Author: Janine (jbstories@hotmail.com)
Title: Fruit of Life
Pairing: Theo/Nell
Rating: R
Synopsis: What would have happened if Nell hadn't died that night at Hill House?
Disclaimer: None of the characters mentioned in this story belong to me, and I won't be making any monetary gain from the use of the story. It is strictly for fan-fiction purposes.

"Fruit of Life"

Part One

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I watched her as she slept; the moonlight was bathing her pale skin, illuminating her. I thought she looked lovely, but then again I always think that she looks lovely. Iím a nauseatingly romantic idiot that way though I never would have thought to describe myself like thatómaybe never could have described myself like that óuntil recently. I should have been with her in the bed, holding her, but I couldnít sleep and Iím a tosser and a turner and I didnít want to wake her up. My insomnia wasnít constant anymore, but every once in a while it still reared its ugly little head and I hadnít been finding it as inspiring as I had before Hill House. As for Nell, her insomniaówhich was caused, as far as Iím concerned, by essentially being enslaved for large portion of her lifeóhad gone completely.

"Theo?" she murmured softly into the dark of the room. I wondered when she was going to detect my absence. Sometimes I didnít even make it out of the bed before she dragged me back into her embrace. Truthfully, I was a willing prisoner.

"Over here," I called out to her smiling. I saw her turn to face me. I was sitting in the windowsill, which was the only reason she was able to make me out in the dark.

"Come back over here," she said patting the spot beside her I had vacated earlier.

"Iíll just keep you awake," I responded even though I was already moving towards her as I spoke. I sometimes likened her voice to the call of the Sirensóonly without the death of course.

"Thatís okay," she responded snuggling up against me. I wrapped my arms around her and drew her closer against me.

"I doubt that youíll feel that way in the morning," I said placing a kiss on her forehead.

"I think that youíre confused," she mumbled as she kissed my neck.

"Really?" I asked raising both eyebrows even though I knew she couldnít see.

"Yep," she responded. "After all IíM the morning person. YOUíRE the one whoís in bed until noon everyday."

I smiled. She had grown so much since we had left the house. It was like the ordeal had cracked the shell she had been forced into all those years ago by her mother and then later her sister. She was like a caterpillar finally let out of its cocoon, and she was absolutely stunning. She was the same sweet, caring Nell that I fell in love with so many months ago, but now she was so much more than that and I loved her more and more everyday.

"With you in bed with me itís a miracle I get up at all," I responded a moment later smiling rakishly.

"Youíre a fiend," Nell responded, but I could hear the smile in her voice.

"You still love me," I said joining our hands together under the blanket.

"I do," she responded squeezing my hand.

"I love you too," I told her earnestly.

"Show me," she said softly, sliding her body on top of mine.

"Now whoís the fiend?" I asked playfully before capturing her lips. There was an upside to being an insomniac and I had just found it.


When my eyes next opened it was just beginning to get light outside. I was rarely awake at that time of the day. Late to sleep, late to rise, is still my philosophy. Nellís head was resting on my shoulder and she had an arm and a leg draped over my body. It was heaven on earth, and I decided to savoir it for as long as possible. Lying there soaking up our closeness I found that my mind started to wonder, and much to my surprise I found my thoughts heading back to the day that I arrived at Hill House.

{Unlike one would expect driving up to a place like Hill House, it was a sunny, beautiful autumn day out. There wasnít a raindrop, or thundercloud in the sky to serve as a warning to the impending doom I was about to face. Perhaps the aghast looks on the faces of the townies when I mentioned where I was headed should have served as a clue, but rural folk have always confused me so I paid no attention.

So, oblivious to the perils that lay ahead of me I drove on, a brave warrior heading to the front line. Yeah, right!

"Interesting," was the first thought that popped into my head when I first laid eyes on Hill House. She was definitely a big sucker. There was something cold, and disturbing about her, I could feel it as I drove up. But, there was also something magnetic and beautiful about the house. It was like it was an original, and it knew it. My instincts told me to turn around and leave the place, perhaps go back to the little bed and breakfast down the road that looked so quaint, but I didnít listen to them. And Iím glad that I didnít, because in Hill House the bad was accompanied by the good, and the good was very good. The good was Nell, and she was worth everything.

The interior of the house was no different than the exterioróthat meant way overdoneóbut once again, I kind of liked it. Swinging the last of my bags over my shoulder I let Old Dudley lead me to the stairs. Halfway up them I heard some footsteps on the level above me and was about to ask who was there when I spotted a brunette woman appear at the top of the stairs.

"Hi," I said looking up at her. "Donít worry, Iím not an obsessive packer. Itís just that getting people to help me schlep these things around is a cheap and exploitative way of making new friends," I continued finally making it to the top. "Here," I said taking the bag from over my shoulder and handing it to her. "Iím Theo," I said extending my other hand.

"Eleanor," she said taking the bag with one hand and shaking my extended hand with the other. "But everyone calls me Nell," she continued with shy little smile. I liked her immediately.

"Well, Ďeveryone calls me Nellí, donít you just love it here? Love it," I said as we headed down the hall. "Itís sort of Charles Foster Cane meets the Munsters or something," I continued a smile tugging at my lips as I looked around.

"I like your boots," Nell commented as we continued on down the hall.

"Do you?" I asked looking down at them. "Theyíre PradaÖMilan not New York," I added somewhat vainly. "But theyíre killing me," I went on with a shrug. "Hey, itís a small price to pay for such savage kicks," I finished plastering a grin across my face I knew to be sexy. If there was one thing I knew it was sexy.

My bedroom was the first and only stop on the tour. I must say that I was quite pleased with the dťcor of the placeówith the exception of the creepy little cherubs of course. After the big, bellowing painting at the top of the stairs I was starting to fear what the artwork hanging in the guestrooms may have been like. Still, it was something else.

"Oh my god," I muttered walking in. "This is so twisted," I continued looking around. "Seriously twisted."

After that Old Dudley started droning on about something in the background but I wasnít paying any attention to her. At first, after everything went down, I used to wonder if things would have been different if I had listened to her that day instead of jumping on the bed like sugared up five year old. If maybe I would have been more ready to listen to what Nell was saying in those dark days to come if I had heard Dudleyís warnings. But, then I realized that it was me I was considering and even if I had listened to her I probably still wouldnít have believed her. I most likely would have just started to call her ĎCrazy Old Dudleyí. Such is my way, it isnít always a good way, but such is my way. Sa la vies.

Taking a running start I flipped onto the bed my head landing in the soft pillows. As I settled down Nell started to fill in Old Dudleyís sentences, no doubt nearly driving the woman mad with her teasing interruptions. Looking annoyed she quickly finished what it was that she had to say and exited the room post haste. Ducking my head down behind the collar of my jacket, so that only half of my face was showing, I looked over at Nell and wiggled my eyebrows.

"My room is right next door to yours," Nell said a moment later. "I think that we share a bathroom."

"Oh, donít worry," I piped up. "I probably wonít be in here much," I continued sitting up. "Light sleeper," I added smirking.

"Thatís why weíre here," Nell agreed.

"What do you do Eleanor?" I asked standing up as I took off my jacket. I absolutely had to change out of what I was wearing. Also I wanted to have a little fun wit her, it was bad I know, but I wanted to see her reaction.

"Iím between jobs right now. The last one ended over some," she responded. There was something in her voice that told me that there was more to it than that, but I decided not to ask. I was already making her nervous. I was only in my slip and I had seen her focus in on my partially clad chest before promptly turning her back to me. "And you?" she asked.

"Well, Iím suppose to be an artist," I responded. "But Iíve been distracted from work by love. You know what I mean?"

"Not really," she responded with a little shrug.

"Hey, donít tell me Bostonís different from New York," I responded looking up at her.

"OhÖyou mean you have a problem with commitment," she said catching my drift. I smiled, I couldnít really explain it, but there was something about her that I really, really liked. You might even say that I was immediately taken with her.

"Well, my boyfriend thinks soÖ my girlfriend doesnít," I responded. "We could all just live together, but they hate each other," I continued absently before reaching over and tapping her on the shoulder. She had the bag that I needed. She slowly turned around, no doubt in fear that she would find me standing there stark naked ready to pounce on her. When she saw that I was clothed, a bit, she relaxed somewhat and handed the bag to me.

"Itís hard when youíre the only one at the party, you know?" I asked. The question was rhetorical, but she answered me anyway.

"No," she responded. Once again I was struck by her honesty. Already, just from the five or so minutes that we had known each other I was beginning to wonder if she had an insincere bone in her body. People like her didnít exist in the real world, or at least I had thought they didnít. I certainly hadnít met any of them.

"Blank canvas," I said observing her. "I could paint your portrait directly on you," I continued. I really hadnít meant anything by the comment, it had just been one of those weird sort of observations that people make from time to time, but the expression that came over her face once I said it compelled me to smile and add, "or maybe not."

"What about you?" I asked walking back over to the end of the bed. "Any husbands? Boyfriends?" I paused, "Girlfriends?" I asked a split second later with a grin as I dug through my bag. I just couldnít resist the last one, and I didnít need to turn around to know that it had hit its mark. "Where do you live?" I asked when she didnít respond.

"I donít have anyone," she responded softly. "But I do have a little apartment of my own. Itís by the ocean, and has a little flower garden. And when the wind is just right you can hear the buoys in the harbor," she continued in a wistful tone. I didnít know it then, but Nell was often wistful. Most dreamers are.

"Wow," I said turning around, now fully dressed. "That sounds really nice. Youíre very lucky," I continued coming to a stop in front of her. "But you know that, right?"

She kind of nodded her head in response but she didnít responded to me verbally. While I was speaking to her I noticed that she had a hair on her shirt, so in the silence I reached out for her to remove it.

She pulled back. Violently. It wasnít a reaction that I expected, or one that I was at all used to, from anybody. It amused me.

"Oh, sorry," I said realizing that with the teasing and semi-flirtingóokay, outright flirtingóthat I had been doing she had misconstrued the movement as some sort of come on. "You just had a little hairÖ" I went on kind of trailing off afterwards.

"So," I said clapping my hands together a moment later. "Show me the bathroom." I had decided that a change in topic, not to mention location was definitely needed. NellóI had decidedó was a piece of work, and getting to know her would take some work. I wasnít used to that, being the worker, and quite frankly it appealed to me.

At the request she got animated again and began to lead me across the room.

After dragging me through the halls for a while, she finally came to a stop in front of a bellowing door with a sculpture on it, or as Iíve taken to describing it, Ďtall and creepyí.

"Wow," I commented looking up. "You wonít get this from the Martha Stewart catalogue."

"I donít like it," Nell responded moving a bit closer to me.

"Isnít it based on ĎThe Gates of HellíÖby Ordan?" I asked tilting my head to the side a bit to get a better view.

"Well, itís not just hell," Nell said looking at it again. "The children are reaching for heaven, but their souls are trapped in purgatory," she continued thoughtfully. I looked over at her but she walked closer to the door. "These are the demons, and they can hold your soul, for as long as they want," she finished.

"Did you study art?" I asked looking at her thoughtfully. Apparently there was more to Ms. Eleanor Vance than met the eye. I however, had already suspected that and was actually feeling quite smug.

"No," she said smiling a bit. "I studied purgatory. I was there once for eleven years." I must have looked at her strangely because she added this. "Itís when your soul is caught between the living and the dead."

"Oh yeah," I responded nodding my head in understanding though I actually had no idea what she was talking about. "Iíve been there. Itís an eighteen hour flight from LA to Paris and youíre stuck in coach." She laughed at that and looked back at me with a radiant smile on her face. I was suddenly very glad for my shallowness, despite what those naysayers would have you believe it sometimes pays off.

"All ye who stand before these doors shall be judged," Nell said a moment later. I saw her read it off of the door.

"Well, letís not stand here then," I said shooting her a smile. "Come on," I continued nodding in the direction I wanted to go. She smiled and with that we continued down the hallway.

I didnít realize it then, but standing there in front of that door there was some major foreshadowing going down. They say that retrospect is twenty/twenty and maybe it is, however I still say that the deal would be a lot more useful if it came in foresight instead of hindsight.}

I was broken out of my revere by a pair of lips gently pressing against mine. My lips curved upwards into smile and I returned the kiss.

"Hey," I said bringing my hand up to her cheek.

"Hey yourself," she responded dropping her head back down to rest on my shoulder. "What were you thinking about?"

"Thinking about?" I asked dreamily looking down at her.

"Just now," she responded. "You looked like you were a million miles away."

"Not quite that far," I responded trailing my hand through her hair. "How far away would you say Berkshires is?"

"Hill House," she said softly. She had this connection with the house that I doubt Iíll ever completely understand. I for one detest the place and would gladly have burned it down myself upon our exit. But, Nell, she loved the old house despite what happened, she was connected with it, and I resolved to respect that. Even if it did puzzle me.

"Ummm," I responded softly nodding my head a bit.

"Are you okay?" she asked shifting so that she could see my entire face.

"Uh huh," I told her. "Iím fine. Only thinking good thoughts. About our first day there," I explained. At the house I had told her that if we got out I would take her back to my loft in the city, but that plan had been postponed by a short hospital stay. However, once the doctors released Nell I had brought her back home with me, just I like I promised. I wanted to take care of her, but for about the first week she was there I couldnít sleep at all. I kept having nightmares about the house, and especially about Lukeís death. Nell ended up just holding me during the night, trying to calm me down. I donít know what I would have done without her.

"Hmmm," she murmured in response. Then she smiled and hid her head in the crook of my shoulder. "You made me so nervous," she mumbled into the skin of my shoulder.

"I was trying to be charming," I said kissing the top of her head. "I wanted you to like me." The funny thing was that I did want her to like me. I never went out of my way to encourage people to like me, but with Nell, that day, I did.

"Did I stare?" Nell asked a moment later. I knew what she was referring to.

"Only a little," I told her raising my hand and separating my thumb and index finger leaving a little space between them. She groaned and buried her face again. "Donít worry," I told her in response to the action. "I liked it," I added with a lecherous grin.

"You would," she muttered.

"Are you implying that Iím exhibitionist or something?" I asked looking at her with a faux serious expression.

"No," she responded without missing a beat. "Iím saying that you ARE an exhibitionist."

I placed a finger under her chin urging her to look at me.

"Not anymore," I told her seriously. "Only for you." If there was one thing that I regretted saying to her that first day we met it was that Ďboyfriend and girlfriendí comment. I didnít even know why I said it considering that I had ended it with both of themówhich was one of the reasons I was at Hill House in the first place. It had made me sound as promiscuous as I used to be, and I always felt the need to assure Nell that love had indeed changed me for the better.

"I know Theo," she said kissing me softly. "I know."


Part Two

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We were in Central Park having a picnic. It was Sunday and it was an absolutely gorgeous day out. Iíve never really been a big fan of nature personally. The great outdoors have never impressed me much. I found that it just usually led to dirty clothes and broken nails, both of which I consider to be a great tragedy. At least thatís what my experiences in the great outdoors had taught me about it. Nell on the other hand loves the outdoors, so since becoming a couple Iíve made a concerted effort to start liking nature. Or to at the very least to become indifferent to it.

"Itís alright, Iíve got it," I told her. She was about to get up to return a stray soccer ball, but I stopped her. "My left legís been numb for the last half hour anyway."

When I returned from retrieving the ballówhich took longer than I had thought it would since apparently kids DO talk to strangersóNell was ending a call.

"Who was that?" I asked sitting back down. She didnít exactly look thrilled.

"It was my sister," she responded putting the phone down. "She wants to see meÖapparently we need to talk."

"Like hell you do," I said a bit more harshly than I had planned on.

"Theo," she said placing her hand on my thigh. "Sheís my sister."

"Only when it suits her to be," I responded in a somewhat petulant tone. "Youíre not going to see her are you?" I asked suddenly.

"I donít know," Nell responded thoughtfully. I must have made a face or something because she got this nervous expression on her face. "Youíd come thoughÖright?" she asked.

"Of course," I responded immediately taking her hand. "Iíll go. Thereís a strong possibility that when we meet Iíll kick her dumb ass all the way Mexico. But Iíll go," I continued.

"Theo," she said in an admonishing tone, though she was smiling. She doesnít like it when I make threatsóeven though she knows Iím all barkóbut she likes having someone stick up for her, and I live to be that someone.

"Alright," I said in a defeated tone. "Youíre right. Mexico is too farÖIíll kick her ass to Canada."

"Youíre despicable," Nell said smiling all along.

"Arenít I?" I asked smiling.

After that she shifted so that she was lying down beside me and we drifted into a comfortable silence while looking at clouds. During that time I found myself thinking about the first time I met Nellís sister.

{Nell had been at the hospital for two days and still hadnít regained consciousness. I was both to worried and too scared to even attempt going to sleep and the police were in and out of the room questioning David and I about what happened in the house. David handled the details and the police for the most part, but it was still draining. I had spent every hour since Nellís arrival by her bedside holding her hand, or talking to her. Begging her not to leave me. Then one day the door opened and a woman I didnít know walked in.

"Who are you?" I asked getting out of my chair coming to stand between her and Nell. If she was a reporter I was sure I was going to snap.

"Who are you?" she shot back in a clearly annoyed tone.

"Theodora," I responded. "A friend."

"Nell doesnít have any friends," the woman responded looking past me. Her tone was dismissive and I wanted to hit her. Sleep deprivation brings out the worst in me.

"Maybe you donít know her as well as you think you do," I responded. I already disliked her and I didnít even know her name. "Are you going to tell me who the hell you are?"

"Iím her sister, Jane," the woman responded glaring at me.

"Nice of you to make it," I said in a tone that conveyed I wasnít at all impressed by her late arrival. I must have struck a nerve in that vault she calls a heart because she had the decency to look shamed.

"How is she?" her sister asked walking around to the other side of the bed.

"Unconscious," I responded wearily sitting down.

"Are you one of the insomniacs?" she asked me looking up.

"Yeah," I responded laughing darkly. "Iím one of the insomniacs."

"What happened out there?" she asked.

"I wish I knew lady, I wish to God that I knew," I responded staring at Nell.

"Well," Jane said a moment later. "As long as Iím here I could as well ask. Do you know what happened to the car?"

"Excuse me?" I asked looking up at her.

"Do you know what happened to the car?" she repeated. I couldnít believe what I was hearing. Her sister was lying in a coma, possibly dying and she was worried about a car.

"Itís wrecked," I told her. "It was smashed up and then it blew up."

"What?" she asked alarmed.

"It blew up," I repeated. "POW!" I went on clapping my hands together dramatically.

"God," she responded, slumping down into a chair.

"Oh, and Nell wasnít in it," I told her. "In case it ever occurred to you to ask."

"Who are you?" she asked, irritated. "The ťtiquette police?"

"No," I responded turning my head back to Nell. "Just a concerned citizen with a beating heart."

"The papers werenít even finalized," Jane muttered under her breath. "The car wasnít even hers. Weíre going to lose some money on thisÖ" she continued before trailing off so that I couldnít hear her. I stared at her as she spoke in a state of utter bewilderment. This woman was unbelievable. I couldnít even fathom how she and Nell could possibly have been born of the same blood.

I reached down and picked up the purse that had been lying next to Nellís bed. I always kept an extra in my trunk, which was the only reason I still had one. Lord knows I wasnít going back into that house for anything after the ambulance arrived. I opened up my checkbook and wrote for a moment.

"Here," I said, ripping it off. "This should more than cover the value of the car, plus any outstanding debts Nell owes to you," I continued walking over and handing her the check. "So why donít you take it, pack up your noblesse oblige and get the hell out of here."

She took the check from me and folded it up and put it in her bag before standing up.

"You have no right to speak to me that way," she said indignantly. "IÖ" mercifully she was cut off by a nurse.

"Is there a Mrs. Richards here?" a nurse asked walking into the room.

"Iím Mrs. Richards," Jane responded stepping forward.

"Your husbandís on the phone."

With that the She-demon that is Jane Richards left the room leaving Nell and I alone once again. A day later Nell woke up, and I could breath again.}


Part Three

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I traversed the hallway to our bedroom as quietly as possible taking every care in the world to avoid squeaky floorboardsónot that there are anyóand moveable objectsónot that there were any. Coming to the doorway I stopped just short of entering the room and instead chose to lean against the frame looking in. Nell was seatedóquite adorablyóat the desk hunched over a textbook with a notebook to her side. I never would have suspected before what a pleasure it could be to do homeworkóthat is as long as you werenít the one who was doing it. She had started a correspondence course in, of all things, accounting two months before.

She must have sensed my presence because a few minutes after I settled in she turned around and looked at me questioningly.

"Howís it coming?" I asked walking all the way into the room now that I had been busted.

"Along," she responded watching my progress.

"Funny," I responded. "Weíre starting to make the same jokes, you know?"

"Thatís horrible," Nell said as I plopped down on the bed. "I never thought you were funny," she continued her face somber for a moment before dissolving into a grin. I ignored her and got up walking over to the desk so that I could peer over her shoulder. All I could see was a bunch of numbers and charts.

"You honestly CHOSE to study this?" I asked making a face. She merely nodded her head. We had had this discussion already, many times. I couldnít fathom why anyone in their right mind would want to work with numbers all day. Part of this stemmed from the fact that I hate math, and the other part stemmed from the fact that I hate mathóokay, so basically it was the math part that had me stumped. Still, that being said I could see pencil-necks doing it, but Nell wasnít a pencil neck. "Why?"

"It was near the top of the list," she responded looking back at the books. I smiled. Apparently it was sarcastic answer time. When we had talked about it before she had given me serious answers like she found the order involved in it calming, or her father had been an accountant, or it was a viable means of income and so on and so forth. Now she didnít even bother.

"Are you finished?" I whispered bending down and nibbling on her ear suggestively.

"No," she responded.

"Why not?" I whined. I had finished my work; she should be done too. Thatís how things would work in a fair world.

"Theo, did you ever actually GO to school?" Nell asked leaning back into me. I smiled.

"Sure I went IN it," I responded nuzzling her neck as my hands drifted to her waist.

"Be good," she said knocking them away.

"Fine," I said retreating over to the bed and lying down. "Iíll amuse myself," I declared.

As I settled myself on the bed I noticed that she was wearing the same pajamas she wore the first night we were at Hill House and my mind began to drift back. Our first night at Hill House was the first decent nights sleep I had gotten in God only knew how long. However the night was memorable for more reasons than that. It had also marked a key shift in my relationship with Nell. In less than twenty-four hours she had gone from avoiding my touch to inviting me to stay in her bed. It was a pretty impressive improvement; I thoughtóeven if the reason she invited me was because I was acting like a scared baby!

{Later the first night after the fiasco with the thumping and the cold I found that I wasnít able to fall asleep. I know, shocking for an insomniac, but true nonetheless. Anyway, after tossing and turning and then tossing some more I got up, and started pacing trying to tire myself out. I should have brought some paints, working always seemed to calm me down, but instead I had packed a couple pairs of new boots, oh well, I was just going to have to live with the results of my vanity. When the pacing didnít work I gave up and headed over to Nellís room after grabbing somethingówhat I wasnít sure of at the timeóoff of my dresser.

Making my way through the washroom in the dark wasnít the smartest idea Iíd ever had I decided halfway though, and it proved itself to be particularly dumb move when I tripped over a chair. All the kingsí horses and all the kingsí men could put that chair together again. Despite the heartache however I persevered and picked myself up as gracefully as possible and continued over to Nellís door. Once I reached it I leaned my ear against it to see if I could hear her moving around in there. I didnít want to be alone but I didnít want to wake her either. As miserable as I was I wasnít going to force a sleepless night on her if by some miracle she had managed to fall asleep.

It was of no consequence anyway, because moments after I placed my ear on the door it was flung open and Nell was standing there with a vase ready to attack.

"Shit!" I yelled jumping back.

"Sorry," Nell said lowering the vase much to my delight. "I heard somethingÖI thoughtÖI didnítÖare you okay?"

"YeahÖyeah," I responded my heart rate lowering. "Nice jammies," I added looking at her for the first time. "Can I come in?"

"YesÖof course," she said stepping back. "What are you doing up?"

"Insomnia," I responded. "Always seems to happen around bed-time," I continued moving further into the room. "Anyway I figured youíre an insomniac, Iím an insomniac, we could as well be insomniacís togetherÖmaybe get a nightcap," I said. Then I looked down at my hands and realized what I was holding. "Only with cards. A nice game of Gin Rummy before we head off to bed. Iím ashamed to say that red wine after midnight has a nasty effect on me."

"Alright," Nell agreed though she was looking at me oddly and had drawn out the word as long as was humanly possible.

"Where do you want to play?" I asked looking around the room.

"Wherever," Nell responded. "Are you alright? Youíre looking a littleÖanemic. Bad dream?"

"Nah, I thought itíd be a nice treat to reenact the Spanish Inquisition," I responded irritably. Red wine wasnít the only thing that had a nasty effect on me after midnight; sleeplessness also did nothing to improve my disposition. Still, I regretted the words immediately and even more after I saw Nellís expression. She hadnít deserved that. She hadnít had to let me into her room, or onto her bed. "Iím sorry Nell, really," I told her apologetically. "Itís just this houseÖits giving me the creeps. Seriously giving me the creeps."

She didnít respond right away and I wondered if I was about to be kicked out.

"TheoÖwhat are you really doing here?" she asked a moment later.

"Nightcap, gin rummyÖfemale bonding. Perhaps, even a frisky pillow fight. Girl stuff," I responded flashing her a smile before beginning to deal out the cards.

"Youíre scared," she said smartly.

"No, Iím not. Iím creeped out and I canít sleep," I responded. "Youíre what? Surprised? Iím an insomniac in the Addamís family mansion. I think this a quite an acceptable response."

"You donít want to be alone," she went on wisely ignoring my tirade. She was right of course, but I wasnít quite ready to admit it then.

"Itís funny that you should say that. Itís funny that you should say that because when you think about it, are any of us REALLY alone? Itís a very intriguing subject actually, I meanÖ"

"Theo."

"Yes?"

"You can stay with me tonightÖif you promise NOT to tell me why itís intriguing,"

"Deal," I responded.

"Not so fast," she said putting up her hand.

"Who was being fast?" I asked. She ignored me--again.

"Thereís to be no funny stuff," she said seriously.

"No funny stuff," I repeated. "Does that mean we have to spend the whole time talking about the economy and the situation in the Middle East?" I asked though I knew that wasnít the funny stuff she was talking about.

"Thatís not the funny stuff Iím talking about," she replied.

"No frisky pillow fights?" I asked raking my eyes over her.

"No. And none of that either," she responded.

"You have my word, no funny stuff," I told her.

"I donít know why but I donít find that very comforting," she responded. I simply smiled in response.

"How do you feel about strip poker?" I asked my smile growing. Nellís face showed a look of impending doom.}

I had held Nell for the first time that night. I hadnít lied earlier on when I had told her that I wouldnít try any funny stuff, things just happened to work out that way. We only played one or two games of gin rummy before we both stopped pretending to be at all interested in playing games. After we both flung our arms up in defeat we decided that the best course of action would be to just attempt to go to sleep, so Nell shut off the small bedside light that was illuminating the room and we lay there in darkness. We didnít fall asleep. I have the feeling that it was my presence in the bed that was keeping Nell awake. As for what my problem was, there are two answers. One was insomnia. Two, trying not to try any funny stuff.

{"Are you really an artist?" Nell had asked me just as the silence was beginning to become oppressive.

"I surely am," I responded keeping my gaze trained on the canopy above us.

"What have you painted?" she asked curiously. I felt her weight shift and knew that she was looking at me.

"Pictures," I responded not moving an inch. She didnít think that was funny so I continued. "Probably nothing youíve heard of. Probably nothing anybodyís hear of. Iím becoming convinced that my parentís are the ones buying all of my work so that I wonít move back home."

"Iím sure youíre very good," she said diplomatically. It was a crock of shit.

"Thatís a crock of shit," I told her finally shifting so that I was looking at her as well. "Iíll show you somethingÖthen you can decide."

"You donít have to," she replied, but I could tell that she was curious.

"I want to," I responded. And it was true. "I already know what Iíll do."

"What?"

"You." The phrasing was a bit suggestive and if Nell had had a mind to she could have made the case that it was funny stuff and kicked me out, but she didnít.

"Why?" she asked a moment later. She sound genuinely confounded.

"This house is a muted, gaudy, monstrosity. Iím all about soft colours and shimmering. When I create something I like to put something of the eternal in it," I replied my gaze having returned to the canopy above us. "Youíre the most radiant thing in this house. Thatís why I want to draw you," I went on my eyes flickering over to her again before drifting away once more.

She was quiet for so long after that that I began to wonder if she had fallen asleep. I turned around to check but just as I did she spoke.

"Thatís probably the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me," she breathed out softly.

"Itís true," I said simply. "Youíre very lovely."

"Thatís funny stuff, Theo," she responded.

"I know. I canít help myself," I responded. "Does it bother you? Really?" I went on keeping my eyes trained on her. She looked away.

"No," she finally responded her voice so quiet I almost couldnít hear her. I smiled. "Do you flirt this much with everyone?" she asked turning around again.

"Whoís flirting?" I asked as innocently as possible.

"You are," she responded.

"Oh, is that what this is?" I asked daring her to hold my gaze.

"You were right earlier, I have been out of the world for a long timeÖbut not that long." There was the Nell I was beginning to know and would soon grow to love. "Subtlety isnít youíre strong suit is it Theo?"

"I donít have the time, patience or inclination to be subtle. It all leads to the same conclusion whether drawn out or straight to the point doesnít it?" I responded raising an eyebrow.

"Whatís the conclusion?" Nell asked.

"I donít know thatís up to you," I responded seriously throwing the proverbial ball in her court.

Her eyes drifted away from me, as she seemed to consider my answer. Moments or hours lateróIím not sure whichóshe gave her eyes to me again.

"Goodnight Theo," was her only response and with that she turned on her sideóher back to meóand went to sleep.

I stared at her back for quite sometime after that grinning broadly. The more I saw of Eleanor Vance the more I liked. I was still smiling when my eyes closed and I drifted off into a fitful sleep.

When I awoke in the morning Nell and I were wrapped together like pigs in a blanket, and for the first time in a decade I awoke feeling wonderful on a Monday morning.}


Part Four

------------------------------------------------------

For some reason after returning from Hill House I found that I had begun to do more abstract expressionist paintings. Itís like the experience at the house had unlocked the abstract part of my brain that saw more than what was normally visible, and I havenít been able to shut it off since. When we first returned home, I didnít want to do anything let alone work. The only time that picked up a pencil or a paintbrush in those first few weeks was to draw Nell. She inspired me I guess.

At that moment I had been sitting on a bench finishing up my latest piece. Jonathan, the director of the Gallery I preferred, was surprised at the change in technique at first but it had grown on him. As I finished up the last of it I felt a pair of hands come to rest on my shoulders. I had the bench so that it was longitudinal which allowed Nell of the option as sliding in behind me, and thatís exactly what she did.

"We have to go," she said resting her chin on my shoulder.

"Iím almost done," I told her resuming what I was doing.

"If you donít get dressed weíre going to be more than fashionably late," Nell responded. "Thereís a difference between making an entrance and making a spectacle."

"Are you sure?" I asked putting the paintbrush down. I then stood up and turned around so that I was facing her. "Itís just David, and he can bloody well wait for us," I continued.

"Mary and Todd are going to be there as well," Nell responded.

"What ever happened to them?" I asked. "I thought they were suppose to come right back?" I continued making a face.

"Mary had to get surgery on her eye, and Todd had to stay with her," Nell responded. "I told you this last week."

"Really? When?" I asked. I had no recollection of this, none whatsoever.

"WhenÖwe wereÖyou know," Nell started to say, her face reddening with every word. "Never mind." I smiled only one thing made her stutter like that. We must have been engaged in some sort of erotic recreational activity when she told me.

"Come on," I said letting her off the hook. "We wouldnít want to make a spectacle," I continued heading for the bedroom.


If three days into our stay at Hill House, when we found out what was really going on, someone had told me that six months later I would be having dinner with Dr. David Morrow, I would have laughed in their face and demanded a drug test. I had been so angry with himónot even so much for bringing us to the house under false pretenses so that he could scare us, but for letting it go on for so long when he saw what it was doing to Nell. He had been a big help and a pillar of support those days at the hospital when we were waiting for Nell to regain consciousness, but I still couldnít help but be angry with him. Really angry.

The thing was that even though Nell had been through the mostóexcept for poor Lukeóshe held no grudge against David. In fact she was grateful to him for bringing her there and giving her the opportunity to save the souls of the children Hugh Crane had stolen. And also, as she so gently reminded me, for bringing us together as well. And she was right, on both counts. Even though he had no way of knowing that his actions would have the results they did, good was achieved through his morally dubious expedition and after that I found it hard to maintain the level of hostility I had once held towards him.

"Well Iím all for do-gooding," I said raising my glass to my lips. "Do-gooding will result wonít it?" I asked a moment later. The trip to the house may not have turned out the way the good Doctor expected it too, but if there was one thing in that house it was fear, and he got an up close and personal study of it. Enough of a study of it that he was able to write and publish the paper that had been his goal all along. Hence, the dinner party we were currently at.

"I hope so," he responded twirling his wine around in the glass. "The thought that perhaps the knowledge I gained duringÖour time at Hill House can help others is one of the only things that makes the knowledge of what happened there, and the part that I played in it tolerable."

"You couldnít have known what was going to happen," Nell pointed out in attempt to alleviate Davidís distress.

"Thatís true, but Theo was quite right all those months ago. I had no right to lure you all there under false pretenses. There are limits to what men should be allowed to do in the name of science and I overstepped them."

"What happened out there anyway?" Todd asked.

"The question should be, what didnít happen out there?" I said finishing off what was left in glass and getting another. "Because thereís not much to say in response to that."

"Could you try?" Todd asked raising an eyebrow. I smiled at him.

"Spontaneous climate changes, thumping wallsÖ" I started checking off points on a mental list.

"Giant fists made out of brass emerging from walls," Nell added.

"Really?" I asked. "I didnít know about that."

"It was when I ran away," she responded shrugging.

"Oh," I said frowning a little. "Anyway, there was also ghosts hanging from rafters, and bloody foot printsÖand thatís before things started to get really weird."

"I knew it," Mary said softly. "I could feel it from the moment we walked into the house. There was evil inside."

"See, all I got from it at first was creepy," I responded shaking my head. "But, it didnít mean much to me at the time because I get the same feeling when I walk into the Pottery Barn."

That comment caused a few snickers to go around the table, but Nell was amused for an entirely different reason. She found the comment funny because she knew that I had never set foot inside of a Pottery Barn and that I had no plans to rectify that situation.

"So it was an actual, honest to God haunted house?" Todd asked. He couldnít seem to quite wrap his mind around the idea.

"Not even Mortisha and Gomez would have wanted to live in this place," I responded. "Are you upset that you missed the opportunity to have fiveÖpossibly even six years shaved off of your life expectancy? Cause Iíd trade ya," I continued.

"Iíll pass," Todd responded. "I think I saw my fair share of blood for that trip."

Maryís eye twitched when he said that, and he had the good grace to look regretful.

"How is your eye?" Nell asked gently looking over at Mary.

"Itís fine," Mary responded smiling a little. "There was a plastic surgeon on call and he pretty much took care of any cosmetic damage there may have been," she continued. "Itís just that when I think about itÖ" she started to say but she trailed off.

"Trust me, Iím right there with you," I told her. "I mean, I for one am never going to look at a gargoyle the same way ever again in life."


There was a bay window in the hallway of Davidís house and after what seemed like a zillion games of go-fish I retreated out into the hallway to look through them. I must only have been out there for two or three minutes when I felt a presence come up behind me. Turning around I saw David standing behind me.

"Three time loser?" I asked smiling slightly.

"Yeah. Iím really more of a poker man myself," he responded before joining me in my vigil. "Nellís looking well," he commented a few moments later. "I was worried about her."

"Sheís dealt with everything exceptionally well," I related. "Once we got back to the city, I was the one falling apart."

"So, having her go back with you worked out well?" he asked shuffling his feet a little before settling into a stance that looked anything but casual.

"Better than I could have hoped for," I responded smiling. "Itís been good for Nell to get away from the She-demonís influence."

"The She-demon?" he asked slightly confused.

"Nellís sister. As you can see Iím not to fond of her. But itís okay, the feelingís mutual. Sheís even made retirement plans for me, apparently I can rot in hell for the rest of eternity. Thatís a bit more long term than Iím considering at the moment so I was forced to suggest she shove that option up her fat ass," I responded.

"Yes, I remember her. We met at the hospital. Sheís ratherÖ" he stopped searching for a politically correct term.

"Vile?" I offered. He smirked.

"Still suffering from the insomnia?" he asked. I looked up at him, and he lowered his head.

"Yeah," I responded. "But itís getting better. On and off you know. You should be happy to know however thatís Nellís has gone completely."

He nodded his head and returned his gaze to the window.

"I have absolutely no idea whether itís appropriate to ask this question or not, but I was wonderingÖ" he started to say but I interrupted him. I knew what he wanted to know.

"The answer is yes," I told him smiling a little.

"I didnít even finish the question," he said looking at me.

"You were going to ask about Nell and I right?" I said meeting his gaze. "Are we more than roommates? The answerís yes." I paused giving him a moment to absorb the confirmation. "Does that bother you?" I asked a moment later.

"No, not at all. Poor Toddís going to be heart broken however, I think he has a bit of a crush on you," he responded smiling.

"No!" I responded sarcastically. Davidís smile simply grew.

"I had thought as much about you and Nell actually. A few days into the stay I noticed that the two of you becameÖrather affection towards each other."

I smirked. "Did that make it into the paper, too?" I asked. "Day two subjects B and C seem to be gravitating towards each other. Note to self; investigate whether the amplified endorphins produced due to accesses of fear lead to increased hormone levels. If so set up video camera and invite subject A over for beer and nachos," I went on lowering my voice and adopting a contrived faÁade of academic curiosity.

It took him a moment to realize that I was playing around with him.

"Only two, three pages at the most," he responded finally.

"Good to know," I responded returning my attention out the window.

"Iím happy for you two," he said a moment later. "You both look very happy."

"Happy for us, or happy that something favorable besides your paper resulted from our vacation upstate?" I asked.

"A bit of both I suppose," he answered honestly. "A bit of both."

"Why do I get the feeling that youíve joined me on the list of hopeless insomniacs?" I asked a moment later.

"Because I have," he responded with a weary smile. "If youíre at all interested Iím thinking of conducting a study."

I stared at him for a moment, then burst out laughing. He joined in and soon the others came from the living room to see what all of the commotion was about. We tried to tell them, but it was really one of those Ďyou had to be thereí moments.


Part Five

-------------------------------------------------------

The memory is a funny thing. It was less than a year ago that I first stepped into Hill House, but the life that I was living before heading out to Berkshires seemed like a dream. Itís fuzzily familiar, but elusive. Itís like I canít quite remember what my life was like before. Iíd like to think that maybe itís because Iím finally happy, because Iím finally content, so what came before doesnít really matter. Like the life that Iím living now is real and what came before it was just some sort of waking nightmare. All I can really remember now is a life that was like a revolving door. People walking in and out at all times, busily trying to get on with their own lives. This is going to sound weird, but when I think about it I concluded that I had been very much like a park bench. People would stop by frequently, stay for while. There would be talking, eating, kissing, and fucking, and then they would be gone and another one would come along. Popular but unloved.

I frown now when I think about that time, and I wonder what the hell was the matter with me that I went on that way for so long. But then I remember that I didnít feel like a bench back then. I felt likeÖI donít know what I felt like, only that it wasnít bad. I liked what I was doing back then. Painting, partying, shopping, and fucking were all I was interested inóthough not necessarily in that orderóand I was fine with that. Now, the mere thought of going back to a life like that depresses me beyond belief.

My acquaintancesóI would call them friends but Iím not entirely sure that they areóthink that Iíve gone completely loco. In fact, I can clearly remember a conversation that took place a few weeks after we got back from Hill House that pretty much summed up all of their feelings.

{"Come on Theo, you havenít done shit since you got back from Transylvania, or where ever the hell it was you took off to," Tricia complained from the other end of the phone.

"Iíve been busy," I responded distractedly. I was debating whether I wanted to drop kick her, or merely hit her over the head with a shovel. Both were uncomfortably appealing options at that particular moment.

"With what? Your little orphan girl?" I could almost see her rolling her eyes. "The girl is Sarah plain and tall without the tall part. Whatís next, taking in wet puppies off of the street?"

"Listen, Iíve got plans," I said taking the subject off of Nell. I really didnít want to get into a fight over the phone with Tricia. When she wanted to the woman could make Dr. Laura look downright huggable.

"Really?" she asked, her voice rising giddily. I cringed. "Whatís his name?" I didnít responded. "Her name?" she asked wrongly assuming that my silence was due to her picking the wrong gender. "Donít tell me itís a Ďtheir namesí situation, cause if you do Iím coming over! Come on, TheoÖ"

"Guggenheim," I said a moment later.

"Thatís a guy right? Is he Bulgarian?"

"No, heís dead."

"What?"

"Itís a museum," I said already getting bored with the game I had started. "Guggenheim is the guy the museum is named after."

"Whatíd he die there or something?" she asked.

I rolled my eyes.

"Yeah," I responded. "I think that he did."

"Well, fuck Guggie," she responded. I knew the only reason she said it like that was because she couldnít pronounce the name. I sighed, deeply. "Ripperís gonna be there," she continued.

"At the Guggenheim?"

"No, at the WarehouseÖasshole," she added for what I had to assume was dramatic effect.

"So?"

"So he just got back from an Ďexpeditioní." That meant that he had a shit load of drugs in his possession that were just waiting to disappear up someoneís noseófor a reasonable price of course, and a lovely tote bag.

"Iím not interested," I responded, and it was true. I wasnít sure who was more surprised by the honesty of my response, Tricia or me.

"Youíre not interested?" she asked slowly. Softly. The idea as alien to her mind as the proposition that some people had to work for their money instead of just going to the Ďcoloured boxesí. Her fragile little mind just couldnít quite seem to grasp the concept. "How the fuck can you not be interested? Youíre always fucking interested! Hell, you usually plan this shit!"

"Things change," I muttered under my breath, but loud enough that she could hear.

"Theo, seriously," she said softly. She sounded almost concerned. It made my head hurt. "What the fuck did they do to you in Transylvania?"

"Berkshire, the house was in Berkshire."

"Whatever," she responded. I could picture her waving her hand in the air, brushing off my statement like an annoying insect. I had interrupted her bitching just when she was getting started. "The point is that youíve been acting bizarrely since you got back. Fucking bizarrely."

"Do you think that you could find another adjective?" I asked wincing at the use of a version of the word Ďfuckí for what had to have been the millionth time.

"What?"

"Every other word out of your mouth is Ďfuckí," I said. "Variety isnít only the spice of life, but a virtue that you should strive for."

"A virtue that I should strive for? What the hell is the matter with you?" Despite her toneówhich was loud and gratingóI was relieved. She didnít say Ďfuckí.

"Nothing is wrong with me," I shot back in a disgruntled tone. "Iím just re-evaluating certain aspects of my life style."

"What aspects? The fun parts?"

"I have fun," I responded frowning at my tone. I sounded petulant and defensive.

"What, playing Jenga with Sarah?"

"Her name is Nell."

"What the fuck is that all about anyway? With this Nell person. Who the hell is she, and why is she staying with you?"

"Mom is that you?" I asked caustically. "Sheís a friend, we met in TransylÖBerkshire," I corrected glaring at the phone cradle as if it could transmit my irritation across the phone lines. "She needed a place to stay."

"Doesnít she have a family?"

"No," I responded thinking about Nellís sister and shuddering. My family wasnít exactly the Waltonís, but I know what family is supposed to be about and thatóher sisterówasnít it.

"God, she really is an orphan."

"Will you shut up," I said. That last comment really pissed me off. "Nell is my friend, and more importantly sheís one of the most decent people Iíve ever met. Which is really a formal way of saying that if you donít like it you can suck my ass."

There was a moment of silence, then I heard a sigh.

"Whoa," she exhaled the word. "What a mind-fuck." I started to respond to that but she stopped me. "Listen, despite the fact that youíve obliviously gone insaneÖIíve got to go."

"Alright," I said trying not to sound as relieved as I actually was. "Later."}

Yep, all of my acquaintances think that Iíve gone insane. Maybe I have. All that I know is that if Iím nuts, I want to stay that way, because reality has been highly overratedÖno doubt due to a good press agent.

Nell was lying in my arms. We were in the living room on the couch. We were watching "The Sound of Music". Actually she was watching "The Sound of Music". I had tuned out sometime after the first song and dance number.

I shifted slightly so that Nell and I were face to face. When her eyes met mine I leaned forward and kissed her. My kiss must have revealed the depressing nature of my thoughts because when we separated she looked at me thoughtfully while stroking my hair.

"You okay?" she asked gently.

"Yeah," I responded running my hand under her shirt. Screw the Van Trapp family, I wanted to make love to her. "Iím real good," said drawing out the word Ďrealí lecherously as I removed her shirt.

"Theo," she breathed out as my hand continued to explore the soft skin under her shirt.

I captured her lips with mine and kissed her hungrily. She responded with an equal passion, pushing herself into my hands, encouraging me to continue. I obeyed and continued to run my hands under her shirt while nibbling at her alabaster neck. I have to state right up front that I love Nellís body, her arms so pale and slender, the line of her shoulder, the dip of her collar boneÖeverything. Sometimes when weíre together my only desire is to look at her and memorize her body and the curves and subtle lines that compose her. I want her image, and the feel of her body to be burned into my brain so that she is all that I see when I close my eyes.

I returned my mouth to hers in a lingering caress, then moved down sliding my mouth along the sweet expanse of her skin, tasting her, taking her in as I went along. I loitered in the place where her elbow bent as my hand drifted across the smooth skin of her stomach then down her thighs. I wanted to touch her forever; I would if I could. I would crawl into her and place my heart next to hers.

A string of goose bumps rose on her skin in the wake of my mouth and I felt a shudder run through her body. I love the way her body moves, the way she bits her lip, the wily smile that tugs at her lips and the small sounds that she makes while I love her. I feel her hands graze my stomach as they move up, down and all around me. I captured her lips again wanting, nay needing to taste her. She moaned into my mouth and felt her hands slid down body, to my waist.

"Youíre wearing too many clothes," I mumbled into her shoulder before I started to tug on the helm of shirt tugging it up.

"I could say that youíre struck by the same affliction," Nell mumbled as I lifted her shirt over her head. Being a woman of action I decided to simply rectify the situation. And we were naked, skin against skin, breast to breast, fire against raging fire.

Then she entered me and I slid my fingers inside of her. It seemed as if we ended and began together. I felt her moving against me and I joined her that dance older than time. I wanted, want, nothing other that loving embrace, her touching me, me touching her. And then we fell together, into each other. And it was good.


Part Six

-------------------------------------------------------

I turned my attention from the window where I had been watching the snowfall, to Nell who was sitting beside me. We were in a cab on the way to my parentís house and she was fidgeting around like a mad woman. At one point I had actually considered sitting on her to get her to keep still. She was very nervous; I could feel it radiating off of her in waves.

"Everything will be fine," I said taking her hand. "Itíll be gold, youíll see."

"What if they donít like me?"

"They already like you. Youíve made me much more manageable. That makes you their second favorite person after Jesus."

"Iím justÖI feel soÖ"

"I know," I said drawing her into an embrace. "I promise everything will be fine." She was apprehensive because of the meeting we had had with her sister a few days before. I was sure of it.

Let me just state right up front, in case the condition wasnít made clear before, that I absolutely detest Nellís sister. Also, I must make it clear that she despises me just as much as I loath her. However, though I immediately disliked her, I believe it took her a few meetings to fully come into her hatred for me. Either way our last meeting was not a pleasant experience.

This time she knew the true nature of my relationship with Nell, and she busted out the ladder and climbed up onto her moral soapbox. At the time I wasnít quite sure how she found out since I was certain she didnít have the mental capacity to put it together herself. I was right too; later that night I found out that Nell had told her. So, after asking me to pass the gravy, she launched into a tirade in which she basically accused me of being a predatory lesbian fem-bot programmed to corrupt the innocent and gullible into entering my circle of sexual perversion. After she finished I waited half expecting her to add, "resistance is futile". Truthfully, I was as amused by her

diatribe as I was insulted by it. My response to her had been, "Actually itís more of a pentagon of perversion. It makes it easier for us to summon our demonic overlords that way." Janeís husband and I seemed to be the only ones at the table who were amused by the response.

Sufficed to say that thing went even further downhill from there. While Nell tried to reason with her sister I continued to antagonize her. While all of that was going on her husband just sat there doing nothing but occasionally smirking at some comment I made at his wifeís expense. This eventually led her to accuse him of wanting to sleep with me. He just rolled his eyes at that and gave a half-hearted denial, which sent her into another tantrum. I tried to defuse the situation by telling her that it was hardly an option anyway, but the lecherous grin that formed on my faceócompletely of itís own violationóafterwards only got her calling me everything form a communist to El Diablo himself.

On the way home I found out just how unimpressed Nell was with my behavior. Once we left and I had time to reflect upon my actions I realized that my behavior had been inappropriate, and that even though I hated Jane, I was sorry because I had just made things considerably harder for Nell. I was at times like that that I cursed my poor impulse control and my devastating wit. The communication that resulted from the dinner-not-quite-a-party was this:

{I came out of the bathroom rubbing at my wet hair vigorously with my head facing down. The trip back to the city from Janeís house had been a silent and tense one. I knew I had behaved badly but I didnít know how to go about conveying it other than showering Nell with "Iím sorryís" that just didnít seem to be doing the trick. Looking up I saw her sitting on the windowsill. She had been looking out the window but when I walked into the room she turned to face me.

I stopped drying my hair and lowered the towel to my side meeting her gaze.

"I donít know what you want me to say," I said finally moving over to sit on the edge of the bed.

"I donít want you to say anything," she responded. "I want you to understand."

"I do," I insisted. "Thatís why Iím sorry."

"Whyíd you do it?" she asked still not moving over to join me.

"I donít know," I said standing up starting to pace. "Thatís what I do, what can I say, people are right, Iím a bitch," I said tossing my arms up in the air helplessly.

"Youíre not a bitch," she responded softly.

"Yes I am," I replied. "Iíve worked very hard over the years to perfect it too. I donít like most people, and I like my friends even less. Iíve never particularly wanted people to stay around for very long and being a high riding bitch was one way to insure that," I said still pacing around and looking at my feet. "Itís a defense and an offense and itís pretty much been programmed for automatic pilot which means it sometimes happens even when I donít want it to."

I walked over to her taking a seat beside her.

"Youíre sister attacked me, attacked us and I responded." I took her hand into mine. "God Nell, I love you. I love you more than I thought I was capable of loving anyone or anything and I HATE your sister for attacking that, but Iíll admit the course of action I adopted was a poor choice and Iím sorry."

I took my free hand and placed it on her cheek stroking the skin lightly with my thumb.

"I told you once that you made me want to be a better person," I said leaning in closer to her, "and I meant it. Itís just going to take a little work. I need you to bare with me," I said closing the last distance between us and brushing my lips against hers. "I need you, period," I whispered after pulling back.

She moved over closer to me and I wrapped my arms around her drawing her into a hug.

"Still love me?" I asked finally releasing her with a smile.

"How could I not?" she responded but then her face turned serious.

"Iím going to have to be nice to her next time arenít I?" I asked pouting a little. She nodded solemnly. Somehow I had known that would be her answer.

"How much damage control do you think youíll have to do to smooth this one over?" I asked a moment later.

"Not much," she responded smiling. "Jane never liked you anyway."}

So, understandably after all of that drama, Nell was concerned about what the meeting with my family was going to be like. We were going there for Thanksgiving; it was the first time in years that I had actually taken up the invitation.

"You must be Eleanor," my mother said warmly as she walked up to Nell.

"Yes, Iím very pleased to meet you," Nell said eyeing my brother who was reaching for her jacket. She looked at me questioningly and I nodded telling her it was all right to give it to him.

"Itís not his colour," I said leaning in close to her.

After the introductions were out of the way my mother turned her gaze towards me, and proceeded to carry out a visual inspection. It had been awhile since we had last seen each other.

"Are you about done?" I asked a little peevishly as I shifted from foot to foot. I hated it when she did this. I felt like a lab specimen or something.

"Thereís the Theo we know and have come to tolerate," my brother, Alexander, said in response. I glared at him.

Our mother moved so that she was standing beside me and placed her hand on the small of my back. "Everyoneís in the game room. Shall we?" I nodded and she started to push me in the correct direction while Alex linked his arm through Nellís and smiled at her charmingly before leading her after us.


I was finding it increasingly hard to concentrate on what my father was saying to me. I knew he was talking because I could see his lips moving and I was aware of a low kind of rumbling sound that I was sure was his voice, still I couldnít quite make out what it was he was saying.

"Sorry, what was that?" I asked turning to look at him.

"I said I saw your last show," he responded looking at me keenly. I hate it when people look at me keenly. "Perhaps," he went on slowlyóstill looking at me keenly Iíd like to addó "you should use some of the money you got from it to buy a hearing aid."

"Hardy, har, har," I responded smiling jeeringly at him. I may look my mother, but I definitely got dear dadís sense of humour.

"Iím sure sheís not going anywhere," he said a moment later following my gaze over to Nell who was seated with my brother across the room. ĎItís not her Iím worried aboutí I thought to myself darkly. I knew there was going to be trouble when I saw Alex whisk Nell away shortly after we arrived. That was one of the down sides of hardly ever seeing my family, they werenít aware whenever I had emotional growth spurts.

"I wasnít looking at her anyway," I responded defensively turning away from the two of them. Alex was reading her palm, that was the cheesiest trick in the book, I had thought him that one when I was thirteen and now he was using on my girlfriend! That was just wrong.

"Alex," my father called out a moment later waving him over when he looked up. Alex for his part looked upset about the interruption but came over nonetheless. Coming to a stop in front of our father he winked at me before speaking!

"How may I be of serve?" he asked.

"Go bring out some more drinks," our father responded indicating the empty bottles. Alex pouted.

"I told you we should have had this thing catered," he gripped. Dad and I both responded by looking at him keenly and he went away.


"Hey," I said cornering Alex in the kitchen. My parents had taken possession of Nell as soon as I got up and the three of them were now going through the old photo albums.

"Whatís up?" he asked resting the wine bottle heíd been holding back on the counter.

"This isnít like before," I told him seriously.

"Yeah, I know. This is a Chardonnay," he responded.

"Fuck that Alex, you know what I mean."

"This isnít about me chatting up the flavor of the month is it?" he asked incredulously.

"Actually it is," I told him leaning against the counter. "Donít touch her, donít even try."

"Not through with her yet, huh?" he asked with a smug smirk on his face. I wanted to hit him. I love Alex, but sometimes he just reminds me too much of the worst parts of myself and I canít stand it.

"Sheís not a fucking chew toy, and weíre still very much together," I said before pushing off the edge of the counter and walking over closer to him. "I mean it Alex, leave her alone."

"What? Are you afraid sheíll fall for my manly charms?"

"No," I answered softly. And it was the truth; I wasnít worried about Nell falling for him or anyone else. "Nellís going to be around a lot more from now on, and sheís too nice to say anything but not only are you wasting your time youíre also making a jack ass out of yourself."

We were silent for a moment as he regarded me.

"Well, shit on me," he said finally shaking his head.

"Nellís different, Iím serious about this," I said ignoring his disbelieving look

"Alright," he said slowly. "So sheís a concentrated effort," he said picking up steam now certain that he was on the right track. "I get that. That doesnít mean that youíre allowed to go messing around with my head like that. Fuck, Theo, for a second I thought you were serious about her or something. I damn near had a heart attack."

"No messing," I said coming to stand in front of him. "I am serious about her. Iím in love with her in fact."

"Nobody sent me the memo about Hell freezing over," Alex muttered as he ran a hand through his hair. "JesusÖI mean...with you when it rains it pours, huh?"

I smiled. "If youíre surprised imagine how I felt," I said shaking my head.

He held up his hands in the universal sign of piece. "Alright, Iíve been called lots of things but never a home wrecker and never one from my own home. You know I love picking up the tasty morsels you leave behind but since this is kosherÖlisten you donít have to worry about me trying anything more. And if itís worth anything I was getting nowhere with her in a big hurry."

"I wouldnít have expected anything less," I responded. "I told you Nellís specialÖall around. You wonít find anyone better," I went on smiling.

"Wow," he said. "Wow." I nodded. "Listen, Iíve got to get this out there, but later you and me weíll do the talking thing?"

"Yeah," I responded and he walked out of the room still shaking his head.


I felt Nell approaching me before she placed her hand on my shoulder. I turned around so that I was facing her and took her hand in mine.

"Did you have fun chatting with Ma and Pa?" I asked with an exaggerated southern drawl for no real reason other than I wanted to.

"Yeah," Nell responded smiling. "You were cute when you were little," she continued leaning into me slightly.

"Unlike the barking car chaser that I am today," I said drawing her into a hug.

"Thatís not what I meant," Nell said snuggling to my embrace. "And you know it."

"Indeed I do," I responded before placing a kiss on her temple and pulling away. "They didnít show you anything too humiliating did they?"

"You want to know if they brought out the nudie pictures," Nell stated smiling.

"Well?" I asked.

"You loved you rubber ducky, didnít you?" Nell asked, the smile never leaving her face.

"Ohhh," I groaned dropping my head into my hands.

"You looked absolutely charming in your little tutuís," Nell said in response to my piteous moan.

"Ohhh," I repeated.

"I like your parents, theyíre very nice," Nell said once I had recovered suitably. I nodded in agreement "YouÖ" she started to say, but she trailed off.

"What?" I asked encouraging her on.

"You donít see them very often do you?"

"No," I said in a kind of half sigh as I leaned up against the wall. "Not really," I added.

"Why?" she asked coming to stand beside me, mimicking my posture.

I looked over at her but didnít respond right away. One of the things that I learned at Hill House was that family was important to Nell, and it wounded her that there was such tension between her and her immediate family. The fact that I didnít spend much time with my family, and for apparently no reason, confused her. Frankly, now that I thought about it confused me too.

"I donít know," I said finally. "I just wantedÖfreedom, I guess. I found my parents influence to be suffocating at times."

"Theyíve been worried about you," Nell said in response.

"With good reason," I responded. "I wasnít in a good place before I went to Hill House. In fact thatís why I went. I needed to get away and try and clear my head. I justÖthey probably would have been more worried about me if they had seen me."

"And now?" Nell asked stepping into the embrace I offered. It was suddenly very important for me to feel her near me.

"Iím in a very good place," I said smiling. "And I will therefore endeavor to visit them at regular intervals."

"No one could ask for more," Nell responded smiling.

I looked over her head in the direction my parents were sitting in. My father was busy comparing cigars with Alex, but my motherís eyes met mine. Nell shifted so that she was looking in the same direction that I was looking in after moment. Then my mother smiled at us and turned away to say something to my father.

"Were they always soÖ" Nell started to ask.

"Cosmopolitan?" I asked smirking.

"Understanding."

"They got used to it. It was much more economic to just accept it," I responded.

"Economic?"

"I was going on a myriad of expensive vacations when they were still in the transitory stage," I answered. "But sheís not being soÖconciliatory because sheís some sort of PFLAG mother or anything."

Nell simply looked up at me questioningly.

"Youíre the first person Iíve ever brought home," I said in response to the look.

"Because you didnít come home a lot," she said nodding in understanding, but she didnít understand.

"No," I said lifting her head up so that our eyes met, while I silently cursed the damage her family had done to her. "Youíre the first person Iíve ever wanted to bring home," I told her not breaking our gaze. "I have this uncle Morty, who always used to parade around a profusion of women at every family gathering. It was pathetic; sad really since three weeks later theyíd all have left him for some other rich old man, this time with hair. It made me decide that I wasnít ever going to do that, that when I brought someone home it was going to be for keeps."

"For keeps?" she asked.

"For keeps," I repeated. "To infinity and beyond," I added smiling.

"I saw that movie," she said slapping me on the shoulder. I just smiled and wrapped my arms around her.

"Come on, theyíre starting to serve dinner," I said dragging her in the direction of the kitchen.

"How do you know that," she said letting me tug her in the right direction.

"Iím just following my nose."


Part Seven

-----------------------------------------------------------

"Youíve probably spent more time in your room tonight than in the last five years." The voice came from the doorway of my old room. It was my mother. I was inside the room sitting on my bed. I had brought Nell up here about a half-hour before; she had been interested to see it. But, about two minutes earlier Alex had come up and dragged her away on a tour of the house. I was going to go as well but he had told me mom was on her way up to see me.

"Youíre probably right," I said turning to face her.

She came and sat down on the bed beside me then proceeded to stare at me once again.

"I really hate it when you do that," I commented a moment later.

"I know," she said sighing. "But I hardly see you so when I do I have to commit the image to memory."

I was silent. The comment was true and it shamed me. I didnít know what to say.

"Things will be different now," I said finally looking down at my feet. "Iíll beÖmuch more availableÖif you want."

"Itís all Iíve wanted from you," she responded. I still didnít meet her eyes. "Youíre looking well," she said a minute later.

"Iím feeling well."

"Thatís good."

"Yes, it is," I responded. "Yes, it is."

"You seem *happy*."

"I am." I turned to face her after I said this. "*You* sound surprised."

"Pleasantly surprised."

"Nobody memoíd you about hell freezing over either?"

"What?"

"Just something Alex said."

We were silent for a moment after that.

"SheÖEleanor adores you, you know," mother said once again breaking the silence. She looked at me intently as she said this. I could feel her antennas reaching out and poking around trying to fell me out, pick up the scent.

"Thatís good. Iím quite taken with her myself."

"Youíre serious about her?" The question was double edged and I knew it. Though I didnít parade it around, my mother was familiar with my exploits if not the details of them. The community of the Manhattan rich was somewhat incestuous, and no matter whom you were sleeping with it was the daughter or son of someone who knew someone, who knew your mother.

She liked Nell and wanted to know if I was going to break her heart. She wanted to know if I was going to use her and throw her away, and as much as I wanted to be angry at her for asking the question and insinuating what she was insinuating about my character, I knew that I had earned it. So I answered.

"Extremely serious," I responded. Then after debating mentally for a moment I added. "Believe it or not Iím actually in love with her."

"Are you?" she asked carefully. She sounded hopeful but guarded. I donít think that Iíve fully appreciated what a royal bastard I really was.

"Positively," was my response. "SheÖ" I paused for a moment silently debating whether or not to voice the overly sentimental thought that first popped into my head. "Sheís my sun and moon, the world rises and sets with her," I continued deciding to just say it. She was my mother after all; it wasnít as if she was going to laugh at me and tell all the other kids.

"Sheís a lovely girl," my mother said finally.

"You donít need to tell me that," I replied.

She looked over at me and smiled.

"Hold on to this one," she said seriously.

"Iíve sent away to have the chains engraved," I responded. "Two more days and sheís not going anywhere."

"Thank you," mother said in response to my reply.

"For what?"

"That delightfully sarcastic response. I was beginning to wonder if it was really you in there," she responded smiling. I had her smile I realized as I looked at her. I had worn the teasing look she now had on her face on my own many times before.

"You sound like Alex," I said shaking my head.


Epilogue

--------------

I finished a painting today called "Tin Woman", it is the picture of a woman who after drifting about aimlessly for years finally stumbled across something meaningful in her life, something truly remarkable, her heart. You can draw your own conclusions as to my inspiration for the piece.

Iím no philosopher, no great thinkeróin fact I try to avoid using that part of my brain whenever possible. Never before have I speculated about the nature of love, the meaning of life, or considered the bigger picture. As a result I find that I am completely unprepared to adequately express the emotions that have slowly taken me over and the effect that they have had on my lifeóa situation I expect will continue. Truthfully, I donít know why, or how, or where or when or whatever about anything. All I know is what is, and that itís good.

Hill House changed my life forever and ever more, and while the transformation wasnít always smooth, or comfortable, or enjoyable, it brought me to this particular here and now, and this particular here and now is a much better place than Iíve ever known, or at my worst could ever have dreamed of. I havenít always been the most gracious of people, or the most appreciative person, but I am not nor have I ever been a stupid person. I know, and fully appreciate the fortunate position I am in. In this world there are a great many things that are hard to findóbars of gold, cheap parking in New York, something thatís actually free, clean airóbut true love is hardest of all. It is, Iíve come to believe, the fruit of life, and with Nell I now hold this golden apple in my hand, and together, I think, we shall partake in the feast.


The End.

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