional. She felt her eyes tearing up and blinked, not wanting him to know what she what she was feeling. To her horror she felt a tear slide down her cheek and wiped it away quickly, stumbling backwards.

Slake finally stood and went to steady her gently. "Am I that bad?"

Estelle shrank back from him. "N-no."

He wiped her eyes. "Why the tears?"

Estelle's heart was pounding, but she didn't want to admit how scared and bewildered she was. She was feeling a rush of something she hadn't expected and it disturbed her almost as much as what he'd done. She couldn't trust her voice, so she stayed silent.

Slake studied her face, and seemed to waver on the brink of indecision for a moment, but he let go of her and stood back so her way was clear to leave.

Estelle slid out, using all her willpower to keep from running.

Slake sighed and muttered a curse. He glanced at the mirror on the wall. "You have a heck of an effect on women, pal," he told the man looking back at him.

*****

Rain Roguefeather was the picture of concentration as she carefully selected just the right color from the open crayon box in front of her and applied it to the get-well card she'd been working on ever since Stelle had told her that her father was sick. I hope Daddy gets better soon. Being sick is icky.

She reached for the box and picked it up, carefully examining her options. Her four-year-old face screwed up into a pout and she turned to Stelle. "Stelle, I left my crayon at home--Stelle?" She got up and went to the couch where Stelle had been sitting, watching her. Rain leaned her knee and looked at her for a moment, then reached out and nudged her with a small hand. Stelle's head was propped up in her hand and her eyes were shut. "Are you taking a nap?" the little girl asked seriously in an exaggerated whisper. Daddy had told her that nobody got to big to take naps. They just got too big for other people to make them take naps.

Stelle must be really sleepy to take a nap when no one can make her take one, she reasoned with perfect child-logic. When Stelle didn't answer, Rain went to the door and tried it. It wasn't locked, and she slipped out, heading down the hall to her own quarters. I can find my room by myself...

*****

"DAAADDY!!!!!!" The terrified scream ripped through Slake's head and he lept out of his chair to his feet, heart in his throat.

Rain!

*****

Rain screeched again and kicked as the big man grabbed her arm. "I'll teach you to watch where you're going, you little brat," he sneered, staggering slightly.

"You leave me alone!" She struggled and almost succeded in breaking his hold, but instead of trying to grab at her again, he pushed her hard into the wall. She cried out in pain and cringed against the wall, more frightened than she'd ever been in her young life as she sensed him coming at her.

Slake had intended to yell something to the effect of "TOUCH MY DAUGHTER AND I'LL BREAK EVERY BONE IN YOUR BODY TWICE," but all that came out was a wordless roar of anger as he tackled Rain's assailent to the ground. The drake smelled alcohol as he brought his fist back but the knowledge that the man was drunk did nothing to relieve his anger. Estelle skidded around the corner, saber activated and eyes wide. She ran straight for Rain.

Even drunk, a thief of the Brotherhood is a dangerous creature, as Slake was painfully reminded when his opponent managed to throw him off and lurch to his feet, drawing his sword. Slake's black blade flared into existance and he attacked with a vengence. The drunk man was no match for the enraged father and within moments he was disarmed and at Slake's mercy.

Slake's, however, was not inclined to be merciful when his daughter was threatened, and the adrenaline her scream had dumped into his body did nothing to aid his judgement. His sword swung upward for a final blow.

"SLAKE STOP!!" Estelle grabbed his arm and he looked at her, straight into her pleading eyes. Then he looked over her shoulder at Rain. Her grey eyes were wide and frightened as she looked up at him. I don't want her to see that... He lowered his blade and deactivated it, then went to kneel by his little girl. She sniffled and blinked at him.

"Are you all better?"

Slake smiled slightly. "Yes, sweetie, Daddy's all better now." He opened his arms and she went into them. The two hugged each other tightly for a moment in silence. Estelle made sure the downed man would stay down, and stood awkwardly for a moment. Slake stood with his daughter in his arms and turned to her with a faint smile.

"Alexander."

Estelle blinked. "Sir?"

"My middle name is Alexander."

Estelle looked rather confused for a moment. "Oh," she said faintly.

*****

Estelle stared at her ceiling as if it held all the answers she was searching for. She was glad that Slake was back to normal, certainly--in fact, she was downright relieved. The weight of responsibility and nervousness had almost crushed her as she'd tried to keep track of Rain and tried to figure out what would jog his memory. And for all of that, his memory jogged itself.

She huffed, feeling strangely unsettled, and threw herself back against her pillows with much more force than necessary.

Another sleepless night. She'd thought they'd end when things got back to normal, but she had just as many things to think over now as she had then.

The kiss...

She sat up and buried her head in her hands. Why does that thought keep coming back? Why, why?!

Try as she might, she couldn't get the memory out of her head or the image and feeling out of her mind's eye. He didn't mean it. He wasn't himself. He never would have done it otherwise. There was no feeling behind it--he was just confused.

But even if it hadn't meant anything to him, it meant something to her. She would never have admitted it to anyone...she was having trouble admitting it to herself, but she was feeling a rush of emotion that she couldn't even begin to identify.

It's ridiculous--no, it's beyond ridiculous, it's preposterous! It's impossible! It's insane!

She flopped down on her stomach and buried her face in the pillow, hoping for a sleep that would not come.

*****

Slake was slumped in his chair, mulling over the events of the past few days. He was embarassed about his behavior, certainly, but what disturbed him more was the way he'd felt, looking at his own life. How empty it had all seemed to him. He'd always told himself that no one could understand how he felt, and he'd been right. What he hadn't realized was that he couldn't understand how they felt, either. Slake looked up at Sienna's portrait and for the first time questioned the way he lived his life. Is that how you would see it, love?

He looked longingly at her face for a moment, and then down at the wedding band on his hand. Slowly he slid it off and held it up, turning it in his hands. Slake tilted it so he could see the inscription. One life, one love. He weighed it in his hand a little longer, then got up and went to his desk. From the bottom of the drawer he drew out a small box, and set it on the desktop. Slake opened it and selected a thin gold chain from the various pieces of jewelry within. He threaded it through the ring, and fastened it around his neck. Then he went back to his chair, and returned to contemplating the wall.

 

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