Promises Kept

 

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Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas

"Yeah, I'm okay," Merritt sniffed into her cell phone. "It was just… a little scary."

"I'm sorry," Jordan soothed. "Would you like me to come down? I could be there in a few hours."

"No, it's okay," she replied, feeling Morgan's arm around her shoulders. "Momma's here. But can I call you later?"

"Of course you can," he assured her. "I love you, honey. Take care."

"Love you, too," she responded, wiping a tear from her cheek. "Talk to you tonight."

She hung up and reached forward to place the phone on the table, returning the hug that Morgan gave her.

"It'll be okay," the woman assured her, smoothing her hair. "I know it was scary, but at least it was quick. And he won't remember a thing about it later."

Nodding, Merritt tightened her hold around her mother's waist. A movement from the doorway drew her eyes there, and she smiled at the man who opened the door, surprised to feel Morgan tense.

"Major," the woman greeted him in frosty tones, and the man sighed.

"Miss Ritter," he responded formally, before smiling sympathetically at the girl. "Are you all right, Merritt?"

She nodded, giving her mother one final hug before letting go and sitting up straighter as the man came into the room, returning his attention to Morgan.

"I'd like to talk to you," he began, as he sat down, "about what happened to your mother."

"I don't believe that's necessary," Morgan replied haughtily, before relenting somewhat. "I already know you weren't responsible for her death," she continued more gently, "but it's still hard for me to get the image of her in the elevator out of my head."

"Maybe, if you know what really happened, you'll find that easier," the man suggested. For a long moment, he stared at the floor, his elbows resting on his knees, before looking up and beginning to talk. He described his meeting with Catherine and her companion, and the consequences of it, the day of the faked murder and his own narrow escape. Responding to the slight skepticism in her eyes, he showed her the scar on his stomach, adding details about the moments before firing the gun that he could only have known by being there.

By the time he finished, the coldness had vanished from Morgan's eyes, and Merritt knew that, although she would need time to think about it, she would end up being able to forgive the man, in a way that she had not been able to before. Merritt tried to imagine the woman from whom she had been made going through all that, and the mere thought made her feel sick, but then she was reminded of dreams that she had had before coming to this place, dreams that she had never fully understood, but which now made sense.

For several minutes, she listened to their conversation, hearing them ponder how early Catherine had know she was pregnant and when she had begun planning it, before she spoke.

"She knew right away, within a few weeks of the operation."

They both turned to her. "Are you sure, baby?" Morgan asked gently, and she nodded, describing one of her most regularly recurring dreams.

Catherine strolled the path outside the country house, her fingers trailing along the leaves leaning out toward her, not seeing the beauty of the woods that enveloped her favorite place. The test had come back positive, even though there was no way it could be true. She was pregnant, but she hadn't been intimate with her husband or any other man for months, even though Grayson had tried a few weeks earlier. She had rebuffed him, and he was enraged and beat her again.

She couldn't go to Sydney. As much as she wanted to talk to him about this, she couldn't tell him she was pregnant again. He would assume it was Grayson's baby, as he had with Morgan and the little lost one. She had lied to him about that, because it was the only thing that would keep him alive in that place. If Grayson knew or even suspected that her little angel wasn't his own flesh and blood, Morgan would be in danger as well. But Catherine knew the truth, and it would go with her to her grave.

Her hand absently rubbed across her flat abdomen, too aware of the life that stirred and grew in there, though it was still too small to show. No one knew but herself at this point. There was no way she could be carrying a baby, but someone had put it there, and she would find out who, and why. Already her mind had been toying with timetables, and there was only one opportunity when someone might have done this to her.

That left only one person to ask, one person who knew exactly what had happened during that procedure. She had asked for him there, because she trusted him. He had helped her before, during that awful time months earlier when Grayson had come so close to killing her. Raines had tried to mediate, but it was afterward that Grayson had taken his fists to her, when there was no one to help her, and only her baby to witness what he did.

She sighed. She would talk to Raines tomorrow, after she did a little digging on her own, to see if there was a new project in the works, with her name attached to it. Being the director of SIS gave her power enough to look into anything, but there was still a great deal kept hidden, off the books so the Triumvirate wouldn't see. She was preparing a full report for them on the children, hoping that would blow the lid off the underground projects, and get those unfortunate little ones sent home.

But that was the best she could do, especially now that she had another life to protect.

"Raines," Morgan hissed from between clenched teeth, her fists tight balls at her sides as she paced the room. "If only I could get hold of him…"

"And he tried to pretend he didn't know anything about it," Merritt continued thoughtfully, as more memories rose to the surface, her anxiety about Raphael momentarily forgotten. "He told her he hadn't seen anything, but that he'd help her however he could…

"I can't believe it," William said, gazing at the path as they walked among the hybrid fruit trees on one of the agricultural tracts well back from the main building. "You're sure you're pregnant?"

Catherine drew a shaky breath and nodded. "Absolutely. And I shouldn't be. Grayson and I haven't been… Our marriage isn't doing well. We have separate bedrooms now, and have for nearly a year."

Raines nodded. "I wondered," he said softly, his deep voice growling. "I saw them harvesting your eggs during the procedure, but never dreamed they'd implant… They couldn't have. During the surgery was the only time…" He shook his head.

"Artificial insemination," she told him. "If you looked away for even a moment, they'd have been able to do that. And I know…" She swallowed hard, her voice cracking with emotion. "I know who they chose for the father. Grayson had this done to me on purpose."

Raines stopped walking and met her eyes. Something looking like excitement or anger gleamed back at her from his watery gaze. "Who? Why? It doesn't make any sense, Catherine."

She straightened and put her shoulders back. "I'm gifted, in my own way, William," she admitted. "And they're hoping I'll pass that gift along to… another of Major Charles's children."

He laughed. "You're joking!"

Catherine didn't smile. "I'm dead serious," she shot back. "I'm carrying Michael Charles's child." She handed over the memo she had found, requesting the sperm sample from Pakor storage.

Raines stared at it, shaking his head. "I can't believe it. I can't believe he'd do this to his own wife. What does he expect to happen to the child?"

She couldn't stop the tears as he looked at her again. "You know that already, William. It would be a project, just like the other children. Like Angelo and Jarod and Kyle."

His expression hardened. "We can't let that happen, Catherine," he growled. "We have to get you out of here."

"I know. But how? As long as I'm alive, he'd hunt me down. No place would be safe, and with a new baby, I'd be vulnerable. I couldn't travel fast enough to stay out of reach."

He nodded, his face grim. "Then we'll have to make sure he thinks you're dead."

She frowned. "Fake my death? But how?"

"Leave that to me. Let me think about it, and as soon as I come up with a plan, we'll talk again."

"All right. And thank you, William. I knew I could trust you."

He strolled off down the path, back the way they had come, and left her alone among the trees. Something tugged at her, trying to get her attention, but she was so distraught that she couldn't understand the message. He was right about what she needed to do. No one would look for a dead woman, but making it believable was the hard part. She didn't have a clue how to go about making that part of the plan work.

"If only she'd paid attention," Morgan murmured softly, stopping to stare at the floor. "If she had, she might have managed to survive somehow."

"I doubt that would have happened," Michael put in quietly. "They were obviously determined to get Ethan, by whatever means. I can't help wondering if Mr. Parker knew what Raines had done, and approved of it. He might have even been the person who gave the final order for her death."

"Or Hermann Bruce," Morgan suggested. "It sounds like something he might have tried, if he ever found out about the deception."

"But Catherine still trusted him. Raines, I mean," Merritt went on, a strange feeling growing in her, almost as if she was being used as a mouthpiece by the deceased woman. "And she was getting desperate. I think she would have gone along with anything Raines suggested."

Depression had been steadily gaining on her. She refused to take the medication Sydney prescribed because she wasn't sure if it would hurt the baby, and it was getting increasingly hard to concentrate, to force herself out of bed in the mornings and confront the day. Raines was taking too long, and she was getting desperate. In another month she'd start showing, and then it would become even more difficult for her to escape, once people knew.

She found a note from Raines, asking her to meet him at their usual place as soon as she arrived at work. The morning was overcast and threatened rain, but she didn't care. She hurried outside to the Biotract and found him standing there, glancing up at the sky, an umbrella already stretched over his head.

"What is it?" she asked softly.

"I know what we need to do," he told her with a smile. "But we'll need a third party. I can't trust anyone in the Centre to help with this. If word got back to Mr. Parker, if there was even a hint of conspiracy, he'd have the hounds out after you in a heartbeat."

"I know. So what do we do?"

"We could stage it as a suicide," he offered, "but you're Catholic. I'm not sure that would go over."

She felt her insides harden. "It probably would, with Grayson, anyway. I'm mentally unbalanced, remember? Crazy people kill themselves all the time."

"Still, we can't risk it. Write up a suicide note, just in case, and give it to me. But I'd rather we tried the alternative plan."

"Which is?"

"We need to find someone with a personal vendetta against the Centre to help make it look like somebody came in and killed you. Somebody we can bargain with, who has something we can give them in return, for helping."

She pondered that as she stared down at her flat belly. "Someone like Major Charles." She lifted her head and stepped under the umbrella with him just as the first drops of rain began to fall. "Would you help me get his sons out, if he helps us?"

"Of course," he promised. "Kyle first, then Jarod." He smiled. "Do you know how to get in touch with him?"

"I have ways," she admitted. "People I can leave messages with."

"Good. Then set up a meeting with him, and we'll see if he'll help." Raines moved his free hand to touch her abdomen, placing his palm tenderly over it for a moment. "Are you going to tell him about this? That he's the father?"

"No," she answered immediately. "Not till I know the baby and I are safe."

Raines nodded approvingly, and released a pent-up breath. "Good. That would only complicate things." He eyed her, obviously thinking. "You probably shouldn't tell him where Jarod and Kyle are either. If he knows they're in the building, it would distract him. He might decide to go off looking for them, instead of helping us."

That made sense to her. "All right. You're probably right about that. But he'll need something, some kind of assurance…"

"Give him a photo of the boys," Raines suggested. "And after I've got you safely squared away, I'll turn Jarod over to Major Charles as the final payment for his help."

She smiled. "I think that'll work, William," she breathed. "And as to the suicide angle, I'll get that note to you today. Might as well hedge our bets, right?"

"I'll have a more detailed plan ready when we meet with the major, including an escape route."

"Thank you," she said softly. "God bless you, William. I'm glad you're my friend." She sighed. "It won't be that hard making people think I'm despondent, you know. This whole situation is weighing on me so heavily… I'm sure they'll believe it. Most of them, anyway." She sighed and bowed her head. "And with a little acting on my part, I'm sure I can convince the others."

Her head came up. "What about the wounds? The autopsy and other physical evidence?"

"I'll take care of that." He smiled. "I'm a doctor, remember?"

She embraced him, offered him a smile filled with gratitude, and took the umbrella he offered as she started back down the path in the rain.

Merritt blinked and refocused on her mother, seeing the tears sparkling in Morgan's eyes as she stared blankly at the floor. Merritt could feel pain, a deeper pain than was justified by her own reaction to what had occurred, and she wondered if the woman from whom she had been created was suffering somehow during this conversation.

"Your mother," Michael Charles stated softly, "was one of the strongest, bravest women that I've ever met, Morgan. She was simply unfortunate to fall in love with someone like Mr. Parker and to have worked at a place like the Centre."

The woman looked up, smiling weakly. "Thank you," she murmured.

He rose from his chair and came over, lightly kissing her cheek. "She'd have been very proud of you for finishing what she started. I believe that, once she knew what the Centre had done and was capable of, her aim became to free the children who were trapped inside it. You've done that for her."

"With help from your son," Morgan offered. "I couldn't have done it without him."

Merritt watched her mother return the man's hug before the sound of the door opening distracted all three from their conversation.

Jarod walked in, smiling. "It's over," he announced. "We're just moving Raphael into his room now." He held out a hand to the young woman. "Want to be there when he wakes up?"

Thoughts of Raines and Catherine fled her mind as Merritt jumped to her feet and ran across the room to him, feeling his arm slip around her shoulders as he guided her out of the room and down the hall. She already knew what Raffi would look like, having seen, in preparation for this time, the other three children on whom the surgery had been performed. Without a qualm, she moved over to the bedside, gently stroking the unconscious boy's cheek, his head swathed in bandages, which, Jarod explained, would prevent fluid accumulating along the incision, a situation that would have necessitated further surgery.

"He should be coming around any moment," Jarod murmured in her ear. "But he'll still be pretty out of it."

Even as he finished speaking, the boy's eyelids flickered and she bent over the bed. "Raffi?" she asked quietly, lovingly. "Are you waking up, baby?"

After another few moments, he opened drowsy, heavy-lidded eyes and she leaned down to lightly kiss his cheek. His right hand, untethered by the IV that was bandaged to his left arm, lifted up off the bed and she felt his fingers tangle in her hair.

"Mine," he murmured sleepily. "My Mewwitt."

"Yes, baby," she promised softly. "I'm right here."

She felt Jarod's hand on her shoulder as Raphael's grasp relaxed, his hand drooping back down onto the bed. She gently eased strands of long, brown hair out from between his chubby fingers and then sat in the chair Jarod pulled up for her beside the bed.

"I'll be in and out for the next few hours," he told her. "Do you want anything? Maybe a drink? A Coke or something?"

"That'd be nice." She smiled. "Thanks, Jarod."

"No worries," he told her in an exaggerated Australian accent, as he left the room, and she smiled as she resettled herself in the chair.

* * * * * * * * *

Rebecca stood beside the bed in which Tempest lay sedated, gently stroking the baby's cheek, feeling as first one and then a steady stream of tears began to trickle down her face. An arm that touched hers made her start, before turning to find her elder daughter beside her.

"What is it, Momma?"

The woman sighed, turning to face the girl and eyeing her short hair and the red scar across the top of her head. Andromeda had been lucky. Saltier Labs had managed to create a patch system for her to administer the drugs she needed to keep Kronos I in check, and she had come through the surgery without excessive bleeding, although Rebecca and several others had donated blood in case something had gone wrong. But she had still had to go through the surgery, and that was the reason for the guilt Rebecca was feeling now.

"It's not your fault, Momma," Andromeda protested, after her mother had hesitatingly explained this. "I don't blame you for it. I was thinking yesterday how lucky I was to be here, where it could be treated. If I'd stayed with the Hatchers, I might never have known until it was too late."

Rebecca pulled her daughter into her arms, feeling the girl's shorn head come to rest on her shoulder as she hugged her back.

"There's something else," Andromeda said, after a moment, looking up. "What is it?"

The woman kissed her daughter's forehead, smoothing her cheek. "I was thinking how sad it was that neither of my girls has a father now."

"We do!" the girl protested. "Alastair!"

"I meant a real dad, baby."

"But he's like a real dad," Andromeda claimed vigorously. "He does everything with us that a real dad does, and he's better than Lyle!"

"I know that," Rebecca agreed gently. "And I know he loves you both…"

"Then that's all that matters," her daughter interrupted. "I heard Tempest call him 'daddy' for the first time, a few weeks ago."

"She did?" Rebecca's eyes lit up in delight.

"Uh huh. And if it'd help, I could call him that, too."

The psychic's heart was warmed by how willing her daughter was to make her mother happy and drew her closer, softly kissing her short hair. "Only if you really want to, baby," Rebecca urged.

Andromeda nodded, hugging her mother again. "I will," she said decisively. "I think he'll like it, too. He loved it when Tempest said it to him."

"I'm sure he will," Rebecca agreed, before jumping slightly as another hand came to rest gently on her shoulder, and she looked up into Alastair's glowing eyes as he wrapped his arms around them both.

* * * * * * * * *

Morgan glanced into the room as she passed, seeing Jarod on the sofa in his apartment, resting his head back against the cushions, his eyes closed, a half-full glass in his hand. Stopping, she pushed the door slightly more open with her free hand, supporting the sleeping Gabriel with her right arm.

"Tired?"

"That's an understatement," he told her, without opening his eyes. "You can come in, if you want, but I won't be enthralling company."

Smiling, she entered the room, closing the door and walking over to the sofa. "Any company is better than finding an empty room with the bird flown, leaving only a red notebook behind."

Jarod chuckled softly, opening his eyes to watch her sit in the armchair opposite. "I was thinking today how nice it was not to have to keep my ears open for anyone coming in who shouldn't be there."

She nodded, lowering Gabriel to her lap and gently removing his thumb from his mouth. Stroking his dark hair and round cheek, she examined his baby features.

"We didn't do badly," she remarked, with a smile, looking up in time to see Jarod follow her gaze and nod.

"Considering we weren't even trying," he agreed, "and we probably had less to do with it than just about any other parents on earth."

"He's going to have your brains."

"And your instincts." Jarod grinned. "Lethal combination."

He ran a hand through his hair and leaned forward to put the half-empty glass on the coffee table, resting back against the cushions with a soft sigh.

"How many more?"

"That's the last operation," he stated in obvious relief. "We left the Seraphim 'till last, in case there were any side-effects or problems we hadn't counted on."

"But there weren't?"

"Thankfully, no." He exhaled deeply. "Not yet, anyway."

Morgan arched an eyebrow. "Have you got any reason to think there will be any?"

He shrugged. "Well, I guess, considering everyone's past the critical first 24 hours…"

"Then stop looking for trouble," she ordered sharply. "If it's coming, it'll arrive soon enough."

Jarod grinned. "Yes, ma'am," he agreed readily.

A knock on the door made them both jump slightly, before Nancy peeped into the room. "Sorry if I'm interrupting anything," she began, "but you did say to come and get Gabriel at 11."

As Jarod glanced at his watch, Morgan stood up. "I'll bring him down to the nursery," she told the caregiver.

Nancy smiled. "Sure thing, Miss P… Ritter," she corrected hurriedly and backed out of the room. Jarod looked up to see a darker expression cross Morgan's face.

"It's not her fault," he quietly reminded the woman. "She's hardly seen you since you made your name-change official."

"I know," Morgan growled softly. "But I hate that name now, even more than before."

Jarod nodded at their son, still sound asleep in his mother's arms. "Better get him into bed, before he wakes up again and refuses to go."

She nodded and left the room. He watched her go, before slowly, and with a groan at his feeling of exhaustion, getting off the sofa, going into his room to change into his pajamas. Returning to the living room, he went over to his bar-fridge and got out a small container of fresh strawberries, dipped in dark chocolate, which Sumi had given him the day before.

Curling up in a corner of the sofa, he filled his glass from a can of soft drink and turned on the TV, hoping not to find another appalling soap opera. Finally, after flicking several stations, he stopped at a film, taking a few seconds to remember what it was and where he had seen it before.

"The Man Who Fell To Earth, I think," a voice commented from the doorway, and he looked up to see Morgan standing there. She smiled and walked in, closing the door behind her and taking a seat on the sofa beside him. "I've been thinking about Barrow lately."

He half-smiled. "Any particular reason?"

She studied the floor for a moment, before looking up again. "Actually, I was wondering if you felt like playing that game again."

Jarod's brows drew together in mild confusion. "I… I don't…"

"Don't tell me you don't understand," she retorted, lips twitching slightly. She removed the glass from his hand and put it on the table, before moving closer, forcing him back against the arm of the sofa. "After all," she breathed, her lips almost touching his, "you are the genius."

He grinned, bringing up one hand to cup her cheek, his other arm curling around her waist and drawing her down to lie on top of him. "I love playing games," he whispered against her mouth.

"Don't I know it," she retorted, rolling her eyes, before kissing him, gently at first, then harder.

Her arms slid around his neck, her eyes closing, her breath light on his cheek. He drew her closer and wrapped both arms around her back, his hands running over her shirt and his fingers tangling in her hair.

"Jarod," she murmured, rearing back slightly to look down into his eyes.

"Mmm?"

"If anyone came in right now…"

"You started it," he teased, realizing how infantile that sounded as the words came out of his mouth.

Somewhat awkwardly rising off the sofa, she helped him to his feet, picking up the strawberries, before she led him into the bedroom, closing the door firmly behind them.

* * * * * * * * *

A pleasant chime rang through the room, and Jarod drowsily lifted his head off the pillow, seeing that light was coming in under the door from the living room, before suddenly feeling the weight on his shoulder. It took less than a second for him to remember what had occurred the previous night and the early hours of that morning, and he tightened his hold around Morgan's shoulders, gently pressing his lips to her hair.

"You awake?" he asked softly.

"Uh huh," she agreed sleepily. "I want something that nice to wake me up every day, instead of my alarm clock blaring in my ear."

He chuckled. "I'll consider that a request. Give me a day or two and I'll see what I can make for you, or get Alexander to. He likes making things."

She raised herself on one elbow, sweeping her hair back over her shoulder and out of her face, and then gently touched her lips to his. "So do we have to rush down to breakfast or something?"

"Not exactly. They'll serve it for two hours. The dining room won't hold everyone at once." Jarod slid a hand down the bare skin on her arm. "But you might want to put some clothes on. Our son usually pays his early morning visit in a few minutes, and he might start asking questions if he sees you naked for the first time." He grinned. "Not that it isn't a pleasant sight…"

Sitting up, he put on his boxer shorts and a black t-shirt, sliding back in between the sheets and watching Morgan put on a pair of black, lacy panties, as well as the shirt she had worn the day before, before rejoining him, rapidly doing up the buttons. Barely had she resettled herself against the pillow than the door opened abruptly and Gabriel clambered up onto the bed.

"Hi!" he announced cheerfully, scrambling in under the covers, between his parents. Morgan drew him into her arms, and he snuggled up against her, resting his head on her pillow.

"Did you sleep well, baby?"

"Uh huh." He nodded eagerly, cuddling her around the neck, before looking at his father. "Daddy, when's Jo-den comin' back?"

"I'm not too sure," Jarod replied thoughtfully. "Probably in a couple of weeks, but I'll ask him if he can come for a few days, to play with you, okay?"

"Yup!" Gabriel beamed, before his smile dimmed. "Mine, is you goin' back dere t'day, too?"

"I'm afraid so, sweetie," she replied, smoothing his hair. "But I'll be back on Friday."

"I'm going up today, as well, Gabriel," Jarod told him, "but I'll be back tonight."

"Promise?"

"I'll do my very best," Jarod vowed, "but I won't promise, just in case something happens and I can't keep it."

Gabriel's dark eyes examined his father's face for a moment, before he solemnly nodded. "But if you was 'tuck up dere, you'd call me on de telephone," he said confidently.

"That I definitely would do," his father assured him, wrapping his arms around Morgan and thus including their son in the embrace.

"Okey-dokey," the baby agreed cheerfully, glancing slyly at his mother, who responded instantly.

"Where did you learn that, Gabriel?"

He giggled. "Dommie hearded somebody say it and she telled it to us."

Jarod rolled his eyes. "Dominique picks up everything," he muttered, remembering that that was the intention of her genetic make-up. Gabriel, meanwhile, stuck out his bottom lip, as his mother's expression remained stern, turning large, sorrowful, brown eyes up to his mother's blue ones.

"Is Mine angry wif me?"

She melted immediately, as Jarod knew she would, and the man was forced to hide a chuckle at his son's actions. "No, baby," she assured him with a hug. "I just don't like that phrase very much, so I don't want to hear you saying it anymore, okay?"

"Yup." He beamed again, before turning to his father. "I's hungry, Daddy."

Sighing, Jarod threw back the covers and got out of bed. "You stay here with Mommy, then, while I have a shower and shave," he told his son. "Then we'll go down for breakfast."

"Okay." Gabriel turned his attention to his mother, beginning to tell her a story, while Jarod took a clean t-shirt and change of underwear out of his closet and headed for the bathroom.

* * * * * * * * *

25 Washington Ave
Blue Cove, Delaware

Sydney took Michelle's hand as they strolled along the streets, the sun slowly beginning to sink in the direction of the western horizon. She wandered closer to him so that her shoulder brushed his with every step they took, finishing the story she had been telling him and then falling silent. He looked down at her.

"Are you ready yet?" he asked gently. "Can we set a wedding date?"

She stopped, breaking loose from his grasp and turning away, staring blindly at the street. After a moment, he reached out and turned her so that she was facing him, the fingers of his left hand curled loosely around her upper arm, his fingers tightening around the top of his cane instead of her.

"Please, Michelle," he begged quietly. "I've waited so long…"

"I can't, Sydney," she burst out. "There's so much you don't know about me!"

"Do you still love me?" he asked anxiously, and she stepped closer, into his arms, embracing him fervently.

"Of course I do," she responded warmly, lightly stroking his cheek with one hand. "And that's why I haven't let you do this yet. I don't want you to bind yourself to someone you don't even know!"

Don't know? he wanted to ask, but hesitated, sensing that there must be some great secret with which she had still not entrusted him, for whatever reason. He trusted her judgment, knew that if she hadn't told him something, there would be a solid basis for it, but the fact that it must be such a big secret she had even delayed their wedding, to which he believed she was looking as much as he was, hurt him more than a little.

"You can tell me anything," he urged gently, tightening his hold around her shoulders. "Anything at all."

She clung to him for a moment, before drawing back to look up into his eyes. After a moment, she nodded. "I should tell you," she murmured, in a trembling voice. "You and Nicholas. You deserve to know, both of you."

Another secret, Sydney thought ruefully. Something else to which his younger son would have to adjust, yet another change that he would have to make to his way of thinking. He had already had the shock of learning the truth about his real father, and it sounded like this would be just as big.

"Tell me first," he entreated, as they went back towards his house. "And then I can help you tell our son."

"No," she responded flatly, but he could hear the emotion in her voice, as strained as it had been when she had called to tell him that Nicholas had been kidnapped. "I have to tell you together."

Twenty minutes later, he and Nicholas were sitting on the sofa, watching Michelle as she paced the length of the living room, studying the carpet.

"For crying out loud," the young man burst out, after five long minutes of silence, "whatever it is, Mom, tell us!"

She exhaled deeply before turning to them, and Sydney could see the fear in her eyes. Walking over to the mantel, she took down a photo of herself and Nicholas that she had placed there and removed the back of the frame, extracting a piece of paper, which she unfolded, holding it in front of her fiancé and son. Sydney glanced at it before looking up at her.

"This is a certificate to change your name," he stated quietly, seeing her nod slightly. Looking at it again, he searched for the original name, finally taking it out of her hand, seeing his son staring at his mother in horrified confusion. It was a feeling Sydney understood, but that emotion dissolved into a maelstrom of mixed feelings as he saw the name on the file, recognizing it, and the more familiar name that had replaced it, probably only a few years after Hermann changed his name to Bruce.

"No," he protested faintly, looking up at her. "Not Heidegger. Please…"

Michelle sank into an armchair, her expression one of helplessness, as she nodded. "Lucian is my nephew," she began softly, in a dull monotone, her eyes filling with tears. "Heidegger was my brother's name, before he changed it to Bruce after the war, to escape the Allies. He went around Europe and South America, looking for ex-Nazis who had been interested in eugenics, employing them in a new business he opened in Berlin, ostensibly a think-tank, but with a very different, secret, intended purpose."

Sydney looked down at the page again, not wanting to hear what he was being told. He didn't want to believe that the woman he loved was part of the family who had destroyed so many lives, but the proof was there in front of him, in black and white, and he was helpless to stop himself hearing the words that flowed from his fiancé.

"Hermann Bruce could never see the truth about the woman he'd married." Michelle's lips twisted into a bitter smile. "Keeping secrets has always been part of our family. No one dared to suggest that she'd killed him, but Lucian knew, or guessed. After he took over control of the Centre, a few years after you were born," she glanced up at her son, who was staring at the floor, "he killed his mother in retribution. As far as I know, that was his first murder."

The Belgian blinked tears out of his eyes, looking up at her sharply, seeing the guilty expression on her face, knowing that this was the truth. It explained everything to him: her survival, why she had never tried to contact him again, and he even knew why she had never told him before -- but all of that made it no less painful.

"You can't be," he murmured, his voice just audible. "You can't be related to him. Not Lucian. He's so… so everything you aren't!"

Nicholas made a sound of protest that drew his parents' eyes to him as he looked up, his eyes full of tears. "Please, Mom," he begged, "tell me this is wrong." He snatched the page out of Sydney's hand and waved it at his mother. "Tell me you haven't lied to me about something else!"

Tears spilled out of Michelle's eyes and ran down her cheeks. "I'm sorry," she apologized, "so, so sorry…"

She stretched out her hands to him, but he dropped the page, jumped up off the sofa and ran out of the room. Seconds later, the front door slammed with a bang that made the windows rattle. As Michelle jumped to her feet to follow him, Sydney grabbed her hand.

"Leave him be," he told her firmly.

She sank down on the sofa beside him, weeping audibly, and, after a moment's hesitation, he put his arm around her shoulders, feeling her bury her face in his chest as she began to sob. Sydney reminded himself that he was in love with this woman, that he loved who she was, not what her name was, suddenly forced to think of the words with which he had counseled Yuri and Emily, his lips twisting into a bitter smile at the similarities, even as he began to stroke Michelle's hair.

* * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas

Elizabeth felt Angelique's head gradually nod lower until it rested against her chest, her little hands lying relaxed around the rag doll in her arms, and the woman closed the book, tucking it in beside her leg, before gently stroking the child's short blond hair. The red scar was being rapidly hidden as her blond curls regrew, and Elizabeth looked up to see her own face with its shorn hair, a distorted reflection in the silver bedhead.

A tiny smile was reflected in the silver object as one of her first memories came back to her mind: standing in her room, her mother's lovely, shiny new scissors in her hand and the floor around her feet covered with brown curls, her hair short but uneven, with a long bit down the back, where her little hands can't reach.

"What are you doing, Lizzie?"

A quick, guilty look around the room. The knowledge of having done wrong. "Nothing, Mummy."

"What have you done?"

The motherly instinct that always knows. Quick, drop the scissors on the floor. Find somewhere to hide. But it's dark in the cupboard with the door shut. What's worse -- a smack or the dark? Then the door opens and there's a minute of terrible silence while you study your shoes and the floor.

"Elizabeth Natalie Merchant, what have you done?!"

Looking up into an expression you recognize as having seen when you mixed the milk and water together just before the visitors arrived, when you dug up all the flowers, and when you were trying to 'help' and dropped three glasses of red wine on the carpet. You're in awful trouble, and you know it. Cry. And then you're in Mummy's arms and being hugged.

"You silly, silly little girl. What did you do that for?"

Looking up into Mommy's brown eyes. You've always been told to tell the truth. "You told Daddy the scissors needed to be tried out first, b'fore you cut the special stuff for the dress for when Bobby gets the water put on his head."

A moment of stunned silence, before the sound of golden laughter, the best sound in the whole world, and Mummy's arms giving you another big hug. Then Mummy going over to the phone and telling someone they'll be there soon. In the car, and then in the shop where the man puts the big apron around you, while he shaves off the last of your hair and makes it smooth. Every time after that that you get a haircut, Mummy reminds you of it and shows you the photos she took, with the long piece of hair that the hairdresser cut off.

Elizabeth smothered a giggle, blinking the tears out of her eyes at that memory as she got out of the rocking chair and carried Angelique over to the bed, laying her down and gently covering her with the blankets, lightly kissing her pink cheek.

Bobby.

She hadn't thought of him for so long. He had been her best friend at school, and his parents had converted to Christianity, so he got baptized. Mummy had made the gown for his christening. And Elizabeth had made the bride's dress for his wedding, almost exactly 20 years later. But they had lost contact a short time after that, and he hadn't even turned up to her parents' funeral, although she had secretly hoped he would.

Turning away from the bed, she quietly left the room, hoping that Angelique hadn't picked up on her feelings. Her head was starting to ache, and she had just decided she would go and lie down when she heard soft footsteps behind her, turning to see Raphael standing in the doorway of his room, watching her with his bright blue eyes.

"Aren't you supposed to be having a nap?" she scolded, sounding harsher than she normally did because of the increasing pain in her head. Walking over, she picked up the little boy, noticing the expression of concern in his eyes.

"Lizbet's okay?"

"Yes, sweetie," she assured him, rubbing his back as he snuggled close. "Just a little headache."

These children were all so dear, she thought, as she carried him back into his room, tucking him into bed with a kiss, feeling that her headache was somewhat better and guessing he had done something to relieve it.

As she got into the elevator, she hoped that her daughter would be as sweet and generous as the Seraphim. Gently stroking her stomach, she headed in the direction of her apartment, praying that she would be as good a mother as her own mother had been, wishing the woman had lived to meet Trevor and their daughter.

Entering, she found Trevor at his desk, smiling at her before his expression quickly faded into one of concern. "What is it, baby?" he asked, getting up and coming over to her. "Headache?"

"You're a mind-reader," she murmured, leaning against him, feeling his hand lightly stroking her head before it lowered slightly and he gently massaged the top of her neck.

"Oh, that's good," she moaned softly, feeling the tension in her neck start to unravel and the ache in her head ease. "Where did you learn that?"

"Jarod taught me," Trevor admitted with a grin. "Apparently I'm a very apt pupil."

Guiding her over to the sofa, he helped her lie on it before sitting down and easing her head onto his lap, kissing the tips of his fingers and touching it to her forehead. She rested her hand on her stomach, feeling Trevor gently stroke her cheek.

"What are we going to call her?" she asked. "Or do you already know that bit?"

He chuckled noncommittally. "What was your mother's name?"

"Mummy," she replied, smiling sadly, and he smiled tenderly at her, smoothing his cool hand over her warm cheeks and forehead. "But everyone else called her Elli. Her name was Elinor."

"I like it," Trevor murmured, lightly stroking her upper arm, and she felt the gooseflesh rise at his touch. "Elinor Louise McCarty."

"So you did know," she declared triumphantly, sitting bolt upright, and he laughed softly, drawing her gently into his arms again, her head resting on his shoulder. "She'll probably have her father's gift for getting into trouble," Elizabeth went on teasingly, touching his cheek with the back of her hand and feeling the increased warmth. "How many times did you eat the dog's dinner?"

"Until his mother started saying what she was actually feeding him," a voice remarked lightly from the doorway, and both people looked up to find Patrick in the doorway. He chuckled, stepping into the room as Trevor waved him inside, and sat in the armchair opposite them.

"Tell me," Elizabeth asked eagerly, "what else did he do?"

"What didn't he do?" The older man rolled his eyes, laughing as his son placed his hands over his wife's ears so that she wouldn't hear what was said. Elizabeth wriggled out of Trevor's grasp and looked at her father-in-law.

"So he wasn't the perfect angel I've always imagined?" she asked, with just a hint of sarcasm.

Patrick grinned at the younger man, arching an eyebrow. "How much should I tell her, son?"

"Nothing!" Trevor protested immediately. "Nothing at all!"

"Well, where's the fun in that?" his father demanded, turning his attention to the woman. "He was a good boy," he began, "most of the time…"

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

Jarod finished typing up the report Morgan had requested and began printing it out, looking over the notes he had written during the planning meeting that had finished about 20 minutes earlier.

Morgan was understandably concerned that the problem affecting so many of the residents down in Dallas might also occur to those at the Centre. She had requested that someone come up to help arrange the necessary equipment to conduct tests on those residents still living in the Centre and Jarod had volunteered so that he could come and see Jordan. It also gave him a chance to fulfill his promise to his baby son, and Jordan would fly back down with him for one night, before returning to keep working with Pedro.

When the report was printed, he inserted the pages into a Centre folder and made up a label to attach to it, before putting it into his OUT box. Emailing a copy to himself, he picked up the phone and requested somebody to collect the report from his office, before standing and starting to pack his papers into his bag, planning what time he and Jordan would arrive back in Dallas.

There was a knock on his door and then, at his call, it opened and the brown-haired sweeper entered. Jarod picked up the folder and held it out with a grin.

"Can you give this to Morgan, Kim?"

Her eyes twinkled. "Of course I can," she agreed slyly. "If I can manage to hold you at gunpoint, I can probably do anything."

Jarod chuckled softly. "Have you told your uncle about your colorful past?"

"Nah." She accepted the folder. "I don't know whether he could take it."

Walking to the door, she was just about to leave the office when Jarod's voice stopped her. "By the way," he commented lightly, "I thought you didn't do white picket fences and houses in the suburbs."

She looked back over her shoulder at him and winked. "Lazslo's house doesn't have a fence."

Laughing, he watched her leave the room before shutting down the computer, and then consulted his watch. Standing, he picked up his bag, answering the phone almost absentmindedly when it rang.

"Jarod Charles."

"Mr. Charles, there's a security alert in the lobby."

"So why are you calling me?" he snapped impatiently, not wanting to be held up.

"The individual in question asked to see you, sir," the woman on the other end explained. "Can you come down?"

"I'll be right there," he growled, slamming the phone down and putting aside his bag with a sigh, leaving the room.

The elevator doors slid open two floors lower, on ground level, and he stepped out into the lobby, seeing a familiar figure sitting in a chair, a sweeper on either side.

"Nicholas!" he exclaimed in astonishment. Stepping forward, he nodded at the sweepers, who moved aside, and then Jarod saw the younger man's red-rimmed, panic-filled eyes, hearing him gasping for breath. Turning to the woman at the reception desk, he gave an order. "I don't want to be disturbed. Not by anyone."

"Yes, sir," she agreed immediately, and then Jarod turned to Sydney's son.

"Come up to my office," he suggested quietly. "We can talk there."

The younger man rose and walked with him to the elevator, Jarod seeing the sweepers returning to their posts in and around the reception desk. As the doors closed them in, the Pretender turned anxiously to Nicholas.

"What is it?" he demanded at once.

"It… it's my mom… and me."

Jarod exhaled slowly. "Not Sydney?"

"Not directly, no," Nicholas admitted.

Relieved, Jarod guided Nicholas down the hall to his office and closed the door behind them both, locking it firmly. "Sit down," he directed, nodding at the sofa, taking the armchair opposite. "Now," Jarod began quietly, "tell me what's wrong."

Nicholas rested his elbows on his knees and sank his face into his hands briefly before looking up at the man opposite. "Do you know someone called Lucian Bruce?"

Jarod stiffened at the name, wondering if the man had been in contact with Nicholas, and if so, what he wanted. "Yes, I do," he responded, carefully keeping his voice neutral. "Why?"

"Sydney… seemed to think he's… pretty bad…"

"I would agree with him," Jarod remarked quietly, before leaning forward. "How do you know him, Nicholas?"

"M… Mom said she's related to him," came the response, from between trembling lips. "And he's my cousin, I think."

Jarod stared in stunned silence. He could see the devastation on Nicholas' face and understood it came from the realization that, yet again, part of his life had been concealed from him. Jarod was easily able to empathize with that feeling, and knew that Nicholas had guessed he would be able to understand. That was the reason he had come to find him.

"Tell me about it," Jarod stated calmly. "Let's see if we can work something out."

An expression of gratitude flashed across Nicholas' face. "What's Lucian like?"

"Not somebody you ever want to know, if you can help it," Jarod told him firmly. "If you can avoid him, it would be best for you."

"But," Jarod saw the conflict in his eyes and understood his torn loyalty, "he's family…"

"Wait and see what happens," Jarod counseled. "You'll only ever meet Lucian if he wants you to, that much I can promise you. And if he wants to meet you, nothing you could do would stop him from finding you. He's that sort of person."

Nicholas nodded, but Jarod knew that he didn't really understand. How could he? No one in his limited experience would have been like Lucian Bruce, and although that was something that he should be grateful for, it only made this situation more difficult. Jarod focused on the younger man sitting opposite. "Tell me exactly what your mother told you."

The details were explained, including the fact that Michelle had changed her name to avoid being connected with Hermann Bruce in any way. It explained a lot to Jarod, including the reason that Michelle had been allowed to live when it was found that she was pregnant with Nicholas. He saw the anxiety that still lingered in Nicholas' eyes and believed he understood the cause of it, as well as the anger he could see rising in his nominal brother, now the initial shock had passed.

"I can understand why your mother didn't tell you," he stated thoughtfully.

"Why?" the younger man demanded angrily, getting to his feet and beginning to pace. "It seems like she's always hiding things from me. First, she didn't tell me the truth about my father, and now this! What next? That I'm adopted? That I'm not even human but belong to some Martian mother?!"

Jarod couldn't help chortling at that. "I doubt it," he responded in amusement. "You only have to look at yourself in the mirror to see who your parents are."

Nicholas sighed deeply and threw himself back onto the sofa, throwing his hands helplessly into the air, before letting them fall back onto his lap. "So why didn't she tell me?"

"Because, until only the last month or so, Lucian was still in control of the Centre," Jarod replied. "If she'd told you before that, then she would've had to tell Sydney, too, and he was working for Lucian. If anyone ever learned the truth about Lucian while he was still in control of the Centre, they would have been killed, because he wanted to keep his identity secret from everyone. She told you this as soon as she reasonably could, without risking your safety, or that of your father."

The phone rang suddenly, making both men jump, and Jarod got up to answer it, turning on the speakerphone.

"Jarod Charles."

"Mr. Charles, Dr. Ritter and Mrs. Stamatis asked to see you. They said it's important."

Jarod met Nicholas' gaze briefly, seeing the young man tense and the conflict of emotion in his eyes. "Ask them to wait," he directed. "I won't be long."

"Thank you, sir."

The older man returned to his chair. "You're going to have to make a decision," he reminded the man opposite. "But do try to remember that your mother did what she did because she wanted to protect you. I'm sure it's been hard for her, all these years, with these secrets weighing her down and not knowing how you'd react to the truth. I know it's hard for you, but don't forget her."

Nicholas stared at the floor. "It's hard to trust her sometimes," he murmured brokenly.

"You can always trust her to do what she believes is best for you," Jarod assured him sincerely. "Just like any mother would. And if it sometimes seems hard to understand why she did it, then you need to remember that she can only look at a situation from her own perspective, just as you can only see it from yours."

The younger man looked up to meet his gaze, his brown eyes slowly losing their expression of devastation, although the hurt remained. "What would you do, if you were me?"

"I'd talk to her," Jarod replied immediately. "I'd get her side of the story. I'd find out all there was to know about the situation. And if, at the end of it all, I was still just as confused and betrayed and angry as I feel right now, I'd talk to my father, who must be feeling exactly the same way." Jarod paused for a moment. "Don't forget that Sydney's just discovered the woman he's loved for more almost thirty years isn't who he thought she was. He must be feeling very much like you do right now, and the two of you could talk it out. That would be good for both of you."

Nicholas considered this for a moment, before looking up again. "I… I hadn't really thought about that."

"It's hard to think of other people when your emotions are in turmoil," Jarod said sympathetically. "But sometimes you have to make that effort. And if there's someone else who will understand what you feel, that makes it easier to deal with, because you have someone else that you can discuss it with." He waited for a moment, and then, when Nicholas remained silent, Jarod stood up and walked over to his desk, picking up the phone to call the lobby. "Would you ask Dr. Ritter and Mrs. Stamatis to come up, please?"

Unlocking the door, he moved over to the filing cabinet and took out a file, opening it on top of the cabinet and searching through the pages. He had just found the one he wanted when there was a knock at the door and then it opened immediately.

"Jarod, I need to talk to you…" Sydney began, and then broke off in the middle of the next word, as he saw his son sitting on the sofa. He turned, and it was obvious to Jarod that Michelle was in the hallway. "He's here."

Michelle hurried into the room and approached her son, hesitating a short step away. "I'm sorry, Nicholas," she began tearfully. "No matter what the danger, I should have told you the truth and let you make up your own mind." Michelle hung her head, her feelings of devastation and guilt obvious in both her red eyes and her strained voice. "I'm a terrible mother."

"No, Mom," Nicholas contradicted immediately. "You're not a terrible mother. You always did what you thought was best for me." He stood up and hugged her warmly, keeping his arm around her shoulders as he pulled back to look into her face. "Let's go home and talk about this."

Sydney turned to his former student as his fiancé and son left the office, astonishment written all over his face. "What did you say to him?"

Jarod shrugged slightly, smiling. "We just talked." He nodded after the departing pair. "Go with your family, Sydney. You'll need to take part in that discussion, and your son will need someone to talk to afterwards."

The older man took a step forward and hugged him, anxiety that the Pretender might be feeling excluded obvious in his eyes and the warmth of his embrace. "Thank you, Jarod."

"I've been feeling lately that I owed you a lot for keeping me safe from the worst of this place, Sydney," Jarod stated quietly, returning the hug. "Maybe, today, I've started to repay some of that debt."

"You don't owe me anything, Jarod," the psychiatrist assured him quickly. "Not a thing."

"Take this." Jarod offered the photo he had been getting from Lucian's file. "Nicholas will want to know what his cousin looks like. Actually," he added, after a second, handing over the folder with a sigh, "he'll probably want to know more than that. You haven't really told him that much about Lucian, have you?"

"Would you?" Sydney demanded, accepting the thick bundle. "Considering how upset he was -- understandably, of course, but still -- would you tell him that his cousin is a sick, twisted, mass-murderer?"

"Yes, I would," Jarod replied. "He'll never understand what made his mother change her name and lie to him for so many years if he doesn't know what kind of a man Lucian is. I think he really does need to know -- everything."

The psychiatrist sighed heavily. "I suppose you're right. And he'll need to know what this place was really like before the takeover, to fully understand why his mother kept it secret for so long."

"He'll understand once you tell him, though," Jarod said confidently.

Sydney raised an eyebrow. "You simulated him, didn't you?"

Jarod grinned as the older man opened the office door, and picked up the bag he had prepared of things to take back to Sanctuary. "Just like you taught me."

* * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas

The elevator doors opened and the two little girls, one blond and one dark, stepped out into the lobby, holding hands.

"Dis is it?" Michaela asked, pointing at the first door she saw. Tempest thought for a moment and then nodded.

"I think so." She eyed the doorknob, which looked so high, and mentally tried to turn it, sighing as she realized it was locked and would therefore be a lot more difficult to open. "Is you gonna go in there?"

"No." Michaela shook her head slowly. She walked over and sat down on the floor with her back to the wall, beside the door. "I wait here an' when he come out, den…"

"Okay." Tempest walked over and kissed her small playmate's cheek. "Does you want me to stay here, too?"

"'S okay," came the reply, as Michaela hugged her friend. "You go back down to de ovvers."

The down button for the elevator lit up and Tempest wandered over to the large silver doors, with a farewell wave to her friend as they slid open and she walked in. After they closed, Michaela got comfy on the floor and waited for the door beside her to open and her new friend to come out.

On to Act VIII

 
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