Dangerious Minds

 

home / season six / episode twentyone / act IV

   

Starlight Carnival Supplies
Outskirts of Frankfort, KY

The disembodied voice took great pleasure in tormenting her. With each recording, he reminded her of all the terrible things she had done in her life. He even had a slide show prepared of crime scene photographs of Mr. White's body. But that wasn't enough for him.

"Tell me about Eclipse," he urged her. "About Bobby."

She shrugged, unable to summon the energy to fight. "There are recordings of that, too. Don't you have them?"

"Of course, I do," he assured her. "But there's so much that's not on the recording. Lyle won't talk about Retrieval, but he's afraid of you, like he's not afraid of any other woman. I want to know why."

"You'll have to ask him," she sighed, and laid down on her side, pillowing her head on her crooked left arm. She was exhausted, and her head was swimming. She couldn't tell any longer if it was the drugs or the weariness. All she wanted was to sleep, but she knew that wasn't going to happen anytime soon. "What's your name? You never told me."

"You can call me Valentine," he purred. "All my ladies do."

* * * * * * * * *

Rural Ohio

Lyle pulled off the road, heading his rented car into the trees down a narrow dirt track, until he had completely lost sight of the highway. He shut the car off, pocketed the keys and stepped out, trying to compose himself, to catch his breath. The memories were overpowering, shutting out the forest surrounding him, the scent of rich earth and coming rain, and the distant call of birds in the otherwise silent woods.

He thrust his hands into the pockets of his jeans, and closed his eyes, willing the memories to come.

He hadn't wanted to clean the blood off, but they made him. Raines insisted on it. He had protested when they took the Asian woman's body away, trying to impress upon them how important it was to finish, to perform the ceremony properly, but they wouldn't listen. They had tried to stop him, but he had guessed they would, and used a chair wedged under the doorknob to keep them out until he had taken the woman's spirit and energy into himself.

He had won, and for a moment, he enjoyed that glory.

But then, they had broken down the door and come in, separating him from her before he had a chance to collect her blood. They had bathed him then, dressed him in some flimsy pajamas, and taken him to a different room, locking him up by himself. For an hour or so they watched him and he stared right back, waiting for someone to come in that door. He was ready for them, ready for whatever they threw at him.

Except for her.

From the moment he saw her, he recognized who she was. This girl had been the one in the movie Raines had shown him in the kitchen of the Nebraska farmhouse. He remembered her, sitting compliantly with her wrists bound, and he wondered if she would fight him or give in and let him do whatever he wanted with her.

But as he stared at the teenage girl on the other side of the glass panel in the door, he sensed something strange inside him, a sense of calmness that soothed the raging tide of his emotions. He felt happy, relaxed… satisfied.

Then they opened the door and let her in.

"Hi," he told her. "My name is Bobby. Who are you?"

"Faith," she returned flatly. "Do you know why I'm here?"

This was the girl Raines had promised him. He smiled, reached out and smoothed his fingers over a lock of her long blonde hair. "To please me."

Faith stepped aside and shook her head. "No. To help you find your way back. To be the person you used to be."

He came close and bent down to kiss her, but she dodged away. "You don't want to do that," she snapped.

To his surprise, he found that she was right. He had no interest in her sexually, though that had been all he wanted a moment earlier. He glanced around, noticing for the first time that there was no furniture in the room, just blank walls, floor and ceiling, and that one door with a window in it.

He was tired, and went to sit down, leaning back against the wall. He closed his eyes and remembered the Asian woman, felt the pleasure of her screams…

"Don't do that," Faith ordered sternly.

He glanced up at her, the memory suddenly meaningless; he roughly shoved it aside. "I'm not doing anything."

She sat down on the floor, facing him, her legs tucked up on one side, knees discreetly closed. "Let me help you, Bobby," she said quietly. "Let me bring you back."

"I don't understand," he confessed, his brow furrowing.

"Just close your eyes. Let me show you."

* * * * * * * * *

Starlight Carnival Supplies
Outskirts of Frankfort, KY

"…Just close your eyes. Let me show you."

Needing a vehicle for the retrieval process, Faith decided on an ocean setting, laboriously constructing the emotional landscape. They sat in a small rowboat bobbing in a black sea that represented the evil all around, threatening to swallow him up.

"Your name is Bobby Bowman," she reiterated gently. "You don't belong in this place. Come back with me."

He smiled at her. "I know where I'm going," he assured her. "I like being in control. It makes me feel powerful, in a way I've never felt before."

She started rowing, glancing behind her to get her bearings, the gleaming white sand of the shoreline in the distance beckoning them.

"This is where I want to be," he assured her. "I don't want to leave."

"This isn't you," she shot back, facing him again. "This is someone else's nightmare. They gave it to you. I can help you get out." She rowed harder, putting all her strength into getting them back to shore quickly. She was losing him. She could feel it.

"I'm going to be powerful forever," Bobby vowed. "If you come with me, I'll share it with you." He smiled, desire in his eyes. But not desire for her. "It'll only hurt for a minute, and then we can be together, forever. You'll like it, I promise."

She stared at him, then shook her head. "I don't want to lose my soul. I just want to go back. Let me take you there, please."

"I'm never going back," he insisted, his voice rising. "But I don't want to be alone. I want you to come. He promised you'd come!"

With a sudden jerk, he pitched sideways, tipping the boat over and throwing both of them into the thick, black water.

Bobby let himself sink into the depths, snagging her by the ankle as she sought to keep her head above the surface. He stroked against the liquid, dragging her down with him, until her face sank beneath the waves as she gulped in a last breath. She could feel the evil pressing all around her, trying to find a way in, to incorporate itself into her.

She fought with all her strength as they sank deeper, wanting to scream but not daring to open her mouth. With a final kick, she managed to free herself from his grasp and surged back toward the surface. Choking on the breath of fresh air, she dogpaddled back to the boat, which she hurriedly righted before flopping inside, and snagged the one oar that had not floated away. Black water clung to her, itching at her, still calling to her, but she ignored it, willed it to roll off and leave her be.

A noise made her turn, and she saw him break the surface like an agile dolphin. He was reaching for her, evil gleaming in his eyes, determined not to let her get away.

"You have to come with me!" he shouted angrily. "I can't be alone. Raines promised you'd be mine!"

"No!" Scrambling for a weapon, Faith grabbed the oar and smashed it against his hands and then his head, propelling him back into the water. He disappeared, this time for good, but she could feel the anger and disappointment he left behind. Exhausted, weeping with effort, she forced herself to sit upright and paddle the boat slowly, inexorably, back to shore. Alone.

Faith pulled herself back from the imaginary landscape, and turned haunted eyes up to Mr. Raines.

"I'm sorry," she said quietly, her breath hitching. "I failed."

Raines only smiled. "Not at all," he told her. "You performed exactly as expected. But no one else has to know that, do they?"

Valentine's chuckle drew her back to reality. "So Eclipse was designed to fail? How interesting."

Faith huddled against the cold glass, shivering, and nodded her head, the tears she couldn't hold back streaming silently down her face. "Raines wanted to create a dark Pretender, and Jarod was the last one to undergo Eclipse. He wasn't supposed to come back. None of them were supposed to come back. But Jarod wanted to survive. Bobby didn't."

"He also didn't want to be alone. Thank you for that. It's an interesting facet of his personality that I hadn't quite figured out." Valentine paused. "And now that the game is over, it's time for the real fun to begin. You wanted to know who I am, little Looking Glass. I'll be there shortly, and you can find out for yourself."

Her head came up as she felt something inside him change. He'd had enough talk; now, he was going to kill her. After he was through with the torture.

* * * * * * * * *

Marriott Hotel

Lyle was tired. The hotel sign caught his eye, and he pulled off the road at the next exit, registered for a room and requested laundry service from the concierge. He had barely undressed when the bellman arrived at the door, and wrapped a towel around his waist before handing them off to the startled servant.

Once more in the quiet of his room, he turned on the television to unwind, but that was more of a distraction than he wanted. He flicked it off and headed for the bathroom and a long soak to help him stay focused on the task at hand. As he sank up to his neck in the warm water, he leaned his head back against the cool tiles and closed his eyes.

Raines had promised him Faith. He had promised him unlimited power, without repercussion. He had promised him that life and death would be in his hands.

But Raines had lied. He had lied about who sent Bobby to Nebraska, and why he was there in the first place. Lyle was glad the old ghoul was dead. He had stolen into the morgue personally for a last look, then signed the order for experimentation on the cadaver before the autopsy was even finished.

Raines deserved to die. The entire Triumvirate deserved it, for what had been done to him.

Feeling melancholy, frustrated, angry and alone, he looked forward to being on familiar ground again. Maybe then the ghosts would leave him alone.

* * * * * * * * *

Starlight Carnival Supplies
Outskirts of Frankfort, KY

Panic surged through Faith, and she heard banging -- the sound of a determined man pitting himself against a wooden door, and winning. She heard it open distantly, possibly somewhere else in the building where she was housed. She could feel him coming closer, the lust and excitement in his heart growing with each step. The slight haze of drugs interfered with her control, though their effect was starting to wear off. He had been right about his own psyche… there was nothing inside him that she could use as a weapon: no fear, no shame, no compassion for anyone or anything.

But there was hatred. Hatred of women. And she was a woman.

Valentine came out of nowhere, stepping into view between two panels of mirror glass, appearing like magic. He was handsome, with an air of unmistakable charm about him. She knew what that was for. Lure the flies in with a little honey, and catch them in the web before they know they're in danger. But she sensed the danger clearly, right along with his psychosis. She knew how he planned to use her, to hurt her. His motivation was not desire, but revulsion and rage.

And then it came to her. If she could amplify that hatred enough, push him until he couldn't stand to be in her presence, maybe she could make him go away. It was her one chance to survive this. But if she failed, things would go badly for her. Very badly.

"You hate me," she began softly, struggling to stay calm, to focus. She could feel it now, like a coal in the palm of her hand, and in her own heart. She reached out to him, her fingers closing on empty space between them, and then flashing outward as she boosted that hatred, making it flare brightly in his soul.

His eyes gleamed with it now, taking away all reason. He struck out at her, and she rolled with the punch, making it a glancing blow to the side of her head. She went down on one knee, both hands halting her fall. She jerked upright just as he lashed out with his foot toward her ribs, and missed.

He grabbed for her, catching hold of her sweater and slamming her against the ground. He pinned her with his body, straddling her while he cupped her chin in his hand. "This is going to be sweet," he breathed. "I really wasn't anticipating getting this close, but since you haven't put up much of a fight…"

He ran his hands over her body, deciding where he wanted to start.

Faith stared up at him, ignoring the flashes of light in her peripheral vision, shutting out the pain of the migraine that lately went with such intense uses of her talent. She grunted as she shot everything back at him that she had.

"Hate!" she cried. "You hate me! You can't stand the sight of me! I make you sick. You have to get away!"

Never before had she pushed anyone so hard. The effort seared her, blinded her temporarily, and left her drained and weak. Then the colors faded, and she saw him above her.

Valentine withdrew his hands and stared down at her blankly. He blinked. Then he rose slowly off her and backed away.

"Go away," she ordered between clenched teeth. Her hands came up to her head, holding it to help her concentrate through the pain. Panting, she watched him turn mindlessly and go out, keeping a mental tether on him so she knew where he was.

For a moment she just lay panting on the floor, keeping up the pressure as he got into his car and left the grounds. She was trembling now, horrified at what had happened. Valentine had reminded her of what she was, what she was capable of doing. And now, to save her own life, she had done it again.

Once outside her range, the man would calm down. His normal emotions would return to their twisted perspective, and he would be doubly displeased that she had gotten away from him once more. But for now, she needed to stay focused, pushing him until he was far away, and she was safe.

She sat huddled in the corner, her head pounding so badly it made her nauseated. She could barely see, unable to make sense of her surroundings just yet. There would be time for that later. Now she just needed to pull herself together.

But she had to stay strong. She had to stay in control. Her life depended on it.

"Faith?"

She recognized the voice, though she still couldn't see through the flickering lights exploding in her brain. "Jarod?" she called faintly.

Footsteps rushed toward her, and a familiar voice whispered, "Oh, my God." Hands touched her, gentle hands examining her for injury. "Are you all right? Did he hurt you?"

"Not really," she whispered. "I'll -- I'll be okay."

A new set of hands touched her, on her shoulder and arm, and she instinctively pulled away. "Who's that?"

There was a note of startled surprise in Jarod's voice. "It's Namir. Can't you see him?"

She sighed. "Migraine. It's pretty bad this time."

Jarod held her hands in his, and Namir's lay on her forehead and against the back of her neck.

"Oh, my," said Namir. "Just lie still for a moment. I can help you a little here, but I'll need to work with you more once we leave this place."

"Okay. Sure." Faith was too exhausted to care. She dropped her mental pursuit of Valentine, and let Namir work his own particular brand of magic. After a few minutes, she was feeling a little better; the headache was still there, but reduced to tolerable levels.

Jarod helped her to her feet and walked her outside to the car. Trevor carried a Halliburton he had retrieved from the office as he slid behind the wheel, and Namir took his seat in the front, giving the back seat to the two old friends. Jarod pulled Faith close, his arm around her shoulders, and stroked a lock of hair away from her face as she rested her head on his shoulders.

"It's all right now," he promised her.

She felt the shock recede just a bit as her pent-up emotions began to surface, and she started to cry in earnest. Jarod seemed to understand that she needed the release; he simply held her, whispering platitudes as she slowly let go of the tight emotional reign that had been her way of life for so long.

The worst was over, at least for now. The only place to go from here was up.

* * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Building
Dallas

"You sure you're okay?" Jarod asked.

"I'm fine, Jarod," Faith assured him for the umpteenth time. "Just a little shaky. That will go away after I've had some rest." She punched the 12th floor button.

He raised an eyebrow at her in inquiry. "Angelique knows you're okay," he reminded her. "She can wait to see you till morning."

"She needs to see me now," Faith argued gently, wearily. "She needs me to hold her." Pushing past him, she stepped out into the foyer, where an anxious Nancy stood in her pajamas, holding the little girl's hand.

"Mommy!" Angelique called. "Mommymommymommy!" She ran to Faith, who took the toddler in her arms, thanking Nancy and assuring her that they'd be fine for the rest of the night.

Without another word, Faith turned and headed back to the elevator, smiling and kissing her daughter as the child loved her back.

"Why don't you let Angelique stay with Gabriel and me tonight?" Jarod suggested, "You really need to rest, and you'll do it best if you're by yourself."

Faith eyed him grumpily, her expression admitting that he was right. She turned to the child and asked if she'd like to sleep with Gabriel for the night.

Angelique nodded reluctantly. "Sleep wif you tomorrow?" she asked, her eyes big and round and pleading.

"Absolutely. I promise." Faith started to take Angelique into Jarod's room herself, but he gestured her on down the corridor to her own rooms.

Waiting until he was certain she was in bed, he took Angelique to his rooms and bedded the little girl into the bunk with Gabriel. Asking the nanny to stay on duty for just a few more minutes, he made a special trip to Elizabeth's room, knocking quietly on her door and hoping she wasn't sleeping as well.

She answered the door with a book in her hands, her dark curls tumbling over her forehead. "Jarod! Is Faith all right? This place has been in an uproar all evening."

"Yeah. She's fine," he replied grimly. "But she's been through a lot. Could you keep a special watch on her tonight? She's bound to have nightmares, and I'm sure they'll be pretty nasty."

"Yeah, sure, mate," Elizabeth promised him. "I'll take care of her."

"Thanks. I appreciate it."

"We'll talk later. Good night, Jarod."

He headed back to his room and pulled out his cellular phone once he was alone. Reporting in to Miss Parker didn't take much time, but he had to let her know that her sister was all right. Faith hadn't spoken about what happened during her ordeal, but he knew it was serious. He'd get her to talk about it later, when she was stronger.

But for now, he wanted her to rest.

* * * * * * * * *

23504 Blythe Street
Blue Cove

He answered the door shirtless and sweating.

"Valentine! What the hell are you doing here?"

The sweeper stood in the hallway outside the apartment, hands in his trouser pockets, smirking up at him. "Am I interrupting something?" His eyes roved over Lyle's torso provocatively.

Lyle felt distinctly uncomfortable under that intimate scrutiny. "What do you want?" he snapped.

"Aren't you going to invite me in?"

His first instinct was to close the door, or at least block it with his body. "Is this business related?"

Valentine's eyes darkened, and all trace of amusement left his face. "I'd say so, yes. Project Looking Glass is still business, as far as I know."

Lyle opened the door wide and closed it after the man. "Is that what you've been doing for the past three days? Did you kill her?"

The sweeper stiffened, and shook his head. "I tried," he admitted sadly. "But next time you can be sure I'll take your advice and do it long distance, with high velocity lead poisoning, instead of my hands." He sighed and hung his head. "I had her, boss. Had her right in my hands."

"And she got away," Lyle shot back, disgust rising like bile in his throat. "That was a stupid mistake. You knew better--"

Valentine lunged at him, clasping Lyle's face in his hands. "I do things my way, Bobby," he rasped hotly.

Lyle could feel the other man's breath on his lips, he was so close. He froze, not wanting to further antagonize his underling. This was a dangerous man, and Lyle knew it. He just waited, knowing Valentine would let go when he was ready.

He did, and then stomped a few steps away, head down, massaging the back of his neck. "I had my own plans for her, boss. Things I wanted to try. I was careful, and I did have some time with her." He stopped pacing and turned to stroll back toward his host. "I learned a few things from her. Things about Eclipse. Things I'll bet even you don't know."

Lyle didn't like being so close to his guest, and retreated toward his bedroom. But remembering what had been going on in there before the sweeper arrived, he halted beside the doorway. "I know everything I need to know about Eclipse, thanks."

Valentine just stared at him for a moment, then sauntered closer, his eyes dark and gleaming.

The skin on the back of Lyle's neck prickled and his hackles stood on end in warning.

The sweeper came to stand right in front of him, inches away, and placed one hand on the wall beside Lyle's head. He didn't dare step backward, both because it would be seen as a sign of weakness, of retreat, and because he knew Valentine would follow him into the bedroom. He didn't want the other man in there, for a variety of reasons.

"Did you know it was meant to fail?" Valentine murmured, pressing closer until his body pinned Lyle's to the wall. "Did you know you were a guinea pig, a trial run to see if it would work, before they tried it on the one real subject they wanted to change?"

Lyle swallowed hard. "No."

"You smell like sex, Lyle," Valentine observed softly, sniffing at Lyle's chest and face. "Do you have a woman in there?"

"I don't share." Lyle was distinctly uncomfortable, too aware of the hard muscled, well toned body of the other man, a graphic reminder of his physical power.

Valentine grinned. It was a slow, sexy smile, meant to charm, to entice. "I didn't ask to share," he reminded his boss. "But any time you're interested…"

He grasped Lyle's face gently in his left hand, making his lips pucker slightly.

"Don't kiss me again," Lyle ordered, anger boiling up inside him now, corroding his fear until it crumbled. He shoved the other man backward. "Don't you ever touch me like that again, Valentine, or I'll sanction you myself! Understood?"

With a chuckle, Valentine straightened his suit. "Understood, boss. But who knows? You might like it."

"I thought you liked women," Lyle spat, rubbing his chest where the other man had touched him, as if he could rub off the contact.

"Women? They like me," he responded coolly.

"So are you gay? Do you have a thing for me? Is that what this is all about?" Lyle was seething now, mind racing to all the places in the room where he had weapons stashed.

"I have no sexual preference," the sweeper answered dispassionately. "It's not about sex, anyway. For me, it's about power, just like it is for you. And power is very, very sexy... But you'll be happy to know you passed the test, boss man. Not everybody I've served has earned my allegiance. You just did." He offered a gracious bow, smiling as he lifted his head. "We can do great things together. All you have to be is strong enough to keep me under you, and the world will be your oyster."

Lyle narrowed his eyes, suspicious of what sounded too much like innuendo. "I don't want you under me, Valentine. I want you as my right arm."

The sweeper laughed, glancing down at Lyle's thumbless left hand. "You're right handed, aren't you?"

Lyle's face flamed as he got the inference, and glared at the man. "That's enough. Got anything more on Looking Glass?"

With a shrug, the sweeper shook his head. "I'll find her again, boss. You can bet the farm on that. And when I do…" He held up his right hand in imitation of a cocked pistol, and fired it. "Bam. Seven years bad luck."

"I'll make sure you stay in the proper good graces," Lyle assured him. "As long as you don't touch me again."

"As you wish," Valentine assured him, and let himself out the door.

Lyle breathed a sigh of relief and bolted the door after him. The man alarmed him, and he knew that it would be difficult maintaining control over a maverick like that. He would have to be ready to act, in case Valentine threw his fickle allegiance in with someone else. The only problem was, who else had the capability of taking out such a skilled sweeper? No one came to mind immediately, but he would give it some thought.

After, of course, he finished the floor show and the dinner to follow. He turned and headed back into the bedroom, reaching for the hidden door inside the closet as he licked his lips in anticipation of the meal to come.

* * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Building
Residence Level

Jarod could hear Jordan moving about next door, and asked him to listen for Gabriel or Angelique getting up, even though it was very late. The teenager was up working on his portion of the medical research, and agreed with a brief smile. Jarod wondered if his elder son had gotten any sleep that night, and promised himself to make sure the boy rested some the next day.

Heading out of his suite, Jarod wandered past the MacKenzie's apartment, but decided not to knock. Sebastian's sleep was precious enough, but there were things on the Pretender's mind that left him too restless to sleep. Heading up to the observation deck, he decided to mull over his problems and see if he could come up with his own solutions.

Part of the deck had recently been enclosed with a series of glass panels, turning it into a kind of climate-controlled sun room. He found the others there. Sebastian was reclining on one of the sun loungers, and Trevor stood at one of the windows, a velvet smoking jacket over his satin pajamas. Namir sat on an ottoman nearby, leaning elbows on knees as he pondered the subject of conversation. All heads turned when the Pretender arrived in the room.

"We've been talking about the Centre, mate," Sebastian informed him. "It's a threat to all of us, and this incident with Faith just enhances that." He sighed. "I'm sorry about what happened to her. She'll be okay, won't she?"

"I hope so," Jarod answered with a sad smile. He ran his hands through his dark hair, trying to tone down the memories of what he had seen earlier. Trevor had given him the DSAs found at the carnival supply house, and he had spent most of the night watching them. He was sickened by what he had seen, by what had been done to Faith through the years. "I know she's strong, Sebastian. But she's vulnerable, too. And this guy was really pushing her buttons. I still don't know all of what he did or said, but I can imagine. I'm good at that sort of thing."

"We'll help her," the Australian assured him.

"Yes, we will," Namir agreed. "She's one of us."

"Part of our family." Trevor slipped his hands into his jacket pockets and bowed his head in thought. "Thank God for those kids. If it hadn't been for them…"

Jarod flinched away from the memory of watching the Seraphim working together, but forced himself to look back at it, to study what it was that had so disturbed him about it. He strolled up to one of the windows and looked out over the city's twinkling lights. "Sebastian, about the children…"

"Yeah, mate?"

He turned to regard the other man directly. "They all knew Faith was in danger," he said slowly. "They all knew which direction she had gone, but only a few of them are psychic. Have you thought about that?"

The Aussie's brow furrowed. "No. Why would I? They're all gifted kids. Special."

Jarod stared intently. "But they all knew. All of them. As if they had one mind."

For a long time, no one in the room spoke. Sebastian stared back, horror dawning on his face as the implication set in. "You mean, they really do have one mind? Like bees in a hive?"

The Pretender shrugged. "Probably not to that degree. But I do believe there's a connection of some sort between them. Possibly on the order of the link between twins."

"But how…" Sebastian shook his head, held it with his hands, refusing to accept such a notion. "That's not possible. Science isn't there yet."

Jarod swallowed the lump forming in his throat. "Maybe not in the rest of the world. But in the Centre, yes. It is."

Shock gleamed in the Aussie's eyes. He got up quickly, patting at his thigh as the cloth began to smolder. "Breathe," he reminded himself. "Deep breaths."

"My God," Trevor whispered. "These people are even worse than we thought."

Jarod watched Sebastian, but he seemed to be under control. When the other man relaxed back onto the chair, he continued. "Faith made a comment before she left that I've been thinking about. She said the Seraphim have more power than their small bodies and minds can handle, and that's very true. The Centre wanted to exploit them, train them to serve the Triumvirate. We can't allow that, but they will need training to keep their gifts under control. They'll have to be handled just right, or they'll grow up with very dangerous minds, capable of anything. And their first allegiance will always be to each other."

Sebastian swallowed hard. "Are you saying we should be afraid of them?"

"No," Jarod assured him. "But each of us will have to be aware of the damage already done to them. They'll need extra compassion, understanding and love. And they'll need to be taught respect for others, for life, so they'll chose to do good things with their skills rather than manipulate others to suit their whims."

"Which they'll certainly be capable of doing," Sebastian added sadly. He buried his face in his hands. "Oh, my God."

Silence descended on the group, and all eyes turned outward to the twinkling city, just beginning to blush in the first rays of dawn.

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
The Tower

Miss Parker flung both doors open and strode through with a glare that could have cut through marble. "I don't like being used," she snarled at the man behind the desk.

"Nice to see you, sis," Lyle replied casually. "To what do I owe the dubious pleasure of this visit?"

"Was this your bright idea, or did your team come up with it on their own?"

He sneered back at her. "Well, if I knew what you were talking about, maybe I could help you. Unfortunately, I have no idea."

"I've been chasing our mother's ghost in Frankfort for the past three days, you moron," she snapped, tossing a printout of the electronic photo onto his desk. "Did you catch Faith or not?"

Low-pitched laughter bubbled into her ear as he studied the print. "No one's reported in to me, so I really don't know. But Valentine has been out of pocket for a couple of days, now that you mention it. Said he had a lead on a Blue file, but didn't tell me which one. I'll be anxious to hear about this myself."

"You want to tell me where you've been, or do I have to dig it out of your expense report?"

He smiled secretively. "Camping," he assured her. "You know how I love the great outdoors."

She curled her lip in disgust, certain she knew what else he had been doing in the backwoods. "Just make sure you keep me informed," she ordered, and turned to leave.

Her chest hurt. This had been the cruelest thing ever done to her, and someone was going to pay. She tended to believe Lyle, transparent as he was, but she couldn't be sure. If Valentine was behind it, she'd handle him herself. But if it really was Lyle's idea, she'd have to be careful in how she exacted her vengeance. To give her that hope, even for an instant, that her mother might still be alive, and then snatch it away…

She took a deep breath and swallowed down her tears. At least she had the comfort of knowing that Faith was all right, that she had managed to escape again. That might have to be vengeance enough for the moment. But she wouldn't forget this attack on her heart.

Ever.

* * * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Building
Dallas

Faith still had her shoes in hand as she opened the door to her late morning visitor, slipping them on as she mumbled a morning greeting to her old friend.

Jarod studied her expression. "How's the headache?"

She shot him a startled glance. "How did you know I have a headache?"

"It's written all over your face. I'll take you up to the infirmary in a minute, so Namir can take another look at you."

"I'll be fine," she assured him.

"It's a good thing he was there yesterday," Jarod told her, his voice thick with emotion. "I guess there's no easy way to put this, but -- he said that if you had gone to bed untreated, you would probably have died during the night."

Faith felt as if the floor had suddenly dropped out from beneath her, and she was falling with it. She swallowed hard. "What does that mean? What's wrong with me?"

He pulled her close and wrapped his arms around her. "Apparently, it's a side effect of the use of your gift," he murmured against the top of her head. "You'll always be able to sense emotion. That's ingrained in you, and the energy required is so small it's hardly any different from breathing. But when you use your mirror talent…"

He sighed and squeezed her closer. "You can't do that anymore, Faith. It's causing physical damage. I know you feel it, but You weren't going to tell anyone, were you?"

She struggled out of his embrace, pushing him back far enough to look up into his face. "Tell me," she insisted. "What does it do?"

"The effects seem to be cumulative," he explained, shifting to cool, clinical detachment, as if he were a doctor delivering a diagnosis. "Your neural pathways are worn from the overuse. If you live the rest of your life without boosting anyone else's emotions, you'll be fine. But if you push too hard or once too often, the consequences could be fatal."

She saw the guardedness in his expression, as if he was waiting for her to fall apart. Strangely enough, the news was unsettling, but not a complete surprise. She had known for some time that using her gift had after-effects, like the migraines she'd had lately. The fact that they were the result of trauma to her body wasn't that big a leap.

Faith nodded her head. "Okay. So I live a normal life from now on. I can do that." She smiled, relieved now that she had such a limit imposed on her. "I want to do that. I want to be normal."

Jarod reached out and clasped her face in his hands, his eyes still dark with worry. "You're really sure you're okay?"

She patted his hands fondly. "Yes, I'm sure. I just want to see my daughter, play with her for a while. Thanks, old friend. I'm glad you were watching my back."

"I think you may not be the only one this is happening to," he informed her with a sigh. "Looks like there's more research to do now, on all of our gifted people." He sighed. "And there's more. I know you're going to be angry, but… I watched some of your DSAs last night."

She sighed and turned away from him, but remained silent.

"Talk to me, Faith. Tell me about what happened at the warehouse. You need to talk to someone. Let me help you carry the burden. Please?"

You're a monster, Faith. Admit it.

Mr. White wasn't the first person you killed. Why don't you tell me about that?

You enjoy the power, making people do what you want. Don't you, Faith?

Valentine had been right. She did enjoy that power, in some small, dark part of her soul. The Centre, and Raines, had taught her how. She was a monster, and she knew it. She had always known.

The earnestness in Jarod's eyes, the gentleness in the way he reached out to her struck home. "All Valentine did was offer me a reminder of who I really am."

Anger flared in Jarod's dark eyes. "You're not what the Centre made you," he snapped. "That's what I used to think about myself…" His voice became very gentle. "…until I took some advice offered by a very wise friend of mine."

Faith crossed her arms and started searching aimlessly for something that would distract her from those eyes, filled now with sympathy. She couldn't bear that. "And what would that be?"

"That I'm not a monster, could never be one," he replied. "She told me to put the blame where it belongs, forgive myself, and move on."

Recognizing her own words, she cracked a half smile. "Touché."

"You do want to move on, don't you?" he asked softly.

She felt deflated, worn out by the events of the past 24 hours. "Of course I do, Jarod." She sighed, and risked a glance at his compassionate face. "There was a time not too long ago when I was your teacher, more or less. Now it's your turn. Funny how that happens, isn't it?"

He stepped closer and placed his hands lightly on her shoulders. "You're not my teacher, Faith, and you're not my student."

He was so close, so there… And so very far away, always just out of reach.

"Then what am I?" she asked slowly.

He paused. The corners of his mouth softened into the beginnings of a smile that never quite materialized. "That's something I thought we might explore, if you're interested."

Faith didn't dare to hope, but her heart fluttered in her chest. She smiled back, aware of how close he stood to her, of the warmth of his hands on her shoulders, sliding now down her arms and leaving goosebumps in their wake. "Yes," she breathed.

He leaned down to her, just touching her lips with his, his breath warm and sweet. She wanted more, but had no clue what to do; this was her first kiss. Faith had never imagined it happening with anyone, or anyone wanting her, and so had not paid attention to the mechanics.

She was sure her eyes were dancing as he pulled away and looked down at her. She felt as if her cheeks were on fire, and ducked beneath his chin to hide her embarrassment and awkwardness, leaning her face against his chest. His arms swept around her gently, and for a moment, just the briefest instant, she felt a flicker of something she had only experienced second-hand.

Happiness.

"You have to stop hiding from the world, Faith," he urged her softly. "I'll help you, if you'll let me. And whatever lies in wait for us, we'll get through it. Together, we can face anything."

She smiled against his shirt. "I know. Monsters and all."

End of Episode
Dangerious Minds
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