Circle of Fire

 

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The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

The room was uncomfortably hot, but Morgan Ritter was determined not to leave it until she was sure that the task for which she was down here had been completed. Judging by the expression on the face of her Head of Security, he felt the same way, even as he mopped his brow with a red handkerchief, replacing it into the pocket of the tasteful sports jacket that he'd admitted Kim had helped him choose.

The sound of crackling flames was audible as the door was opened and the first body thrown into the furnace. A smell of burning hair immediately filled the room, and she felt bile rise in the back of her throat. The second and third bodies followed quickly, and, as the thick metal doors were slammed shut, she signed the forms for the burning of the corpses of Lyle Parker, Alexander Fenigor and Ronald Cox with a feeling of satisfaction, which increased as the others in the room signed them also.

"It's going to take at least a day to be completely cold, Miss Ritter," one of the men explained over the roar of the furnace. "And, if we start taking it apart too soon, we might damage the supports of the room, and maybe the foundations."

"You've got four days," she snapped back. "If there isn't any progress by Thursday, I'll be holding you personally responsible. Is that clear?"

"Yes, Ma'am," he responded immediately. "And the deconstruction of the room should only take, at most, a week."

"It'd better," she warned. "I want this monstrosity disposed of, and quickly."

She saw Broots' head nod in agreement, even as she peered through the small glass window to see the bodies begin to break down in the extreme heat. Grunting in satisfaction, she turned on her heel and left the room, heading for her office.

* * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas

The child moved in her arms and Elizabeth, who had used the time to quickly dress while the girl was still asleep, closed her book, looking down into the blue eyes that stared up at her, before Angelique struggled into a sitting position, blinking the sleep out of her eyes.

"Was she there, sweetie?" the woman asked softly. "Did you see Mummy?"

"Uh huh." The child nodded slowly, reaching up to hug the woman and planting a gentle kiss on her cheek. "You was right. She's happy."

"And you know that she always loves you," Elizabeth persisted quietly. "She told you that a lot, so you'd never forget it."

Nodding again, Angelique nestled close to the woman, her head resting against Elizabeth's chest, as she looked around the room.

"You don't have no toys," she remarked in surprise. "No games."

"That's true," the woman admitted.

"How come?"

"Because I don't have any children of my own yet," Elizabeth told her. "And none come up here to visit me, except you. I go to see all of you down there instead, and the toys are in the playroom."

Angelique nodded wisely, her eye caught by the lava lamp on a nearby table, which cast colored patterns of light on the walls. "'S pretty," she stated. "All moving."

"It's very calming." Elizabeth gently stroked the girl's hair. "When I feel tight and cross inside then I can look at that and it all goes away."

The girl reached out towards it, but Elizabeth gently held her hands. "It's hot, sweetie. Be careful."

Angelique stared at it in silence for several minutes before nodding once again, looking up at the woman. "Can I have one?"

Elizabeth smiled. "Would you like that one?"

"Uh uh." Angelique's blond head shook vigorously. "Dat's yours."

The Australian couldn't help being surprised at the child's awareness of ownership, even as she had an idea. "Would you like to go out and buy one this afternoon?"

The girl considered this for a moment, while Elizabeth waited anxiously. If Angelique agreed, it would be the first time she had left Sanctuary since her mother had died. In fact, this visit up to the Residence floor was the first time she had even left the playroom since that day, almost four weeks earlier, preferring to sit alone in a corner, ignoring the attempts of the other Seraphim to involve her in their play. If she agreed to go out now, it would be a big step. Suddenly Angelique's fingers tightened around her arm.

"Would you come too?"

"Of course, baby." She kissed the blond hair. "We could even go out for lunch, too, and have ice cream for dessert. How would that be?"

"Who's talking about ice cream?" interrupted a voice from the doorway, and Angelique looked up with a smile, holding out her hands.

"We was, Unca Jarod," she told the man. "Lizbet an' me going shopping dis afternoon."

Jarod rolled the manual wheelchair he had, at the advice of his physiotherapist, adopted the day before into the room, and lifted up the girl as she ran to him, placing her on his knee. A throb of pain in his chest at the similarity of his adopted niece to the woman he had loved and lost was quickly swallowed so the sensitive child wouldn't pick up on it. He cast an admiring glance at the woman opposite before looking down at the child.

"Why are you going shopping, princess? What are you going to buy?"

"One of dem," she replied eagerly, pointing at the lava lamp. "It's pretty."

"Yes, it is," he agreed. "Would you like Gabriel and me to come, too?"

She thought about this briefly, before shaking her head. "De next time, you can come," she stated calmly. "But we bring you some ice cream," the child added kindly.

At this point, Elizabeth thought it wise to interrupt. "Angelique, you'll need to talk to Nancy about it first, so why don't we go down to the playroom and ask her?"

"Uh huh."

Scrambling down off the man's knee, Angelique ran out of the room, heading down the hall to the elevators. The two adults followed her, Elizabeth placing a supportive hand on the chair to steer it in the right direction.

"Well, well and well," Jarod remarked, grinning. "I don't know where you keep your wand, you little witch, but you certainly pulled a magic trick out of nowhere there."

Elizabeth laughed. "Magic had nothing to do with it," she retorted. "I just got her to break out of her mourning. She's been heading towards this for a while. I was just the lucky person she picked to go with her."

"And she doesn't even want me to come," he commented in hurt-sounding tones, the tragedy of which was ruined when the woman giggled.

"Probably because she knows you'd eat all her ice cream as well as your own," she joked, picking up the child as they got into the elevator. "Angelique, don't tell your friends yet, unless you want them to come, too, okay? It'll be our little secret until we come back."

"'Kay." She looked down at the man, speaking in a small voice, concern obvious in her eyes. "If you's really sad, den you can come, Unca Jarod."

"It's okay, honey," he told her with a smile. "I was just pretending." He shot a glare at Elizabeth as she giggled. "What's so funny, might I ask?"

The woman raised an eyebrow. "Just 'pretending,' huh?"

He grinned half-heartedly. "If I hadn't heard that joke a few times before, I might find it funny."

"Sorry," she apologized at once, seeing Gabriel run across the room as soon as they appeared in the doorway. Putting Angelique on the floor, she watched the cousins hug before the girl ran over to Nancy. The caregiver's relief at her charge's improvement was obvious as she scooped the girl up for a warm embrace.

"You're really going to take her out?" Jarod asked quietly, as she sat on the red sofa. "And do you think she'll be willing when the time comes?"

Elizabeth shrugged. "You want to ask my husband that, not me. We won't know until it happens. But I really hope so. All the other kids have explored Dallas, and she needs to see some of the outside world, too. Remember how she was conveniently sick, that day when the other kids went out for a picnic, before Faith arrived here?"

Jarod raised an eyebrow, forcing back the emotions that the memories of that woman evoked in him. "You don't think that was real?"

"Not considering the fact that she came all the way from her room to mine and got into bed with me, while she was supposed to be having a nap," she retorted with a grin. "The whole place was in an uproar for about an hour, trying to find her, until Trevor realized and came to tell them where she was. I thought Nancy was going to cry."

He laughed, somewhat breathlessly, before letting his head sink down with a weary sigh, and she eyed him critically. "You haven't been sleeping well, have you?"

"You sound like a doctor," he told her, shutting his eyes.

"Close enough," she retorted quickly, standing up. "Come on, Jarod, I'll help you to your room."

"I'm fine," he snapped, before looking at her apologetically. "Sorry. Maybe I am a little tired."

"Understatement of the century," she grinned, steering the chair out of the room. "A few hours in bed will do you wonders. Then, when you get up tomorrow…"

"Tomorrow?" He eyed her askance. "It's only eleven o'clock!"

"Quarter to twelve," she replied quickly. "And 24 hours in bed is just what you need. You look like a shirt with all the color run out of it."

"That's your uniquely Australian way of saying I look a little pale, I suppose," he growled, as the elevator ascended to the residence level.

"Pretty much," she admitted, laughing, as she pushed the wheelchair along the hall. "Any pain?"

"You think I'd admit it?"

"Probably not."

She turned back the bed and, after helping him remove his black jeans, supported him onto it, pretending not to hear the grateful sigh that he was obviously unable to hold back when he was lying down. Covering him warmly, she picked up the phone on his bedside table and called for some painkiller from the infirmary, as well as a light meal from the kitchen. Both arrived together, and she eyed the small serve of soup and the bowl of sliced fruit pieces in satisfaction. Jarod listlessly ate it all, not objecting to being fed, which revealed more than anything how bad he was feeling, before she administered the shot and then darkened the room, knowing that he was asleep even as she closed the door behind her.

* * * * * * * * *

Dallas, Texas

The interior of the car was air-conditioned, Elizabeth noted gratefully as she and Angelique got in, guards getting into the front seats. She glanced at her watch, knowing that the sedative she had given Jarod would keep him unconscious for several hours, during which time he wouldn't need her skill because the strength of the painkiller would keep his sleep dreamless.

"Where to, Mrs. McCarty?"

"Head to the West End," Elizabeth directed, smiling at the girl sitting beside her on a booster seat. "We'll tell you if we see something we want to stop at."

Angelique looked out through the tinted windows as the car turned onto the main road that would take them into the centre of Dallas. The trip took about 10 minutes, but there were plenty of things to look at on the way. They were approaching the main streets when the girl give a squeak, sitting up straighter on the seats to look out of the window.

"What's dat?" she asked, pointing at a brightly colored object that stood outside a building, and the driver glanced over his shoulder.

"Stop," Elizabeth directed, and lowered the electric window, pulling Angelique onto her lap, before turning to one of the guards. "What is it?"

"It's a display that was up around Dallas earlier in the year, ma'am," he explained. "A few hundred Pegasus horses were purchased by companies, who decorated them and put them up around the city. There are only a few dozen left now. This is one."

The woman looked down. "Shall we go and have a look, Angelique?"

The blond head nodded earnestly, the girl's blue eyes wide, and she took Elizabeth's hand as the two people got out of the car. Crossing the street, they were prevented from going right up to the horse by a boxed-in concrete planter, but the bright colors were easily visible, even from that distance.

"There's another one my daughter loves, in Thanksgiving Square," the guard told her, smiling. "I think it's pretty cool, too."

"Will we go and see that one?" Elizabeth asked the little girl, who nodded eagerly. "Maybe," the woman suggested when they were back in the car, "we could bring the others to see them all one day. Does that sound like fun?"

"Yes, please!" Angelique stated eagerly, looking back through the rear window as the car drove away from the curb.

The next statue they came to was less brightly colored, but was instead decorated with pennies, so it reflected the sunlight, and it held a book between its front hooves. At the sight, Angelique dissolved into a fit of giggles.

"It's reading," she chortled, and, still holding Elizabeth's hand, ran over to get closer to it. "An' it's got glasses, like Gran'pa!"

Elizabeth agreed, lifting the child so she could touch the horse's nose and big wings. When she had examined the object from every angle, Angelique turned to Elizabeth.

"See de rest wif de overs," she suggested, slipping her hand back into that of the woman, who nodded.

"Okay, if that's what you want to do," she agreed. "Shall we go to the shops now?"

"Yes, please." Angelique climbed back into the car and nestled close to Elizabeth as they turned a corner and headed into the main shopping precinct.

The car dropped the woman and small girl off at the end of a long strip of shops and Elizabeth put out a hand and took that of her little blond companion. Angelique smiled up at her from under her broad-rimmed sunhat, seeming to be quite content, despite the numerous shoppers passing them, and from whom she must have been picking up a variety of emotions.

"Where should we go first?"

The child gazed around for a moment, before looking up. "Can we just walk around an' look?"

"Of course, sweetie," Elizabeth agreed, pleased at her interest in the outside world, which had to be throwing all sorts of unseen emotions at her.

A toy store caught Angelique's eye and she hurried over to it, pressing her nose against the glass with a muffled 'ooh' at the sight of the teddy bear's tea party that had been set up inside.

"'S pretty," she told Elizabeth, who agreed.

"Want to go in for a look?"

When the small blond head nodded, Elizabeth guided her into the store, smiling to see the eager expression on her face at the wonderland of toys. It was an old-fashioned shop, with such toys as jumping ropes, hula-hoops and even porcelain dolls, dressed in silk gowns, their wigs stylishly made up in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century fashions.

But it was in front of a rack of doll's clothes that Angelique stopped to stare longingly at the range of garments and shoes. Elizabeth had already taken the precaution of bringing the little empath's favorite rag doll's measurements, so she suggested that they should buy 'Fay' some changes of clothes. Angelique regarded her sadly.

"I hasn't got any money."

Elizabeth choked down her urge to giggle. "I meant I'd buy them for you, honey." She bent down and took the child onto her lap. "While you're still a little girl, people will buy things for you. When you grow up, you can earn money and then you can buy things for yourself."

The child nodded eagerly, but continued to stare at the clothes.

"Which ones do you like best?" Elizabeth prompted, reaching out for a sky-blue dress, on which Angelique's eyes had been resting longest. "This one? And shoes?" She took down a pair of black Mary-Jane-imitations, which would slip easily onto the rag feet. Firmly sewn-on socks and underwear removed the necessity of buying those. "And a matching bow for her hair?"

Angelique held the clothes in her hands and stared at them as if she couldn't believe they existed. Elizabeth added several other outfits, finally piling them into a basket from a rack that stood next to the stand. Then the woman's eye was caught by doll-sized furniture, including a gorgeous tall wardrobe, almost the size of Angelique herself. After all, she debated with herself, when her own instinct for saving money argued against buying it, this child's almost never had any special treats and she deserves at least one. Besides, her mother would probably have bought it for her.

That argument persuaded her, and she hefted the wardrobe under her arm, carrying the items up to the counter, where a sales assistant waited eagerly to serve them. Their driver and guard had been hovering outside the store, and came in quickly in response to Elizabeth's signal, taking the bags and large box and carrying them back to the car, as the woman and child also left the store, Angelique skipping with delight.

The interior of the car was a relief from the heat, and Elizabeth settled the skirt of her red dress and smoothed her wind-blown hair as they drove through the streets, finally pulling up in front of a large department store. Once inside, Elizabeth lifted Angelique into her arms so that the crowds wouldn't separate them. The escalator carried them up to the section in which the lights and lamps were displayed, and the child 'oohed' again at the large range. But she always came back to the range of lava lamps, squeaking in delight when she found one that was about half the size of Elizabeth's.

"It little," she proclaimed in excitement, "like me, little."

"Yes, it is," the woman agreed, smiling. "Do you want that one?"

For a few moments, Angelique watched the shapes move inside it, before looking up and nodding gravely. "Please," she asked politely, as Elizabeth took a box off the shelf behind the display. She suddenly clutched at the woman's dress as two people passed them, but didn't comment, taking Elizabeth's hand and going with her over to the counter, shooting glances back at the pair while the lamp was purchased. She seemed to relax again when she was picked up.

"What is it?" Elizabeth asked curiously, in a whisper.

"Bad people," the child murmured back.

Elizabeth made haste to leave that level of the store, more to get Angelique away from their 'bad' emotions than because she truly believed that they would actually do anything. However, as they were going down the escalator, Angelique gently tugged on her shirt.

"I's hungry," she confessed in low tones.

"What would you like best for lunch?" the woman prompted, handing the bag over to their driver.

"Pasgetti?" the girl suggested hopefully.

"You tell me which restaurant you like best, then, and I'll tell you if it serves 'pasgetti,'" Elizabeth told her, with a smile.

After a few experiments, they found an Italian restaurant and sat at a table by the window, where the woman ordered tortellini for herself and a serve of spaghetti bolognaise from the children's menu for her companion. When the waiter brought their drinks, the 'fire engine' drink of red cordial and lemonade that Elizabeth had ordered for Angelique contained a little paper umbrella, and the child picked it up, beaming.

"For Kayla's doll-house," she explained, giving it to the woman to carry. Elizabeth put it into her purse after carefully wrapping it in some paper napkins so that it wouldn't be damaged.

"Do we want to buy anything for anyone else?" the woman asked.

"Ice-cream for Unca Jarod," the girl stated firmly.

When the food arrived, Elizabeth watched to make sure that the little girl could manage, before beginning to eat her own meal. The pasta was hot, and the sauce was creamy and delicious. She winked at the child.

"You made a good choice. Is yours nice?"

"Mmm hmm." Angelique beamed, her face already showing signs of her meal, although Elizabeth knew she normally ate neatly. She hoped this meant that the girl was enjoying herself.

"What should we do after lunch?" Elizabeth asked after an interval, when Angelique was slowing down her rate of eating.

The girl looked thoughtful. "Is dere a park near here? Wiv swings an' a slide?"

"There sure is," Elizabeth agreed, thinking of the one in which the other Seraphim had picnicked, not long after their arrival at Sanctuary. "We'll go there when we've finished."

"Ice cream for us, too?"

"Of course, sweetie," the woman agreed, smiling. "It wouldn't be lunch without it."

* * * * * * * * *

Parishville, Upstate New York

Kim stood on the property-line, eyeing the house, which stood silently among the trees that grew close to it. Despite its age, the house had a well-cared-for appearance, the stones shining white and the timber with no obvious signs of disrepair. From where she stood, it looked like the boards on the veranda were still whole, and all the windows were unbroken.

"You obviously take good care of yourself," she murmured. "Feel like a chat, Miss Louise Asher?"

The trees bent in the wind, and if it hadn't been for her boss's order, she would have approached the house, which seemed to call temptingly to her.

"We both know I'd love to," she called cheerfully. "But orders are orders, and if I don't do what I'm told, I might be joining you on the other side." Laughing, she was about to return to the car when the skin on the back of her neck prickled and she looked around sharply.

"All right," she called, somewhat impatiently. "If you are there, come on out and let's have a look at you."

The wind died away with amazing suddenness as Kim rammed her fists into the pockets of her jacket and tucked her chin into her collar. Considering it was only early fall, the weather around here was remarkably cold. She was thankful that something had made her grab her scarf, gloves and woolen hat from her room before leaving. It's going to rain, she thought. I can smell it.

Suddenly something about the house caught her attention, movement at an upstairs window, and she picked up the binoculars that hung around her neck on a leather strap, focusing them on the pane of glass. A curtain waved slowly from side to side, and she smiled.

"So you are there," she told the house. "And you won't leave -- or maybe you can't. Isn't that what the stories usually say? Doomed to roam the rooms for all eternity? But I like the nifty little twist in your contract -- that you get to scare the living bejeesus out of anyone who's brave or foolhardy enough to come knocking. Not a bad perk, that one."

Kim chuckled. "So I wonder how you persuaded Cox to tie a cord around his neck and jump? Not that it was a bad thing. On the contrary -- full marks for getting rid of a sicko. But I can imagine it would have been an effort -- he seemed like a pretty grounded sort of guy." She shrugged. "Well, it's your beeswax, I guess. I'd love to stay and chat, but I've got to go and make a report to my boss about how best to deal with this site. Any suggestions?"

In the silence that followed, Kim's eyes traveled over the property, noting its size and proximity to the road. Away to the right, she could just see the tall fence that ringed one of the two cemeteries forming the pentagon Lazslo had already shown her, and the corners of her lips lifted.

"I'll see what I can do," she promised the house, turning on her heel and heading back to the car, as a light rain began to fall.

* * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas

Jarod heard muffled giggling from the doorway, rolling over to see his son peer around the door, and the man held out his arms, feeling immediately that the pain, which had been so bad during the earlier part of the day, was now much improved.

"How's my boy?"

Gabriel ran over, the little brown puppy trotting at his heels, and climbed up onto the bed, hugging his father. "Good," he reported cheerfully, continuing in a tone of immense satisfaction, "you had a nap, like me."

"I was tired, honey," Jarod told the child, sitting up with a smothered yawn. "I think I still am."

"Well, that's probably a good thing, because you're not allowed out of bed yet. Nurse's orders," a voice remarked from the doorway, and Jarod looked up to see Trevor standing there. "My wife gave me very strict directions and, if you don't follow them, I get into trouble, which doesn't seem fair."

Jarod grinned. "That means I can make life hell for you, just by…"

"Don't even suggest it," the psychic told him, sauntering in and sitting down on an armchair on the other side of the room with an answering grin. "I don't want to know what nightmares she might have in store for me."

The Pretender glanced at his watch, seeing that it was already almost four o'clock. "So what am I supposed to do with myself for the rest of the afternoon?" he demanded, gently wrestling a pillow away from his son and tucking it behind his head.

Trevor nodded at a pile of books on the bedside table. "Liz brought them down from Sebastian's new library. If you don't like them, I can get more. But she's threatened all sorts of nasties if you don't stay put." He leaned back in the chair, tucking his hands behind his head and stretching his long legs out in front, crossing his ankles and grinning as the puppy began to play with his laces. "If you're hungry, you can have a snack. Oh, and you get exactly two hours with Gabriel now, and then he has to go back to the nursery."

"What a martinet!" The Pretender threw his hands in the air. "I'm terrified!"

"You should be," the psychic told him firmly.

"You're a hen-pecked husband," Jarod teased. "I never would have expected it of you!"

Picking up a pillow, Trevor threw it at the bed, grinning as it hit Jarod across the face. "I am not," he protested, watching as Jarod sat up straighter and tucked the pillow behind his back, taking Gabriel on his lap. "We're a team."

"Yes," Jarod agreed, laughing. "She gives the orders and you carry them out."

* * * * * * * * *

Asian Station
Taipei, Taiwan

The men who faced him in the office were dull-eyed and readily obedient, evidence of the fact that orders Lucian had given, only the day before the takeovers in The Centre and other places, had been carried out, and that all but the topmost head of the station was addicted to Aurora. He paced the length of the office, watching them out of the corner of his eye, and knowing that, as things were now, these people wouldn't be particularly useful for him.

His final intention was to gather an army and physically take back the places that had fallen to the enemy in the takeover. But people under the influence of Aurora were unreliable, considering that all the major braches he wanted could produce the drug for themselves and simply take his army away with only a few words.

However, he knew that, for the next month or so, security would be tighter, at all three branches, than it ever had before. Even once he had his army, it would be better to wait for things to settle, and then attack. So there was no need to administer Supernova yet. That could come later.

For now, he wanted to clear things out. If necessary, he wanted these people to be able to get out if Voorhees sent a crew down to close down or take over the office, as he had done in Auckland. That was the reason for this meeting.

"Get rid of the subjects," he ordered, and saw a flicker of surprise in the eyes of the men opposite, which faded immediately.

"Of course," the Chairman agreed. "How would you prefer we go about it, Mr. Bruce?"

Lucian's eyes narrowed slightly. "They like the drugs they get," he stated, a tiny smile curling his lips. "So give them more. A lot more. Four times what they normally have. Then burn the bodies."

The man nodded. "Of course, sir. Will you stay to oversee it?"

"For the moment," Lucian agreed. "Show me to my room."

* * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas

Angelo's excitement was obvious as the car approached the tall building, the empath bouncing on the seat. Sydney smiled in sympathy, wondering if Angelique knew they were coming, and if she actually knew who this man actually was. The dark-skinned man driving the car turned to speak over his shoulder, still managing to keep his eyes on the road.

"We thought you might want to stay, at least for tonight," he stated. "So we had a room set up for each of you."

"Thank you," Sydney responded. "I hadn't really thought about it yet, although I think Angelo will want to."

"Probably," the driver grinned. "He looks pretty excited."

The car stopped at the door, and Sydney got out, drawing Angelo with him. The empath was now trembling, and clung to his father's hand as they went up the steps. The lobby was almost empty, and the receptionist smiled at them.

"You can go right up to the nursery," she told the older man. "They're expecting you."

Considering he had only made the decision to take Angelo down to see the children that morning, Sydney wondered how they could possibly have known he was coming, before finally deciding that Morgan must have called to let them know.

When the elevator doors slid apart, Sydney saw that the nursery doors were already open and one of the Seraphim was sitting on the floor of the lobby, obviously waiting for them. As soon as her father appeared, Angelique gave a squeak and jumped to her feet, running over to him. The empath didn't even bother to move out of the elevator car before hugging her, and Sydney had to hold the doors open to make sure they didn't close and take father and daughter with them to another floor.

"Come on, you two," he encouraged, seeing Gabriel run across the playroom towards him. "Out you get."

As Angelo sidled out of the elevator, the little girl in his arms, Sydney picked up Gabriel before the boy could knock him off balance.

"Did you know we were coming?" he asked, smiling, as the group moved into the playroom, and the boy nodded eagerly.

"Annie telled me her Angel was comin' and somefin' telled me dat you was."

As the boy tapped the side of his head, Sydney guessed the Inner Sense Gabriel had inherited from his mother had informed the boy, and probably also Angelique, of their arrival. "Where's your Daddy?"

Gabriel giggled in obvious delight. "Lizbet won't let him get up yet. She said he's sick and he has to stay in bed 'till after lunch."

Sydney was immediately concerned, putting the boy down on the floor. "I'll go up and see him. Do you want to stay here?"

"I come, too!" Gabriel announced, looking around to check that his dog was with them. Sydney saw that Angelique was in Angelo's lap, and that the man was eagerly joining in a game with the other children. He would be occupied for hours.

On the upper level, with Gabriel and his pet still trailing behind, he moved quickly along the hall of the residence floor, seeing that the door of Jarod's room was open. Placing his finger on his lips to keep the boy quiet, he crossed to the bedroom.

The door stood ajar and Sydney saw that Jarod was half-reclining in bed, his head back against the pillow and eyes closed, a book dangling from his relaxed fingers. Signing to Gabriel that he should wait in the outer room, the psychiatrist softly entered the bedroom, seeing that it was otherwise free of occupation. Taking the book from Jarod's hand, he marked the page and placed it silently on the bedside table. It was the work of only a few delicate moments to ease the pillows out from behind Jarod's head and lower him to a flat position. Sydney froze as Jarod muttered under his breath, rolling onto his side, but without waking. Pulling up the blankets, the older man tucked them around his former student, piling the pillows on the floor beside the bedside table. For another moment, he studied Jarod's features, taking note of the smudges under his eyes and the new lines around his mouth, many of which had come into existence after finally waking from his lengthy period of unconsciousness, following the operation to remove the bullet and repair the damage it caused.

Returning to the outer room, Sydney picked up Gabriel and was about to carry the child out of the apartment when he realized that the brown eyes were full of worry, seating himself instead on the sofa and placing the boy on his knee.

"What's the matter, Gabriel?"

He was startled to see the child's eyes suddenly fill with tears, and cuddled him closer, rubbing a hand on his back.

"Tell me what the matter is," he urged gently. "And I'll try to make it right."

"Is…" Gabriel gulped audibly. "Is Daddy ever gonna get better?"

Sydney's eyes widened slightly in surprise, even as tears began rolling down his grandson's face, and the man took out his hanky to gently wipe them away.

"Of course he is, Gabriel," he soothed, wrapping an arm around the little boy's waist. He'd heard from Rebecca about the situation during the confrontation and suspected that Gabriel had had no chance to discuss this with anyone, those he would most have trusted being directly involved and having no time or desire to talk about what had happened. For several moments, therefore, he let the child sob, before, as he began to almost verge on hysteria, calming him.

"Now listen to me, sweetheart," he stated gently, when the child's chest had stopped heaving, the odd hiccup the only evidence of his tears. "How much do you know about what happened to your daddy?"

"Lielee hurted him," the boy responded, making a visible effort not to dissolve into tears again.

Sydney was startled. "How do you know that?"

The small shoulders shrugged. "I jus' does."

"Okay," he smoothed the ruffled hair, "do you trust me?"

Gabriel's small head nodded, his brown eyes fixed on his grandfather's face. "Mommy said dat I s'ould always trust you," he hiccupped.

Sydney smiled. "Well, I promise that your Daddy will get better. He might not be as good as he was before, but he'll eventually walk again and play with you the way he used to. It might take a while," he added warningly, seeing belief blaze in Gabriel's eyes, "but it will happen. Okay?"

"Uh huh." Gabriel nodded vigorously, the unhappy look vanishing from his eyes, and he stood up on Sydney's lap so that he could hug the psychiatrist around the neck. "Love you, Gran'pa."

Something warm settled in Sydney's chest, reminding him of the day when he had first been told that he would, albeit indirectly, be working with the Seraphim, and he had made the decision not to make the same mistake with them that he had made with Jarod. His arms wrapped around the little body on his lap and he hugged it warmly.

"I love you, too, Gabriel."

He knew, suddenly, that, in the next room, Jarod was awake. When his grandson wriggled in his arms, he looked down into the familiar brown eyes.

"Shall we go and see Daddy?"

Gabriel nodded eagerly, linking his arms around Sydney's neck, as the man rose to his feet with one arm around the boy, the other still using the cane to maintain his balance. As they entered the bedroom, Jarod looked up guiltily from his obvious efforts of trying to reach the pillows, but he relaxed slightly when he saw the visitors.

"I thought it was Elizabeth," he explained, taking Gabriel, as Sydney offered the child. "And I was all ready for a lecture."

"Who says I won't give you one instead?" Sydney remarked, his eyes dancing with laughter, as he picked up the pillows and helped Jarod settle back against them. "It's been a long time, and I wouldn't mind getting back into practice."

Jarod grinned. "How long is 'a long time,' in your estimation? I seem to remember you giving me one before I was even allowed out of bed at the Centre -- "

"Because you were trying to push yourself too fast," Sydney interrupted, looking down at Gabriel's dog as it sniffed his feet. "Not that that was a surprise."

"I'm becoming predictable?" the younger man protested indignantly, and Sydney laughed.

"You've always been predictable to me."

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

Morgan looked up to find Kim standing in the doorway, her hand raised to knock, and waved her in. "Find out anything interesting?"

"I think I found out just about everything," the younger woman replied, dropping her bag onto the floor. "And it's intriguing stuff." She gave Morgan a brief run-down of the story as she had heard it from Debbie. "But I did a little background research, too, and found a couple more details to add to it. This is one."

Reaching into the bag, she pulled out an envelope. "I guess Miss Louise Asher made Mr. Gordon Woods feel so guilty for his actions that he eventually couldn't bear to keep it secret anymore. He wrote a letter to his son, explaining what he'd done and why. But the son, Hugh, never opened it."

"Did he die before he had a chance to read it?" Morgan suggested curiously.

"Nope. He lived until he was almost 80, and he was only 26 when his father died. My guess is that he suspected his father had a hand in his lover's death and refused to ever forgive him. It might interest you to know," she added, "that he never married, and that, in his diary, he still notes down all of the details that they would have shared if Louise had lived -- anniversaries, birthdays, even a date for a possible wedding and mythical information about any children they might have had."

"He sounds certifiable," her cousin offered, and Kim nodded.

"He was locked up about five years after his father died, and just after his mother died, by his four siblings. When they divided up the property, they made sure that Ammon House made up Hugh's share of it and split the rest amongst themselves. Hugh himself, however, was never let out of the asylum and died there on the same day that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941."

"So is it his ghost who's roaming Ammon House, or his lover's? Miss Asher?"

"Legend says that it's a woman," Kim told her. "So probably Louise Asher. Hugh's asylum was in Massachusetts, so he wouldn't have any need to be haunting it."

"And what happened to the rest of the family?"

"That was pretty tragic, really," the young woman responded. "Two of them died within two years of their mother, both childless. One married, but the whole family was killed in a car wreck in the early 1920's, and the other had one son, but not until he was almost 40. By then he'd lost all of his brothers, except Hugh, and also all his money, so he moved with his family to Ammon House, but they only stayed there for two weeks. His wife killed herself one night, or at least her body was found hanging from the rafters in the attic, and his son swore that he saw a woman pacing his room, threatening him. They -- Hugh's brother and his son -- decided that there might have been more to the tale than they had originally believed, so they went back and looked at the old will and, convinced that something was wrong with the house, repeated the same order about the sale of it in their wills. That's why the house has been in the family for so long."

"So how did Jarod get it? Or wasn't that legal?"

"Oh, it was," Kim assured her cousin. "The will of the last original member of the Woods clan said simply that it was to be passed on to any living family members. Apparently, according to the birth certificate that Jarod provided to the lawyers in charge of the estate, Cox was something like a fourth cousin, twice removed, from Hugh Woods. When Jarod sent them Cox's details, they sent Jarod the property deed and he gave it to Cox."

"So are there any instructions for what to do now?"

"Not exactly, but I went and did some questioning around the towns that are close to the house and I might have a suggestion." She pulled a sheet from her bag. "I started talking to townspeople and found a few who actually met Hugh's brother. They all believe in the ghost story, and some of them swear to have seen lights flashing from near the house at night, when it was supposed to be unoccupied."

"What's the solution?" Morgan prompted somewhat impatiently.

"The priest, who's a firm believer in the supernatural, suggests that Hugh's body be taken from its resting place in the graveyard of the asylum in Massachusetts and interred on the Ammon House property. We should also recognize Louise's grave with a marker of some sort. That should settle the wandering spirit for good."

Morgan was about to roll her eyes, but she remembered the discussion she had had with Sydney about the feelings they had experienced in the house -- the betrayal and the fear -- and thought that Kim's conclusion made sense. The ghost would revisit these feelings on visitors to the house as a way of trying to assuage its own feelings. Recognizing her grave and reuniting her with her lost lover might solve the problem. But there was still the issue of what to do with the site.

"And what do we do with the rest? We can't exactly have a research facility with two graves in the middle."

Kim hesitated for a moment, before speaking. "I went to look at the house," she began warily, and saw a glare darken Morgan's face. "I didn't go into the building," she continued hurriedly, "but I did stand on the property-line."

"And I suppose the ghost appeared and told you how to make her happy," Morgan sneered.

"No voice," the younger woman confessed, "but I couldn't help wondering why they built two large cemeteries so close to the house. When I asked the priest, he said it was the only thing the ghost would allow to remain undisturbed. I checked the council records and they've tried heaps of other things over the years -- houses, stores, shopping malls, even a rubbish dump, but every time, whatever's on it ends up being damaged or destroyed, even with guards watching it around the clock. Finally, someone suggested a cemetery, and it's the only thing she hasn't touched. In fact, they think she might even like it, because none of the gravestones have ever been damaged or even had weeds grow over them, and the caretaker has told stories of a woman who goes around the graves at night, tidying them up. She seems to take particular care of children's graves, and a few visitors have reported old-fashioned toys on their children's gravesites, toys that would have been popular in the late 1800s. I found an article in a newspaper where a woman said that she put the toy she found into her car to take it home, but it had vanished by the time she got back to her house. The next time she went back to visit the same grave, the toy she had taken was on it."

Morgan felt a chill run down her spine. "So you think we should have a cemetery consecrated on the site?"

"It's as good as anything else," Kim shrugged. "The way the land is now, it's useless. The legend is too widely known for it to ever be saleable, even if you were willing to risk visitations by a ghost, and I don't think Louise would let anyone research on the property or in the house. The best thing I can suggest is pull it down and hand it over to the church."

"I'll keep it in mind," Morgan promised, accepting the report that Kim offered. "Thanks."

"No problem." Kim grinned. "Any time you have a haunted house that needs inspecting, just let me know."

"Ghostbuster," her cousin teased, and the younger woman grinned back over her shoulder as she left the office.

Act V

 
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