Dakota had gone back to the kitchen and taken some time to read, listen to and view files about what mattered to him most: his family; Kellie; and Elevator Woman. He figured he'd probably been at it a couple of hours when he heard stirring from the living room. He decided to head in and see what was going on. Maybe Kellie was awake.
On entering, Dakota found Kellie still asleep on the sofa and a teenage girl who looked remarkably like Kellie had in her teens staring at her. The girl had tears streaming down her cheeks as she looked at Kellie.
The girl turned toward Dakota. She grinned and gestured for him to return to the kitchen as she made her way there. He followed her.
She spun around once they were there. "You're awake," she said. "How're you doing?"
Dakota shrugged. "As well as can be expected, I guess," he said. "You're April, right?"
April shook his hand. "Yep," she said.
"We met in the ship earlier."
"Yeah," she said. "You recognized me as Elevator Girl. You just weren't expecting that the user of that name had changed. You want some food?"
Dakota nodded. "Kel made me some breakfast stuff earlier, but that was in the middle of the night."
"I'll wave us something," April said. "Some oatmeal OK?"
"Sounds good," Dakota said. Once she started, he said, "Um, earlier, in the living room, you were looking at your mom and crying. Why was that?"
April paused as the microwave finished. She handed Dakota's bowl to him, then sat down at the table with her own oatmeal. "It's just that
I've never seen my mom sleep like that. Ever."
"Mom's always been a light sleeper," April said. "I'd always assumed it was a superhero thing; always ready to be on call, never sleeping more than a few hours at a time. The level of sound when we were in the room would have wakened her for sure. But now she's sleeping, and so soundly. Now I see what I'd missed. She wasn't just ready for any call as a heroine. She was ready to go bring you home."
Dakota leaned forward, trying to fight back tears. "Oh," he said quietly.
"Y'know, you've been in my life as long as I can remember," April said. "Part of that's just because your family's basically family to us, and vice versa. Do you know that we spent every Christmas and Thanksgiving with your family, until they moved away?"
April ate a bite of oatmeal, then continued. "Y'know, when I was little, I couldn't understand why, every year at Christmas and for birthdays and Gramma and Grampa Greene's anniversary, we would get a gift for your family, but the tag on the package would say it was from you. I asked Mom once, and she said, 'It's what he would do if he were here.' A few years back, I overheard Gramma Greene say to Mom, 'It's OK to mark the tags from you, Kellie. We love you, too, and we know they're also from him.' After that, they've always been marked from us."
"Wow," said Dakota quietly.
"She's even made sure there's a place for you on the Greene-Ross board, and a job in the foundation, so you'd have somewhere to go when you got back. Heck, even my name is partly because of you."
April smiled. "My full name is April Buttercup Trudeau," she said. My dad wanted to name me Avril -- French for April. Mom wanted Buttercup. April was the compromise first name, and my middle name is because of you."
Dakota shook his head. "I don't understand," he said.
"Oh, right, you wouldn't get the reference," April said. "See, that Dr. Dekker chick that kidnapped you, she smashed a ship into the bank overlooking Mom's first HQ -- really trashed the place. After Mom had told your parents and her friend, Jenna, about who she was, and promised them she'd bring you home, in the midst of the charred remains of the bank, she found a single buttercup that had survived. She took that as a sign of hope, that you were still out there. Buttercups have been her favorite flower ever since."
Dakota bit his lip, fighting back tears even harder. "Oh, God," he said quietly, "I've ruined her life. I've ruined Kel's life!"
"What? No!" said April, placing a hand atop his. "No, you haven't ruined her life. You've still been a big part of it, but she's lived a good, full and, I think, mostly happy life that hasn't necessarily involved or been centered on you. It's just that, hearing about it like this, all at once, it sounds more intensive than it is."
Dakota wiped a tear from his cheek. "But my ghost has haunted her all these years," he said.
April kept her hand on his. "It's not quite like that. It's just
I remember when I was 8, Mom and Dad had their tenth wedding anniversary. When Mom was out of the room, Dad said to me, with a smile on his face, 'You know, April, there are really three people in this marriage: me; your mother; and Dakota Greene.' He's always known what I've figured out: She's never stopped loving you, and she never will. And she felt she had to make sure to express that love every day, because she knew that, someday, you'd be back, and she couldn't let you down. She may not have been able to pick up where she left off, but she had to look out for everybody she loved, including you, and me, and my dad."
April leaned forward as she continued. "And do you realize why she's able to sleep so soundly? You're home. She's done what her heart has wanted to do for 25 years. You're home, and now she's able to rest."
Dakota smiled. He looked at April and grinned. "I bet you got teased when people found out your middle name," he said.
April grinned. "Mercilessly," she said, "but it was worth it for this." They both laughed. April used her fingers to pull her hair back over her left ear.
From behind them they heard a gasp. "April, what do you think you're doing?" said Kellie.
"Oh, hey, Mom," April said.
"Hey, Kel," Dakota said. "Glad you got some sleep. April just made me some oatmeal, and we were talking."
Kellie blushed and ran out of the room. "Excuse me," she said as she left.
Both teens started to rise, but April gestured for Dakota to wait. "I think I'd better take this one," she said. "Be right back."
April went to her parents' room and knocked on the door. "Mom, it's me," she said.
Kellie opened the door. "I'm sorry," she said, hugging April. "I don't know what came over me."
"I do," April said. "You came out to the kitchen and found me talking to and laughing with the guy you've loved and been searching for all these years, and for just a moment, you were jealous, until you remembered the whole situation."
Kellie nodded. "And you were doing the hair flip thing, the flirty hair thing," she said.
"I was?" April said. Then her eyes widened. "Oh, God, I was! Mom, that wasn't on purpose! I mean, he's cute -- really, really cute -- but I'd be pretty weirded out trying to date my mom's old boyfriend, even if he's functionally younger than me."
"I'm sorry," said Kellie, hugging April again.
"It's OK," April said. "Both of you are bound to have some incredibly complex knots of feelings right now. But the main thing is Dakota, right?"
Kellie nodded. "Absolutely," she said.
Wiping a tear from her mom's cheek, April said, "Let's get back to the kitchen."
The next few hours were a mix of questions from Dakota and breaks for his sake. Gemma and Stamitos arrived, to a greeting of "Gramma Gemma! Grampa Stam!" from April. They both hugged the stuffings out of Dakota.
At one point during their visit, Stamitos took Dakota aside. "You know, Dakota, while my circumstances were different, I've been the man outside of time myself, and know some of what you're going through," he said. "Do you need to talk?"
"I don't know," Dakota said. "I'm still trying to process most of this."
Stamitos put a hand on Dakota's shoulder. "Understandable," he said. He handed Dakota a slip of paper. "Here are my phone and web contact points. If you need me, contact me. If you need me to come to you, I'll be there."
Dakota hugged Stamitos, who was still huge even as a man at the start of old age. "Thanks," the teen said.
After the Stones had left, Dakota walked up to Kellie. "Um, Kel, can we go see our old spot, or what's left of it?"
Kellie nodded. She took Dakota's hand. "Let's go," she said.
They walked the short distance to the river's edge. The shape of the bank was clearly different, but there were no traces left of Dekker's attack that anyone who didn't know the area from before it would have recognized.
"I still like to come here," Kellie said. "It's been my get-away spot, and the place I felt closest to you."
Dakota squeezed her hand. "I just needed to see it again," he said, "to know what we had was real."
"It was real," Kellie said.
Dakota looked her in the eye. "Yes, it was," he said.
"Oh, God," Kellie said. "This is goodbye, isn't it? You're telling this place goodbye."
Dakota simply continued to look into Kellie's eyes. "I can still read it all in your eyes," he said. "I can see how you feel about me, and how you feel about your family, and how you're both thrilled to have me back and torn apart at the same time. And I need time to get back with my family. I don't know how much longer I'll have my dad, from the sound of things, and there are some new family members I need to get to know."
Kellie simply pouted. "You know, I bought this land some years back. I own both sides of the river here now."
Dakota hugged her, and she hugged back. "It'll always be precious to me, Kel," he said.
"I love you, Kota," Kellie said.
"I love you, Kel," he replied.
After a long moment, Kellie said, "Well, we'd better get back to the house. Your kinfolk are due to arrive at any minute, and they're anxious to see you."
"That runs both ways," Dakota said.
It was only minutes after Dakota and Kellie returned to the house that a van pulled up. Dakota ran out, both eager to see, and dreading seeing, his family.
Lakota came out first, from the driver's seat. "Bro!" she shouted, running over and hugging her twin.
Both were crying already. Dakota looked at Lakota. The years hadn't been as kind to her as Kellie, but she still looked good for a 40-year-old. "God, it's good to have you back!" she said.
"I'm still trying to get used to the idea that I've been gone," Dakota said.
From behind him emerged his mother, who tearfully hugged her son. She pulled back and caressed his cheek. 'Still the same," she said. "My boy is finally home!"
While their mom was reconnecting with Dakota, Lakota helped their dad from the van. She wheeled him up to his son. He reached up both arms, one forcefully, the other less so. "Kota!" he said. "My Kota!"
"Dad!" said Dakota. He knelt down beside his father's chair, hugging him and sobbing.
Nick Greene rocked back and forth, holding his son. "My boy! My boy!" he said. He took Dakota's face in his hands. He smiled the biggest smile the stroke he had suffered would allow. "Kellie kept promiff," he said. "She promiff she bring you home. She brought you home! Kellie kept promiff! Kellie alway keep promiff!"
Dakota looked up at Kellie, who was watching from the porch. "Yes, Dad," he said. "Kellie always keeps her promises."
Kellie smiled sadly, then turned at the sound of a child's voice. "Aunt Kellie!" shouted a boy as ran up and hugged her.
Dakota had taken Lakota's hand. "Sis, Kellie made up some stuff to help me catch up."
Lakota chuckled. "Sounds like her," she said.
"I know about your marriages," he said. "I'm sorry."
"I'm not, " Lakota said. "Without both those marriages, I don't get my two kids, and they're the best part of my life. Speaking of whom
A girl of about 12 came up. "Rosie, this is your Uncle Dakota," Lakota said.
"Hi," Rosie said. "You're younger than I thought you'd be."
"I suspect I'll get that a lot," Dakota said.
Then Rosie spotted Kellie. "Hey, Aunt Kellie!" she said, waving.
"Hey, Namesake!" said Kellie.
Rosie bolted for the porch. "We'll visit at the hotel and during the car ride, Uncle Dakota!" she said.
Dakota looked at Lakota. "Namesake?" he said.
"Her full name is Kellie Rose," Lakota said. "Rosie is a nickname to keep them straight. And, speaking of namesakes
The boy who had been hugging Kellie came up. He was closer to 5 years old, and looked at Dakota, unsure what to do.
"Dakota, this is Cody," Lakota said. "Cody, this is your Uncle Dakota."
"Dakota?" said Cody. "That's my name!"
"Mine, too," Dakota said. He looked at his sister. "Another nickname?"
Lakota smiled. "He's Dakota Nicholas."
Dakota tousled the boy's hair. "That means you're my namesake, Cody."
"Like Rosie and Aunt Kellie?" Cody asked.
"Just like them," Dakota said.
"Cool!" shouted Cody. He hugged Dakota, then ran toward his sister. "Hey, Rosie! I'm a namesake, too, with Uncle Dakota!"
Dakota stood up, taking his father's waiting hand. "I need to get to know them," he said.
"You've got time," Lakota said. "Kellie's got us set up in this cabin in Canada that Gill owns. That way we can have some time just for us. She's even got medical care for Dad."
"Couldn't we do that at home?" Dakota asked.
"Dakota, what happened to you is one of the great mysteries of the 21st century," Lakota said. "Kellie's keeping you off the radar until we get to the cabin; then Elevator Woman and Elevator Girl are gonna have to hold a press conference. If we were at home, we'd be hounded by media."
"So, I'm famous," Dakota said.
Lakota hugged him. "Take the time you need, bro. We're here for you, and we're glad to have you back."
Later that evening, it was time to leave for the hotel. Everyone else went outside, and gave Kellie and Dakota a chance to say goodbye.
Kellie's lower lip trembled. "We'll still see each other at Greene-Ross functions," she said, "unless you want me to stay away."
"No!" said Dakota. "No, I need you in my life somewhere. But beyond that
Kel, there's just so much to sort out, and you've got your life, and I've got to build mine. We'll have to see how all that settles out."
"I understand," she said. She looked him in the eye. "Kota, I promise you, if you ever need me, for anything, just call and I'll be there to do it. I promise."
Dakota hugged Kellie. "Oh, Kel," he said. "I know you'll do your best, but that's one promise you can't keep.
because what I need now is to be able to have the girl I love back where I can love her like I did 25 years ago."
They sobbed in each other's arms for a moment. Then Dakota said, "I'll be there for you, too, if you need me."
Kellie caressed Dakota's cheek. "I'll love you forever, my Kota," she said.
"I'll love you always, my Kel," Dakota said. "Goodbye."
"Goodbye," she said. They hugged each other again. Then, wordlessly, he slowly pulled away, turned and walked out the door.
During the drive to the motel, Lakota said, "I hope we'll still see Kellie. I mean, I know this situation is beyond awkward for both of you, but she's family, too, especially to the kids."
Dakota stared out the window. "I hope we see her, too," he said. "I'd
really like that."
Later that evening, Gill walked down to the bank overlooking the cave. He found Kellie sitting there, staring at the moon. "I thought I'd find you here," he said.
"Hey, Gill," Kellie said.
"You OK?" he asked.
"I'm the best I've been in 25 years, and I'm a total wreck," Kellie said.
Gill sat beside her for a few minutes. They held hands in silence. She smiled at him, glad he knew her well enough to feel secure in this situation.
"The one thing that really galls me is that Dekker still won," Kellie finally said. "Her last words were, 'So this is how I win, with your love grown cold. Cold always wins.' And, even though Dakota's finally free, she's still won. My love for him grew cold, and he's still without that love."
"Well, that was a good thing for me," Gill said, smiling.
Kellie patted his hand. "I just hope he can find love somewhere. You know, I came in on April flirting with him earlier, and
well, I admit, I was jealous for about three seconds, but then I thought, if Elevator Girl loved Kota, it would rob Dekker of that victory. She'd really be defeated. I know that's stupid, but it's what I keep thinking."
Gill patted Kellie's hand back, then stood up. "You take the time you need here," he said. "I'll see you when you come in."
As he started to walk back, Kellie said. "Gill. I love you, y'know."
Gill smiled. "I love you, too," he said.
Gill walked slowly inside, thinking as he walked. When he got in, he went up the stairs to April's room. He knocked, and she invited him in.
"What's up, Dad?" April asked.
"April, I'm going to ask something of you, and I'm not sure what you're going to think of me for asking it, but I'm going to ask it anyway. If anyone can do this, it's you."
Gill explained his plan.
"Dad, I don't think you're terrible," April said. "Actually, this sounds like the kind of idea someone we both know pretty well would come up with, if she'd allow herself to do so."
Gill nodded. "Yeah, it does," he said.
April took her father's hand. "But I hope you don't mind if I hope the right circumstances for us to put this plan into action don't come to pass."
"Well, I'd definitely rather they didn't," Gill said, "But I love her too much not to set up this one last shot for her
just in case."