Circle of Fire

 

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Paul and Lauren's House
Katherine, Northern Territory, Australia

Jordan heard the car pull out of the driveway and looked at the baby girl lying in her bassinette and staring around the room, dribbling down her chin. He had offered to baby-sit while Paul and Lauren went out to see a movie, but now they were gone, he realized that he had no idea what to do with himself.

He knew that they often watched television, so he didn't feel guilty about turning it on and putting in one of the baby girl's favorite Disney videos, which he also enjoyed, until there was a squawk of protest from the bassinette and Rachael began to howl. Instantly picking her up, he rocked her, the way Lauren had shown him, but that only made her cry louder, and Jordan stared at her in a mixture of confusion and horror. He knew she couldn't be hungry, because she'd been fed just before her parents had left, and changed just after that, for which Jordan had been very thankful.

"How did I ever think this would be easy?" he moaned, as he offered her pacifiers and toys, to no avail. She fought vigorously against his attempts to wrap her in her blanket, in case she was cold, and he knew that she couldn't be hot because her skin wasn't overly warm. Her cheeks weren't hot, so she wasn't teething, and he had already turned off the TV, so it couldn't be too loud for her.

Finally, in desperation, as he was beginning to panic, he put Rachael down on the sofa and took out his cell phone, hearing it ring several times in his ear, before it was thankfully answered.

"Hello?"

Jordan stuffed his finger into his other ear. "Dad, it's me."

"Jordan? Are you all right, son? What's going on?"

"I'm babysitting," he explained loudly, over the noise. "Rachael started crying and I can't get her to stop."

There was a wry chuckle from the other end. "What have you done to help her?"

He explained his actions, seeing that Rachael's face was now bright red, her mouth a large, pink 'O' in the middle of it. "So now what do I do?" he demanded.

"It sounds like she could have gas," his father responded, amusement obvious in his voice. "Did Lauren show you how to burp her?"

Jordan suddenly remembered Lauren and Paul sitting with Rachael against their shoulders and patting her back after feeding her. He repeated this to his father, who made an assenting noise.

"Cover your shoulder and back with a towel, though," he warned his son. "Or you might have to change your clothes."

"Thanks, Dad." He disconnected the call and picked up a towel that was draped over the back of a kitchen chair, realizing that that was probably the reason it was there in the first place.

Holding Rachael up against his shoulder, he began to pat her back, hearing hiccups and gurgles from her mouth as the crying miraculously and thankfully stopped. He thought briefly that it was a lot easier to take care of children of Gabriel's age than ones who were as helpless as Rachael, and wondered what might have happened if his father hadn't come in when he and Merritt had been kissing in Barrow.

He had been painfully naïve then, he knew. Taking care of Jacob had helped him to mature, and, much as losing the child had hurt, he wouldn't have wanted not to have that chance. The worst of the pain had gone now, although Jordan was sure that a small part of his heart would always ache for his son, but that was a part of life and he could accept it. A burp from the baby made him grin as he felt the little hands clutch convulsively at his black t-shirt. Eventually, Jordan knew, he would have a family of his own, and he would know how to take care of his children. After all, he had plenty of time to learn.

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

Jarod hung up the phone after Jordan's call, chuckling softly, and then looked up in surprise as the door of his office banged back against the wall, Morgan looking around it.

"We've found Yuri and Valentine. Bring your antidote."

Standing, Jarod grabbed his jacket and cane in one hand, and the case containing the precious antidote and a syringe in another. He had been keeping it handy for just this occurrence, knowing that the men couldn't remain hidden forever. There seemed to be even more determination to find them than there had been in the hunt for him, every one of those involved aware of the risk the men represented to them.

Twenty minutes later, he was on a Centre jet and in the air, heading for Vermont. Morgan was on the phone, taking notes from the Centre office that had reported the sighting, and he watched her sketch a map on a piece of paper, holding out a hand for the phone. After eyeing him briefly, she handed it over, and he asked to have the directions repeated, quickly adding depth and detail to the sketch and thinking that, whatever else Morgan was, she wasn't an artist.

Handing the phone back, he let her finish the call while planning possible ways to move in on the building without alerting the occupants.

"Sam!" he called, as she hung up, and the sweeper appeared beside him almost immediately.

"Yes, Jarod?"

The Pretender handed over the map. "Say I was in this building, and it was six months ago. How do you go about getting me out?"

Sam eyed the page for a moment, before putting it down again and outlining the plan that Jarod had already predicted, one that was standard for sweepers, and which he had seen deployed against himself on more than one occasion. If a person knew what they were looking for, it was also quite easy to avoid, as Jarod had managed many times.

"How about a little variation on the theme?" he suggested, meeting Broots' eye, as the Head of SIS sat opposite him. "Have a group secure this spot," he pointed out the weak area, "and then go ahead with normal organization. That should increase the odds of catching them both, alive." He arched an eyebrow in the former technician's direction. "Mr. Broots, is that satisfactory?"

The balding man took the sketch and ran his eyes over the details. "It sounds fine," he admitted quietly, before looking at Sam. "Do it."

"Yes, sir." Sam put out a hand for the drawing and, when he received it, took it to explain it to the other sweepers that had been brought with them. Morgan took her gun from its holster, checking that it was loaded and that the safety worked smoothly, before ensuring that she had handcuffs.

Jarod watched her silently, wondering if she had performed the same ritual every time there had been a sighting of him. It certainly looked practiced, as if each move was habitual, rather than a conscious motion. She looked up suddenly and caught his eye, glancing down at the objects in her hands and moving them away, out of sight.

"You get to see it from the other side now," she remarked quietly.

"That was the point of doing the sims," he returned acidly, feeling increasingly less comfortable as the minutes passed. In an effort to distract himself, he took out the folder he had picked up on his way out of the office, and in which he had written notes about his antidote, trying to simulate how it would affect Yuri, and whether it would even work. Soon, he would know for sure.

* * * * * * * * *

The cream building looked almost gray with the dark clouds that loomed above it, and Emily gave a shiver as cold wind cut through the clothing she was wearing. She didn't want to be back here, but she had to give Yuri the chance that she had promised her mother she would, and she felt her heart beating faster at the thought of seeing him again.

The woman seated at the reception desk scrutinized her closely before handing her a 'Visitor' tag and directing her to the elevators. Emily made a quick decision to go up and see her brother first. She wanted to talk with him about when their mother had said, and what he really thought of Yuri, knowing that he would at least be honest.

Stepping out of the elevator, she found that the corridor was almost empty, with only a few people in the rooms she passed, most of whom offered a shy smile as she glanced into their offices. The door of Jarod's office, when she reached it, was closed, but, knowing that he had to be there, as he hadn't been at Sanctuary when she had been there, she knocked lightly before opening it.

She immediately saw that the office was empty and wondered where he was. Entering somewhat hesitantly, her eyes roamed across the desk, lighting upon a memo that lay on top of a pile of folders and papers. Normally, she wouldn't have read anyone's mail, but her eyes saw a familiar name and all other thoughts fled her mind as she picked up the sheet.

It was a report from a Centre office in Washington D.C., stating that neither Yuri nor someone named Lucian Bruce had been seen in the vicinity and offering its resources to find them. Emily felt her heart stop, staring blankly at the pages in her hand.

If they were looking for Yuri, that must mean he was no longer in the Centre! All her doubts about him flooded back, increased by added skepticism at his supposed remorse from months earlier.

"Excuse me?"

The voice from the doorway made her start, and she turned quickly to find a familiar, gray-haired man watching her from the doorway, his expression of curiosity dissolving immediately into a warm smile.

"It's good to see you again, Emily."

She returned the smile, remembering now that she had seen Sydney in the infirmary for hours at a time, particularly after Jarod had regained consciousness, before she had left for Boston. They had spoken briefly, on a number of occasions, and she had realized how deeply he cared about her brother.

"Jarod left about half an hour ago," his smile dimmed as his eyes examined her face, "to bring Yuri back."

Emily's mouth opened slightly, but she closed it again, with no real idea what she wanted to say. The man seemed to understand, because he waved at the sofa and took a seat opposite.

"Do you know Yuri?" she finally managed to ask, and he nodded.

"I've been working with him since the takeover," the psychiatrist replied thoughtfully. "He's a very caring and compassionate individual."

"Compassionate?" Emily couldn't prevent the skepticism in her voice. "If you knew the sorts of things he'd done…"

"As 'The Executioner,' the way the media portrayed him? I already know what he's done," Sydney stated quietly. "But did you ever consider exactly why he targeted those he did? Each person who died at his hands had direct links to the Centre, or to their highest-paying clients. Clients who had used and twisted the results of work carried out by people like your brother, prisoners who would never receive anything in return, even, in many cases, positive feedback for work carried out well. Yuri looked at the situation from the side he knew best -- his own -- and that was his assessment of it. He became judge, jury… and Executioner."

Sydney waited for a reaction, but Emily was determined to remain silent, wanting to know about this, information that Yuri had never shared with her, perhaps because he hadn't even realized it himself. Seeming to understand, the psychiatrist continued.

"When Raines realized, in January 2000, that he could no longer control Yuri and make him work, he ordered him to be dumped somewhere out of town, drugged, injured and left to die in the freezing cold. Somehow, Yuri managed to survive and decided that he would get revenge for the 25 years he had spent inside the Centre in the only way he knew how -- violently." Sydney's expression became softer. "He did what any child does, demonstrating the skills he'd been taught over the years. All he had ever known was violence and aggression, so that was what he did to those he saw as owing him something for what they had done. I imagine he believed that their continual need for answers and information from the Centre was what had kept him trapped here for so long, probably not realizing that, the moment he might have become extraneous, he would have been killed."

Emily suppressed a shudder at the calm way this was stated. The thought that someone could so coolly sit there and suggest death, as easily as they might have discussed ordering a meal, was evidence of the amount of death this man had witnessed, and it further compounded her horror of what the Centre had been. But she brought her heart back to the man for whom she had such strong feelings, incorporating what she had been told into what she already knew of him, before looking up again.

"Is he sorry for what he did?"

The psychiatrist remained silent for a moment, before finally answering. "He's sorry for the fact that he lied to you, that he never trusted you with the secret of who and what he was."

"But he's not sorry for killing those people?"

"He believes they deserved to die," Sydney replied evenly. "We've talked about that. He did what he believed had to be done, that the same law that had allowed him to be locked up in the Centre for so many years would be too lenient with those who treated him that way. Raines had taught him the lessons he needed to learn, to act the way he did. Raines made him what he was. You changed him."

Sydney leaned forward, his elbows resting on his knees and his fingers linked together, studying her face thoughtfully. "Emily, I'd like to show you some of the work Yuri did here. It may allow you to develop a better knowledge of the side of him about which you know so little. Yuri and I spoke about you several times, and one of his regrets was that you would never truly understood what it was that drove him because you would never know what kind of a person he was programmed to be."

She looked up eagerly, knowing that this was the real reason she had made what now felt like a pilgrimage to this place, although she hadn't realized it before.

"Yes," she agreed. "I would like to see that."

"It won't be pleasant for you," he warned, even as they stood and left the office, Sydney closing the door. "Raines was a cruel, harsh and exacting man. The work Yuri did would be considered by most people as deeply disturbing."

"Is he still alive? Raines, I mean," she asked, suddenly nervous of meeting him.

"No," he replied quickly, as if understanding her concern. "He died several months ago."

She nodded, examining the floor of the hallway for the short distance to another office. He waved her to the seat behind the desk, opening a machine onto it and then taking out a box. Inside it lay several silver disks, and he took out the first, sliding it into the machine and flicking it on. Instantly, the screen lit up, and he reached out to turn off the desk lamp. Night was falling, and the room was in near-darkness as Sydney pulled up a stool beside the desk and sat on it. Emily turned her attention to the screen, freezing and feeling tears fill her eyes, as she recognized a very young Yuri's face.

* * * * * * * * *

Middlebury, Vermont

Morgan watched as the sweepers deployed, in their usual order and in the additional movement Jarod had suggested. The group was silent as they approached the two-story abandoned building to which the local Centre office had directed them. Surrounded by trees, Morgan knew Valentine -- Lucian -- would have considered it the perfect place to hide, but it also made an ideal site for an ambush.

There was no movement from within, and the windows were made of reflective glass, so she had no way of telling whether the occupants were aware of their arrival. The group silently moved in, before suddenly attacking. Out of the corner of her eye, Morgan saw Jarod flinch at the noise and watched his hands tighten around the top of his cane as he sat on the passenger seat with the car door open, his feet on the ground. Reaching over, she put a hand on top of his, and saw him look up.

"Never again," she vowed softly.

He smiled wryly. "I know that, consciously," he responded. "But my instincts haven't figured it out yet."

Curling her finger around his wrist, she could feel his heart racing and that his muscles were taut in anticipation. Moving closer to him, she rested a hand on his shoulder, squeezing gently. After a moment, he reached up and took her hand, sliding his fingers between hers and holding it firmly.

Morgan turned her attention back to the building, seeing as two shapes slip out of the shadows at the right of the old factory, even as the sweepers entered the building from all sides.

"So that's how you did it," she murmured, and he grinned weakly, releasing his hold on her hand as he rose to his feet.

"Not too difficult, was it?"

Nodding thoughtfully, she heard the sounds of a struggle from the shadows of the trees and then saw a group move forward, two men being firmly held by numerous others. Both walked calmly, but Yuri's head hung down whereas Lucian stared straight ahead, his eyes gleaming angrily.

"Jarod," he snarled, as he came in sight of the small group around the car. "I should have seen your planning in all this."

"Most of it was the training of your sweepers, Lucian," Jarod returned coolly, and Morgan could detect no signs of his earlier anxiety in his voice. "All I did was improve it a little."

Morgan tossed a pair of handcuffs over to Sam, who clipped them on to Lucian's wrists, and then the man was forced into the backseat of one of the black sedans, another sweeper next to him.

"Not yet," Jarod warned softly, as Morgan prepared to put cuffs on Yuri. "We don't know how he'll react to the drug, and if he has a seizure or collapses, he could break something."

Stepping away again, she nodded and watched Jarod remove the cap from the syringe, flicking it to remove any air bubbles. Sam stepped up beside the man being held by six sweepers, and pulled his arm straight, pushing up his sleeve and pressing down on the back of Yuri's hand to lift a vein. Approaching the subdued man, Jarod smoothly slid the needle into the blood vessel and pressed the plunger.

Removing the syringe, Jarod stepped back, starting to mentally time the process. He had based the progress of his antidote on the Aurora model, and knew that it would only take a few minutes for it to take effect. From files Morgan had uncovered regarding the existence of more than one personality under the influence of Supernova, Jarod surmised that, underneath the drug, Yuri had always known what was happening. The artificial personality would simply have prevented him from being able to react. As soon as the constraints of Supernova were lifted, Jarod guessed that Yuri's own personality would fight to take control.

Time seemed to pass slowly, and Jarod was starting to believe that his drug had failed, when Yuri shook his head slightly, and then, despite the weight on his shoulders, managed to straighten. He met Jarod's gaze with an expression that the older Pretender read as an apology, and then pulled his arms away from those who held him. Instantly, every gun was drawn and trained on him, and two sweepers tried to grab his arms, but Yuri merely held his wrists together, offering them to Morgan for the handcuffs that dangled from her fingers.

She fastened them on with clicks that echoed sharply in the still, nighttime air, nodding to the men to release their holds on him.

"Sam," she ordered, "get him back to the Centre. And as for Lucian…"

The next words died on her tongue as she looked at the car in which the fugitive had been sitting and saw the unconscious sweeper draped across the back seat, a cut on the back of his head bleeding, and the other rear door open.

"Find him," Morgan snapped, turning to her head of security. "Broots, secure the area."

Nodding, he gave rapid directions and then pulled out his cell phone to call the nearby offices for backup. Meanwhile, Jarod recapped the syringe and replaced it in his pocket, at least glad that his treatment had been effective. He was unable to help the way his heart beat faster at the familiar sounds of a search being organized, and closed his eyes briefly to try to force back his powerful urge to run. After a moment, he looked up to find Yuri watching him and stepped over to the car in which the cuffed man sat.

"I'm sorry."

"It wasn't you, Yuri. We know that," Jarod responded evenly. "It was the drug."

"Does…" his eyes dropped, "does Emily know?"

"I haven't told her," Jarod admitted. "But that doesn't mean she hasn't found out in another way. I can ask her."

"No!" Yuri looked up again, his face working with emotion. "Don't, unless she asks."

"Sure." Jarod nodded. He glanced at the sweeper who sat in the back seat beside the handcuffed man. "Sam will take you back to the Centre."

"And when you get there," Morgan moved up to stand beside Jarod, "I'd like you to write a report on what you can remember doing while you were with Valentine, as soon as you feel up to it. It might help us to predict what he'll do next."

Yuri looked skeptical. "You'd trust me to tell you the truth?"

"We need all the information we can get," Morgan told him curtly, before nodding to the driver as a third sweeper got into the front passenger seat. "All right."

The car drove off at her word, and Jarod sighed deeply as he watched it leave. "He has so much potential," he murmured sadly.

"And is so dangerous," Morgan added, turning to face him. Gently, she reached out to touch his arm. "What do you want to do now?"

"Lie down and sleep," Jarod retorted with a faint grin. "But that's probably a little unrealistic."

Morgan smiled as she supported him to the passenger door of her car. "I'll drive you to Burlington and we can arrange for Sebastian's plane to come get you."

Thankfully sitting down, and doing up his seatbelt after shutting the door, Jarod watched Morgan get in behind the wheel and start the car, pulling away from the building. "Don't forget Merritt and Jordan will be home in ten days."

"They're flying in to Dallas, aren't they?"

"Uh huh." Jarod nodded as he reached into his pocket for the painkillers he carried here, rubbing a sore spot on his thigh with his other hand. "Merritt will be pretty unhappy if you're not there."

"Oh, I will be," Morgan vowed. "Broots will be in charge of getting Lucian back, and although he'll report to me every few hours, he can do that by phone. James Sun has a few deals underway, but he only needs my okay when they're completed. Finances Section is managing fine, as is Sciences, and they're both giving me weekly progress reports. And now Yuri's back, that's one less problem to have to think about. How about Sanctuary?"

There was no response, and Morgan looked over in surprise, to see that Jarod had already fallen asleep. His hands lay limply in his lap, the pill he had been about to take visible in the palm of one hand and the strip of tablets in the other. Pulling the car over to the side of the road, and seeing that sweepers had already been deployed in the area, she undid her seatbelt and reached over, gently lowering the seat a few inches and supporting Jarod's head back against the headrest. Extracting the tablet and bubble strip from his limp hands, she put them on the dashboard and then reached into the back for a blanket that lay on the seat, unfolding it and draping it over him, before sitting back and looking at him.

His expression was relaxed, but with dark shadows that suggested a lack of sleep clearly visible under his eyes, and lines that betrayed the ongoing pain of his injuries obvious around his mouth. She gently brushed the hair off his face, lightly drawing the tips of her fingers down his cheek and feeling the stubble that suggested the length of time it had been since his last shave.

She still loved this man. He held a unique place in her heart that no one, not even Thomas, had ever come close to invading. When the time was right, she would ask if he was willing for them to try again, but she knew he wasn't ready for that yet. Faith's loss was still hurting him deeply, their conversation had shown her, but she would be patient. He had waited for her for so many years, it was only fair that she should now wait for him. And if his feelings for her had changed, then she would have to deal with that as best she could. But that wasn't something she would know until she asked.

Sighing deeply, she kissed the tip of her fingers and lightly touched it to his parted lips, through which deep, regular breaths were coming, before turning back to the steering wheel and starting the car up again, getting back on the road and heading for Burlington.

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

Emily wept silently as Sydney removed the DSA from the machine, before gently placing his arm around her shoulders.

"I'm sorry," he apologized softly. "But it's important that you saw them."

"I… I needed to understand," she agreed, swallowing a sob. "I never knew -- really -- what it was like for him."

"I know," he told her. "It's impossible to imagine unless you've lived in this environment, as Yuri has, and as your brother has. Brothers," he corrected hurriedly.

"Kyle was… like that?" she choked out.

"Kyle's training was somewhat different from Jarod's," the man replied thoughtfully. "You've seen Raines at work now, so perhaps you can imagine what Kyle went through at his hands."

Emily shuddered, feeling suddenly sick as she wiped the tears from her cheeks.

"Do you understand now?" Sydney asked quietly. "This is what Yuri was trying to protect you from having to learn about. This is the side of you he didn't want you to have to discover, because he didn't believe you could have dealt with it. Consider that, with so little experience with emotions, he had no idea of what might happen when he got close to you, in order to learn Jarod's location. He never saw the danger of love, until it was too late. Then he did the only thing he could think of, to protect you."

Her chest and head ached, as did her throat, and she swallowed painfully. Sydney stood up and moved over to a side table, on which stood a jug of water and a glass. Returning to her side, he offered her the glass and she accepted it thankfully, sipping at the cool liquid, her eyes fixed on the blank screen, the images she had seen on it burnt into her brain.

A man in a dark suit appeared in the doorway and Sydney looked up.

"What is it, Sam?"

"Is this a bad time, sir?"

"Not at all." Sydney stood up. "What's happened?"

"I thought you should know, Yuri was brought back about ten minutes ago. He's in the infirmary now, being checked over. But Valentine -- Lucian got away."

"Thank you," the psychiatrist responded quietly. "I'll come down in a few minutes."

"Yes, sir."

When the man was gone, Sydney turned to Emily. "Would you like to see him?"

Emily's head was still resting in her hands, and he had to repeat the question before it sank in. A moment passed before she looked up.

"Would he want to see me?"

Sydney sat down on the stool beside her. "You're the person he cares most about," he responded quietly. "His first concern has always been about you. Even now, he's probably wondering if you know he was out of the Centre. Yuri doesn't care what anyone else thinks about him -- your opinion is the only one that matters. You matter more to him than anybody else, with the possible exception of Michaela, his daughter."

She smiled faintly, almost bitterly. "I guess I don't have a choice then, do I?"

He reached over and put a hand on hers. "If you're thinking of only yourself, then yes, you have a choice. But if you're thinking of Yuri, then I'm afraid the answer is no."

Her fingers tightened around his for a moment, wiping her eyes on her handkerchief one last time and then replacing it in her pocket. When her eyes met his again, her shoulders straightened and she nodded, her voice steady.

"All right. I'm ready."

Sydney waved her out of the office, locking the door behind them both, and they walked down the hall to the elevator.

"I'd prefer it if you let me speak to him first," the psychiatrist proposed. "Then you can have some time with him."

"Thank you," she murmured, nervously studying her hands, which were clasped in front of her. He reached out to touch her arm.

"Yuri will probably know, or at least guess, that you saw or read something that made you change your mind about him," Sydney told her. "He won't like it, either. Be ready for that. His intention has always been to protect you from the kinds of things you've seen today, and he'll worry about how it's affected you. That concern could possibly display itself in anger. But don't worry, Emily," he urged. "Whatever else Yuri is or does, he loves you, and he won't do anything to hurt you."

She offered a half-smile as the car stopped, and then the doors slid open. She was startled to see guards every few paces along the hallway, but they made no move to stop the two people as they entered the infirmary. Several of the rooms, Emily saw, had occupants, but only one had its blinds completely closed. Two guards stood outside the door, and Sydney turned to her.

"Wait here. I'll come and tell you when to go in."

Nodding, she stepped back against the far wall, seeing Sydney say something quietly to one of the suited men, who nodded, glancing at her briefly, before resuming his examination of the hall.

"Well, Yuri," Sydney announced quietly as he entered, his words clearly audible to those outside. "So you came back."

There was restrained movement inside the room, and one of the guards looked over his shoulder before turning forwards again.

"I'm sorry, Sydney." His voice was low. "I didn't mean to leave."

"I'm aware of that." Sounds suggested that a chair was being moved across linoleum, and Emily, unable to stop herself from peering around the half-open door, saw Sydney sitting down beside a bed, the occupant of which was not visible. "Tell me what happened."

"Miss Ritter told me to write a report about it."

"She wants the physical things, where you went and what was discussed," Sydney assured him, calmly. "I want to know what you felt. We know how Supernova, the drug you were given, works, so I'm sure you must have felt something over the past few days. Tell me about that."

There was the sound of a deep sigh, and then silence. After a moment, Yuri's voice finally spoke. "All the time, I just kept wondering what -- people would think of me. I mean, first I give myself up, and then it probably looks like I'm exploiting some weakness in the new security system, in order to escape at the first opportunity."

"You felt guilty?" Sydney suggested.

"At the idea I'd been betraying the trust that had been put in me, by not having guards outside my room and stuff like that, yes." He sighed again. "But at the same time, I knew what Valentine was like, and I couldn't see what use he'd have for me. I kept expecting him to kill me." His voice was slightly choked. "I just kept hoping I'd have the chance to see -- someone -- one last time, before I died."

Emily felt her heart beat faster, believing she knew who he was talking about.

"Someone?" Sydney asked calmly. "Tell me who you mean by that."

"Two people actually," Yuri amended, in a low voice.

"Do these people have names?" the psychiatrist prompted quietly, and Yuri's voice was angry as he replied.

"You know who I mean, Sydney."

"I would still like to hear you say their names."

"M… Michaela." Yuri's voice trembled, and Emily could hear the tears in his words.

"And?"

"Emily."

He exhaled deeply and slowly, and the woman realized that she had been holding her breath, her hands clasped so tightly in front of her that they hurt, her throat aching with tender compassion for his torn emotions and damaged soul.

"We've talked about her quite a bit," Sydney suggested. "Have your feelings for her changed after what's happened during the past few days?"

"I… I don't know." There was a pause. "It doesn't matter," Yuri continued sharply. "I'm never going to see her again, anyway. I don't deserve to. What does it matter how I feel about her?"

"Just because you believe something will never happen doesn't mean you can kill the emotions that are connected to it," Sydney replied.

"Personal experience?" Yuri suggested wryly.

"Yes," Sydney agreed. "I've lost two women I loved, one to death and the other I believed I had lost forever. But that doesn't mean my feelings for them faded. In fact, they only grew stronger. I believe you feel the same way about Emily."

"What does it matter, even if I do?" he demanded. "I can't expect her to forgive me for lying to her like that." There was a pause. "Does she know?"

"Know what?"

"That I left."

"You didn't leave," Sydney corrected. "You were taken. It's a big difference, one that clears you of any responsibility, in this case." He paused for a moment. "But the answer to your question is yes, she does know."

There was another deep sigh, followed by a prolonged silence, before Sydney spoke again.

"I'll be back in a few minutes, Yuri. Don't go anywhere."

The Pretender gave a short, mirthless laugh, and then Sydney appeared in the doorway and came out into the hallway, drawing her a short distance away so that their discussion wouldn't be overheard.

"Ready?"

"Yes." Her head went up and she took a deep breath. He nodded, smiling slightly, and then took a step away so that she could enter the room.

"Be honest," he urged quietly. "You both need that."

"I will," she promised, and then stepped into the doorway of the room.

It was familiar to her from the long night of work that had followed the takeover, now eight weeks earlier. A sink and a long bench were set up to allow for emergency medical aid to be given as it was required, and a curtain was half-drawn around the bed, blocking it from the view of anyone passing in the corridor. Yuri lay on the flat bed, under a single blanket, his head turned away from the door, but Emily saw him tense as he obviously heard footsteps, and she wondered if he recognized them as hers. A brief moment of silence was finally broken by his question.

"Do you think she still loves me, Sydney?"

Emily swallowed and then found her voice. "Yes," she offered quietly, seeing him freeze. "I think she still loves you. I know she does."

His head turned quickly, his expression one of almost comical dismay at her appearance. "Emily!" he exclaimed in disbelief. "What are you doing here?"

"I came to see you," she replied, stepping closer to the bed and adding honestly, "I missed you."

"You shouldn't have come," he growled, turning away again.

"Why not?" she asked, sitting on the chair Sydney had occupied.

"Because -- you just shouldn't have!" he burst out, obviously frustrated at not being able to come up with a good reason.

"Aren't you pleased to see me?" she prompted quietly.

"Ye --, I mean, no," he corrected hurriedly, his face flushing a fiery red, as he raised himself on his elbows. Then, for the first time, he looked at her properly, and his former expression faded to one of concern. "You've been crying," he burst out.

"I… saw some of your work," she admitted, and saw his eyes flash furiously. "With Raines."

"Who showed you?" he demanded, his face flushing again. "You didn't need to see that. I told you everything you had to know."

"No, you didn't," she contradicted at once. "You told me what you thought I needed to know, to try to make me understand why you did what you did. But you never told me why you became what you did, from the innocent little boy brought to the Centre at the age of five to what you are now. That's what I saw in that footage."

Yuri forced himself into a fully upright position, crossing his legs, Indian-style, and wriggling back on the bed, as if to get further away from her. Only the bolts holding it to the floor kept it from tipping up and throwing him onto the ground.

"You didn't need to see those," he repeated quietly, staring down at his hands, and Emily had the idea that he couldn't bear to meet her gaze.

"But don't you get it?" she demanded, becoming frustrated at his apparent inability to understand. "That was exactly what I needed to see! I needed to see for myself what you went through, so I knew how much of what you did was you, and how much of it was what Raines created!"

His breath hitched, his shoulders trembling, and Emily saw his eyes glisten, but he closed them quickly so that she wouldn't see his tears. She wanted to take him in her arms and let him cry on her shoulder, as he had done for her, but was nervous of his reaction. Then she remembered the words Sydney had uttered.

Whatever else Yuri is or does, he loves you, and he won't do anything to hurt you.

Her head went up slightly and she rose from her seat, moving over to the bed and sitting on the edge of it, only a few inches from Yuri. She could see that he wanted to move back further, away from her, but there was nowhere for him to go. Reaching out, she placed her hands over those that lay in his lap, clenched into tight fists, and felt him shudder.

"Sometimes," she murmured, "I think you aren't that different from the little boy who was brought to the Centre so many years ago."

Picking up one of his hands, she gently unclenched the fist, entwining her fingers with his, lightly stroking the back of it with her other hand. It stayed tense in her grasp for a second, before slowly relaxing, and she looked up into his face, seeing that he was watching her. As soon as she met his gaze, however, his eyes slid away to examine the floor.

"I'm glad you're okay," she whispered, "and that Lucian didn't do anything to you. I wouldn't have wanted to lose you before I had the chance to tell you that I forgive you."

He looked up at her, his eyes wide. "Y… you do?" he stammered.

"Now that I understand why you did it, yes," she agreed softly. She longed to touch him in a more intimate way, but knew instinctively that he wouldn't be able to deal with it, so she controlled the urge, simply stroking his hand. "I never stopped loving you, Yuri," she assured him.

The pain was obvious in his eyes as she finished that sentence, and she realized that it was the first time she had used his real name to his face, apart from that terrible phone call after she had realized his true identity.

"You loved… him," he choked out, and, realizing that he was talking about Paul Jennings, Emily shook her head, remembering what her mother had said and knowing now how true it was.

"I love the man you are, not your name," she assured him. "I love the man who risked his own life and freedom to help Jarod save me from Lyle, whose wonderful sense of humor made me laugh, and who loved me. Those things weren't Paul, Yuri; they were you."

She leaned forward and kissed his cheek, feeling him frozen to the spot, but a stream of tears eased out from under his closed eyelids and slid down his cheeks. Emily knew she was the only person who could move him to this extent, and her heart warmed to him even more.

"I'd like to come back and see you again," she suggested softly. "Maybe every day."

His fingers suddenly tightened around hers, his tears falling onto her hands, and she saw his lips tremble. His index finger was lightly stroking the back of her hand, and she leaned forward again, to softly kiss his forehead.

"I'll come back tomorrow," she assured him, gently easing her hands out of his grasp, letting her right hand rest lightly on his shoulder. "See you then, Yuri."

She retreated to the doorway, looking back over her shoulder to see that he was still staring down at his hands, but she could see a tiny smile curling his lips, a stray tear still clinging to his lashes.

Sydney's hand came to rest on her shoulder and she turned to him, letting him draw her a short distance down the hall again. He was smiling, his brown eyes glowing approbation.

"I'll arrange for you to get a pass," he told her quietly. "And I know Jarod was using an apartment not far from here. You could probably stay there."

She smiled. "Thank you, Sydney."

"Thank you," he replied promptly. "Would you like to wait while I finish, or…?"

"I think I should fly up to Boston and get my things," she responded. "I need to tell Mama what happened, and Jarod, too."

"All right." He gently squeezed her shoulder. "I'll possibly see you tomorrow, then."

Nodding, she watched him go back into the room, unable to hear what was said, as he closed the door. Her heart lighter than it had been since first learning Yuri's identity, she headed down the hall to the elevator, pulling out her cell phone to call her older brother as she got into it.

* * * * * * * * *

Moorabbin Airport
Melbourne, Australia

Merritt watched the plane come in the land from her position on the roof of the small building and hurried to the steps, running down them and out into the arrival hall. The three people, one with a baby in her arms, crossed the tarmac and, after a moment, entered the building. Jordan saw her and hurried over, catching her in his arms and whirling her around, to the amusement of Lauren, Paul and the other people in the terminal.

"I've missed you," he whispered in her ear, planting a quick kiss on her cheek.

"It's only been eight weeks," she teased, hugging him back. "And it'd be most unladylike for me to admit that I've missed you, too."

"Oh, sure," he chuckled, slipping an arm around her waist and walking her back to where Lauren and Paul waited. "That's why you called me every second day."

"And you called me every other one," she shot back, laughing.

He grinned, taking baby Rachael as Lauren offered her so that the woman could check if she and Paul had enough money for a taxi to Cheltenham train station, or whether they had to get more.

"By the way," he added, moving Rachael smoothly from his left to his right arm, entwining his fingers with hers, "we have to go shopping before we leave. I promised Gabriel a present, and we'll have to get something for the others, as well, or there'll be tears."

Merritt grinned. "Great minds think alike. I promised Raffi the same. We could do that tomorrow, and we can get whatever we need for that little camping trip you promised me, too, if that's still going ahead."

Jordan's eyes glowed darkly with anticipation. "Oh, that's happening, don't worry. In fact, we'll be starting on the first leg of that on Monday, flying up to Uluru. Dad made me promise that we'd go see it."

"He was pretty impressed with it," Lauren told them, as the group left the terminal and looked for the taxi rank. "And I think you'll like it, too. We'll write a list of things you need tomorrow morning, before you head into the city, and you can keep your eyes open."

"What's happening after we get to Uluru?" Merritt demanded, as she and Jordan got into the back seat of the taxi, leaving Paul, Lauren and Rachael to take a second one, so there would be room for the baby capsule.

"Well, it has to do with horses," he promised teasingly, seeing her eyes light up in delight. "And a little peace and quiet for a few days, before we fly home on Saturday."

* * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas

Trevor walked towards Elizabeth's room, seeing Sumi slip out of the door, burdened by a big box, and hurry down the hallway in the opposite direction. She shot a sharp glance over her shoulder at him, and the sound of a muffled giggle was audible, before another door further along the hall banged shut.

He entered to find the floor and bed covered in boxes and open suitcases, and his brow furrowed, instantly anxious.

"Liz?"

"Just a sec." Her voice was muffled until she backed out of the wardrobe, a pile of sweaters in her arms. They swayed dangerously as she carried them over to the bed, but she was able to put them down without them falling. Before she could go back for more, he grabbed her arm, turning her to face him.

"What's going on?"

Her face was flushed and her hair was messy, numerous strands floating loose. She impatiently brushed them back. Shrugging, she cast a glance around the room.

"Isn't it obvious?"

His grasp tightened. "You're leaving?"

She looked down at his hands. "That hurts, Trev."

The man loosened his grip slightly, but not enough that she could break away. "Talk to me," he insisted through clenched teeth. "What's going on?"

"I'm moving," she responded carelessly, glancing back over her shoulder. "This room really isn't big enough."

"Where?" he snapped, and she looked up at him candidly. When he met her gaze, Trevor saw the humorous twinkle in her eyes and slowly relaxed his hold. Elizabeth reached up to kiss his cheek and then took his hand.

"I'll show you," she promised, slipping his arm around her shoulders and sliding her own around his waist before guiding him out of the room and down the hall.

At the far end, she halted in front of a door, opening it and leading him inside. His arm tightened around her as he saw how many of her things already decorated the walls in the living area of the apartment. Trevor's eyes widened as he recognized his own Aubusson rug on the floor, but he had no time to speak as she opened the first door, revealing a bedroom containing a king-size bed and a door leading off it into a large walk-in robe. Trevor turned to her with a question about the bathroom that, in the other suites, led off the bedroom, but she kissed him again, silencing him.

The second door led to the bathroom, a larger one than most of the other rooms contained, but a teasing remark about her vanity that he had been going to make died on his lips as he saw a small plastic bath standing in the larger one. His stunned silence continued as she opened the third door to a room almost as large as the bedroom.

Sebastian and Namir stepped back from a crib they had obviously only just finished setting up. A changing table stood in another corner, a chest of drawers opposite, which Sumi and Ramona, the latter still in a wheelchair, were decorating with brightly colored paints, the fumes of which filled his nostrils, while Keely and her boyfriend, giggling and whispering in each other's ears, were engaged in painting a decorative border above the picture rail. Shocked, and unable to fully comprehend it all, the psychic felt his wife slip into his arms. Looking down, he saw the final piece of evidence in the coy expression of her eyes as she looked up at him.

"Congratulations, Trevor," she stated softly, reaching up to plant a gentle kiss at the corner of his mouth. "We're going to have a baby."

* * * * * * * * *

Northern Territory, Australia

The sky above was already the deep blue of late evening, dotted with silver, when the two horses stopped under a tree and their riders dismounted. Ahead of them, a clear patch of ground, broken occasionally by a clump of trees or a slight hill, allowed a clear view of the last sliver of the setting sun on the horizon. Jordan gathered a small pile of wood, and, as John had taught him, set fire to it, scorning the matches in his pocket and feeding it with increasingly larger pieces of wood until it was well ablaze.

"You've been busy up here," Merritt remarked, as she removed the packs and saddles from the horses and led the animals over to a convenient stream.

"Hey, I had to do something with my time," Jordan joked as he set up a makeshift fireplace and took the food out of the first pack. "And how about you, Miss 'Blue Ribbon horse-rider?'"

"Pretty cool, huh?" Merritt led the watered horses to a spot under a tree and tethered them so that they could graze without being able to wander off. Sitting down beside the fire, she leaned back against her pack and curled her legs up, watching the smoke drift into the evening sky. "This is an amazing place."

"I know," Jordan agreed softly. "I don't know anywhere like it on earth."

"You almost sound like you want to stay."

"I'm torn," the young man confessed. "I would like to, but at the same time I want to see Dad and Gabriel and everyone else, too."

"I kind of feel the same," Merritt admitted. "But I want to see Momma again. She promised to take me to Paris the next time she goes. And there's Raffi, too." Sighing deeply, she gazed up at the stars. "You know, I really miss him. I feel like we're so far away, and every time we talked on the phone, he always sounded so happy to hear from me that I almost felt guilty I wasn't there. I can't wait to see him again, and just give him a big hug."

"I can imagine," Jordan agreed, beginning to lay the steaks they had brought with them on a thin sheet of metal over the flames. "I feel the same way about Gabriel. I told you about the time he called, and he sounded so worried that I might stay here."

She smiled across the fire at him. "I guess we're both a little homesick."

"Only two more days," he said wonderingly. "Can you believe how fast it's gone?"

"Not really." She picked up a stray twig and flicked it into the fire. "But then everything seems to go so fast these days. There are times when I just wish it'd all slow down so I could take a closer look."

He chuckled. "'Stop the world, I want to get off,' huh?"

"Something like that," she conceded, smiling. "But I want to get back on it, too. I guess that'd be what I'd really worry about, living somewhere like this: that I'd miss too much. We don't seem to have that problem in Dallas."

"Sure beats Barrow," he murmured, lying on his back on the warm ground.

"I liked Barrow!" she protested indignantly.

"I did, too," he agreed. "For the first 24 hours. And while you were there."

"But you had Ethan there… and your grandfather…"

"It's not the same," he interrupted, rolling onto his stomach, his face propped up on his hands, to meet her gaze. "They don't really understand what I feel. There's only one person who does, who knows what it's like to be exactly the same as someone else, but to try and have to develop into a different person, to be forced to be a parent before you've even had all the stuff that usually goes before it." He sighed, making the flames between them dance. "I don't know what I'd do without you, Merritt."

"Hey, I'm not going anywhere, you know," she protested.

"My worst nightmare is losing you," he murmured, feeling the outline of the box in his pocket and glad that Paul and Lauren had accompanied them on their shopping trip. Lauren had helped him choose the right one, and Paul had briefly taken Merritt away so that she wouldn't know.

"Mine, too," she admitted softly. "I couldn't imagine my life without you in it now."

Jordan felt something bound inside him, and knew he had been given the answer before he even asked the question. Leaning on one hand, he reached into his pocket and extracted the little box, getting up and walking around the fire to sit beside her, the velvet rubbing against the palm of his hand. She watched him wonderingly, turning so that she was facing him. Her voice was only just audible above the crackling of the flames and the tired sighs of the horses nearby.

"What is it?"

"I…" He stopped, trying to choose the right words. "I love you."

"I know," she smiled. "And that makes me so proud. I've loved you ever since we first met."

"Enough to spend the rest of your life with me?" he blurted out.

Her eyebrows twitched in slight confusion, before she seemed to understand what he meant, and smiled, leaning forward to kiss him softly.

"Yes," she whispered against his mouth.

Jordan pulled back slightly, flipping open the ring box with his thumb and catching her left hand in a smooth motion. She sat, motionless, as he slid the golden band onto her forth finger, the single, small diamond reflecting the firelight. It had been all he could afford, from money he had saved ever since his release from the Centre, when his grandfather had begun giving him an allowance. She looked down at it for a moment, before smiling at him.

"It's beautiful," she murmured. "Thank you."

"You're welcome." He slid an arm around her waist and pulled her into his arms, kissing her more firmly, but she pulled away from him slightly, her hands resting on his chest, his arms around her shoulders.

"Jordan," she began, "I meant what I said just now, about marrying you, but I really don't want to rush into this. It… it's too much like being a grown-up, and I think I've still got a few years yet of being a kid. I don't want to spoil that."

"I never meant we had to run off and get married tomorrow," he protested indignantly. "Just that I want to make sure of you, so that I don't have worry about losing you anymore. But I don't want to start a family or anything like that yet, either. I need to finish my education and get a job, so I can give us something to live on."

"You're so old-fashioned," she teased, lying back so her head rested on his knee and she could look up into his face and at the stars.

"Absolutely," he agreed with a grin, running his fingers through the hair that lay across his lap like a blanket, watching her finger the new ring on her hand. "But if you want to work, too, I won't stop you."

"I have to talk to Momma about that," she mused. "I've got some ideas, but I bet she'll know the best places to go and people to talk to."

"Probably," he agreed. "But, in the here and now, unless you get up, we're going to have to have charcoal for dinner, instead of nicely-cooked steaks."

Laughing, Merritt sat up, reaching into one of the rucksacks and pulling out plastic plates and two sets of cutlery, her engagement ring sending rainbows of light into the dark world around them.

* * * * * * * * *

Die Fakultat
Berlin, Germany

Peter Winston never knew that this would be the last moment of his life.

Working late, trying to finish the report he was writing so that he could file it away and go home, he looked up only briefly as the café across the road turned off their lights and locked up. It was late. The majority of the security teams would be leaving now, he thought idly, hoping that he had remembered to buy enough TV dinners, the previous Thursday night, that there would be one left for tonight. Then he turned back to his work.

The door opened silently, slowly enough that no draught would disturb the sheets of paper on the desk. The intruder wore a black, figure-hugging outfit, and a ski mask that hid his facial features. His dark eyes glowed with purpose, his fingers tighten around the gun in his hand, the safety already off. He didn't want to give any warning of this. This man had sufficient strength and, in a fight for his life, might just win. The intruder could beat a woman, even one fighting to survive, and even one who could, at her peak of health, have given heart-stopping electric shocks, but he was less certain against a man with as much determination as this one.

The lights from the city outside cast shadows on the carpeted floor, the various hues of the large neon signs muted by the thick, reflective glass. The walls were glass from floor to ceiling, and, in a few hours, would let in the early morning, eastern sunlight. By then, of course, it would shine on a dramatically different scene from this one. Air conditioning hummed softly and incessantly, and it helped to cover any sounds made by the intruder. The computer monitor, too, played its part in blocking out any sounds, either now, or those that would soon follow.

Slowly, the masked man raised the gun, aiming at a point on Peter Winston's temple. Much as he enjoyed torture, this had to be quick. He had only so long before his movements could be noticed, and he had no desire to be caught again. The last time had been close enough, and they wouldn't just handcuff him this time. He knew that only instant death would follow his next capture.

His right index finger tightened around the trigger, the metal molded against the palm of his hand, comfortable in his grasp. A gun was like an old friend to him, and this one had seen him through many occasions since the death of his mother, now more than 25 years past. His breath hitched a little, and then his finger jerked.

The silencer did its intended work, whispering as the bullet left the chamber, followed by the soft, dull thud of Peter Winston's body hitting the desk. Several sheets of paper drifted lazily to the floor. Stepping close to the dead man, the intruder peered at the pages, checking that they were not relevant to him, even as he returned the gun to the holster that hung at his waist, before reaching into his pocket to pull on his leather gloves -- black, of course.

Moving over to the nearest filing cabinet, he pulled out the top drawer, flipping through the clearly labeled files. The office was not so silent now, a trickling of blood onto the scattered pages on the floor providing a background noise to the murderer's search.

Finally, he found what he was seeking and smoothly extracted a file, taking out its contents and folding them neatly, slipping them into his pocket. After returning the folder to its correct place, he gently pushed the drawer, watching it slide shut. Turning, he looked at the man lying on the desk.

Peter Winston's blue eyes were wide, staring blindly. His head had fallen forward onto the report he had been writing, the pen still clutched loosely in his right hand. Blood oozed from two holes in his head, one at each temple, and the bullet had created a hole through the desk and the floor. It appeared death had been instantaneous.

"See, Dad," the black-clad man whispered to the empty office. "I told you I could shoot."

Patting the gun at his waist fondly, he stepped over to the desk and quietly extinguished the lamp. The office was still illuminated by the neon signs, the red of a Coke sign opposite casting strange and ever-moving shadows on the floor. A second later, a black shadow slipped across the floor and opened the office door again. He paused briefly, his dark eyes fixed on the dead man, before the door was pulled to, blocking out the horrific sight.

It shut with a soft click.

End of Movie
Circle of Fire

 
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