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In hindsight it was worse that the worst bad idea, sneaking back to England every few months just to see her for a day, but there was no way this marriage was going to work if John didn’t break the rules. Helen was already becoming detached, the sparkle in her eyes dimming, the creases deepening on her forehead from too many worries. She looked tired, weary, as if the fountain of all joy in her life had been staunched to a weak trickle. She seemed happy enough when she was with him, but neither of them could pretend that they hadn’t changed, that they were just another happy couple, that somewhere along the way they hadn’t lost whatever had burned between them in the past. He could tell by her gaze that he had become a stranger to her—his girl, his sweetheart—and that hurt him more than any blade or bullet. He felt compelled to make this work, to make her happy, but he couldn’t do that if he wasn’t there. And he always had to leave.
So he’d tell her white lies, make her happy for a few hours, make her believe that the flickering flame of love’s goodness would be enough to stave off the cold winter gales. But in the end he’d leave, like he always did, and the scabby rifts between them were ripped open afresh and blood gushed in the wake of his footsteps.
Helen would cry herself to sleep for nights afterward. She wasn’t an overly-emotional person, not with her rational personality and fondness of reason, but we all go to the same dark place when our hearts are broken. Helen dwelled in that dark place, shackled to John’s ghost by a golden chain, waiting for his return. Always loyal, ever faithful—such a good little wife—even as the best years of her life slipped away from her forever.
Finally she knew she couldn’t do this anymore. It was killing her, and she wasn’t ready or willing to give up her life so soon. So she drank her morning tea and rolled her wedding ring round her finger and made a promise to herself. Next time. The last time.
It was killing John, too, but there wasn’t anything he could do about it. He was alone at Malagosto, his life hanging on his ability to play a convincing part, his every breath borrowed from Death’s greedy clutches. Perhaps that was why he found himself molding a companion out of Yassen Gregorovich, if for no other reason than to keep himself from being sucked down into the mire of his own solitude; for at no moment did John come closer to being genuinely happy than when he was in the presence of his bright young protégé.
Yassen didn’t mind at all—if anything, he relished the intimate camaraderie of SCORPIA’s most valuable agent. He liked John. John wasn’t like the other instructors at Malagosto, all scowls and scars and ego. John smiled, laughed, made awful jokes that were only funny because of their awfulness. John cared about Yassen, was kind to him, never punished him without sound reason, always thought of Yassen’s best interests. He was witty, strong, talented, intelligent, an all-round fantastic man. If it wasn’t hero worship, it had to be love, but Yassen wouldn’t know. In his twenty years he’d never had a hero, nor had he ever been in love. All that had changed when he’d met John, his hero, his mentor.
And as of February 1986, his lover.
It had been five months since the last time he’d seen Helen. It was even more dangerous now, but it was a risk he was willing to take—and he had to take it. He was obligated as a man, committed as a husband. But nothing could have prepared him for this.
“John, I’m pregnant.”
And just like that, the entire course of his life had been changed by three little words.
His first thought, perhaps fueled by the guilt of his own affair, had been it can’t be mine. But then he’d seen how big her belly was, he’d done the math, and with a sinking feeling knew that the child was probably his. No, it was his—Helen wasn’t an adulteress. Helen was a good woman. She had waited for him. She loved him loyally and unwaveringly. She was his girl, his sweetheart. And now she was going to be the mother of his child.
It was with that epiphany that a torrent of pure elation, adrenaline, and wild, hysteric love exploded through John’s body and reawakened feelings he thought had died in him years ago. He’d laughed, he’d smiled, he’d taken Helen’s small smooth hand in his large rough one and kissed it and cried, “That’s wonderful!”
But Helen’s face gazed back at him emptily, streaked with the salty tracks of old tears, and she told him that when she’d found out she’d called the doctor and scheduled a preliminary appointment. For an abortion.
When she saw the horrified look on John’s face then, she burst into tears. “But I couldn’t,” she sobbed, “not without telling you first. I thought you should know.”
And in practically the same breath she told John she was leaving him, she couldn’t raise this child without a father, it deserved a father, it deserved a life free from assassins and violence and terrorists, and God, God, she was so scared, what was she going to do?
And right then, John Rider decided to give up being a spy and become a husband and a father. He took Helen in his arms and hugged her and kissed her and held her in a way that meant he was never letting go again. “We’ll make this work,” he told her. “I’ll find a way. Trust me, Helen. We’ll make it work.”
And Helen, with the round bulge of their baby pressed between them, had believed him with all her heart.