Epilogue

 

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Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas

Wednesday 25th November 2022

The kitchen was hot and steamy, the sounds of laughter and eager voices carrying into the hall outside, in spite of the closed doors. For a moment, the woman halted, her hand on the smooth wood, peering in through the glass, seeing the large group working at the various benches. From the outside, it looked like havoc was reigning, but Morgan Charles wasn't fooled. She knew that this group ran like a well-oiled machine in everything they did, and preparing Thanksgiving dinner for such a large number of people would require that sort of organization.

Suddenly the door swung open under her hand and Tempest Arnold's blue eyes twinkled as she looked up to meet Morgan's, before shrieking to make herself heard over the hubbub.

"Aunty Morgan's here!"

The group turned almost as one and rushed to surround the newcomer. Laughing, she handed a bag containing the ingredients she had gone to get to Gabriel, who carried it over to a bench and began quickly sorting and washing the contents as the group gradually returned to their former occupations.

Morgan sat down on a tall stool beside the bench at which her son and daughter were working and watched as they teased each other and competed for their mother's attention. Looking around the room, she saw that Mary Otto was helping her brother and stepbrothers with the final preparations for the pumpkin pies before they were put into the oven.

Gideon and Dominique were making the stuffing for the large turkeys as Tempest, Michaela and Angelique basted them. The three McCarty children were busy with the sweet potato pies, smoothing the marshmallow on the top. Morgan's elder grandchildren were making the bread and cornbread, and Andromeda and Cam's son was busy with the ham.

"Where's your father?" she asked, as Gabriel finished paring the last of the old vegetables, which would be pre-cooked that day in preparation for being roasted the following morning, before starting on those his mother had brought.

The young man glanced at his watch. "He was taking an algebra class until four," Gabriel told her. "He said he'd come over right away after."

"It's nearly that now," Morgan stated, looking at her own watch, "so I might go meet him half way."

Her daughter threw the parer into the sink, which was already half-full of steaming water for the utensils to be rinsed before they were put into the gigantic dishwashers, and came over to slip her hand into her mother's as they left the enormous kitchen.

* * * * * * * * *

Hephaestus School
Dallas, Texas

As Jarod passed the office door, Sydney's voice called him back. The Pretender retraced his steps and entered the room, his hands jammed deep in the pockets of his black jeans.

"What's up?"

Sydney's eyes twinkled as he capped his pen. "When are you going to ask her?"

The younger man rolled his eyes as he sat in the chair opposite. "Whenever I think she'll say 'yes'," he retorted. "You have no idea what your daughter's putting me through. I'm wasting away."

The psychiatrist's eyes moved deliberately up and down the lanky form. "Could've fooled me."

Jarod chuckled. "Actually, I'm taking her out for dinner tonight and I'm hoping she might actually be willing to consider it then."

"I think she will," Sydney confided.

"I hope so," Jarod grumbled. "It's been two full years since I first brought it up. If that's not long enough, I don't know what is."

The younger man rose to his feet and, with a parting nod, left the office. Morgan's office was at the end of the hallway and he hesitated outside the room for a moment before tapping lightly. An annoyed voice called for him to enter and he pushed the door open, poking his head around it.

"What?" she snapped without looking up.

"Your chauffeur's here," he stated, moving into the office and seeing her look up with a somewhat tense smile, although a frown still caused a dent in her brow. He could also see pain in her eyes and stepped up to her desk, moving around behind her chair and starting to gently rub her neck.

"What's so special about tonight?" she murmured, after a soft groan that told him he had found the right place to ease her headache.

"Well, I was planning to take you out to dinner," he proposed.

She tilted her head so that she could look up into his eyes. "Not tonight, huh?" she suggested. "I'm not up to it."

Jarod swallowed his first exclamation of bitter disappointment. He had carefully chosen this night, being the anniversary of Catherine's birthday, as well as two years exactly since he had first asked her and been refused. She had insisted then that they wait, for several reasons. First, to be sure that all threats against the Centre, themselves and the children were gone. Second, that they still felt strongly enough about each other to make it work. And third, until Gabriel and the others were old enough to take part in and enjoy the wedding. Jarod believed that all of those conditions had now been fulfilled and he had been hoping that she would finally agree.

"Well, it is only five o'clock," Morgan went on, perhaps realizing some of his feelings from his silence. "I might be feeling better a little later."

"I guess so." He took her jacket off the nearby stand and slipped it around her shoulders. "Let's go, then."

She slipped a hand around his arm as they walked down the hallway, turning to face him when they got out to the carpark.

"What is it, Jarod? What's so special about tonight?"

He sighed deeply, staring at his feet for a moment, before raising his eyes to meet hers. "It doesn't matter," he murmured softly.

"It obviously does," she retorted sharply, grabbing his upper arms to ensure that he was facing her. "Tell me."

Jarod knew that she would continue to press him until they either argued or he gave her a reason that would satisfy her, and at present, he couldn't think of anything except the truth that would do so. It was hardly the romantic setting he had planned, but after so long, his patience was wearing thin.

"I wanted to ask you to marry me again," he burst out.

He saw her freeze, the shock briefly evident on her face, before her expression dissolved into one of warmth and she smiled, easing up against him, her hands cupping his cheeks as she touched her lips to his.

"Yes," she whispered, before kissing him more passionately.

Blinking, Jarod recalled himself to the present and glanced at the clock on the back wall of the classroom, picking up a sheaf of paper, standing and walking around the room to place one on each of the twelve desks.

"Homework," he announced cheerfully, and the class groaned.

"It's Thanksgiving," a boy protested, pulling a face as he picked up the sheet.

"Which gives you an extra two days to get it done," Jarod retorted, grinning. "Or would you prefer to come in on Friday and do it in class then?"

Before anyone could respond, the bell rang loudly and the group was immediately on its feet, packing their bags.

"Have a good holiday," Jarod offered over the noise as he gathered his things and left the room. His office was above the classroom, so he went up the stairs, avoiding the yelling students, and closed the door behind him.

In the momentary quiet, he looked out of the window to the trees and green stretch of grass, seeing the groups of students cross the lawn to the train and bus stations to go home to their families for the holiday. The street on the other side of the building, he knew, would be full of cars waiting to pick up other students. Within twenty minutes, as always happened just before the weekend, but particularly before a holiday, the school would be all but empty, apart from teaching and cleaning staff.

The Hephaestus School was now 18 years old and was located in a purpose-built building on the other side of the park from the Prometheus Building, the flame logo of which was clearly visible against the gray background as Jarod looked out of the window towards it. The face the school presented to the outside world was as a privately funded organization for highly gifted individuals, but that was only one of its purposes. The most important was a desire that Sebastian had expressed while watching his son learn how to control and direct his pyrokenetic skills.

"I wish," Sebastian had mused, "that I'd had someone to teach me how to do that when I was his age, instead of having to deal with it alone until I was taken to the Centre. And it would have been even better if they were the same as me and knew what they were talking about."

That remark had started off a chain of thought in someone's mind, and the end result had been the decision to create the school, almost a year to the day after Lucian's death. Despite being in the midst of preparing for his wedding, Jarod had agreed to take on the overseeing of its building and development, and had eventually, at the urging of the Prometheus Board, become its director.

The curriculum was that of any school, but students were allocated to classes according to their abilities rather than their ages, although there were limits. No student below the age of 14 was permitted to graduate, as it was felt that they were unlikely to be emotionally ready for college any younger. Instead, they remained at the school, teaching others and gaining experience in fields that interested them. The scheme had proved highly successful.

In addition to the brilliant minds that populated it, other students attended to hone and develop their skills in a variety of areas, including pyrokinesis, telepathy and empathy, in private classes, which ran under pseudonyms, to prevent those not involved from learning what really went on in them. Many of the Prometheus staff took time off in the afternoons to share their experiences with those students who shared their remarkable gifts.

The school had been named shortly before the building was completed, and Jarod had chosen the Greek God Hephaestus, not only because of his physical skills at metal- and other handiwork, and his genius mind, but also because of his physical imperfections. It would, he hoped, be a sign to his students that inner skills were more important than outward appearances. So far, all of the students had learned that lesson. Bullying and teasing were all but unknown at the school, and the few instances that had occurred had been so severely punished that they never happened again.

Jarod sorted his books and replaced them on the shelves that lined his office walls. For once, he would take nothing back to the apartment he shared with his wife. This weekend, he decided, would be one of relaxation. Sitting down, he checked his email and then farewelled his secretary for the long weekend before shrugging into his coat. Looking out of the window again, he smiled at the sight of his wife and younger daughter strolling through the trees and hurried out of the room and down the stairs to meet them.

As he ran down the two flights of stairs, however, his mind drifted back to one of the days in his life that he held as the most special -- his wedding day.

Morgan had never looked more beautiful as when she appeared at the far end of the church, and he forgot all about the collar of his tuxedo, which had been driving him crazy, as he watched her come down the aisle on Sydney's arm, the cream dress accentuating her figure as her blue eyes sparkled.

It seemed to take forever for her to reach him, with the eight Seraphim paired off in front. When the children drew level with him, Jordan and Merritt ushered them into the front row and lifted them onto the high seat. But Jarod saw this only vaguely, his attention fixed on his fiancé as she came to stand next to him. Father Moore cleared his throat and then began the service, most of which was still a blur to Jarod, even at this late stage.

Jarod had seen the smile on Sydney's face when he gave his daughter's hand into that of his former protégé and then retreated to his seat, where his grandchildren immediately scrambled up to sit on his lap. But Morgan had immediately distracted Jarod again with her low spoken answers to Father Moore's questions, and Jarod was recalled to the necessity of answering likewise by a well-timed poke in the back from Sebastian, who, along with Trevor, was acting as groomsman.

It was only after the traditional kiss that things became easier to remember: the return walk down the aisle, the reception and the honeymoon, of sorts, which was merely the few days off work that Sebastian had given Jarod and that Morgan had allowed herself, much of which they spent with Gabriel, Jordan and Merritt, exploring various parts of Dallas, including the museums, zoo and, much to their amusement, a circus that had come to town.

Jarod smiled at the memory as he arrived at the bottom of the stairs and the large double doors that were the school's main entrance, pushing them open and stepping out into the cool, fresh air of late November.

* * * * * * * * *

Morgan watched her daughter greet those students she knew as they came out of the school and crossed the grassy space to the train station. Sitting on one of the benches between the tall trees, her eyes rested fondly on the girl, who had only graduated from the school six months before.

Stephanie Catherine Margaret Charles had come into the world fifteen years earlier, almost three years after her parents' marriage, and her arrival had been totally unexpected. Morgan could still remember the evening she had found out.

She had been feeling unwell for several days, but refused to acknowledge it, continuing to go to work at the Centre's new main office in Dallas. Coming home early one afternoon at her father's insistence, she had fallen asleep in her room, and Elizabeth McCarty had come in to wake her for dinner. When she refused to eat, the nurse left the room, only to return with a small box, which she placed on the bedside table with a secretive half-smile before going away again.

Morgan couldn't help laughing when she saw that it was a pregnancy test. After all, she knew she was unable to have children naturally. The test she'd had at the Centre had proved that. Still, there was no harm in trying…

She was staring in disbelief at the blue line when Jarod had come in, his expression concerned.

"Elizabeth just called. She said there was something important you wanted to tell me."

He had to repeat himself before she took in what he said, turning with the white wand in her hand, which she gently handed to him before bursting into tears.

Eight months later, Stephanie had come into the world. Files Broots had uncovered revealed that Mr. Parker had had the results of the test altered to suggest that she would be unable to ever conceive, to ensure that she wouldn't suspect Gabriel was her son. When she had moved to Dallas, Jarod had changed the medication she had been taking for her ulcer, and it was thought that that might have had something to do with her pregnancy, but no one could say for sure.

Morgan looked up as movement from across the park caught her eye in time to see Jarod come out of the school building and their daughter run across to greet him. Standing, she strolled over to meet him halfway along one of the paths, returning his kiss.

"I can smell that food from here," he greeted her enthusiastically, and Stephanie giggled.

"We haven't even started cooking it properly, Daddy!" she teased.

"Then I must be so hungry that I'm remembering how good it smelled last year," Jarod laughed, sliding his arm around the girl's shoulders as Morgan did the same on Stephanie's other side and the trio strolled towards the Prometheus Building.

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Dallas, Texas

Jordan glanced in through the small glass square in the door and saw the young man lying on his stomach with his feet in the air, avidly reading a book from the shelves that lined his room. This was Pedro, the animal-like child he had eventually encouraged into more human behaviour. But he was still fearful of the world he had never seen, refusing to go out in it, so much so that they had eventually been forced to sedate him for the flight to Texas. Jordan didn't want to leave him behind when the Centre's headquarters were moved to Dallas, but at the same time he didn't want to stay in Blue Cove when his fiancé and family were at Sanctuary. Eventually, Pedro had been transferred to the new facility and put into a room exactly like that in which he had lived in Delaware, although this was not 27 levels below ground.

Despite his fear, he read as much as he could about the world it seemed like he would never be willing to see. Jordan was determined, however, and although he wouldn't push the boy too far, he was already planning Pedro's gradual introduction to the outside world. Not that he breathed a word to the young man, of course.

He pulled open the door, seeing Pedro turn at once and smile as he shut the book.

"Hi, Jordan."

"What are you reading?" Jordan sat down on the side of the bed, accepting the book as Pedro offered it to him. "Journey To The Center Of The Earth. Jules Verne." He grinned, remembering how much he had enjoyed that book when he and his father had begun their own book club. "Do you like it?"

"Oh, yeah," the 26-year-old enthused. "It's great. Maybe a little unrealistic, though," Pedro offered after a moment of thought, and Jordan nodded in agreement.

"Verne had a pretty good imagination," he admitted. "Have you read any others of his?"

"I don't think so." Pedro's eyes gleamed eagerly. "Would you be able to lend me some of his others?"

"I'll see what I can do," the older man promised. "But I won't be here tomorrow -- that's really what I'm here to tell you now -- so I'll get them to you on Friday, okay?"

Pedro's head tilted to one side, his expression curious. "How come you're not coming then?"

"Tomorrow's Thanksgiving," Jordan told him. "I gave you a book about traditions and holidays, you remember?"

"Oh, yeah!" The young man nodded eagerly. "All about Christmas, and presents, and…"

"Do you want to come and have Thanksgiving with us tomorrow?" Jordan asked suddenly, the question taking him as much by surprise as it obviously did Pedro.

The former subject's eyes widened again, filling with obvious fear as he shook his head and shrank back against the bed.

"Okay, never mind," Jordan assured him, patting him lightly on one arm. "I'll see you Friday then, huh?"

Rising, he walked over to the door, cursing silently that he had, by one question, possibly undone months of work. He decided to talk the matter over with his father, who had always taken a keen interest in Pedro's progress, as soon as he had seen his wife and children.

* * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas

Yuri stripped off his gloves and lifted the protective goggles that covered his eyes as the liquid in front of him stopped boiling.

"If we leave that for the night," he stated to the blond-haired man working on the same bench, "it should congeal enough for us to get the synthesized albumen. Then we'll see if it's effective."

Alexander nodded and made a note on the writing pad beside him, while Yuri checked that the gas was turned off and everything else was secure. Turning off the lights, they locked the door and headed for the stairs, Alexander running up to his room and his own laboratory to finish one of his current experiments, and Yuri heading up to the kitchens, where he assumed his daughter and her friends would still be busy.

Most of those employees and residents of the building who had family to visit had left earlier that morning, and the strict routine that was usually a major part of life there would now be relaxed for the coming four days.

Yuri's finger hesitated over the button for the floor on which the kitchen was located, but a mood of nostalgia swept over him and he hit that for the topmost floor within the actual building instead. The ride took only a moment, and the doors silently slid open, revealing the familiar lobby. The four doors all stood open and he moved to the closest, hesitating briefly on the threshold before entering it.

This was his room, where he had lived for the first few months after being transferred here from the Centre. It had taken the combined efforts of Jarod, Sydney and Emily to convince him that he deserved to move into one of the rooms on the residence level. Even now, he still had moments of wondering about that decision, but it had been made a long time ago and things had moved on quickly from that time.

The rooms up here had all been converted into guest rooms, the objects that had formerly been stored in them moved to the massive former greenhouse, which had been cleared of Jordan's plants after his interest had shifted to his work and family, leaving him little time for his former hobbies. A new wing had been built at the rear of the building, containing apartments of varying sizes for the residents, while the former apartments were converted into new laboratories and offices. Pele had expanded its organization after Lucian's death, and all available space was now taken up. The board had even begun discussions about the possibility of building another set of offices nearby.

Yuri closed the door behind himself, aware that the room was presently unoccupied, and seeing that the furnishings were the same as when he had lived in the room, now many years earlier. He sat on the sofa, looking around, remembering his last day as inhabitant of this apartment.

He was working on the latest projects that had been sent from Blue Cove, trying to forget the previous day, when he had been down in the playroom with his daughter. He heard a knock on his door and rose immediately from his chair, turning to face the entrance.

"Come in."

The tall Australian was framed in the doorway for a moment before closing the door behind him and inhaling deeply as he turned to the Pretender.

"We have to talk."

Yuri felt a quiver a fear in his stomach at the man's solemn tone, believing that he was about to be told to pack his things and go to Delaware. Realization flooded through Yuri with such suddenness that he almost gasped: he didn't want to leave. He wanted to stay here with the little girl who obviously loved him so deeply, even if she would never know who he really was, and who was fast becoming one of the dearest things in his life. He was about to beg the other man to reconsider when Sebastian spoke again.

"I think Michaela knows who you are." He sighed deeply. "Yesterday's events proved that to me. I know," he continued, cutting Yuri off before he could utter the denial that had leaped to the tip of his tongue, "that you didn't have anything to do with it, and I don't blame you."

There was a moment of painful, awkward silence.

"I didn't trust you at first," Sebastian confessed suddenly. "When Jarod first asked for you to be transferred here, I believed you'd do whatever you could to see Michaela, and maybe even tell her who you are, but you didn't. Your behaviour has exceeded anything I could have imagined. I don't know," he admitted candidly, "if I could have shown that sort of restraint."

"She's your daughter," Yuri offered hesitantly, believing that it was what the other man wanted to hear.

"No," Sebastian met his gaze steadily, "she's not. She's yours. I think it's time she knew that, too." His head tilted slightly to one side. "She doesn't even call me 'Daddy' anymore. As of today, she's calling me 'Unca 'Bastian', just like all the other kids do, except Gideon and Dominique."

Yuri was speechless, although he knew Sebastian was waiting for a response. He didn't know the right response to give. Did Sebastian want him to volunteer to leave? But Jarod's words echoed in his ears: 'If you stay here, Michaela will pursue you. If you leave, she'll miss you. Maybe so much that she'd run away to find you…' If that were true, and what Sebastian was telling him seemed to confirm it, would it be fair to the girl if he were just to disappear?

Sebastian seemed to realize the Pretender's dilemma, because he didn't wait for a response. "I'd like you to consider staying, permanently," he offered. "I've already spoken to Morgan and she says the choice is yours."

Yuri's mind was whirling with the offer that had just been made to him and his uncertainty about accepting it.

"This isn't about you," the Australian reminded him quietly. "It's about her."

Before Yuri could respond to this, however, the apartment door flew open and the dark-haired girl who had been the subject of their discussion ran in, tears streaming down her face. She threw herself at her biological father, sobbing loudly.

"Yuri!" she wailed tearfully, hugging his legs, seeming not to notice the other man. "I fall down!"

The Pretender looked up at his visitor immediately, but Sebastian's attention was on the blond girl hovering in the doorway, so Yuri dared to sit down at his desk and take the weeping child onto his lap, where she immediately buried her face in his chest, her chest heaving.

"What are you doing here, Tempest?" Sebastian queried, lifting the other child onto his lap as he sat in one of the armchairs.

"Kayla wanted Yuri, Unca 'Bastian," the girl explained. "But she can't open the doors, so I had to come, too." She sighed as she nestled into his lap. "'S a long way up."

Yuri saw the other man nod as Michaela's tears gradually dried up, but she remained snuggled against him, clutching the sleeve of his Centre-issue shirt in her hands. He could see the little red mark on her forehead, evidence of the reason she had come looking for him.

"She knows," Sebastian murmured, in a voice just loud enough for Yuri to hear.

The girl on his lap looked up at him out of dark eyes, so like his, framed by wet lashes. "Will you kiss it all better?" she begged. "Den it won' hurt so bad."

Yuri glanced at Sebastian, seeing him nod, a tiny smile on his face. The Pretender's greatest fear was that he would hurt this fragile body on his lap, and he held his breath as he leaned forward to lightly brush his lips to the place on her forehead where the pink spot had been, and which had already faded. This was, he thought, the most delicate motion he had ever made, in a body more used to causing pain, and also suffering it. But Sydney had told him that he could learn something from every person he came in contact with during his lifetime. Maybe the awareness of that sense of fragility and innocence was what he would learn from his daughter.

She beamed as he drew back, hugging him vigorously around his neck and kissing him warmly, wetly, on one cheek. The light touch on his rough skin, with the stain of his actions that he felt he could never scrub away, no matter how hard he tried, caused his eyes to fill with hot tears as his arms tightened around her. Michaela regarded him in concern for a moment, her little fingers gripping his sleeve more tightly, before turning to the other man, a note of panic in her voice.

"Unca 'Bastian, my Yuri's crying!"

The use of the possessive term threatened the last of Yuri's self-control, and it was only his long years of Raines' harsh training that allowed him to blink back his tears and swallow the lump in his throat.

"It's okay, Kayla," Sebastian soothed. "He'll be all right in a minute."

Yuri felt a tear escape his eye and begin to slip down his cheek, but before he could wipe it away, a small hand brushed it away, and his daughter, standing on his lap, nestled even closer to him, her cheek pressed to his.

"'S'okay, Yuri," she murmured in a motherly tone, cuddling him around the neck. "I's here."

"I know," he responded, his voice a soft, low, emotion-filled growl, suddenly feeling unable to ever let her go, wanting this moment to last forever.

He felt something burning in his chest, an emotion more powerful than the strongest he had ever felt in his life until this moment: hate, anger, guilt, and that one shining star -- love. But this was something else, and he had no way of putting a name to it. It sat heavy, making his heart feel as if it would burst, but not with the terrible weight of guilt. It was warm in his chest, making him almost light-headed, and caused such a mixture of emotions that he wanted to laugh and cry at one and the same moment.

Sebastian suddenly stood up in a decisive movement, Tempest still in his arms. "Let's go down to the playroom," he suggested, "and have a game of hide-and-seek."

"Oooh goody," Michaela squealed, bouncing on Yuri's knee in delight, her tears already forgotten. Scrambling down, she grabbed his hand and tried to pull him to his feet. "Come on, Yuri! Come an' play, too"

Yuri felt panic fill him at the suggestion and looked at the man who, if he remained here, would be his boss. But Sebastian's smile was encouraging in response, and the Pretender stood up, letting his daughter drag him out of the room to the elevator.

He had returned to the room to find his things being packed into boxes, and Jarod appeared the next moment to tell him that they were preparing a room for him on the residence level. It had taken hours before he could be persuaded to accept it, but he had finally done so, eventually persuaded by the argument of how much easier it would be for his daughter to find him if he was closer to the playroom.

"Daddy?"

Yuri looked around to find his daughter in the doorway and held out a hand to her. She came over and nestled close to him on the sofa.

"How did you know where I was?" he asked.

"Tempest told me." She kissed his cheek. "What's wrong?"

"Just reminiscing, honey," he assured her.

"But you never look happy when you're doing that," she protested, sitting up so she could look at his face. "You looked like you were going to cry before! Why don't you look happy?"
"Because my life wasn't very happy," he admitted. "Not until I met you and Emily."

"So why don't you think about the happy things?" she pursued. "Like all the stuff we did together." Her eyes suddenly lit up. "Want to know my best memory?"

He smiled in response. "Tell me, baby."

"I don't know if it was the first time," she began, her head tilted slightly to one side, a small smile curling her lips, "but I was sitting on your lap on my bed and you were reading to me." She sighed happily, snuggling up against him. "Any time I ever feel worried or scared, I think about that time and I know it'll be okay 'cause I've got you looking out for me, and if I've got problems, I can talk to you or Emily about them."

"Yes, you can," he agreed softly, pressing his lips to her dark hair. "And that was a very special time for me, too, honey. You've taught me a lot, you know."

"Well, you made me what I am," she told him firmly, with a warm hug. "You taught me all about life and how to treat it."

Yuri thought affectionately of Sydney, who had taught him the necessary morals and ethics for him to feel sure enough about himself to guide his daughter. This would be the third Thanksgiving without the psychiatrist, who had passed away after a short illness.

"You taught me something else, too," Michaela suddenly giggled, and Yuri raised an eyebrow as he looked down at her.

"What?"

"You taught me how to make the best apple cider in the whole world!" she laughed, jumping to her feet and pulling him upright. "Come on, Daddy. Come help me make some."

He let her guide him out of the room and down the stairs to the hot, steamy kitchen, where the other occupants greeted them enthusiastically as they began to prepare the drink.

* * * * * * * * *

Sebastian closed the folder containing some of the reports about organizations within the Pele umbrella and passed it back to his son, who had taken over management, with the help of the other seven Seraphim, three years earlier, on Gideon's 21st birthday.

"You're doing a great job, son," he affirmed. "I'm proud of you."

Gideon beamed as he gathered the papers together. "Thanks, Dad."

The man hugged his son and watched him leave the room, pride swelling in his heart at what the young man had become. He and Sumi had made the decision years earlier, before they ever even knew about Gideon, that they wouldn't have children, not wanting to pass on Sebastian's potentially deadly skill onto anyone else. But he knew how much Sumi had always regretted not being a mother. When Gideon and the other children had arrived, that longing for a child of her own had increased, but the realization of what their children would suffer because of the operation that would have been unavoidable had reaffirmed their decision as the correct one.

The Centre's training still lingered in one respect. Gideon had insisted on Gabriel sharing control of Pele with him, and Gabriel was still the final court of appeal for the other seven. His word was law, and he had been carefully trained to ensure that his judgment would be as fair and just as possible.

Meantime, Sebastian still oversaw the company as a whole, as his father had done for him, and gave advice when it was required. He also took an active role in Jarod's school, teaching not only control of pyrokinesis but also swimming classes at the Prometheus pool. Occasionally, he also sat in on the art classes that Keely taught at the school.

Sebastian and Sumi had debated for a long time whether to tell Keely the truth about Gideon, but all of those who had been involved with the Centre had known how painful it was to have the truth concealed from them. There was also the fear that Gideon would one day unwittingly reveal the fact to her. So, one morning, a week after Lucian's death, Sebastian had sat down with his sister for a talk.

As usual, Gideon had been happily playing with his 'sister' when Sebastian finished work and came to look for her. They both looked up as he entered and Gideon scrambled to his feet to hug his father's legs.

"I beated Keely in Memory," he announced proudly, and Sebastian swung him up into his arms for a hug.

"That's very good, honey," the man replied, kissing his son's round cheek. "Now, will you go and play with the others. I want to talk to Keely."

"Uh huh." Gideon nodded enthusiastically and ran out of the room, heading for the elevator.

When it was realized how often the children were going to come up to the residence level to visit family and friends, and after Michaela's disappearance, security staff had been hired to stand by the elevators on both the playroom and residence levels to put the children into the lifts and make sure that they arrived safely.

Keely looked up at her brother as Gideon disappeared. "What is it, Sebastian?"

He sat down on the floor beside her, finding it difficult to choose his words now that the moment had arrived. She immediately snuggled up against him, and he slid an arm around her shoulders. After her recovery from her Aurora addition, Keely had shown a strong streak of affection and a desire for love that Sebastian had been happy to provide. Even after her relationship with John Smith had become a permanent fixture, she still sought affection from her brother and sister-in-law.

"I want to talk to you… about Gideon," he began slowly.

Keely only nodded, her bright eyes fixed on his face, watching him curiously.

"Do you remember when we were talking about what the Centre did, and how terrible some of the projects they had in mind were?" he queried, hoping that trying it from a different angle would be easier.

"Of course I do," she replied somewhat impatiently. "Look, whatever it is, Sebastian, just tell me, okay?"

"Gideon isn't just your nephew, Keely," he burst out, seeing the immediate shock in her eyes.

A long moment of silence followed this, before her eyes slowly dimmed and then filled with tears, which spilled over in streams down her cheeks. He gathered her hands in his, feeling her cling to him in obvious desperation, before she laid her face against his shoulder and began to sob.

"He's… my son?" she whispered, flinging her arms around him, and he clutched her tightly as she wept.

"Yes, honey," he whispered gently in her ear, holding her close to him. "Your son and mine. They wanted to make sure that he inherited the pyrokenetic ability. They didn't care about anything else, you and me included."

She nodded against his shoulder, and for several minutes there was no sound except her crying, but the sobs slowly became less frequent. Finally, when she lifted her head, her eyes were red but no longer full of tears. Sebastian kissed his cheek, pulling her even closer to him.

"I know, baby," he murmured. "I know how you feel. I felt the same way when I first learned about him -- and about you. I know how much it hurts, what they did. But Gideon isn't going to be able to understand that, and he always knows when you're upset."

Keely wiped the back of her hand across her nose and Sebastian pulled his handkerchief out of his pocket, pressing it into her hand, keeping his other arm around her shoulders. He waited for a few moments, until she had calmed down further, before beginning to speak again.

"You don't have to change the way you treat him," he told her quietly, as she snuggled against his chest, his free hand gently stroking her hair. "The only reason I thought it was best to tell you was in case he worked it out. So many of the children have their biological parents with them now that he might have done so, and I didn't want you to have to figure it out in front of the children, or on your own. But you don't have to be his mother, Keely. Sumi can keep fulfilling that role. You just need to be aware that he obviously knows there's a strong connection and one day he might realize the truth of what that really is."

"A… are you going to tell him?" she hiccupped.

"No, honey," Sebastian assured her. "There's no benefit to that. He loves you already, and it won't make much difference to him whether you're his mother or his sister. Besides, you'll need time to get used to what's happened. If you ever feel ready and you want him to know, then you can tell him. Otherwise, you can simply always be his sister and Sumi and I can continue in our roles as his parents, like we do for Dominique."

She nodded, taking deeper breaths in an obvious effort to calm herself. Sebastian kissed her hair, thankful, as he did so, that the medication stifling the pyrokenetic effects allowed him to offer this sort of comfort.

"I don't want things to change -- not yet," she murmured. "Not all at once."

"It doesn't have to, darling," her brother assured her gently. "Only when you're ready. And if you never are, and Gideon never realizes, then that's okay, too."

Keely nodded again, staring at the floor. Sebastian slid a gentle finger under her chin, lifting her head so that he could look into her eyes.

"John will need to know about this," he stated softly. "He'll need to know why you're upset. Will you tell him, or do you want me to?"

"C… can you?" she begged, gasping suddenly for air, and the man nodded.

"Of course, baby." He kissed her forehead, feeling her arms clutch him around the neck. "But for now I think you need some time to think about this, and maybe a nap."

Standing, he lifted his sister into his arms, putting her down on the bed and pulling up a blanket that was folded at the feet to cover her, before gently smoothing her hair and kissing her cheek.

"I'll go and tell him," he told her quietly, leaving the room to find his sister's boyfriend and fill him in on the situation.

Gideon had never realized the truth, and Keely always shrank from telling him, so they had grown up as aunt and niece rather than mother and son. Sebastian had always been in two minds about the truth, but he couldn't push things any further than Keely was willing to go. Particularly after John had been killed in a fight with the man who had apparently murdered Mimi, she had been less willing to take on the responsibility of motherhood, and had depended on her brother so much that he doubted whether she was ready for the burdens it brought with it.

Making a final note in the book he studiously kept about Pele's progress, Sebastian returned it to the bookshelf where it belonged and then left the apartment he and Sumi shared, heading for the massive dining room in the original building where the tables were already being set for the next day.

* * * * * * * * *

Dallas Cemetery

Jarod watched his wife lay the roses gently on her father's grave and lightly touch the gravestone before she rose to her feet and then eased into his arms, as Jarod swallowed a lump in his throat. He pulled her gently against him, stroking her hair. The man's eyes traveled to the stone next to it, on which Michelle's details were inscribed. She had lost her life in a car accident only a year after Sydney's death, in which Nicholas had also perished, and that was a pain that was only slowly fading. Jarod's gaze dwelled lovingly on his brother's headstone, beside that of Michelle, before traveling back to his wife's face, and he brushed a tear off her cheek as she reached up to kiss him.

"We'll be okay," he murmured, and saw her nod before she rested her head against his chest.

"I know," she sighed. "But sometimes it still hurts so much."

"Yes, it does," he agreed softly. "But he's happy now, and with your mother. Catherine told you that."

She nodded again, taking his hand and, with a farewell glance, walking back along the path to the main gates where the car was parked. They drove in silence for several minutes before Morgan turned to the man in the driver's seat.

"Are we going home or do we have things to buy?"

"Not unless you can think of anything." Jarod reached out to lightly squeeze her hand. "Can you?"

"There was a beautiful dress in the baby shop that Merritt was sighing over a few weeks ago, just before Isabel was born, but she didn't want to buy it until she was sure that her daughter would survive."

Her smile dimmed at the memory of the tension of the past few weeks, when Jordan and Merritt's youngest child had been born, almost two months premature and had struggled to survive. It was only in the last few days that her life was more certain, allowing those closest to her to breathe somewhat easier.

Jarod turned the car onto the highway that led to the center of Dallas and the West End shopping district, finding a parking spot close to the store and following his wife inside. Fortunately, the dress was still there, and Morgan had it wrapped and paid for within a few brisk moments. They lingered for a moment longer, but nothing else was really required, so they headed back through the busy streets to the car.

* * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas

Gabriel hesitated in the doorway of the infirmary, seeing Raphael leaning over the small bed in which baby Isabel lay, his hands resting on the infant's head and chest. The healer's eyes were closed and his breathing was quick and light, obviously pouring all of his healing energy into the frail body, but after a moment he looked up, apparently unsurprised to see Gabriel.

"Did you want something?" he asked softly, but the younger man shook his head.

"Nothing specific. Just wondering where you were," he replied equally quietly. Approaching the small bed in which the baby lay, Gabriel lightly touched his niece's cheek. "Where's Merritt?"

"The twins wanted her for something, and as I was here, I said I'd wait until she came back. She should be here in a couple of minutes."

Gabriel smiled at the thought of his nephews, identical twins who had come into the world a year after Merritt and Jordan's marriage. They were almost eleven, and their younger sister was eight. Isabel was the latest member of the family, and an unexpected but very welcome addition.

Suddenly two arms wrapped around Gabriel in a firm hug and he turned to find Merritt standing behind him. He kissed the cheek that had briefly been pressed against his. Merritt was now as dear to Gabriel as Jordan, and the affection was warmly reciprocated.

Merritt turned to her baby, lightly stroking the thin mop of dark hair on the disproportionately large head.

"In a day or two, she should be able to come off the respirator," Raphael told her softly. "Her lungs are getting stronger very fast."

"Thanks to you," Merritt murmured, gratefully kissing the young man's cheek.

Raphael smiled shyly and Gabriel spoke up with the message he had for his sister to save his friend any further embarrassment.

"Elizabeth told me she arranged for people to be here all day tomorrow so you and Jordan can come up for Thanksgiving with everyone else."

Merritt smiled at him. "She told me she was going to, and I'll certainly be there for the meals, but I'm not sure yet about the rest of the day. It'll depend how Isabel is."

"But the boys and Anna will want you there to watch Macy's Thanksgiving Parade with them, like you usually do," Gabriel protested.

"This isn't a usual year," Merritt reminded him gently. "And I think they understand that. Besides, they'll have just as much fun watching it with you and the others. I heard that Sebastian brought in a massive screen to be put into the nursery and most people will be watching it there."

Gabriel nodded, lightly squeezing his sister's hand. "I'll go see what they're up to," he volunteered quietly. "And I'll make sure they understand about tomorrow."

The woman nodded, pulling him into a gentle hug before taking her place beside the bed in which her baby lay, and Gabriel and Raphael left the room.

* * * * * * * * *

"Dad?"

Jarod looked up from the tests he was grading to find his son in the doorway and grinned, waving him inside as he capped his pen. "Hey, Jordan. I've barely seen you for the past few days."

"I need your advice," the younger man said as he closed the door, coming straight to the point, as was his wont. "It's about Pedro."

His father nodded and waved his son towards the sofa, taking a seat opposite. "Tell me."

Jordan explained the scene from earlier that day, as well as his own concerns and the progress that had been achieved up to that point. Jarod complimented him on his achievements and then sat silent for a moment, contemplating.

"Personally," he stated, "I don't think you'll have caused much damage, if any. He's too attached to you to refuse to speak or anything else he might have done with someone he knew less well. Think about what he was like when he realized he'd been moved. That would have been a good opportunity, if he'd needed one, to refuse to work with you anymore. He didn't do that, and I don't see this as being any more serious."

His son brightened considerably at this, but a deeply thoughtful expression persisted in his eyes. "So what next?" he asked. "I've got my own ideas, of course, but I'd like to hear what you think."

Jarod nodded. "Firstly," he began, "don't take this the wrong way, Jordan. It's not a comment on your skills -- goodness knows, they're very admirable -- but I think you're being a little too gentle with him. Certainly, you've got him to trust you, and that's always the biggest step, but I think it's time you moved past the 'softly, softly' approach and acted more decisively. After all, this is now, if it wasn't before, what I believe to be a relatively straightforward case of agoraphobia. I doubt if Pedro would be able to remember his early years at the Centre -- after all, he was only six when you started working with him -- so they're unlikely to be influencing him, and now I'd suggest his actions are as much habit as anything."

"Fear of open places," Jordan mused thoughtfully. "I guess he is showing pretty typical signs of that."

"If it were me," Jarod told him, "I'd start making more definite moves. Get him out of that room, for starters, even if it's only moving him into another one. But get him used to variety. I've got a few books on phobias if you want to glance over them. I was doing some reading on it myself only a couple of weeks ago."

"He won't like it," the younger man proposed.

"No, he won't," Jarod agreed. "But it's for his own good. It's not healthy for him to spend his life in that room, no matter what he might think. You're the only person who can make him change his ways, and I think you should." He suddenly grinned. "You'll succeed, son. I know it."

"How?" Jordan looked doubtful. "How can you know that for sure?"

His father laughed. "Trevor told me," he admitted, pulling a book on the coffee table closer to him and opening it at the relevant page. "Should we start planning what you're going to do next?"

* * * * * * * * *

Trevor left the noisy dining room and headed for his apartment, in which his wife was probably still asleep after her usual night's work, although she now sometimes alternated the task with their daughters, who had inherited Elizabeth's skill. Intriguingly, their son remained unaffected in that way, having instead developed psychic abilities to a greater extent than his sisters. Research had shown that the gene carrying the dream-catching ability was active only in women, although the reason for this was unclear. This discovery had prompted others and research into the hereditary characteristics of all those abilities at Sanctuary was now under investigation.

After Gideon and his friends were given control of Pele, Trevor had given up his position to Uriel, although he, like Sebastian, continued to act in an advisory role, and accepted a job Jarod had offered him to work at the Hephaestus school, teaching the four main sciences, thereby fulfilling one of his childhood ambitions. Patrick had passed away almost ten years earlier, but the reconciliation that had occurred between the two men meant that the pain of Trevor's loss was easier, aided by the knowledge that Patrick had lived long enough to see his three grandchildren born, and for them to have a memory of him.

Elizabeth was already awake, but still in bed. She looked up as her husband came in and smiled, shutting the book she had been reading and wriggling over so that there was space for him to sit down.

"Are you getting up soon?" he queried, and she grinned.

"If I can't persuade you to join me here."

Trevor chuckled softly and leaned forward to kiss her. "I can't, much as I'd love to," he murmured against her lips. "The kids sent me up to bring you down as soon as you were awake. They want your help with something."

She nodded and kissed him one final time before getting up. But before she could even begin to change, the door of their room flew open and three excited young people burst in, surrounding their mother and yelling at the tops of their voice.

"Okay, all right," she shrieked over the noise. "Let me hear myself think!"

There was a temporary silence and she looked proudly at her children, two of whom were taller than she was, and the third now the same height. Elizabeth's eyes traveled to her husband, who was also a head or more taller, and she rolled her eyes.

"I'm surrounded by giants," she proclaimed. "I feel like I should hide in bed until you've all stopped growing, so I know what I'll have to live with."

"Oh no, you don't," her 16-year-old son Jason declared, grabbing her hand before she could fulfill her threat. "We want you to help us make ice cream for tomorrow. If we start it now, it should be frozen by the time it's ready to eat."

"Please, Mom," thirteen-year-old Megan begged, grabbing her other hand and pulling her towards the door.

"But I'm not even dressed," Elizabeth protested.

Nineteen-year-old Elinor lunged for the wardrobe and pulled out an old pullover and shirt, hunting out a pair of her mother's pants, before bundling them and a clean set of underwear into her arms and pushing her gently in the direction of the bathroom.

"You've got ten minutes, Mom," she announced, "and then we'll come in after you."

"I'm terrified," the woman remarked drily, her eyes dancing, and then shut the door. But she hurried and was ready by the time her daughters came into the bathroom to check on her.

"What kind of ice cream are we making?" she asked as they headed into the original building and the massive kitchen, seeing that the equipment was already waiting on the benches.

"Mostly sorbets and fruit flavors," Megan replied. "We've already got lots of the normal kinds."

Elizabeth checked over the fruits that were to hand and sent her husband out for bananas before rolling up her sleeves and starting on the first batch, ably assisted by her children.

* * * * * * * * *

Morgan quietly entered the room where her youngest grandchild lay to find Merritt asleep in the chair beside the bed, with Elizabeth beside her. The Australian woman looked up and greeted her with a smile as she entered.

"How's she doing?" Morgan murmured.

"Isabel's gaining almost every hour," the nurse responded softly. "But I gave Merritt something to help her sleep and I'm going to have her taken to her room. She hasn't slept properly since Isabel was born, and, if she keeps going like this, she'll break down. Ah, here we are," she continued as the door opened and Jordan and Jarod appeared with a wheelchair.

The two men gently eased the sleeping woman into the wheelchair and Morgan followed it down the hall, turning back the bed in Jordan and Merritt's apartment and gently removing the young woman's top as Jarod left the room. Changing her into a nightgown only took a few minutes and then Jarod returned to help his son lift Merritt onto the bed, where she was covered warmly. After a moment of watching her, Morgan and her husband left the room, heading for their own.

"She'll be okay," Jarod assured her, slipping his arm around her waist, and Morgan guessed that her concern about her daughter had shown on her face. "After a good night's sleep, she'll be fine."

She nodded, curling up in a corner of the sofa, and Jarod sat down next to her, gently easing her head over onto his shoulder. For a moment they sat there in silence before Jarod looked down at her, and she could see the anxiety in his eyes.

"I think this has affected you as badly as it has them."

"I kept thinking about what it would do to them, if Isabel died," Morgan replied softly. "It was such an awful…"

"Hey, it didn't," Jarod reminded her, as tears filled her eyes. "I know it's been a difficult couple of weeks, but she's getting stronger and, unless something totally unexpected happens, she'll grow up normally."

"Are you sure?" the woman pleaded, and Jarod nodded solemnly.

"I've been keeping an eye on things, and she's doing much better this past week." He slid a finger under her chin and lifted her face so that he could look into her eyes. "You know I wouldn't lie to you, Morgan. I never have."

"I know." She nestled closer to him, resting her head on his shoulder and hearing his heartbeat in her ear.

"And when Merritt's had a good night's sleep," he went on, "she'll be better, too. Truth be known, I've been more worried about her than Isabel sometimes. She's too imaginative for her own good, and I know she's been picturing worst-cast-scenarios."

She nodded speechlessly, knowing that he was right on both points. Morgan was like her father in his matter-of-factness, rather than Catherine's more fanciful imagination, which Merritt had, of course, inherited. Jordan, naturally, had Jarod's steadiness and had been trained in pushing his emotions aside when required, a skill that continued to be useful.

"I know you're worried," Jarod stated softly, his voice a low growl as it reverberated in his chest and her ear, "but you can't let anyone else know that, not right now. Tomorrow's Thanksgiving and we have to make sure the kids don't realize how serious it is. They're going to know there's something wrong if you go around the whole day looking like your world's about to fall in."

Morgan nodded, snuggling closer to him on the sofa, looking at the screen that showed the dark sky, with the few stars visible between the clouds shining silver.

"What say we have an early night?" Jarod suggested softly, his fingers running through her hair. "We're going to get woken up pretty early tomorrow -- and there'll be lots to do then, to give you other things to think about."

She lifted her head off his chest to kiss him, eventually sitting up and moving onto his lap, feeling one of his arms slide under her knees and the other take a firm hold behind her shoulders.

"You have no hope," she told him, and he arched an eyebrow.

"Of what?"

"Lifting me." She forced a grin, twirling a lock of his gray hair around her index finger. "Poor old man."

He chuckled. "'Poor old man' maybe, but I still work out every day. I'm as fit as I was the day you married me."

She gasped as he stood up, swinging her into his arms, and Morgan couldn't help tightening her hold around his neck, while he laughed.

"I told you so," he teased, carrying her into their bedroom and shutting the door with a backward kick.

"You always were a show-off," she told him as he put her on the bed and turned to get their night attire out of the wardrobe where it was kept during the day. He winked over his shoulder at her.

"And I won't even bother denying it."

She laughed as he went into the bathroom, wriggling out of the shirt and top she'd worn to work and pulling on the nightgown before wriggling in between the sheets. When he returned to the bedroom, he removed his own work clothes and pulled on the boxer shorts and t-shirt while she watched admiringly.

"You certainly still have a hot bod," she declared admiringly. "Maybe you were right in what you said."

He pulled her against him so that she could feel the taut muscles of his chest and stomach against her body. "I told you, Morgan," he reminded her, smiling as he moved in for a kiss, "I'll never lie to you."

* * * * * * * * *

Thursday 26th November 2022

The young members of the group were still exclaiming over the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade when they gathered around the tables that held the remains of lunch to nibble on the leftovers, not that there were many of those. The men were eagerly discussing the Dallas Cowboy's victory, while the women exchanged recipes, spoke about fashion or any of the other hundreds of things women find to talk about when they gather together, even if they see each other every day.

Angelique stood a little apart, watching these discussions and allowing herself to feel the waves of emotion. On this day, unlike many others, there were few negative or painful feelings to be found and she felt safe enough to let herself relax her usually tight control a little, as she could only otherwise do around her father or Elizabeth.

She saw Uriel stroll over to turn on the stereo, and several young couples immediately moved out onto the floor to dance. Several minutes later, a number of the men strolled up to their wives and partners, drawing them over to the corner in which the dancing was taking place. Angelique smiled as she saw Yuri approach his wife, bow deeply from the waist and, as she laughed, pull her out onto the floor. They were both excellent dancers, and there were only two people in the room who could outdo them. Angelique sought out Morgan, eyeing the woman's body-hugging red dress, which only accentuated her figure, and saw her look up in time to meet Jarod's gaze, nodding and smiling as he meaningfully raised an eyebrow.

"You know I love dancing," Angelique heard her say as they passed. "What took you so long?"

"Well, you seemed to be having so much fun," he teased, guiding her across the room. Angelique saw him meet Tempest's eye and then heard the music change to something slower, watching as he pulled his wife close. Morgan's arms worked their way around his neck and her eyes seemed to bore into his as they began to sway.

Angelique saw Gideon lead his sister out onto the dance floor, Dominique's dark eyes shining with fun, as more and more couples joined the activity, with eventually only a few people standing around, watching, as she was. But suddenly a hand tapped her shoulder and she looked around to find Gabriel standing behind her.

"Like to dance?" he suggested, and she smiled, nodding.

"I'd love to."

Angelique knew it was a relief to Jarod, among others, that none of the Seraphim had shown any propensity to pair off. There had been problems, caused by their specialized genetic heritage, which had come close to being fatal on some occasions, but fortunately they had been overcome without loss of life. But there was a fraternal closeness between all eight individuals, providing them with a unique support network as they went through life, in which their skills complimented each other. It also made for a formidable business partnership, as more than one company had discovered, to their cost.

She leaned against the young man's chest as the music remained slow, feeling his arms around her shoulders, watching her aunt and uncle dance several feet away.

"Mom's not happy," Gabriel murmured. "How come?"

Angelique looked up, blue eyes sparkling with mischief. Her training had given her the confidence that her mother had lacked, as well as uncovering a good sense of humor. "Did you really want to dance, or did you only ask me for my abilities?"

Gabriel chuckled softly. "Both," he admitted frankly, before his expression lost his humor. "Is it Isabel?"

"Actually, it's Merritt, too," his cousin replied. "But she was more worried last night. They're both doing a lot better today. Aunty Morgan's just been thinking about them so much that it's kind of got her down right now."

He nodded slowly, drawing her back into his arms for the last few moments before a more upbeat song began to play.

"You can go dance with your mother instead, if you want to," Angelique offered, knowing what he was feeling.

The young man looked down at her for a second before smiling and lightly kissing her cheek, releasing his gentle hold on her and crossing the room, cutting in on his parents. Angelique knew that it would only be a matter of time before he knew exactly what his mother was feeling. When he was determined, no one, particularly not his mother, could keep secrets from him; a skill that Morgan had often declared must have come from Jarod.

Angelique backed out of the dancing group and made her way across the room to where the big tables were set up, unthinkingly picking up a corn chip and nibbling on it. Her eyes came to rest on Jordan, who was evidently worrying about something else apart from his wife and Isabel. She eased his concerns slightly, boosting his relief in his wife's improvement, but was concentrating so hard that the hand on her arm made her start.

Jarod's dark eyes twinkled down at her as he slid an arm around her shoulders in a hug. "What's up, princess?"

"What's wrong with Jordan?" She studied the older man's face and saw his smile dim slightly. "I'm not just talking about Merritt and Isabel," she went on. "There's something else."

The anxiety vanished from Jarod's eyes as quickly as it had appeared. "It's just work things," he told her. "He was worrying about Pedro -- I think he's told you about him. But I don't think he's got any reason to be concerned. He'll get there eventually. I've got faith in him."

Angelique nodded, before resting her head on his arm. "It's amazing, isn't it, Uncle Jarod," she began, "how much has happened?"

"Yes, it is," he agreed, and she felt him lightly kiss her hair.

She hugged him around the waist before letting go as Stephanie ran over to draw her father into the dancing group once more. Angelique lingered for a moment longer before leaving the room, going down several flights of stairs and entering the infirmary. It was unoccupied apart from one room, and she headed in that direction, smiling at the nurse as she entered, who rose and left the room. Merritt had fulfilled her promise and had partaken in the Thanksgiving lunch with everyone else, spending a few hours here during the parade but yielding to her children's plea that she go up, if only for a little while, before they went to bed.

Angelique smiled as she imagined Merritt tucking her three older children into bed, reading them a story, and rejoicing in their good health, even as she worried about her youngest. The young woman's smile became tender as the little body under her hand moved, opening big blue eyes to gaze up at the woman who leaned over her. Without the respirator, she was able coo softly, and the sound increased Angelique's belief in Jarod's words. Isabel would survive, would grow up in the loving environment that Sanctuary provided, and would have every advantage in life.

She would help with the main task being pursued by all of those at Sanctuary: that organizations like the Centre would never be allowed to destroy lives again. Each new generation born here was a further victory against the memory of people like Lucian Bruce, who had destroyed so many lives. It was atonement for the wrongs that had been committed and it was a declaration of freedom.

Angelique leaned over the bed and lightly brushed her lips to the baby's cheek, feeling the star-like hands open and close reflexively against her cheek.

"Isabel Charles," she murmured softly, "you've got one heck of a future to look forward to."

The Beginning

 
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