Promises Kept

 

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Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas

Jarod picked up the book that he had taken from the university library in Dallas about the correct way of reading the MRI scan results. He had borrowed several copies of it, and Jordan and Yuri already had two others. The machines were being unpacked and set up in the room beside the infirmary, in which Joseph lay, still only semi-conscious. Tests Jarod had done showed that the healer had apparently lost all feeling in the left side of his body, but had managed to move his right hand to touch Julia, whose voice he seemed to recognize when she came to see him.

"J… Jarod?"

The Pretender looked up to smile at the blond young man who stood nervously in the doorway and wave him into the room. Alexander entered hesitantly and approached the sofa.

"Can I do something for you, Alexander?"

"Well, I… I saw all the things being delivered, down at the back entrance, all the boxes."

"Oh, yes," Jarod agreed, smiling. "The MRI machines."

"I was wondering if I could help -- a bit," Alexander asked quietly. His eyes strayed down to the book in Jarod's hand. "I always liked -- technology."

"How much have you used?" Jarod prompted.

"Not much, really," the young man admitted, somewhat reluctantly. "I mean, I never used it, but I saw a lot in the labs where I was working and stuff. And when I was in the infirmary, after I broke my arm, there was lots there."

Jarod picked up the book that lay on the other cushion of the sofa and held it out, smiling. "I'd be really glad if you would, Alexander. We've got a lot to do."

Alexander sat down on the very edge of the armchair cushion after accepting the book, his expression expectant. "Like what?"

After sighing deeply and dropping the book he held onto the sofa, Jarod explained the situation as much as he could, seeing a flash of fear appear in Alexander's eyes. It was obvious, however, that he was suppressing his anxiety in order to do whatever he could, wanting to be helpful.

"Dad?"

Jarod glanced over his shoulder to find Jordan in the doorway that divided their apartments and waved him into the room, seeing the young man opposite tense slightly.

"Son, this is Alexander. He was brought here after you left for Australia. Alexander, this is my son, Jordan."

Jordan offered his right hand, and Jarod was pleased to see Alexander shake it, albeit nervously, without sending a confirmatory glance in the older man's direction. Jordan took a seat on the sofa beside his father, the index finger of his left hand in a similar place in the book to that at which his father was.

"So what happens now, Dad?"

Jarod smiled. "Within an hour, the machines should be ready for use downstairs, so we'll go and have a look, to make sure we know what we're doing before we start. Ramona and Trevor are making up rosters for all the residents, including us."

"How long d'you think it'll take to get through everyone?" Jordan asked curiously.

"It's hard to tell," the older man mused. "It'll depend on how long each test takes. Hopefully only a week or so." Jarod took a sheet of paper out of his pocket and spread it out on the coffee table, seeing the two young men lean over it. "We've got five 'rooms' made up from the large area next to the infirmary. The walls have been lined with lead."

"Five?" Alexander looked up. "Don't we only have four machines?"

"Yes, that's true," Jarod agreed. "But we need a room so that we can watch and record the test results." He attempted a weak grin. "We could be spending several days at a stretch in there, so we'd better like it."

"Jarod, Jordan and Alexander to the infirmary," the loudspeaker attached to the ceiling in the corner of the room announced, and the man rose to his feet.

"That sounds like us," he smiled. "Let's go take a look."

The elevator carried the trio down to the infirmary, and Jarod led the way along to the rooms that had been set aside for the machinery, entering what had formerly been a large, empty space and was now divided into five small rooms. One of the Sanctuary guards had been waiting in the hall and entered with them. Jarod turned to him.

"Will you bring Yuri down here, please?"

Nodding, the guard left the room, and Jarod went into the central space, seeing that it contained four windows, one looking out at each of the MRI machines. A large desk ran the entire length of the walls, except for the single door entrance, and the machines that would display and record the test results already stood waiting on the bench, along with four laptops that, Jarod hoped, had been networked so that information only needed to be entered once.

"Wow," Jordan mused. "They got this done really fast."

"It's necessary," Jarod returned grimly, comparing the machinery in front of him with that he had memorized from the book he had read.

At the sound of footsteps behind him, he turned to see Yuri, the guard walking behind him, step into the room. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the conflict of emotions in Jordan's eyes and guessed what his son was feeling. This was the man who had helped come up with treatments for Jacob, and for that Jordan owed him a lot. It was difficult to see him so closely guarded, and sometimes cuffed. Jarod was distracted as the guard gave him a sheet of paper, which he read and then took over to the wall, attaching it with a strip of Sellotape.

"We're starting the first scan at 8am tomorrow," he told the others in the room, running his eyes down the list of names and times. "And we're going to be busy."

"I'll say," Jordan agreed, moving up beside him and eyeing the list, before winking at his father. "Early night tonight, then."

"Absolutely," Jarod agreed, knowing that he was being teased as he ruffled his son's hair. He turned to Yuri. "I left a book in your room about all this. Did you get it?"

Nodding, Yuri showed that he was carrying it in the pocket of his black pants, and Jarod waved at the four consoles.

"Let's experiment for a little, so we know what we're doing."

Jarod watched as the others sat down in three of the four chairs, keeping an eye on Alexander as he took the fourth chair, but the youngest Pretender's expression revealed both his enthusiasm at this new experience and his determination to learn how to use it. Smiling, Jarod turned to his own machine and matched what he had read to the equipment in front of him, as the other Pretenders were doing.

After almost half an hour, when they were all confident that they could use the equipment easily and correctly, Yuri was escorted back to his room and Jarod turned to his son as an idea struck him.

"You know, Jordan," he suggested, "Alexander would probably love to see your greenhouse. Why don't you take him down?"

"Sure." Jordan turned to his new acquaintance. "Let me show you, Alexander. I think you'll like it. And you can help me with it, if you want."

Alexander smiled faintly. "That sounds really nice," he admitted, moving towards the door. "I like plants."

Jarod smiled at his son and watched the two young men leave the room before turning off the four screens and the laptops on which results could be recorded. As he was pushing in the last of the chairs, he heard the sound of quiet footsteps behind him, turning to find Julia, her baby girl in her arms, standing in the doorway. He went over and eased the warm bundle out of her grasp, guiding her over to a seat and taking one opposite, seeing the lack of color in her face and the concern in her eyes as she nervously chewed her bottom lip, her anxiety about Joseph obvious in her eyes.

<"He'll be okay,"> he promised softly. <"We're doing the best we can.">

Julia sent a weak smile in his direction. "You needn't lie to me, Jarod," she replied quietly, in his native language. "I know you're struggling. I used to be a pretender, too, remember?"

He sent her a curious glance, hoping to distract her. "How did they find out that you were able to do what you did in Berlin?"

She sighed, drawing the light jacket she wore more closely around her and running a hand through her hair.

"I made the mistake of naming the Herr Direktor before I had been introduced to him," she stated ruefully.

"Was that why you worked for him?"

"They thought that, if I knew that much about him, I'd know enough to be able to know what he was planning. I was supposed to be his secretary, but they were scared I'd see other documents I shouldn't have, like the memos about my son and daughter."

Jarod raised an eyebrow. "But wouldn't you know what they said without seeing them?"

She smiled. "I think they forgot about that."

He chuckled. "And I thought Germans were supposed to be logical thinkers." Jarod glanced at the technical equipment in the room before meeting her gaze again. "I was wondering whether you might want to give us a hand." Jarod reached into his pocket and pulled out the book, offering it to her. "Interested?"

Julia shook her head. "You have three competent pretenders to help you, Jarod. You don't need a woman pretending to be a pretender. And anyway," she sighed, "I really don't think I have the energy right now…"

Jarod nodded, repocketing the book. "I understand." He stood, offering his free hand. "Shall we go see Joseph?"

When she nodded, he rose and gently but firmly prevented her from taking the baby, sliding his free arm around her shoulders as they left the room, heading for that in which the healer lay.

As they entered, the nurse sitting in the corner stood up, and, at a nod from Jarod, left the room. The psychic approached the bed, slipping into the chair beside it, and picked up the man's hand.

<"Joseph,"> she murmured quietly, in German. <"Can you hear me?">

There was a tiny movement in response from the man on the bed, a thing that had not happened since his collapse, and Jarod found himself holding his breath, his arms tightening slightly around the baby in his arms, as Julia leaned forward, tightening her grasp on the man's hand.

<"Liebst',"> she urged. <"It's Julia. Please, darling, look at me.">

A soft sigh broke the silence following Julia's plea, and Jarod looked at the child he held, but baby Mary was still fast asleep. Jarod looked up at the patient in time to see Joseph's eyelid flicker, before his right eye opened slightly. The left side of his face was still motionless, as was the whole left side of his body, but Jarod could see the fingers of Joseph's right hand move as they tightened around Julia's thumb. The Pretender stepped up to the bedside, placing a hand on the woman's shoulder, as the patient's mouth opened.

Julia picked up a piece of gauze from the bedside table, dampened it in a small bowl of water and dabbed at Joseph's white lips. The man's tongue eased out of his mouth and licked at the water that formed in the corner of his mouth, blinking several times, and then his gaze seemed to focus and he managed a lop-sided and very faint smile. After a long moment, his mouth opened and he was obviously struggling to speak.

<"What is it, Joseph?"> she asked. <"What do you want to say?">

Jarod looked around and saw a large notepad on the nurse's table. Putting Mary on her mother's lap, he seized the pad and a pen. Easing the healer's hand out of Julia's, he placed the pen gently between Joseph's fingers and slid the pad underneath his hand, supporting it at an angle so that the man in the bed could read what he wrote. The younger man seemed to understand what was wanted, because his fingers immediately tightened around the pen and he struggled to make it move. The pen managed to make several marks on the paper, before Joseph's eye shut in obvious exhaustion, perspiration standing out in beads on his forehead and slipping onto the pillow. Easing the paper out from beneath Joseph's hand, Jarod read the letters, managing to make the squiggles into two words, one below another.

<"Angelo?"> he asked finally. <"Did you want to know about Angelo?">

The white face nodded slightly on the pillow, Joseph's right eye opening again to focus on Jarod's face. The Pretender approached the bed, leaning over the pillow.

<"You did it, Joseph,"> he told the healer, forcing a wide smile. <"You managed to undo some of the damage that Raines caused. Not everything, but he's a lot better than he was. When you feel a little better, we'll bring him up to see you.">

Joseph blinked several times in agreement, managing another half-smile, and Jarod looked down at the paper again, managing to decipher the faint squiggles, thinking idly that it was fortunate the baby girl didn't have a longer name, or her father would never have managed to write it.

<"Your daughter is just fine, Joseph."> He placed the bundle against the crook of the man's right arm, seeing him drop the pen so that he could touch the small foot, his fingers tightening around it as Jarod continued. <"Your sons are, too. A little worried about you, of course, but they can also come and see you when you're better."> He gently placed a hand on the younger man's right shoulder. <"Rest now, Joseph. Get some sleep.">

The healer's eye slid closed immediately, and his fingers relaxed, as Jarod picked up the baby girl. He helped Julia to her feet, and gently guided her away from the bed.

"Let's leave him to sleep," he murmured in her ear. "We'll go down and get something to eat."

"What… are you doing for him?" she murmured, audibly swallowing a lump in her throat, as they left the room and the nurse returned to take her seat.

Jarod outlined the treatment, most of which was to treat the blood clot. The brain condition was not treatable at this stage, although they were working on it. Now that he seemed to be conscious, they could begin physical therapy, but Jarod wasn't confident that it would do a lot of good. Joseph would continue to deteriorate as the brain tissue broke down, and the Pretender wondered privately if they should bring the man's sons in to see him while he could still recognize them, but he didn't want to suggest that, and hoped that nobody else would think of it, even as he guided the psychic out into the hall, heading for the elevator and the large dining room.

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

Grayson Parker walked in circles in the hallway outside the operating room, hands clasped behind his back, head down in thought. A lot was riding on this, and if it didn't work, he'd have to try another angle. The most important thing was not to lose Catherine, and she was treading a dangerously thin line at the moment.

Though he had no proof, he suspected she had been involved in the theft of several Centre projects over the last few years. The Triumvirate was in the dark about those, receiving dummy reports on the progress of the research, prettying it up so that they'd think the subjects came and went willingly, but Hermann Bruce knew the truth. He had been the one to pilot the programs from the beginning. He had not only given this particular project his blessing, he had even suggested the idea in a roundabout way.

Catherine's inner sense, combined with Major Charles' intelligence and inherent Pretender skills, would make a formidable being… if they could just get that far in the process. At the moment, they were performing the insemination in conjunction with some other minor surgery she needed. She'd be none the wiser once she awakened, until the test came back positive. He'd need to make sure he romanced her once she was well enough, to provide an adequate cover.

He and Raines had it all planned. He just hoped nothing happened to complicate the process. There was always the danger with any surgical procedure that something could go wrong, and as he paced, he worried. She was far too valuable to lose, but they were going to harvest some of the extra eggs, just in case…

Morgan stood behind the one-way glass that had been installed between the cell in which the old Chairman languished and the one next door, to allow him to be observed. A microphone allowed the person to hear what was being said. The old man talked almost constantly now, his voice hoarse and rough, but he never seemed to notice it. He had collapsed that morning and a doctor had examined him, giving his assessment that the man had only hours to live. Broots had begged her to come back from Dallas, not wanting the responsibility on his own shoulders.

Her face wore a glare as she listened to what he was saying. This wasn't new to her. For the first few weeks, all his ramblings had been transcribed and she had read them every night, hatred at his activities burning inside her. But when they became repetitive, she hadn't bothered to read the soliloquies anymore. This was an oft-visited topic, one she hated to hear about, being the one that had lead to the eventual murder of her mother.

"Call me when he's gone," she snapped to the sweeper in the corner, and the man nodded.

Leaving the room, she let the door slam shut, peering in through the small window to take her last look at the dying man, indifference replacing the hatred in her heart. She took a personal interest in all the projects except this one. This was the one she couldn't care less about.

* * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas

"Slight degeneration in the frontal lobe," Yuri announced, setting the machine to print out the test results and making a note on the pad on the desk in front of him.

Jarod looked around to see the bed in the MRI slide out and Rebecca approach it from the corner of the room to pick up her daughter. He felt his heart sink. This was the first of the Seraphim to be scanned, and, as he watched Tempest's blond head droop sleepily onto her mother's shoulder, the result of the mild sedative that had been administered to keep her calm during the test, Jarod wondered how many more of the children would show signs of degeneration.

"Excuse me, Jarod," a voice asked from the doorway. "Will you come up to the nursery? Gabriel's a little upset."

Jarod got up as quickly as he could from his chair and moved past Ramona into the hall, waiting impatiently for the elevator. The nursery itself was empty, the children being kept in their rooms until they were taken down to be scanned, but howls were audible from Gabriel's room, and Jarod entered to find his son lying facedown on his bed, kicking his legs and hitting the mattress with small fists, as Sara stood nearby, a cup in her hand, her expression one of concern. Approaching the bed, Jarod gathered his son in his arms.

"What's the matter, Gabriel?" he asked anxiously.

His son howled, burying his face in Jarod's throat, and the man rocked him for a moment as the sobs became gradually less frequent, his cries decreasing in volume.

"All gone," the child moaned, looking up at his father accusingly. "You taked dem all away!"

"Who's all gone?"

"Evveybody!" Gabriel wailed. "Raffi an' Annie an' Gideon an' Uriel an'…"

"No, honey," Jarod interrupted soothingly. "They're not gone, I promise. They're just sleeping."

He stood up, a still-sobbing Gabriel in his arms, and carried him across the hall into Angelique's room. The girl lay on her bed, covered with a light blanket, cheeks flushed and blond lashes lying on her cheeks, her chest rising and falling in deep, even breaths, her doll held in a relaxed grip. Nancy sat in the corner, and looked up as they entered, relief in her eyes when she saw Jarod.

"See, baby?" Jarod urged softly. "She's still here."

Gabriel nodded, hiccupping loudly, and reached out his hands for his small playmate, but Jarod gently caught them in his free hand.

"No, honey. We don't want to wake her up. But she'll be all right in a few hours, and then you can play with her. Okay?"

"Why, Daddy?" Gabriel demanded, as they went back into the hallway.

"We're going to do a special test," Jarod explained, walking back into Gabriel's room. "And, as it's very loud, we don't want to upset you, so we'll give you something so that you'll be asleep when it happens." He sat down on the boy's bed and cuddled him close. "I'd never do anything to hurt you, Gabriel," he promised solemnly. "Never, ever."

Still sniffing, his son hugged the man around the neck. "Love you, Daddy," he snuffled, and Jarod smiled.

"I love you too, baby." Taking up the cup from Sara, who retreated to the doorway and, after waiting for a moment to ensure she wasn't wanted, left the room, he held it out. "Will you drink this for me?"

Nodding, Gabriel took the cup and tasted the contents. Jarod watched him slowly sip the sedative medication, realizing that this proved beyond doubt the Seraphim's strong mental connection with each other, and which apparently continued during periods of natural sleep, if mere sedation had caused such upset in his son. The thought was repellent, but at the same time intriguing, and he wondered how far it extended. It suddenly occurred to him that, if surgery were required to treat this problem, they would have to find some way of keeping the conscious Seraphim calm while the others were under anesthetic. It only added to what was already looking like a major problem.

Gabriel handed back the empty mug, wrapping his arms around his father's neck and resting his head on Jarod's shoulder. Placing the mug back on the table, Jarod rose from the bed and went to the rocking chair in the corner, sitting down and covering Gabriel with the blanket that lay over one arm, starting the chair rocking as he hummed the lullaby his mother had taught him as a boy, and which Gabriel loved.

"Cree craw toad's foot…"

* * * * * * * * *

Jarod watched as Sara carried Gabriel into the room and gently put him on the long, narrow bed, moving away and behind the protective lead wall as Alexander started the machine. The older man was unable to keep his eyes from the screen, seeing the images appear in rapid succession, searching desperately for any signs of degeneration. It was only once the scan was complete and the young man announced that it was clear that Jarod allowed himself to breathe freely again.

He had been the same during Jordan's scan, the night before. Of all those he was examining, the thought of his sons falling victim to the terrible affliction that had so far affected almost two dozen of Sanctuary's residents was one of his worst nightmares brought to life. He knew Jordan had been the same when Yuri was studying Jarod's own scan results, having felt his son's fear as the machine boomed around him.

The fact that, so far, none of the Pretenders had shown signs of deterioration made him wonder, for the first time, if there was a pattern, and he made a mental note to look for anything, even as Sara lifted Gabriel from the hard bed and Sebastian appeared with Gideon in the room containing the machine Jarod was controlling.

He had been intrigued by the differences in the brain scans for various people. No two scans had been completely identical, specific areas showing dramatic neural development depending on the person's skill. It made pinpointing the potential degeneration easier once the various patterns had been established.

Jarod had been secretly quite proud of the fact that the scan of his brain had shown such a dense neural network, much more so than even those of the other Pretenders. Gabriel's scan, too, had shown dramatic differences from those of the other Seraphim. The same pattern had been evident, although to a lesser degree, in Michael Charles' scan, Jarod having made sure that both his parents were put through the procedure, but more to look for possible problems such as blood clots that might have resulted in future strokes than to check for degeneration.

The fact that those he loved best were unaffected had been more than just a simple relief to him. It meant that he could focus his attention solely on treatments, not having to worry about them. Jarod only hoped that, when it came to using whatever was developed, he could distance himself enough to perform his role in whatever the procedure happened to be effectively.

* * * * * * * * *

St. Petersburg
Russia

Lucian looked indifferently out of the window of his hotel room towards the famous blue and white exterior of the old Winter Palace. The city's numerous glories were lost on the bitter man, as had been those of every other city that he had briefly stayed in. He had had several near run-ins with employees of his former organizations, and hatred had blossomed in his heart as he realized that all those people who had once been subservient to his name would now kill him the moment they saw him.

His greatest hatred was directed at his own failure. He had taken over a strong organization after the murder of his father 24 years earlier, strengthening it further by cleaning out the old members of the Triumvirate and replacing them with more loyal followers. Lucian believed that he had been close to the peak of his power, with some of his most awaited and potentially valuable projects on the verge of being started, projects that would have eclipsed those of his father, when it had all been wrenched away from him.

He knew, however, that there was only one key he needed to get it all back. As soon as he had that, those in power would willingly give him anything he wanted, even greater power, and while he laid the foundations for that seizure, he could plan his own future.

Lucian knew that he had been somewhat foolish in his methods. Hermann had succeeded by the full control of his power, and his son could now see where he had gone wrong in letting others feel they were in control. Had his father not been murdered, he could have built his empire in such a way that it would be indestructible, and it was now up to Lucian to ensure that happened. Not out of any paternal loyalty, but his own desire to cast glories onto his family's name.

There was a knock at his door and he opened it, allowing the maid to enter with his pre-ordered dinner. Eyeing her up and down, he noted her brown hair, blue eyes and slim build, knowing that he had found his first paving stone on the road to success.

* * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas

Jarod sat up straight and stretched his weary back, saving the file on which he was working, and which contained the reports to be given to the Sanctuary board about the MRI scans that had been performed on all residents of the building. He glanced at his watch, seeing that it was now almost midnight, and wiped the sleep from his eyes, trying to decide whether it was worthwhile going to bed or not, considering that he planned to get up in a few hours to fly to Blue Cove.

A small sound from the doorway made him turn to find his boss standing there, and he shut down the file. Switching off the screen, he stiffly got off the chair and came over to the Australian.

"I thought everyone would be asleep by now."

"I was thinking about the tests. Wondering about the results."

Jarod grinned feebly. "As boss, you should probably get a sneak peek."

He waved at one of the chairs and took the other, turning the screen back on and opening up one of the files on which the tabulated results had been recorded.

"Don't go through all this, J," Sebastian protested wearily. "Just an overview, eh? I don't have the time, energy or patience for details."

"Fine." Jarod leant back in his chair, wondering idly why Sebastian had happened to chance upon a similar nickname to that which Argyle had done. "The deterioration has shown up in people whose skills affect their environment or people around them. Telekinetics, electrokinetics, healers…"

"Pyrokinetics?"

Jarod met his gaze steadily, seeing the flash of fear in his hazel eyes. "Yes, Sebastian."

There was a long moment of heavy silence before Sebastian spoke again.

"Elizabeth?"

The Pretender slid a hand through his hair. "She has one of the most advanced cases. Almost as bad as Joseph."

Sebastian exhaled slowly. "Do you know why?"

"We think it has to do with the length of time and intensity with which the gift has to be used. For example, Joseph has been forced to heal people basically on a daily basis for more than 25 years. Elizabeth has been removing nightmares for her whole life. Apart from her, those who've spent longest in the Centre or other captivity are most serious affected."

The Australian nodded knowingly, resting his head on his hands, and Jarod saw his index finger gently rub his temple. "So what do we do now?"

"Now," a female voice interrupted from the doorway, "you both go to bed. Deterioration or not, the few hours between now and when a normal person would get up won't make any difference."

The men looked up to find Elizabeth and Sumi in the doorway. Jarod saw Sebastian's eyes travel over his wife's face and then turn to him, understanding that the man was expressing concern about the woman he loved. Jarod was forced to nod slightly. The telepaths had all shown signs of deterioration. Those who hadn't were primarily the psychics, pretenders or empaths. Devastation flooded the younger man's features and he rose, walking over to the door to slide an arm around his wife's shoulders.

Jarod saw that, despite the light tone in which she had spoken, Elizabeth's expression was tense. He suspected that she had overheard what had been said, and Jarod could understand her fear. She was helping to nurse Joseph, and clearly dreaded becoming like that herself. He went over to the doorway and felt a firm hand come down on his arm.

"You've been working at that for almost 24 hours at a stretch, Jarod. Time for a break."

The four people remained silent as they walked through the infirmary to the elevator and up to the residence floor. Sumi and Sebastian disappeared into their room with murmured 'goodnights' and the other two walked along the hallway to Jarod's apartment. Elizabeth's lack of conversation was evidence to Jarod of her growing anxiety, and, as they stood in his doorway, the man hugged her gently.

"We're going to solve this, Elizabeth," he vowed softly, and she sent a faint smile in his direction.

"On our wedding night, Trevor told me he had seen that we would grow old together. At the time, I believed him." She swallowed hard. "If you couldn't, Jarod, would you at least be able to keep me alive for a few months. Nine, maybe? I don't really care what state I'd be in."

He placed a hand on either shoulder, turning her towards him, before slipping a hand under her chin and lifting it so that he would look into her eyes. "For your baby?"

Elizabeth's hand crept onto her stomach. "If he can't have me," she whispered, "I'd at least hope that Trevor could have our child." She blinked rapidly several times. "And maybe you'll have some way to stop him or her from suffering the same fate by then."

Jarod bent down to brush her cheek with his lips. "Elizabeth, please, trust me," he begged, feeling the burden of responsibility, not only for this woman but also for her unborn child and the dozens of others, settle on his shoulders. It was strangely, but not unpleasantly, familiar "We have a plan of attack for this. We'll do the very best we can. I don't think you need to worry about your child -- or yourself."

Her eyes rose to meet his gaze, and he could see the fear flickering in the brown depths as she inhaled deeply, before shaking herself slightly. "I'm sorry, Jarod. You don't need any more worries right now. You need to sleep."

He shot her a look of concern. "You probably shouldn't be alone right now."

"I'm not." She smiled faintly and rubbed a hand on her stomach. "Not anymore."

"No," he agreed somewhat uncertainly, as she turned away. "I guess you're not."

* * * * * * * * *

He silently entered the room, seeing, through the partly open bedroom door, Jarod stretched out on his bed, fully dressed and obviously sound asleep. His expression was calm, evidence of the skill of the woman pacing the halls outside, restless and unable to settle down with a book, as she usually did. As the blond man watched, a faint smile caused dimples to appear on the Pretender's cheeks and he curled up slightly on the bed, wrapping his arms round himself.

Turning away from the door, he moved over to the workstation. The files were in the place that he guessed they would be, knowing how orderly and neat Jarod had been trained to be. He silently extracted the folders about the current problem, seeing that one page was dedicated to each of the affected individuals, including the file number under which their records were stored. Joseph's was first, and he ran his finger down the list, stopping at Keely.

In the past few weeks, he realized that he had finally broken out of Centre programming enough to choose a woman who could be perfect for him. After he had successfully created a medication that would stabilize Keely's condition, without the side-effects of the former one, he had begun spending even more time with her, putting up with the good-natured teasing to which Sebastian subjected him. Now, knowing how much of a threat she faced from the deterioration of her brain, he wanted to know everything about the planned treatment.

Jarod had asked him to help with the scans, but his expertise was chemistry, not technology, so he had declined. He knew of nothing in the available arsenal of medications that would be any use in treating this condition, so he had watched, in fascination, the development of something to help it.

The sound of a soft 'ahem' from behind him made the man turn with a start to find the apartment's occupant in the bedroom doorway, wearing a different shirt from the one he had been wearing on the bed and rapidly doing up the garment.

"Did I wake you?"

After tucking in the shirt, Jarod came over and gently took the folder out of his hands. "I'm flying up to Blue Cove today, to talk to Morgan, and I want to be there before she leaves for work so I'm only away from here for as short a time a possible." He put the file into a bag that stood beside the workstation. "If you're looking for Keely's folder, this is it." He took out a file out from under a pile of others and offered it. The intruder hesitated briefly, before accepting the slender booklet.

"How bad is it?"

"Middle of the road. She's young, so it's not that severe, but at the same time, she's been forced to use her pyrokinesis regularly, so that's contributed to the degeneration of the tissue. Compared to her brother, she's pretty good, but if you look at people who were never at the Centre, she's a lot worse."

He collected a bundle of other pages from the desk, quickly flipped through them and put them in the bag.

"You can take a more detailed looked through that if you want. I have to get going. Just shut the door when you leave."

With a nod, Jarod swung his jacket over his shoulders and checked he had his wallet and phone before leaving the room. The blond man stared after him for a moment, before finally turning his attention to the file in his hands.

* * * * * * * * *

Briar Road
Blue Cove, Delaware

Morgan stretched luxuriously, before the aroma of Brazilian coffee registered and she sat up in a hurry. Her bedroom door was open, although she was sure she had shut it the night before, and her clothes lay draped over a chair beside the bed. She knew of only one man alive who could be so silent in his movements, and reached for her bathrobe as she got out of bed. Sliding her feet into slippers that lay beside the bed, she did up the sash as she left the room and descended the stairs.

"Jarod?" she called. "Where are you?"

"Kitchen," his voice responded, and she entered the room to find him sitting at the table, glancing through a pile of papers. He looked up when she appeared and smiled, but she could see anxiety in his eyes as she approached.

"The sweepers are supposed to tell me when anybody arrives."

He pulled up his left sleeve to display a red mark on his wrist, where hands had obviously held him. "I managed to persuade them not to."

"Apparently." She lightly touched the raw skin. "Are you just paying a surprise visit, or do you have a reason for this?"

Jarod smiled. "I have reasons for everything I do. Grab yourself some coffee and I'll tell you."

He walked with her into the living room, taking a seat in an armchair as she curled up on the sofa, one of her mohair rugs wrapped around her legs and feet, sipping the hot drink.

"So to what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?"

"I wanted to update you on what's been happening at Sanctuary." He began with Joseph's current condition, and then told her about the MRIs that had been done. She felt something tighten inside her as he continued, finally holding up a hand to stop him, her voice tense.

"Gabriel?"

"Is fine," he assured her. "His scans were clear, and so were Merritt's." His voice softened. "Don't you think that, if they hadn't been, I would have told you first, and earlier than this?"

She nodded curly, tucking the blanket more closely around herself, and put the mug on the table, thinking hard. "You said Sebastian would need it, so I'll assume Gideon will, too."

"Yes." He nodded. "So will Angelique, Michaela, Tempest and Raphael. They've only just begun to show signs of deterioration on their scans. This will be more of a preventative measure, to stop it from getting worse, we hope. That is, if it works for other people. If it doesn't, we won't do it to them."

Morgan swallowed a lump in her throat at the mention of her baby brother, and the other children of whom she had grown fond. "What happens," she asked thickly, "if this doesn't work? Or if it doesn't last?"

"We will have eliminated an option," Jarod responded thoughtfully. "I don't know what we'll do if it doesn't succeed -- we haven't really got a plan 'B' at this stage. There's no way to make brain tissue regrow on its own if it's breaking down, and it's not like with some other organs, where we could do transplants."

Despite knowing and appreciating that he was being completely honest with her, Morgan still felt horrified at the realization that nothing else could be done.

"So what happens now?"

"Now, we have to work out who will actually do the surgery and, when that happens, then we can start." He dropped the papers onto the coffee table. "If possible, I'd like you to come down when we operate on the children. When we began to sedate them for the MRI scans, those who hadn't received the medication were upset. It's only going to be worse when we have to anesthetize them, and we can't explain this sort of thing to children of that age, although we'll do our best."

Morgan arched an eyebrow. "Are you saying they knew that you were testing the others?"

"Exactly." Jarod met her gaze steadily. "Particularly if there were blood connections. Gabriel was most upset when we were testing Angelique, Uriel, Tempest and Raphael, for example, although he knew something was happening when we sedated the other three. My guess is that he'll need you there when three of his cousins are undergoing the procedure."

She nodded. "I'll be there, no matter what." Morgan glanced at her watch. "I have to get ready for work. Are you coming in to the Centre today?"

"No. I really need to get back there, so we can begin to make the arrangements." He glanced at his watch. "I did get through this a little quicker than I thought, though. The jet isn't due to leave for another hour." He smiled. "Is there anything I can do for you while I'm here?"

Morgan smiled sweetly back. "How nice are you feeling right now?"

"Probably nice enough to make you breakfast," he replied, adding teasingly, "Pop tarts okay?"

She picked up a cushion from the sofa and threw it at him, fleeing the room before Jarod could get his revenge.

* * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas

Jarod came straight from Dallas airport to the Prometheus building and up the first level, on which the offices were located, for the scheduled meeting. He entered the boardroom, seeing that people already sat along both sides of the table, but that the seat at the head was free. Sebastian waved him to it and he sat down.

"We have a possible treatment," Jarod began, and heard sighs of obvious relief from around the table. "Wait," he urged, "it's not that simple. It's a very risky procedure, and, if it fails, I don't know what else we can suggest."

"What is it?" Trevor asked quietly.

"Ironically enough, it's built on the foundations of a project the Centre was running, called Exodus, which was trying to use stem-cells to create new bodily organs."

"We know about it," Sebastian informed the Pretender, before he could launch into a description. "You asked us to do something about the hospital, remember? We did a little investigation of our own afterwards."

"I had forgotten, but that's good, because I don't have to go into detail," Jarod responded. "We hope that, by injecting stem cells into the brain's affected area, we can cause the brain tissue to rebuild itself."

Trevor visibly flinched. "You're going to take stem cells from fetuses?"

"I don't think it will be necessary to do so," the older man told him. "Having examined the research that's been done, I think we can probably achieve the same results using stem-cells from blood and possibly bone-marrow of the affected individual. There'll also be even less risk of rejection if we do it that way."

Heads were nodding their understanding around the table, but Jarod waited until they were still before he continued.

"There is another, potentially even bigger, problem," he warned, and the occupants of the room tensed as they turned, as one, in his direction. "That's the procedure itself. Firstly, we don't know what effect it will have if we just inject some cells into the brain. It's never been done before, as far as we know, so we've got nothing to work on."

"I think," Ramona offered quietly, "that we would all be willing to take that risk, considering the alternative."

"I can understand that," Jarod returned, "but more immediately, there's the problem of who will do the actual surgery."

Sebastian raised an eyebrow. "You won't?"

"I'll assist with it, or act as anesthetist," the Pretender told him firmly. "But there's no way I can stand for that length of time, not yet anyway. Each procedure will probably take upwards of eight hours, and I'm just not strong enough for that yet. Assisting is much easier than acting as primary surgeon. Also, this is an incredibly delicate operation. I'm really not sure that I've got enough skill to be able to do it. It would take years of practice to get the level of dexterity required." He studied his hands for a moment, before looking up again. "And on a more personal note, more than half of the Seraphim are going to need the procedure. The thought of being responsible for doing something like that to those children -- or any of you -- without knowing what will happen as a result, leaves me feeling more than a little uncomfortable."

"That's understandable," Sumi told him softly, her hand resting gently on that of her husband. "But if you won't, and I imagine Yuri won't, either, since his daughter will have to have the operation, then who will?"

Jarod nodded in agreement, but didn't speak. The other people around the table were also silent, obviously trying to think of people who might be able to help. Jarod's eyes traveled over the eight people seated on each side of him, seeing the anxiety on their faces and feeling almost guilty for the decision he had, with great difficulty, reached, the day before. Jarod outlined the research he had done into some of the more prominent neurosurgeons, not just in North America but around the world. He wasn't confident any of them would have the necessary qualifications or experience to perform the surgery, or be willing to participate in such a controversial exercise.

Even as he spoke, Jarod had surreptitiously been watching Trevor, who had been studying his hands intently, never even lifting his eyes when people spoke. Now, however, he looked up, and it was obvious to the Pretender that he had been inwardly battling with himself. Sebastian also saw the movement and turned to the psychic.

"What is it, Trevor?" he asked.

"I… might know somebody," he offered hesitantly.

Jarod raised an eyebrow. "Who?"

The younger man sighed deeply again before speaking. "Have you ever heard of a Dr. Patrick McCarty?"

"I read about him, yes," Jarod agreed. "The article suggested that he was something out of the ordinary in the neurosurgery department. But he retired a few years ago."

"After his wife died," Trevor offered. "But he'd still be able to do it."

"Can you contact him?" Sumi asked eagerly, and Trevor nodded.

"I know where he is, yes." Trevor studied his hands again. "I could call him…"

"Please do," Sebastian snapped, his impatience obvious. "We'll meet again when he arrives."

Jarod gathered his things, but grabbed Trevor's arm before the younger man could leave, as he was obviously eager to do.

"I have work to do," the psychic protested, but Jarod merely tightened his hold slightly.

"It can wait," he assured Trevor, guiding him back to his chair. "Is he your father?" he asked, and saw the dark-skinned man nod with obvious reluctance.

"We don't… we didn't get on so well, in the past," he offered. "I haven't spoken to him for almost ten years."

"But you know he's still capable of carrying out the procedure?"

"I see him sometimes," Trevor admitted, tapping the side of his head. "But we haven't spoken for a long time, since my grandmother died."

Jarod looked at him sympathetically. "Want to tell me about it?"

"I guess I should, before he comes, so that someone understands," the psychic sighed. Standing, he moved to the far side of the room, staring at the screen showing the streets of Dallas. "When I was about four, I had my first psychic vision. I'd probably had them before that, without knowing what they were, but my grandmother was babysitting me that day, so I talked to her about it. She was gifted in the same way -- the ability comes down through my mother's side of the family -- and she helped me to understand what it meant."

The man clasped his hands behind his back with another deep sigh. "She warned me not to say anything about it to my parents. When I asked why, she said it was because they didn't believe in paranormal phenomenon."

"But," Jarod broke in, "wasn't your mother psychic?"

"Yes, she was," Trevor agreed, "but she fought it. She didn't want the sort of pressure that beset my grandmother. She'd seen her being ostracized or exploited for her skills -- she was the person everyone went to if they'd lost something, or wanted to know petty things, like the best time to buy a car or whatever. Behind her back, after she helped them, they'd laugh at her. My mother didn't want to be used by people, so she repressed her ability and refused to admit that I could have inherited it. Dad supported her. He didn't like the idea, either."

"But they found out you could do it?" Jarod suggested softly, and the younger man nodded.

"I made the mistake of saying something that I could only have known through using any psychic knowledge I might have, and the jig was up. My parents refused to listen to anything I might have found out that way, hoping that I'd stop listening to it, too, but my grandmother always supported and taught me. Then, when I was 24," his voice shook, "she passed away."

Jarod watched Trevor's shoulders tremble, thinking how fortunate he was, never to have had any of those sorts of problems with his own family. Of course, his abduction by the Centre had created a unique set of circumstances, but the thought of having similar arguments with his parents, with such dramatic results, was difficult for Jarod to contemplate. Briefly, he thought back to seeing his father for the first time at Pakor, the moment of instant recognition, and the delight in his father's eyes at seeing his son again after so long. It was all but impossible for Jarod to consider how his relationship with his father could have been anything other than what it was.

After examining the floor for a moment, Trevor's head lifted and he exhaled slowly. "The day after the funeral, I moved out of home. For a couple of weeks, I traveled, using money I'd saved when I worked various jobs in our town. Then, just before my 25th birthday, I met Sebastian. We got to know each other over the next few months, and, after he inherited Pele Enterprises, he invited me to work for him."

"And your parents?" Jarod asked quietly.

"Mom died five years ago. I went to the funeral, but I didn't talk to Dad. We hadn't had any contact during the intervening years, and I couldn't bring myself to say anything to him. Pride, I guess." He shrugged, his hands stuffed deep into the pockets of his neatly pressed pants, his shoulders hunched. "Dad retired just after she died. I don't really know what he's been doing since then, but I know he'd still be skilled enough to perform the surgery."

"Would you really be willing to have him here?"

"Jarod," Trevor turned and met the older man's gaze steadily, "if it saves Elizabeth's life, I'll put up with anything. Even having him here."

On to Act IV

 
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