Promises Kept

 

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Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas

Sydney looked over at where his older son was playing with some of the toys that he kept in the room he had been given upon his arrival at Sanctuary, toys that Angelique had brought up from the playroom for him. Sydney couldn't doubt that the little girl knew who her father was, although she still called him 'Angel' instead of the more usual 'Daddy'.

Morgan, when he had called to tell her what had been suggested, had been enthusiastic that they do everything possible to try and reverse the problems Raines had caused. She, in turn, had told him about Peter Winston, and Sydney had immediately volunteered to come up to Blue Cove, but she had insisted he stay with her twin brother, at least until they knew whether the treatment had had any effect.

The door of the room quietly opened, and three men entered. Trevor and Joseph hesitated in the doorway as Jarod approached the figure on the floor. The empath's blue eyes traveled from his friend's face to that of the healer, before nodding solemnly, as if understanding that what was going to happen would be for his benefit. Using the hand Jarod offered, he rose and moved over to the bed in the corner, scooting back until he was sitting properly on it.

Trevor followed Joseph over to the bed, stopping several paces away to watch the proceedings. Jarod had worried that having too many people in the room might upset Angelo or make things more difficult for Joseph. Sydney was grateful for that decision. He didn't want his son to become a spectacle.

Joseph quietly approached the bed, and the psychiatrist wondered at the expression on his face. It was almost resignation, mixed with a degree of fear, and he wondered how often, as a subject, he had been called upon to act as a healer when experiments had gone wrong at Die Fakultät, thinking at the same time how useful such a skilled individual would have been at the Centre. His gaze rested on his former student, remembering the few times he had been unable to control the results of sims, and Jarod had been injured. On those nights, Sydney had been unable to sleep, consumed with guilt that he hadn't prevented it, or passed the sim on to another pretender.

To distract himself from those thoughts, Sydney fixed his eyes on Angelo, sitting calmly on the bed. Sydney's breath caught silently in his throat as he saw Joseph's hands hover briefly over the empath's head, before coming to rest on either side of it.

"All right," the German stated quietly, his eyes fixed on the blue pair gazing up at him.

Jarod, whose hands rested lightly on Angelo's shoulders, felt something tingle in his fingers and glanced at Joseph, seeing that the healer's eyes were closed, his facial features tense. A moment of silence passed, before Jarod looked down at Angelo and saw that the younger man's gaze was focused keenly on Joseph. He wondered what it felt like for Angelo to have the healer's energy flowing through him, hopefully mending the damaged tissue, restoring neural pathways and making it easier to think and act.

Suddenly, a drop fell onto the empath's skin, and Jarod looked up sharply at the German, seeing that perspiration beaded his face, the color having faded from his cheeks, his breath coming with difficulty and his face twisted as if in pain. Remembering a discussion he had had with Joseph about his abilities, he wondered if the healer was absorbing the pain Angelo had felt when the original procedure had been performed on him, the pain of which had sent Timmy into a catatonic state. If that was the case, it was no wonder Joseph was suffering now.

Angelo reached up to grasp Jarod's hand, his fingers tightening around those of his old friend, and the Pretender looked back at the younger man's face.

"Jarod," he murmured softly, and the older man smiled.

"Hi, Angelo."

An inarticulate sound made Jarod look up again in time to see Joseph, his eyes closed and face gray, sway on his feet. Trevor leapt forward to catch the healer as he slumped to the floor. Jarod threw himself down onto his knees beside the unconscious man, ignoring the pain this caused, checking for a pulse and meeting Trevor's gaze.

"Alert the infirmary and get a stretcher."

The psychic nodded curtly and bolted from the room, leaving Jarod to try to bring Joseph back to consciousness, as Sydney stepped over to the bedside and looked down at his son. The empath smiled up at the anxious man.

"Hi, Daddy."

"Angelo!" Sydney breathed in relief, knowing at least that no further damage had been caused by the procedure, if Angelo still knew something as recently attained as that word.

The psychiatrist heard a faint groan from the man on the floor and his gaze flew from his son to the healer, who, his eyes still closed, was beginning to move. Jarod leaned over him in concern.

<"Joseph,"> he urged softly, in the man's native language. <"Wake up. Look at me. Come on.">

Sydney saw the healer's blue eyes slowly open, but they failed to focus on anything in the room. The door opened to reveal three men with a stretcher, who joined Jarod on the floor around the German man. Getting to his feet, Jarod returned to the bedside, taking the hand Angelo offered and looking at Sydney.

"We had a series of tests planned to check Angelo's state after the… treatment," he finished, after a moment of thought, to select the right word.

"Were you going to do the tests yourself?"

"I'd intended to," Jarod responded slowly.

"I can do it, Dad," a voice from the doorway interrupted. "You go with Joseph."

The Pretender turned to find his elder son in the doorway, seeing the stretcher being taken along to the elevator behind him.

"All right, Jordan," he agreed immediately. "The papers are on the desk." He nodded towards the workstation in the corner before quickly leaving the room.

The psychiatrist watched him go, before turning his attention to the young man, who moved across to the desk with the same assurance that Jarod often showed. Sydney noticed, however, that Jordan avoided his eye, and sighed at the realization that the young man still seemed to see him as the Centre Operative he had been during their first meeting. Jordan collected the papers from the desk and quickly looked through them, before approaching the bed on which Angelo sat.

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

Morgan watched the security footage from Die Fakultät, anger simmering inside her as she saw Lucian slip into the building, presumably using the skills Ms. Hart had taught him to get past the guards.

"We've had motion detectors put on the doors, so he won't be able to do that again," the new head of Die Fakultät, Frederick Hohmann, assured her on the videoconference monitor. "All entrances are now secured in this manner."

"Ours are done in the same way," Jock Voorhees added. "We've also treated the people whom Lucian addicted to Aurora or injected with Supernova."

"So have we," Morgan stated. "The Aurora addicts are still being treated, but we've refined the treatment to make it easier for them." She picked up the report and held it so that the two men with whom she was speaking could see it. "I've sent you both copies of this. It's Broots' plan, and we believe it should take care of a lot of potential problems that could face us in future."

"Could you outline the main points for us now, Miss Ritter?" Frederick requested.

"Certainly." She looked down at the summary Broots had written for her. "First, no sweeper will be on duty alone. Lucian might overpower one person, but he won't be likely to overpower two."

"Very true," Jock agreed.

"Second, personal information will be removed from any computer that has external access. Only those off the network will contain personnel details. In fact, we're considering setting up specific machines for that exact task. It will hopefully eliminate any chance of hacking into that data. But, in case that isn't foolproof, all those who live outside the Centre will be given 24-hour security at their homes. Four sweepers will guard the perimeters of the homes belonging to executives at all times. If anyone else wants guards during the day or at other times, they can request them."

"Do you have enough staff for that?"

"We will, after step three," she stated firmly. "That is, we're going to close down the small offices in the United States. All those with a full-time staff of less than 30 will be permanently shut down and the staff transferred to Blue Cove. That will provide us with sufficient guards. I suggest you do the same."

"Actually, Miss Ritter, we had a better idea for our branch," Frederick offered. "During the next two months, we would like to close down and transfer our operations to the branch at Blue Cove. We had a very good offer for the building."

Morgan considered this for a brief moment. It would certainly be a good way to tighten security in the Centre, and she knew that she could trust this man. Her inner sense had assured her of that, and his name had been on the list she had received from Jarod. She looked at Broots, who was quietly consulting with Daniel Pyne, the two men sitting on the other side of the room. After a brief moment, he looked up and nodded.

"We can do that," he offered. "There are the residence rooms on SL-12, most of which are empty. Storage rooms can be constructed in the old cells."

"Start making the move, Mr. Hohmann," Morgan stated. "But do it slowly. With luck, Lucian might not realize exactly what's going on until you're safely here. But make sure every stage is well-guarded, so that he doesn't attack on the way."

"Of course, Miss Ritter," the German agreed. "I'll get everything organized and send a message to tell you when the first things will arrive."

"Good." She turned her attention to the South African. "Mr. Voorhees, can you tell me your plans for the next week or so?"

"We plan to take over the Asian station in Taiwan within the next week. We've been flying in staff over the past two days. The takeover should be complete within a few days. I'll send you a report once it's over."

"That sounds like the best course of action," Morgan agreed. "How many other stations in your area do you still have to take care of?"

"About a dozen or so," Voorhees responded. "We've secured those closest to us and we're now moving further afield. Some, like the one in New Zealand, are coming to us voluntarily."

"Perfect." Morgan nodded at Broots, who made a note on the pad he held. "Well, we sound like we'll all be busy for the next few days. How about another discussion in three days?"

"That sounds ideal, Miss Ritter," Frederick responded. "Three days, it is."

The screen went blank, and Morgan sat back in her chair, looking at Broots. "Arrange the rooms. We can easily add their projects to our rosters, with the extra staff."

"The new security staff from the offices in California will be arriving in two hours," Daniel offered.

"What about the offices there?"

"They'll keep a skeleton security staff on until Lucian is neutralized. After that, we can sell them and use the money for those projects we were planning."

"Hopefully, that won't take long." Morgan pushed her chair slightly back from the desk. She didn't want to be in the office now. The news that Peter had been killed had been painful, and she had had no time to digest it properly. Although she knew that she wasn't in love with him, it was still a painful thing to have lost a close friend, who had helped her achieve her mother's dream, and her own.

"We know that all those who will be left at the offices are free of any drugs," Broots continued. "Those who were addicted to Aurora and the others will be brought here, for us to keep an eye on them. Former addicts will only ever work with two or more non-addicts and the rosters for the next month are already drawn up. CGB is also going to be delivering a regular supply of those drugs Jarod created to keep cravings under control."

"Very organized," Morgan said crisply. "Good work, Lazslo. Was there anything else?"

"Not unless you had anything more that needed discussion," Broots replied, capping his pen and sliding it into the pocket of his shirt. "Except for one thing. Debbie has a school dance in a week's time, and she wanted to know if you'd come by this evening to see her dress and shoes."

The woman smiled faintly. "Sure. You can tell Debbie I'll be there at around six."

"Thank you, Miss Ritter," he responded warmly, gathering his things and leaving this office with the other man.

Morgan rested her arms on the desk and sank her head onto them. Something heavy seemed to be resting on her chest, and she took in a deep breath with difficulty. When her computer beeped, she moaned softly before activating the program. Jarod appeared on the screen, his expression one of concern.

"Are you all right?"

"You mean apart from the fact that I've just lost a close friend?" she demanded sharply.

"I'm sorry, Morgan," he apologized immediately. "I could come up and see you…"

"How's Angelo?" she interrupted, and saw him smile.

"Do you want to talk to him?"

She arched a skeptical eyebrow. "Sure."

He turned in his chair. "Angelo! Come say hi to your sister."

A moment later, the empath appeared on the screen, and waved eagerly. "Hi, Morgan! How're you?"

Morgan felt her eyes widen at the clarity and readiness of his speech. Angelo giggled in obvious delight at her surprise, turning around to laugh at Jarod. The Pretender smiled in return and then placed his hand on Angelo's shoulder.

"Go down and bring Gabriel up from the playroom for me."

Nodding, Angelo sidled out of shot. His movements were more like those of an adult than Morgan had seen since Sydney had given Angelo the drug treatments, four and a half years earlier, but still retained something of their former childishness.

"It's a big improvement," she offered, and Jarod nodded.

"His attention span is better, and he can speak more fluently than he could before. But he's still very childish in what he enjoys, and he loves playing with the children. Especially Angelique."

Morgan felt suddenly sad, remembering what the girl had lost. "How is she?"

"Not bad." He looked thoughtful. "Not as good as she was at her best, when her mother was here, but gradually improving. Angelo being here is helping."

"Good." She nodded, before sighing. "Daddy called just before, to tell me what happened. How's Joseph?"

"Not so good." Jarod looked down briefly, before meeting her gaze again. "Unless we can work out what's wrong with him and treat it, I'm afraid he's probably going to deteriorate further."

"Doesn't he have children? One of the Seraphim's his, isn't it?"

"Two boys and a new daughter, and yes, Raphael's his son," the Pretender agreed gloomily. "And even if he does live, he might never improve on what he is now -- and he's not good."

"You'll help him," Morgan prompted confidently. "I'm sure you can."

"I hope so," Jarod stated, before his tone changed. "But that wasn't the reason I called, although I thought you'd want to see Angelo. Sebastian told me about Peter. Are you okay?"

She sighed heavily. "He was a friend, Jarod."

"I know he was," he replied sympathetically.

"I never had that many friends," she continued confidentially. "But he was a good friend."

"He wanted you to be more than that," the man offered quietly.

"I'm… almost glad I didn't. I don't think I could have borne it, Jarod, if I had to go through it again, like I did with Thomas."

The first tear escaped from her eye and she looked down, wiping it away with an unsteady hand.

"Mine?" a hesitant voice suddenly asked, and she looked up to see Gabriel on the screen, looking at her out of anxious eyes.

"Hi, baby," she smiled weakly, swallowing the last of the salty droplets and the lump in her throat.

"Mommy's sad," he protested, his bottom lip protruding and starting to tremble, as he reached forward to press a chubby hand to the screen.

"Yes, Gabriel," she agreed softly, wiping her cheeks. "I am."

"Will you come home soon?" he asked eagerly, and Morgan wondered if she really needed to be in Blue Cove for the weekend.

"Of course she will," Jarod urged and she met his gaze, seeing the determination in his eyes. "I'm sure she can take a few days off without the world collapsing. She's got other people to help her deal with problems that might arise and they can always call her. It's only a few hours by plane, if she needs to go back."

Morgan nodded, realizing that he was right, and knowing also that a couple of days away from the Centre would give her time to get over the worst pain of Peter's murder. She could spend the rest of the week organizing everything, so there would be nothing to stop her from going.

"I'll be there, Gabriel," she told him, seeing his dark eyes light up in delight. "I promise."

* * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas

"What do you think, Jordan?"

The young man rocked back on his heels, the carpet around him littered with scans, and studied each one for a few seconds before looking at his father.

"I don't know, Dad," he confessed. Looking up, he saw similar mystification in his father's eyes. "Have you got any ideas?"

"No, not really." Jarod gazed thoughtfully at the images, before picking up one and putting it onto a screen that had been wheeled into the apartment's living room. Studying it, the light illuminating the black and white image, he pointed at a tiny white dot, and then turned. "Would you agree that that's a blood clot?"

"But it's tiny!" Jordan protested. "There's no way it could cause so many problems on its own. Anyhow, it's not in the right place to cause lack of sensation. I mean, Joseph didn't even seem to feel anything anywhere on his left side when you tested him." He slid another scan into the screen. "For that to happen," he circled a place with his index finger, "it'd have to be in this area."

"But it would explain his collapse," Jarod replied, before suddenly grabbing a book that lay on the sofa and flipping it open to reveal a normal scan. Holding it up, he turned to his son. "What's the difference between this one and that?"

Jordan stepped closer and looked at the images, finally seeing what his father had presumably already noticed. "It… it's smaller," he began slowly. "The whole section of the brain is smaller than the photo." He tapped the book. "Is that normal?"

"According to what the caption says, yes," Jarod replied. "Which means…"

"The brain is shrinking, or," Jordan corrected, taking a closer look at the book, "maybe it's worse than that. I mean, if it was just shrinking, it'd still have the same shape, wouldn't it? It looks to me like parts of the brain tissue are actually missing, like maybe it's breaking down."

"That's a good point, son," Jarod agreed, taking a closer look, and flipping through the pages until he found one of another lobe, comparing that with the relevant scan. "But this looks normal. So it might be localized to one area of the brain."

Jordan thought for a moment, considering the possible causes and dwelling on solutions, when a horrifying thought struck him and he looked at the man beside him.

"Dad, do… do you think this will only be affecting Joseph?"

He could see his father considering this, before suddenly realizing what he meant, his dark eyes widening. "You mean all of us could have the same problem?"

"Well, it's possible, isn't it?" Jordan argued. "I mean, we don't know what causes it, we didn't have any real idea of what would happen -- the only sign was the pain that Joseph said he felt when he used his skill, kind of like what happened with Faith."

"And both of them were forced to use their abilities on numerous occasions," Jarod mused softly, his eyes on the scans in front of him, but Jordan saw them mist slightly, until the man blinked. "So if other people weren't pushed that hard, or for as long, nobody might know…"

"'Till they collapsed," Jordan finished for him. "And as we don't know what causes it, or how to treat it, we won't be able to do anything to help them -- or ourselves."

He saw his father swallow hard at that realization, fear lying cold in the pit of his own stomach, wondering if his brain was slowly falling apart inside his skull.

"If only we had an autopsy from Allegra," Jarod mused ruefully, "we'd know if she had the same problem, like I suspect she did."

"Wouldn't there be DSAs of her on record?" Jordan moved over to the computer in the corner and logged into the Centre's records, bringing up the dead electrokinetic's file, before realizing that his father was leaning over his shoulder.

"Just check her last few weeks," Jarod suggested. "If she wasn't up to standard, Lyle would never have had her transferred from Bear Island."

Nodding, Jordan opened the reports that had been written and enlarged the screen so that it was easier to read. "Reduction in power," he read aloud, scanning the information quickly, "some loss of co-ordination, lack of focus, periods of inattentiveness, short-circuiting locks and elevators, blowing the light in her room…"

"So she lost control," Jarod concluded. "And it presumably wasn't conscious. She was on Aurora and wouldn't have wanted to disobey, in case they stopped giving it to her."

Jordan looked sharply over his shoulder, but he was relieved to see that his father wasn't visibly affected, instead obviously thinking about the woman who had received the drug, and the young man could also feel that Jarod's desire wasn't making itself felt, as it had in the past, at the mere mention of Aurora. The older man moved back to the workstation and flipped open a book about the different lobes of the brain and what they did.

"The parietal lobe," he murmured, "deals with perception of stimuli relating to touch, temperature, pressure and pain." He looked at his son. "That's probably the area most likely to be affected, in both Allegra and Joseph." Jarod moved over to look at the scans again. "The others all look fine, except for the parietal lobe."

He scratched his chin, wandering away from the screen towards the middle of the room. When he remained silent, Jordan spoke up.

"So how do we treat it?"

"I have no idea," Jarod confessed, clasping his hands behind his back as he turned to look at the young man. "And I don't think, from just Joseph's data, that we're going to be able to come up with anything."

"You mean we'll need to get more information, from other people?"

"Exactly." Jarod gathered the scans and slid them into the large envelope in which they had been delivered to his room, before glancing at his watch. "I've got a board meeting to discuss this now." He rested his hand on Jordan's shoulder. "Keep thinking, son, and I'll come back to tell you what they say."

"Sure." Jordan turned back to the computer, but his father's words kept circling in his mind. Keep thinking. If this was affecting him, too, he wondered, with a shudder, just how long he would be able to do that.

* * * * * * * * *

A low murmur of voices and gasps followed Jarod's announcement. The people sitting along the table turned to one another, fear obvious in their eyes, but he stepped forward and rapped on the wooden tabletop to get their attention.

"It's only a possibility at this stage," he assured them, as their voices died away into silence. "But I do want to test everyone here, to find out exactly who is affected, and how badly." Jarod turned to Sebastian. "Can we order some more MRI machines so that we can get through it faster?"

Sebastian nodded slowly. Jarod could see the panic and shock in his eyes, but he managed to control himself.

"Have them put into the spare room on the same floor as the infirmary, with the other one," the Australian directed, and Ramona made a note on the paper in front of her. "Check whether we need to change our existing procedures -- lead insulation, cell phone use, that kind of thing."

"Who's going to go through the results?" Trevor demanded. "Will we be bringing in trained staff to check them?"

"I was planning to do it myself," Jarod offered. "And I'm sure Jordan would be willing, too."

"Good." Sebastian nodded definitively. "As soon as the machines are set up, we'll arrange times for everybody to be scanned. We'll get messages out to people and let them know when they will be needed for their test. Once we have the results, we'll know where to go from there. Thank you, everyone."

The group around the table rose and Jarod took Joseph's scans down from the screen on which they had been displayed, switching it off before turning to find that Sebastian had remained in the boardroom.

"How serious is it, Jarod?" the Australian asked immediately.

The Pretender hesitated, trying to work out a way to soften the blow but still be honest. Sebastian turned on him, one hand resting on the boardroom table.

"I want the truth," he growled. "Tell me. It's bad, isn't it?"

"It could be," the older man offered somewhat hesitantly, as they left the room, heading down the hall. "If we can come up with a treatment, or if Joseph is the only person affected, then it won't be that bad. But otherwise…"

Trailing off, he watched his boss's reaction out of the corner of his eye, seeing his shoulders sag slightly as he realized the possible impact of such news on his organization as well as the lives of his friends. In the Australian's office, Jarod took the seat on the other side of the desk as Sebastian sat down in his own chair.

"What else, Jarod?" Sebastian asked.

The Pretender inhaled deeply, sitting up straighter. "I'd like to request Yuri be transferred here from the Centre."

The pyrokenetic stared at him. "Why?"

"We need all the help we can get," Jarod returned quickly. "If Yuri's helping, we can get through the tests even faster, and he'll probably have suggestions for treatment."

Sebastian looked thoughtful. "How much can we trust him, though?"

Jarod arched an eyebrow. "You trust me, don't you?"

"Of course," came the prompt reply.

"Well, I trust him, on this point, at least. He's already been working on treatment for his daughter, and it will give us a good starting point. Without that, we'd be a lot further behind." Jarod leaned forward in his chair. "You could put him into his own room on one of the higher levels, if you want, and put a camera in there, to keep an eye on him. Maybe even set up a special security team, or have one sent here from Delaware."

Sebastian nodded. "All right," he finally conceded. "I'll talk to Ramona about setting something up for him."

"Thanks." Jarod flashed him a grin. "I'll call Morgan and discuss it with her. I already mentioned it to Sydney, and he's quite happy about it, even if he decides to go back to Blue Cove and leave Yuri here."

The Australian raised an eyebrow. "You knew I'd say yes?"

Jarod grinned. "I had a pretty good idea you would, but, as you're my boss, I had to get your okay before making any other plans."

"I'm glad you realize it," Sebastian retorted in mock-sternness, even as he picked up the phone to call Ramona and Jarod headed for the door.

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

Yuri paced the length of his room, stopping before he climbed the few steps leading to the door, to stare blankly at them, not seeing anything in front of him, only a small girl with brown hair and big brown eyes.

He would be in the same building as Michaela.

Moving over to his computer, he activated the camera link to Sanctuary's playroom, finding her among the other little bodies. Many adults were among the children, and he guessed that the news Jarod had given them meant that they were too distracted to work. Michaela sat alone for the moment. Sebastian was playing with Gideon, both of them wet, as was the corner in which they were playing. As Yuri watched, Dominique and Uriel ran over to join in, both squealing as they were squirted with water-filled guns.

He saw Jarod go over to the corner where the little girl was sitting and take a seat next to her on the floor, a book in his hand, one that the child read frequently. Yuri watched his daughter climb into the man's lap, snuggling against his chest as the Pretender opened the book. Gabriel ran up to sit with his father as the man began to read. Yuri sharply drew in his breath as Jarod glanced at the camera through which Yuri was watching the scene, instinctively pulling away from his computer as if the older man was actually able to see him. Obviously noticing the red light that indicated the camera was active, Jarod shot a somewhat sad smile at it before continuing to read.

A lump formed in Yuri's throat as he minimized the program, leaving a small window open so that he could continue to watch her, and opened the file Jarod had sent. He had already read through the information and knew what the problem was. He had begun to suspect that something similar had happened to his daughter's mother, resulting in her eventual death.

But he still hadn't made a decision about going to Dallas. Miss Ritter had made it obvious that this was his choice. No one could force him to go, if he didn't want to. That was how this new regime worked, and he appreciated the differences every day, most of all when Emily paid her daily visit. Her forgiveness had made incarceration easier to bear, but Yuri knew that he still deserved this.

Had he really earned the opportunity to go down to Dallas, to have further freedoms, and maybe even to see his daughter? He wouldn't be able to speak to her, of course, but even just to have the possible chance of seeing her -- did he really deserve it?

That he would work on the project was a given. He had already spent countless hours, before and after his abduction by Valentine, trying to solve the problem of what exactly had caused Allegra's death, but with no autopsy and few final details, it was difficult. He had found it hard to believe that her gradual deterioration would have so rapidly accelerated, and wondered if there had been some other influence involved. When he had presented that theory in a report Miss Ritter had asked for, she had agreed that it was possible. That sort of positive reinforcement was another of the many benefits that made this place so much better than it had been before.

Yuri wanted to discuss his uncertainty with Sydney, but Miss Ritter had said the older man was in Dallas, visiting Jarod and his grandchildren. The Pretender knew he didn't have long to make his decision. Jarod wanted him to come up to Dallas within the next 24 hours, if he came at all. The email he had sent gave the younger man the choice, but expressed Jarod's desire to have Yuri's active input and presence.

Suddenly the screen in front of Yuri flickered into life, the screensaver having activated during his contemplation, and the mechanical voice informed him that a video call was coming in. His brow furrowing, he entered the password Miss Ritter had provided. His expression sank into a relieved smile as he saw Sydney's familiar features on the screen. The Belgian gave a welcoming smile in return.

"Hello, Yuri. Morgan said that you were hoping to talk to me."

"Yes," the younger man agreed eagerly. "I wanted your advice…"

* * * * * * * * *

25 Washington Ave.
Blue Cove, Delaware

Michelle carried in the basket of washing and began sorting it on the bench, folding the garments into three piles for herself, Sydney and her son. Her mind drifted to the new dress that hung in her wardrobe, and which Sydney had bought for her to wear at their wedding. With a sigh, she looked down at her ringless hands.

She had been putting off the wedding, refusing to set a definite date, wanting to tell him the truth about who she was first, but unable to bring herself to do it. He realized that she needed space, going down to Dallas with his daughter. He had invited her along, but she had declined. Nicholas had returned to his students, and so she was alone for the time being.

She knew it would be difficult, admitting that so much of what he knew about her was untrue. Her son, also, had to be told the truth. That would be even harder. She had covered up so much of his past, and wondered if this last part might be enough to tear him away from her forever.

Swallowing a painful lump in her throat, she wished that she had braved the threat, remained at the Centre and risked her brother's wrath. He wouldn't have killed her, she was sure. Then all the complications wouldn't have existed. But, as she carried washing into the room she and Sydney shared, she caught sight of his photo on the mantel and knew she couldn't have done anything other than what she did. Sydney's life had been at stake, and she couldn't have been so selfish as to put that at risk for her own interests. She only hoped, as she put away the washing, that her son and Sydney would both understand that.

* * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas

The car pulled up in front of the large gray building, the bright flame logo emphasized by the dull color of the sky, and Jarod saw Morgan get out of the front seat, Yuri and two sweepers climbing out of the back. He sighed sadly when he saw the handcuffs around Yuri's wrists and the group of guards that went down to replace those from the Centre, even as he descended the stairs with his boss, knowing that Sebastian wasn't taking any chances.

Morgan ordered the sweepers back to the jet that had flown them down, and which would then fly back to Blue Cove, in case it was required. She moved to Jarod's side as Sebastian escorted Yuri into the building, and he slid his arm around her shoulders as they went up the steps, feeling her arm pass around his back, her head resting lightly on his shoulder.

"Where's my baby?"

"Waiting for you in your room," Jarod replied with a smile. "He's got a slight sniffle, so I didn't think he should be out here to meet you."

Morgan's expression was immediately anxious and she hurried into the building, Jarod following behind. The elevator carried them up to the residence level and she moved rapidly down the hall to the room she had been given, opening the door to find Jordan sitting on the floor with Gabriel on his lap, wrapped warmly in a blanket. The baby struggled to his feet and ran over to the door, hugging her around the neck as soon as she picked him up.

"Bine!" he beamed, his lips slightly parted so that he could breathe through an obviously blocked nose. His kisses were drier and his breath hotter than usual, and she turned to Jarod in concern.

"It's just a cold?"

"Just a cold," he assured her, as Jordan moved over to the doorway. "But I'd let him sleep in his own room tonight, if I were you, or he'll keep you awake for most of it." Jarod rolled his eyes. "He slept in my room last night and did a wonderful imitation of a steam-engine for most of it. I kept dreaming I was driving a train in the 19th century."

She smiled, picking up the blanket and wrapping it around her son, as Jordan left the room.

"And you can see if you're any more successful at making him take his medicine than I was," the man continued. "I never realized how awful cherry flavor was." He grimaced. "It tastes all right in PEZ. I don't know what they do to it."

He watched her sit down on the overstuffed armchair in the corner and take Gabriel on her lap, the blanket wrapped around him and her chin resting lightly on his head. He clutched fistfuls of her hair in his hands as it hung down around her face, and Jarod could already see his brown eyes drifting closed as Morgan began to read one of the books that had been lying on the table beside the chair. Smiling, he pulled the door almost closed behind him, going back along the hall to the elevator and riding it up to the topmost level of the actual building, below the sunroof, and on which one of the former storerooms had been converted into Yuri's new home. The apartment door stood open, and he headed in that direction.

"…no guards outside your room," he heard Sebastian explaining, "but you'll be watched on the security cameras and you aren't to just wander around the building. If you want to go somewhere, call someone."

"Yes, sir," came Yuri's muted response. "Thank you."

Jarod stepped into the doorway and saw Sydney, Yuri and Sebastian on the far side of the room. The Australian waved him over as he continued.

"I understand you already know why you've been brought here."

Yuri nodded mutely, dropping his gaze briefly to the floor, blinking several times, before he looked up again.

"The other three MRI machines should be delivered within 24 hours," Sebastian stated, turning to Jarod as he spoke. "Apparently they ought to be ready for use the next day."

"Ramona and Trevor are drawing up rosters for people to come for their scans," Jarod replied. "I'd expect each to take about half an hour, tops."

Sebastian sighed deeply. "It's going to take some time, then."

"Hopefully, only a week or so, to get all the scans done," his employee told him. "And then we can work on a treatment."

"The sooner the better," the Australian growled softly, turning away and leaving the room.

"I'll leave you to get settled in," Jarod told Yuri, guessing that Sydney wanted some time to talk to the younger man. "Someone will bring you dinner in a few hours."

Jarod left the room, knowing that Yuri was torn about his feelings of being here. The thought of his proximity to his daughter was both joyful and agonizing to him, and Sebastian had quickly put the security team in place to watch him, anxious that he would sneak down to the playroom when he wasn't working, despite Jarod's assurance that he would have very little if any free time during the hours that the Seraphim would be awake. The deciding factor in Yuri allowing himself to be moved down here had been Jarod's belief that they would have a better chance of coming up with a cure for the problem if they were working together, and that face-to-face consultation would be quicker and easier than using even a computer interface.

Sighing, Jarod got out of the elevator on the residence floor and headed for his room and the book that lay on the sofa, which he would need to have read before the other MRI machines arrived, in order to know what he was doing when he had to run the tests.

* * * * * * * * *

Asian Station
Taipei, Taiwan

The door swung open easily and the team swarmed inside, their weapons at the ready. More than one gagged at the sickly sweet stench of rotting corpses, including that of the body of the woman sitting at the reception desk. The men reached for the masks with which they had been provided in case of a gas attack, quickly pulling them on to block out the smell of decaying flesh. Stepping back out into the fresh air, the head of security at the Pretoriat, William Stevens, got out his cell phone, bringing up his boss's number and connecting the call, seeing many of his team come out to join him.

This job had been given to Stevens and his team after contact had been lost with the office and fears had arisen that they had joined Lucian. Now, of course, it would probably be impossible to tell whether that had actually occurred, but the South African suspected that Lucian was involved in this apparent mass-murder.

"We've got a probable list of subjects," Voorhees mused, after hearing what his head of security had to say, "so try to go through and get a head-count. Provide your team with whatever they need to get the job done. Get photos in case there are any recognizable characteristics. If they've all been taken care of, we'll send in a cleaner team to get rid of the remains."

"Yes, sir," William agreed. "And if we can recognize any of them, should we make up a list?"

"If possible, yes," Jock agreed tentatively. "It'd be useful to know whether Lucian has any of them with him. Just do what you can today. The clean-up team can put final figures together."

Disconnecting the call, Stevens turned to his team, all of whom had now escaped the dark, dank interior for the bright sunlight, and repeated the orders, sending several of the men back for their masks, so that the count could begin.

* * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas

Jarod was waiting in the lobby when Emily ventured into the building's interior, greeting her with a kiss and taking her bag.

"Michaela asked to see you first thing," he told her. "And we haven't told Yuri you were coming, in case you were held up for any reason."

She smiled. "You didn't have to tell Kayla?"

"No, we didn't," he agreed with a grin, as they got into the elevator. "I've got a room set up for you near mine and Mom and Dad's. Since we don't know how long you're going to stay, I thought it was better to give you somewhere at least semi-permanent."

"I thought Mom and Dad might have been down to see me, too."

"Another surprise," Jarod stated with a childishly gleeful grin. "They went out to do some shopping together. I thought we could just spring you on them later."

Emily laughed. "You are such a baby, Jarod!"

"Hey, I'm ten years older than you," he protested indignantly, as the elevator doors opened onto the nursery level and he put the bags to one side before going towards the doors with her. "Show some respect to your big brother."

She didn't have a chance to utter any of the remarks on the tip of her tongue in response to this as a brown-haired bundle of energy threw herself delightedly at Emily's legs.

"Em'ly!" Michaela shrieked. "Em'ly! Em'ly! Em'ly! Oh, Em'ly!"

"Okay, sweetie," she laughed, bending down to be on eye level with the girl. "It's good to see you, too."

The girl threw her arms around the woman's neck and hugged her tightly, kissing her warmly. "I missed you!"

"I've missed you, too," Emily told her, smiling. "But you'll get to see me every day from now on. Is that nice?"

"Yup!" The girl beamed as Emily carried her over to the pile of beanbags in the corner. "An' will you play hide 'n' seek wif me?"

"Of course I will," the woman promised, seeing Jarod go over to join in a game with his son and nodding a smiling greeting to Ethan. "If you want, I'll even tuck you into bed tonight and read you a story. Would you like that?"

"Ooooh, yes!" the girl squealed in delight, bouncing on her knee as they curled up together on the beanbags. "Goody, goody, goody!"

Emily read the girl's favorite book and helped color in a picture, before deciding that she couldn't wait any longer.

"I'm going to go see someone," she explained, seeing the girl's face fall slightly, "but I promise I'll be back soon. Before bedtime."

Michaela looked at her steadily for a second before nodding. "Okay. An' will you give me my baff and put on my PJs?"

"If you want me to," Emily agreed, smiling and thinking that this was almost like having a daughter of her own, without having had to go through all the labor and pregnancy.

Leaving the playroom, she followed the directions her brother had given, riding the elevator up to the top story and seeing the name on the temporary plate attached to the door. Yuri Singer. For a moment, she stared at it, taking a deep breath, before knocking.

"Come in."

She pushed open the door, seeing that Yuri was already standing, having clearly risen from his workstation, and she enjoyed the look of surprise on his face, melting quickly into pleasure, as he saw her, moving over to hug her. Their relationship had managed to regain some of its former affectionate behaviour. Only the most personal acts were unable to be performed, the camera always remaining in the backs of their minds, particularly to Emily, who, not having grown up with them, was more aware of their presence.

"I wondered if you'd find out that I'd been transferred up here," Yuri greeted her, guiding her over to the sofa in the middle of the room and sitting beside her, his arm around her shoulders.

"Jarod called me," she admitted. "Actually, right after you decided to come, but I thought I'd give you a little time to settle in first."

He reached forward to lightly kiss her forehead. "I've missed you."

"Me, too." She smiled. "There was this great opening on the staff at the Dallas Times Herald…"

Yuri grinned at her teasing, kissing her fingers as she continued. "Did you really think I'd stay up there when you and all my family are down here?"

"Are you staying?"

His eyes were full of eagerness, and brightened further as she nodded. "For as long as you stay here," she promised, brushing the backs of her fingers down his cheek and then lightly touching her lips to his.

* * * * * * * * *

Morgan looked down at Gabriel, who lay in a nest of blankets in a corner of the room close to the radiator, Toto curled up beside him, one of the baby's arms wrapped around his pet. His face was flushed, but he was getting over his cold, now that she was forcing him to take his medicine, a thing Gabriel had managed to avoid with his father. There had been several scenes, but Morgan had been firm, and Gabriel had eventually yielded. A fit of sulking usually followed each dose, but they never lasted long.

She knelt beside her son, gently stroking his hair and bending down to kiss his cheek. She had been right to come here. The constant demands Gabriel placed on her attention, the time she was spending with her father, and Jarod's comforting but unobtrusive presence was helping her to recover from the pain of her loss. She occasionally thought of Peter, but only during her rare unoccupied moments, and they were very few indeed.

During those moments, her thoughts dwelt on their time together. He had been the man who had taken her virginity, a prize she knew he valued, and that was one more reason for his memory to stay fresh and tender within her. His humor had made her laugh, both on their date in America, now many months earlier, and on her more recent trip to Paris. She had been almost surprised at her reluctance to go then, but she had had to keep her promise. However, throughout those days, her thoughts had remained on those back in America, mostly on her son, on Merritt and on Jarod, who was still bedridden within the Centre. It had been surprising to her at the time, but showed where her true feelings lay. With that realization, she had come around to the idea that her future lay not with that old school friend, but with her family, and perhaps an even older friend than Peter.

"Momma?"

She looked up to find Merritt in the doorway and stood up to hug her, walking her over to the sofa and sitting beside her.

"I haven't seen much of you this weekend," Morgan apologized. "But Jarod did say you wanted to see me, when we were talking during the week."

"Yeah, I… I do," the young woman agreed, and Morgan saw her twisting the ring on her left hand. It took her mother a moment to notice which finger it was on, and she stared for a moment before gently drawing Merritt's left hand onto her lap.

"Is it about this?" she asked softly, tapping the sparkling diamond, and seeing her daughter's face flush red.

"Not… not really," Merritt protested. "But it's kind of about the future, too, like that."

Morgan looked down at the thin band. "Is this from Jordan?"

The young woman nodded, her cheeks burning, before looking up to see the smile on Morgan's face, as the woman bent down to kiss her cheek.

"Congratulations, baby," Morgan murmured, hugging her, before drawing back to meet her gaze. "But you aren't going to hurry into it, are you?"

"Oh, no!" Merritt protested immediately, and Morgan hushed her, so she wouldn't wake Gabriel.

"You've got plenty of time," her mother reminded her. "Don't rush it."

"I won't," the girl vowed. "But I wanted to talk to you about something else. Jordan said he'd talk to you about this later." She drew her hand back and began twisting the ring again. "Momma, I got an idea about what I want to do for a job when I was in Australia."

Morgan slid her arm around her daughter's shoulders. "Tell me, baby."

"I want to be a vet," Merritt stated. "But 'specially a horse vet. I loved working with horses and I'd really like to keep doing it."

"That sounds like a great idea," Morgan responded warmly, unsurprised by the suggestion. "And I think you'd be very good at it. When you've finished your studies here, we'll see about getting you a place at university, to study veterinary medicine, and you could specialize from there."

Merritt hugged her. "I'm glad you like it," she said. "I was worried you'd think it was kind of silly."

"I'd love to see you in that kind of field," Morgan explained. "Actually, I'd love to see you working anywhere except the Centre."

Merritt pulled a face. "Don't take this the wrong way, Momma," she began, "but I'd never want to work there."

"Not even if we opened a stable?" Morgan teased. "We've got lots of room."

The young woman looked thoughtful. "Well, maybe in very extenuating circumstances…"

Morgan chuckled. "Can you imagine me riding a horse?"

"About as easily as I'd imagine you riding an elephant," Merritt retorted, and Morgan thought she saw a knowing gleam in her daughter's blue eyes. "How is Peanuts Parker anyhow?"

"Bine has a effalunt?" a sleepy voice asked from the corner, and Morgan looked around in time to see her son crawling out of the nest, dragging his blanket with him. When he was close enough, she lifted him up onto her lap, tucking the blanket around his feet and rocking him gently, hoping he would fall asleep again, as she began to talk with her daughter about the work Merritt had been doing in school.

On to Act III

 
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