Protective Custody

 

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The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware
8:15am EST
Monday 13th May 2002

Snarling, the Chairman threw the letter forcibly onto his desk, turning to glare blackly out of the window. Sebastian MacKenzie was nobody -- an ex-subject who had taken it upon himself to get revenge for the imaginary offences that had been supposedly committed against him during his time at the Centre. But it was undeniable that he had placed himself in a strong position. The investigation Mr. Parker had carried out after their return from Texas had shown just how strong his hold over some of the Centre's major associates was, but Parker wasn't prepared to buckle under the emotional blackmail that was being applied. There were ways around this situation and, given time, he would test them all and find the strongest, so that, when the time was right, he could apply it to the weakest point and see MacKenzie's empire crumble.

But that was still some time away and, as he heard a knock on his office door, Parker turned and went back to his chair, sitting down.

"Come in."

The head of the Centre's Corporate sector strolled casually into the office, taking the seat to which he was directed and looking up at his boss expectantly.

"You wanted to see me?"

"I've got a deal I need you to close."

Mr. Sun's eyes glowed delightedly. "I'm always happy to oblige," he remarked. "Where, when and who?"

Mr. Parker pushed a folder across the desk, watching Sun pick it up. The man flipped through the pages and then nodded, about to get to his feet.

"Just a moment," the Chairman ordered. "You aren't alone on this one. I'm sending someone with you to view the wares and ensure they're still viable."

Sun's green eyes took on a hurt expression. "You don't trust me, Parker?"

Another knock on the door prevented the other man from responding to the question, but he bade the person to enter, watching as the psychiatrist made his way towards the desk, glancing at the man beside him before turning his attention to the Chairman as he sat down.

"What can I do for you, sir?"

"Sydney, I want you and Sun to travel to Texas," Mr. Parker began. "He's got most of the details, but I'm sending you to check on the state of the children."

"You've found the Seraphim?" the psychiatrist asked eagerly. "That's wonderful!"

"It will be when we get them back here," his boss responded gruffly. "And it's your responsibility to make sure that they will be capable of recommencing their work here as soon as they are brought back. Clear?"

"Of course, Mr. Parker," Sydney agreed.

"My daughter will be accompanying you, and I want you to take several sweepers." Parker's blue eyes fixed firmly on the psychiatrist. "But you are the only person to see the children. Is that understood?"

"Might I ask why?" the Belgian asked quietly.

"She would upset them," came the short reply. "They'll be upset enough by the sheer fact of being away from their familiar environments. The last thing they need is her fluttering around. Her job is to help Sun in the negotiations. End of story."

The Chairman waited for the answering nod and, when neither appeared to have any questions, he dismissed them, before trying to put the whole thing out of his mind and concentrating on the next of the projects he had in mind.

* * * * * * * * *

Asian Station
Taipei, Taiwan
11:15pm CCT
Monday 13th May 2002

The man made his way into the room, finding the chair and settling himself in it, his expression one of expectation.

"You asked for me?"

"Yes," growled a deep voice from somewhere in front of him. "We have a little job that needs your so-called expertise."

Ignoring the slight on his efficiency, the blind man tilted his head slightly to one side. "And who is my target?"

"Mason," another voice responded. "We considered the arguments you put to us last week, and, after much deliberation, have agreed with them. You bring him back, and you will be allowed to oversee his further work. You will decide if he is of any further benefit to us."

The man's dark eyes glowed with satisfaction and he smiled slightly. "And what about my other… suggestion?"

There was a chuckle from somewhere across the room. "I don't know what the Chairman would say," the man admitted. "But we've given you clearance for that, too."

"Fine, good," the man purred. "Just one condition, though. I choose my own assistant."

"Naturally, naturally," his boss agreed, his voice suddenly becoming hard. "But you have to agree to our condition. You have three days, Mr. Lee. At the end of that time, if you haven't succeeded, you'll become the subject instead."

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware
8:30am EST
Monday 13th May 2002

Sydney couldn't help casting glances at the man opposite as they got into the elevator, wondering just how he felt about their assignment. Despite having been Sun's colleague for years, their work in such different areas of the Centre meant that they had had little to do with each other. He knew that Sun and Catherine had been very close, and the jealousy he had sometimes felt towards Catherine's friend in Maine had also extended to this man. That was gone now, but the uncertainty remained.

"This is an interesting situation," Sun suddenly remarked, and Sydney started.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, can you imagine either of us successfully keeping Parker away from those children? She'd ram her way right through, even if every sweeper the Centre possessed was standing in between them."

The psychiatrist smiled somewhat warily. "She's acting under her father's orders."

It grated so much for him to say those words, but the façade had to be kept up, no matter how much both of them wanted to tear it down. Sun began to whistle softly, his eyes swinging around to examine the other man, and Sydney felt himself tensing under the close scrutiny. Rather than responding, however, Sun opened the folder and looked down at the details with which they had been provided.

"We have to be at the jet in 30 minutes."

"See you there," Sydney responded carefully, as the doors opened and Sun exited the car without a backward glance.

Sydney could feel his own excitement building at what was to come and delighted in the fact that he seemed to be the person who got to impart the news to his daughter. His pace was faster than usual as he made his way along the hallway to her office, and he was slightly out of breath when he appeared. Morgan looked up from her paperwork and jumped out of her chair as he closed the door.

"You shouldn't be pushing yourself," she scolded, hurrying to his side and helping him over to the nearby sofa. "You know that."

He grinned at her triumphantly. "There's no time to worry about me," he told her. "What do you think just happened, Morgan?"

"Raines came back from the dead -- again," she retorted at once, trying not to laugh. "Or maybe the Chairman just went to join him, six feet under."

"Better," her father told her, gathering her hands in his. "We're going down to Texas. Mr. Parker is sending you, me, Mr. Sun and a few sweepers down to check on your son and the other children."

The woman froze, staring at him in disbelief, before her blue eyes suddenly glistened. "Y… you're kidding, right?'

"I promise, Morgan," he stated softly, brushing away the first tear before it had a chance to fall. "I wouldn't tease about something like that -- you know I wouldn't."

Morgan's chest rose and fell in quick breaths, which were only just short of being sobs, before her head went up and she nodded. "When?"

"We're taking off in half an hour. You'll need to get a few sweepers to go with us."

"Sam to come in to Sanctuary with us, and the others to stay behind at the jet," she responded promptly. "And I should…"

She trailed off and stood up, going over to her desk, but her father smiled knowingly.

"You should call Jarod," he finished for her. "Gabriel deserves his parents to be together, even if it's only for a short time."

"And I'll need to make sure Sebastian's board is there, so we can get the necessary signatures to convince the Chairman that we were trying to do what he wanted," she added, closing down the program on which she had been working and locking away several files.

"I do have to tell you one thing," the psychiatrist told her after several long minutes of silence. "Mr. Parker told us you weren't to see the children."

Her head snapped up and she stared at him in disbelief. "He said that?"

"He ordered it," Sydney amended. "According to his directions, I'm the only person who's to see them." He waited, but she remained speechless. "It means," he continued, "that when we come back, we'll have to play a slightly complicated game." The man suddenly smiled. "A prolonged bout of sulking, for instance, wouldn't be out of character for Mr. Parker's daughter."

She remained speechless, staring at him, before suddenly breaking into laughter. "Sydney," she told him in amusement. "I had no idea you could be so devious."

* * * * * * * * *

Paul Jennings' Apartment
Boston
9am EST
Monday 13th May 2002

Yuri felt two hands shaking him as a voice giggled in his ear and opened one eye to look up at the woman who was kneeling beside him on the bed.

"Paul Jennings, you promised to get up and have breakfast with me! It's a glorious, warm day!"

"What time is it?" he mumbled, turning his face in to the pillow to block out the sunlight.

"Late," she told him succinctly. "Nine o'clock."

"That's early," he retorted grumpily. "Unless there's some news breaking somewhere that I should find out about."

He felt her retreat off the bed and hoped it meant she was going to leave him to go back to sleep. Yuri was drowsing comfortably when he felt a drop of cold water on his back, and flipped over to find himself staring at a cold, damp washcloth, which hung threatening over his body.

"Do it, and I'll throw you into the pool, fully dressed," he warned her, and she grinned.

"Let's see you try it," she teased, tightening her fingers around the cloth. A trickle of cold water landed on his chest and he jumped up, grabbing her around the waist and then scooping her up in his arms, hearing her shriek loudly and beg for mercy, kicking her legs frantically as he carried her out of the building and into the back garden.

The pool surface glittered, smooth and unbroken, in the early morning sunshine and he opened the gate, stepping close to the edge.

"One," he chanted, beginning to swing her in his arms. "Two…"

"No!" she shrieked, fighting to get away.

"Three!" he roared, about to toss her into the water when she threw her arms around his neck and held on tightly.

The momentum was too far gone to be stopped and he was dragged along with her, both of them hitting the water at the same moment. His feet touched the bottom and he pushed up, breaking through the surface after only a few seconds and shaking his head to clear the water out of his eyes. Emily surfaced beside him, gasping for breath, and he wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her close to him.

"I did warn you," he began with a grin. "If you don't listen to warnings…"

"You're a bully," she told him with a muffled sob, her bottom lip protruding, refusing to meet his eye.

"And you're faking," he retorted, clasping her face in his wet hands and pulling her close to him, planting a kiss on her lips. "But you do look very sweet when you try the pathetic stunt."

"I'm soaking wet," she wailed. "I'll probably get the flu and die!"

"I wouldn't let that happen," he promised, brushing a strand of wet hair away from her face. "I'd go get your brother to look after you."

He kissed her again, seeing the twinkle of laughter in her eyes, and pulled her close, loving every minute. This was what he really wanted -- a life as close to a normal person as it was possible for a man like him, who wasn't normal, to enjoy. He could never forget what had happened, but when he was in a situation like this, it faded into the background, like a dream that could never occur in real life. Emily's arms snaked around his neck, drawing his head down so that she could kiss him again, and he could feel her legs moving in the water, occasionally brushing against his.

"Now we have a dilemma," he remarked with a grin. "We either stay here and starve or have to get out of the water to eat that breakfast you mentioned when I was about a quarter awake."

She tossed her head to one side, looking at him out of those adorable brown eyes. "Or we could go for option three," she suggested. "We bring breakfast to the pool and sit in the water while we eat."

"I always thought you were a genius," he whispered in her ear, lowering his head to gently nibble on her earlobe. She giggled and pulled away, but not before he had seen a dark line that extended below her hairline.

"What's this?" he queried, brushing the hair aside to see the small figure tattooed on her skin.

"It's something I had a done a few years ago," she replied softly, her voice suddenly full of pain. "Remember how I told you about that day when we saw Jarod, here in Boston?"

He nodded, slightly tightening his hold around her waist, gazing at her intently.

"I wanted something to hang on to," she admitted. "My family was scattered long before that, but it was the first time Mom and I had been together in years. We didn't even know where Dad was, to tell him. But we both hoped that maybe we -- the three of us, including Jarod -- could find him. Then, in just a few seconds, it was all torn apart again."

"I know, baby," he murmured, guiding her over to the steps and sitting on the lowest so that he was still chest-deep in the water, pulling her down to sit on his lap. "Want to tell me the rest?"

Nodding, she rested her head against his shoulder. "I got it done the next day. I… I never told anyone else that I did it, but I wanted something nobody could ever take away, like they took away my family." Something trickled down from her face onto Yuri's shoulder, but he couldn't tell whether it was a tear or a drop of pool water. He felt her finger tracing something on his chest, and it only took a few seconds for him to recognize it.

"The Chinese symbol for 'family,'" he stated softly. "Then you always had your family close."

She nodded again, pressing her face into his neck, and he turned his head to kiss her hair, wondering if there would ever be a time when they would be able to go through a day without pain like this -- and wondering if she would still be beside him when that day arrived, if it ever did. That thought reminded him of his next intended target, and even as he murmured comforting words in her ear, his mind presented him with possible ways to carry out his next mission.

* * * * * * * * *

Dallas, Texas
Midday CST
Monday 13th May 2002

The car was already waiting on the tarmac when the jet pulled to a stop and, after a moment, four people descended the stairs that were rolled into position. The man in the black suit opened the door, courteously waiting until the last person was in, before shutting it after them and getting into the passenger seat. The limousine pulled smoothly away, leaving the pilots of the jet to steer it to the refueling depot where it was provided with a hangar and they went to their hotel rooms for an uneventful night.

There was a brief moment of silence in the car, before Sun leaned forward to shake Trevor's hand warmly. "How's it going?" he asked, as Sydney shot him a sharp glance and then looked at the woman who sat on his other side, an eyebrow raised, waiting to see if she knew about this apparent acquaintance. "Everything okay?"

"Fine," the psychic agreed. "Sebastian made sure the board would be in attendance, so your little visit looks genuine."

Morgan shot a wary look at both men, a question obvious in her eyes, but she refrained from any speech, even as Trevor turned to Sam.

"Your brother's there," he informed the sweeper, with a grin. "You'll get to meet his new romance as well, and Rebecca's kids, too."

"Sounds good," the Centre operative stated with a satisfied smile, turning back to look out of the window.

"Just how do you know each other?" the woman finally demanded, looking from Trevor to Sun, an expression of curiosity on her face, and her former boss laughed.

"Well, Parker, you know I do a lot of deals for the Centre. Sebastian's companies constitute quite a few of my clients."

"So you knew where the children were all along?" she snapped.

"I had a vague idea," he admitted, his eyes twinkling and dimples in his cheeks. "Particularly since Sam's brother took refuge at Sanctuary, I've been able to keep an eye on that place, which gave me the benefit of knowing exactly where the Seraphim were taken, after they were removed from the Centre."

"Rescued," Trevor suggested as the car approached the city.

"Rescued," Sun amended, looking around at the three other occupants of the back seat as he continued. "I also know I'm safe, saying that here. Sam and I know each other from way back."

He winked at the sweeper, and Morgan was surprised to see a rare smile break the man's usually somber expression.

"You've worked with me, Parker. I know that I can trust you. I've always known that." He grinned at Sydney. "Although Dr. Ritter and I have never worked together, I've done a little research and I don't think there's much doubt about him, so, as I said, I know I'm in safe company."

"We need to talk," Morgan told him firmly.

"We sure do," he agreed. "Although I suspect we share a lot of the same information." He shot an amused glance at Sydney. "What was I saying in the elevator, about keeping Parker away from the children?"

"Never mind," the psychiatrist retorted quickly. "I get the idea."

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware
1pm EST
Monday 13th May 2002

Fenigor looked up as the familiar shape of the Chairman loomed in the doorway and waved the man into his office.

"What can I do for you, Parker?"

"I want you to take on a top-priority project, Alex," the man responded as he shut the door and sat down. "We need to move on from the most recent disaster and look to the future."

"Which project?" the scientist asked immediately.

"Ares," Mr. Parker responded firmly, at which point Fenigor raised an eyebrow and he gave a soft whistle.

"But I thought we agreed that that class of projects wasn't going to go ahead for at least the next six months, until we could be sure there wouldn't be any interference from related sources."

"Yes, I know that," the other man responded impatiently. "But we can't afford to wait. Unless we have something new to present to the Triumvirate, we run the risk of the Chairmanship going to one of the other branches. If that happens, we might lose some of our best researchers, and that isn't a situation I want to have to handle."

"Well, all right," Fenigor agreed hesitantly. "But I want increased security at Pakor. There's always the chance that somebody might find out exactly what's going on, and word might get around."

"Of course," the Chairman agreed at once as he rose to his feet. "Except for those directly related to the project, nobody else will know a thing."

* * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas
12:30pm CST
Monday 13th May 2002

The group was still chattering excitedly as they stepped out of the elevator onto the residence floor and were escorted to their rooms. Morgan dropped her bag onto the double bed and began to remove her clothes, pulling a crumpled sleeve straight and draping the garment over a nearby chair. As she was reaching for the next, a suppressed sound from the doorway, suspiciously like a giggle, made her turn sharply to see a familiar figure, a sleeping child in his arms.

She froze, eyes fixed on that small, beloved face, feeling a lump in her throat as she reached out in Jarod's direction. He smiled and stepped forward, easing the surprisingly heavy weight into her arms, before gently shaking the boy.

"It's time to wake up now, baby," he advised his son. Gabriel stirred and his eyes opened, staring at the woman for a second before squealing and throwing his arms around her neck.

"Mommy!" he shouted in delight. "Mommy commed! Mommy commed!"

Morgan was vaguely aware that Jarod had stepped away, retreating to a corner of the room and sitting on one of the chairs, but her attention was fixed on her son, remembering how good it had always felt to hold him and how much better it was now. Gabriel's fingers were tangled in her hair and he was hugging her as tightly as he could manage, his eyes bright, still repeatedly calling her either 'Mommy' or 'Mine.' Both words were like music to her ears.

"I promised you I'd come," she reminded her son, sitting down on the bed. "Remember? I always said I'd come."

"Uh huh." Gabriel nodded vigorously, his brown hair flying all around his face, before he suddenly squeezed her around her waist, his arms unable to reach all the way around. He grunted with the effort and she smiled again at the sound.

"I've missed you so much, Gabriel," she whispered huskily, smoothing his hair, intently studying his face with her eyes. "Did you know that?"

"Lub you, Mommy," he told her, pressing his hot little hand against her chest. "Lubs you heaps in here."

She looked up, knowing that the boy had been taught this concept by the man who sat opposite, silently watching the scene. He raised an eyebrow expectantly and she looked back at their son.

"I love you, too, baby," she responded, lifting him so that she could kiss his cheek. "I love you with all of my heart."

Morgan almost missed the movement on the other side of the room, looking up just in time to see the door close, but her son immediately claimed her attention again, and she felt her eyes fill with hot tears as she saw the eagerness on his face. He sat down suddenly in her lap with his back to her and drew a small foot up to his lap, undoing his laces. Confused, she bent over him.

"What is it, baby?"

"Dis," Gabriel told her with an effort, grunting again as he wrapped the laces of his shoes around his little fingers, struggling to tie them into bows. He managed the first knot, but the loops were too large and the ends slipped through. Pouting, his tongue protruded from between his teeth as he looked up. "Daddy showded me," he explained. "But it only works sometimes."

"How about this?" she asked, tapping a button, knowing that he wanted to show her what he had learnt.

"Dat's easy," he responded, sliding the button in and out of the hole. "And dis." The zipper on his jacket went up and down. "But de lace is hard."

"I know, baby," she told him softly. "But my mommy taught me a rhyme to help me learn the right way to do that. Do you want me to teach you?"

"Uh huh." He nodded enthusiastically, leaning back against her as she picked up the shoelaces, and she settled back on the bed, able only, as she began to recite the poem, to think about how wonderful this moment was.

* * * * * * * * *

Die Fakultät
Berlin, Germany
7pm CEST
Monday 13th May 2002

The Direktor looked up as the older man entered his office without knocking.

"Nice of you to stop by," he stated, fishing a form out of his desk drawer and passing it over. "I need your signature."

Wolfram Leiden smiled, getting a pen out of his jacket pocket and scribbling his signature on the relevant line. "Busy?" he suggested with an almost mocking smirk.

"Of course," Delius agreed with an answering smile. "But I'm still enjoying it. This is really my cup of tea."

"As I would have expected," Leiden affirmed. "If I hadn't thought you capable, you wouldn't be in that chair right now." He cast an eye over a pile of folders stacked up at his elbow. "When are you going to make your move towards the Chairmanship?"

"I'm looking at the 1st of July," the younger man responded thoughtfully. "I've give the caregivers for the children another two weeks to submit their progress reports, and depending on those, I'll plan my approach then."

"What do you think, though?" his former teacher prompted and Delius grinned.

"Well, judging by last month's targets, we're well ahead. I don't see any reason for it not to be at least put to the board. If it is, I'll also be dropping a few hints about the Chairman's failing mental health, and, added to the debacle with the Seraphim, I'd expect them to see me as the only logical choice." He stretched luxuriously. "It's so close, I can almost taste it."

Wolfram chuckled. "Putting the cart before the horse again. I thought I broke that habit. You know you can't do anything until the Triumvirate's actually approved it. And until then, Parker is still the Chairman."

Delius' eyes flashed angrily. "There's no reason why I won't succeed. I can be patient, if it suits me, and I'll wait for as long as it takes."

Leiden rose from his chair, smiling in frank amusement. "We'll see, my boy. We'll see."

* * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas
1pm CST
Monday 13th May 2002

Jarod closed the door behind himself and strolled down the hall to his own room, leaving his son with the boy's mother. Jordan lay on the sofa, on his stomach, intently reading a book, but he waggled a foot in greeting, grinning over his shoulder at his father. Jarod smiled in response and then went into his own room, stopping short at the sight of the man sitting on an armchair.

"Sydney?!"

The psychiatrist smiled. "Morgan didn't tell you I was coming?"

"Uh, no," the Pretender replied hesitantly, slowly recovering from his shock. "She just told me she was."

The older man rose to his feet, offering a hand to his former student and feeling as Jarod's arms wrapped around him in a firm hug. He returned the embrace warmly, sitting down again as Jarod moved over to fill the kettle and place it on the stove.

"You look good, son," the psychiatrist told him. "Better than when I last saw you."

"I am," Jarod agreed, his eyes glowing at the term Sydney had used. "Much." He turned, leaning against the sink and eyeing the man critically as he folded his arms. "I could say the same about you."

Sydney laughed. "I think that's an understatement."

"Probably." Jarod's eyes twinkled. "I'd introduce you to my baby, but his mother's feeling a little bit possessive right now."

"I'll have to meet him some time," the psychiatrist told him. "That's the reason I'm here -- to check on the children and," his voice hardened, "to make sure they can continue their education when they're taken back to the Centre."

The Pretender nodded slowly, using the excuse of making coffee as a way of concealing the rage he felt. Walking over, he gave one mug to the older man and sat down with the other in his hand. Suddenly, his eyes brightened.

"Of course. I'm not thinking." He raised his voice so it would be audible in the next room. "Jordan, would you possibly be able to tear yourself away from that fascinating dissertation on the study of hedonism in 16th century middle-class society for a second, son?"

There was a groan from the other room, then the noise of a book falling to the floor, before the tall figure appeared in the doorway, his hands stuffed in the pockets of his jeans. "It was just getting interesting, too," Jordan complained. "What's up, Dad?"

Jarod nodded at the psychiatrist, his dark eyes glowing with pride as he looked back at the young man. "This is Sydney. Sydney, this is my son, Jordan."

"We've met," the young man responded stiffly, seeming to forget his manners as he sat down on the sofa beside his father.

The Pretender glanced at the man opposite, seeing him nod slightly as if understanding Jordan's attitude. In light of Sydney's apparent acceptance of the situation, Jarod decided not to push the point, changing the subject.

"How's Jake?"

Jordan's face immediately lost its formerly hard expression and his eyes became dark pools of emotion as he looked at his father.

"He's… I don't know," he eventually murmured unevenly. "Will you take a look at him?"

"Sure." Jarod slipped an arm around the young man's shoulder and squeezed gently, feeling as Jordan's arm passed around him in an almost desperate hug. "Do you want to go get him a treat while I check on him?"

"'Kay." Jordan wiped the back of his hand across his eyes, ignoring the psychiatrist as he stood up and went over to the door. As soon as he was gone, Jarod turned to Sydney, his expression apologetic, but the older man held up a hand to stop him.

"It's all right, Jarod. I can't expect him to see me as anything but a Centre employee, and neither can you, particularly considering that the last time we met, it's exactly what I was."

"No, I guess not," the younger man admitted slowly, standing and putting his mug on the coffee table, watching as Sydney did the same.

The Pretender led the way through the dividing door, halting momentarily in the doorway of the dark bedroom so that his eyes could adjust, before making his way over to the bedside where the small boy lay. It was a comfort to him, to see that Jacob no longer subconsciously protected himself as he slept. The boy lay on his side, one hand tucked under his thin cheek and the other wrapped around the teddy bear that he had been given after falling in love with it in the playroom. Breath hissed softly from between his parted lips, culminating occasionally in a soft choking sound.

The man hesitated briefly, hating to break into the peace that was evident in the child's relaxed features, but he had to be back at Trader Vic's in a little over 24 hours and wanted the chance to see how Jacob was progressing with his latest medication, as much as his promise to Jordan to check on him, so he reluctantly shook the child.

"Time to wake up, Jake."

The boy drowsily shook his head, snuggling closer to the pillow, and muttered a refusal under his breath. "'M sleepy, Jordan," he mumbled.

For a moment, Jarod was confused, until he suddenly realized how similar the voices of himself and his son had become over recent weeks, and grinned faintly. Bending down beside the pillow, he smoothed the child's hair, remembering with a smile the time before he had left for Blue Cove, when Jordan had teasingly suggested that he should become the boy's grandfather. Although he had allowed himself to think of that fact when first realizing how close Jordan was to admitting his own relationship with Jacob, something inside him rebelled against being a grandfather to a child older than his own son.

"It's Jarod, honey," he told the boy softly. "Don't you want to see me?"

Jacob's eyes flew open and he sat up in a hurry, panting as he struggled out of the blankets. The man put out a hand to help him as the boy looked up out of delighted eyes.

"Jarod!" he exclaimed in breathless tones, trying to free himself. "When did you come?"

"About an hour ago," the man responded, gently picking up the light weight in his arms, wrapping a blanket around him and carrying him out into the living room. Sitting on the sofa, he tucked the ends of the rug more firmly around Jacob's feet, his eyes running over the new darkened patches on his face and neck as the boy nestled close to him. Out of the corner of his eye, Jarod saw the psychiatrist scrutinizing the small face, and the Pretender believed that he could recognize the same pain that had been in his father's eyes when Major Charles had first seen the boy. However, it quickly disappeared, replaced by professional detachment, in an attempt not to reveal the way he felt. The Pretender focused once more on the boy in his lap. "How are you, Jake?"

"Happy," the child responded with a satisfied smile, as if that was the only thing that mattered in the world. "Jordan took me swimming yesterday."

"And did you have fun?"

"Uh huh." The boy nodded enthusiastically but slowly, as if such violent movement would cause him pain. "I like it."

At this juncture, the door to the room opened and Jordan returned, casting a sideways glance at the psychiatrist, who was sitting on a chair on the far side of the room, before sinking to his knees in front of his father and slipping a straw into the glass filled with a frothy concoction.

"Special treat, Jake," he told the boy with a smile, watching the child's eyes widen in delight as he sipped the milkshake.

"It's got ice cream in it," Jacob reported after the first experimental taste, dimples in his cheeks as he smiled at the two people. "And chocolate."

"Lucky you," Jarod responded with forced cheerfulness, feeling that the child had dramatically lost weight since he had last seen him. Jacob immediately offered the straw for the man to have a sip, but Jarod shook his head. "No, honey, you have it. Jordan made it for you."

Jacob had to stop to draw breath between every enthusiastic mouthful, but when the glass was finally empty, he leaned back against Jarod, beaming.

"Yummy," he affirmed simply.

Jordan glanced at his watch. "Shall we go give you a bath and then we can all go to the playroom after?"

Carefully, Jacob nodded his head again, stretching out his hands to the young man and snuggling close to him as he was picked up. The man watched the two leave and, when the door closed, his eyes swung around to the silent psychiatrist.

"Well, I guess you've…" Jarod's voice broke, but he forced himself to continue, still in the tone of forced brightness, his voice fading to a harsh whisper. "You've met the whole family."

His lips trembled and he looked down abruptly, squeezing his eyes shut to stop the tears he could feel welling up from escaping. His elbows were propped on his knees and he rested his forehead on the tips of his fingers, slowly exhaling, fighting for emotional control. There was the soft sound of someone rising from a chair and the next moment Sydney was sitting next to him on the sofa.

"This is not your fault, Jarod," the older man stated firmly. "You aren't responsible for the way this technology's been abused, nor the way Cox treated Jacob."

"But I can't do anything about this," Jarod rasped painfully. "I can do anything I put my mind to, but now, when something means so much to me, I can't do a thing about it." He shrugged, raising his head and lifting his hands in a gesture of demonstration before letting them fall back onto his lap. "I'd give everything -- every person I've ever helped, every wrong I've ever righted, every good thing about myself -- to save that little boy." The first tear slid slowly down his face as he stared straight ahead, his tone revealing his feeling of hopelessness, the words being forced out from between clenched teeth. "And it wouldn't do any good at all."

Sydney's arm slid around his shoulders, squeezing gently, the psychiatrist remaining silent, but the Pretender felt the sympathy that seemed to emanate from him and allowed himself several moments to expel the negative emotions he was always careful to suppress around those who would pick them up most easily.

On to Act II

 
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