PART FIVE: THE FALL FROM GRACE
Leal hung his head low, absorbed in his shame and grief following a particularly gruesome and extensive ethics and disciplinary committee hearing which had taken a whooping 16 hours to make him answer to his charges of negligence in following Timeline Delta One’s (D1’s) Department of Defense’s safety standard operating procedures.
A direct consequence of his negligence in following proper protocol had been the reckless endangerment of his own life and that of one of the Department’s top agents, Protector Avery Alison , as the Director had so put it and Leal had no choice but to accept the charges brought against him by the committee.
The final verdict of the hearing had been, as Leal had feared, his immediate discharge from the service of the Protectors’ Agency, something the Defense department in D-1 would so gladly share with their collaborating colleagues in arms in B-3 where Leal hailed from.
However, as the committee had decided, the real circumstances prompting his termination from active service would seriously call to question the integrity of the Department’s service rating system and to avoid the drama ensuing from that, they would issue a statement and claim that the decision to honorably discharge Protector Leal Grayson had been arrived at “in due consideration of Leal’s mental health which had been greatly compromised during active service”.
Leal would retain his status as a Golden Elite class Protector but would be permanently barred from serving as a Protector for the Defense Department and its collaborators across the timelines. He would, however, still be eligible to all provisions retired Protectors attained at the end of active duty including a monthly check and discounts at any service industry related business that served veteran soldiers, warriors and retired Protectors.
He would, however, never be allowed to step foot at the Defense Department’s premises or its affiliate or shadow outfit premises without the express written permission of the Director herself with the approval of no less than 10 committee members. Leal contemplated everything that had transpired during the hearing and realized that he had lost the job he had cherished ever since he was a young boy. Leal had lost a very coveted and decorated position as a Protector.
He dreaded the mere thought of what the future held for him and worse still, feared what it meant for his family comprising of himself, his charge and their four year old daughter, Avery. Leal was especially stressed over what Aurora would want to do in light of everything he had done behind her back.
“Dad, are you okay? Are you in pain?” Protector Avery asked him concerned.
He sighed, too ashamed to even look her in the eye.
“I’m fine. I… just need to go home now,” he stated, feeling the weight of the world weighing down on him.
“Let me take you home then,” Avery so graciously offered.
“No thanks, I’ll manage,” he stated, getting up quickly and dragging himself around.
“Dad please let me help you-” Avery stated gently putting her hand on his right shoulder.
He slapped her hand away and angrily retorted, “I am not your father!”
Avery recoiled on hearing his harsh rebuttal but let him walk away alone. Leal lost all sense of direction on where he was headed and had to stop several times along the way to get his bearings. He hesitated at the entrance to the bar a few meters away from his home but having never been one to drown his sorrows in liquor, he instead sighed as he turned away and dragged his feet all the way home, finding an empty house.
Seeing what time of day it was, he came to the conclusion that Aurora must have been at work and his daughter must have been at school and for several hours, he just stood in the middle of their vast den, staring up at the door waiting for them. His daughter came home first and he tried distracting himself by playing with her but it proved challenging when his mind and heart were focused on what he would say to Aurora once she got home.
He put Avery to bed early and awaited Aurora’s return. Minutes swept by which then turned into hours with no word or sign of Aurora until 11 PM when she finally came in through their front door, her beautiful facial features obscured by a scowl as she hung up her coat.
Leal wanted so much to just be there for her, to hold her in his arms and assure her that she would be alright but he was certain that Aurora would probably not want that from him at that time.
At first, Aurora didn’t seem to notice him at all since their living room was dark and the lights were off but sure enough, she stared right into his direction and paused for a few minutes. She then turned the lights on without saying anything directly to him and walked past him towards their kitchen, ignoring the dinner he had prepared for her, placed on the kitchen counter and instead, searched the fridge, pulling out a bottle of water and hastily chugging down its contents.
With his tail between his legs, Leal dragged himself to the kitchen and casually leaned against the kitchen counter, observing her every movement. He ogled and obsessed over each movement she made forever etching it into his mind and heart and soon, his heart began to race for reasons altogether different from the present trepidation he felt at having fallen so far from grace. Leal contemplated whether there truly was a return back to everyone’s good graces as he observed his charge with awed interest.
Aurora sighed and pulled out another bottle of water, repeating her previous actions all while ignoring Leal who was increasingly becoming more anxious and paranoid with each passing moment. He closed his eyes and walked towards her, gulping audibly as he finally reached the fridge. He stretched out his hand while his eyes were still closed, hoping he could touch her even though he couldn’t see her but Aurora stepped out of the way and began to walk away.
Leal hastily opened his eyes and grabbed hold of her right shoulder just before Aurora could get too far.
“Aurora, I- I have failed you yet again. I… I don’t know what words I can say that could possibly make this right again so I just… I am begging you to please forgive me,”
Aurora simply stared back at him coldly, so coldly that it broke his heart and ironically reminded him of her doppelganger from another Timeline, namely the Director of the Department of Defense in D-1 and her ferocity during his hearing.
“Aurora, please… I… I know that I was a fool. I wanted to tell you so badly but I was so afraid… so afraid you’d think I was weak. When you looked at me like I was a hero and when you praised me; when you appreciated every deed I was praised for and when we celebrated all my wins… It meant the world to me, Aurora. And I always, always wanted you to look at me like that, to be proud of me because it made me feel worthy of you,”
“I have never cared about heroics and fake bravado. You know that by now, or at least, I expected you to know about it by now. What I cannot get over and what kills me and breaks my heart is how you lied to me, your charge, in spite of everything we have been through together. You looked me right in the eye every single day and you shamelessly concealed the truth from me..”
“And all along you were in his mind, Leal, you experienced everything he felt including love for her, the very monster who led to you developing PTSD in the first place and you were happy to do so knowing the risks. You would have continued doing so if you hadn’t been caught too. You’d have continued lying to me, in spite of saying you and I are partners, in spite of proposing marriage to me and in spite of the risk you put both Avery and me in. I- I cannot forgive that, Leal, I don’t even know where to begin,” Aurora stated coldly.
“If I cannot trust my own Protector, whom can I trust? I thought the Protector’s bond assured me of your loyalty, of your honesty, but it appears not. So why not just go to her? Go and pledge your allegiance to her and serve as her Protector as you’ve done for months. I am done with you, consequences be damned. Just stay away from me and Avery,”
TO BE CONTINUED…
He lost the job but shall Leal lose his true love as well? Stay tuned to find out. Links to previous entries in the series are disclosed below;