Circle of Fire

 

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Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas

The hallway was empty as Jarod slowly steered the chair along it, headed for the last door before the turn that would lead to the elevator. It was closed, and he reluctantly reached up to open it, a moment of hesitation passing before he finally pushed it open and guided the chair inside, turning on the light as he passed the switch.

It was almost totally empty. The bed had been stripped, the covers piled at the foot and pillow at the head, both smooth and ready for a new occupant. The screen along one wall was black and seemed to absorb the light from the room. The lamp beside the bed, and that on the desk, were off, only the overhead light allowing him to see the space. His eyes slowly traveled the length of it, halting briefly at the open door leading to the bathroom. This wasn't an apartment, like his own, because they had all been full when Faith had arrived at the Centre. Now, of course, he thought bitterly, there were many standing empty, their occupants having lost their lives during or after the battle, as Faith had.

Awkwardly managing to close the door behind himself, Jarod felt agony twist in his chest. It was a devastatingly familiar sensation, and he hated that fact. His life seemed made up of so much loss that he had to wonder how even Faith been able to keep his spirit alive. Surely, it would have been easier to let go. But there were his sons, his family, who would have found his death so hard to cope with. The loss of Jacob had been a bitter blow, but his own death might have torn the group apart, just at a time when they would have needed each other most.

A box stood in the corner, containing the few possessions to which Faith had laid claim. On top of it lay a gold rectangle, which reflected the light from the ceiling and into his eyes. Going over, he picked up the plaque, seeing the name engraved in it and running his fingers over the five letters. It had been made before Faith's identity and family had been established, and there hadn't been time to change it. Jarod had sent the envelope containing the photos and letters to Morgan, along with the other personal possessions that had been in Faith's trailer. They belonged rightly to Faith's family and not to him. Beside, he didn't want them. Thoughts of Faith were hard enough to deal with, as it was.

Suddenly, a painfully vivid memory of her flashed into his mind, and Jarod could see her, as if she was standing in front of him, her blond hair hanging down her back, blue eyes shining happily, as they had been in his dream. A lump formed in his throat, but it dissolved quickly into hot tears that slid down his face, and Jarod placed his arms on the box, put his face down on them and allowed himself to weep, bitterly and unrestrainedly.

Faith was dead because she had, as she always did, put his needs before her own. He had made the mistake of allowing Lyle to pull the trigger, his instinct for self-preservation taking over, failing to remember that his armor would have protected him from the knife that madman had wielded. If only he had remembered, Lyle would never have had the chance to shoot him, Faith would still be alive -- and he wouldn't feel the guilt settling on his chest, as it was now, weighing him down. He might, even now, have been planning a future with the woman who had always been there for him, instead of having to mourn her. The regrets piled up, and he moaned aloud as he rested his head in his hands and leaned his elbows on the box, seeing that his tears had blistered the thick cardboard.

A steady stream of warm tears dripped from between his fingers, falling onto his lap and soaking through his black jeans. It was then, and for the first time, that he noticed a hand gently stroking his hair and looked up sharply into a familiar pair of brown eyes.

"Mom," he whispered hoarsely, and she bent down to lightly kiss his forehead.

"It's all right, my baby," Margaret assured him softly, pulling up the chair from the workstation and sitting on it, easing him into her arms. "Go ahead and grieve. It's important for you to mourn. She meant so much to you; I know that. I could see it."

He rested his head against her shoulder, feeling her arms around him and not trying to stop the tears flowing down his cheeks. He had already known what she had told him, but it was important for him to have it corroborated by someone else. Jarod's arms worked their way around his mother's back and he clung to her, knowing that, because of Faith, she would now be able to be there for him, whenever he needed her.

Gratitude for everything Faith had ever done for him swelled in his chest, and it was, somewhat inextricably, even able to ease some of the pain in his heart for her loss. He had understood that side of her -- that it was important to her, as it was to him, to help people, except that her focus was always on him, whereas his was on the world around him. He felt guilty for the debt he owed, but knew that it had always been her choice, and Jarod hoped that his love, even for such a short time, had been able to give her something meaningful and worthwhile in return. Not that he would ever stop loving her, but he had a suspicion it would eventually become a love borne of gratitude, rather than the love that had, for such a short time, been so overwhelming and powerful, which would eventually triumph. His knowledge of human nature told him that such powerful emotions couldn't last forever. In a way, that was comforting. It meant that his grief, also, would, one day, lessen.

"Mom," he looked up again, his voice raspy with tears, "how did you know?"

She smiled, smoothing his hair and kissing his cheek, before reaching down to trace something on his t-shirt, and Jarod recognized it as a heart. He reached up and pressed her hand flat against his chest, stroking the back of it with the tips of his fingers.

"Mothers always know when their children need them, baby," she assured him lovingly.

He smiled through his tears, reaching up to pull her closer to him, hearing her heart beating in his ear as he rested his head against her chest. Her arms were warm around him, one hand gently stroking his hair and smoothing over his back. The other was wrapped around him, warm and comforting, and he closed his eyes, letting tears ease out from beneath his lids to slip down his cheeks. He could grieve properly this time, with people around to keep him from going too far, to stop him from letting his guilt and emotion take too much of a toll, as had happened after Zoe's death, and that was something else for which he could be grateful.

"Daddy?" a little voice suddenly asked, and Jarod and his mother looked around to find Gabriel in the doorway, wearing his pajamas, bunny slippers and white bathrobe, the sash messily tangled around his waist, his brown hair standing on end.

"You should be having a nap," Margaret scolded lightly, getting up and going over to pick up the boy, carrying him back to where Jarod was sitting. The man took his son, and Gabriel snuggled in under the blanket over Jarod's legs, looking up at his father out of anxious eyes.

"Daddy sad," he protested, his bottom lip quivering. "Daddy miss Auntie Fay."

"Yes, honey," the man agreed, his voice trembling, feeling his mother's arm around his shoulders again. "I do."

He wrapped his arms around the warm body on his lap, knowing this was what Faith would have used to make him fight to continue living -- the knowledge that both his sons still needed him, and would continue to need him for as long as he lived.

"I glad you's here, Daddy," Gabriel sighed against his father's chest. "I an' Jo-den."

"I'm glad I'm here, too, sweetie," Jarod admitted, and knew this was true. Faith's loss was hard to cope with, but he couldn't bear to think of leaving his sons alone. He had missed so much of their lives already -- it was unthinkable that he might have missed the rest. Jarod vowed to remember this feeling, knowing it would help him through some of the hardest times still to come.

* * * * * * * * *

Fort Worth International Airport
Irving, Texas

The jet pulled to a stop and the door opened, letting in a gust of hot, diesel-scented air. Alastair offered Julia his arm for support, and, as two men in black outfits with flame logos on their shirts appeared in the doorway to collect their bags, the two psychics made their way off the jet. Julia gasped as the early fall heat hit them, tightening her hold on the man's arm, the weather in Berlin having failed to prepare her for such extreme temperatures.

A large black car stood nearby, a blond woman struggling to control a little boy, who was jumping up and down with excitement, and at the sight of whom Julia's eyes filled with tears. The moment her feet were on the ground, Peter broke from Rebecca's hold and threw himself at his mother.

"Mommy!" he yelped, grabbing her so tightly around the legs that, except for the arm Alastair put around her back, she would have fallen. She bent down to pick him up, sobbing with the sheer relief of holding him again. He clutched her around the neck, breathing warmly into her face and planting kisses on her cheeks and forehead. "Mommy never go 'way 'gain," he ordered.

"Never again, my baby," she vowed breathlessly, feeling pain tug at her side, where the broken ribs were still repairing themselves. "Never ever again."

Alastair's hand on her shoulder helped her straighten up and then gently propelled her over to where the blond woman was waiting.

"Julia, this is Rebecca," he stated. "Sweetheart, this is Julia."

Julia felt the woman's lips gently brush her cheek as warm arms embraced her. "I'm delighted to meet you at last," Rebecca greeted her. "Alastair's told me so much about you, and the children have been longing for your arrival."

Feeling herself tremble, Julia could only just manage an almost inaudible 'hello.' Alastair seemed to realize her feelings, because he steered the group to the car, settling Julia in the seat facing the front, with Peter on her lap, and sitting opposite, Rebecca beside him, his arm draped loosely around her shoulders.

"Is everything ready at Sanctuary?"

"Down to the most minute detail," Rebecca laughed. "And we've had a heck of a time with Uriel and Raphael this morning." Her blue eyes danced. "I understand their caregivers are planning to go on strike if they don't calm down."

Alastair's hearty laughter rang through the vehicle. "I wish I'd seen it," he remarked fervently.

Julia felt pressure against her stomach and looked down to find that her son's ear was pressed to her bulge.

"What are you doing, baby?" she asked curiously, in a soft voice.

"I want to hear her talk," he explained, looking up and beaming. "'Cos I know what she looks like, but I hasn't heard her voice yet."

"What does she look like?" his mother queried. "Tell me."

"She's pretty," he told her. "Like you, Mommy."

The woman blinked the tears out of her eyes as she gently pulled her son close, almost unable to believe that she was finally back with him. Her thoughts dwelled briefly on her other son, who was waiting for her at the place she had viewed so often in her mind but never expected to actually see.

"Uriel was going to come," Rebecca explained, as if she had read Julia's thoughts. "But we didn't want you to be too overwhelmed. When we arrive, the children will be having their naps, so you can have some time to recover from the flight before you meet them."

Forcing herself to smile, Julia nodded slightly and murmured her thanks. She was tired -- more tired than she could ever remember being in her life before. All the new experiences, when added to her continued weakness as a result of her injuries and long period of fasting, had overwhelmed her. Peter scrambled up into her arms and rested his head against her shoulder, looking out of the window and pointing out interesting features of the landscape as she leaned her head against the headrest, gently stroking her swollen belly.

* * * * * * * * *

Plane over Australia

Lauren heard the sound of muffled sobbing beside her and opened her eyes, looking over to see Jordan with his face buried in one of the pillows that had been provided. Reaching across, she placed a hand on his shoulder, feeling him tense immediately as she began to smooth his ruffled hair.

"It's okay, Jordan," she murmured into his ear. "You're allowed to be upset."

He looked up at her out of red-rimmed eyes, unable to prevent a sniff escaping.

"Th… that's what Dad said, too," he admitted.

Extracting a clean tissue from her pocket, Lauren gently pushed it into his hand before raising the armrest between them, sliding her arm around his shoulders and drawing him slightly towards her.

"Did anyone ever tell you that I had a sister?" she asked, unsurprised when the young man shook his head. "Susie and I were twins. She was born 20 minutes after me. When we were twelve, she drowned in the pool in the back garden of our old house in the city."

"Did… did it hurt?" Jordan asked slowly.

"It still does," she confessed, gently stroking Jordan's hair. "I loved my sister like crazy. We were identical twins, and knew everything there was to know about each other. When she died, I went through 'survivor's guilt' because I was away from home on a school camp when she died and I had a premonition that it was happening. I just couldn't get to a phone quickly enough." Her arm tightened slightly around Jordan's shoulders. "Maybe it's not quite the same as the way you feel about Jacob, but I do understand what you're going through, and if you ever want to talk, I'm always an available pair of ears."

"Thanks." Jordan leaned his head against her shoulder, swallowing the lump in his throat as he looked out through the small window to see lights flashing below them and stars glowing brightly in the sky while Rachael gurgled cheerfully in her seat in front of them.

* * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas

When Julia entered the building, her son clinging to one hand and Alastair supporting the other, she saw a man standing in the foyer, his teeth shining white in his dark face as he hurried over.

<"Julia,"> he greeted her, with a kiss on her cheek, stumbling a little over his German. <"It's lovely to see you again.">

"Trevor," she murmured quietly, remembering when the tall man had come to Germany to discuss the possibility of buying into some of Die Fakultät's concerns. In 25 years of work, he was one of only a few people who had recognized her as a person, treating her accordingly, even seeming to have sympathy for her. "It's good to see you, too."

He gently tucked her hand around his arm, guiding her over to the elevator, after putting Peter on his shoulders. This seemed to be a familiar game, because the boy pretended to use the man's hair to steer, giggling and expertly ducking under doorframes. The sounds brought a faint smile to Julia's face, making her think sadly, at the same time, that she had never heard her son laugh in his life before.

"Let's go up to your room," he suggested gently. "My wife's there, waiting for you. She's a nurse, and she's going to be in charge of you for a few days, until you've recovered a little."

"You're married?"

"For month now, yes." He smiled proudly, flashing his wedding ring, before reverting to his former topic. "She and Rebecca will look after you until you're back to your usual strength, and," Trevor added, with a grin, "you've had a chance to get over that shyness." He winked. "It's certainly very different from the Julia I remember. Quiet, maybe, but not shy."

"That was a long time ago," she reminded him softly, as the elevator descended. "I knew what I had to do then."

"You'll learn what to do out here, in this big world, too," he assured her, sliding an arm around her shoulders and squeezing gently. "Not everyone could have done what you did for so long, and if you learned how to keep alive in that place then the world should present you with no problems at all."

Trevor guided her into a room, the size of which almost took her breath away. After her little cell at Die Fakultät, this seemed to go on forever. A bed was tucked away in one corner, so invitingly turned back that it made her ache with tiredness just to look at it. A screen ran the length of one wall, the picture showing a beach scene, with blue sky, where the waves lapped gently up on the sand. A large wardrobe stood opposite, and Julia wondered vaguely what was in it, as it was too big to hold her clothes. An oversized armchair stood in another corner, in which a dark-haired woman was sitting, her brown eyes dancing with suppressed laughter. When the trio appeared, she rose to her feet and came over.

"So this is Julia," she greeted the woman. "The one we've heard about for weeks! It's wonderful to have the chance to finally meet you." She slid a supportive arm around Julia's waist, her voice gentle. "My name's Elizabeth. We're delighted you've come."

Julia heard the accent but was too tired to work out where it came from. Elizabeth nodded at her husband, who quietly left the room, silencing Peter's protest and taking the boy with him.

"Let's get you out of these clothes and into something more comfortable," she directed, guiding the exhausted woman over to the bed and seating her on it. Going over to the wardrobe, she took out a long nightgown and returned to the bedside, gently helping Julia with her clothes and sliding on the garment.

"I should… see to my son," Julia murmured in mild protest, starting to rise, feeling the world spin as she did so, but the nurse shook her head, supporting her back onto the bed.

"For now, you have to get strong for your daughter. We'll take care of your other children, and you can see them either later today or tomorrow." She released the tight band with which Julia's hair was tied up on top of her head, taking up a soft brush that lay on the bedside table and beginning to brush it smooth. Julia looked up in mute protest, and Elizabeth placed a hand on her shoulder, both as a comfort and a gentle restraint. "We're going to take care of you," she promised, "just as we've taken care of your children since they were freed. You'll have to learn to trust the rest of us, like you trust Alastair."

Elizabeth gently did up the ribbon at the neckline of the soft nightgown, tucking a stray strand of hair in behind the psychic's ear.

"Now, you're going to have a good sleep, and when you wake up, you can have something to eat and then see your children. All right?"

Nodding wearily, too exhausted to argue, Julia waited until the bed had been turned back further and felt Elizabeth's arms supporting her as she stretched out on it. A gentle hand stroked her hair and she sighed at the softness of her pillow as her head touched it, feeling the warm blankets tucked closely around her. The lights gradually dimmed until the objects in the room faded away into the blackness and she let herself relax with another quiet sigh.

* * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas

Alexander's eyes had been wide from the moment they had left the Centre, and, although Jarod, exhausted by so much travel, having flown up to Blue Cove only that morning, had slept, Sydney had spent the flight watching the young man and chuckling inwardly at the variety of expressions on his face and his constant barrage of questions.

The car in which they were traveling pulled up in front of the large building, and, as the other two occupants got out, a group of men approached the vehicle with a wheelchair. Rebuffing their aid, Jarod got into it himself, and Sydney hid a grin at the resignation on their faces, having obviously been in the situation more than once in recent times.

"Where are we?" a voice hissed in his ear, and Sydney turned with a smile.

"This is Sanctuary, Alexander," he responded calmly. "This is the place Jarod told you about two days ago. We would have brought you here sooner, but Jarod was seeing his son and friends of his family off, so we waited until today."

"It… it's big," the young Pretender offered hesitantly.

"Yes, it is," Jarod agreed, coming up to them and obviously overhearing this. "But I think you'll be happy here. There are other people of your age for you to get to know, and a special surprise for you, too."

Alexander's brow furrowed at the oblique reference, but he meekly followed the other men into the building, watching, from a short distance, as Jarod greeted the woman sitting at a desk in the middle of a huge area. He turned with a booklet on his lap and came back to where Sydney and Alexander were waiting.

"Your room's ready and waiting." He waved at the elevator. "Shall we go?"

There was silence in the car as it ascended, and Jarod checked a detail on the booklet before he turned the chair to the right as they exited the elevator, eventually stopping outside a particular room and opening the door.

"This is yours, Alexander," he announced, leading the way inside, the chair making it difficult for him to move back so that the young man could enter first.

The room contained a large bed and a workspace, as well as bookshelves and the screen that all rooms at Sanctuary had. Jarod rolled the chair over to the corner in which the workspace stood, turning to watch Alexander look around the room. The young man closely examined every object in it, studying the screen longest, his eyes widening as he watched cars driving along the Dallas streets. Hesitantly, he entered the bathroom through the partly open door.

Sydney came over to where Jarod was sitting and glanced at the booklet. "What's that?"

"A welcome basket," the Pretender laughed, opening it. "Details of all the different rooms here, as well as floor plans, and a map of Dallas, in case he wants to go out. Also a list of phone numbers, if he needs anything."

"He'll never dare to use the phone," the psychiatrist affirmed.

Jarod's jaw set, revealing his determination. "That's what he's here to learn -- that he can do what he wants." He saw the young man exit the bathroom and smiled. "You remember that surprise I mentioned?"

Alexander nodded eagerly, and Jarod waved at a door on the far side of the room.

"Take a look in there."

Curious, Sydney followed him across the room, looking over his shoulder as Alexander opened the door and hearing the gasp of amazement that escaped the young man as he looked inside.

The room was a laboratory, complete with shiny new equipment and jars of various chemicals, labels sporting the chemical symbols. It took a moment before Alexander seemed able to move, and then he slowly turned, his eyes glassy with excitement, but also hesitant.

"Who… who is this for?"

"It's for you, Alexander," Jarod told him warmly. "All for you. This is where you can do your own experiments. It's possible that other people might want you to work with them in the general labs, but when you want to do things on your own, this is where you can do them. If you need anything else, you can ask and someone will bring them for you." He suddenly chuckled. "All we ask is that you don't blow the place up." Waving at the door, Jarod led the way towards it. "Now, let's go and see the man who gave you all this, okay?"

Sydney saw Alexander hesitate immediately, his eyes widening with fear, this time, not curiosity.

"I… I'd rather not," he murmured, taking a half-step away.

"Maybe you wouldn't," Jarod stated bracingly. "But it's good manners to thank people when they give you presents." He waited for a second. "Come on, Alexander. Sebastian's waiting."

Automatically obeying, Alexander walked to the door, casting a pleading glance over his shoulder at the older man but still going out of the room. Smiling faintly, Sydney cast another look around the laboratory before closing the door and leaving the room, heading down the hall to Jarod's own room to await the return of his former student there.

* * * * * * * * *

Auckland, New Zealand

Lucian had never actually been to this particular office, but he had been in constant contact with the staff for years, ever since taking over from his father. They weren't involved in the same sort of study that branches like the Centre and Die Fakultät did, but they had a substantial work force he could manipulate, and that was the reason for his visit. Vials of Aurora and Supernova nestled in his jacket pocket, along with syringes, as he went up the few steps of the unimpressive building.

After flashing his real identity card, which provoked no reaction from the secretary, he was shown to a seat as the woman entered the office of the Director to announce the visitor. A moment later, she came out, and, saying that her boss would be ready in a moment, gathered papers from one of the drawers in her desk, leaving the office.

Gradually, things became more silent, and Lucian began to relax as he looked around the office with a feeling of satisfaction. He could take over this place without anybody else knowing, until the time was right. It would be pleasant to be in charge, for a change, directly giving rather than receiving the orders. A blustery spring wind had been howling around the building, but, as it died down, a voice from the inner office became audible. The words caught his attention.

"I'm sure it's him, Jock," the man said. "I just sent you the footage we taped from the front desk. I can hold him here, or do whatever you want with him, as soon as you're sure. We've got enough muscle to hold him, and a nice little cell already waiting. You or Morgan can send a group over…"

Lucian tensed for a second, before suddenly realizing exactly what the conversation meant, as he leapt up from his chair. He briefly considered killing the man who was making the phone call but, even as he approached the door, he could see a number of guards inside the office. He had no chance against all of them, and he couldn't let them see him, or he would never get out.

The hallway outside the office was empty, as were all the other offices he passed, and he thought idly that the secretary had warned people to get out so he couldn't use them as hostages to gain control. Anger flared up in him, as he ran down the two flights of stairs to the lobby, at the way he was being preempted, wondering if there was anywhere safe left for him. The main lobby was also empty and he ran through it, his heart pounding loudly in his ears, expecting at any moment to be stopped. But no one came and he managed to get to his car. He could get to the airport and dump it before they found out that he was out of the building. Accelerator pedal flat to the floor, he burned his way out of the carpark.

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

"What's this, Broots?" Morgan demanded, tapping the folder that lay on her desk.

"Well, you remember that you asked me formulate a list of all Centre properties in North America? That's it."

Nodding, she opened the beige booklet, but her eyes widened as she saw the name that headed the list. "What does Ammon House have to do with the Centre?"

"Cox left everything to the Centre in his will," the head of Security explained. "Jarod sent Cox the property deed for the house, and he went there to look at it, and killed himself."

"And wasn't that just devastating," Morgan retorted drily. Memories of the night she had spent in the house filtered into her mind, and it was with difficulty that she suppressed a shudder. "And so we got it? Then it's going on the market tomorrow."

"Don't," he protested at once, and she shot him a glare.

"And why not?"

Broots reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of paper, which he unfolded and handed to her. "It's a copy of Gordon Woods's will," he explained. "It says that, if the house is ever sold, the ghosts that haunt it will come and seek vengeance on the person who actually decides to sell. I checked the records, and it's only ever been passed down through family members."

"So what?" Morgan retorted immediately. "It must have been sold at least once, because Jarod bought it to give to Cox."

"Not according to what I found out," the man responded. "I called the solicitors who are in charge of the place and they said Jarod had supplied them with information proving that Cox was actually a distant relative of Gordon Woods. They gave him the property deed and he handed it on to Cox. That means the house still hasn't been sold, only handed down, like the original will said it should be."

She nodded slowly, as she scanned it, finding that Broots was right, before looking up again. "So do you have any ideas?"

"Uh, not really," he confessed, awkwardly scratching his head. "But Kim made a few suggestions when we talked about it."

"So you two sit up at nights telling each other ghost stories?" Without waiting for a response, she pressed a button on her intercom. "Send Kim Walker in here immediately."

Broots remained seated while Morgan looked through the rest of the objects on the list before she handed it back to him. "Check the security on all of them. Rate them according to importance and then work out the best way to keep them safe."

"Yes, ma'am," he agreed.

The door of the office opened as he was writing the details down, and Kim entered. "You wanted to see me, Miss Ritter?"

"Yes." Morgan waved at a chair, thinking that it was difficult to know how to treat Kim sometimes, considering their biological relationship. "Did Broots tell you his little ghost story?"

"He sure did," the sweeper agreed, grinning, as she sat down. "Sounds like fun. What will you do with it?"

"That's what I want you to figure out," her cousin told her firmly. "I want to know everything there is to know about the place. Once we know that, we might have a better idea what, if any, use we can make of it." She pushed the copy of the will over the desk. "Personally, I'd like to get it off our hands as quickly as possible."

Kim looked up sharply from her examination of the document, and Morgan saw the same light of intelligence in her eyes that was so often in Sydney's, and probably, she thought, also in her own. "So you won't just ignore this and sell it?"

The older woman hesitated for a moment, before turning to Broots. "Do you want to be part of this little ghost-busting expedition, or will you fill up your schedule to avoid it, like you did last time?"

He opened his mouth immediately, but no words came out and he shut it, however the reluctance in his eyes told her what she needed to know.

"Fine, then don't bother. Kim can do it. You can go back to work."

Broots almost ran out of the office, and Morgan turned to the younger woman, whose eyes rested curiously on her, obviously waiting for a response to her question, her previously official stance having relaxed a little, as soon as the man left.

"I spent a night there," Morgan confessed. "I had experiences that made me think twice about the supernatural. Your uncle did, too, and although I haven't spoken to Jarod about it, I believe he had to reconsider a few long-held beliefs as well."

"So you'll take the threat seriously?"

"Not as it stands, but I don't know what might happen if we do choose to ignore it." She leaned back in her chair. "As I said, I want you to find out everything you can about the property. Do you believe in the supernatural?"

"Definitely," Kim affirmed eagerly. "I used to do séances and things all the time when I was little. It was heaps of fun."

"Well, no séances this time," the older woman ordered. "In fact, you're not to go into the house at all. Find out how to exorcise that ghost, or at least get it to calm down a little so that we can use the property for something constructive. And I'll welcome any suggestions."

"But I can't go in?" Kim asked, her tone revealing her disappointment.

"No. Not that I think Cox was coerced into doing himself in, but just in case he was, I'd rather not lose someone from my own side -- and family," she added, seeing Kim smile slightly. "When we know it's safe, then you can do what you want, but until then, you can't go onto the property at all. Clear?"

"Yes, Miss Ritter," she agreed, standing. "Was that all?"

Nodding, Morgan dismissed her, trying to force aside the memory of her mother's accusing eyes from her visions in the house and concentrate on her work again.

* * * * * * * * *


Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas

Julia stared blankly at the cream-colored ceiling for a moment in bewilderment, seeing a circle of light that she assumed was cast by a lamp she could vaguely remember seeing on her bedside table, before remembering fully where she was. Remaining still, almost too comfortable to sit up, she felt the sheets and warm blankets that covered her, a far cry from the old covers she used to have, as was the soft pillow supporting her head. A movement from the baby growing inside her, a gentle kick that she thought was agreement at the improvement in their conditions, made Julia lift a hand to rub her distended belly as she smiled faintly.

"Mommy?" asked a small voice from beside the bed, and she turned her head to see Peter there, his face brightening when he saw that she was awake. "Can I get in, too?"

She offered a hand, and felt him snuggle down beside her, letting a tear slip down her face at the feel of his little body against hers.

"Becca said she'd be back soon," her son explained, cuddling her around the neck. "She went to check on Andy's homework."

"Who's Andy?" Julia asked curiously.

"'Andy' is what the children call my daughter," a quiet voice explained from the doorway, and then Rebecca appeared in Julia's line of vision. "Her name's Andromeda, but that's a bit of a mouthful for the little ones." She picked up a remote control that hung from the head of the bed. "This is a device to control your bed. You can raise the head to any angle you like." After a demonstration, she left the bed a comfortable angle and then went to answer a soft knock on the door.

Julia used the time to look around the room. The screen now showed a view of a rainforest, green leaves dripping water and strange calls providing a musical background cacophony. Several walls had pictures of landscapes, and one bore framed photos of her children. These hung over her bed, and she examined them for a moment, until a sound made her refocus on the blond woman standing next to the bed.

Rebecca placed a tray onto a stand, which she wheeled over the bed, and Julia saw a number of small serves of things that she couldn't identify by sight, but all of which tasted delicious. A sip of aromatic tea warmed her to her toes, and she deeply inhaled the steam that rose from the hot liquid.

"The doctor ordered six small meals for you each day, instead of three normal ones, to counteract malnutrition," Rebecca explained, as she removed the tray, once the other woman had finished. "And, if you're hungry, you can always have something else. You're staying in bed for the rest of today, but you might be able to get up for a short while tomorrow."

She offered a warm, damp cloth and towel to let Julia wash her face, lifting the energetic boy off the bed and placing him on the floor, despite his protests. Taking back the washing things, she returned them to the small bathroom that was visible through a partly open door and then went to the wardrobe, producing a soft, quilted jacket.

"This will keep you warm while you're sitting up," she explained, helping the woman into it. "The last thing you'll want now is a cold."

Suddenly, muffled high-pitched voices became audible outside the room, and Julia lifted her head sharply, feeling her pulse race. Rebecca noticed the change and laughed.

"It sounds like the cavalry's arrived," she remarked, going over to the door and opening it. "Okay," she told the people outside, "you can come in, but not too loud, okay?"

The arrival of the five people into the virtually silent room had the effect of an explosion, and Julia was unable to help cringing back into the pillow a little. The three adults hesitated in the doorway, although Julia met Joseph's gaze with a relieved smile, as their son ran to him, but the two other boys scrambled up onto the bed immediately. Joseph stepped up to the bedside, Peter hanging around his neck, and placed his hands on the boys' shoulders to restrain them.

"Slow down," he warned them, and Julia's eyes widened in surprise at hearing him speak English.

Uriel plumped down on the foot of the bed and gazed mournfully at the woman. "Mommy hurted," he protested, his bottom lip protruding and beginning to tremble. "De bad man hurted Mommy."

Every motherly instinct Julia had ever felt rushed to the fore at the small voice and swamped her nervousness. She opened her arms and he scrambled eagerly into them.

"No, baby," she assured the little boy. "I'm not hurt now. The bad man won't hurt me ever again, I promise."

He snuffled thickly and hugged her tightly around the neck, nodding. Julia looked down at the boy who still sat near her feet, seeing the disappointed expression on his face, and held out a hand to him.

"And this is my other little boy?" she suggested, smiling. "Is this my Raphael?"

The child crept slightly closer. "You's not my mommy," he offered hesitantly.

"No, sweetie, that's right," she agreed gently, thinking sadly of what she knew of Catherine Parker and how much she would have loved this child, who had his mother's blue eyes and his father's sensitive mouth. "But you're the brother of my sons, so that makes you my little half-son. I can be your aunty, if you'd like that better." Julia avoided the use of the word 'stepmother,' aware of the connotations it would have for children who had been taught the classic fairytales, as these had.

"I's got a aunty," Raphael stated.

Julia smiled faintly. "You're a very lucky boy," she assured him. "You've got a big family who love you very much, and soon you'll have a sister, too."

Uriel had wriggled into a comfortable spot beside her and was leaning against her shoulder, his eyes fixed on his small playmate, but when Julia said this, his gaze swung around to her face.

"When's she coming, Mommy?"

"Soon, baby," she promised. "You'll be able to hold her in just a few weeks."

"What's her name?"

Julia cuddled him closer, meeting Joseph's gaze with a smile. "We'll choose that together, okay?"

Raphael's forlorn expression had still not completely disappeared when she looked back at him, and she released a hand from around Uriel, holding it out to him again.

"Come here, honey," she prompted, seeing that he was almost within arms reach. "You can call me whatever you want," she told him gently. "But I'd like you to think of yourself as belonging to this family."

Hope flowered in his blue eyes and he snuggled into her arms, even going so far as to burrow under the covers with her. Peter beamed at her from his father's arms, and she was pleased that there didn't appear to be any jealousy among the three half-brothers.

When this was settled, Rebecca moved forward from the corner to which she had retreated, and indicated Ethan, who still sat in a wheelchair.

"This is Uriel's father."

"Ethan, I know," Julia stated, smiling again, her shyness still held at bay. "We've been in contact." Her eyes swung around to the other man who, also wheelchair-bound, had been watching her, a thoughtful expression on his face. "Prodigy," she greeted him. "Do you know who I am now?"

"My Berlin informant," Jarod exclaimed in a tone of realization, before suddenly laughing. "And my charcoal provider."

Joseph laughed also. "I was going to mention it before," he told his friend, "but there hasn't been an appropriate moment."

As Jarod and Joseph began explaining the situation to Rebecca and Ethan, Julia felt a gentle tug on the sleeve of her bed-jacket and looked down to find Raphael's blue eyes turned up to her face.

"What is it, precious?" she asked gently.

"She says I can call you Mommy, if I want to," he explained earnestly, and she was momentarily confused, before remembering the information she had read about this gifted youngster. Brushing the hair out of his eyes, she smiled.

"Is that what you want to call me?"

"Not sure," he responded shortly, thoughtfully sucking the first two fingers on his left hand, "'cos of Merritt."

"Who's Merritt, baby?"

"Merritt's my Momma, too, but young," he told her, and she could see frustration working on his face at her inability to understand. "Like Jordan," he offered.

Julia looked up helplessly to find that Jarod had moved his chair near the bed. <"Who's Merritt?"> she asked in rapid Russian, so that none of her children would understand and hoping that Jarod would.

<"Merritt is Catherine Parker's clone,"> Jarod told her gloomily, and she felt her eyes widening in horror.

"But… he wouldn't," she protested, returning abruptly to English. "He… he wasn't supposed to be ready for it yet."

Jarod raised an eyebrow. "What do you know?" he demanded sharply.

"He -- Herr Doktor Raines -- when he came to Germany several years ago," she began somewhat uncertainly, "he was planning it, but he discussed it with Frau Berkstresser, and the Herr Direktor had been working on cl -- on it, and told them it was still many years away." Tears filled her eyes. "He can't have done it," she reiterated desperately. "He can't!"

Joseph placed Peter on the floor and sat on the side of the bed, slipping his arm around Julia's shoulders. Julia looked up to see him raise an eyebrow in Jarod's direction, the meaning of which the Pretender clearly understood, because his expression became deeply thoughtful.

"What is it?" she demanded at once. "Tell me!"

There was a long moment of silence, before Joseph nodded and Jarod exhaled a long breath.

"Raines had already done it by the time he was talking to Delius about it," Jarod told her. "Jordan was the first, in the mid '80s. Merritt was the second, only a few months later. As far as we know, they were the only two Centre sanctioned projects to survive. It's possible," he concluded, "that there are others we don't know about. There are projects we haven't had a chance to look at yet."

Julia stared blankly at the bed. Although she had never been in the laboratory when the man who would eventually be the director of Die Fakultät had been experimenting, her intimate knowledge of his mind meant that she had seen the stages as if she had been watching it all unfold before her eyes. She had seen, in her mind's eye, the numerous corpses, the distorted stillbirths and the women who had died after giving birth. There had been 700 failures before Frau Berkstresser had finally called a halt to the project, and the conclusion had eventually been drawn that cloning was an impossible dream. To learn that it had been successfully achieved in America decades before the experiments that, for days, had left her feeling physically sick recalled some of those feelings now.

Rebecca collected the three boys from the bed and escorted them to the door after assuring them that they could see their mother again the following day. They waved cheerfully from the doorway and then scampered down the hall. Julia could vaguely hear their voices chattering as they got into the elevator. But Jarod immediately reclaimed her attention.

"How did you know about it?" he asked quietly.

She swallowed the urge to throw up. "When they collected ova from me to make Peter, they also took many others, and the Herr Direktor was using them for the cloning process."

Julia saw the color fade from Joseph's face and his hand free clenched into a fist in his pocket, as he made an articulate sound of protest in his throat. His arm tightened around her shoulders, and she reached up to gently squeeze his hand.

Jarod reached into his pocket and took out a photo, showing it to her. "This is Jordan," he stated soberly, and she looked down to see a young man who was a healthier version of the young man with whom she had shared a sickroom during the meningitis experiment. The realization of what, or rather who he was struck her, and she looked at the Pretender sadly, but as Jarod was getting another photo out of his pocket, the expression went unseen. "And this is Merritt," he told her, as he handed her a second picture. "They're down in Australia right now, but you'll be able to meet them when they get back."

Something in his eyes warned her against any further questions, and, even as she gave back the photos, Rebecca reappeared in the doorway.

"Julia needs to rest," she told the three men. "This conversation can be continued later, when she's stronger, but for now, she needs to sleep."

She was right, Julia realized, as they quietly left the room and Rebecca straightened the covers of the bed, lowering its head slightly. But something warm seemed to envelop her, and, she realized suddenly, that it was the knowledge her children were safe and close by which was proving such a comfort. Even as she began to drowse off against the soft pillow, their little faces still danced in her imagination, and she fell asleep smiling.

* * * * * * * * *

Taylor Family Property
Yarragon, Victoria, Australia

"So what do you want to do?"

"Separate them, for a few weeks," Lauren stated firmly. "Merritt's thrilled by everything she sees that's different from the way it is in the States, but Jordan's still caught up in Jacob's death and can't concentrate on anything else yet. If we keep them apart for a bit, that will give them things to talk about when they do chat and also let them take things in at their own pace."

"Where?" Steve demanded, placing his mug on the coffee table, around which they were sitting, while their guests napped upstairs. "It's not like when Jarod was here. If you take Jordan up to the Territory, they'll spot pretty quickly that he's not a doctor. There aren't many things he could get away with, and if you leave him on his own all the time, he'll mope. Same problem if Mark takes him to his farm."

Lauren exchanged knowing glances with Paul as her husband sat on the armrest of her chair and slid his arm around her shoulders. "We already talked about that. He couldn't get away with being a 'qualified' anything, but he could always be a trainee -- either pilot or mechanic. That'll give him something to do with both his hands and his mind, especially if he hasn't done it before."

"Good thinking." Mark gave his sister an approving look. "And Merritt?"

Peta laughed. "Did you see that girl's face when she saw the horses? We'll never get her off them for the whole time she's here."

Lauren grinned at her mother. "Just like having another daughter, huh?"

"It's good practice for when Rachael grows up," the older woman told her serenely. "And don't change the subject, Lauren."

"Okay, okay." She glanced at her father. "In that okay with you, Dad?"

"Fine," Bill told her. "When do you have to report to Katherine?"

"Tomorrow evening." Lauren looked up at Paul. "We'll fly out tomorrow mid-morning."

"What are you going to with about Rachael?" Peta asked, trying to hide her obvious hope. "Or will you leave her down here with us?"

Paul laughed. "Not exactly," he choked, even as the others in the room laughed with him. "There was a lot of competition before I flew down about who was going to take care of her while the two of us were out of the base. I understand that they tried a raffle, but Pete Tingay was accused of rigging it. They finally settled on a rotation system. But she'll be very well cared for, don't worry."

* * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas

The persistent knocking woke Elizabeth, and she pulled herself upright in bed, brushing the dark curls out of her eyes as she switched on her bedside lamp.

"Come in."

The door opened and the woman stepped inside, the small figure of her charge motionless in her arms. Another child followed at her heels.

"It's Angelique," Nancy offered tentatively, her tone suggesting that she hoped Elizabeth would understand. "She… she's asking for you."

Nodding slightly, Elizabeth slipped out of bed and crossed the cool floorboards to the door, taking the girl in her arms and seeing the concern in the eyes of the child's caregiver.

"Give me a little time," she promised. "I'll do everything I can." The woman bent down until she was on eye-level with Gabriel, who stared at her, wide-eyed. "You give her a little kiss and cuddle so that she knows how much you love her, okay, sweetie?"

Gabriel's arms immediately encircled his playmate's small shoulders, his pink lips planting a kiss on Angelique's forehead, before looking back at the Australian woman.

"Good boy," Elizabeth stated approvingly. "Now you go and play with your friends and don't worry about Angelique, okay? She'll be all right."

His eyes studied her face for a moment before nodding and taking the hand Nancy offered, going down the hall, with only a backward glance when they reached the elevator. Elizabeth retreated to the sanctuary of her room and closed the door, looking down at the red-rimmed eyes of the girl she held.

Upon their return to Sanctuary, Rebecca had described the scene in the playroom during the takeover to a select group, including herself. Angelique had managed to numb the pain of Gabriel and Uriel when they believed that their fathers were going to die, and had even managed to stay composed as her mother had died, but since then she had gradually withdrawn into herself, until she was as non-responsive as she had been when Gabriel had first been introduced to the other Seraphim, almost two years earlier. In the past few days, she had even refused to eat or speak. Elizabeth hoped that she could do something to help this child as she brushed back the blond hair and wiped away the traces of tears on the small, thin cheeks.

"Why did you want me, baby?" she murmured softly in the child's ear, walking over to a pile of big cushions on the floor and curling up on them, Angelique held close in her arms.

"You's… flat," Angelique sniffed. "Everybody hurts."

"Including you, don't you?" the woman suggested lovingly. "You miss your Mummy."

The child's eyes filled with tears and she sobbed piteously, turning her face in to Elizabeth's neck and nodding.

"There's nothing wrong with missing somebody," the woman assured her. "Everybody loves their Mummies and miss them when they're gone. I miss mine, too, and my Daddy." She stroked the girl's blond hair. "They're in the same place as your Mummy is. And they're happy, too, just like Faith."

"Mommy hurting still?"

"Not as much as she used to," Elizabeth promised softly, finding it somehow comforting to share her religious creed with this child. "But it hurts her to see you cry. That makes her sad. And when you're happy, she's happy too."

The child sat up straighter immediately, wiping her eyes with her little hands, but they filled once more with tears as she looked up at Elizabeth.

"Miss Mommy," she murmured tearfully. "Wants my Mommy wif me."

"She always is, Angelique," the woman explained gently. "Just like she always was. Remember how you named your doll after Faith because you knew, deep down, that she was special to you? Well," she continued, as the girl nodded hesitantly, "now she's more with you than she ever was before. She's in here," Elizabeth gently tapped the girl's chest, "and you get to carry her with you every single day for the rest of your life. She'll know everything you do, and all you feel, and what you dream about at night."

Angelique nestled closer to the woman, as if comforted by her reassurances, and gently touched the place Elizabeth had just indicated. Reaching out, she then pressed a gentle finger against the same place on the woman's chest.

"Is your Mommy and Daddy dere?"

"Yes, they are," Elizabeth stated softly. "They always have been, ever since they left earth to be happy together in Heaven."

"When did dey go?"

"A long time ago." The woman smiled faintly. "My Mummy got a horrible illness called cancer and nobody could make her better. After she died, my Daddy was so sad that his heart broke and he died just a few days later."

"An' you was alone," the child sniffed, throwing her arms around the woman's neck as if trying to comfort her.

"No, sweetheart. Then I had them with me, so I was never alone again." Her smile became a little watery as she remembered those painful weeks following the joint funeral, at which she had been the only mourner. "When I went to bed at night, I'd close my eyes and tell them all about what I'd been doing all day."

"Was you happy?"

"Not for a while," Elizabeth responded hesitantly but honestly, knowing Angelique would probably pick up on any lies. "I still missed them, talking to them, being cuddled by them, but I slowly got used to it." She brushed back the blond hair from Angelique's face and kissed her forehead. "But you won't be alone. You've got your Angel, and Gabriel, and all your other friends."

"An' you?"

"I'm not going anywhere," Elizabeth promised solemnly. "And you know what else, which makes your Mummy really special?"

The girl hesitantly shook her head.

"Your Mummy died to save someone else's life, like Tempest's Daddy did. That makes them very special people. They're heroes."

"Unca Jarod."

"That's right," Elizabeth agreed. "Your mummy loved Jarod so much that she gave him the most important thing she had -- her life. And she knew he'd look after you as much as he looks after his own children. He will, too. I promise he will."

Angelique swallowed hard several times before looking at the woman again. "B'fore you commed back, I seed Mommy at night. I doesn't now."

"I know, sweetheart," the woman told her gently. "I took the dreams away because I thought they might be too hard for you. They would hurt you. I didn't want you to hurt."

"I wants to see Mommy," Angelique pouted, fat tears rolling down her cheeks. "Wants to talk wif my Mommy."

Elizabeth brushed away the salty drops, giving the child a comforting hug. "If you want that, baby, then I'll let you see her sometimes, okay? But you might not remember them when you wake up. We don't remember all the dreams we have. You'll just have to trust me."

Angelique's small head nodded slowly, her blue eyes meeting Elizabeth's brown ones, measuring the amount of truth in what she was being told. "Now?" she asked finally, in a small voice, with a faint hiccup.

Elizabeth stretched out on the cushions, lying the child down at the same time and wrapping her arms around the small body. Angelique snuggled close to her, lying against her chest, blue eyes fixed on the face above her.

"Close your eyes, honey," Elizabeth soothed gently. "Close them and imagine your Mummy giving you a big hug."

The heavy eyelids fell, pale lashes showing against the dark shadows that ringed the girl's eyes, and she hiccupped one final time before falling silent. The woman began to softly hum a lullaby that she had heard Faith singing to her daughter once, and which the hyper-empath had learned from Jarod, stroking the blond hair away from the girl's face, her mind busily constructing a collage of memories of the girl's mother.

Elizabeth planned to try something that she had never attempted before, namely to influence the dreams that the child had.

It made sense to her that, if she could remove bad dreams, surely she could insert good ones to replace them. Her choice of material was limited, but she finally constructed a series of images that she hoped would be comforting for Angelique. By reversing the way in which she removed the negative images and nightmares, she inserted the positive dream into the girl's sleeping mind and, crossing her fingers, hoped that it would work.

On to Act IV

 
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