Circle of Fire

 

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Raleigh, North Carolina

Michelle put the last book into the box and sealed it shut with tape, looking around the room with a feeling satisfaction. This would be the last time she would have to do this. After everything had been packed, the truck would come and pick it up to drive everything to Sydney's home in Blue Cove, where they would live after the wedding. She understood his longing to continue to live there, where his daughter was, and had no objections now that those who had frightened her out of the town in the first place were no longer in power. Nicholas, too, had seemed keen, and she had an idea that he had an agenda of his own, one that he refused to discuss with her, but which seemed immensely personal. Michelle couldn't help reflecting on the number of secrets that they had kept from each other for so long.

A knock on the door made her stop packing and she went over to open it, expecting it to be the man who would give her a quote for the move, once he saw how many boxes she had. But she nearly slammed it in the visitor's face as soon as soon as she saw who it was. Only the man's quick respond was able to prevent it as he grabbed her wrist.

"Not so fast, Michelle," Lucian warned, in a hoarse growl. "You wouldn't shut your own nephew out, would you?"

"What are you doing here?" she hissed, drawing herself up to her full height and trying to pull her hand out of his hold. "This isn't a safe place for you."

"Not many places are, right now," he agreed with a grin, pushing her further into the house before he turned the key in the lock, securing the only external door. "At least, not on this continent. But there are other holes I can hide in for a while."

"What do you want?" she demanded, stepping back as soon as he let go her wrist.

"I want to know your plans," he remarked lightly, placing an arm on her shoulder and forcing her into the living room. "I just want to know what my favorite aunt and cousin will be up to for the next few weeks, or months."

Michelle suddenly felt anger burning in her stomach and momentarily pushing aside her fear as she glared at him on the sofa he had forced her to sit on. "I've warned you before not to touch my son. You might not have had anything to do with his abduction, but, if anything happens to him now, I'll know who's responsible."

Lucian raised his hands innocently. "Now, now, Aunty, as if I'd do anything to the dear boy."

Just like you didn't do anything to your mother, Michelle thought, not daring to state the words aloud. Or so you told the board.

"You seem to be leaving," the man commented, looking around. "Back to Blue Cove, I suppose, and the arms of the man you love." He chuckled. "Only 28 years late, right?"

She clenched her fists around the edge of the cushion on which she sat to stop herself from the retort that sprang to her lips, dropping her eyes to the floor so that he wouldn't see the anger that she was sure was burning in them.

"Well, you won't have to worry," he informed her. "I'm leaving the States, for a while, anyway. And I think it's about time you got the chance for something you want." Lucian grinned. "Consider it my wedding gift. Go somewhere nice. Settle down. Live happily ever after. All that crap. Just promise me one thing."

Michelle looked up sharply. "What is it?"

Lucian already stood in the doorway and, as she watched, he unlocked the front door, still with his dark eyes fixed on her. "Keep the door open, in case your beloved nephew ever needs a place to stay." He winked. "I'd hate to have to break it down."

On the word, he was gone, the door shutting quietly behind him, and she could hear him whistling as he strolled down the street. Shakily getting to her feet, she managed to make it to the window in time to see a car pull away from the curb, the flashy type of vehicle he usually drove. Unable to stop trembling, she staggered over to the door and locked it, going back to the sofa and sinking onto it again, holding her head in her hands.

Meetings with her nephew usually left her tense, but, knowing what had occurred over the past few weeks, this one had been worse, despite the fact that he had done nothing. He had simply been reminding her that he was still around, still dangerous and, apparently, still determined to get back what he perceived to be rightfully his. She knew that he would now find those parts of his empire that were still under his control and build them up into a state fit to take back what he perceived as his belongings. Michelle couldn't bear to think what would happen when he did.

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

The man tapped against the doorframe of the next room, seeing his brother's head, lying on the pillow, roll towards the door, and a warm smile cross his face.

"Hey, Jarod. C'mon in."

Steering the chair over to the bed, Jarod leaned out of it to hug his brother, gritting his teeth to hide the pain the action caused him. "How's the wounded war hero?"

Grinning, Ethan pulled himself slowly up in bed, ignoring the restraining hand that Jarod put out to stop him. "I've missed you," he stated. "Morgan and Angelo have come and seen me a few times, but you haven't lately."

"I know. I'm sorry about that, but Morgan gave me some work to keep myself occupied and it was taking up a lot of my time."

A wistful look crept over Ethan's face. "When are you going down to Texas?"

"Actually, that's the reason for my visit." Jarod leaned forward. "Sebastian wants me to go down as soon as I can, and your sister and Sydney have just left, so they won't know until it's too late for them to do anything about it." He winked at his brother. "Want to fly down with me now?"

"Now?" Ethan stared at him. "But I can't even walk!"

Jarod indicated the chair he sat in. "That makes two of us. But I've got other reasons for wanting to go down there today, and your son would never forgive me if I came without you. Sebastian's jet is already waiting on the runway, and he sent a nurse up with it, to make sure that we behave ourselves."

"Hi, Ethan," a familiar, Australian voice stated from the doorway, and the young man looked up to see Elizabeth standing there. Her fingers were wrapped around the handles of a wheelchair and she grinned at him. "Are you ready to go?"

"Come on, little brother," Jarod urged, as the woman went over to the wardrobe and began to get clothes out of it. "Let's go and see our sons."

* * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas

Morgan looked approvingly around the playroom, seeing that the ceiling was covered with helium-filled balloons and that streamers decorated the walls. Letters cut out of aluminum to make a chain spelled 'Happy Birthday' and reflected the light, casting blue, pink, orange and green marks on the opposite wall. The man beside her chuckled softly.

"Sebastian certainly does things thoroughly," Sydney remarked.

"He can afford to," she returned, finally finding her son among the other Seraphim gathered in a corner. Suddenly, as if feeling her eyes on him, he looked up and then ran across the room with his arms outstretched.

"Mine!" he shrieked in delight, kissing her rapturously as she scooped him up in her arms.

"How's my baby?" she asked, hugging him warmly as she walked over to the corner in which the large furniture stood. "Are you having a good day?"

"'S'my Birfday, Mommy," he pronounced proudly.

"And how old are you today?" she prompted, watching as he held up his hand, using the other to force two of his fingers down to his palm.

"Free!" he declared, beaming.

"That's right," she agreed, before turning to Sydney. "Aren't you going to say 'hello' to Grandpa?"

Gabriel reached out of her arms to enthusiastically hug the man, before the smile suddenly faded and he turned to his mother with an anxious expression on his face. "Daddy commed, too?"

She was about to regretfully answer the question in the negative when a hearty male voice from behind her interrupted.

"Of course I did!"

Turning in astonishment, she found Jarod sitting in his wheelchair and, behind him, saw Ethan, also in a chair, being enthusiastically greeted by his son. Gabriel yelped in delight and reached out of his mother's arms to his father, even as Sydney cast a dubious glance in the younger man's direction.

"Should you be…?"

"Don't start," Jarod interrupted, gently returning the enthusiastic hug Gabriel gave him. "It took me long enough to persuade the medical team in Blue Cove that I was well enough for this." He looked down at his son's beaming face. "But I wasn't going to miss today."

Morgan rolled her eyes as she sat down and Jarod steered the chair around so he faced them. "I hope he inherited my temperament, and not yours."

Ignoring the jibe, Jarod reached into a bag that hung from the arm of the chair and produced four wrapped gifts.

"I missed your other birthdays," he explained to his son, "so I'll make up for them now. Which one first?"

Gabriel thought for a second before pointing to the biggest one, enthusiastically tearing off the paper. His eyes went wide as he picked up the large red diamond and held it wonderingly in front of himself, before turning curious eyes to his father.

"What is it?"

"It's a kite, Gabriel." Jarod pulled away the paper to reveal the brightly colored bows on the tail. "When it's windy, we'll take it outside and let it fly up in the sky."

The little boy suddenly scrambled down from his lap and ran over to a pile of books in the corner, picking up one and tearing back with it. Sydney helped him climb back onto Jarod's lap and then he flipped over the pages until he found the one he wanted.

"Like dat?" he asked his father, pointing at a rainbow-colored diamond that flew high above the head of a boy on the page, and Jarod nodded.

"Just like that. The next windy day, we'll take it to the park and fly it, okay?"

"Yup!" Gabriel beamed and hugged his father, before taking up the next present, tearing off the paper as his mother moved the kite aside. The box it contained was too large for his little fingers to open, but Jarod eased up the lid and Gabriel reached in, tossing out bubble wrap, until he felt something hard under his hand.

A clear plastic dome was revealed, with a flat white plastic base, and Jarod saw a smile appear on Sydney's face as he picked up the snow globe and twirled it, making the glitter fly around the inside and surround the little bear and the piles of presents around it. Gabriel's eyes were wide as he took the globe in his hands.

"Dat's nice," he pronounced, and Jarod agreed. The boy stared at it for a moment longer, until all the glitter had settled, before turning to the next package and tearing off the paper. The big brown eyes looked down at the two objects in confusion, turning the wire brush and leather leash over in his hands. "What dis for, Daddy?"

Jarod grinned. "You don't think they'd be for you?"

"I's got a brush," Gabriel protested, his little hand patting the metal bristles. "An' dis is too hard for me."

"Hmm, well, maybe it's got something to do with this present," his father suggested, as the other children gathered around, Uriel riding on his father's lap, his delight at having his father back obvious in his eyes. "Why don't you open this one, and maybe then it'll make sense."

"Okay!" Cheerfully, Gabriel turned to the last gift, tearing off the paper and finding a box. When he tore off the lid, Jarod saw the hopeful expression fade quickly from his eyes and disappointment replace it. "'S empty, Daddy," he said sorrowfully, turning it upside down and shaking it, as if to loosen an invisible object.

Jarod saw one of the caregivers wink at him to announce the arrival of his surprise and looked at the Seraphim to see that Gabriel's disappointment had spread to the other little faces. The room was silent, heavy with emotion, but then a scratching sound was heard from the outside the door, accompanied by a soft whine.

"What's that?" Jarod asked his son quickly. "Did you hear it? What could it be?"

Gabriel's little head tilted to one side as the scratching sound came again.

"Where did it come from?" Jarod asked, seeing that Rebecca had taken Tempest on her lap to keep her still and Ethan was holding Uriel back from calling out the answer, the brothers having spoken about the surprise gift on the flight.

Turning his attention back to his son, Jarod could feel that the boy was tense with anticipation, and then Gabriel wriggled down once more from the chair, going over to the door and struggling to open it.

"Mine!" he called urgently, and Morgan got up from the sofa, lifting him so that he could reach the handle, helping him to pull the door open.

He gasped, before 'oohing' softly with delight and stretching out his hands eagerly for something that nobody inside the room could see. Morgan took a step back and Elizabeth appeared, a small brown bundle in her arms, with a pink tongue that licked Gabriel's nose when he leaned out of his mother's arms to touch the puppy. The other Seraphim ran over as Elizabeth put the dog down and Gabriel wriggled until his mother put him down beside it, sitting on the floor with a bump and taking the little animal into his arms, patting the spaniel puppy's soft head and floppy ears.

"What made you think of it?" a soft voice asked, and Jarod turned to find that Sydney had moved to sit on the sofa near him.

"I remembered a discussion I had with Sebastian and the others, a couple of months ago, about the need to ensure that these children know the value of other people's lives," the younger man responded. "I figured that if they had even partial responsibility for something else, it would go a long way towards developing that."

"I'm surprised it isn't a rabbit," Morgan remarked drily, and Jarod grinned.

"I wouldn't want to repeat myself."

* * * * * * * * *

Delaware

"And you know what they liked the best, Daddy?" Debbie's voice asked from the back seat of the car, and Broots smiled at her in her rearview mirror.

"What, baby?"

"My tattoo!" The girl beamed, and Broots heard a muffled choking sound from the woman sitting in the front passenger seat. "They were sooo jealous!"

"Are you still taking care of it?" Kim asked, suppressed laughter in her tones.

"Just like they said to," Debbie agreed.

"Well, that's good," Broots stated, somewhat uncertainly.

"And what was the most fun thing you did?" the woman asked, turning around to smile at the girl in the back seat.

"Hmm, I think it was the night we stayed up to have a midnight feast and tell ghost stories," she was told. "Amy had the best one."

"Amy is her oldest cousin," Broots told Kim under his breath, seeing her nod slightly.

"She told all about this house that's got a real ghost." Debbie's eyes were wide. "Nobody can bear to live in it, because they get too scared."

"What are they scared of?" her father asked.

"Apparently this house shows them all their worst fears and nightmares and stuff." She bit into the bread roll that her father had bought when he had stopped to buy gas, chewing and swallowing it before continuing. "The story goes that an old guy - Mr. Woods - built it for his family to live in. He was really into magic and talking to dead people and stuff, and he used to travel around doing it, with his family, but then he got too old, so he came back to this place that his family owned and built a house on the land and moved in."

Debbie took another bite. "But apparently his son fell in love with a woman, and she moved into the house with them. Mr. Woods believed that she was a witch."

"Was she a good witch or a bad witch?" Kim asked curiously, enjoying the story.

"A good witch," Debbie responded emphatically. "But Mr. Woods thought that she was a bad one, and that she'd bewitched his son, so," the girl's voice lowered, and Broots felt a chill run down his spine, "one night he tied her up and tried to force her to leave the house and his son, but she wouldn't go, so he killed her."

Broots found that his hands were gripping the steering wheel unnecessarily tightly, and he had to force himself to calm down as his daughter took another bite of the roll.

"He buried her body under the house," Debbie went on, "and wrote a note to his son, pretending to come from his girlfriend, which said that she was leaving and wasn't coming back. But his son didn't believe it, and every morning said that she'd come into his room at night and told him that she was still in the house. And Mr. Woods kept having dreams about the woman, and she always accused him of killing her. Then, finally, one morning his wife found him dead at the bottom of the stairs. Nobody had heard him get up or leave the bedroom, but they guessed he was walking in his sleep. After that, Mr. Woods' wife wanted them to leave, but the son, the one whose girlfriend had been killed, didn't want to. The rest made him come, but he remembered what his girlfriend had said about still being in the house, so he made sure that the family kept it."

"So ever since then, her ghost has haunted the house, and scared people away?" Kim offered, and Debbie nodded in agreement, beaming.

"Pretty cool story, huh?" she suggested.

"Very cool," the woman agreed, before turning to the driver. "Lazslo, do you want to swap places, like we discussed? I can drive for a while."

* * * * * * * * *

Rue de Victor Hugo
Paris, France

Lucian glanced at his watch as the sun peeped over the edge of the window-ledge in his rented apartment. He tucked his hands behind his head, gazing thoughtfully at the ceiling. Being in this city was possibly a little close to the Berlin branch, but he was waiting to see what repercussions would follow the takeover, in preparation for his own attack.

His gaze fell on the paper that lay on the bed beside him, which had earlier been occupied by one of the city's night workers. It had almost gone against the grain to pay her and let her leave, but he wanted to remain in this place for some time, so he had been forced to do so, so as not to attract unwanted attention. The front page bore a photo of one of this country's politicians, but what had attracted Lucian's attention was the similarity this face bore to that of his father. Picking up the paper, he let his eyes roam over the picture, recalling the problems Hermann had had with this organization in the years before his death.

Hermann Bruce read the report and frowned. He'd heard the rumors, of course, that Catherine was on a downward spiral, that her mental state was deteriorating rapidly. That didn't bode well, and sure enough, Catholic or not, it seemed she had taken her life in that elevator, ending their hope of the excellent potential her offspring could have brought them.

He pushed the report aside, pleased now that he wouldn't have to make up excuses to the Triumvirate to have her killed afterward. She had stolen from him, and that was unforgivable. And he had no doubt she was planning to go to the Triumvirate with the truth about his secret eugenics projects. It might already be too late, if she had tipped off one of them already.

But he had plans to resolve that, as well. And should anything happen to him before he could carry it out, he knew he could depend on his son to see his plan through. Lucian was as brilliant as both his parents, and as handsome as his mother. He would make an excellent commander in chief when his turn came; in fact, Hermann was thinking of setting him up as the Chairman and letting the young man run things personally. But Lucian had his own ideas about how things should be handled, and had requested to be enrolled in some of the training programs. Though he hadn't specified which ones, Hermann trusted his judgment and signed the orders.

That had been months ago, and he'd hardly seen the young man since.

The Triumvirate was making him nervous, snooping into research and funding, asking questions about a project they should have left alone, and he was beginning to wonder if it might not be time for a drastic change in personnel. He'd talk to his son about it, the next time Lucian called. But for now, the science was all that mattered, and he signed off the report and put it in his OUT box for filing.

Lucian thought of the heads that had lined the wall of his secret room at the Centre and smiled. It had been the perfect outcome, as far as he and his father had been concerned, not that Hermann had been alive to know it. From that time, he had been able to move forward without interruption, and although Lucian knew how furious his father would have been at the fact that the truth about Ethan had been hidden from him for so many years, that small detail hadn't mattered to Lucian. It had only proved to him how devoted Raines was to the cause in which the entire Bruce family had wanted to be involved. The man smiled at the thought of how it could go forward once he regained control of his empire.

* * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas

Jarod paused in the doorway that separated the two apartments, looking in to see Jordan sitting on the floor against the sofa, a blue blanket, patterned with white clouds, between his hands, his fingers rubbing it gently as he stared blankly at the floor. Jarod's fingers tightened around the control of the chair as he saw a single tear slip out of his son's eye and begin the slow trek down the boy's cheek, which looked thinner than it had the last time they had seen each other. Out of the corner of his eye, the man could see piles of papers on the desk in the corner, recognizing his own script on formulae, a mockery of what had not been achieved in time.

"Jordan?" he asked softly, and the young man's brown eyes, filled with unshed tears, rolled up to meet his. Another salty drop began its journey as the man rolled over to the sofa, stopping beside his son and reaching out to gently brush it away.

Jordan blinked several times to clear his vision and then eased himself up onto the sofa, reaching out for his father. Speechlessly, the man returned the embrace, pulling him as close as the chair would allow, feeling the warm tears soak through his t-shirt and tasting salt in his mouth as he let some of his own emotions out in a similar fashion.

"I'm sorry, Jordan," he murmured, tightening his grasp. "Sorry that I wasn't there. Sorry that you had to go through it all alone."

"You're still here," the young man choked out. "That's all that matters. You didn't leave me, too."

The voice, so similar to his own, broke into a storm of sobs, his hands clutching at Jarod's back, tightening his hold so much that pain flashed through Jarod's chest and he was almost forced to ask Jordan to let go. He inhaled a difficult breath, feeling his son's head immediately lift as he let his arms drop.

"I'm sorry," he snuffled, rubbing his sleeve across his nose. "I didn't mean to hurt you."

"It's okay," Jarod assured him, reaching out to smooth his son's hair with a loving hand. "I'll be all right."

"Are you sure?"

Jarod wiped Jordan's cheeks with his thumbs, meeting his gaze steadily. "You know I wouldn't lie to you, son. The doctors say I'll be almost back to normal in another few months, with no long-term problems, thanks to Namir." His voice trembled slightly. "And Faith."

Jordan nodded numbly, pulling a tissue from a box on the table and scrubbing his eyes before he pushed it into the pocket of his jeans.

"Have you been spending time with your brother?" Jarod continued, choosing his words carefully and watching as Jordan nodded.

"He misses you," the young man confessed. "He wants to see you."

"I wanted to see both of you," Jarod responded gently. "But if you'd come up, Gabriel would have wondered, and we couldn't have exposed him to that sort of environment at his age. That's the same reason Uriel didn't come up to see his father."

"I figured as much," Jordan stated, sniffing back tears. "Is Ethan here?"

"We flew down together," the older man informed him. "He's in the playroom now."

Jordan nodded speechlessly, and Jarod decided to change the subject. "How's Merritt?"

"She's okay," his son replied, inhaling shakily. "She's been really good, you know, about knowing when I want to be alone or when I want to talk about things."

"I can imagine," Jarod remarked thoughtfully, giving his son another gentle hug. "Gabriel wants to show you the birthday presents I gave him."

Nodding, Jordan struggled to his feet. "Just a sec."

"Sure." Jarod watched his son go into the bathroom, hearing a tap turned on a moment later, but his thoughts were distracted as two arms wrapped around him from behind.

"I thought I heard your voice," a voice scolded in his ear. "What are you doing here, Jarod?"

He looked up into his mother's brown eyes, smiling as she bent down to kiss his forehead. "How could I miss my son's birthday?" he asked, warmly returning the hug.

"But are you sure you were up to flying?" She closely examined his face with her eyes. "I planned to come up and tell you about it."

"It's not the same as being here," Jarod retorted, as Jordan came out of the bathroom, his eyes less red and swollen.

"No, it's not," Margaret agreed, her hand resting on her son's shoulder as the trio left the room.

When they got into the elevator, Jarod suddenly remember something he had thought of on the flight over and pressed a button for the first floor, on which the offices and boardroom were located.

"I'll meet you up there in about 20 minutes," he explained, seeing that Jordan was about to speak. "Promise."

His mother and son stepped out of the elevator a few moments later, to be excitedly greeted by Gabriel, while Jarod pressed the button to close the doors. Exiting the car a short time later, he steered the chair along the hall, glancing into the boardroom as he passed and, when it proved to be empty, continuing to an office, the door of which stood open.

"You know," he remarked lightly, seeing the occupant's head snap up in astonishment, "there's a party happening on the nursery floor. I'm surprised you're not up there."

"Jarod!" Sebastian exclaimed. "What are you doing here?"

"I thought Trevor would have told you that he sent the jet down for Ethan and me," Jarod stated, as he entered the office.

"He didn't say a word to me." Sebastian shut down the screen on which he was working. "How're you feeling?"

"Getting better." Jarod sat back in the chair and looked at the man opposite. "Morgan said you had something you wanted to talk to me about."

"A couple of things actually, but one is more important." Sebastian told the older man about Keely and her reaction to the patches Jarod had given her. The Pretender's expression became more thoughtful as he listened.

"To be honest," he said, once Sebastian had finished, "that isn't totally unexpected. It's the sort of thing I was expecting when I said it might make you sick. But I spent more time on it for your dose and, because we were running out of time, just scaled hers down according to height and weight. Obviously it needs more than that, or she might have an allergy to one of the components of the drug."

"She's too scared to stop it, in case she can't control what happens. I think she's willing to put up with the side-effects, if it keeps the pyrokinesis at bay," the girl's brother reported.

Jarod's fingers tapped on the arm of his chair as he contemplated ways to work on this project and also the others to which Morgan had assigned him. Suddenly a thought struck him.

"I can't desert the Centre yet, much as I want to," he explained, seeing Sebastian's face fall at the prospect of his sister having to suffer. "But I'll get Jordan to work on a few preliminaries for me. He needs something to think about before he flies to Australia…"

"What?!" Sebastian's expression reminded Jarod that no one knew about the invitation except for himself, and he laughed slightly before explaining. When he was done, Sebastian nodded. "I think it's a good idea," he stated. "I'll even fly them back on one of the jets, with all the trimmings."

"Sounds like fun." Jarod grinned. "I might go with them."

"We'll give you the trimmings here," his host retorted, smiling also. "Name it and it's yours."

"You already gave me what I wanted," the Pretender remarked softly. "I couldn't ask for any more than what's been done since you rescued me at the airport that day."

"Ditto," Sebastian agreed, before looking concerned again. "But what about Keely?"

Jarod's thoughts dwelled on Alexander, the project, of all those he had worked with, who seemed to most need the continuity of the same advisor. He would also be useful in the research Jarod knew would be necessary to help Keely. Explaining a little of the young man's situation, he then put forward his request.

"Is it possible for Alexander to come here? We're trying to locate his family, but so far we've had no luck. In the meantime, he'll need to work so he doesn't go out of his mind with boredom, and he's got the potential to be a gifted researcher."

"He sounds like somebody we could really use," Sebastian enthused. "Either here or up at Saltier. And, if he turns out to be as good as you think he is, once he's able to work on his own, he can have a position there, if he wants one."

"Great." Jarod smiled in satisfaction. "I'll put it to him when I go back in a few days."

Sebastian's smile dimmed. "So you are going back to Blue Cove?"

"For as short a time as possible," Jarod affirmed. "I'll need to talk to Alexander about moving, and to the team at the Centre about transferring him, just so they know where he is, if they manage to find his family. Hopefully, that will only take a day. Once it's settled, I should be able to come back for good. I don't have any reason to stay there. Morgan can handle any problems that might come up."

The younger man nodded slightly. "If you are intending to come back, I might as well put forward my suggestion now, so you've got time to think about it." He sighed, before continuing. "As I'm sure you know, we lost a lot of people in the takeover, and although some, like Ramona, will be well enough to come back to work eventually, a few can't manage that sort of pressure. They'll all stay here, of course, if they want to, but not doing the work they were before."

Jarod nodded slowly, not entirely sure where this conversation was leading. Sebastian seemed to realize this, because he stopped beating around the bush and came directly to the point.

"I'd like to offer you a place on my board," the pyrokenetic told him, continuing hurriedly. "It would give you more input into how the Seraphim will be brought up, and we'll also be working closely with The Centre from now on, so you'll have some say in that area, too."

There was a long moment of silence, during which Jarod could see Sebastian's expression grow increasingly concerned, before the Pretender suddenly grinned. "You're just determined to keep me here, aren't you?"

"Darn it!" Sebastian clicked his fingers, looking rueful. "You found me out!"

Jarod chuckled, stretching his right hand across the desk. "Give me time to sort out my things at the Centre, and then you've got yourself a new employee for Pele Enterprises."

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

Kim got out of the armchair and shut her book, strolling over to the other side of the room where the home's owner sat, hunched over the computer, and putting her arms around his neck.

"What are you doing, Lazslo?"

Broots' eyes turned up to her face. "It sounds kind of dumb," he began hesitantly, with a sheepish grin, and she grinned in response.

"I'm used to that," she teased. "So what is it?"

"It's that story Debbie was telling us about in the car," he explained, as she pulled up a chair to sit beside him. "It's familiar, and I don't know why. I know that name from somewhere."

Kim arched an eyebrow. "It's hardly a rare name, is it -- Woods. The Centre probably has clients with that name."

"But those other details -- I've seen them somewhere before."

The woman laughed. "Next, you'll be telling me that you researched haunted houses once, just in case Jarod happened to be there."

He stared blankly at her, his mouth slightly open, and she shot him a curious look, finally clicking her fingers in front of his face.

"Wake up," she ordered sharply. "What is it?"

"That's exactly it," he explained breathlessly. "Almost two years ago."

She laughed. "Lazslo, that's a ghost story. You know, as in make-believe."

"You don't believe in ghosts?"

"Certainly I believe in ghosts," she told him indignantly. "Just not in legends that get built around them to promote Halloween and scare little kiddies, and big kiddies," she teased, leaning forward to lightly kiss his cheek.

Ignoring the taunt, he opened up the Centre's mainframe, passing the two new levels of security he had added to keep Lucian and other threats out, and got into his own files. The information he had gathered about Ammon House was still there, and he opened it to show her. "That's where Cox offed himself," he told her. "And take a look at these articles. They all mention a guy called Woods, who built the house and died in it."

"Coincidence," Kim stated flatly.

"Coincidence that Debbie was talking about it, yes," he agreed. "But apparently Jarod gave Cox the deed of the house as a gift, and the next thing we knew, he was dead."

"And you all cried for days about him doing himself in," she suggested.

Broots grinned feebly. "Yeah, something like that."

"Well, what difference does it make?" she queried. "Always assuming that Jarod's handover was legal, the house goes to any of Cox's surviving relatives."

"That's just it." He opened another file. "According to this, he doesn't have any relatives. His dad died a year ago, and his will leaves everything to the Centre."

"I wonder how Jarod convinced the Woods family to sell it," Kim mused thoughtfully.

"I could find out," Broots offered, reaching for the phone, but she caught his hand back.

"Lazslo, it's past midnight, and Jarod needs all the rest he can get to recover from that gunshot wound. Ammon House isn't going anywhere, so wait until you see him at the Centre next."

* * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas

The room was full of a white light. Jarod looked around, trying to get his bearings, but there was only the brightness. Then two faint shadows appeared, forming into people, one tall and the other short. They slowly approached him, their features gradually becoming increasingly recognizable.

Kyle's blue eyes shone brightly as he smiled at his brother, and Jacob's brown eyes glowed with a peace that he had only ever felt for such a short time during his life. The boy gave an excited yelp and ran to Jarod, throwing much sturdier arms around him and hugging him, even as Jarod found himself sitting on the ground.

"You came!" he squealed delightedly. "I knew you'd come."

"Not yet, Jacob," Kyle warned him. "He's not staying. Not this time."

"I know," the boy sighed against his chest as Jarod put both arms around Jacob, feeling as if his limbs were heavy and that the child in his arms was so light as to be almost non-existent. "But I never got to see him after he left."

Jarod struggled to speak, trying to apologize for not being there, but, although he felt his lips moving, the words didn't come out of his mouth. Jacob looked up out of dark eyes and seemed to know what he wanted to say.

"It's okay," he responded warmly. "Daddy was there, so you were, too, sort of."

Nodding mutely, Jarod buried his face in that small shoulder, feeling his eyes burn as the tears began to slip down his face. His brother's hand came to rest on his shoulder and Jacob's body gently eased out of his arms. He looked up in time to return the enthusiastic hug Kyle gave him, seeing that the scars which had marred his face and, most importantly to Jarod, his hand were no longer evident.

Then footsteps could be heard, lightly running towards him, and suddenly two arms slid around his back as he somehow rose to his feet. Turning, he found Faith hugging him, her eyes glowing with happiness.

"I wanted to see you again," she explained, reaching up to plant a gentle kiss on his lips. "I love you so much, Jarod. Be happy."

How can I, he wanted to ask, without you there? But again he couldn't frame the words. However, Faith nodded with a smile.

"You can," she assured him. "And you will. You have to, because my daughter will know if you're not. All I ask is that you take care of her for me. Treat her as your own. Love her."

"Yes," he stated, surprised at the sound of his own voice, finding that the tears still poured down his face. "Of course. You know I will. I do."

Faith stepped back beside Kyle, placing a hand on the boy's shoulder. "We'll look after Jacob for you, too, until you come to us."

The light suddenly dissolved as he jerked up into a sitting position, the familiar objects of his room barely visible, even in spite of the lamp that glowed on his bedside table, his vision blurred by the tears that rolled down his cheeks, his chest heaving agonizingly. A shadow detached itself from the wall, the woman sitting down beside him and wrapping her arms around him, her brown eyes glowing with sympathy.

"I thought you'd want to see it," Elizabeth explained softly, as he wept against her shoulder. "And it was so strong. Almost too strong for me."

His arms tightened around her back, flashes of the dream that he knew instinctively he would be able to remember forever recurring in his mind.

"They're happy now, Jarod," she soothed, her own voice thick with emotion. "You know that. They told you so. Now you have to be happy again, eventually."

"It's hard," he whispered mournfully, and she nodded.

"I know." Elizabeth gently stroked his hair. "But you have your sons and your family. You have the chance to build a new life. You can't change what happened. All you can do now is take control of your future."

He inhaled a shaky breath, squeezing his eyes shut to stop any further tears, and then felt a slight tingling sensation as Elizabeth placed the palm of her hand flat against the back of his head. Fear of what might confront him as soon as he fell asleep made him tense, but she murmured softly in his ear.

"It's okay, Jarod. I won't let anything happen to you. But you need to rest, or those wounds won't heal. You're safe with me."

The tingling strengthened, but this time he didn't fight it, feeling a wave of drowsiness smother the pain, both physical and emotional, that the dream had conjured up. Her arms supported him as he felt his body become increasingly heavy, his head drooping against her shoulder and his arms slipping down from their hold around her back.

"That's better," her voice soothed, gradually becoming more distant. "Let it go, Jarod. Just relax. I won't let anything bad happen, I promise."

Darkness swallowed him up as his eyelids slid down, and he felt a gentle swaying motion, hands supporting his body until he lay against a soft surface, something warm placed over him. A gentle hand smoothed down his cheek as his awareness grew hazy and a soft touch on his forehead was the last thing he felt.

* * * * * * * * *

Boston, Massachusetts

Emily came out of the bathroom of her small, single-bedroom apartment, her bathrobe wrapped around her, and picked up her bag from where it lay on the floor, tossing it onto the bed with such force that it bounced off again. Grumbling under her breath, she picked it up, rescuing the pages that had fallen out and stuffing them back in.

She had returned to her work at the newspaper after the funeral, and after seeing that both of her brothers were going to recover from their injuries. She hadn't been able to remain at the Centre, knowing that Paul -- Yuri -- was only a couple of floors below the one on which her brothers were. Hoping that work would act as a sufficient distraction, she had eagerly gone back to it, despite her mother's plea that she return with them to Dallas and Sanctuary. She didn't want to see Michaela, either, after learning whose daughter she was, and she knew that the little girl would have sought her out, as she had done constantly after they had met.

A plate containing her dinner was already waiting in the fridge and she put it into the microwave, glancing through her few letters while it heated and placing them with her other bills.

In spite of her urge to escape from the warm family unit that was developing, Emily couldn't deny that she was lonely. She had become used to the companionship of the man she still loved, and she was torn between that and the feeling of horror that had come with learning the truth of who and what he was.

Rescuing the food, she ate it without really tasting it. She had been in this state since her return from Blue Cove, and the few friends she had made at the paper had begun to comment on her listlessness. Work had proved such an ineffective distraction, despite working late into the night and starting early every morning, that she had begun fishing around for some other solution, but so far, nothing had come up. Sighing, as she stared out of the window and into the dark night, she hoped something would.

* * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas

The sun was showing on the horizon as Jarod made his way up to the roof. The bed in his son's room had been empty when Jarod had checked, and he had instinctively known that the young man would be up here. His instinct was verified when he saw the long form stretched out on the sun-lounge, staring blankly at the sky.

"It's a little early in the morning to be trying to work on your tan now," he joked, seeing a faint grin form on Jordan's face.

"It's nice up here," Jordan told him. "Quiet."

"Yes," Jarod agreed. "It is."

There was silence between them for a few moments, but it wasn't comfortable, and Jarod had a feeling that Jordan was building up to tell him something. Finally, the young man turned to him, his expression pained.

"Dad, I don't think I can stand it here anymore."

"Oh?" Jarod carefully kept his tone neutral. "Why not?"

"Because of," Jordan hesitated, his lips quivering. "Because of Jake. Everywhere I go, there's something that reminds me of him. I just want to get away from that, until it doesn't hurt so much."

Jarod nodded, glad that he had an alternative to offer, but he wanted to hear whether his son had any suggestions first. "Where were you thinking of?" he suggested.

"Anywhere!" Jordan abruptly got to his feet, furiously pacing the glassed-in area. "Just…not here." He turned to his father, his expression pleading. "Do you know anywhere?"

"Actually, I do," Jarod replied quietly. "Sit down, son, and let me tell you."

Jordan returned to the sun-lounge, his eyes fixed on his father, the strain he was under obvious in the intentness of his gaze.

"I had visitors a few days ago," the older man began. "Lauren Taylor and her brother came to see me, and they suggested that I let you go back with them to Australia when they fly home, in a day or two."

"Australia," Jordan breathed, his eyes shining.

"They also suggested," Jarod continued, "that I send Merritt along with you. Now, I haven't talked to Morgan about it yet…"

"Oh, please," a female voice begged, and suddenly Merritt was standing in front of him, her blue eyes full of eagerness. "Please, Jarod, let me go! I'd love to see Australia!"

Jarod raised both hands in a gesture of protest, unable to help smiling at the urgency on her face. "Whoa, slow down, Merritt. I'm not the person who has the final say. You'll have to talk to your mother about it, and get her okay."

"But Jordan's going," she protested, and he nodded.

"Yes, if Jordan wants to go, then he can."

Merritt turned and ran for the stairs. "I'm going to ask her," she called back, and Jarod grinned at the thought of the way Morgan would react at being dragged out of a sound sleep to be asked a question like that.

He turned his gaze back to his son and, seeing that Jordan was looking at him, opened his arms and embraced the young man firmly.

"Take as long as you need over there," he whispered into Jordan's ear. "Call whenever you want."

Jarod felt tears dripping onto his shirt and heard his son's voice, thick with emotion, in his ear. "I love you, Dad."

"I love you, too, son," Jarod responded warmly, swallowing a lump in his throat. "And all I care about is that you're happy. I'd send you to the ends of the earth if it would achieve that."

Jordan pulled back with a weak grin. "Isn't that what you're doing?"

"Hey, it's only 16 hours," the older man protested, laughing. "And we should have a chat about the place before you go, so you know what you're getting yourself into."

* * * * * * * * *

25 Washington Ave.
Blue Cove, Delaware

A car pulled up in the driveway and a dark-haired woman leapt out, seeing the home's occupant appear on the white porch. She ran lightly up the few steps and into his arms.

"Sydney!"

"Michelle," he greeted her warmly. "I was just beginning to think you should arrive soon."

He walked with her back down to the car, Michelle opening the trunk as Sydney greeted his son, who was getting out of the passenger seat.

"How are you, Nicholas?"

"Busy," the young man returned with a smile, hugging him. "I can only stay for tonight, then I have to get back to work."

"I'm glad you decided to come now." Sydney tried to take one of the bags, but was circumvented by the younger man.

"I'll get them," he insisted, glancing briefly at the cane his father continued to use. "You take Mom inside and show her the rooms you've probably got ready."

Smiling acquiescence, Sydney escorted Michelle into the house, but it was quickly obvious that she didn't need the brief tour he was ready to give.

"I think I can remember," she teased. "It's only been 28 years."

"Not much has changed," Sydney responded, kissing her lightly. "You can either have Jacob's old room, or…"

"The guest room?" she joked. "I'd rather be somewhere else."

"Name it and it's yours," he told her, and she immediately carried her small bag into his room and put it on his double bed. Nicholas appeared in the hall outside the room and placed his mother's case on the floor without a word. Sydney stepped out and waved slightly down the hall. "I set up Jacob's room for you," he explained, opening the door. "It's yours for as long and as often as you want it."

Reaching into his pocket, he took out a key and placed it into his son's hand. Nicholas gazed at it for a moment before pulling his keyring out of his pocket and solemnly attaching the key to it, looking up.

"Thanks."

Sydney smiled. "Dinner's almost ready. Come into the living room and tell me what you've been up to since we last spoke."

The trio walked down the hall and into the living room, settling themselves comfortably in front of the fire. Sydney saw Nicholas' eyes drawn to the picture frames on the mantelpiece and stood up to gather the photos, offering them with an explanation of who was in them. Returning to his seat beside Michelle, he watched his son examine the faces, a warm feeling spreading through him at the thought that he finally had these members of his family at home with him.

A sound from the corner, near the fireplace, drew his eyes there to find his older son sitting in the corner, watching the newcomers. Turning back to Nicholas, he saw that the young man had also see his older brother and was in the act of handing the photos to his mother. Rising, he went over to the corner and knelt down on the floor in front of the empath.

"Mom told me about you," he said softly. "You're Angelo."

"Nicholas," Angelo murmured, reaching out to gently touch his brother's arm.

Sydney was pleased to see that Nicholas didn't move away or try to avoid Angelo's touch, looking at Michelle and seeing her smile, despite the pained expression in her eyes.

"We talked about him," she murmured, glancing briefly at Sydney before turning her gaze back to the empath. "It's such a tragedy."

"I know," he responded curtly. She placed her hand over his and squeezed gently.

"It's not your fault, Sydney."

"That doesn't make it any easier," he replied shortly, and then got to his feet as a buzzing from the kitchen announced that dinner was ready.

On to Act III

 
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