Big Top Jarod


home / season six / episode twentytwo / act III


The Centre

Broots sat at his desk, staring at the photograph. For weeks he had thought about the problem, and the best way to handle it. Striking directly at Lyle or Valentine wasn't wise, and he didn't have the power for that anyway. But he had been watching the sweeper, even going so far as to supervise the techs who sat at the monitors all day, keeping secure areas under constant surveillance, peering into the screens to follow Valentine throughout the building on his daily errands. The only surprise in Valentine's day was a trip to SL-26, which held only maintenance equipment, boilers, air conditioning units and other such uninteresting items.

But Broots knew that SL-26 also contained the hatch to a secret room. The maintenance people had been traditionally told that it was the hatch into a sewage tank, so no one would bother opening it. He knew the truth, though. He knew that it led to SL-27, a burned out, bombed out shell of a floor where nightmares were born.

Nobody went there anymore, not after the bomb Sydney had put down there. But there was something that interested Valentine on that floor, and Broots was determined to find out. He had installed a handful of small cameras attached to motion sensors at strategic spots on S-L26, and by the weekend he'd be checking the recordings to see who went down to that lowest level, and what they did down there. If Valentine was among them, Broots would know what he was doing as well.

The tech still had no luck on the phantom security taps that he'd been tracking, but he was getting closer. He had written a program to help him find out where it was, and the next time the connection was used, he'd have it. There were mysteries afoot, but the one that made him the most nervous was why Valentine had photographed his daughter, asleep in her bed.

He understood the warning. But what was Valentine warning him away from? Broots didn't get that. But he knew his home was no longer the safe place he'd once thought it was.

Something had to be done, and as much as he hated doing it, he knew in his heart what the answer was.

Debbie needed to be moved out of harm's way. She needed to be someplace safe, and he could only think of one place that met that description. Stefan might be a hardcase, but he'd take care of Debbie. She was family, after all.

He sent Miss Parker an email to inform her that he'd be away for a few days, and then he went home, packed his daughter's things and waited for her to come home from school.

* * * * * * * * *

Yuri/Paul Jennings' apartment

"No. I don't want to." Yuri hated the old man, hated him so much he sometimes got physically ill at the sight of him. The lash made him bleed now but it no longer stung, and Raines was getting frustrated at not having any more buttons to push. Yuri was stubborn, and even though the simulation sounded interesting, he didn't want to please the old man.

"All right, then. We'll try something else. Something new."

They wheeled in a gurney, complete with chains to bind him to it. He fought them, but the army of sweepers was never ending. Whenever he knocked two down, four more came at him. They took him, and bound him to the table. They cut off his clothing, and then they brought in the machine. Parts of it they attached to him. Parts of it they forced into his mouth and other body cavities.

And then Raines turned it on.

He couldn't speak for three days afterward. He couldn't move under his own power. And he couldn't work.

They let him recover, and then Raines asked again. He refused, and they brought the machine again. This time he was quiet as they strapped him down, and wept when they turned it off. For nearly two months he spent more time in the infirmary than in his room. But he would not let Raines break him. All he needed was to see the old man's face, and the walls he built around his heart came up again, stronger than before.

The last time, Raines looked into his eyes and saw the fire burning there. He knew he would never be able to conquer this pretender, to make him participate on command, no matter what they did to him. Pain was temporary, and could be survived.

The last time, Raines called for the machine without asking Yuri to work. He hooked the pretender up to it, turned it on and walked away.

The last time, the pain didn't stop. It went on and on and on…

Yuri sat up screaming, clawing at the air, flinging the bedclothes violently off him. Consciousness registered, and he cut off the scream, holding his head and trying desperately to force the memory away. He could hardly catch his breath, and his heart felt as if it might explode, it was beating so fast.

"Paul! Paul, what is it?" Emily asked, sitting up next to him in bed.

"Dreaming," he panted. "Bad dream. Bad. Just a dream. Not real…" His grip on sanity was slipping. He needed an anchor, something to bring him back, to hold him there.

"I'm here, baby," she whispered, slipping her arms around his naked torso. "It's okay. It was just a dream. Just a dream. It's gone now."

He could see her face barely illuminated by the moonlight streaming in the window. He inhaled the scent of her perfume, the faint odor of coitus that clung to them, and his own perspiration. The sheets felt crisp against his skin, and Emily was warm beside him, her body pressed close to him, her embrace firm and solid and real.

His breathing slowed, and he relaxed slowly back against the pillows, taking her down with him. He couldn't close his eyes without seeing the machine, so he kept them open. He didn't want to see that thing, ever again.

But it was always there in his dreams.

"Do you want to talk about it, baby?"

"I can't, Em." He swallowed hard. "I can't. Not yet."

"Okay." She cuddled him closer, and laid her head against his chest, listening to his thrumming heart as it wound down to a normal rhythm. She raised up on one elbow to look down at him in the semidarkness. "How come you left so suddenly from Dallas? And why would you leave a note for Jarod, but not for me? I didn't understand that."

Yuri put one hand over his face and rubbed it wearily.

"I was upset," he confessed honestly. "That little boy--"


"Yeah, him. I don't understand how anybody can abuse a child like that. They're defenseless. They need to be protected."

"Well, he's got somebody to protect him now," she assured him. Her expression grew serious. "Is that what happened to you? Something like that?"

He couldn't see much of her face in the moonlight, just enough to tell him that her heart was breaking.

He remembered the lash and the machine.

"Yeah. Something like that. But it was a long time ago."

"I'm sorry, Paul," she murmured. "I'm sorry you had to endure that pain. It must have been awful."

He said nothing, but his eyes began to fill. He looked away from her then, upward at the dark ceiling, and felt a tear slip out the corner of his eye, trekking slowly across his temple and into his dark hair. Another followed it, and then another, and he couldn't stop them.

The pain was too great for him to bear, and he curled up on himself, trying to turn away from her, to hide himself from her view.

But her hands were strong in their gentleness, and she pulled him against her, and held him tightly as he wept.

* * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas

There was only one way inside that Miss Parker could see, and reported that as the caravan of rented cars drove into the parking lot. "Unless they let our sweeper team inside, I don't think we can storm this castle and take the Seraphim by force," she told the Chairman. "This is too public a place in a major metropolitan area. Strong-arm tactics won't work here. This will have to be done diplomatically, and that's not my strong suit." She smiled at him. "You were always better at that, Daddy."

Parker puffed up his chest. "Leave that to me. I've got birth certificates for every one of 'em," he told her. "I've got DSA footage of when they were born, and every moment since then. They have no choice but to give them up to me."

Morgan shot him a glance, remembering when he had told her the children were orphans that the Centre had taken in. He wasn't thinking clearly, or he wouldn't have made that statement. He was treading dangerously close to giving himself away, tripping himself up with his own lies. She'd have to see just how far she could push that.

"Come along, Penfield," he ordered the nurse. "You'll be our guide." He held his arm out to the woman, and led her into the foyer. "Cox, you'll check out the kids and make sure they're all right."

Penfield showed her security badge, and the four went into the elevator, but the sweepers were stopped at the door by a sizeable security force. The nurse pushed the button for the proper floor, but the elevator hesitated. After a moment, the doors closed and the car started climbing. It stopped on the third floor, and the doors slid open. "This isn't right," she protested, glancing out at the floor where the corporate offices lay. "We were supposed to go up to twelve."

"Please exit the car," said a man in a black suit with a red Prometheus logo emblazoned on the breast pocket. He gestured toward the conference room further down. "You're expected."

"By whom?" the Chairman demanded. "Ms. Penfield works here."

"Not anymore," the man assured them. "Please, this way." Several burly men in uniform eased away from the walls around the elevator and made their presence known.

"Security," Miss Parker observed. "Someone wants to see us, Daddy." She stepped purposefully off the elevator and headed for the meeting room in the wake of one of the security men. Her companions followed her, casting unhappy glances around them.

Sebastian McKenzie sat at the head of the conference table, surrounded by a small army of men and women in suits, these looking more like intellectual types rather than meat on the hoof. He smiled as he saw Miss Parker, and gave her a nod. "It's been a long time, Miss Parker, Mr. Parker," he said politely. "Can't say that I miss the Centre, though."

The Chairman stared at him for a moment. His complexion paled. Without being told, he took an empty chair and sat down stiffly into it. Penfield did the same, as did Cox.

Miss Parker remained standing, arms crossed, behind her companions. "What's this about?" she demanded. She had a hard time not gloating, keeping her expression impassive.

He smiled at her warmly. "I was just about to ask you the same thing," he returned. "I haven't had the need of your services for some time." His gaze fell on the nurse. "And we've done nothing but help Ms. Penfield. Got you off that terrible addiction, gave you gainful employment--"

"Your people put me on Aurora," she reminded him, "so we'd help you steal those children."

"What children?" he asked innocently. "You mean my son and his friends?"

The shock on Mr. Parker's face was instantaneous. His mouth fell open. His color deepened, and he glanced at Cox. The doctor's face remained impassive, but his eyes were filled with cold rage.

"How could I know?" Sebastian replied to the look. "We use the same research teams, Parker."

"No one had access to my research," Cox argued.

The Australian shot him a glare. "You didn't make these children by yourself, now, did you, doc? I know who you are. Introductions are unnecessary." He calmed somewhat, took a deep breath and a drink of water, and continued. "I have other resources, too. But that's not why you're here. You want to take the children back." He shrugged and leaned back in his chair. "I don't have a problem with that."

"Wait a minute," Miss Parker said. "Where's Jarod? He was behind all this, and I heard he was here, too."

Sebastian checked in whispered conversation with the dark haired woman standing just behind him. "Ramona tells me he left two days ago for someplace in California. LA, we think. But Gabriel's still here, along with all the other children, under the care of a new nanny, since Ms. Penfield chose not to stay with him."

The Chairman wilted visibly with relief. He patted Penfield's hand and smiled at her, nodding at the doctor as well. "Go get them," he murmured.

Penfield and Cox stood.

"Not so fast," Sebastian said, holding up his hands. He gestured to his left and one of the suits pushed a folder filled with papers toward the Chairman. "There are steps to be taken first. I have legally authenticated birth certificates that I'm sure will be every bit as good as the ones you've probably got in your briefcase, except that mine are registered with the authorities, and I'll bet yours aren't. I've also got certified adoption papers on every child -- except for my son, who belongs to me by biological right. If you want them back, you'll have to ask their natural parents first."

Parker's expression darkened. His eyes narrowed. "Their parents are dead, all but you and me. I want my son back, and you're going to give him to me. You don't want to cross the Centre, MacKenzie."

"I'm part of the Centre, Parker. Or didn't you know? I've spent my whole life tracking down the companies and agencies that support you, and invested in them until I could afford to buy most of them outright. I own a significant portion of the assets. I'm your partner, your left hand man, always there when you need me, but never making my presence known… until now." He grinned.

"What do you want?" Parker growled.

Morgan stepped back and listened. He was good, better than she had hoped for, and she was starting to enjoy it. But she had to make sure she didn't smile and give the game away.

"Oh, I don't want anything," Sebastian assured him. "You came to me, remember, not the other way around. I have an established, legally authenticated claim on every child, as I said. You bring me the biological parents, and I'll release the children to them. But only to them. Only then can you ever hope to get them back in your clutches, and then you still won't have the whole set. Gideon's mine. You can't change that."

"I'm claiming my son, then," the Chairman snapped. He stood up, pushing his chair back from the table angrily. "Bring me Gabriel, and I'll take him home with me."

Sebastian nodded. "Sure thing, mate. Just open wide."

For a moment, all eyes were turned on the old man. "What?" he breathed. "What do you mean?"

"It's not that hard," Sebastian told him casually. He slid a long plastic tube with a cotton swab mounted inside it toward Mr. Parker. "Open your mouth, and we take a cheek swab for DNA testing. You cool your heels in a local hotel till the results come back in a couple of days from a neutral lab we both agree on, and then when the DNA match is confirmed, you take your baby home. Simple, really. And quite painless. I always hated giving blood. Damn needles…"

A muscle twitched in Parker's jaw. "Gabriel's mine, dammit! You give me my son!" His fist thundered down on the table in protest.

Sebastian smiled confidently up at him. "As soon as you prove he's yours, you can have him, old mate. And as for the other parents, they'll be awarded custody through the courts, in full view of the public, just as soon as the DNA confirmations are in. No worries." He gestured around the table. "My legal staff has instructions to assist the parents of these children as soon as they come forward. Until then, I'm providing the very best care and lots of love to these kids. They're doing quite well here. They're happy. Even Angelique."

Something dark and dangerous twinkled in Sebastian's hazel eyes. It looked like revenge.

Morgan decided she liked him. She didn't have to worry about Gabriel going back to the Centre ever again. But he had also opened the door to something else, something she'd wanted since she found out the truth herself. She would have to tread carefully and not push too hard. If the whole truth came out, it could do her in.

"Not a problem," she told him. Then she reached for the swab unit and handed it to the Chairman. "Let's get it done, Daddy. I want to take my brother home."

The old man's face turned beet red. He grabbed the swab package and flung it down onto the table. "I won't submit to such blackmail, MacKenzie," he snarled. "He belongs to me and you know it. They all do." He turned and stormed out of the conference room, heading back toward the elevator with a startled, confused Penfield and silently fuming Cox in tow.

Morgan smiled and winked at Sebastian, gave him a thumbs-up for his performance, and then followed her companions out the door, composing her face into an angry scowl for her other audience.

"What's wrong with you, Daddy?" she demanded hotly. "We could have at least gotten Gabriel back! If you didn't want to do the test, I could have. Even though he's got a different mother, they could have found enough markers to determine I'm a blood relative, and--"

"We'll find another way, angel," he hissed. "MacKenzie thinks he's got me over a barrel with this, but he doesn't. It's just going to take a little time, but we'll be patient. We know where the Seraphim are now, and that's a plus. We'll get them back." He sighed. "Don't you worry. We'll get them all back."

"But Gabriel--"

He turned such a hateful glare on her that it cut her off. "That's enough! I told you, we're going home now. We'll come at this from a different angle. There's no way I'm taking just one of them back. I won't leave without all of them. The Triumvirate would be satisfied with nothing less."

She lifted her chin slightly in defiance. "I want to see Gabriel. I want to see my brother before we go."

The Chairman clutched at her arm and squeezed it hard, pulling her right into his florid face. "You will not! You'll only upset him, and he's got enough problems, being in this unfamiliar place with strangers. You'll come back to the Centre with me, and then we'll see about getting him and the other children back where they belong. Are we clear?"

Morgan stared at him, making her voice and expression soft and filled with hurt. Slowly, she disengaged herself from his grasp and pulled away a little. "You'd leave your own son with these people?"

His gaze slid away, landing on the floor of the elevator car. Guilt was written all over him, in the defeated droop of his head, his hunched shoulders, and the way he avoided her eyes. He kept silent, and she wisely let the matter drop.

There would be other opportunities when she could bring the subject up again, with an even better audience. And she knew just how to press the buttons that would push him over the top and bring out the confession she most wanted to hear. He was going to admit to her that Gabriel was her son, not his. And when he did, she would finally have all the control she needed for her child, and for her life. But not yet.

The only other thing remaining to be handled was making Gabriel safe from experimentation, but there was progress along those lines already. All she needed was patience, and time for the pieces to fall into place. She had waited her whole life for this. A little longer would be no trouble at all. In fact, looking at what lay ahead, she was beginning to enjoy the ride.

* * * * * * * * *

Jarod watched via closed circuit camera as the Centre people left, and felt a wave of relief that they didn't know he was still there. While Gabriel had his nap in the nursery, Jarod spent his time working on treatments for Jacob, counseling other Aurora addicts and thinking about all the projects he had lined up in his mind, waiting for their turn to be solved. He had taken a moment when he heard that the Parkers had arrived to visit the security station where Sebastian had given him clearance to watch, and now that the building had been cleared of Centre people, he was on the way back to his rooms.

Sebastian was waiting for him there, grinning from ear to ear.

"How'd you like that circus, J?"

The Pretender stopped in his tracks, stunned by the visual that simple comment had brought up. Big tops. Lions and tigers and clowns. Oh, my…

"Circus," Jarod repeated breathlessly.

Suddenly, an idea leaped to mind, and he raced to the desk in his private quarters, booted up his computer and opened up the CAD program where he had stored his three-dimensional floor plan of the Centre.

Ignoring his host, who had come in after him, he stared at it, running through the simulation yet again in his head. It would take a lot of people to accomplish. It would be dangerous, but it could be done. The only problem he could see was gaining the advantage of surprise. That had been a stumbling block, something he hadn't been able to conquer.

But he thought he had the answer now, thanks to Sebastian, and all that remained was running enough simulations to make sure it would have the highest statistical possibility of success. He'd have to find out what could go wrong, too, and make sure they planned for every contingency. The operation would take a great deal of time, maybe two or three weeks to prepare and get everything and everyone in place. He punched up the roster of Sanctuary residents and contacts, and calculated the possibility of how many might participate.

Sebastian shrugged and wandered off. Jarod promised himself to talk to his host about it later, and apologize for his rudeness. Sometimes there were more important things than manners, and Sebastian had fitted the key into the lock for him. Jarod wasted no time getting in the door.

The numbers worked. The initial simulations worked. Now, it was time to get started in earnest.

It was time for the Centre to be brought to its knees, and it was going to be exactly like Catherine Parker had envisioned it…

…with a twist.

* * * * * * * * * *

SIS Conference Room
The Centre

Miss Parker watched as Daniel Pyne closed the door and came to sit down across from the table. She was certain he had heard that the test results were back in, but looked surprised at being called in for a private meeting. She was doing this with everyone but Broots, since she was already sure where his loyalty lay. Of the rest, she wasn't as certain.

And she needed to be.

"Thank you for coming, Daniel," she said casually. "I wanted to let you know, as one of my managers, that you're in the clear for Aurora."

He flexed a polite smile. "I already knew that. But I'm glad you know, now, too. What kind of problem does our department have with the drug?"

She shook her head. "It's not good. Ours is the hardest hit. We're going to need to bring in a lot of new people."

"Understood. I'll put the word out today. Discreetly."

She made eye contact and nodded. "I have other concerns, though. And I'm not quite sure how to handle this one. I'll need someone who's loyal to me, over and above the Centre itself, to carry it out."

He cocked his head and narrowed his eyes at her. "You want to tell me about it?"

"I suspect that whomever's addicting these people to Aurora has a plan in mind. Somebody wants control of the Centre, and I aim to keep it from them. Which means I'll need someone I can trust, who will answer only to me, to carry out my orders. Can I count on you?"

He sighed. He clasped his hands in his lap and studied her through narrowed eyes. "I've watched you grow up in this company, Miss Parker, and if you'll allow me to speak freely…"

She nodded. "Go ahead."

"I always thought you were kind of a hard-ass. But I also knew you'd do anything you could for your daddy, for this place. You'd give your life for it." He smiled. "That's kind of how I feel, too. I know there are some things that aren't right here. Some of them wrong in really big ways. But I trust you to know what's right and what's not. If you want me, Miss Parker, I'm your man."

"I hope you're right, Daniel," she agreed. "Because if you're not, we'll both be dead in pretty short order."

"Tell me what you want. I'll get it done."

"You remember Willie? Mr. Raines' right-hand man?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"His test results showed up negative, but I know there's something going on with him. I need to find out what it is, who he's taking orders from, and whether or not he was in Frankfort, Kentucky, last week."

"Consider it done."

"Thank you, Daniel. I'm counting on you."

He rose, and she shook his hand. "It's been a pleasure working for you, ma'am. I look forward to great things from you."

She smiled. "Thanks. Same here." As he moved toward the door, she sent for the next junior manager, working her way down the list of those who had showed clear, knowing that those who tested positive were already being removed from their posts and taken to the holding cells down below. She didn't know what the Chairman had in store for them. And she was certain she didn't want to know. Whatever it was, it would be horribly final.

* * * * * * * * * *

Resistol Arena
Mesquite, Texas
Hella Shrine Circus

Jarod strolled about the grounds, his mind whirling with possibilities. People were everywhere, some in street clothes towing small children, as he was himself, and others dressed in bizarre costumes that left little clue to what the person underneath looked like. He found himself smiling, studying the big tents and 18-wheelers and animal trailers that were scattered all over the grounds.

This would be perfect. It was the final element that he had needed to complete the plan. And he knew it was going to work brilliantly. All that remained would be time to pull everything together and get the troops trained.

He had placed the orders already for the equipment he would need, but now as he looked about them, he began making a mental list of all the other items that would be needed for a proper cover.

"Daddy, look!" Gabriel chortled. "Horsies!"

The child tugged on his hand, making him bend over slightly as they ran up to the corral set up in one of the parking lots. The pavement had been covered with a cushioning layer of straw, and the matched team of dapple gray horses browsed in a trough of hay. Jarod lifted his son into his arms and moved around the fence, closer to the trough so they could reach the horses to pet them. Faith wandered up behind him with Angelique in her arms, waving at Sebastian, Sumi and his suddenly large family, all surrounded by men and women in Prometheus security attire.

Jarod told the toddlers about the animals' habits, describing the positioning of the creature's eyes indicating that it was a prey animal, and showed Gabriel and Angelique the lions not far away, noting the forward-pointing eyes of the hunter. He liked giving the kids little lessons on biology, botany or mathematics when it could be related to something in the real world, knowing that they would remember it without it having to be part of the work they'd had to do at the Centre. These lessons were just for fun.

"Hey, Dad, can I have some cash?" Jordan asked as he came hurrying up. "We want to get our tickets."

Jarod glanced at them, momentarily distracted by a trio of clowns in full garb walking past. He smiled, taking note that the teenagers were holding hands as they came to a stop. Merritt had Raphael in tow, and Jacob sat in a stroller, shaded from the spring sun, his eyes round as saucers as he took in the wonders of the circus atmosphere. Jarod fished in his pocket for a wad of bills and handed over about half of them.

"Stay close to your bodyguards," he advised, making eye contact with the three men in jeans behind them, their black Polo shirts embroidered with the Prometheus flame logo. They gave him nods and smiles of assurance that they were, indeed, on the job and not distracted by their surroundings.

The tallest one winked and grinned at him, assuring him silently that the little family would be well protected.

"Sure, Dad. We'll be careful."

Jarod watched Merritt squat down beside the stroller to point out something in the distance, and smiled. "Have fun, kids," he told them warmly. Merritt seemed very fond of little Jacob, which gave great comfort to Jordan, and consequently to Jarod. But he knew she wasn't ready to be a mother to the boy. She had enough on her hands now dealing with Raphael. Jarod could see Jordan slowly meandering toward fatherhood, focusing his attention on the little one's needs first, before he saw to his own. It was a heavy burden for one so young to bear, but the possessiveness the teen felt toward Jacob had made it clear that they belonged to each other.

In a way, that made him a grandfather. He smiled at that thought, and then turned back to the lions that were huffing hoarse roars to each other, a noise that carried quite a distance. Jarod eyed the beasts, and cocked his head as he studied them. And then he began to look around for their trainers, and watched them as they interacted with the kings and queens of the veldt.

This was important stuff, and he was enjoying learning the lessons, and passing them on to Gabriel. With his son riding on his shoulders and Angelique on her mother's, Jarod caught Faith's hand and led her in the direction of the Ferris wheel. This would be a day to remember for all of the Seraphim, and for their parents as well.

It was a day made just for fun.

* * * * * * * * * *

13525 Cascade Lane
Vancouver, Washington

Broots stepped out of the car, inhaling the wonderful scent of rain-freshened sea air. Debbie was still pouting, but she would get over it, he knew. She loved her cousins, and hadn't seen them in ages. Ten minutes after he was gone, she'd have forgotten she was mad at him, and he'd be comforted with the knowledge that his daughter was safe.

He popped open the trunk of the rental car, retrieved her luggage and walked her up the sidewalk, avoiding the puddles from the recent rain. He knocked on the door, and after a moment, his brother answered it.

"Hello, Stefan," he said hesitantly. That look of disapproval was still there in his brother's hazel eyes, but the other man swung the door open wide and welcomed them inside. Broots took Debbie's bags up to the room she'd be sharing with her cousin Sherry, and settled her in before retreating downstairs to the den for a chat with his brother.

Stefan was sitting on the sofa, bare feet propped on the coffee table, a beer in his hand, eyes on the television. He clicked the TV off as soon as Laszlo came into view, and watched as he sat down on the easy chair across from him. "You want to tell me what's up?" he demanded, his voice quiet but still authoritarian.

"I just thought Debbie needed to see her family for a little while," Broots offered with a half smile. "It's been a while since she's seen her cousins--"

"Don't gimme that crap, Bubba," Stefan shot back with steel in his eyes. "I know that place you work for is bad news. Did they threaten her?"

Shamed, Broots nodded. "It was indirect, but that's how they work. She'll be safe here. They don't have a clue where you are."

"Hell, you didn't even know where I was, Bubba." Stefan swigged his beer. "The military taught me how to be covert, and after seeing who you were involved with, I thought you'd have disappeared off their radar by now yourself. But it's your life." He shrugged and stared at his brother meaningfully. "And Debbie's. At least you're doing the right thing by her."

Broots got up, rubbing at the back of his neck. "The Centre isn't exactly the kind of place you quit, Stefan. You know that." He wandered around the den, aimlessly looking at books and framed photographs to keep from making eye contact with his older brother.

"But you knew what it was before you signed on," Stefan argued. "I told you. But you had to show everybody how smart you are. You had to be in on the latest technology, before it hits the marketplace." He harrumphed. "Sold your damn soul to the devil, if you ask me." He drained the beer and rose to get another one from the kitchen. "Want a beer, bro?"

"Nah, thanks. I'm driving back to the airport in a minute." Broots strolled over to a bookcase by the patio doors, and did a double-take when he saw one of the photographs. He picked it up, staring hard at the faces in the picture, smiling back at him. The two men had their arms around each other's shoulders, faces grimed with soot from the forest fire they had been fighting. One was Stefan. The other was Jarod.

"So that's how he got my GI Joe!" he mused softly to himself. "Stefan must have kept it, all these years, and let Jarod have it to give to me."

He wondered if Stefan knew who Jarod really was, and decided not to mention it. At least, not yet.

Stefan returned momentarily with a beer in one hand and a soft drink in the other, which he tossed to Laszlo.

"Thanks, Stefan," he said, his smile warmed with affection. "Look, I know you don't approve of what I do. You think it's stupid, pushing buttons all day--"

"No, I don't," Stefan snapped brusquely. "I have a lotta respect for what you do. Just not who you do it for."

That was a surprise. Broots had always believed that his brother thought he was a spineless nerd because he hadn't chosen a more manly profession, like his. Stefan had been a Navy SEAL and now worked as a firefighter, specializing in forest blazes and wildfires. They didn't come more macho than Stefan Broots.

"That's nice to hear," Broots told him. The clock on the mantel chimed softly, and got the tech's attention. "Gotta go, bro. Take care of my baby for me. And thanks."

"She'll be safe here," Stefan assured him.

Broots crossed the room and pulled his brother into a firm hug. "I know. Thanks, man."

Stefan caught his face in his hands just as he started to pull away, and Broots could see the worry in his eyes. "Be careful, Bubba. Come back alive."

A lump formed quickly in Laszlo's throat and was swallowed away. "Do my best, Stef. See you soon, I hope." He kissed his brother on the cheek and darted out the door before the tears began to gather in his eyes. He'd already said his goodbye to Debbie, and sped away in the rented car, headed for the airport, before he could change his mind and stay with them.

Miss Parker and Sydney needed him. She was counting on him to watch her back, and he wouldn't let her down. And then there was also Kim, whose interest in him offered the promise of something deep and sure, something that would include his daughter as well, and he wasn't going to let Kim slip away. Women like her didn't happen to men like him.

He had too much to lose if he walked away from his job right now. And as long as Debbie was safe, he could put all of his attention to doing what needed to be done, without the distraction of worrying about her. He was ready now, for anything. And he knew without being told that something important was coming down the road.

He just hoped that the light at the end of the tunnel was sunshine, and not a freight train coming to run him down.

* * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Building
Residence Level
Apartment 1790

Elizabeth opened the door without knocking, her bare feet soundless on the Aubusson rug as she strode across the floor. He was upset about something. She didn't need for him to be sleeping to feel that, and Trevor's disquiet pulled her out of bed and into his rooms without an invitation.

His head came up as she entered the room. Dressed in his pajamas and claret velvet smoking jacket, dapper as ever, he had been pacing the floor when she first saw him. Now he stopped and stared at her, his dark eyes filled with worry and grief.

"What is it?" she asked gently. "What did you see?"

He shook his head and turned away, pacing again. "I can't talk about it, little owl. And I don't want to dream about it, either. But if I do, you just leave my nightmares to me. Don't touch these. I don't want you to see what's going to happen."

"Maybe it won't," she offered hopefully. "Haven't you ever foreseen something that didn't come about? Everybody's fallible."

He sighed, and strolled over to take a weary seat on the bed. He rubbed at his eyes. "Sure. Things happen that change the flow. But this one… God, Elizabeth. It's an ocean, not just the little trickle I'm used to. It's not coming from just one source, but hundreds. I've never felt anything like this."

She came closer and put her hands on his shoulders, stroking away his tension. "Do you know what set it off?"

He reached for her waist and pulled her close, pressing his face against her belly as he embraced her briefly. He nodded. "Jarod. I know what the key is now, and he's found it. Everything's in motion. It can't be stopped."

Elizabeth felt the warmth of his touch lingering, but the anguish in his soul drew her closer. She stepped between his knees and clasped his face in her hands, lifting to make him look at her. "What did you see in Jarod's future, Trevor?"

He grimaced, sighed deeply and squeezed his eyes shut to try to block the vision her words had called back. She could see him struggling with it. A tear rolled slowly down his cheek. "Don't ask me that, baby. I don't want to look at it again."

Her heart leaped up into her throat, more for Trevor's pain than anything else. "Get some rest, sweetheart," she breathed, already starting the process that would send him toward sleep. "Let me make you feel better."

She wanted to help him. He had won her heart over the last few months she had lived in Sanctuary, touched her as no other man had. He was handsome, yes, and he had a definite style about him, but there was so much more to Trevor than just his elegant exterior. His fierce protectiveness of her was exciting, and the uncertainty with which he treated her showed her that his interest went far more than skin deep. He didn't relate to any other woman the way he did her. She was enchanted by him, and lately she had begun to be fairly certain that it went much deeper than that.

Elizabeth was in love, for the first time in her life. She had been waiting for this man to find her, and now that he had, she was powerless to ease his pain. "All right," she promised. "I won't touch your dreams 'till you ask me to, my love."

Something in his eyes changed with her use of that particular term of endearment. Everything else had been forgotten for the moment. He almost smiled, his brows twitching in confusion. "You just said…"

"My love," she repeated with a grin, her own anguish lightening instantly as his faded. "And I meant it, Trevor. I already know how you feel about me. Naughty boy. Maybe we should discuss those dreams you've been having about me…"

* * * * * * * * * *

Sebastian started to knock on the door, but found it open and pushed it wide. For a moment, he stared in startled wonder at the circus posters that covered the walls, the books and toys and memorabilia that covered nearly every surface in the room. And presiding over the jumble was one of the newcomers among the residents of Sanctuary, dressed in gaudy colors and a curly rainbow wig, complete with round red clown's nose covering his sleek natural one.

"Jarod?" the Australian ventured quietly.

The Pretender spun around in his much too large shoes, and squirted a stream of water from the artificial daisy on his lapel. "What do you think? Am I clown material?"

Sebastian managed to duck out of the way of the water, and backed out into the hallway uncertainly. "Have you gone 'round the twist, there, mate?" he asked cautiously.

Jarod's hands dropped to his sides, and he bowed his head in defeat. "I'm too tall for the trapeze," he stated distractedly, starting to pace across the room now, "and not funny enough to be a clown. I sympathize with the animals too much, so I couldn't put them through their paces. What does that leave?"

"Are you going to run away and join the circus, you great nong?" asked Sebastian, cautiously venturing closer, but ready for anything. He wasn't too sure about this fellow's sanity anymore, considering what he'd done to his room. "I think the Shrine folks left town last week."

Jarod halted, his clothes swirling around him for a moment before coming to a belated, droopy stop. "Maybe I could do motorcycle tricks, like riding inside that giant gyroscope or on a high wire. Or I could do all kinds of tightrope tricks. Yeah, that's it!" With a gleam of concentration in his eyes, he leaped up onto his bed, flung off his oversized shoes and carefully climbed barefoot onto the footboard, balancing with ease as he walked from end to end, back and forth. "Yeah. Yeah! This is what I'll do." He leaped to the floor and made intense, excited eye contact with Sebastian, and grinned. "What do you want to do?"

Not at all sure where this particular conversation was going, Sebastian held up both hands. "Hold on there, mate. I just came to tell you I'm feeling better, almost normal now. And look at this." He fished a business card out of his breast pocket, crumpled it up and held it in his palm. He stared at it.

Nothing happened.

It didn't even smoke.

He grinned unabashedly. "Isn't that great? You did it, my friend! You and Elizabeth and all the others who've been watching my back, so to speak. I'm an ordinary bloke now, more or less."

"Fire-eater!" Jarod suggested enthusiastically, jabbing one finger into the air. Then he got a horrified look on his face and waved both hands at his host. "No, scratch that. Never mind. Sorry. Just thinking out loud."

Sebastian could not understand what the purpose of this madness was, and told him so.

"This is the answer," Jarod told him with an impassioned grin. "This is what will get us where we need to be."

"For what?" the Aussie asked uncertainly.

"To make all our dreams come true," the Pretender answered warmly. "Namir and I have been in the planning stages now for a couple of weeks. It's time for everyone to get in gear."

Sebastian sensed that the incongruous picture before him of the genius in a clown suit was significant. This madman didn't indulge in whimsy for the sake of entertainment. He had a purpose, and if Namir was in on it, it was something serious, red nose or no.

"I'm still not sure I get where you're going, J."

"To Blue Cove," Jarod answered solemnly. "We're all going. All except the children, and those who need to stay behind to take care of them." He hesitated. "That is, if your offer still stands."

"What offer is that?"

"Sanctuary. You once told me that you had limitless resources to put at my command, if I wanted them. I'm calling in that promise, but I only want volunteers."

Intuition kicked in, and Sebastian got it.

Blue Cove. Namir. The people of Sanctuary.

"All right," Sebastian said softly, nodding his head and swallowing a lump trying to form in his throat. "I'm in. But I still don't get the circus part."

Jarod smiled, secrets twinkling in his chocolate brown eyes. "Have a seat, mate," he said with his best Aussie accent, "and I'll explain. After all, it was your idea."

On to Act IV

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