After the greetings had been made, and a spontaneous reunion supper eaten, Albert returned to his study only to find Michael sitting at his desk, hard at work.
Albert sat quietly in the seat opposite Michael, and Michael continued to work.
“I had thought to find you in the conservatory,” Albert said, “but you weren’t there.”
“More important things to do than play with posies around here,” Michael replied off-handedly.
“That desk suits you.”
Michael stopped and looked up. “Not so well as it suits you.”
“Uneasy lies the head…” Albert murmured.
“So tell me truly, are you well? After all this?”
“Oh, they didn’t touch me. Carrolton wouldn’t dare. He hasn’t the spine.”
“I was more concerned about Clark,” Michael said, looking at Albert significantly.
“No, Clark wouldn’t harm me. I’m too public to just vanish; it would only lend credence to my story.”
“You know that isn’t what I meant.”
Albert sighed. “I must ask you to trust me, Michael.”
“Meaning you won’t be telling me.”
“Please, Michael. I wouldn’t ask if it weren’t necessary.”
“So what happens now?” Michael asked. “We just return to “normal”, pretend this is the “mistake” they’re writing it off as?”
“Did you have an alternate suggestion?”
“I don’t know. Maybe we…tone things down a little.”
“We’re going public with recruiting, sending Eudora and Gideon on a civilian mission, and after the theater incident—”
“That really has been distorted beyond all reality,” Albert interjected.
“All I’m saying is, perhaps it would be prudent to slow down a bit.”
“Michael, truly, no one has sacrificed more for our cause than you. I would never blame you for wanting to take a rest.”
“Damn you!” Michael burst out. “I don’t want your pity, Albert!”
“I—I never meant—”
“Meant what? That I’m an invalid? A figure of scorn and shame? That I’m too deformed to return home, lest I frighten children in the streets?” Michael leapt to his feet. “I’m a grown man, as capable as I ever was, and I don’t need your apologetic looks—”
“—and your head shaking—”
“—and your murmured conversations when you think I’m not listening—”
“Michael, look at your arm.”
Michael glanced down and saw what Albert had been seeing—his own arm, lit up from within by purple fire that shone through his swirling scars.
“For just this moment,” Albert said, “I think you had best sit down.”