Circle of Fire

 

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Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas

A lamp glowed faintly on the bedside table in the corner of the darkened room, lighting the blond hair of the man that bent over the bed. Drowsy brown eyes looked up at him and smiled.

"Hey, you," Keely greeted him sleepily. "Weren't you going to take 20 minutes for dinner, not 10?"

The man chuckled softly as he tucked the covers more firmly around her. "I can take a break later if I want one," he told her. "How're you feeling?"

"Tired," she yawned. "Was it meant to be like this?"

"Yes, it was," he stated firmly. "Your body needs a break from all the stresses it was under before, and then we can finish the last test."

Keely nodded and snuggled into the pillow, closing her eyes as the man smoothed her hair before going over to the desk and picking up the folder that lay on it.

This was the third day of tests, the majority of which had been administered through pinpricks on Keely's arms. So far, she had had only one serious reaction, and he was hopeful that it would be enough to explain her nausea and vomiting. He had taken her off the medication that Jarod had provided, but kept her lightly sedated to minimize any reaction or pyrokenetic outbursts.

Today she was receiving the first test of combinations of the drugs, and which he had had to give orally, rather than apply to the skin. He would allow 24 hours for reactions, and he had two such combinations to try. If neither showed any reaction then he could make up a new medication for her, supplementing the drug to which she was allergic with a similar substance, and hopefully that would be enough.

But he had 48 hours to wait first, and had made the decision that he would spend the time in the room, to watch for any unusual responses. Instead of eating dinner, he had arranged for food to be brought to the room for him at the appropriate times, and a small day bed had been set up in the corner in case he should want a rest.

The door softly opened and a tall form was briefly silhouetted in the bright space before it closed again and the building's owner approached him, his face tense with worry.

"How's she going?"

"Just fine." The blond man offered the folder for Sebastian to peruse, his eyes watching the silent rise and fall of the green line of the screen that denoted the sleeping woman's heart rate, as the Australian looked over the notations of temperature, pulse and respiration.

"Call me if anything happens," he ordered softly, handing back the clipboard. "No matter what."

"Sure." Accepting the folder, he could see the lines of anxiety around Sebastian's eyes and knew how eager he was for anything to ease his sister's suffering, even as he bent over the bed to kiss her gently before quietly leaving the room. The blond man watched him go, before taking out the folder in which he had been writing his notes to make sure he hadn't missed anything.

* * * * * * * * *

Katherine, Northern Territory, Australia

Jordan curled up on the bed with his diary. It was something that his grandfather had suggested he start in the first days after Jacob's death, as a private place to express his grief, and he now found it comforting to record the day's activities in detail. The book was written in his own code, ensuring that only he could read it, except for a few poems he hadn't bothered to transcribe.

The pain of Jacob's loss still burned deeply in his soul, and rarely did a night pass that he hadn't dreamed of the child, but, slowly, the dreams changed from focusing on Jacob's disintegration to his few weeks of happiness. There were mornings Jordan had woken comforted by the dreams, and also by the knowledge that the pain of Jacob's loss wouldn't be this bad forever.

When he had unpacked his bag, he had found a small photo album that either Jarod or his father had included. For the first few weeks, Jordan had ignored it, unable to bring himself to look at the photos of the boy, but one morning he had felt an urgency to remember, and the book had provided exactly the images he had needed. Now, he looked through the photos every night, and although he was sometimes unable to hold back tears when he saw Jacob's smiling face in every picture, he knew that they were an important part of the grieving process.

When his cell phone rang, he shut the book and pushed it aside as he answered the call.

"Hello?"

There was silence on the other end, only heavy breathing audible, and Jarod's brow creased in immediate anxiety.

"Hello?" he repeated sharply. "Is anyone there?"

"Jo-den?"

The young man's eyebrows shot up and he pulled the phone away from his ear for a moment to stare at it before replacing it. "Gabriel?"

"Hi, Jo-den!" The boy's voice was earnest but happy. "Hi!"

"Gabriel…" Jordan stared at the clock, doing the time conversion in his head and realizing that it was only three a.m. in Texas. "Gabriel, is Dad helping you call me?"

"Nope!" The child's voice was full of pride, and then he gave a naughty giggle. "He's sleepin'. I got up and finded his phone."

"And my cell phone number's in it," Jordan finished resignedly. "So you pressed the green button, and here I am."

"Yup!" Gabriel giggled. "Hear dis? Daddy's sleepin' still."

Jordan could hear quiet, regular breathing on the other end of the phone, and shook his head in disbelief, even as Gabriel's voice came back onto the line, the sound of footsteps suggesting that he was leaving the room.

"Gabriel, you should go back to bed," Jordan urged.

"Don' wanna," his baby brother protested, and Jordan could imagine his bottom lip protruding, as it always did when he was being scolded, which had been happening with increasing frequency in the time leading up to the takeover. "Jo-den," he began, and the young man sighed, knowing that the baby was changing the subject, and that he would only cry -- very loudly -- if Jordan hung up on him.

"Yes, Gabriel?"

"Is you happy now?"

"I'm a lot happier, yes," Jordan agreed. "Happier than when I left."

"But you's comin' back?" Gabriel's suddenly panic-stricken voice begged. "You's not gonna stay dere, so far 'way?"

"Of course I'm coming back, honey," the young man soothed, wishing that he could take the baby onto his lap and hug him. "In a few weeks, then I'll be back, I promise."

"An' will you bring me a present?"

The teenager smiled. "What do you want?"

"Anyfin'," Gabriel announced. "Somefin' to hug, like I hugs Toto." Jordan heard a thud, and then a whine, on the other end, and presumed that Gabriel had dropped the phone to enthusiastically embrace his pet. It was only with difficulty that he was able to stop himself from laughing aloud as he answered the child's plea.

"I can do that," Jordan promised, and then heard uneven footsteps, and a soft, regular thud that he guessed was a cane, on the other end of the line.

"Gabriel," his father's voice demanded, still thick with sleep. "What are you doing?"

"Talkin' wif Jo-den," the boy announced, and Jordan heard his father's skeptical laugh.

"Sure you are," Jarod agreed, and then Jordan heard the phone change hands and a rustle as his father probably sat down and took the baby on his lap. His next words were mocking. "Hi, son."

Jordan grinned. "Hey, Dad."

There was a stunned silence on the other end, and then, "Jordan?"

"Gabriel told you he was talking to me," the young man teased. "I can't help it if you didn't believe him."

Jarod laughed, sounding more awake. "Sounds like I'm going to have to keep a close eye on him, and on you, too, when you get back."

Jordan screwed his face up in disgust. "Da-ad," he complained. "I'm nearly grown up."

"Paying special attention to the word 'nearly' in that sentence," his father retorted.

"Bet I'm as tall as you now," his son shot back.

"I bet you are, too," Jarod agreed. "But that doesn't mean you're 'grown up.' However, we can talk about it when you do get back. Got any plans for that yet?"

"I'm getting a little homesick," Jordan confessed, suddenly realizing he was. "Maybe only a couple of weeks more."

"Whenever you're ready, son," Jarod told him warmly. "Just let me know. You and Merritt can talk about it when you call her, if you want."

Jordan smiled. "I will, Dad."

"Love you, son."

"I love you, too," Jordan responded, closer to tears than he had been for several days. "It won't be that much longer, I promise."

"I'm glad, Jordan." Jarod's voice was deep with emotion. "I miss you."

"Me, too," he snuffled. "And Gabriel."

"Your family's looking forward to having you back, Jordan," his father's voice soothed in his ear. "I never want you to forget that."

"I won't," he promised, wiping an errant tear from his cheek. "I should go, Dad. You need as much sleep as you can get, right now."

"All right, son," Jarod agreed, and then his voice came from further away. "Say bye-bye, Gabriel."

"Bye-bye," the baby's voice announced sleepily. "Bye-bye, Jo-den."

"Talk to you soon, Jordan," Jarod promised softly.

"Night, Dad."

Jordan cut the connection and went into the bathroom beside his bedroom, splashing water onto his face and bathing his red eyes, his heart aching at the thought of those people on the other side of the world. He missed them, had missed them ever since leaving America, but his feelings had been tied up in Jacob. Now that that was easing, he was thinking more about home and the people waiting for him there.

But it wasn't only the people, he thought suddenly, going back into his room and pulling up a plan of Sanctuary on his computer. Logging into the security system, for which Sebastian had given him permission and the codes, he looked into the large expanse of space that housed his plants. The sprinkler system was on, and the camera screen was dotted with water. Touching the screen with his index finger, Jordan thought longingly of being there again soon.

That thought took him to another, to Merritt, and he could almost see her standing in the doorway of the room, as she had been on the day of her arrival in Texas, months earlier. He wanted to see her soon, too. She understood him like no one else, and seemed to enjoy his company. Jordan decided it was nearly time for his work up here to come to an end. Two more weeks, he thought to himself, and he would talk to Lauren and Paul about going back down to Melbourne.

"Jordan?"

He looked up to find Paul in the doorway. "What's up?"

"We're thinking of having a barbie for dinner in the park. Wanna come?"

"Sure." Eagerly rolling off the bed, Jordan tucked his diary and cell phone into the bedside table drawer before slipping his feet into his shoes and leaving the room.

* * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas

Jarod looked over the notes he had about Supernova, which was one of the few projects he had taken on, at Morgan's request. However, he was slowly beginning to believe that, without more information, it would be impossible to come up with the sorts of details that were necessary, such as the contents of the drug itself and an antidote, to treat those held in cells on lower levels of the Centre.

The mechanical voice of his computer cheerfully announced an incoming video call, and Jarod thankfully pushed aside the work, smiling at his caller.

"Hi, Morgan."

She smiled in return. "I thought I'd check how you were doing with Supernova."

He sighed, the smile fading at once. "Slowly," he admitted. "There's just so little information…"

"I know," she agreed. "We've got people tearing offices apart, both here and in South Africa, in case there's anything we've overlooked, and you'll know the moment we find something."

Jarod nodded, saving the file on which he was working and closing it down. "How's everything in Blue Cove?"

"Slowly settling down." Morgan leaned back in her chair. "We've even been able to start working with some of our former partners again -- the good ones," she added quickly, and Jarod raised an eyebrow.

"I didn't know there were any," he muttered, before changing the subject. "Gabriel said to say 'hi' when I talked to you next time. I'd go get him, but he's having a nap right now."

She smiled fondly. "I miss him. Every Tuesday feels like the start of eternity, and I can't wait for Friday." She arched an eyebrow. "And as for good partners, what about MacCaffrey Enterprises? Angus has been very helpful to both of us."

"Yes, that's true," the man conceded. "And I'm sure Gabriel can't wait for you to come down here either," Jarod agreed. A moment of silence passed, but it was comfortable.

"So how're you doing?" she asked. "All the reports I've been getting say you're improving."

"You seem so well informed, I don't know why you're asking me," he teased.

Morgan laughed. "Just to be polite," she replied. "And for lack of anything better to say."

"I'm getting there," he told her with a sigh. "It's taking longer than I'd like, but I guess, when I think about the alternative, I can't complain."

After a beat, Morgan reached into a drawer and took out an envelope, extracting a sheet of paper and studying it for a moment, before looking up again.

"Did you know," she asked quietly, her voice strained, "that Faith really was related to me -- by blood and not just adoption?"

"I'd… rather not talk about it," he protested hesitantly. "Please, Morgan."

"I'm sorry." Her voice was soft, full of sympathy. "I just… I guess I was wondering how you were coping with that, too."

"Getting back on my feet's easier," he retorted curtly, feeling something painful twist in his chest.

"I'm sure it is," she agreed quietly, suddenly looking up past the screen, just as Jarod heard a soft knocking sound. "Just a minute," she called, before looking back at the screen. "Jarod, I have to go. Broots wants to talk about security."

"No problem." He forced a smile, glad that the subject had been changed. "I'll talk to you later."

The screen went black and he pushed the chair back from the desk, reaching for his cane as he got to his feet and moving over to the large screen against one wall that showed a scene of the Dallas streets. Gazing at it for a moment, he reached out and changed the picture to a quieter beach scene, retreating once more to his chair and resting his head down on his arms, letting the sound of the waves wash over him.

* * * * * * * * *

Yarragon, Victoria, Australia

"Here, Merritt," Mark called, tossing over a helmet. "Put it on."

"How come?" She stared at him. "I can ride."

He chuckled. "Not like this, you can't. Besides," he reached out for his own, "we're all wearing one today. Cows can kick like the dickens, and the last thing you'll want is a hoof in your head if you come off your horse."

This put a different spin on things, and Merritt immediately put on the helmet, doing up the strap and seeing as the other men did the same. Mark had been teaching her for the last few days how to round up cattle, and she was proud that he obviously thought she was capable enough to join in the round-up on the farm he worked with his friends.

The horses waited in the yard, stamping eagerly, seeming to know what was coming and keen to be off. Merritt swung into the saddle when the men did, following them, first at a sedate walk and then at a trot, through the first field. By the time they approached the next fence, the horses were cantering and all took the dividing fences cleanly. Merritt's heart was racing with excitement, her cheeks flushing warmly, as they approached the large herd of cattle, which was grazing placidly on the hillside.

She heard the whoops and calls that the men used to get the beasts' attention and found herself grinning as the animals began to move in a large group. This was fun! And it was unlike anything she'd ever done before. Her horse, an animal obviously experienced in the rounding-up, needed only a light touch from her to make it move in the right direction, and she glowed with pride when Mark called out encouragingly to her. The animals began to move downhill, slowly but surely, and the men went after the odd few that tried to escape. But, for the most part, progress was steady. A light wind kept her face free from perspiration, despite the furious activity and the warmth of the day.

Gradually, they moved the animals out of the well-grazed pasture and into a neighboring field, in which the grass was long and green. Almost immediately, the cattle broke out of their herd, scattering over the large area, as one of the men dismounted to close the gate and prevent any of them from returning.

"That runt's still losing weight," Merritt heard Mark say, his voice full of concern. He pointed out a small calf that was standing on shaky legs near the edge of the group and watching the others, without joining in.

"What d'you want to do?" one of his colleagues asked. "Send it to the butcher?"

Merritt's hand clutched at the reins and she made a small noise of protest in her throat, her eyes filling at the thought of the beautiful brown and white calf, with its big brown eyes, being sent off to be killed. Her eyes swung around to Mark in concern, who was still gazing thoughtfully at the little animal.

"That's one option," he agreed. "But she comes from a long line of good breeders and milkers. It'd be a shocking waste." He scratched a place on his chin. "We could try the bottle."

"When?" another of the men demanded. "We don't have time!"

"I know someone who does," Mark chuckled softly, before turning to Merritt. "How'd you like to be a cow's mum for the next few weeks, 'till she's big enough to manage on her own?"

Merritt gaped at him for a second, before suddenly realizing what he meant, the corners of her mouth lifting as she shyly nodded. "I'd like it a lot."

"Great!" Mark grinned. "We'll haul her along to mum and dad's place and Mum'll tell you what you need to give her."

Two men trapped the frightened calf in a corner of the fence and the first man lifted the animal on to one of the horses before they began their return trip back to the farmhouse, this time using the gates rather than jumping the fences. In the farmyard, they loaded the small calf into the back of their trailer, knowing that the high sides would prevent it from escaping.

Boots clumped loudly on the wooden floor as they entered the old farmhouse in which they lived, getting cold drinks out of the fridge and settling down on the sofa and other living room furniture to discuss the animals they would send to market the following week. Merritt listened eagerly to the boisterous discussion, thinking at the same time of the new responsibility that the calf would be. There would be lots to tell Jordan when they talked that night.

Her thoughts drifted to him, trying to imagine the world he had described to her during their many phone conversations. It seemed weird not to know exactly where he was and what he was doing. They had spent so much of their time at Sanctuary together, and even in their hours apart, she could still relate to the scenes he described. But he had a great gift for description and could bring any scene to life in a few words.

She had already admitted to herself that she missed him. There had been many times when she wished he were with her, to learn the new things she was being taught, and to share his already broad knowledge. She admired him for that, and also for being able to willingly confess it, if he didn't know something, his thirst for knowledge always driving him to learn. No one else was as fascinating to her as Jordan. Merritt felt as if she could never learn everything there was to know about him, and that was one of the things she found most exciting.

She couldn't imagine anyone ever taking his place in her life, nor living life without him now. She relied on his company, his humor and his advice, and she wondered if he felt the same way. Her life, she decided, would only be complete once she knew how he felt, and she thought that, one day soon, she would ask him.

* * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas

Jarod got up from his chair and stretched his stiff back, reaching out for his cane and checking his watch. He had about an hour before he had another session with Steve and thought he would go down to the nursery to see his son.

Most of the doors along the hallway stood open, showing that they had been cleaned and the bed in each made earlier that morning. Only one was closed, and Jarod stopped outside it, swallowing a lump in his throat before he turned the handle.

He hadn't been in Faith's room since the day after his return to Sanctuary, once he had recovered sufficiently from the battle to travel. Entering, he saw that the box containing her belongings had been removed, presumably sent to Morgan. It was very quiet in here, the residence floor probably unoccupied, except for those guards on the night shift, catching up on their sleep, and possibly Elizabeth doing the same. Everyone else, apart from the people still recovering from their injuries in the infirmary and elsewhere, would be working. The quiet, persistent hum was evidence of the air-conditioning, and Jarod could smell the cleaning products that were used in all the bathrooms in the building.

For a moment, as he sat on the bed, Jarod allowed himself to ponder what would have happened if Faith had survived. But now, suddenly, his imagination turned traitor and he couldn't even begin to contemplate what kind of a life they would have had together. For several long minutes, Jarod struggled with it, but nothing seemed to fit. When he pictured them together, their discussions seemed stilted and unnatural, as did their movements. In frustration, he shook his head and got to his feet, thinking instead of the day they had spent together at the circus, enjoying the memory of the rare and beautiful smile that had graced Faith's features that day.

A sad smile on his own face, Jarod left the room, pulling the door shut and heading down the hall. Maybe he was starting to recover from the worst of the pain her death had caused. He'd spoken to Sydney on more than one occasion about what they believed had happened to Faith, and the psychiatrist had reminded him that, while guilt was certainly an understandable reaction to what had occurred, the choice had been Faith's, and she would have understood the risk.

The elevator carried him down to the nursery floor, and he stepped out, hearing the shrieks and giggles that bespoke an enthusiastic game of some sort. Seven of the eight Seraphim gathered in one corner, but Jarod couldn't see what they were doing. The eighth, Angelique, sat apart, in one corner, and held out her arms to him as soon as he met her gaze. Sitting on the sofa in the corner of the room, he picked her up when she approached him and sat her on his knee.

"What's the matter, Angelique?"

She rested against him, her blue eyes studying his face. "You's finkin' 'bout my Mommy."

Jarod swallowed hard. "Yes, sweetie, I am."

Her little brow furrowed. "You miss my Mommy, too, like me?"

"Very much," he agreed, tightening his hold around her body. "Your Mommy was a very special person."

"I know dat." She nodded seriously. "But she's happy now. She tells me so, when I's sleepin'."

He smiled faintly. "She told me the same thing, Angelique. But after a person dies, it's all right for the people who are still alive to miss them, and be sad that they're gone." Jarod lightly kissed the girl's forehead. "It's called grief."

Looking down again, he saw that she was watching him, startled by the intentness of her gaze. It took a few seconds before he realized what she was actually doing, more because of the way the pain in his heart eased than because he could recognize her expression as being similar to Faith, when she had used her talent. Putting his hands on the girl's shoulders, he gripped her firmly enough that she would notice it, without hurting her.

"No, Angelique," he ordered, fighting against the happier emotions he could feel growing stronger within him. "Don't try to 'mirror' what I'm feeling. Not now or later. It's not good for you. It hurts you, even if you can't feel it."

She studied him for a moment longer, before blinking, and the intentness faded from her eyes as she snuggled up against him. "I dust wanted to help, Unca Jarod," she murmured apologetically.

"I know, princess," he replied gently, stroking her soft, blond hair. "And I'm sorry I was angry, but I don't want you to hurt yourself."

The girl reached up and kissed his cheek. "Love you, Unca Jarod. Like I loves my Angel."

"I love you, too, Angelique," he assured her solemnly, "very, very much. I tell you what, whenever we're thinking about Faith, and we're sad, we'll come and talk to each other, okay?"

She nodded earnestly. "Uh huh." She gave him a little smile. "Is you sad now?"

"Not as much as I was," he replied, glancing at his watch. "But I have to go. Will you go and join in the game with the others?"

"Okay." She kissed his cheek again and slid off his lap onto the floor, giving him a dimpled smile as she crossed the playroom, enthusiastically welcomed into the game. Jarod picked up his cane and got off the sofa, turning to the doorway to find Steve standing there.

"You were a little late," the physiotherapist explained, "so I thought I'd come and find you, in case anything was wrong."

Jarod flashed him a grateful smile as they made their way down the hall. "What's on the agenda today?"

Steve grinned. "Oh, I've got a great new toy for you to try. I guarantee you'll love it."

The Pretender eyed him skeptically as they got into the elevator. "You said the same thing about the weights -- and the cane -- and the floats in the pool. So far, I can't say that you've got a great strike record in that area."

The therapist chuckled as they got out of the elevator on the relevant floor. "This one's fun. I love using it."

"You have two good legs," Jarod told him acidly. "And didn't have a bullet taken out of you six weeks ago."

"Touché." Steve exaggeratedly waved at a chair. "Sit down, wounded soldier. I'll be right back."

Jarod obstinately remained standing, turning to watch Namir as the Israeli began attacking one of the large bags suspended from the ceiling. Frankly envious, he watched the man's controlled and aggressive kicks and punches, adroitly ducking as the bag swung back at him.

"You'll get there, Jarod," Steve's voice assured him, and Jarod turned to find the man behind him. "In a few months, you'll be able to start heavy weight training again, and in a year or so, if you work hard enough, you can challenge Namir to a fight."

"And get beaten senseless," the Pretender retorted with a feeble grin, before looking down at the object that the physiotherapist held. "What's that?"

"This is your new toy," Steve announced, grinning, and placed it in Jarod's hands.

Jarod held it up to examine the object more closely, trying to work out how they had managed to put the disk of wood right through the round rubber ball, and wondering what he was supposed to do with it.

"Okay, I give up," he confessed after a moment, handing it back. "Show me."

Steve placed the ball on the floor, letting it tilt to one side, and put his right foot on the wood. With his arms stretched wide, Jarod guessed for balance, he put his left foot on the other side of the ball and shifted his weight slightly to the left so that the wood became horizontal with the floor.

"This will do wonders for your balance," he explained, wobbling for a second, before managing to stand straight and almost motionless. "And better balance," he continued, "is our main objective now. When that's improved, then we can look at you walking without the cane."

Steve stepped off the object and pulled up a chair with a high back, kneeling on the seat.

"You can use the chair so that your legs won't have to do all the work yet," he told the injured man with another grin. "Try it, Jarod. Just keep your feet apart for better balance."

Jarod stepped forward and placed his cane on the floor, gripping the sides of the chair back with both hands before looking up. "Which foot first?"

"Whichever feels most comfortable for you."

After thinking for a moment, Jarod placed his uninjured leg on the wooden disc, knowing that his hip would have to take the first few seconds of twisting and preferring it not to happen on scarred and tender tissue. Taking a deep breath, he managed to swing his other leg up onto the wooden disc, tentatively putting weight on it until the ball began to wriggle and he knew the wood was off the floor. He only lasted a short time before the wood slammed onto the floor, sending a flash of pain up his side.

"Twenty seconds," Steve announced, his eyes on his watch. "Good. Now try to do it for longer this time."

Sighing deeply, Jarod tilted his hip until the wriggling started again, gritting his teeth, determined to do better on this second attempt.

"Twenty-eight seconds," the therapist announced, before winking. "It's a long time, isn't it?"

"When it hurts, yes," the Pretender admitted, wiping the sweat off his face with the towel Steve gave him.

By the time Steve called a halt, Jarod had managed to stay on the swaying ball for 45 seconds, and the physiotherapist complimented him on his achievement, handing over the item.

"You can take this with you and practice. Your hip will tell you when you've had enough."

Jarod clutched it to his chest with his right arm and picked up his cane in his left hand. "Is that all for today?"

"Unless you want to do more." Steve grinned as Jarod rolled his eyes. "This afternoon, practice and see how long you can last. I'd like you to keep a note -- either written or mental -- of your best times. Also, do some arm weights like I showed you last session with the dumbbells in your room. You aren't using your arms as much, now you're out of the wheelchair, but you should try to keep them strong."

The elevator carried him quickly up to his room and Jarod dropped the piece of equipment on the floor, getting a can of soft drink from his small fridge and sinking gratefully onto the sofa. Picking up the remote control from the coffee table, he switched on the TV in the corner, gulping down a few mouthfuls of the fizzy soda before beginning to flick stations.

Resting his head against the back of the sofa, he could feel his calves and shins throbbing as the flashes of agony in his thigh settled into a steady ache, and reached into the pocket of his jeans for a strip of painkillers, swallowing one of the pills and then putting a hand into his other pocket for his bottle of tablets to keep away the Aurora cravings. He had been pleased at how little they had surfaced during his recovery, but kept taking the tablets, just in case. He knew that, should he require them, he could take them for the rest of his life and not cause any damage to his liver or other organs, which common products might have caused.

Jarod was just reaching for the footstool to get his feet off the floor when he thought he heard a familiar voice. His head snapped up and he stared at the figures on the screen. The woman on it was red-haired, and had her back to the camera, but he could still hear her a voice and guessed, from the rapid rise and fall of her shoulders, that she was talking. It was a daytime soap opera, one of the programs Broots discussed eagerly at every opportunity, and for which Jarod had little time or patience.

Finally, after a long period, the woman turned and Jarod nearly dropped his can of drink. It was a very familiar face, indeed. His jaw sagging open, he sank back against the sofa cushions as the woman pouted before speaking in a familiar, whining voice that Jarod easily recognized as that of Argyle's wife, Mona. After a moment of staring blankly, Jarod gave a chuckle and tucked his legs up underneath him in the most comfortable position, taking another gulp of the drink and settling down to watch one of the most awful programs he could ever remember seeing.

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

Morgan finished reading through the most recent reports from Berlin and Boer City. Information was now shared automatically between all three branches, details about projects were requested and answers sent quickly. There was none of the cloak-and-dagger of earlier days, and also none of the former tension. The heads of the branches -- herself, Peter Winston and Jock Voorhees -- made the important decisions during daily videoconferences, supplemented by the suggestions of their assistants, and, so far, things were flowing smoothly.

Voorhees had reported on the sighting of Lucian at the Auckland office, and had guaranteed that, if he appeared at any of the other branches, he wouldn't escape again. Peter Winston had made the same promise, as had Morgan, and she knew that every single individual working in Centre offices, all over America, now knew Lucian Bruce's face and what to do if they saw him. She only hoped that Lucian would work it out, too, and stay away.

The day was fine, sun pouring in through the window of her new Tower office, which was slightly open so that the breeze could blow in. Suddenly, without warning, and just as Morgan placed the last sheet on the pile, ready for filing, a stronger gust sent several sheets onto the floor, under the desk.

Grumbling under her breath, Morgan got down on her hands and knees, gathering the scattered sheets together, and she was about to get up again when, faintly, she heard a familiar voice echo in her ears.

"Momma?" she asked softly, forgetting her annoyance immediately. "What is it?"

"Look up, baby," the voice murmured in her head, and she twisted herself awkwardly so that she could see the underside of the desk. There, very visible from her present position, was a square of timber which stood out strongly from among the rest of the metal desk, and she reached out to touch it with a tentative hand.

Something shifted, and she drew back at once, concerned that it would fall on her head. A quiet click drew her attention back to the desk and she saw that a handle had appeared from out of the intricately patterned metal around the drawers. Seizing it, she gave a strong pull and a drawer slid rapidly out of the desk, landing on her lap.

For a moment she gasped, regaining her breath, before looking down eagerly at the thick bundle of files in the drawer. She had known all along that this office had more than one hidden space, which, although it had revealed a lot, had obviously not been everything. This might just be the rest.

Sitting down in her chair, she pulled out the files and briefly examined the drawer. It was thin but deep, and silently slid in when she refitted it into the hole. The handle clicked back into place, immediately blending into the metalwork until she could barely make it out. One of the knobs had moved when Morgan had pushed in the drawer, and she pressed it, seeing the handle pop out again. So that was how it worked.

She turned to the files, seeing at once that they were about the Nebula series, and her heart beat faster in her chest as she sorted them further into sub-groups, one about each drug, including, she saw with glee, Supernova. Fenigor's office had been completely clean of any material about the series of drugs, and she suspected that he had given it all to Lucian.

Deciding to work up, or down, to the horror that was Supernova in stages, she opened the folder about the Nova drug. It contained only copies of the information Broots had already found for her in the archives, including a list of those who had trialed it. She already knew about the experiment with Kyle and the others, and she saw identical results repeated in each case. This was a highly dangerous, albeit predictable, drug, and she was thankful that it was no longer being produced.

The information on Aurora was also no surprise. Eve's office, which Morgan, Broots and Sydney had gone through, the day after the takeover, had already provided all the information about this drug, including details that were not located in this folder, and she wondered if the Chairman had known that things were being kept from him. Question marks on a few reports, in his handwriting, suggested that he did. The reports written about it terrified her, particularly the fact that so many people were pleased with the results. For just a brief moment, she let herself imagine how it might have felt to deliberately addict people like Lyle, Eve, or the even Chairman to Aurora, as they had happily done to Jarod and others, but the idea was too unbearable to be considered for long.

Starlight's folder was surprisingly thick, and she looked through the numerous pages, seeing that it contained a record of all those who had been given the drug, and details of the results.

"Stop," the voice in her head suddenly ordered, and her fingers immediately halted from their task of flipping through the pages. She instinctively looked down at the current sheet.

The list of subjects was alphabetical, and she found that she was on the page of projects starting with 'P.' Her eyes ran down the list and stopped, with a feeling of shock, on the word 'Prodigy.' So Jarod had been given Starlight. But when she saw the date, it suddenly made sense.

September 8, 1970.

The day Jarod had been taken to Raines' forest house, when he'd spoken to Catherine and had learned about Ethan!

So Sydney had been right initially, she mused. Jarod wasn't able to be brainwashed. When they had discussed how Jarod could have forgotten something so important, the only conclusion they had finally reached was that Raines had found some way to remove it from his mind, but neither of them had ever imagined that a drug would have been used. Raines' report announced it as a complete success, and the general reports about the drug suggested that long-term tests proved it would never wear off on its own. It was, in the view of those who created it, an overwhelming success.

The final buff-colored folder now lay innocently on her desk, as she filed the others away into the relevant places in the many filing cabinets that ringed the walls of her office. She swallowed hard before returning to her seat and drawing it closer to her.

The first pages contained the initial reports of the drug, revealing that it had immediately provided the results that the creators had been looking for. The first subjects, given it almost two years earlier, admitted to no memories beyond those that had been fed to them, and yet they had no difficulties using objects that they had already used in their lives. This contradiction caused a small furrow to appear in Morgan's brow. There was obviously still some knowledge left in those people. They had not, in Broots' terminology when she had discussed Supernova with him, 'been totally reformatted,' but parts of the memory had been wiped clean, including all knowledge of their identity and personality. So how had that occurred?

Morgan went to the filing cabinet and extracted the folder on Supernova, looking over Jarod's report, including his assumed make-up of the drug and what each of the components would do to the subject. He, too, had noticed the contradiction in the information about the subjects they were able to provide for him, but could offer no answer for it.

One page was clipped into the back of the folder she had found in the hidden drawer, dated only a day before the takeover, and Morgan read it, her eyes widening in horror as she understood the full implication of what it said.

Instead of only wiping the memory, as happens when the subject is given Starlight, it is believed that Supernova actually creates a second persona, which has no knowledge of identity beyond what is fed to it, but which has the same prior knowledge of objects and actions that the original 'personality' shares. This is a preliminary finding, and more research will be needed before it can be certified, but the current results certainly support the likelihood…

A sound from the doorway drew her eyes there to find her father watching her, concern heavily etched into his features.

"What is it?" Sydney asked softly, entering the room and letting the door fall shut behind him.

Morgan didn't mention her discovery about Jarod being given Starlight for the simple reason that she had forgotten about it. The horror of Supernova had swept it away, and she tore the sheet out of the folder, pushing it across the desk.

"Read that," she ordered sharply, rising to pace the small area between her desk and the window while he did so, and returning to her chair when it was obvious that he was done.

"What do you want to do about this?" he asked.

"I don't know," she responded curtly. "It's top secret, so not many people knew, except Fenigor, who found out about it originally, Mr. Parker and probably also Lucian. I'm just not sure where to go from here."

Sydney raised an eyebrow. "Did I read something about hypnosis successfully carried out on the people we know were given the Nebula series of drugs, to try to reverse the drugs' effects?"

"Maybe." She fixed him with a firm look. "Why?"

"If that's correct, it might be possible, even without medication, to use hypnosis to reintegrate the personalities." He looked thoughtful. "But there's more than 20 people down on SL-24, and it could take months or years to get through them all." Sydney thoughtfully looked at the file on the desk. "That is, if Jarod can't make something to help them."

"Well, we'd better hope," Morgan remarked, "that he can."

* * * * * * * * *

Northern Territory, Australia

Paul was explaining the reason for the redness of the earth below them when the radio crackled into life and Lauren activated it.

"Tango Lima Foxtrot. Come in. Over."

"Tango Lima Foxtrot. What's the emergency, Joel? Over."

The young man's voice was solemn "We've got a potentially serious car accident at 139.83528 degrees longitude and -16.82417 degrees latitude, Loz. From what I've been told, you could have two or more patients to deal with. Over."

Jordan watched Lauren exchange worried glances with her co-pilot. "Are we dealing with this on our own? Over."

"Negative, Tango Lima Foxtrot, but you're closer than anybody else at this stage, so you'll be on your own for the first thirty minutes or so. Over."

"Roger that. On the way, Katherine. Over and Out."

Paul immediately dug a map out of the pocket at the back of Lauren's seat and, with Jordan watching eagerly, began to plan the most direct route. When they had arranged that, he turned to the young man. "Whatever you do, Jordan, stay out of the way of the car. If it's in direct sunlight, there's the risk that the heat could cause something to explode. Got it?"

"Sure." Jordan's imagination immediately came alive with imagines of the car destructing in a ball of fire, and he felt his eyes widen at the idea, changing the subject to distract himself. "Can I do anything now?"

Paul and Lauren exchanged glances, before the woman nodded. "Go into the back and check that the beds are ready. Also make sure that the mobile first aid kits are handy."

Jordan got out of his seat and made his way into the back, doing as he had been told and hoping secretly that, when they arrived, he would be able to do something, however small.

* * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas

"Daddy?"

Joseph looked up from the book he was reading with his younger son to find Peter looking at him and smiled. "What is it, baby?"

Peter shot a quick look at Raphael before looking back at his father. <"Where's Mommy? Is she all right?">

The fact that the boy had spoken in German did not go unnoticed by his father, who immediately wondered what his son had picked up.

<"She was tired and went to bed,"> he replied carefully, seeing Raphael's blue eyes trained on him, as if understanding what was being said. <"Would you like me to go and check on her for you?">

<"Uh huh."> Nodding, his face taking on a worried expression, the boy put aside his book. <"Can I come, too?">

<"Not this time. Maybe later."> Joseph carefully eased Raphael off his knee. "I'll be back as soon as I can, okay?"

His expression wary, the little boy nodded, inching closer to his older brother as the healer got to his feet. Joseph met the gaze of his younger son's caregiver and nodded her over, controlling his urge to run to the door and upstairs, but forcing himself to stroll, aware that his actions would affect the feelings of his children.

Shutting the door behind him, he had just pressed the button for the elevator when a loudspeaker in the hallway was turned on.

"Joseph Otto to the infirmary," it called, and he gasped aloud, ignoring the lift and making a dash for the stairs, running down them two at a time and finally arriving, three floors down, on the level on which the infirmary had been set up.

Two people were waiting for him in the lobby -- Jarod and Elizabeth. He gasped again at the sight of the woman in medical scrubs and hurried forward.

<"What is it?">

Jarod waved the man to a small room that led off the large lobby and shut the door once all three people were inside, taking a seat opposite the anxious man.

"We have a problem," he began, speaking slowly and clearly, so Joseph would understand him, and Elizabeth would know what was being said.

"Is it Julia?"

"Yes." Jarod met his gaze steadily. "Her heart is beginning to overwork, and her blood-pressure is rising to dangerous levels. We can't treat it effectively without possibly harming the baby, which is already beginning to show signs of stress, but if we don't do anything, both of them could lose their lives."

His breath caught in his throat for a second, his mind numb with horror, before Joseph's eyes lit up. "But I can help her. I can treat it."

The Pretender slowly, and with visible reluctance, shook his head. "Nothing caused this, Joseph. She was born with a somewhat weak heart, and that naturally makes her blood pressure problem worse. Her injuries from Delius' attack made it worse, of course, but we spoke to Namir and he didn't believe he could make any difference to it, and nor could you." He reached forward and placed a gentle hand on Joseph's arm. "We want to do an operation, to deliver your daughter. I know," he continued hurriedly, as the German sank back in his chair, in horror, "it's premature, but the records show that Julia's 34 weeks in, and we estimate the baby weighs more than four pounds, so your daughter will have a very good chance of survival if she's brought into the world now. The necessary equipment to care for her can be brought here if that's what you want us to do."

Struggling to deal with all this, only one thought was clear to him, and Joseph looked up. "What does Julia want?"

Jarod exchanged glances with Elizabeth. "We haven't asked her yet. We wanted to give you the details first, before we told her, so that you could be there to support her."

"She should be told," Joseph insisted stonily. "She has had 35 years of other people doing things to her without her wish. She should make her own choice."

"I agree," Jarod stated softly, "but this child is also yours, so you have a right to help her make the decision. And it has to be done soon, if it's going to be done at all. There isn't much time."

Joseph stood up. "Take me to her."

Elizabeth rose and escorted him from the room, Jarod following them. The healer froze briefly in the doorway of the room in which Julia lay, before moving to the bedside and picking up her hand, wrapping both of his around it. As he did so, her eyelids fluttered and then lifted, her head turning so that she could look at him, her eyes traveling over his strained features and then up to Jarod.

"It's time?" she asked softly, exhaustion obvious in her voice.

He nodded, unsurprised at her seeming awareness of the situation. "It is ultimately your choice," he reminded her. "We can't do anything unless you agree."

She smiled faintly, her grasp tightening around Joseph's hand. "My baby will survive," she stated confidently. "She's small now, but one day she'll be taller than me."

Her voice was almost inaudible by the end of the sentence, panting slightly for breath, and Jarod cast a concerned glance at the machine that was silently keeping track of her heart rate.

"Joseph?" he asked softly, controlling his impatience. "Do you agree?"

The healer was blinking back tears, the Germanic determination to show no emotion in public in obvious conflict with his concern for his daughter and the woman he cared for so deeply. "It is necessary?"

"I'm afraid so," Jarod responded honestly.

"Then it must be done." He turned back to Julia and Jarod glanced at Elizabeth, who left the room to alert the waiting medical teams, one to physically deliver the baby and the other to take care of the newborn. A third group of cardiac specialists would be standing by to treat the heart problem and elevated blood pressure, if it didn't go away on its own.

* * * * * * * * *

Northern Territory, Australia

The scene that met Jordan's eyes when he scrambled off the plane was devastating. A car had crashed into the only tree for miles, and Paul and Lauren were already doing their best to free the occupants from the front seats. The red metal of the vehicle was twisted around the eucalyptus tree, having effectively stripped the bark off it, and several components of the engine were visible from under the distorted hood. The two rear doors had been popped open, although the front two were still shut, and even the trunk lid had been bent from the force of the impact. Jordan hurried over with the first-aid cases, placing them a short distance from the vehicles, in the shade, and then moved back to the plane to get water.

A soft sob stopped him dead in his tracks, a sound that reminded him unavoidably of Jacob at his most terrified, and Jordan returned to the car. In the rear seat, he could see a small face, white with terror, and little hands that clutched at the seatbelt, as wide blue eyes stared at the strangers leaning in through the smashed windows. Although Lauren and Paul were directing their primary attention to the adults, who were apparently more seriously injured, he could hear them trying to send comforting words to the child, whom Jordan guessed to be able ten years old.

"Can I help?" Jordan finally demanded, and Paul glanced over his shoulder for a long second, before finally nodding.

"Try to get the kid out, but if I order you away, you move. Clear?"

"Crystal." Jordan slid onto the back seat and then leaned over the small boy with a smile. "Hey, there," he greeted the child warmly. "I'm Jordan. What's your name?"

"Mike," the boy responded, with a sob. "My tummy hurts, Jordan."

"I'm sure it does," the young man agreed sympathetically. "Will you let me undo your seatbelt?"

The child nodded, sniffing and rubbing his sleeve over his nose as Jordan unclipped the belt and pulled it off. Sliding his hands in behind Mike's back and chest, he gently and smoothly lifted the boy out of the seat, gradually easing out of the car and around to the other side of the large gum tree, in the hope that it would be both cooler and out of the way.

"Paul," he heard as he moved away. "Help me get her out."

Focusing his attention on the boy, he placed the child gently on the ground after first checking for any insects or other hazards. "Anything else hurt except your tummy?" he asked, running gentle fingers over the boy's arms and legs.

"My head," Mike admitted. "It's going bump bump."

Jordan checked the child's pulse. "This fast?" he asked, saying bump after every throb under his fingers and seeing the boy nod. "That's okay, but I want you to tell me if it gets worse." He placed his hands gently around Mike's neck like a brace. "And don't move your head, okay, honey? If you do, it'll only make your neck sore as well."

"Kay," the child responded softly, licking his lips. "Can I have something to drink, Jordan? I'm kind of thirsty."

"I can't give you a real drink," Jordan apologized, opening a first aid kit and getting out a square of gauze, which he dampened with the contents of a water bottle that hung in a holster at his waist, wiping Mike's lips with it. "When we get you to hospital, the doctors will want to look at you, so we can't give you anything until they have." He checked the child's head, relieved when it showed no signs of bleeding and then gently pressed down on the small stomach, seeing the boy wince.

"Where's Mummy?" Mike whimpered weakly, a moment later. "I want my Mummy."

"I'll go find out how your mommy is, if you promise not to move. Okay?"

Mike smiled faintly. "'Kay."

Jordan approached the car, seeing that both people had been taken out of the car, and that Paul was treating a number of serious cuts, but that the man was responding to questions and telling the doctor his personal details. On the other side of the car, Lauren was having a more difficult time with the woman, and Jordan applied a bandage to a bad cut on her leg as the woman put in an intravenous line.

"How's the boy?" Lauren demanded, without looking up.

"He seems to have stomach problems, but he's talking okay."

"Stay with him, then," came the curt directive. "Paul can give you a hand when he's finished with his patient."

Nodding, Jordan returned obediently to the boy's side, seeing that he was lying with his eyes shut and his arms by his sides.

"Mike?" the young man asked softly, sitting on the ground and taking one of the boy's hands with a gentle squeeze. When there was no reaction, he squeezed more firmly. "Mike, it's Jordan. I want you to open your eyes for me."

As his other hand began desperately feeling for a pulse, his eyes adjusted to the shade under the tree and he saw that the fingertips he held were slightly blue. Then he noticed that respiration had stopped.

"Oh, God," he breathed, getting to his knees beside the still body, and, with no care now for neck injuries, tilted the head back, blowing five quick breaths into the boy, before, when that failed to illicit a response, commencing CPR.

"One, two, three," he counted aloud, suddenly seeing a dark shadow appear beside him under the tree, which took over the chest compressions.

"Check for a pulse," Paul reminded him after almost two minutes, and the artificial respiration was halted while Jordan checked the carotid artery and, a second later, Paul did the same. "More," ordered the doctor, and the CPR recommenced for another two minutes. Now, finally, there was a flutter under Jordan's fingers and he sat back on his haunches with a gasp of relief, even as Paul put out a hand and flipped open the third first-aid kit.

"What happened?" the doctor demanded, and Jordan shrugged.

"I came back after checking on his mother, which he asked me to do, and he was like that."

"Another time," Paul directed as he inserted an intravenous line and injected something, which the young man suspected was adrenalin, "never leave the patient, no matter what."

Jordan nodded as he eased the thin elastic from the oxygen mask over the child's head and then turned on the gas tank, settling the mask on the small face and seeing the eyelids flutter.

"Can you hear me, Mike?" he asked again. "It's Jordan, honey. Come on, open your eyes for me."

Accepting the IV sack, he held it up and covered the child's hands with his free hand as the blond lashes quivered and then lifted. The child moaned and his fingers tightened around Jordan's hand as he moved a leg.

Over his shoulder, Jordan saw Lauren and Paul get the woman onto a stretcher, even as a loud whirring sound from overhead announced the arrival of more assistance. Looking down again, he found that the child's blue eyes were fixed on him and he smiled down into the small face.

* * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas

Jarod slipped into the room where the caesarean section was taking place, wearing sterile garb, although he was taking no part in the procedure. Joseph had made the decision not to be in attendance during the operation, much to the Pretender's relief. The healer was still overwhelmed by the news of Julia's heart problems, and was in no condition to sit in a hot, busy room for the time the procedure would take. It was complicated enough without him passing out, as Jarod was concerned he might. Alastair was waiting with him in a nearby room, and Julia had requested that he stay with their daughter until the baby could be taken to see her mother. Due to the uncertainty of Julia's condition, nobody could say how long that would be. Now, at Joseph's request, Jarod had come to see how things were going.

Julia lay strapped to a table, a screen blocking her view of the operation, an anesthesiologist and a cardiologist at her head, keeping a constant eye on her blood pressure and heart rate while she was under the epidural. The team working on her was almost at the stage of delivery, and others waited for the baby. Several moments later, they whisked it away to be weighed and cleaned, and to have all the necessary tests. Jarod smiled at the woman as he left the room, and received a tired but confident smile in return. The door closed behind the Pretender, and, as he removed his outer layer of scrubs, he saw that Joseph had already been alerted to the delivery and was going with the nurse and his newborn daughter.

He retreated to the room in which Alastair waited, and the friends exchanged stories of the times they had spent at respective institutions.

"You know, it's kind of weird," Alastair mused, and Jarod shot him a glance.

"What is?"

"Just that it's over. Somehow," he stretched his legs out in front of him, "it doesn't feel like it."

Jarod arched an eyebrow. "I would have thought that the fact you and Julia could just walk out of Die Fakultät would have proved to you that it was."

"I was always expecting to be jumped on, the whole way to the airport," the psychic confessed. "I was waiting to be told it was all a sick joke, that they weren't letting us go, and that nothing was any different."

"You, too?" Jarod's eyes widened. "I felt just like that when I left Delaware. I thought I was the only person who did."

"Maybe that's the curse of the life we lived," Alastair suggested. "We might be physically free, but we'll never really be emotionally or mentally free. Although they're dead, those men will always be there, haunting our subconscious minds."

Jarod gave an exaggerated shudder. "You think of such wonderfully cheerful things, Al."

"Sorry." He shrugged, grinning. "It was the way I was trained."

Picking up a cushion, Jarod threw it in his direction. "Can we change the subject?"

"Any suggestions?"

"Excuse me," a voice interrupted, and one of the Sanctuary nurses stood in the doorway. "I have an announcement. The baby is a girl, four pounds seven ounces. She's going into an incubator for a few hours, just to prevent any problems, but she's pretty healthy otherwise. We'd expect her to be well enough to be eating on her own in a couple of days."

Jarod grinned. "That's fantastic. She's pretty big, considering how premature she is."

"The doctors are very pleased," the nurse agreed, smiling. "Oh, and Julia's heart appears to be slowly recovering. They can't be sure, but they hope that no surgery will be needed to treat it."

"Thanks for telling us," Alastair stated, beaming.

The nurse left and they discussed this news for several minutes, until another interruption.

"Jarod?"

Both men turned to find Elizabeth in the doorway. "Joseph asked if you'd go up to see Raphael and Peter. He was in the playroom with them when we called him, and he's not sure how much they'll know about what's happening. He'd like you to explain as much or as little as you think is wise."

"Sure." Jarod got carefully to his feet, rubbing his neck above his right collarbone, where the bullet had entered, and which ached when he used his arm too much. "I'll go right up."

"Thanks." She smiled and disappeared, presumably going back to Julia or the baby.

Jarod walked to the elevator, seeing Alastair go to provide Joseph with an audience to whom he could show off his newest offspring. When he arrived in the playroom, he found the Seraphim in one corner, standing silently with their arms around each other, Uriel and Raphael in the middle, Peter, surprisingly, with them, and Nancy approached as soon as he appeared.

"What's going on?" she asked anxiously. "They all suddenly went over there, and now they aren't talking to anybody."

"Julia was unwell," he murmured succinctly. "I'll explain it to them."

Nodding, she retreated to where the other caregivers waited, telling them, in whispers, what had been said, as Jarod approached the group. He sat on one of the chairs around a table on which the children often completed jigsaw puzzles or colored in. It was a little lower than normal seats, and he could feel his thigh complaining, but he needed to be on the same level as the children right now. As they slowly broke away from the group and, one by one, came over to sit at his feet, looking up at him, Jarod had the wry thought that the scene must look very like the model he had made for Sun-Chai so many months earlier, when she had been sending him the Kabuki masks to try to frighten him back to the Centre.

Gabriel and Angelique sat closest to his feet, the others four children slightly further away. Finally, only Raphael, Uriel and Peter remained in the corner. Jarod watched them for a moment, aware, somehow, that they knew he was there, before he spoke.

"Boys, come here."

Raphael and Uriel reacted immediately, sidling over to him, and he lifted them up to sit on his right knee, the uninjured side, which could take more weight.

<"Peter,"> he ordered quietly. <"Komm' hier. Jetzt.">

The order in his native tongue brought a response, and the German boy approached, not reacting when he was lifted onto Jarod's lap, but Jarod felt little fingers clutch at his shirt and tightened his hold around the boy.

"It's all right," he assured the group, repeating each sentence in German so Peter understood. "Everything's okay. Everyone's okay. I promise."

Raphael's eyes were wide as he looked up. "But… Mommy…" he whimpered softly.

Jarod drew the boy slightly closer. Raphael was the most fragile-looking of the eight children, and was treated as such by all the caregivers and adults. He was also one of the most emotional.

"Your mommy wasn't feeling so well," Jarod explained, cuddling Uriel tighter also and seeing, out of the corner of his eye, as Ethan appeared in the doorway of the playroom, in his wheelchair. "We had the doctors look at her, which was why they called Joseph, and they wanted her to get better, just like, if one of you ever got sick, we'd do everything we could to make you better."

Gabriel nodded solemnly, his eyes trained on his father, but none of the others moved. After a long minute of silence, Jarod continued, directing his remarks mostly to the boys on his knees.

"We explained how your sister was growing inside your Mommy's tummy," he reminded them. "Well, the doctors thought your mommy would get better more quickly if they took her out a few weeks sooner than she was really meant to, so they did, and now your Mommy will be able to get better faster."

"Can we see her?" all three boys asked in unison.

"You can see your new sister," Jarod replied immediately. "I'll take you up there in a moment. But we want to make sure your mommy's really okay before you see her, all right?"

"Mommy," Peter whimpered, his expression anxious. Fearful, in case he set off the other children, Jarod handed Uriel to his father so that he could pay more attention to the child.

"We're doing everything we can for your Mommy," he vowed, holding the boy close and feeling as Peter's arms slowly worked their way around Jarod's neck, burying his face in the man's throat as he sobbed softly. With his other hand, Jarod smoothed Raphael's hair, tickling him gently to bring a smile to the small child's face, and softly whispering reassurances into the older boy's ear.

After a moment, Peter gave a deep sigh and raised his head, wiping his nose with the back of his hand. Snuffling, he looked up at Jarod. "Go see sister?" he asked in broken, muffled English.

Jarod nodded, looking down at the other Seraphim, still sitting on the floor. "You'll get to meet her later," he promised them, "but not today, okay?"

As one, they nodded, and the six children got up off the floor, scattering around the room to their different activities. Jarod had to put the boys down so that he could get to his feet, but Ethan took Raphael on his other knee, and Jarod hoped that he would have enough balance to keep himself upright while carrying Peter. After a brief experiment, he believed it was possible, and the group left the playroom.

Joseph met them in the hallway, and took his son out of Jarod's arms, bending down so he would be on eyelevel with the other boys.

"Mommy will be all right," he stated softly, in his stilted English. "She will spend the next days in bed, but you can see her all the days."

Peter vigorously threw his arms around his father's neck, sobbing again, with what Jarod guessed was shock. Uriel hugged his father also, and Jarod picked up Raphael so the youngster wouldn't feel left out.

"That's very good news," he told the healer warmly. "And how is your daughter?"

The German beamed. "She is so beautiful," he enthused. "Just like her mother."

Peter nodded wisely, his head resting on his father's shoulder. "I knowed… knew that." He smiled as he corrected himself.

"Yes, you did," Alastair agreed, coming up behind them. "You said so when we were coming from the airport." He took Raphael. "Jarod, apparently you're wanted down in the gym by a certain physiotherapist, and," he smiled at the blue-eyed boy in his arms, "a new baby is waiting to meet her brothers."

Jarod groaned and got into the first elevator that arrived, even as Joseph pressed the button for another to take the group down to the infirmary.

* * * * * * * * *

Northern Territory, Australia

"ETA ten minutes," Paul announced over his shoulder, and Jordan looked up from his seat beside the gurney on which Mike lay to glance at Lauren, who was bending over the man.

"We'll be landing at the hospital very soon, Rob," she told him.

"Where's… my wife?" the patient managed to ask.

"She's in a helicopter behind us," Lauren stated calmly. "When you get to hospital, you'll be taken for tests, but hopefully you'll be able to see her soon after that."

The man tried to nod, but the neck brace held his head too firmly in position. His grasp tightened around his son's hand. Jordan checked the boy's pulse, noting that it had stabilized, and then grabbed Mike's other hand as it snaked up towards his own neck brace.

"Remember how I told you to leave it alone?" he reminded the child. "I know it's not very nice, but it's really important that you keep still."

"Okay." The boy immediately let his hand fall back at his side, and Jordan checked that the IV was still firmly plugged into the back of his hand, even as he heard the engine sounds change and felt a shift in the motion of the aircraft.

"Buckle up," Lauren told him in a low voice, doing up her own seatbelt. "We're coming in to land."

Immediately doing so, Jordan also flipped the lid of the first aid kit beside him closed and did it up, so that the contents wouldn't fly around if the landing was less than perfect, looking up to meet Lauren's approving gaze.

Out of the small window, Jordan could see three ambulances waiting at the end of the runway to take their passengers to hospital and saw the helicopter touch down beside one of them. The ambulance team immediately went into action, taking the stretcher and loading it into the vehicle, which then left the runway at a rapid pace. Forcing a smile, he looked at Mike.

"Have you ever been in an ambulance before?"

"I was never even in a plane!" the child informed him earnestly, his eyes wide, but his voice still somewhat breathless.

"Well, now you can to ride in an ambulance too," Jordan smiled, noticing that the boy's color had improved slightly. "And if you ask the ambulance officer, he'll probably tell you what all the things do."

As the child gave an excited smile, Jordan looked up to find that Lauren was speaking to the man beside her, gently releasing the hold the patient had on his son's hand. "Rob, you'll be taken in separate ambulances to the hospital, and it might be a couple of hours before you get to see each other again, but they'll take very good care of your son, and also of both you and your wife, okay?"

"Yes," the man murmured, tensing visibly as the plane landed, taxiing along the runway to where Jordan could see the ambulances. Barely had they stopped than the large outer door was opened and two men climbed in, lifting out the first stretcher as Lauren followed with the IV bag that was keeping man hydrated. Jordan handed Paul the IV bag for the little boy and remained in his seat as the second team of EMTs lifted out the stretcher. Beyond a curious look, nobody said anything about him.

After only a few minutes, the ambulances pulled away from the plane and Lauren and Paul pulled themselves back inside.

"Jordan, you did a great job," Lauren told him immediately.

"You sure did," Paul agreed enthusiastically. "You've got a real gift, especially working with kids."

Jordan saw Lauren's foot come down on that of her husband and press firmly, looking up at them with a weak grin in time to see Paul look sheepish. "Thanks," he replied. "And it was kind of nice to…" his voice broke, but he swallowed hard and continued, "to be able to do something to help this time."

"I'm sure it was," Lauren stated softly, sliding an arm around his shoulders. "And your dad will be very proud of you when we tell him."

* * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas

Joseph and Ethan urged the little boys along the hall, at the same time trying to keep them quiet enough not to disturb the other patients in the infirmary. Peter was still in his father's arms and Alastair carried Raphael while Uriel was riding on his father's knee. Ethan was slowly recovering, and could walk now, but he still needed a wheelchair for any great distances.

"What's she called?" Peter demanded, and Joseph looked down at his older son with a smile.

"Her full name is Mary Catherine Julia Otto," he told him, seeing a smile cross Ethan's face and Raphael's eyes light up. "But we'll just use her first name."

"Mary," Uriel stated. "'S nice."

"Pretty," Peter agreed.

At the doorway of the NICU, a nurse stopped them and produced gowns, small ones for the boys and larger ones for the adults, but Ethan and Alastair refused, offering to stay in the hallway.

"Next time," Ethan stated. "But the boys will be enough today."

The nurse pushed a box up next to the humidicrib so that the boys could stand on it and peer in at their baby sister. They stared, obviously awestruck, at the little red body and the round face of the infant. The girl gazed back placidly at her brothers, and when Uriel, at Joseph's urging, put his hands into the crib, her little fingers wrapped around his and held tightly.

"Blue eyes," Raphael announced softly, but with a voice full of glee. "Like mine."

"All babies are born with blue eyes," the nurse informed him. "But these are so very blue that they might just stay that color."

"Can I hold her?" Uriel requested.

"No, not yet," the woman replied. "That will have to be a special treat for later. She's too little now, but when she's bigger, you can play with her and cuddle her all you want, and all she'll let you."

The boys beamed at this, and continued to watch their sister for several moments longer, before Peter turned to his father. "Go see Mommy?"

"All right," Joseph agreed. "And we'll come back and see Mary tomorrow, okay?"

"Uh huh." Three heads nodded in unison, and he walked them to the door, letting them leave the protective gowns on when they begged, so that they could show their friends, but stripping off his own and putting it in the bin that stood nearby for that purpose.

"What's she like?" Ethan asked, as Uriel scrambled back up onto his lap.

"She's little!" his son announced. "An' warm!"

"And is she pretty?"

"Yup!" Uriel beamed.

Joseph stopped outside a half-open door, peering around it and then pushing it more open. Julia lay, half-reclining in the only bed, her eyes closed, an IV in one arm and wires disappearing under the sheet that covered her. The smiles vanished from the boys' faces, as Joseph put Peter on the floor and quietly approached the bed.

"Julia?" he questioned softly, reaching out to touch her hand, and her eyes opened, fixing on him blankly for a few seconds, before she smiled.

"Hi," she greeted him. "Did you bring the boys?"

"Of course I did," he assured her warmly, turning to pick up Peter. <"Stay still,"> he warned his son, and then put him on the end of the bed. Ethan steered his chair forward so that the other two boys would be visible, and Julia made the effort to lift her head off the pillow, holding out a hand to her eldest son.

"It's all right, baby," she urged gently. "I'm okay."

He eased closer to her, laying his head against the top of her leg, and she stretched out a hand to smooth his hair. Joseph stepped aside so Ethan could maneuver even closer to the bedside and Julia could touch the younger boys with her other hand.

<"Mommy's empty,"> Peter offered wonderingly, stretching up a hand to touch Julia's stomach, and she flinched, quickly moving his hand away.

<"Mommy's also a bit sore there,"> she told him, <"so don't touch, okay?">

He nodded, his eyes widening as he snuggled down into her lap, and she turned her attention to the other boys.

"Have you seen her?" she asked them, and smiled as they earnestly nodded. "Isn't she pretty?"

"Blue eyes," Raphael proclaimed in a small voice. "Blue!"

"Yes, they are," she agreed. "Just like yours."

He smiled at that, taking her hand and holding it on his lap. Uriel reached out so that he could put his hand on her arm, and she gestured with her eyes for Joseph to put the boys onto the bed.

<"Are you sure?"> he asked in concern.

<"Just for a little while.">

Nodding he swung the boys over so that Raphael sat against her right arm and Uriel against her left, with Peter still in her lap.

"What are you going to do when Mary's a bit bigger?" Alastair asked with a grin, and Julia smiled at him.

"Merritt should be back by then." She looked down at Raphael. "That will be nice, won't it, baby?"

"Uh huh." He nodded, smiling happily. "Two mommies, kind of."

After a few moments, a nurse entered and Joseph took the boys off the bed, telling them that the visit was over today, but that they could come back tomorrow, for longer. Accepting that, their fear abated now that they had seen Julia, they waved from the doorway and went with their fathers to the elevator, talking about their new baby sister.

On to Act VII

 
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