Slip in Time


Twelve to one. Impossible odds. He knew he'd never leave the battlefield alive. Ah, but the fact of his death was not as important as the manner of it. The wizard had won, but he'd take a full escort with him to the glory fields. He lowered his visor, drew his sword, and urged his horse forward. The sun granted off the polished armour. A bird sang in the apple trees near the edge of the plain, the perfume of the blossoms mingling with the smell of his horse and his own sweat. All his senses were heightened.

The knights were on him now. He felt the shock as sword hit shield, and there was no more time for anything but fighting. One was down, then a second and a third. He sud- denly realized that he was alone. The others had drawn back to regroup. He had shortened the odds, but not enough, and he was not undamaged, himself. His left arm was numb; he could no longer hold up his shield. He looked up at the sky. It was as blue as Claire's eyes. He had no time for any other thoughts. They were back upon him with re-doubled fury. His sword rang constantly, parrying the blows of his enemies. Without his shield, he could only wage a defensive fight. Now it was just a matter of time.

The end came swiftly. While several of the knights were keeping his sword occupied, attacking him from the front and sides, the largest raced up from behind and hit him alongside the head with a huge mace.

Claire! I've failed you... Claire! It was his last thought as the mace knocked him from the saddle and split his head open with one blow.

"No!" Ray's shout echoed inside the car, rejecting the thought of his own death. "No! No! NO!"

"Ray, wake up, mate. Eh, Raymond. Doyle!" Bodie shook his partner, trying to wake him. They were on stake out; Ray had decided to have a kip, but had hardly closed his eyes when he began thrashing around. When he shouted, it star- tled Bodie. "Wake up, Ray," he repeated, keeping his eyes fixed on the house they were watching.

"Umh. Wha...?" Ray opened his eyes and looked around be- wilderedly. "Where ... ? Oh." He shook his head to clear it of the remains of the nightmare. "What's the matter?"

"You tell me, mate. You're the one who was shouting." Bodie glanced over at his partner, then looked back at the house.

"Shouting? Oh!" Green eyes widened in horror as the dream came back to him. "I was dead. Killed in a battle with twelve armed knights. And Claire was left in the power of the wizard."

"Knights? Wizard? You have some odd dreams, mate. And who's Claire?"

"Claire? Claire's my fiancee." It was a flat statement.

"Your what? Since when?"

"Since... She's... Oh." Ray gave a short laugh and held his head in his hands. "God, I am in a bad way. In my dream, we were engaged, but a wizard wanted her, too, and he had me killed so he could have her."

"That's some dream, sunshine. What've you been reading lately, King Arthur?"

"No, nothing like that. I don't know what caused it. It isn't the first time, either." He slumped in the comer by the door.

"You've had the same dream before?" Bodie looked concerned.

"Only the beginning. It's never got as far as my death before." Ray was calmer now.

"Better be careful Ray, A death wish is the last thing you need in our job. If Cowley hears about it, you'll be having sessions with Dr. Ross from now 'til the end of time."

"Nah, it's nothing like that. Let's talk about something else."

"I still think..."

" Drop it, Bodie. Change the subject." He stared out the side window. The blossoms on the tree beside the car reminded him too sharply of his dream and he hurriedly looked away.

"Okay, okay. Touchy, aren't you? Well, then, how's that new bird you were on about, the one with the black hair? Have you taken her out yet?"

"Nah, haven't even chatted her up yet, have I? I never seem to be in the right place at the right time. Now, she's something worth talking about--hair as black and shiny as a raven's wing, eyes as blue as a summer sky. Sound like a bloody poet, don't I? I've even done a sketch of her from memory. I think I could fall hard for this one--if I ever catch up with her." His face brightened at the thought.

"Yeah, she sounds a real raver." Bodie took another look through the binoculars.

"Four-five, 3.7, come in."

Ray picked up the mike and flicked it on. "Four-five here."

"Six-two, 4.5. Off you go, lads. Night shift is here. Cowley says to be back at 9:30 a.m. sharp."

"Right, 6.2. Four-five out." He put down the mike and leaned back, relaxing.

"Well, finally." Bodie stretched, tossed the glasses into the back seat, then turned the key in the ignition and pulled the car smoothly away from the kerb. "What're you doing tonight?"

"Nothing special, why?" Ray looked over at his partner.

"Fancy a pint and some Chinese takeaway? There's a good movie on the telly."

"That'd be nice. Thanks, Bodie," Doyle said with a smile.

They drove in silence until they reached a pub near Bodie's flat. As they went in, Bodie said, "You find us a table, I'll get the first round."

Ray went to a table in a quiet corner of the room and Bodie soon followed him with the drinks.

"Here you go, then, sunshine." Bodie put Ray's drink down in front of him and sat down himself. "Ray? Eh, penny for them, mate." He reached over and shook his partner by the shoulder.

"Huh? Wha? Oh, sorry. I was a million miles away."

"I know. So what were you thinking about, then?"

"Oh, nothing much." Doyle picked up his drink and took a long swallow. "'S good, that."

"It was those dreams, wasn't it? You were thinking about them, those people, weren't you?" Bodie gave his partner a worried look.

"All right, I was. Y'know, they're so real, Bodie. It's like I'm actually there. I can feel, taste, smell, everything. And they don't skip around like dreams usually do. It's more like a picture on the telly, except I'm living it, not watching it. I felt that knight strike me, Bodie. I could feel my own death, and everything that led up to it." Ray drew a deep, shuddering breath and took another gulp of his ale. "It's rather upsetting," he admitted, rubbing his hand across his forehead. "'Y'know something else? That bird I've seen around--the one with the black hair? She's Claire."

Bodie took a drink, watching Ray over the top of his glass, face unreadable. "Well, that's easy enough to explain. You've seen her. You're interested in her. You can't find her. So you dream about her. Nothing simpler. Maybe the whole dream thing is merely your subconscious trying to fit her into your life somehow."

"My death, you mean. No, nice try, Bodie, but I'm sure that's not the answer. It just doesn't feel right. They don't really feel like dreams. And something else I hadn't thought of--the dreams started before I ever saw that girl, but Claire was in them right from the beginning." Ray looked suddenly older. "It's as though I somehow dreamed her up, gave her life. I know that's impossible, but that's how it seems. God!" He hit the table and made the glasses jump. "I wish I could sort it out. This whole thing is driving me right round the bend."

"Calm down, mate. Breaking the crockery isn't going to help." Bodie reached over and put his hand on Ray's arm. "C'mon, finish your drink. Try to relax a bit."

"Okay, you're right. You ready for another, then?" Ray drank the rest of his ale straight down and went off to get the next round. Bodie watched him worriedly. He made light of it to his friend, but he was very concerned.

Ray returned with the new drinks. "What should I do, Bodie? And don't tell me to see Ross. I'm not letting her play around with my mind, no matter what."

"I dunno, Ray," Bodie replied carefully. "The only thing I keep coming back to is the girl. Even if the dreams did start first, there's got to be a connection there somewhere. Look, tomorrow night after work, we'll search for her. You make a list of every place you've seen her and we'll visit all of them. We'll find her."

"And if we do? Then what?" Doyle stared into his drink as if looking for answers.

"We'll worry about that when we find her, sunshine. First things first. But it's better than just sifting around brooding about it, innit?" Bodie smiled and arched his eyebrow.

Ray grinned at his partner. "I guess. It's worth a try, anyway. Eh, where's that Chinese takeaway you promised me? I'm starving."

"Comin' right up, mate." Bodie finished his drink and set his glass carefully on the table. "One more thing, Ray. Bring that sketch you made. You never know, it might help."

"All right." Ray was on his feet. "You ready?"

"Yeah, yeah, I'll be there." And Bodie followed him out of the pub.

The mage, Cauley, sat staring into his crystal ball. The young knight was dead and the girl was in danger, also. As for the blue-eyed one, well, there was no way he could help. It looked like Cardew had won this time.

Cardew. Cauley sat thinking about his fellow mage. In this time period, they'd been brothers--twins--one good, one evil. There was obviously a connection between the two of them because the physical resemblance was always there-- sometimes more obvious than others.

He had done what he could to protect the girl from Cardew, but he feared it was too little, too late.

He went over and lay down on the bed, gathering his magic around him. He may have lost in this century, but next time, ahh, next time it would be very different. He would be better prepared. And the blue-eyed one would be there to help.

The next morning when Bodie picked Ray up, he gave him a sharp look. Doyle didn't look as if he'd slept much. "Morning, sunshine. Dreams again?" He kept the question light, not voicing his concern.

"Morning." Ray's voice betrayed his exhaustion as he slumped in his seat. "Yeah, but different ones this time." He yawned, closing his eyes against the morning sun.

"Oh? What're these about, then?"

"Tell you later, okay? I can't even keep my eyes open, now."

"Sure, mate, later." Bodie drove with care so as not to disturb Ray and they soon arrived at the stakeout. He picked up the mike. "Six-two."

"Six-two here."

"Three-seven, 6.2. Off you go for your beauty sleep, then. See you this evening, I suppose."

"I suppose so, 3.7. Six-two out."

He was in a cave, or some place very like a cave. It was dark, but there was a glow he could see by. The glow seemed to come from a man sitting on a throne at the back of the cavern. A man dressed like a king. His eyes were shut and he didn't seem to be breathing, but he didn't look dead. He looked like he was simply asleep. There were other men seated here, dozens of them; they all seemed to be sleeping, as well, yet none were breathing. They were all wearing armour and each held a sword and helmet. Carved names graced the back of each of their chairs; the one closest to Doyle read RAIMUND. He looked down at the knight's face and gasped. It can't be! But it is...he's my identical double! He looked again. Yes, it's my face--same curly hair, same features, same broken cheekbone, same slanted eyes. Can't see eye colour or teeth, of course, but I'm willing to bet that the eyes're green and the front tooth chipped. What am I doing in armour? In a cave? And how can I see myself?

Slowly, he walked over to the man dressed as a king and read the name on the back of his chair. CAROLUS MAGNUS. He sank to the floor and drew up his knees, resting his head on them and closing his eyes. What in God's name was happening to him? Was he losing his mind? That seemed to be the only answer.

Ray awoke to bright sunlight. He was in the car, Bodie beside him. A little way in front of them, but off to the side, was the house they were keeping under observation. He turned and stared at Bodie, reaching out to touch him, making sure he was real.

"What is it, Ray? What's wrong?" Bodie glanced over at him, then back at the house.

"Jesus, it happened again. But it wasn't a dream, Bodie. I was there." He wrapped his arms around himself, trying to stop shivering.

"Where? What do you mean?" The tone was sharp, startled.

"I was in a cave. It was sealed up, but I could still see. There were knights in armour sifting in chairs carved with their names. The one I was standing in front of was me. Same hair, same face, even the same name--spelled differently, but it was my name. And the leader was Carolus Magnus! I was there, Bodie. I could have reached out and touched him! Any of them. What was I doing there? What was I doing sealed up in a cave with Charlemagne? Charlemagne wasn't buried in a cave, was he? Not surrounded by knights? And they didn't look dead. They just looked like they were asleep. I don't understand what's happening." He ran his fingers through his hair agitatedly.

"Well, sunshine, I don't know what you were doing there, but the rest of it makes sense." Bodie tapped the steering wheel rhythmically.

"What d'you mean?" Puzzled, Ray looked at his partner.

"Have you ever read about Charlemagne? Not the histories, but the legends?"

"Nah, never interested in that sort of stuff, was I? Fairy tales, legends--silly things." Doyle slouched back in his seat, making an effort to relax.

"Maybe so, but according to legend, Charlemagne didn't die. Instead, he and his best knights were put in a form of suspended animation, to be revived in France's direst hour of need." Bodie watched Ray from the corner of his eye.

"What rubbish! How are they supposed to know which is the direst hour unless they know all of history before it happens? That's stupid." The green eyes held nothing but scorn.

"That may be, but it seems that you were there--are there--if what you say is true. Sealed up with Charlemagne and his knights until such time as France has need of you--them--whatever."

"I just can't believe it." Doyle shook his head slowly.

"Eh, it's your dream, mate, not mine. I'm just trying to help you sort it out. Is this the same knight you were before, in the other dreams?

"Nah, I was an English knight then, and I spelled my name the way I do now. Somehow there seems to be two of me."

"How about Claire? Was she in this dream?"

"Of course not! How could she be, in a cave?" he snapped.

"Don't get mad at me, Ray. I don't know what's happening inside your head."

"I'm sorry, Bodie. I know you're only trying to help."

"Yeah, well, even if she wasn't in this dream, I still think we ought to find this Claire of yours, and the sooner the better. Did you bring the sketch you made?"

"Yeah." Ray took a piece of paper out of his pocket and unfolded it. "Here."

Bodie looked at the drawing. "Right. I can see why you'd dream about this one. Is it a good likeness?"

"I think so. I've only got a few glimpses of the real girl, but this is a good likeness of the girl in my dreams."

"Well, then, let's hope they look a lot alike. As soon as we get off work today, we'll track her down--or do our damnedest, anyway. Did you make that list of places you'd seen her?"

"Got it right here."

"Then we're all set." Wearing a smug grin, Bodie folded his arms and relaxed back against the seat, eyes still on the house.

"I guess so. Bodie? I'm not really sure that I want to find her. Maybe it'd be better to just think I'm going out of my mind. How can dreams be real?" The worry in Ray's voice was clear.

"I dunno, sunshine, but that's what we're going to try to find out. Tonight."

"Yeah. Tonight." Doyle sighed and closed his eyes, but not to sleep.

"Three-seven, 4.5."

Bodie picked up the mike and switched it on. "Three- seven."

"Six-two, 3.7. We've got to stop meeting like this."

"Cut the chatter, 6.2. What's happening?"

"Nothing that I can see. I don't think the guy's ever going to show, but Cowley says to keep up the surveillance, so here I am. Be back at 9:30 a.m. again tomorrow."

"Right. See you then, 6.2." Bodie put the mike back, inserted the key in the ignition and looked over at Ray. "All right, mate, it's up to you now. Where do we go from here?"

"Well, I think she must live somewhere near me. I've seen her in the shops near my flat."

"Okay, that's as good a place to start as any. Did you bring your shopping list? May as well kill two birds with one stone." Bodie pulled the car smoothly away from the kerb and headed toward the shops, turning into a car park when they got there. "Where do you want to go first, Ray?"

"God, I dunno. Start at this end, work our way down one side and back up the other, I guess."

They didn't have any luck on the first side of the street: greengrocer, bakery, tobacconist, butcher, grocery--the sales people recognized the girl in the drawing, but didn't know her name.

The two agents started back down the other side. At first, it seemed that they were going to be out of luck completely--the sporting goods store, computer store, garage--no one had even seen her. When they got to the florist's shop, they thought their luck had changed. She had been in a short while ago to order some flowers to be delivered to her house, but when the florist looked through his filled orders he couldn't find hers. He couldn't even remember her name, but he thought it started with a 'C'--Carolyn, or something like that.

They tried the rest of the shops in the row with no further luck. They were heading back to the car, when suddenly Ray remembered the little stationery store around the corner, where he occasionally bought art supplies. It was a long shot, but since they were here, they might as well try it.

As soon as they showed the clerk the picture and identified themselves as CI5 operatives, he said, "Of course, I know her. That's Clairissa Stevens. She comes in here all the time to shop. She's a freelance artist. In fact, she buys so much from us, she has an account here and we bill her once a month. Here's her address. What's CI5 interested in her for?"

"Just a routine security clearance check on a friend of hers." Ray copied down her name and address, then he and Bodie headed back to the car. Now to see if she was home.

When they got to the address and rang the bell, there was no answer at first, but just as they were ready to give up, the door opened. It was the girl in sketch. She stared at Ray, blue eyes wide, a startled expression on her face.

"Raymond!" She grabbed his arms with both hands, then dropped them as if she had been burnt, stepping back hurriedly. "But how...? But who...? But..." she stammered in shock.

Ray and Bodie exchanged glances. Whatever was going on, this girl was definitely a part of it.

"Claire? Can we come in?"

"Clairissa," she corrected automatically, stepping back to let them enter. As they went into the living room, the first thing they saw was the easel in the corner by the window. Ray was drawn to it immediately, mesmerized by the painting it held. Bodie followed him.

The canvas showed Clairissa sitting in a white bower which was covered with morning glory vines in bloom. She was wearing a blue gown the colour of the blossoms. Her hands were clasped in her lap and her blue eyes, a match for the gown and the flowers, stared blankly out of the picture. Beside the bower, clad in armour, one hand on his sword, the other holding his helmet--complete with green plume--stood Ray. His eyes were fixed on Claire, an expression of hopeless love and longing on his face. To one side was a post, surmounted by a silver bell. In the background stood the indistinct figure of a man in the purple robes and hat of a wizard. His face was in shadow, but a hint of light blue eyes and a few wisps of sandy hair showed below his hat.

"Ray?" Bodie's voice behind Doyle broke the spell. He reluctantly tore his eyes from the painting and stared at Bodie.

"My dream," he gulped. He turned and faced the girl. She was wearing a light-weight blue wool dress that just matched her eyes. "Claire."

"No. My name's Clairissa," she spoke softly in a surprisingly deep voice. "But you're Raymond." She looked from him to the picture.

"Yes. Ray," Doyle agreed. "You painted the picture from your dream."

"Yes." She blinked and shook her head. "Oh, look, I'm sorry. Come and sit down, both of you," she invited, following her own request. "How did you find me, anyway?"

"Thank you," Ray said as he and Bodie walked over and sat down on the sofa, Ray sitting closest to the girl. "I'm Ray Doyle and he's Bodie, my partner; and you're Clairissa Stevens. I did know that. It's just that in my dreams you're Claire. As for finding you, well, the stationer where you buy your art supplies gave us your address. I'm afraid we sort of persuaded him it was kind of official. Urn, we work for CI5.''

"CI5? Is CI5 interested in me? Why?"

"No. I'm interested in you. That is, I've been dreaming about you. Like that." He pointed to the picture. "I died for you, Clairissa. I saw my own death." And he proceeded to tell her about his dreams.

"How horrible! Mine weren't that bad. I didn't die, though I could just as well have. I was in a trance, under a spell. A spell that only someone who looked just like you could break, by ringing a bell. Anyone else would be killed. But I dreamt of our love." She blushed and looked out the window. "We loved each other from the moment we met. You had just been made a knight, and I was a young girl who had just put up my hair. We were to be married when I came of age, not a month from when you were killed--by his command. He thought I'd come to him when you were dead, but I couldn't stand him. Even if I hadn't loved you, I'd never have gone to him." She looked shyly back at Ray. "I know it wasn't you, not really, but you look so much like him--my love--and you have his name. I can't look at you and keep you separate," she murmured.

"I know." He reached out and took her hand, meeting her eyes. "You're my Claire--even if your name is Clairissa-- and I've loved you for years." He looked from her to the picture. The only difference he could see was that Claire had long hair, done up on top of her head, and Clairissa had a neat cap of short hair, not much longer than Bodie's. Clairissa was a couple of inches smaller than Ray, and Claire had seemed, in his memory, much the same. They both had slim, delicate figures, small-breasted and narrow-waisted, with slender legs and not an excess ounce of flesh anywhere; long eyelashes curtained the deep blue eyes, small, straight noses, and slightly pouting mouths. He gave her hand a squeeze and let it go.

"The thing is, we need to figure out what's happening to us and why, and why now. I've lived in London most of my life and never had anything remotely resembling this happen to me. How about you?"

"No, I've just moved here from Kent to work with a film company." Clairissa clasped her hands in her lap and stared down at them, glancing at Ray every now and then. "A friend of mine who works continuity on films heard that Gemini Film Company was looking for a matte artist and recommended me. There were several applicants, but I got the job. And, Ray, the film I'm working on, it's about us. Oh, not by name, of course, the names aren't given in the legend, but it's our story. The movie's called The Spell and it's based on an old legend. That legend is what we've been dreaming. But I don't know why."

"My God!" Ray ran a hand through his hair. "It sounds so bizarre. If I hadn't been having these dreams, too, I'd say you were daft to even think such a thing. Bodie," he turned to his partner, "what d'you think of all this?"

Bodie had been following Clairissa's explanation very closely, but he turned his attention now to Ray. "Well," he said slowly, "as unlikely as it seems, it appears that the making of this film has triggered the dreams. That, plus the fact the two of you are located so close, physically. We need to find out how to stop this dream cycle. Then, if you two are Claire and the original Raymond reincarnated, what about the wizard? Has he been reincarnated also? And, if so, who is he? Did he have a name in either of your dreams?" He went over to study the picture.

"No," Doyle said.

"Yes," Clarissa answered simultaneously.

"His name was Cardew," she continued, "and he was always there. I could feel him in the background, watching me, always." She shivered at the memory, her face filled with remembered horror. "Well, whoever or whatever is causing this, I want to find out about it and end it as soon as possible. I'm not having my life taken over by a ghost--even a ghost of myself. So, what can we do?"

"I feel the same," agreed Ray, "but I don't kn..."

"We've got to tell Cowley," Bodie stated firmly, coming back to face them both.

"Cowley?" Ray was clearly taken aback at the thought.

"Who's Cowley?" Clairissa asked.

"Yes, and the sooner the better. This is all getting entirely out of hand. May I use your phone, please?" Bodie looked around for the instrument in question.

"Of course. It's there by the kitchen door. Who's Cowley?" she asked Ray again, while Bodie went to use the phone.

"He's our boss. Head of CI5. But I don't know what he can do to help." He looked up as Bodie came back, studying the smooth face.

"He's still in his office and will wait for us if we leave right now. Oh, and he said to bring the girl."

"What if 'the girl' doesn't want to be brought?" Clairissa snapped. "I do have a name, you know, and I can take care of myself. Have been doing so for several years, as a matter of fact."

"Clairissa, please." Ray turned to her. "Bodie didn't mean it the way it sounded. Did you, Bodie?" He glared at his partner. "And Cowley might be able to help. He does have a lot of contacts. And we do need to do something about this. I don't know about you, but I think it's getting out of hand, too."

"Yeah, I'm sorry, Clairissa. I didn't mean to insult you. Come along with us to see Cowley. He said we need you."

"We need her? What did you say to him?"

"Just that you were having dreams and this girl--I'm sorry; Clairissa--was in them and she was having dreams that you were in. And that they seem to be based on a legend. He said to come in, immediately. Uh, Clairissa, would you mind, could we take the painting, too? It might give Cowley a clue."

"Sure. There's no reason why not. It's dry. I'll go get something to wrap it in." As she left the room, the two agents walked back over to stand in front of the picture again.

"Bodie, that wizard, it couldn't be...?"

"Nah." Bodie shook his head sharply. "It's got to be just a coincidence."

"I hope you're right, sunshine, or we're making the biggest mistake of our lives."

Clairissa returned with a sheet to wrap the picture in; she made short work of it and turned to the two men as she pulled on a white wool jacket. "Okay, let's go."

Bodie took the painting and led the way to the car, while Ray followed with Clairissa. He watched her as she locked up. It was hard to believe he'd known her for less than an hour. It seemed he'd known her for a lifetime. He wanted to take her in his arms and hold her tight, never let her go. Blue eyes met green as she turned, and he saw an answering hunger before she tore them away and stumbled after Bodie. At the car, Clairissa got in the back with the painting, and Ray sat beside Bodie, half-turned so he could watch her.

Cowley was waiting for them when they got to headquarters. He had them sit down and then he took first Ray and then Clairissa through their stories in great detail, quizzing them closely on some points, then spent more time studying the painting. Finally, he turned to them. "All right, go home and be back here at 9:00 tomorrow morning. You're off the surveillance job. Don't go anywhere near the house."

Bodie and Doyle looked at each other, puzzled but pleased. Surveillance had never been their favourite job.

Cowley turned to Clairissa. "Miss Stevens, I'd appreciate it if you'd be here, too--it could be vital to our success. I know some people at your studio. With your permission, I'll call and get their consent for you to assist CI5. I'll simply say we need your particular talents. Oh, and may I keep the picture for a while?"

"Certainly. If it's so important I help, why, I have no choice. I'll see you at 9:00. Is there anything else?"

"Actually, there is. I need to ask you a couple of personal questions. I can ask Doyle and Bodie to step outside if you like, but one of our other agents is going to need to know the answers."

"No. Let them stay. I don't have any deep dark secrets. Anyway," she glanced over at the curly-haired agent, "Ray knows all about me."

"I don't think he knows this," Cowley said dryly. "First, how old are you?"

"I'm 26."

"And Doyle's 33. Is that the same age gap there was in the past?" He wrote down her answers on the paper in front of him.

"Yes. I was just 15 when we met and Ray was 22. We were to have been married when I turned 18, but Ray was killed one month before."

"Thank you. Next, are you a virgin?"

"Oh." She stared at her lap, blushing. "I didn't realize you meant quite that personal. No, I'm not." Her voice was low, but clear.

"Last question. Were you a virgin in your other life?"

"Yes." She glanced at Ray again and saw him watching her. "I was faithful to Ray--to my Raymond--and he wouldn't ask such a thing of me before we were married."

Cowley made a few final notes. "Thank you, Miss Stevens. That's all I need right now. I'll see you all tomorrow at 9:00."

As they left his office, Cowley reached for the phone. "Put me through to Jax." He waited a moment. "Jax? Go over immediately and relieve 6.2. Tell him to get home and get a good night's sleep and be in my office at 9:00 tomorrow morning."

After he hung up, he sat ruminating for a few moments on the days when he was known as Cauley and fought evil with magic instead of agents. He had known he would have a final battle with Cardew some time and it appeared that the time was now.

As they walked to the car, Ray turned to Clairissa. "Have you eaten?"

"No. I was just going to fix supper when you two arrived."

"Well, how about you and Bodie coming over to my place and I'll fix supper. I've just done my shopping. It's in the car, and I can stir something up in no time."

"That sounds lovely. Thank you, I'd like that very much." Clairissa got into the back seat again and Ray hesitated, started to get in beside her, then changed his mind and sat beside Bodie. He was very quiet on the way home.

As soon as they got to his flat, he quickly put together a meal of mince, two veg and a salad, while Bodie and Clairissa visited in the sitting room. Doyle had thought he was hungry, but once the meal was on the table and they sat down to it, he found he couldn't eat a thing, merely picked at his food, staring at Clairissa much of the time. She, also, wasn't eating much, but she avoided Ray's eyes.

Bodie, of course, ate as much as the other two put together. "Amount you two are eating, you could still be in the past. All the more for me, innit?"

When they finished eating and had done the washing up, they sat in the sitting room and talked, avoiding all mention of the dreams. After a time, Bodie got up to go. "Shall I take Clairissa home, mate?"

"Nah, I'll do it. Thanks, anyway, Bodie." He followed his partner to the front door.

"Sure. Pick you up tomorrow, shall I?"

"Yes, thanks. See you then." Doyle went back into the sitting room. Clairissa was standing by the window. He put his arms around her and kissed her hair. "I know we only met this afternoon, but I feel I've known you forever. I love you, Clairissa. I think I've always loved you."

"I know." She turned to face him, slipping her arms around his neck, one hand straying into his hair. "As soon as I saw you, I knew. I've been waiting for you all my life." She laughed. "That sounds so trite, but it's true. I love you."

Ray bent down and gently kissed her. The touch of her lips seared his and he wanted her, fiercely. He raised his head and looked at her. Her blue eyes were cloudy with desire. "Stay with me tonight, Clairissa, please. I want you so much. Come to bed with me now."

"Yes," she answered simply.

He took her hand and led her into the bedroom. Turning on the bedside light, he threw back the duvet and pulled her down onto the bed with him. He caught her to him and hugged her tightly, catching his breath when she hugged him just as hard. Bending his head, he kissed her passionately, and she opened her lips to his tongue, caressing it with hers as he explored her mouth thoroughly. The honey-sweet fire of passion thrilled through their veins as they merged. They broke apart only when starved lungs insisted they remember to breathe.

Clairissa reached down and pulled Ray's t-shirt from his jeans, running her hands up under it, across his back and around to his chest, leaving a trail of fire everywhere. He moaned and squirmed under her touch. He reached for the edge of his shirt and tried ineffectually to pull it off. His coordination was gone, all his senses were concentrating on her fingers and what they were doing to him. He finally succeeded in removing it with her help. She brushed a hand across his already-hardened nipples and he gasped, pulling back. "No. Wait. Please."

Doyle grabbed her hands, pulling them above her head and holding them there with one of his. She looked into his hot eyes as he bent over her and laughed up at him. "It doesn't take much to get you going, does it?"

He was still trying to bring himself under control when he answered her, voice rough with desire. "I've never known anyone who could set me off like this. I don't know what you're doing to me. Mmmm. " He kissed her again, then said, rather breathlessly, "Let's see if I can get a little of my own back."

It was lucky she was wearing something easy to remove. As uncoordinated as she was making him feel, he didn't think he could cope with anything complicated. The dress she wore fastened with a zipper from throat to hem and he undid it with a single movement, pushing it back out of the way. Under it, she had on only a pair of bikini panties.

He explored her body with mouth and hands, learning what she liked, and she reciprocated passionately. Their need for each other was overwhelming. They stroked and kissed one another, fueling the fire in their veins until the conflagration was out of control and they raced towards a shattering climax.

Suddenly, Clarissa stiffened, head thrown back, fingers gripping Ray firmly enough to leave bruises. Her eyes glazed and she moaned deep in her throat as the world dissolved around her. She barely heard Ray's cry as he tumbled over the edge into ecstasy after her.

Long minutes later, she came back to reality enough to identify the dead weight collapsed on top of her. He made a move as if to withdraw, but she reached out to hold him. "No, please, stay there. I like the feel of you." Her voice was only a thread of sound, but he heard it.

He leaned forward and kissed her, murmuring, "I must be squashing you."

"No, you feel good. Don't move." She was devastated by the force of the orgasm she had experienced, and lay quiescent beneath him.

He lay on her for a long time, as done in as she by the experience. Finally, however, he had to move and rolled off. Then he leaned over and kissed her once again.

"Mmm, tastes nice," she said, lazily running her hand along his body as he got out of bed.

He went to the bathroom and cleaned up, then brought a warm face cloth back for her. After she had cleaned herself up, he took it back to the sink and returned to the bed, gathering her into his arms and pulling the duvet up over them. She pillowed her head on his shoulder and cuddled close, sleepily content. Doyle kissed the top of her silky-smooth head, then reached over and turned out the light.

"Good-night, my love. Pleasant dreams."

All things considered, it was not an empty wish.

It was a beautiful, fresh spring day. It had just stopped raining; a rainbow was in the sky and rain still dripped from every leaf and twig--the world made new. It had been painted from a palette that contained a hundred shades of green. Daffodils were just starting to open here and there, splashes of sunshine fallen to earth.

Ray and Claire walked hand in hand, she in a gown of her favourite blue, he in hose of russet brown and a tunic of jade, the colour she most liked to see on him. They came to the edge of the forest and paused, turning to face each other. Ray took her other hand in his and gazed down into her upturned face.

"I love you, Claire, and I will as long as we live and long after we die, 'til the world comes to an end." He cupped her face in his hands and looked at her even more intently. "Remember, my lady, no matter what happens, I'll always love you."

"And I'll love you, Raymond, forever and always. Nothing--no one--will ever change that. I'm yours 'til the end of time."

He bent down to kiss her and she was gone. All that remained was a cloud of purple smoke swirling between his hands and the sound of her voice crying his name.

"Claire!" He woke up shouting her name. He was sitting in bed, eyes wide with horror, gripping Clairissa's arms as if she were his hope of salvation.

"Shh, Ray, I'm here. Hush, it's all right. I'm here. Really." She held him to her and rocked him, stroking his hair, and dropping little kisses on his face until he calmed down. She had also been shaken by the dream, but she had been through it before.

He looked at her unbelievingly. "You were with me, and then you were gone," he said shakily,

"I know, love. I know. I was in the dream, too." She lay back down and pulled him with her, cradling him to her breast. "This was one of my dreams. They always end with me being put in a trance, but you broke it this time when you called my name. Maybe, together, we can do something about this after all."

"We will," he said confidently. "He can't, he won't have you." Ray wrapped his arms around her and held her tightly. Whether giving or taking comfort, he couldn't have said. "Sleep, now, love, and we'll protect each other."

His voice was soothing and she soon drifted off to sleep. He followed not too long after.

Next morning, Ray awakened early. Clairissa was still asleep, curled around him. He smiled, thinking of their love-making. She'd been right there with him, as hot for it as he'd been. He had never before had a bird who made him feel this way. He laughed to himself--the girl of his dreams, wasn't she? He sobered abruptly--that was exactly what she was, in more ways than one. Running silky strands of her hair through his fingers, Doyle's thoughts turned to the dream they had shared in the middle of the night, and his fingers clenched involuntarily. It disturbed Clairissa and she stirred against him, blinked, then smiled happily up at him.

"Good morning."

"Morning, love." He leaned down and kissed her. "Mmm, you taste good," he said, smiling back at her. He thought again of the dream and his smile faded.

"What's the matter?" Her voice was concerned.

"The dream. Our dream. Last night. We--they--vowed undying love, and their souls, their essences, have come down through time to insure their vows are carried out. I don't really understand it. I don't feel any different; except, of course, for loving you, and I can't remember a time when I haven't loved you." He wrapped his arms around her. "You're my whole reason for existing, and I've known you for less than a day. I don't like feeling I'm an extension of someone else, but--oh, Clairissa, I don't think I can live without you." He buried his face between her breasts, holding her tightly, inhaling her unique scent that he would recognize any time, anywhere.

Clairissa stroked his hair and wound his curls around her fingers. "I know, darling, I feel the same. You're part of me. I feel I'll dissolve into nothingness without you. You're the center of my life. Everything else revolves around you." She brought her other hand up and traced around his ear and along his jaw. "I hate feeling I'm nothing but a receptacle for someone else's emotions, but I can't imagine not loving you. I don't understand what's happening, but right now I don't really care." She brushed his hair back from his face. "Kiss me, Ray. Make love to me."

Their loving was very different than it had been the night before. It was slow and sweet, with none of the urgency they had felt then. They knew each other's bodies now, had at least an idea of what pleasured the other, and worked together to make it last as long as possible. When the climax came, they felt they were united not only in body but in soul--two halves of one whole. When they came back to reality, each felt an almost physical ache, as if they'd left a part of themselves behind. As he drifted off to sleep, Ray drew Clairissa to him and gave her one last, soft kiss. He felt as if his world had been shattered and then reformed.

The next time he woke was just before the alarm sounded. He reached over to shut it off, then slowly extricated himself from Clairissa's embrace and got out of bed.

"Wha...? Ray?" she murmured, only half awake.

"Shh, go back to sleep." He stroked her feathery hair and drew the duvet back under her chin before he left the room.

He showered and shaved automatically, his mind on Clairissa and what was happening to them. He had come to no conclusion by the time he was done. Wrapping a robe around himself and still drying his hair, he went to call Clairissa. He kissed her softly on the mouth. "Wakey, wakey."

The long lashes slowly lifted, revealing blue eyes.

"The bathroom's free, love. I'm starting breakfast. Bodie'll be here soon, but we should have time to stop by your flat for a change of clothes before we see Cowley. Or," he grinned, "you can borrow some of mine."

As Clairissa went into the bathroom, Ray dressed hurriedly, then went out to the kitchen and put the coffee on. He set the table for three and finished drying his hair while the bread toasted. He took the eggs out and put them on the sink, ready to slip into the water as soon as Bodie arrived. He was buttering the last slice of toast when Clairissa entered the kitchen.

Her hair, still slightly damp, lay feathered on her forehead, giving her a gamin-like look; especially as she had taken Ray up on his offer and borrowed a pair of his jeans and a t-shirt She'd found an old belt of his and pulled the jeans in tight around her waist. She'd had to roll up the pant legs and the t-shirt fit like it was painted on, but Ray thought she looked absolutely adorable.

"Mornin', beautiful." He put the toast in the toast rack and wiped his hands as he walked over to her.

"Morning, handsome." She smiled up at him.

Ray took her in his arms and kissed her. "Mmm, you taste so good. Can't get enough of you." He hugged her tightly, then let her go. "Unfortunately, we don't have time to start anything right now. Bodie'll be here any minute." He picked up the coffee pot and poured out a cup, busying his hands to keep them off her. "Want some coffee?"

"Yes, please." She took the cup and sat down at the table to drink it. Ray poured some for himself and joined her. "I like your friend Bodie. It must be nice to have someone to care about you like he does. I've never had a really close friend like that."

"Yeah, Bodie's a good mate. Have to be close when you work together like we do. If you don't look out for your partner, you may not have a partner to look out for." Ray sipped at his too-hot coffee. "I'm glad you like him. I'm afraid with us it's a case of love me, love my partner. We do spend a lot of time together off duty. Bodie's not much of a one for making a lot of close friends. Nor am I, for that matter." He reached over and caught her free hand, playing with her fingers. "Bodie likes you, too, y'know. He was teasing you yesterday, and he only teases people he likes."

Just then the doorbell rang in Bodie's code. Ray got up to push the door release, putting the eggs in the water and setting the timer while he was up. He was back sitting beside Clairissa when Bodie came in.

"Morning, sunshine." Ray grinned at his partner as he poured him a cup of coffee.

Bodie looked at the two as he took the cup, especially Clairissa in Ray's clothes. He winked at Ray. "Morning, mate. Who's your friend? Starting a refuge for homeless boys, are you?" He glanced at Clairissa to see how she'd react.

Clairissa merely raised her cup in salute to Bodie and smiled at him, but when he reached for a piece of toast, she turned to Ray and said, "If you do, you could start with him, though he's a bigger boy than most. Might run out of room if there were many his size."

Bodie stopped the slice of toast halfway to his mouth and stared at her, not sure how to take her words.

She was perfectly straight-faced, but her blue eyes were merry. "Truce?"

"Truce." His hand enveloped hers as they shook to seal the bargain. He grinned at Ray. "You've got a right one here, mate. Don't let her get away." He bit into his toast. "Whole-meal bread, eh? Should have known."

"I don't intend to let her go anywhere." Ray got up as the timer rang and poured the water off the eggs, then put them into egg cups and set them on the table. "Eat up, sunshine. Cowley won't appreciate it if we're late. And if you don't like the toast, you can eat at home next time."

Bodie picked up his spoon, knocked the top off his egg, and dipped a wedge of toast in the yolk, eating quickly. "Didn't say I didn't like it. It's very good whole-meal toast, as whole-meal toast goes." He dipped up the rest of the yolk and scooped out the white. He'd finished both his eggs before Ray and Claire had finished their first. "D'you want those?" he asked, looking at them hungrily.

"Yes, we do!" Ray answered for both of them. "Get the marmalade and 'ave that on some toast if you're still hungry. Walking dustbin, that's you."

"Yeah, well, got to keep my energy up, don't I? Never know when it'll be needed." Bodie got the marmalade from the cupboard and slathered it on the toast, munching away with obvious enjoyment.

By the time the others had finished their eggs, Bodie had polished off the last of the toast and most of the marmalade. "Better put marmalade on your shopping list, mate. It's gettin' a bit low."

"Yeah, I wonder why." Ray took the jar and put it away.

Clairissa had eaten her breakfast quietly, appreciating the by-play between the two men and the obvious underlying affection. Bodie seemed like a good person to have on their side.

"You ready to go, love?" Ray turned to Clairissa, green eyes softening as he looked at her. She was still the most beautiful girl he'd ever seen.

"Yes. Let's get it over with." She put her dishes in the sink and rinsed them, then walked to the door.

Ray handed her one of his jackets. "You'll need this. Yours doesn't quite go with that outfit."

Bodie came up behind her and helped her into it. "There you go. Nice and cozy warm."

They went down to the car while Ray locked up. Bodie climbed in the back and Clairissa looked at him, puzzled. "Isn't this your car?"

"Yeah, but I think Ray'd rather have you sit with him than me."

"Thanks, Bodie. You're sweet." She smiled at him as she got into the front passenger side.

"That's me. Just a big softie."

Ray grinned happily at Bodie when he saw the seating arrangement. "Thanks, sunshine."

"Anytime, mate."

Murphy was already waiting in Cowley's office when they arrived at headquarters. He was leaning against the wall behind Cowley's desk. Ray ushered Clairissa in and got her a chair, then stood beside her. Bodie trailed along behind and stood on her other side. Both men were puzzled at Murphy's presence.

Bodie spoke up, "Why's 6.2 here, sir?"

"We need his special ability, Bodie. I'll explain in a minute. Miss Stevens, tell me, do you recognize this man?" Cowley handed her a picture. Bodie and Doyle glanced at it and recognized it as a photo of the man whom they had been waiting for when they were on stakeout.

Clairissa took one shocked look at the picture and stared at Cowley, her face drained of colour. Ray, who was watching her closely, quickly knelt down beside her. He took her icy hands in his.

"Clairissa! What is it, love? What's the matter?"

"That's him." Her voice was barely audible. She cleared her throat and tried again. "That's Cardew. The magician. He's here, isn't he?" She took a deep breath and visibly collected herself. "How do we stop him? He's not going to win this time." She hung onto Ray's hand, smiling when he squeezed her fingers before he stood up again.

"Aye, I had an idea he was your magician." Cowley picked up a pencil and tapped it on his hand while he talked, occasionally using it to emphasize a point. "He's called Carew now, and apparently he's as bad in this time as he was then. He heads a large organization, and if there's anything dirty happening anywhere in the London area, he's got a finger in it somewhere. Stopping him was already on the agenda before all this came up." He looked sharply at Bodie and Doyle to see if they were paying attention. Bodie's eyes were on Cowley, but Doyle was looking at Clairissa. He looked up, however, when Cowley stopped speaking. "If I may have your full attention, Doyle. Thank you. The main problem is that we have to defeat him both in the past and in the present. Now, Murphy has some extraordinary abilities. He's the seventh son of a seventh son, and he's going to send your essences back in time to Claire and the original Raymond, using Bodie as a focus."

Murphy grinned at the other two agents who were looking at him in shock.



Cowley ignored the interruptions and kept on talking. "I take it the two of you have...?" He stopped and looked at Doyle and Clarissa for confirmation.

Ray hesitated, not wanting to embarrass Clarissa, who blushed but held her head up high and looked Cowley straight in the eye. "We have," she answered in a clear voice. Ray squeezed her hand and smiled down at her proudly.

"That's good. The necessary emotional bond has therefore been established." Cowley made a note on the paper in front of him. "Now, Murphy believes that the particular spell Cardew must have used works only on virgins. If the person is not a virgin, the spell enchants the one who cast it, instead." He looked from Ray to Clairissa to Bodie to be sure they understood. "What the two of you must do is to influence Claire and the original Raymond to be sure that the spell can't work on her and, instead, traps Cardew in his own trance. It may seem like you're in a dream, but you must take over the actions of the others. Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir."

"Yes," they nearly chorused.

"All right. While you're doing that, we'll be trapping him in the present. Jax reported that Carew finally showed up at midnight last night. Thank goodness he's not omniscient, so he doesn't yet know you're here. He will soon, though, if we don't stop him. He has spies everywhere. Stuart and McCabe are there now and they say he hasn't shown since he arrived." Cowley checked his notes. "There's no way of telling if that's good or bad. He could be taking it easy; he could be causing trouble now; or he could have sent his essence back in time to check out the situation there, especially if he's been having the same dreams that you have." He beckoned Murphy forward. "So, I'm going to have Murphy send you back to take care of Cardew there and the others'll start the operation here. Any questions?"

"What's all this about Murphy?"

"Why haven't we ever heard any of this before?" The two agents spoke at the same time.

"It wasn't necessary before. You had no need to know." As Cowley used the timeworn phrase, they looked at each other. "Any other questions?"

"Just one," Ray looked puzzled. "What did the knight in the cave have to do with all this?"

"He was the double of Claire's knight. The only person who could break the spell. But since he was waiting with Charlemagne, she was trapped for all time."

"I see. Okay. What do we do?"

"Murphy?" Cowley turned to the tall agent. "I'll let you take over from here and I'll get busy on the rest of it. Miss Stevens, I'd like to introduce you to Colin Murphy. Murphy, this is Clairissa Stevens."

"I'm pleased to meet you, Mr. Murphy." She held out her hand to him.

"It's nice meeting you, Miss Stevens." He walked over and took her hand, shaking it firmly, then turned to the other two agents. "Right. Doyle, you sit down facing Clairissa, close together. That's right. Now hold both her hands in yours. Like that. Bodie, you sit here beside them and put one hand on each of their heads. Yes. Now everyone close your eyes and concentrate on the past." He walked around the seated pair until he was facing Bodie, then put his own hands on top, gripping Bodie's hands tightly. "That's it. Ray, concentrate! Stop worrying about whether or not you look silly. That's right. Yes. Now!"

Murphy leaned forward until his head touched Bodie's. Bodie felt Murphy's touch and then his mind went blank. Clairissa and Ray felt as if someone was pushing against their minds and then...

It was an afternoon in midsummer. The warm air was heavy with the scent of honeysuckle. Bees droned among the flowers, laden with pollen. A lark burst forth with song. Raymond and Claire were sifting on a padded bench in a summerhouse overgrown with honeysuckle. She was wearing a simple gown of her favourite blue trimmed with white, and he wore varying shades of green. They were discussing their forthcoming marriage.

"It's but one month, my lady. A very short time." He had been holding her hand, and now he raised it to his mouth for a lingering kiss. "I find it hard to believe that so soon we'll be one. I love you so very much that all I want is to make you mine."

Claire blushed at his words. They had not talked much of the physical side of love, and she was, as yet, quite unawakened. "I love you, too," she said softly, blue eyes masked by her lovely, long lashes. She peered up at him shyly. "I wish you didn't have to go away from me just now."

"I, too, wish that, beloved. But I am honour-bound to take part in this one last battle before we are wed." He took her chin in his hand and tipped it up, forcing her to look at him. "Sweeting," he ventured, "may I have but one kiss from your lips before I go?"

She blushed even more rosily. Desire battled with sense and, ultimately, desire won out. "Yes," she whispered, heart fluttering in her breast.

He cupped her face in his hands and pressed his lips gently to hers, pulse racing at this first touch of her sweet lips.


Ray took her firmly in his arms, one hand on the back of her head, holding it still. He licked at her lips, demanding entrance for his tongue.

Clairissa opened to him and pulled him tightly to her. He felt and tasted different, though his looks were the same.

Ray ran his hands down her body, searching out those places he knew would inflame her and Clairissa responded to his caresses, though not as enthusiastically as usual. She could feel/hear Claire in a corner of her/their mind protesting--fighting--to stop her ravishment.

Raymond continued his assault on her senses. He felt so odd--one part of him insisted this was necessary, the other part couldn't understand why this sudden urgency had come upon him. After nearly three years, why this insistence when she would be his in but one month.

Claire was crying even as she responded to him. She couldn't understand why her body was betraying her. Why was she doing this when she knew it was wrong? Finally she gave in and lay quiescent in his arms as he had his way with her, silent tears streaming down her face.

Raymond tried to fight his feelings, to stop what he was doing to his beloved, but he had no control over his own actions. He was forced to continue against his will. "I'm sorry, Claire. Beloved. I can't help it. I must have you now." He kissed her again, hard, and could taste her tears on her lips, then desire raced through his veins and he forgot everything but his need for her.

When it was all over, Claire collapsed in tears in Raymond's arms, sobbing softly. He was trying to calm her while straightening his clothes and hers.

"Shush, my lady. Shush, beloved. Quiet, now, please. It'll be all right. Really, it will."

"Oh, Raymond, how could we have done it? How could I have let you? I'm so ashamed. Raymond, it's a sin! Even God is now against us. Oh, what are we going to do?" she sobbed, looking at him with tear-blinded eyes, clenching her hands in her lap.

"Do? We're going to get married, just as we've planned. Nothing's changed as far as that's concerned. The only thing that's changed is that now you're mine far more than you ever were before. I'll never let you go, my love." He reached over and separated her hands, taking them in his, holding them tightly.

She jerked her hands away. "Let go of me! It has changed. You know it has. It won't ever be the same." She backed away from him.

Raymond followed her, trying to take her in his arms to comfort her. "Please, beloved. I am so very sorry. I don't know how I could cause you such pain. It seemed to me as if I were under an enchantment of some kind. I couldn't control my actions. I never wanted to hurt you."

"No! Stay away! Don't touch me! I never want to see you again!" And she ran, sobbing, into the house.

The leaves were just beginning to turn, and the air was sharp in the early morning. Claire was again sitting in the summerhouse, crying into her handkerchief, Raymond's battered helmet laying beside her on the bench. She heard a sound and looked up, and Cardew was standing there in front of her.

"So, your pretty knight is dead. Now you belong to me." He reached out a hand to her, but she drew back in distaste.

"I belong to no one. If my love is dead, and I fear I must believe it, I will enter a convent and dedicate my life to the poor."

He glared at her, until she wasn't sure if love or hate was his motivating force. "If I can't have you, no one will." He thrust out his hand toward her, made a series of gestures, and said a word. Instantly, he was frozen in that position. Claire stared at him, astounded.

"The spell reached its limitations and rebounded on him." It was Cauley and Raymond. "It could only affect a virgin."

Claire looked up in amazement at the sound of the voice. "Raymond!" she said, and fainted. When she came to, she was lying in his lap, looking up into the beloved face she had thought never to see again. "I thought you were dead! How can you be here?"

"A thief stole my armour while I slept and he was not lucky. We questioned a lad who saw him and the only description he could give was that he had short dark hair and dark blue eyes. If it were not for him, I would not be here now. And if I had not forced you the last time I was with you, you would now be trapped in the wizard's spell. Is it possible that you have forgiven me, beloved? Tomorrow was to have been our wedding day. It still could be. Please say it will." He kissed her hand and then leaned down and sought her lips.

"Oh, yes, my love, please. I carry our child within me. Now it will have a name." She put her arms around his neck and drew him down for another kiss.

"Claire! Sweetheart! You can't know how happy that makes me. Come." He stood up and drew her to her feet. "Let us go and tell the others that there will, indeed, be a wedding tomorrow."

The helmet remained forgotten in the summerhouse.

Ray and Clairissa suddenly felt everything go black. The next thing they knew, they were back in Cowley's office, staring into each other's eyes. Clairissa took a deep breath, trying to recover from the emotional storm they had just been through. She leaned toward Ray and he held her for a minute, feeling a bit shaken up himself. Recovering, they looked around them. Bodie was slumped in his chair, and Murphy had collapsed on the floor.

"Murphy!" Ray dropped Clairissa's hands and knelt on the floor beside him. He shook the other man. "Murphy, are you all right?"

Murphy blinked his eyes open and sat up slowly, putting his hands to his head. "Yeah, I'm fine, or I will be. Just give me a minute." He spoke slowly, as if his mind was a long way away.

While Ray was helping Murphy, Clairissa turned to Bodie. "Bodie, do you feel all right?"

He opened his eyes slowly, a far away look in their depths. He pulled himself up in his chair. "Yeah, I'll be okay. Thanks, Clairissa. What happened back there? Were you successful?"

"Yes, very." And she told him what they had done and witnessed. "It seems we managed to save not only Claire, but Raymond, also. I just wish we could have done it some other way. I feel bad about what we did to Claire. She had a beautiful innocence, and we destroyed it."

Ray overheard her and turned, reaching out for her hand and squeezing it, gently. "Yeah, I'm not very pleased with myself. If only there could have been some other way. I don't get any kicks out of coercing virgins, even if it did save her life, and his. 'Specially since we were doing it as much for ourselves as for them, if not more."

"Well, Cowley will be pleased about Cardew, anyway," Murphy commented as he got to his feet.

"Speaking of Cowley, I wander how the rest of the operation is going," Ray said. "I think we should call in and tell him what's happened. He might still need us there." He walked over and picked up the phone. "Put me through to Alpha."

"Alpha here. What's happening, 4.5?"

"We've just returned from the past. I think we took care of Cardew there, at least. Can you use our help on your operation?"

"No, thank you, 4.5." Cowley sounded disgusted. "He got away from us. I don't know how it happened. One moment we had him surrounded and the next he was gone. Obviously, his powers are still working, even in the present. We'll find him, though, never fear. We're on our way back to headquarters now. Are you four all right?"

"Yeah, we're fine, a bit shaken up is all."

"Well, all of you go home and get some rest. You did well, anyway. Take the weekend off, but be back on Monday, eight a.m. sharp."

"Thank you, sir," Ray began.

"Och, get on with you, lad. You need the rest and so do I. I'll see you on Monday. Alpha out."

A jubilant Ray relayed the news to the others. "Let's get out of here before he changes his mind."

They quickly walked down the hallway and out the door. Ray and Clairissa were so wrapped up in each other they hardly knew where they were. Murphy watched them with a bemused expression on his face.

Bodie started to turn to Murphy to say something, when he caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of his eye. He whipped around and saw Cardew standing there with a gun pointed at Clairissa. "Ray!" Bodie shouted as he drew and fired.

Ray turned, saw the danger, and threw Clairissa to the ground, drawing his own gun, but the man was already down. Bodie had killed him with the first shot.

While Bodie was checking out the dead man, Ray helped Clairissa up and brushed her off. Then he turned to Bodie, grabbing him by the arms and squeezing hard. "Thanks, Bodie. That's another one I owe you."

"Who's counting, mate?" But Bodie looked pleased nonetheless.

Cowley arrived shortly after and took charge. He had Stuart and McCabe dispose of the body, while the others went back to his office with him.

"Well, you've done quite a day's work between you. We don't have to worry about Cardew anymore, in the past or the present. I think that calls for some pure malt scotch." He got the bottle and glasses out of the cupboard and poured drinks for them all. "Miss Stevens, would you like some scotch?"

"What?" She looked up blankly from where she'd been talking with Ray. "Oh, I'm sorry. Yes, please. That would be very nice, thank you."

After the drinks were passed out and properly appreciated, Ray approached Cowley, leading Clairissa by the hand. "Sir, I'd like to apply for permission to marry."

"Aye, I rather thought that'd be the way of it, Doyle." Cowley looked pleased. "Well, Bodie, I guess you know what your next assignment is."

"Yes, sir. Happy to do it, sir. I'm sure everything will check out just fine."

"So am I, Bodie. Doyle, Miss Stevens, it may be a bit premature, but I feel congratulations are in order. Murphy, pour everyone another round." And he sat down behind his desk and sipped his scotch.

"Bodie," Ray turned to his friend, "will you be my best man?"

"Of course, mate. I am, anyway, aren't I?"

"That you are, sunshine. The best of them all." He turned to the others. "A toast, to Clairissa."

"To Clairissa," the others echoed him and drank as Clairissa smiled at each of them in turn.

Ray stood in the center of the room, one hand holding his scotch, the other holding one of Clairissa's. He looked from his best friend to his once and forever love and couldn't remember ever being quite so happy.

-- THE END --

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