Theo looked up from the book he was reading, narrowing his eyes as he witnessed a shocked Mo abandoning the tea kettle and dashing towards Polly's bedroom.
"Darling? What's wrong?"
"I just saw this bloody big flash through the window!"
"What?! Well, if that's how this gentleman friend of Polly's behaves -"
"Nah, darlin' - I mean a flash of light!"
"Oh," Theo replied in colder tones, returning to his reading. "Well, I'm sure it's nothing to worry about."
He'd barely got through the next sentence when his husband interrupted him again, his head poking out through the frame of the open bedroom door like a squirrel emerging from a tree.
"Polly's gone!" Mo cried in horror.
"Well, perhaps she just went upstairs?" Theo replied.
"Polly!!!" Mo bellowed at the top of his lungs - his partner shuddering at the sudden noise.
As the couple listened for a response, only silence followed. Now even Theo was unnerved, but he forced logic, rather than emotion, to rule his head. Following the borderline-panicking Mo into Polly's room, he bit his tongue to force back laughter as he watched the giant teddy bear of a man lifting up pillows and looking into wardrobes in the fruitless search for their eldest child.
"Can you see anything?" Mo asked. "A clue, a ransom note?"
"Mo - "
"Look, Theo - I've known people in my time. Bad people, what with my career and that. I swear to God, if one of 'em's 'urt our Polly -"
"Mo, honey, calm down," Theo replied gently. "You put all that behind you years ago. I'm sure there's a perfectly reasonable explanation for this. Polly probably just popped out whilst we were both distracted. As for this... "flash of light" -"
"I saw it, Theo," Mo insisted. "I swear I saw it."
"Maybe Polly is in the garden?" Theo suggested, pushing open the side door leading to the outside rear of their home. As he stepped out onto the narrow brick porch-way, Mo followed.
"I'm tellin' you, sweet'eart," he muttered. "One minute I'm just stood there, puttin' in the teabags, and the next minute I see this bloody great big - "
Both of them froze in horror as a second almighty flash appeared out of nowhere, dominating the entire garden. Theo stared straight into it in frightened awe as Mo covered his eyes to avoid its glare, both unsure what to do or say, until it faded away... leaving only - what appeared to be - a shower.
"What the bloody 'ell is that?" Mo shouted, jabbing a pudgy finger in his direction.
His husband tutted disapprovingly.
"Honestly, Mo - you must watch your language!"
Before he could go on, his own eyes widened as the shower door opened, and a slender dark-haired man emerged from within.
"Hold on!" he cried out. "Who the bloody hell are you?!"
As the stranger merely smiled up at him in response, Theo continued to stare, whilst Mo spluttered out desperately-suppressed giggles. (Hearing his well-spoken husband swear was always hilarious.)
Still beaming with joy, the stranger reached back into that bizarre shower of his, taking someone's hand and leading them out lovingly.
It turned out to be a very familiar someone.
"Polly!" Mo cried.
"Hi, Daddies," she answered, giggling.
As both men looked down, they saw that Polly was holding something... or rather, another someone... in her arms. This someone was very small, and seemed rather timid - her hair another mane of fiery red locks. The male stranger, still silent, looked at both her and Polly with intense love.
Slowly, Theo made his way down the stairs onto the grassy lawn, scarcely able to believe what he was seeing. (Mo stayed behind, still too shocked to move.) Watching him, Polly placed the toddler on the ground, and pointed in his direction.
"That's him," she whispered to the infant. "Go and say hello."
The girl nodded, and toddled off towards Theo - who lowered himself to kneel upon the dewy grass as she approached, giving her the chance to talk to him at almost equal level.
"Why.... hello there, little one," he said kindly - his voice slightly breathless due to shock. "I'm Theo. What's... what's your name?"
"Mina Valentina Miskin," the little one replied, a confident grin crossing her lips.
"Miskin?!" Mo cried in alarm, staring at Polly. His daughter, placing her hand in the stranger's own, nodded in confirmation.
Theo took no notice. His eyes were still transfixed on the toddler, as he managed a weak smile in response to hers.
"That's a pretty name," he replied. "Hello, Mina. How old are you?"
"Three? Goodness, you are a big and clever girl, aren't you?"
"I have to tell you something."
"Oh? And what's that?"
Joyfully, the infant lifted up her arms, indicating the want for a hug.
"Hi, Grandpa!" she cried, laughing.
As Theo gasped, the couple giggled... whilst Mo, who'd had enough shocks for one day, merely let out a long, deep groan as he passed out onto the walkway.
In the lounge, Mina giggled wildly as an adoring Grandpa Theo whirled her around in his arms, gazing up at her like she was a treasured jewel.
"You're the image of your mother," he said. "You look just like she did when she was tiny. Mina... my beautiful little Mina!"
Meanwhile, Mo - after being dragged back inside with some difficulty - sat up in an armchair, occasionally pressing an ice pack to his head as he tried to come to terms with the visitor's explanations... he and Polly now being seated in the sofa opposite.
"Let me see if I've got this right," he began. "Your name's Mally Miskin, and you're Mitch's great-grandson."
"Correct," Mally replied.
"You'll be born many years from now, in the far future."
"That shower thing out there is really a time machine."
"Which you used to travel back 'ere, where you met our Polly... and the two of you fell in love."
"And that little gel is your daughter. Our grandchild. Mina Valentina. Right?"
"Yep. That pretty much covers it."
Mo groaned, rubbing his temples in irritation.
"Jesus... I don't know if it's the fall or what you've told me, but my 'ead is killin' me..."
He stared at Polly in utter confusion.
"You were only gone for like one minute!"
"It's been three years for me," Polly explained. "Time travel, remember?"
As Theo and Mina continued to laugh merrily, Mo sharply whirled around, staring at them.
"Theo, will you put that poor gel down for two seconds?!" he muttered.
Calming himself down, Theo placed Mina against his shoulders, cradling her in a hug.
"Not a chance, Mo," he replied. "Daisy and Idris have already given you your grandbabies. This one's mine. My little Mina."
"I thought you considered Daisy your daughter too?" Mo scoffed, raising a questioning eyebrow.
"Oh, I do!" Theo insisted. "Of course I do. And Lucy too, despite... what happened with Clyde. I love all three of them more than anything. But, well... oh, you know what I mean, right?"
Mo smiled, and nodded. Yes, he did. Daisy and Lucy had very much been his little girls. Polly was always Theo's. Hell, she'd been Theo's before they'd even met. Who was he to judge such a passionate reaction now? And even he had to admit - Mina's face reminded him very much of that little mischievous toddler who'd snatched cookies at the Brown Sugar Café, all those years ago.
"There's something you need to know," Polly said, interrupting the pair. "Mally and I didn't just come here to introduce you to Mina. We... we had something of an ulterior motive, too."
"And what's that?"
Blushing, Polly nervously placed her hands in Mally's, gazing into his eyes.
"We've... we've come to ask for your blessing on our marriage," she replied timidly.
She retreated into her own mind for a moment as she recalled that wonderful moment several months prior. She and Mally had only been home from the hospital for a few days, still recovering from the procedures where they'd received the implants Dr. Spencer had strongly suggested on the day Mina was born. That had been the first expression of their commitment to one another.
It was just another usual morning: the pair of them of working away in the lab, Jack helping out here and there... when Mally had suddenly dropped down on one knee before Polly, holding up a stunning diamond ring, and asked her to become his wife.
From there, everything had become a flurry of planning, and Polly had suggested Mina's first introduction to her daddies would also be the perfect chance to get their approval for her and Mally's upcoming union.
As Theo heard Polly's words, he slowly placed Mina onto the wooden floor below, and approached the couple, looking very stern-faced.
"Well, this is all very sudden, isn't it?" he said. "After all, Moses and I have just been introduced to this man."
"Oh, come on, Theo!" Mo protested. "They have my blessin', I can tell you that. We both owe a 'ell of a lot to the Miskins. Personally, I always dreamed one of our gels would marry into their clan. I mean, alright, this ain't exactly 'ow I imagined it would 'appen, but still!"
Theo smiled, immediately dropping the act.
"Same here," he said. "I will gladly grant you my blessing as well, on one condition."
"Anything," Mally replied.
"Mo and I are coming to that wedding," Theo went on. "If you're going to marry my Polly, then I insist on being there to give her away."
"Of course," Mally said. "We wouldn't have it any other way. Although..."
Looking at Mo, he pondered his future stepfather-in-law's large frame in comparison to the machine's narrowness.
"... it may take me a couple of trips."
And so, one glorious Summer's evening, Theo and Polly linked arms as he led her along a white carpet in a beautifully decorated section of the Miskin's back garden: her elegant dress trailing behind her as the pair walked past Miskins, Thacker-Creswells and Diamonds - all dressed in their finest outfits - towards a waiting Mally beneath the ceremonial arch.
With Mina stood at Mally's feet - playing the triple role of flowergirl, page girl and chief bridesmaid - the family watched as the couple exchanged rings, each pledging a vow of eternal love and devotion to the other, sealing the promise with a passionate kiss.
During the reception that followed, Max came out of retirement for one last performance - a private gig for the happy couple and their guests. Gracing a makeshift stage in his old Max Velocity outfit - which was a bit of a tight fit these days! - he thrashed out a few of his old hits on his guitar to the adoring, grateful crowd.
As Mo watched the show with interest, he could feel the butterflies of a crush fluttering in his stomach. Theo, noticing his husband's fanboyish gaze, didn't mind: he knew Mo was devoted to him, and besides, it wasn't a new experience. Mo had always held something of a torch for Mitch too- despite knowing he, and now this Max person, were straight and happily married. It was a harmless, innocent infatuation... and even he had to admit it - Max Velocity was a devilishly sexy man.
As Morgan shimmied to the beat, she walked up to her own husband, and kissed him on the cheek... a gesture Jack greatly appreciated.
On the day Mina was born, Jack had taken Morgan to a nearby diner for some lunch - to get a break from the overwhelming tension of waiting. It was there, as they waited for their food arrived, that he'd revealed his great secret. The eccentric, charming man Morgan knew as Jack Diamond had begun his existence as Jackdory Knickerbocker Glory - the imaginary friend of her younger brother, since brought into reality... and who had loved her ever since their mutual childhood.
Morgan had taken the revelation extremely well. For a start, it was nice to know Mally had been telling her and their parents the truth all those years ago. And no matter where he had come from, she had grown to love Jack very much - his origins a fitting explanation for the wonderful sense of other-worldliness that he emitted.
And as it turned out... he wasn't the only one who had big news.
Jack was overjoyed. True, it was a bit of a shock - but after months of wondering if it would be possible for him to ever actually become a father, due to his imaginary origins, it was a relief to know that he and Morgan would be able to have the family he'd dreamed of. Besides, it wasn't as if he and his beloved hadn't... "enjoyed one another's company".
Right then and there, he'd asked Morgan for her hand in marriage.
It was an offer she'd gladly accepted - the couple announcing their engagement when they returned to the hospital to meet Morgan's new niece.
By the time their hastily-arranged wedding day had arrived, Morgan's little secret was clear for all to see, but it did nothing to ruin the romance or specialness of the event... even if it made her dress slightly more uncomfortable to wear!
It had been the happiest day of both of their lives. At least, until that blessed hour a few months later, when they'd welcomed their son into the world.
Although he wasn't an heir to the family legacy, which they both knew ended with Mally legally and went with Mina spiritually, Jack and Morgan chose to honour the Miskin naming tradition: their son becoming known as Merlin Diamond, inheriting the blue eyes - and hair - of his father.
Right now, Jack was kneeling on the lawn, watching happily as little Merlin - his own blue locks hidden by a hat - babbled away to his very special friend. A charming girl, with pink hair and rose-coloured skin, known as Candyfloss Sundae... or "Flossie", for short.
As Morgan had approached them, all she could see was her husband and son. However, as she'd noticed Jack and Merlin both staring at the same empty spot, she'd instantly realised what was going on. This had been happening for a while now.
"Merlin's playing with his little friend again, isn't he?" she said, smiling.
Jack nodded - and Morgan knew right away it was true. Due to his previous state of existence, Jack was able to see clearly through the veil of imagination, and the child was as real to him as his own son.
He wondered if Mina would be able to see her too, as Mally had once seen him - but then again, perhaps not. Most imaginary friends only appeared to the children they had chosen. It appeared Jack's people were very keen on Merlin remembering his ancestry... and most likely, they wanted the same for Jack himself. He couldn't ask Mina right now, anyway - she was too busy sharing a dance with her newlywed parents... as, indeed, she should be.
Smiling, he turned to Flossie.
"It's OK, sweet pea," he said softly. "I know you're real, and I understand what things will be like for you. But who knows? Maybe one day, Mally will work the same miracle for you and Merlin that he did for him and me. Well, if you want to become real, that is. That choice will be yours to make."
Merlin nodded approvingly. Flossie didn't quite understand everything that Jack had said, but babbled happily in response - merely grateful for the attention.
As night fell, the romance of the day overpowered Max and Laura, as well as Theo and Mo. Given that the scene was already set, both couples chose to renew their vows - showing each other, and the world, that the promises they had made many years ago were still true today, and would be always.
As Mally and Polly watched approvingly - the bridegroom holding Mina in his arms - they were suddenly interrupted by an unexpected visitor: a serious-looking young man in a smart suit, with a fragile yellowing envelope in his hand.
"Mr. Malcolm Miskin?" he asked cautiously.
"Yes," Mally replied. "Can I help you?"
"My name is Damien Simmons," the man explained. "I'm from Silversmith's Bank. I'm here regarding a deposit one of our clients made in a private vault many, many years ago. I'm sorry to disturb you on such an important and special occasion, but in his will, the client strongly expressed his wish that it be handed to you on this very date. He claimed it was vitally important."
He offered the envelope to Mally - who took it from him with great care and gentleness, keen to avoid damaging the already-ancient paper.
"I will allow you to read the contents in private," Mr. Simmons went on, "but the client also asked that the deliverer insist that you do so. Bizarrely, for a deceased man, the will stated his future depended on it. I must confess, bank colleagues throughout the decades have been fascinated by this little mystery - there was great excitement in the office when today finally came."
"Tell me," Mally said, "who exactly owned this vault?"
"The Honourable Myron Miskin."
To everyone who called this, kudos. And yes, the next update will be the final part of the legacy - the epilogue. I can scarcely believe it!
Thank you all again for your continued support! And special thanks to the lovely people over at Boolprop from making The Miskin Legacy a Story of the Month!