Season of Fire
Part One

 

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The driver of the taxi she hailed looked at them strangely, but accepted Miss Parker’s terse instructions and took them back to Beacon Square, where her car was waiting. She helped Ethan into the back before climbing into the driver’s seat, with Jarod half-reclining in the passenger seat beside her as they headed away from DC.

Jarod's face had a gray tinge to it; his eyes were half-closed, lips pressed firmly together. Obviously, his injuries were more serious than he wanted to admit. A surge of empathy washed over her, but she quickly tamped it down. This was no time to go soft. She started the car and pulled out into an open space in traffic.

“Is it bad?” she finally asked. The drive gave her an excuse not to look at him.

He shifted position slightly, and grimaced. “I’ve endured worse.” The words at the Centre hung in the air, but neither spoke them aloud. "How's our passenger?"

Miss Parker glanced over her shoulder, and saw her newly-discovered brother sprawled across the back seat. "Out like a light."

"Trying to make sense of the voices probably exhausted him. Raines spent years teaching him to fight his own nature."

She looked at Jarod out of the corner of her eye, then returned to watching the road. "Did you mean what you said? He actually hears my...our…mother's voice?"

"Among others. They're all part of his inner sense. But Catherine's is the strongest--or it would be, if Raines hadn't interfered."

"That SOB ruined a lot of lives," she declared hotly. "He killed my mother, and almost coerced my brother into blowing up half of DC. I'm glad he's dead."

Jarod raised his eyebrows, but didn't ask how she knew. Instead, he corrected her. "It's unlikely that bomb destroyed a single building, let alone half the city."

"What are you talking about?” She spared him an uncertain glance.

He turned his head so that he could look directly at her. "If Ethan had used enough explosive to carry out Raines' plan, it would have wiped us off the map--maintenance room or not. He must have scaled the device down when he built it."

"Why would he do that?"

Jarod sighed. "Ethan had just lost the only parents he'd ever known. He was confused, and tired of fighting the voices. That's why he didn't get off the train when he had the chance. It's why he put the bomb on the undercarriage, and destroyed the control system. He wasn't afraid someone would stop him…he was afraid he would stop himself."

She looked horrified. “You mean, he was trying to kill himself?”

Jarod turned his gaze toward the road ahead of them, his expression melting into cold steel. “He wanted to make the voices stop. He wanted the pain to stop, and no one else would help him. Raines’ mission gave him the door he needed to a quiet place.”

“Oh my God.” Her voice was a mere whisper. She glanced in the rearview mirror, but couldn’t see more than Ethan’s shoulder without turning around. And she didn’t have to be beaten over the head with the argument to realize that Jarod was exactly right. Ethan had been trying to silence the voices that tormented him, the only way he knew how… by taking his own life. No one else had been meant to go with him. That was why he had chosen such a protected, isolated place -- so no one else would be hurt when the bomb went off.

That insight changed everything. She didn’t just need to keep Ethan from the clutches of the Centre… she needed to find a place where he could be kept from harming himself, where those who looked after him would understand how fragile his mind was, and could help him find and maintain some stability. That made the outlook even more grim than it had been, and the possibilities of a safe haven dwindled down almost to nothing.

* * * * * * * * *

Sisters of Mercy Hospital
Southeast Pennsylvania

“Need anything, honey?”

Zoe opened her eyes and gave her grandmother a smile. “Yeah. How about some ice chips?” She adjusted the position of the bed, raising herself to a more upright posture. Her grandmother bent over to give her a kiss on the forehead, and left on her mission.

The young woman sighed, a frown pulling at her mouth. She grimaced and turned away from the door as a nurse came in to check on her.

“How are we doing?”

Zoe pushed herself to a sitting position. “You’re probably a hell of a lot better than I am,” she snapped, and then smiled apologetically. “Sorry. I didn’t mean that.”

“You need something for pain?” the nurse asked sympathetically as she fastened a blood pressure cuff around Zoe’s arm.

“Mmmm.” The redhead stared up at the ceiling listlessly.

“You really should try to eat something,” Major Charles advised as he entered the room, stuffing his cell phone back into his pocket. “Still no answer on Jarod’s phone.”

“You don’t think he’s…” She couldn’t finish the thought, and sighed back into the pillow. “He’s got to be all right. He’s got to be.”

The man’s lined face was grave, but there was a bright gleam in his eyes. “We tend to land on our feet,” he told the young woman. “And it’s too soon to worry about him just yet. You rest for now, Zoe. Unless you’d like to try a little of that broth. I’ll get it for you if you want some.”

She shook her head, and offered him a fragile smile. “Thanks, but I’m not hungry.”

He came toward the bed and leaned over her, his forearms on the railing. “You haven’t eaten much of anything in the last 24 hours. Don’t give up just yet. Please?”

The nurse finished up and stripped the Velcro cuff off her arm. “I’ll be right back. I’m sure the doctor has signed the orders for your morphine pump by now.” She patted Zoe’s shoulder and hurried away.

“I’m just tired, Major. Maybe after I’ve had a little sleep.”

“Would you like something from the cafeteria? A pizza shop in town, maybe? I’d be happy to make a special delivery. Anything you want, just tell me.” He smiled and lightly grasped her hand as it lay on her belly. Her skin was cool to touch.

A playful grin stole across her mouth. “You know what I’d like? A Blizzard. With Heath bar crumbled into the vanilla ice cream and just a little chocolate syrup on top.”

His face brightened. “I don’t know if they have Dairy Queens in this part of the country or not, but I’ll do my best to bring you the next best thing if they don’t. I’ll be back as soon as I’ve laid hands on one.” He bent down to kiss her forehead, as her grandmother returned with a pitcher of ice chips and a styrofoam cup.

“Thanks,” she told him, and then turned weary eyes on her grandmother. She waved goodbye to the man as he headed for the door, looking back over his shoulder at her one more time. She sighed after he had gone. “He’s a very nice man, Gramma. Just like his son.”

“Have you heard from Jarod yet?” Her grandmother scooped up a spoonful of ice chips and slipped them gently into Zoe’s mouth.

The redhead crunched happily for a moment. “That’s good. No more.” She tried to take a deep breath, and winced, rolling toward her right side to take some pressure off her left and ease the pain. But there was no relief from it, no matter how she lay. “No. I’m starting to get worried about him. He should have called by now.”

The older woman fussed with her granddaughter’s pillows and blankets, until Zoe gently shooed her away. “That’s enough, Gramma. I’m fine.”

Just then, two nurses came in with a tall IV pole onto which a small machine had been fastened. The women were smiling. “Look what we’ve got for you!” one of them crowed. “Now you’ll be able to manage your pain with regular doses of morphine. This’ll make you a lot more comfortable.”

Zoe’s grandmother exhaled with relief. “Finally! Thank you, ladies. This is great.”

The nurses hooked up the system, transferred Zoe’s IV bag onto the new pole and gave her the plunger that controlled dosing. “Just push this button when you need medication. If you call for doses too soon, the machine will lock you out so you don’t overdose. Otherwise, you’ll have medicine whenever you need it.”

Zoe depressed the plunger as soon as it was functioning. Seconds later, she felt the warmth travel into her arm through the IV connection into her vein. She thanked the nurses and they left. Drowsiness settled heavily on her as the medication took effect, and in seconds she was out.

* * * * * * * * *

Somewhere in Maryland

Miss Parker chose a small, non-descript motel with parking right at the door. She registered alone, paying for the room in cash and keeping the others out of sight. The less the desk clerk knew, the less he would be able to repeat if he were questioned later.

Ethan woke briefly when she helped him out of the car, supporting him with one arm while she unlocked the door with her free hand. He seemed groggy and disoriented, not at all like the hyper-alert young man on the subway train. Moments later, he was stretched out on one of the two double beds and on his way back to sleep. Jarod sat beside him, tense and perspiring with obvious pain.

"Thank you," the Pretender said quietly.

"For what?" she snapped. Her anger seemed to turn on at the sound of his voice. They had been civil to each other in the car, but everyone was tired, drained to the point of exhaustion, yet there was much more to do. His very presence irritated her, when she wanted nothing more than to rest. It was always that way between them.

"For not turning me in. You could have gained a lot by bringing me back."

"Don't count your chickens just yet, Jarod," she threatened, and shot a frigid glance at him.

He grimaced and adjusted his position to support his injured arm. A soft groan slipped out, and he glanced at Ethan. "What are you planning to do with him?"

"Save him, rat boy," she growled. "Though I'm sure you've got plans of your own, don't you?" A little more gently, a little uncertainly, she added, "So what did you have in mind?"

"I want to work with him," he assured her. "Help him find himself."

"He doesn't need another Dr. Frankenstein messing with his head. He just needs--" Her voice softened, and she glanced at her prone brother. "He just needs some peace."

Ethan stirred slightly, and shifted his position. He mumbled a little, whimpered, and slipped deeper into sleep.

"I want to help him find that, just as much as you do," Jarod agreed. "He's my brother, too."

"Yeah, and look what happened to your other brother," she seethed. "You carried his heart off in a cooler."

For a moment, he said nothing. Anger simmered, and then he rasped, "Thanks to your brother murdering him."

Slowly, her head turned toward him. Her eyes were icy green, and pierced him to the core. "I wasn’t responsible for that."

"Just as you're not responsible for what the Centre did to Kyle... or to me?" he challenged.

"It always comes back to that, doesn't it? 'Poor Jarod, look what they've done to him.' What about the things you've done, the people you've hurt along the way? Don't they count?"

Jarod's muscles tensed, preparing to react to the sting of her words, but the movement reminded him how injured he was, and he forced himself to relax again. He bit back the savage retort that had been on the tip of his tongue, and decided to take another tack.

"If you'd just back off for a while, I'm sure I could help Ethan," he offered kindly. "I know some of what he's gone through, and I can extrapolate the rest." He sighed. "And perhaps I could even help you develop your own inner sense, if you want."

Her fingers tightened into fists until her knuckles showed white. She crossed her arms over her chest, her openness of a moment ago now vanished. "I'm not turning you in, Jarod. What more do you want from me?"

"The same thing you want," he promised. "To help Ethan."

"I'm not letting you dissect his brain," she shot back with a sideways glance at him. "So you can just get that idea out of your head right now. And I’m not letting you run off with him into the sunset, either. That would be like painting a big red target on his back. Besides, he’s in no shape to be constantly uprooted. He needs some stability."

Jarod pretended to look at her Ferragamo pumps. "Where are you going to do?"

"For the moment, I'm going to find an all-night drugstore and pick up some plaster and gauze to get you patched up; then you can talk me through it. Will I need anything else?"

He gave her a list, knowing she would remember every word.

Parker's eyes shifted up to the top of his head. "Have you ever pretended to be a barber?"

"Why?"

"I guess you haven't looked in a mirror since we left the tunnel," she replied nonchalantly. "You're going to have to give up the big hair and go back to the Caesar for a while."

Jarod frowned, lifted his left hand and touched the top of his once carefully coifed head. The hair on top was slightly crispy, and felt much shorter than when he had combed it that morning. He sighed. "I won't be able to do it one-handed. Dare I trust you with a sharp object near my head?"

She glared at him, and didn't answer.

Half an hour later, she returned with the first aid supplies he had requested. Jarod had managed to get his shirt off and sat waiting for her. His bones protruded at odd angles inside his skin, the ends moving visibly as he adjusted position. "I'm ready," he advised her.

"How bad is it?" she asked.

"Simple fractures," Jarod replied. "Nothing we can't handle."

Parker pulled out a bottle of whisky from the bag of supplies and poured a tall glass. Then she poured a second, smaller glass and handed it to Jarod. "Pain killer," she suggested.

"No thanks," he returned casually. “I’d rather keep my wits about me.”

 She downed a large mouthful of the whiskey, then sat on the mattress beside him and waited for instructions.

"You'll have to feel for the bone ends, get them aligned properly, and then wrap them to the splints before we plaster them up," he told her. "We should probably start with the ribs first. That'll be the easiest."

"Well, let's get started," she said with a sigh. After laying out all the implements on the gray flowered bedspread beside him, she took the first roll of gauze and began to wrap it around his damaged torso.

Jarod sucked in a breath and took a large draught of the whisky, grimacing as it burned all the way down his esophagus. It was going to be a long night.

On to Act III

 
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