Promises Kept

 

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Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas

Jarod leaned over Yuri's shoulder as they studied the screen on which Namir's latest MRI results were being displayed. The machine began spitting out sheets of scans and Yuri saved the files as Jarod picked up the pages, sliding them onto the screen on which the older results already hung.

"Well?"

"It's hard to tell," Jarod admitted, finally superimposing one image onto another. "But I think there's a little growth."

Yuri sighed in obvious relief, opening the file on the computer beside his MRI screen and entering the details. "And that's after two weeks," he mused, seeing the healer helped off the bed by one of the nurses, his hair quickly growing back, a long, red line along the front of his head showing the location of the surgical site being buried under the dark curls. "If this keeps going, we could have all the results from everyone at the end of four weeks."

"Preliminary results," Jarod reminded him. "I still think it's going to take at least two more weeks with Namir until we know for sure whether it's actually going to continue working."

There was a soft sound of agreement from Yuri before they both fell silent, Jarod going over to the computer that stood beside the screen he commonly used and opening the file on which the list of operations were written. Thirty had already been completed, fifteen days of constant hard work, and all but those operated on the day before were now up and moving around. Ramona had had slight numbness in her left foot, which had been concerning, but it had thankfully worn off by the following morning, so they continued to operate.

In another six days, once all the adults who were affected had undergone the procedure, they would once more assess its progress in Namir, Ramona and the others who had volunteered to undergo the procedure early, before considering whether it was successful enough to use on the Seraphim.

"Jarod?" a voice asked, and he turned to find one of the nurses looking in. "Sumi's just woken up and wants to talk to you."

"One sec," he responded, saving the file and closing it down, before coming over to the door. A guard, who had been in the hallway, now moved into the room to keep an eye on Yuri. Sebastian had insisted that, apart from his own set of rooms, Yuri was never to be alone in any room in the building.

Sumi lay half-reclining in bed, her eyes closed, fingers wrapped in those of her husband, who sat beside her. The Australian looked up as he came in, and Jarod could see the anxiety in his boss's eyes, picking up the folder from the end of the bed and looking through the record of the woman's vital signs, before looking up again to see that her eyes were open. He smiled as he shut the thin booklet and moved closer to the bedside.

"You wanted to talk to me?"

The bandaged head nodded slightly on the pillow, and Jarod picked up a cup of ice chips from the table, spooning several between her slightly pale lips. After a moment, they moved again and managed to frame the words, her voice deep with drowsiness.

"Did you… shave all my hair off?"

Jarod grinned. "Only on the left side," he assured her. "You can have the world's longest comb-over, once we take the bandages off, if you want."

She smiled faintly, closing her eyes again. Sebastian, who had managed a very faint smile at his wife's question, now rose from the seat as Jarod moved towards the door.

"When is it my turn?"

Jarod drew him into the hallway. "We want to do Joseph and Elizabeth first. We've been waiting to perfect the treatment, because their conditions make them more risky, but once they're done, we'll be calling you, so probably the day after tomorrow." He glanced at his watch, just as a chime rang through the hall, signaling that the dining room was starting to serve dinner. "We also want to make sure that Sumi's up, so she and Keely can take care of Gideon while you're under the anesthetic."

Sebastian folded his arms over his chest, staring at the floor. "You think he'll know?"

"I'm sure he will," Jarod responded firmly. "And we want to distress him as little as possible. But," he glanced at his watch, seeing that it was Monday, "you'll be up and around by Sunday, so as long as Sumi and Keely can keep him occupied, hopefully, he won't notice it too much."

The pyrokenetic raised an eyebrow. "That seems awfully fast."

"Not at all," Jarod assured him. "You'll have the procedure on Thursday, and, provided nothing goes wrong, you'll be sitting up and eating by Friday, with pain relief, of course, and out of bed by Saturday. And then Sunday," he teased, "we'll have you running races."

Sebastian smiled in appreciation of the joke, and then headed back into the room where his wife slept while Jarod headed for the elevator that would take him up to the dining room.

* * * * * * * * *

Parishville, Upstate New York

There was a soft sigh as a breeze blew through the grass, and Kim drew her coat more closely around her as she picked up the small bunch of flowers from the passenger seat and then got out of the car, shutting the door. The scene before her was so dramatically different from her last visit to this place that, for a moment, she could only stand and stare at the expanse of green. Moving forward, Kim pushed open the gate and stepped into the enclosed space, closing it behind her.

The wind changed, blowing from behind her, seeming to gently push her forward, and she moved over to the center of the area, putting up one hand to keep her hair from blowing into her face.

"I hope you're happy now," she murmured aloud, approaching the two graves, side by side.

Grass had already grown over the two mounds, and gravestones alerted any curious visitor to the identities of those buried there. Louise Asher and Hugh Woods. Lifting her eyes, Kim's gaze roamed around the area, noting from the positions of the trees where the house had once stood, a house that had resulted in so many deaths.

The trees bent in the wind, and she pushed her free hand deeper into her pocket, wondering if anyone else would consent to be buried on this formerly haunted ground, or whether the couple would have it to themselves for eternity.

Kneeling in front of the graves, she placed the small bunch of roses so that the petals lay on one mound and the paper around the stems touched the other, giving the headstone a light touch as she rose to her feet. Turning away, she headed back for her car, feeling that the wind had died down, smiling as she got into the vehicle and drove away.

* * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas

The blond man heard the door open and looked over his shoulder to see Jarod quietly enter. He put the test tube he had been holding into a rack that stood on the bench and turned to face him.

"How's it going?" the Pretender asked, wandering in his direction.

"I think I've got it," he offered, and then explained the drug he had made, which, it was hoped would encourage growth of the implanted stem cells. He could see Jarod nod as he clarified the way he believed that it worked.

"I spoke to Shane," Jarod told him. "CGB is ready to begin mass-producing it as soon as you're happy with the formula."

Nodding, the blond man glanced at his notes again before looking at the other man once more.

"I take it you… you haven't found anything," he offered hesitantly, feeling something sink inside him as the other man shook his head. Jarod spread his hands in a helpless gesture.

"I've looked everywhere I know," he explained quietly. "I can't find anything - no birth certificates, no photos, nothing. I can only assume that the Centre destroyed it all." He paused. "I'm sorry."

The bitterness of disappointment choked him. He had been hoping to find anything, even a name, that would link him to the world before his work at the Centre, but he had found nothing, so he had asked Jarod in the hope that the Pretender would have more luck. Now that option, too, had turned out to be hopeless. Exhaling slowly, he turned back to the bench at which he was working.

"I could keep trying," Jarod suggested, after a long period of silence, but the man slowly shook his head.

"There's probably no point," he murmured, before his head went up, straightening his shoulders. "I guess it's time to move on, make my own future, instead of hoping for a past that doesn't seem to exist."

"But you'll stay here?" Jarod prompted quickly. "You won't leave, just like that, won't leave Keely when she's so attached to you?" His voice lowered. "You saved my son and the others from exposure to Aurora. I owe you something for that. Something big. I wanted to help you when you asked, and I hate the fact that I couldn't. I didn't want to fail, John. I wanted to give you something that would have helped you as much as finding out about my family helped me." His dark eyes glittered suspiciously. "Don't think that I, or any of the children, or anyone else here, would forget you if you disappeared from our lives. You're known here. We'll keep thinking about you." His lips twisted into an almost bitter smile. "Maybe the Centre's training isn't as good as you think it is."

John laughed humorlessly. "What good is a memory of me when I don't even know who I am?"

"You could find out," Jarod suggested, leaning against a nearby chair. "Start today. Make a new life. Keep the best bits of the old one. Throw out the rest. Make believe it happened to someone else. Join the family of people here at Sanctuary; know that you're as gifted as any of the rest of us, and that you belong here. Make today your birthday and the start of everything you want your life to be."

The man thought this over for a couple of minutes. Now that he knew there was nothing that he could expect to find about his past, that idea was tempting. It wouldn't be easy to break out of the long years of training he had undergone, but it was possible. People needed him, and he would be able to work towards helping them, taking benevolent orders for a change, instead of those that were frequently the opposite. All the people here had suffered to a greater or lesser extent, because of the same place that had taken his life and his past; a place that was now gone. There was no more need for loyalty to it, or to his past. It could go.

He nodded, meeting the older man's gaze, deciding. And then he smiled. "I guess that makes it my birthday, then."

Jarod grinned. "You're doing awfully well for a newborn."

John laughed, feeling something lighten inside him at the teasing. He turned back to the work on the bench in front of him, knowing that Jarod was leaving, probably to tell Sebastian the result of their conversation, but then his voice came, asking one final question.

"By the way, what should we call you?"

The blond man shrugged, looking back over his shoulder. "Why change what works? I've been John Smith for a while now. Might as well leave it. It's as good as any other. What's in a name, anyhow?"

Jarod smiled sympathetically, understanding, and then quietly left the room.

* * * * * * * * *

Tokyo, Japan

Lucian finished wrapping the sheet around the body of the woman on the bed, reaching for his shirt and pulling it on to cover the scratches that marred his skin, both new ones from this more recent murder and those of the other four women who had fallen victim to him.

Gathering his things, he quietly left the room, piling them into his hired car, which he would dump when he was far enough away, and leaving the carpark beside the tall hotel.

That was the fifth murder.

He was sure that she would eventually get the message. He wanted to terrify her a little first and shake her up, make her wonder when he was coming, but the best part for Lucian was that he could decide exactly when that would be.

It hadn't been easy to find a woman with blue eyes in this town, but a backpacker had eventually succumbed to his charms and the offer of a night in a proper hotel, at his expense. Not that it had cost him a lot. In fact, these days, life wasn't costing him very much at all…

* * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas

Jarod squeezed the clear gel onto Elizabeth's visibly swollen belly and picked up the transducer, using it to spread the gel around enough for him to get clear pictures. It took several minutes, but finally he could see the rapid movement that signified a heartbeat. This wasn't Elizabeth's first ultrasound, and they had discovered the sex of the baby the previous week, but he could feel her tension, using his free hand to unclench the fingers that were wrapped around the edge of the bed on which she lay.

"It's all right," he assured her quietly. "She's still hanging in there."

A tear slipped out of the woman's eye and down her temple as she stared at the ceiling. Suddenly her gaze swung around to him. "Trevor dreamed about her yesterday."

He arched an eyebrow. "He did?"

"Yes." The word was soft, and her hand lightly touched a part of her stomach not covered by the clear gel. Another tear escaped from her eye and began a slow trek down her temple, to vanish in her hair. A small smile curled her lips. "He was dreaming about her life and what she would do. I can't help wondering," she broke off to sniff back more tears, "if it was a vision, not a dream. If she will survive and go on to live that life

Jarod put down the transducer and wrapped his hands around her fingers. "If it will help you," he urged quietly, "believe that. Hang on to that belief, and the knowledge that you've got something to live for now, even more than you did before. That she'll need you."

She smiled again, bitterly this time. "Faith said the same thing to you," she told him. "You don't remember it consciously, but you dream about it all the time."

Jarod busied himself with the ultrasound equipment again, blinking to clear his sight as his eyes misted.

"I just wanted you to know," she stated quietly, "in case I don't pull through this. I took it away, so it wouldn't upset you, but if I'm not here anymore, to do that for you, I want you to remember why you survived."

He cleaned the gel off her stomach without meeting her gaze, gently pulling down her nightgown and assisting her into the wheelchair she was using if she had to go anywhere, in an attempt to prevent her from falling again.

She grabbed his hand as he was about to steer the chair out of the room, looking up at him, and, although her eyes still glistened with tears, her expression was sympathetic.

"I -- I wouldn't have told you if… if I didn't think you ought to know," she murmured.

Jarod bent down beside the chair, suddenly realizing that, although it was painful for him to hear, she was only doing what she thought was necessary, in case things went wrong. "Thank you," he stated softly, brushing a tear from her cheek. "I appreciate that."

Elizabeth clutched at his hands as her eyes filled again. "I'm scared, Jarod," she whispered.

"I know," he replied soothingly, sliding an arm around her shoulders and squeezing gently. "But, even though there are risks in your case that we haven't had to deal with before, we've done this quite a bit. We're getting pretty good at it."

Nodding, she sniffed and gave a watery smile. Jarod straightened up and pushed the chair along the hall to her room, seeing that Sumi was sitting in the armchair beside the bed, wrapped in a blanket, waiting to talk to her friend. Jarod went to tell Patrick the result of the ultrasound so that they could make final preparations for the operation, the following afternoon.

* * * * * * * * *

Sebastian was heading down the hall to his apartment to get something his wife wanted when he heard sobs and gasps from the room he had just passed. Going back, he paused for a moment before pushing the door open, seeing Trevor pacing the length of his apartment's living room, his head bowed and arms folded over his chest as tears streamed down his cheeks, soaking through the shirt he wore. Sebastian hesitated for a moment before closing the door behind himself.

"Trevor," he called quietly, questioningly. "What is it?"

The psychic turned, tear-tracks on his cheeks glistening in the overhead lights, his eyes red. For a moment, he started blankly at his visitor, before making an obvious effort to control himself.

"You saw something," the Australian stated knowingly. "What was it?"

Trevor sank onto the sofa, and Sebastian moved over to sit beside his friend. "My daughter," he murmured, sinking his face into his hands and beginning to weep again. "I saw my baby girl."

Sebastian brightened immediately. "So she'll survive! They both will!"

"I don't know!" Trevor burst out. "That's just it. I can't believe in myself anymore, not with the way things have happened!"

The pyrokenetic waited for a moment in silence, before asking a question. "What things?"

Gasping for air, fighting to stop the tears, it took a moment before Trevor was able to answer, but he finally got the words out. "I saw Jarod die," he reminded his friend, "and he's still alive. I never thought I'd see my father again… and he's here. They were such big things, and I was so sure of them, but they were wrong. How can I possibly trust something this big to be right?"

Sebastian had no answer to this question, and knew that there was none, sliding his arm around his friend's shoulders and squeezing gently as Trevor continued to weep.

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

Jordan parked his hired car near the entrance to the large building, forced to suppress a shudder as he opened the door and got out, taking the bag of files he had made with him. A sweeper who stood guard at the front door opened it for him, and he ventured nervously into the dim interior, somewhat hesitantly approaching the desk. The receptionist glanced at him and then picked up an ID badge, which she was about to give him, before she hesitated. A second passed, before her expression cleared.

"Oh, you're Mr. Charles' son," she exclaimed, hurriedly putting the badge away. "I'm sorry, it took me a moment. Miss Ritter asked me to call her when you arrived, so if you'll put this on," she gave him a different tag with his name on it, "and take a seat, I'll let her know that you're here."

Jordan took the badge with a feeling of thankfulness, retreating to the chairs that stood against the wall and sitting down on one, clutching his bag to his chest and staring around at the marble room. Even the Prometheus lobby wasn't on the scale of this building, and its size and silence awed him.

"Jordan," a familiar voice announced, and Morgan stepped out of the elevator, passing through a metal detector and holding out her hand, lightly kissing his cheek. "I'm glad you got here okay."

She guided him through the security procedures, stating that he would have to go through them every time he entered the building, but he wouldn't have to wait for someone to come down and get him every day. Now that he had his pass, he could come and go as he pleased.

"Pleasant flight up? I heard there was a storm over Arkansas."

"Well, I'm glad I don't get airsick," he told her, relaxing at her casual tone. "It was certainly a little bumpy."

"I bet." She smiled, before looking at what he carried. "You brought clothes and things?"

"Of course," he agreed. "But I took them to the apartment Dad uses when he comes up. He said I could use it."

"I was going to offer you a room at my house," Morgan volunteered. "But it's up to you."

"I… I think I'd prefer the apartment," he responded hesitantly. "I'm sort of looking forward to living on my own, for the first time."

"A bachelor pad, huh?" she teased, as they got into the elevator and she pressed the new button for the lowest floor. When he only nodded in response, she became more serious. "I know you've got all the information on Pedro that we've found, so you know what to expect. We still haven't moved him from his room in SL-27, to keep him as calm as possible until he gets more used to having people around again."

"That might take a while," Jordan stated thoughtfully, suddenly realizing how much he sounded like his father. "I understand the team haven't got far?"

"They seem to be a little short on ideas," Morgan agreed. "I'm looking forward to seeing what you can come up with. I hate seeing that poor baby down there, all alone"

They stepped out into a brightly lit corridor, which was full of people working in various rooms and also, much to Jordan's amazement, scrubbing the ceiling. He hesitated, watching them curiously, before hurrying after Morgan, who hadn't stopped.

"We've set up an office beside Pedro's room, expanding the observation room so that you'll be able to see him from your desk." She glanced apologetically over her shoulder. "If you'd prefer an office on one of the higher levels…"

"I'd rather be as close to him as possible," Jordan interrupted. "I don't care so much about how far down I am. I'm used to being without windows."

"Of course you are," Morgan agreed. "I'd forgotten about the set-up in Sanctuary."

He nodded as she opened a door, which, Jordan saw, bore a plate with his name on it. Going into the office, he saw a desk and several shelves of books against the far wall, the wall closest to him bearing an observation window into the next room. Looking into the boy's room, he saw Pedro lying on a pile of blankets, staring at the ceiling. His fingers fiddled with a tattered edge of the top-most rug, his expression thoughtful.

"Jordan?" Morgan got his attention and drew him over to the desk. "You'll have your own phone number within an hour -- that's what they're working on in the hallway -- and here's the key," she placed the keyring in his hand. "You can send emails and internal memos from your computer, and access the mainframe and Internet. The cafeteria is on SL-11 and food is served all day," she winked, "or, if you're anything like your father, you'll probably prefer to use one of the vending machines on the same level."

Jordan grinned, as Morgan laughed, aware that he was probably blushing. Comparisons with the man from whom he had been created no longer bothered him; in fact, he was now proud to be likened to someone for whom other people had so much respect and affection. When Jordan thought back to the time before his feelings had changed, he could only wonder at his naïveté and foolish pride.

"You can arrange for something to take back to your apartment for dinner, if you want," Morgan continued. "Just let the staff know that when you're ordering." She smiled. "Any questions?"

"I think that's everything," he replied. "I'll let you know."

"You do that." Her hand rested lightly on his arm before she left the room, and he could hear her footsteps for several seconds before they were swallowed up by the other barely audible noises.

Stepping over to the observation window, Jordan turned on the speaker and then shoved his hands deep into the pockets of the black pants he wore, rocking back slightly on his heels as his eyes roamed around the boy's room.

His father had been right; this case was very different from Jacob. The room wasn't completely bare. Raines had had timber beams put into the walls for Pedro to climb, a couple of months after he had been put into that room, and several showed signs of teeth marks, evidence of the boy's boredom. One of the sweepers had confessed that, until Lucian had injected him with Supernova, several weeks before the boy was found, he had taken food down regularly. After he had been given the drug's antidote, he had resumed feeding Pedro, afraid to confess the child's situation to anyone but equally unwilling to let him starve. The boy had only been without food for five days in total, and now he was eating every day.

Jordan had seen much of the DSA footage and read all the information about Pedro. His hands resting on the window ledge, he closed his eyes and put himself in this child's position, feeling his fear at the sight of another person. All memory of his mother would most likely have faded by now, and even if it hadn't, all the evidence showed that she had been killed so reintroducing them would be impossible. They only person who had known about this project, other than Raines, had been Lucian, and, heartily approving of it, he would have made sure to take care of any witnesses.

Jordan's eyes opening, he looked at the child with sympathy as Pedro got off his bed, scrambling up the beams, swinging off the top one like a monkey. In fact, many of his movements were more animal than human, and Jordan knew that that would only add to his difficulties. Sighing, he went to his desk and sat down, starting up the computer.

* * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas

Before Elizabeth had fully regained consciousness, Jarod had her moved to the room where the ultrasound was set up, to check on the condition of her baby. Her blood pressure had remained relatively constant during the procedure, and although its success couldn't yet be measured, she had at least survived. He sent Yuri to tell Trevor that his wife had come through, unsurprised to hear familiar footsteps as he began the ultrasound.

"Come in," he encouraged, without even looking around as the door opened. Trevor moved to the bedside and took his wife's hand, the anxiety evident in his eyes and the strained expression on his face. Although concentrating on the screen, Jarod saw Elizabeth's eyes open drowsily and she smiled at her husband from beneath the oxygen mask that covered her nose and mouth. The psychic's eyes filled, but he blinked the tears away to smile back, gently stroking her cheek. Patrick was also lingering in the doorway, waiting for the ultrasound result, his expression one of anxiety.

Jarod held his breath as he moved the transducer over her belly, only allowing himself to breathe again when he saw the quick, regular rhythm, slower than it had been on the earlier scan, but that was to be expected as a result of the anesthetic the fetus would have unavoidably absorbed. Standing, he bent over the bed.

"Elizabeth," he urged, gently shaking her shoulder until she opened sleepy brown eyes. "Sorry to wake you, but I wanted to tell you that your baby's just fine."

She smiled again, struggling to speak, her voice groggy. "I thought so."

The words were a faint murmur, barely audible, and her heavy eyelids slid down immediately as she relaxed into the pillow. Jarod smiled at Trevor, seeing the tension slowly begin to drain from the psychic's eyes, before waving at the men who stood in the doorway, waiting to transfer the bed into Elizabeth's room, Patrick having already disappeared into one of the other rooms.

He let one of the nurses take over the cleaning of the ultrasound equipment and, his eyes burning with exhaustion, caught up with the surgeon as he came out of the room in which Joseph lay, sedated after his procedure earlier that day. Julia, now well enough to be out of the infirmary and sleeping in the bedroom she had been given upon arriving at Sanctuary, could be seen through the small pane of unbreakable glass in the door, sitting beside the bed, feeding her baby.

"Go to bed, Jarod," Patrick ordered firmly, after eyeing him for a moment, "before you pass out on me."

The Pretender started to protest, but Patrick had already turned in to one of the other rooms. With a shrug, as he smothered a yawn, Jarod thought that the surgeon wouldn't have suggested if it he couldn't manage on his own and decided to do as he had been told. Yawning again, he got into the elevator and a moment later was deposited on the residence level.

In his room, he found that his bed had already been turned back and his pajamas lay on his pillow with a hot water bottle between the top and pants, keeping them warm. His bedside lamp burned dimly, and he hastily got changed, snuggling in under the covers with the hot bottle in the small of his back, hoping, as his eyes quickly drifted closed, that he would be too tired to be disturbed by nightmares.

* * * * * * * * *

Tomato.

The thought registered vaguely in his sleep-fogged mind, and Jarod's eyes opened, coming to rest on a steaming bowl that stood on his bedside table. Crackers lay on a plate next to it and, as he slowly pulled himself into a sitting position, he could see croutons floating in the thick red soup. Yawning, he stretched and then reached for the pillows on the floor, piling them behind his back. Drawing the tray onto his knees, he had eaten first cracker and tasted the soup before it occurred to him to wonder who had put it there, and who had put out his pajamas. Glancing at the clock, he saw that it was almost nine, realizing that he had only been asleep for two hours, but that it had dramatically improved the way he felt.

"Em," he called knowingly. "I know you can hear me. Where are you?"

The door to his bedroom was pushed open as if by magic and his sister stepped into the room, Gabriel asleep in her arms. "Is the soup warm enough?" she asked, grinning. "Dad said tomato was always your favorite flavor when you were little."

He chuckled, before swallowing another spoonful. "It's fine. Just what I need."

"Well, when I realized you were going to sleep through dinner, I figured you'd need something to eat when you woke up." She sat down on the bed. "I talked to Yuri. Apparently Elizabeth hasn't had any problems since the surgery."

"Good," Jarod sighed in relief. "She was definitely one of the people we were most worried about. And if she's come through then I guess we shouldn't be too concerned about the children."

Emily's arms tightened instinctively around her nephew. "I guess not. I hope not, anyway."

He smiled sympathetically. "They're easy to love, aren't they?"

"Definitely." The woman looked down at the boy in her arms. "Actually, Gabriel was asking for you before, but he fell asleep while waiting for you to wake up."

"Like father, like son," the man responded, grinning, after eating the last cracker and swallowing the last of the soup. Before he could say anything else, the phone on the table beside his bed rang. He answered it quickly, before it could wake his son

"Jarod, are you up?" the voice on the other end demanded.

"Do you mean that in the literal sense," the Pretender responded, "or in the sense of having my eyes open and being able to respond relatively coherently to questions?"

Patrick chuckled. "Either will do. We'd like to have a meeting in about half an hour to discuss the children's operations. Can you be down in the office for that?"

"Sure," Jarod agreed, moving the tray back onto the bedside table. "And I'll even do my best to be awake for it."

"Very kind of you, I'm sure," the surgeon responded condescendingly. "Oh, and we've managed to cut back the amount of painkiller Elizabeth was receiving. She's been asleep for about an hour now, and the baby seemed to have settled when we did another ultrasound, 10 minutes ago."

"Great," Jarod replied eagerly. "I'll see you in 30 minutes."

Emily eased Gabriel into Jarod's arms, after he had hung up the phone, and carried the tray out into the living room. Wrapping the blanket more tightly around the sleeping child, Jarod smoothed his son's hair, lightly sliding the side of his index finger down the baby's round cheek, thankful he wouldn't have to see his son lying on the operating table, a brace holding his head still. It would be bad enough with the other children, but he honestly admitted to himself that, much as he loved them all, his son was the most special to him.

As if realizing the direction of his father's thoughts, Gabriel stirred, opening dark eyes to gaze up at the man for a moment, before snuggling closer, his fingers wrapping around Jarod's thumb.

"Daddy," he murmured sleepily, his eyes closing again.

Jarod wondered that he had so quickly adopted the new moniker, instead of continuing to call him by his name. Gabriel still more frequently called Morgan 'Mine' than 'Mommy' and the only reason Jarod could find for the anomaly was that he had spent more time face-to-face with his mother than his father before being removed from the Centre.

Lifting the boy slightly, he gently kissed the top of his head, stroking his soft hair and skin, wishing that he had had a chance to see his son grow up from the day he was born, instead of coming into his life at what seemed like such a late stage. He had missed the most important parts of his development, and that was something he would never get back. There were DSAs, of course, which Morgan had found in the old Chairman's office, and she had had copies made for him. He had spent his time in bed at the Centre watching them all, hours of footage, and had made a new section for them in his DSA case, finally bringing himself to destroy some of those he felt that he no longer needed. But it wasn't the same as being there to celebrate each milestone in person.

The bed bent and he looked up to find his sister sitting next to his feet, watching him. "I don't want to rush you," she remarked, "but you did say you'd be down there in 30 minutes, and almost 20 of that has gone."

Jarod gave his son one final cuddle and then handed him to her, getting out of bed as she left the room and heading into the bathroom for a quick shower.

* * * * * * * * *

"Is there any reason not to go ahead?"

Jarod looked up from the notes he had made after each operation. "Not that I can see."

"And we do seem to be having the desired effect," Yuri put in. "At least, the scans seem to show that. If we toss up doing it or not…"

He trailed off into silence, staring at the table, and Patrick looked at him for a long moment before turning to Jarod. "Five children to do. One per day or should we squeeze them into three days?"

"My own personal feeling would be one each day," the older Pretender responded thoughtfully.

"Mine, too," Patrick agreed. "All right, any particular order?"

"Alphabetical by first name, for want of anything else." Jarod wrote the days and the names on his notepad. "Angelique, Gideon, Michaela, Raphael and Tempest. Monday through Friday of next week. That will give us the weekend to make sure everything's ready."

Patrick looked at the younger man opposite. "Yuri, you get that Wednesday off."

"Alexander's volunteered to do the anesthetic," Jarod put in, before Yuri could respond. "And I'll assist with the procedure."

"Good." Patrick could see the pained expression on Yuri's face, and softened. "You can take over their records, if you want. I'm sure you already know what to do."

This meant, as Yuri did already know, spending some hours with the person who had undergone the surgery on the previous day, charting their progress. Nodding silently, Yuri studied his hands, as Patrick looked back at Jarod.

"You want any days off?"

"I don't think so." He eyed the list. "We have parents for all of them, and Elizabeth will be up then, so she can sit with Angelique until it's time, along with Angelo. Angelique's the one I've got the most concern about." Patrick saw that Jarod was avoiding looking at Yuri, and noticed that he didn't say anything about Michaela. Sebastian would be on his feet again by then after his own surgery, allowing him to spend time with the children who still called him 'Daddy' before they were anesthetized.

"Good." Patrick glanced at his watch. "We'll start Sebastian's surgery at ten tomorrow morning, as he's the last, instead of seven."

"Sleeping in," Jarod grinned, as he also rose to his feet. "What a concept."

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

Jordan stood at the observation window, watching Pedro interact with the new toy bear that had been introduced to his room several days earlier, while he was asleep. At first he had been wary, but as time went on he began to interact more and more with the toy, and now he spent more time with it than he had on the bars, making a serious of strange noises that Jordan and the other psychiatrists guessed was his way of attempting to communicate.

It was late evening, Jordan knew, and soon he would leave for his apartment, but first he wanted to try something.

He had simulated this child so often that he had lost count and was beginning to believe that he could finally understand the way he thought and acted. It was very primitive, a simple mode of life that harkened back to caveman days, surviving against attack, eating, drinking and sleeping. Should they ever reveal the truth about this child to the outside world, it would provide strong evidence of what some scientists believed -- that only education separates modern man from his ancestors.

Making up his mind, Jordan put his hand on the handle of the door that led into the boy's room, checking that he had a key so he could let himself out again. Slowly, he pushed it open, seeing Pedro retreat to his bed at the first sign of movement, cringing into the corner, his dark eyes watching the intruder's every move. The young man saw that Pedro kept the toy bear behind him, as if trying to protect him from this new threat.

Jordan stopped just inside the door, not moving, readying himself to remain motionless for some time. This was the only way he could think of to adjust Pedro to the idea of there being others in the world, with whom he would eventually have to learn to interact. He would never be 'normal,' of course, but anything was an improvement on his current condition.

He stayed motionless for what he calculated was about five minutes, retreating out of the room at the end of that time and securing the door. Pedro still cringed on his bed, but Jordan knew that he would eventually come out and return to his play, as any wild animal did. Going over to the diary on his desk, he made a note of what he had done and another that reminded himself to watch the evening's DSA footage and find out exactly how long it was before Pedro came out.

This was the first step, he knew. There would be a lot of backward steps, but as long as he was consistent, Jordan was sure that he could eventually make this half-animal into a human being.

* * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas

Jarod glanced over the notes on the folder in his hand before pushing open the door of the room in which Angelique lay, sedated after surgery that had ended only a few hours earlier, jumping at the sight of the dark-haired man standing beside the bed.

"Namir, what are you doing?"

The Israeli's expression was guilty as he looked up, removing his hands from the girl's bandaged head. <"I doubt you would believe me if I said 'nothing,'"> he responded in his native language.

"You're darned right I won't," Jarod snapped. "We talked about this, using your skill until we knew whether your operation was successful. You agreed…"

"I won't let the children suffer," the man responded heatedly. "I have done as you ordered for the last four weeks, but I will not watch children lying like this when I can help. It has been hard not to, with people who have become my friends, but you cannot expect me to hold back when I can make a difference to children. You would not."

Jarod felt his anger start to ebb away, knowing that the younger man only wanted to help. "You're a terrible patient," he complained, placing the folder on the table beside the bed.

"And you are so much better," Namir mocked, his angry expression dissolving and a broad grin streaking across his face. "You were out of bed two full days before the doctors said you should be, and came down to Sanctuary before you were allowed, also."

The Pretender fought to keep an answering grin away from his face, knowing that the healer was right. He leaned over the raised bedrails and slid a finger under the thick cap of bandages that hid the girl's shaved head to feel the temperature of the skin and check that it wasn't too warm, the first sign of an infection.

"It is healing well," the other man stated. "The doctor, Patrick, is very… he has much skill."

"Yes, he does," Jarod agreed, running a gentle finger down the motionless girl's cheek.

It had been painful to see Angelique lying on the operating table, her head held tight in the frame while stem cells were inserted into her brain. He would have to do it four more times, and knew that they would be hard for him, particularly when he would have to actually help with Michaela's procedure. Jarod was thankful he had decided not to perform the actual operations. Doing what he did was difficult enough. That much responsibility would be a terrible weight to bear.

"Did it hurt?" he asked the healer curiously. "Did it hurt you to start her healing?"

"Not as before," the man responded as they left the room, heading in unspoken agreement for the elevator to go up to the roof. "Before I would feel the pain that the injured person was suffering. It could be that, because she feels nothing, I feel nothing. But also, where I would feel so tired after I had helped someone, now I do not feel that way."

Jarod nodded slowly, wondering how much it must have hurt Namir to have healed him after Lyle had shot him. "So you feel no pain?"

"I feel some," the man responded, "where the cells were put into me. Like I am working them, like using a muscle that is not warmed up properly. Not real pain, just a pull. Do you understand what I mean?"

"I think so." Jarod stretched out on the sun lounge under the glass ceiling, trying to simulate what it must have felt like. "So you think it's helped?"

"I believe so, yes," Namir agreed, smiling as Ramona came out onto the sundeck, strolling over to sit on the outdoor sofa beside him. "You will do more tests, though, to find out?"

"We plan to," Jarod replied, closing his eyes as the sun warmed his face. "After the children have all been operated on. Then we'll know for sure."

* * * * * * * * *

Jarod wiped his face on the towel that was slung around his shoulders, still panting slightly from the workout he had had with Namir, following their discussion on the rooftop. As his sweats were soaked, he planned to have a cool shower before going down to play with his son.

But he stopped in the doorway of Morgan's room, seeing her sitting at the workstation, staring at a framed photo. As he stepped silently into the room, he could see that the frame contained an image of herself and Peter Winston back in their college days, and Jarod felt his heart ache at the amount of loss this woman had had to suffer in her life.

He hesitated, debating with himself whether to go in or if she preferred to be alone, not wanting to intrude on a private grieving session, but she spoke before he could decide.

"You can come in if you want to, Jarod."

Closing the door behind himself, he silently pulled up a chair beside hers, seeing that, although her expression was pained, her eyes were dry. For a moment, she continued to stare at the photo, before turning to him. He gently stroked the tips of his fingers down her cheek. Morgan reached up and took his hand, holding it in her lap.

"It's not fair," she murmured.

"I know," he agreed softly, sliding his free arm around her shoulders.

Her head came to rest against his shoulder and he lightly kissed her hair. For a moment, they sat there in silence, before she suddenly looked up.

"What do you think would have happened if…Tommy hadn't been killed?"

Jarod smiled faintly, his heart aching at the memory of his friend and how much he had loved this woman. "I think you would have been very happy together."

"Like you and Faith," she murmured, studying his face with her eyes.

He nodded steadily. "I think the feelings were about as strong in both cases."

After a moment of silence, she spoke again. "Can you imagine our lives if the Centre hadn't ever existed?"

"No, I can't," he replied honestly. "It's affected every part of everything we've ever felt or done. I can't imagine what either of us would have been like without it."

"You've never even tried to simulate it?" she teased. "What kind of a pretender are you?"

He smiled again. "A realistic one," he replied honestly. "I only sim within the boundaries of what already exists. Like Barrow," he added, after a moment of thought. "I agree with what you said then -- that if the Centre had never existed, we might never have met. And that isn't something I ever wanted to try to imagine -- my life without you in it."

"For Pete's sake, Jarod," she exclaimed in astonishment. "I've made your life hell for the past six or more years!"

"New opportunities," he responded readily. "That's what you gave me the chance to experience."

"Determined optimist, aren't you?" she teased, and he could see that the pain had started to fade from her eyes.

"You can thank your father for that," Jarod told her softly. "He's the person who taught me how to be that way, with help from my parents for the first four years of my life."

"It almost makes us brother and sister," Morgan suggested.

"That makes what we did in Barrow even more wrong," Jarod remarked, his lips twitching.

"Who said it was wrong in the first place?" she demanded, and he raised an eyebrow.

"Let me see if I can remember who broke it off…" he mused.

"Never mind," she interrupted hurriedly.

He leaned forward and lightly kissed her cheek. "Why don't we go down and have a swim?"

"Who says I brought a swimsuit with me?" Morgan asked.

"Who says you need one?" he replied, his eyes dancing.

"Actually, I did bring one, just in case," she told him.

"Darn it." Jarod snapped his fingers, standing up, his expression rueful. Morgan stood up also and eased into his arms, smiling at him.

"You've certainly learned a lot since you got out."

"You have no idea," he assured her sincerely, but something prevented him from the kiss that would have started it all. Jarod's eyes slid over to Peter Winston's photo on the workstation and he understood his reluctance, lightly kissing Morgan's cheek before letting her go. "I'll meet you down in the pool in 10 minutes, okay?"

She nodded, moving towards the bag that stood next to her bed, and he left the room, heading for his own.

* * * * * * * * *

Yuri entered the room, hearing his heart pounding in his ears, as it always did when he was in the same room as his daughter. Pain swelled in his chest as he looked down at her, lying on the bed, a sheet covering her, wires and tubes running out from under it to various pieces of equipment that lined the walls. Long brown lashes lay on her cheeks, and her face was void of expression, the sedative that flowed into her arm keeping her still, to prevent her from dislodging the bandage wrapped around her head, hiding the fact that her dark hair had been shaved off.

Picking up the folder from the end of the bed, he flipped it open on the wheeled table and pulled a pen from his pocket, writing down the details of pulse and respiration as they were shown on the screens. Running his eye down the notations, he saw the gradual improvement and stabilization of his daughter's vital signs over the past twelve hours. The only thing they were yet to test was whether the implanted cells would do what they were meant to: unite with existing cells and begin to grow. That would be at least two weeks away.

Returning the pen to his pocket, he closed the folder and replaced it in the small basket that hung on the end of the bed, turning to leave the room. A drowsy little voice stopped him.

"Who's you?"

Yuri froze, recognizing the voice from the security footage he had seen and heard, slowly turning to meet his daughter's gaze. A tiny, somewhat bitter smile twitched the corners of Yuri's mouth, as he swallowed the urge to cry.

"I'm nobody," he told her softly. "Nobody important."

"Evveybody's somebody, silly," she scolded sleepily, and raised her hand off the blanket, holding it out to him. "What's you's name?"

"Yuri," he said quietly, remaining in the doorway, unwilling to respond to her innocent, wordless plea in the way she wanted him to.

A step from behind him made the Pretender turn to find Sebastian in the doorway, and he moved aside to allow the Australian in, guessing that the security teams had overheard the conversation and alerted him. Stepping over to the bedside, Sebastian took the small hand that Michaela was still holding out and bent over her.

"Hi, sweetheart."

Out of the corner of his eye, Yuri saw the girl smile drowsily up at the tall man, and knew before she opened her mouth what the next word would be, trying to hurry out of the room, but not going fast enough to avoid hearing…

Daddy.

Something seemed to tear inside his chest, and Yuri ran frantically to the stairs and up them to the suite of rooms that had been set aside for him, throwing himself face-down onto the sofa and weeping passionately and bitterly.

"Nobody," he whispered aloud, from between gritted teeth. "Less than nobody."

Seizing one of the cushions, he pressed his face into it, muffling the sound of his sobs. He didn't know how much more of this he could take. The operations were almost over now, and surely he could go back up to the Centre, where he could try to forget about her, or at least not have to see and hear about her every day. Only one operation left, he thought. Maybe after it was over…

But he couldn't bear to leave until he knew she was all right, back on her feet again, and that the treatment had had the desired effect. It would be at least two weeks until they could perform the first scan to look for change. Fourteen days, he told himself. As soon as that was over, he'd be able to go back to his room at the Centre, and, he vowed, as he wiped his eyes and went into the bathroom to splash his face with water, once back there, he'd never leave again.

* * * * * * * * *

Jarod entered the room where the small boy was sitting in Merritt's lap, playing with the kangaroo she had brought back from Australia for him, Morgan sitting on a chair against the wall. All three looked up as Jarod walked in, and he smiled a greeting, holding out his hand to the boy.

"Come on, Raffi. Your turn."

All of the children had been shown the room in which they would receive the first of the drugs that would keep them unconscious for the whole procedure, and which was not the large, cold, sterile operating theatre but a smaller room nearby.

"Can I come?" Merritt asked, as the boy tightened his hold on her sleeve, and Jarod nodded with another smile.

"Of course."

He waited until Morgan had kissed her baby brother and watched Merritt get to her feet, Raphael in her arms. The child's hand was already coated with the anesthetic cream so that he wouldn't feel the needle being inserted, and, after getting up onto the high trolley with Raphael beside her, Merritt distracted him with one of the toys in the corner for that purpose. Jarod gently wiped away the cream and then slid the needle into the boys' vein, gently depressing the plunger, seeing him flinch slightly at the pressure.

After a few seconds, the child fell silent, his eyes wide and staring, the pupils dilated, and his arm drooping into his lap as his head sank back against Merritt's chest. Laying the unconscious child down on the trolley, Jarod gently closed the boy's eyes and covered him with a blanket that lay on the end of the bed, lifting the child-sized mask off the oxygen machine nearby and placing it over Raphael's mouth and nose, before looking up to see the girl's anxiety-filled blue eyes.

"It's okay," he assured her gently, as one of the nurses entered and turned on the equipment. The man took a step away from the bed and put an arm around her shoulders with a gentle squeeze. "It's meant to happen like that."

"He… he just… just stopped," she protested faintly, waving a feeble hand in demonstration.

"I know," he told her quietly. "But it's okay. Honest. That's exactly what's supposed to happen."

She nodded slowly as he and the nurse pushed the bed out of the room into the hallway, where two other nurses waited to move it into the operating theatre, in which Alexander would administer the actual anesthetic before assisting Jarod during the procedure. Jarod walked Merritt to the room where Morgan waited, having already explained the procedure to the woman, so that she would understand Merritt's concerns. Seeing the knowing look in her eyes as Morgan stood and came over to where Merritt waited, he flashed her a brief smile before heading down the hall to the room where he would scrub up.

* * * * * * * * *

South Africa

"There's another one," David announced, handing the paper to his boss as he entered the office and taking a seat on the other side of the desk without waiting for an invitation. "In Italy this time."

"That's close to Die Fakultät," Jock Voorhees mused thoughtfully, as he picked up the paper and unfolded it.

"And it's the tenth victim," the other man remarked. "This is getting serious."

"It was always serious," Jock reminded him. "Murders usually are." He opened to the pages that were relevant to the case, seeing that a translation of the headline had been provided. "Is The Executioner Back?"

"Well, is he?" David demanded. "Has Yuri escaped? Gone on another killing spree?"

"According to a conversation I had with Sebastian and Jarod this morning, he's in Texas, helping with a problem there. It sounds like the issue is affecting him personally, so he wouldn't be likely to be escaping in order to commit more murders. Beside, all of these women were prostitutes, homeless women, backpackers or working in shops. There's no connection to the Centre."

"In one way," David mused, "there is." He cocked his head slightly to one side. "Do you have any of the other articles handy?"

Wondering what his underling meant, Voorhees extracted the file from a pile that lay on his desk and handed it over, watching David take out the photos of the nine other victims that had been cut out of the paper articles and lay them flat on the desk, putting that of the most recently killed woman beside them. Jock gazed at the photos for a moment, before realizing what David meant.

"Brown hair," he mused, "blue eyes, all about 5 foot 10 inches or a little taller, slender build…"

"In other words," David finished for him curtly, "they all resemble Morgan Ritter." He sank back in his chair. "So it's probably a message, most likely from Lucian. He'll be coming for her eventually, and he wants her to know it."

Jock sank his head into his hands, his elbows resting on the desk. "Should we tell her?"

"I don't think we have a choice," David advised sagely. "Lucian wants her to get the message and if she doesn't get it from us, he might deliver it personally."

On to Act VII

 
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