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Thursday
Hybrid Biotract #23

Broots stood on the stone steps, eyes on the ground. His stomach was upset, but at least it had stopped cramping. He had a feeling the nausea would be with him for a while.

The sound of footsteps made him look up, and he saw Miss Parker striding toward him, purpose in her eyes and her stride. He had not wanted to talk to her about this inside the building, too afraid their conversation might be monitored by unwanted ears. Here, at least, he could see if they were being watched, and he had in his pocket a small device that would provide enough white noise interference to disable anyone listening in with electronic devices at a distance.

"What is it, Broots?" she demanded, slinking to a graceful stop a few feet away.

"We've got trouble, Miss Parker," he told her. "You know that security tap I couldn't find? Well, I did."

She crossed her arms, waiting for more. "And?"

"It's Valentine. He's tapped into God knows what. Maybe everything. And Mr. Lyle has had me checking up on a guy named Lucian Bruce--"

"Never heard of him," she interrupted. "What does he have to do with this security breach?"

Broots stepped closer, dropping his voice to a nervous whisper. "I don't know who he is, either. But he's powerful enough to have the whole Triumvirate killed off 15? years ago." His eyes got round, remembering. "And guess who carried out the sanctions for him? Valentine!"

She frowned. "Is he behind this new rash of murders, too, with Yuri doing his dirty work for him this time?"

He shrugged. "I don't know. But this Bruce guy, whoever he is, if he's got enough power to execute the Triumvirate, we don't stand a chance. We better get the hell outta Dodge and disappear. You, me, Sydney, Kim… Anybody we care about."

"It's too late for that," she shot back, and dropped her arms with a heavy sigh. She met his curious gaze with sadness in her eyes. "We have lives to save, Broots," she told him softly. "You go if you want. Take care of Debbie. But my -- Sydney and I are staying… And thanks for standing by me, all this time. I've learned to treasure your friendship, Laszlo."

He straightened, too stunned for words for a moment. "You know my name."

She gave him a sad, sweet smile. "Yeah. And you know mine. You know all my secrets, don't you, Broots?"

His shoulders crept up around his ears as he stuffed his hands into his pants pockets. "What secrets would that be, Miss Parker?"

"It's your job to find things out. You do that well. And if you don't understand something, like the DNA records on the Seraphim, you learn. Don't you?"

How she had figured that out, he'd never know. "Yeah. So I know about Gabriel." He gave her a shy smile that withered away in light of this dangerous new knowledge. "So you want to tell me about the rest? I'd rather not be kept in the dark. I know something's up between you and Jarod. I've had too many phone calls to wipe off your records not to figure that out."

She told him. He sat down on the stone steps, staring at the ground, his mind awhirl with the visuals.

"Oh, God," he breathed.

Miss Parker squatted down beside him. "You can still go to Debbie, if you want."

He could. He knew that. But he had made his decision long before she offered him this escape. "Who's gonna watch your back, if I duck out now?" he asked her. "I've come too far with you and Sydney to take off when you need me most. Debbie's safe, and my brother will take good care of her, if I…" He met her eyes, that knot in his belly forming again. "I'm basically a coward, Miss Parker. I've never stood up to anybody in my life, except where my daughter's concerned. If it was just me, I'd be running so fast Michael Johnson couldn't catch me." He sighed. He stood up. "But I believe in you. I know you're doing the right thing. And I'm staying."

There were tears in her eyes as she smiled at him. Without another word, she turned and walked away, back in the direction from which she had come. Only this time, her pace was pensive and slow.

He left along a different path a little while later, and decided he needed to see Kim. She had become very important to him lately, and he wanted to spend as much time with her as he could. While he still had the chance.

* * * * * * * * *

Our Lady of Refuge Convent

Emily lay on the bed, drowsing as she watched over her mother, sitting in her wheelchair and looking out the window. It was nice to see her like that now, realizing that she was actually seeing what was on the other side of the glass. They had talked a great deal over the past few days, and old wounds were healing for both of them. They talked to Jarod on the phone every day, and he was late calling.

Her cell phone rang, and she got up to answer it.

Only it wasn't Jarod.

"Emily, where are you? The paper said you didn't show up for work yesterday. Did something happen? Is it Jacob?"

Her heart dropped into her shoes. "This is for me, mom," she told Margaret, and carried the telephone out into the hallway, shutting the door so her mother wouldn't overhear. She held the phone to her ear, her throat constricting as she heard his wonderful, terrible voice. "I know who you are, Paul," she told him hoarsely. "I know you're the Executioner."

The earpiece was silent.

She squeezed her eyes shut, trying to hold back the tears. "I know that the Executioner hates powerful people. But what the papers never reported was that the victims were all connected to the Centre. Is that where you're from?"

"Yes."

There was such calm in his voice. Such resignation. He knew it was over between them, and he knew why.

"Did they train you to do those things?"

"No. I killed those people on my own." He sighed, and it was ragged with emotion that did not show in his voice. "I want to talk to you, Emily. In person, not over the phone."

"That isn't a safe or smart thing for me to do, P--Yuri."

"Are you back in Dallas?"

She sniffed back tears, but they spilled onto her cheeks anyway. "No. And don't go back there. They won't let you in. They'll turn you over to the police."

"You don't want me to get caught?" There was a note of hope in his voice.

"I want you to stop. No more killing. Ever."

"I can do that. But how will you know I've stopped? How can I--"

"You should be in prison, Paul. Yuri, or whoever you are."

"That's just it, baby. I'm anybody. I'm a Pretender, just like your brother. I don't have a clue who I am, where I come from… I'm lost. But when I'm with you, I'm not. I know exactly who I am. I'm the man who loves you."

She pulled the phone away from her ear so he wouldn't hear the sob that statement wrenched out of her. But the tears were not going to stop. She couldn't be in love with a murderer… but she was. "Don't call me again, Paul. I don't want to see you, not ever again. How could you?" she screamed at him. "How could you?!"

Punching the off button, she disconnected the call and leaned against the wall, weeping and broken. She would never get over him. She had seen the photographs of his victims, knew how horribly they died, and could not reconcile how a man who had made love to her as tenderly as Paul Jennings could share the same skin as Yuri the Executioner.

But then, he was a Pretender. He could be anyone he wanted to be. Except hers.

* * * * * * * * *

The Hidden Truth Chinese Restaurant
Blue Cove

"To what do I owe this invitation, Mr. Sun?" Miss Parker asked as she lifted her wineglass. The man sat across the table from her, his expression troubled as it never was inside the building where they worked. She would never have guessed that he had been undermining corporate rule all these years, but that was because he was so good at hiding his real feelings. Now, however, he didn't seem to care, and the mask was gone.

"I wanted to talk with you in private," he told her. "Since our little trip to Dallas to check on the kids, I think we've all discovered a few important things about each other. Like whose side we're all on."

He raised his eyes to hers, and she could see the pain in them. But there was something else, too. She thought it might be approval.

"For a long time, I thought you were just like the Chairman," he went on. "That's why I didn't trust you with any of what I was doing behind the scenes. It's good to know that you really are like your mother. I'm proud to know you."

"Ditto, Mr. Sun. I can see why my mother liked you so much. I just wish I'd gotten to know you better."

He smiled then, briefly. "Please, call me James. All my friends do." He toyed with his place setting, eyes downcast to the table. "So I guess it's time to lay our cards on the table. Let's start with the questions I know you have for me."

She nodded, appreciating his quickness. "What's your relationship with Peter Winston?"

He grinned, his green eyes twinkling. "Peter and I met after he stole a painting I had donated to a museum in my hometown. I put out feelers to buy it back after the theft, and he didn't work with fences at the time. He was damn good. Gotta admire cojones like that."

"And now?" She felt herself smiling as well, surprised yet again by the reference to her college chum's shady past. She'd never have expected something like that of such an All-American kind of guy. But then, she knew too well how appearances could be deceiving.

"Now we share information, with Sam as our go-between. We help each other. Something big's about to happen in Berlin."

"I know. He told me, and I promised to keep him apprised of developments here."

He looked at her then, his expression guarded, eyes wary. "Now it's my turn to ask you questions, I guess. What are you planning?"

"I'm not showing my hand just yet, James. Just in case. Things are about to change big-time, and I need to have you around for backup, in case I fail."

He nodded approvingly. "Just let me know if I can help."

"When the time comes, you'll know what to do." She thought about the list of names Jarod had given her, and wondered briefly if Sun had a copy of it. That list had come from Berlin, she was sure, but it had on it the names of people who could be counted on to help in the coming confrontation. Peter Winston had been on it, as had Sam and several others she knew. Jock Voorhees from Boer City was listed, along with a handful of others at that station.

But she wasn't going to risk getting Sun in trouble with implementation of her mother's plan. Let him stand aside so that, if things went badly, there would still be a few good people who could watch over future development of the Centre, and hopefully find a way to make the positive changes that needed to happen. He'd be her ace in the hole, in case things went horribly wrong.

"Do something for me, James," she asked softly.

"For you, anything," he promised.

"Stay out of it. Keep a low profile, and if anything happens, keep your nose clean. Understand?"

He nodded. "For afterward. Just in case." He sighed, and studied his empty plate again. "You know how I felt about your mother, Parker."

"Morgan. Please."

A sad smile flashed across his lips and was gone. "Morgan. I wanted to thank you for letting me watch that DSA." His eyes filled with tears, and one rolled unheeded down his cheek. "Raines told me he was going to help your mother fake her death. He didn't tell me how, but I was one of the executives who signed off on her death certificate. He knew he could count on me for that, even though I saw her in the morgue, and knew she was still breathing."

His gaze rolled up to the ceiling, and he brushed the tear away. "I went to Renewal to kill him, after I saw that recording. Did you know that? I was going to kill him for what he did to her. But I couldn't."

Morgan sat quietly, all too aware of his pain, of the deep affection he had for Catherine that still lingered in his heart, just as it did in her father's.

"I couldn't, because he wouldn't have felt it. It wouldn't have mattered. There was no justice to be had for her."

"I know."

"She was someone special," he mused thoughtfully. Then his eyes rolled over to take in her face. "And so is her daughter. I salute you, Morgan. That's the highest compliment I can pay you, that you not only look like your mother, but you have her heart and her courage." He lifted his glass then, in salute. "To Catherine, and to her daughter."

"To dreams," she returned enigmatically. "May hers come true, one day soon."

Their glasses clinked, and the drained them together, the spirit of Catherine Elaine Jamieson Parker warm and alive in their hearts.

* * * * * * * * *

Trader Vic's Campground and Emporium

Jarod stared at the computer screen, his eyes burning with fatigue and grief as he read the email from Jordan. He needed to be there, but he had to be in Delaware. His heart was torn in two.

A knock sounded at the door of his trailer, and he minimized the post before going to answer it.

Trevor stood there, his jumpsuit crisply pressed, sharp creases on the trouser legs, not a hair out of place. But it was his solemn expression that caught Jarod's eye, and he stepped aside to let the man into his temporary home. Trevor glanced around for someplace to sit, but the furniture was covered with technical notes and printouts of Jacob's medical records.

The Pretender worked tirelessly on the boy's health problems, even during the midst of the other matters he was juggling. He picked up several of the piles and set them aside, offering his friend a seat on the built-in sofa. The little trailer was not made for comfort, but for utility and convenience, but no one seemed to mind. Trevor, though, seemed decidedly out of place in those clothes and that setting.

"What can I do for you, Trevor?" Jarod asked cordially, returning to his seat at what served as a kitchen table. The narrow built-on panel only seated one.

"I came to ask you if you'd take a little time off," the other man announced. "A few of us are jetting off to Vegas for an overnight stay, and we wanted you and Faith to come with us." Then he smiled softly. "Elizabeth and I are getting married tonight."

"Congratulations!" Jarod crowed, grinning broadly. "This is a little sudden, isn't it?"

Trevor's good humor melted instantly, and he swallowed hard. His voice was huskier when he spoke again. "I've seen enough of the future to know I belong with her, and she agrees."

"I'm guessing Sebastian will be best man?"

Nodding, Trevor fixed him with a sad eye. "Please come with us, Jarod. Have a little fun. Enjoy yourself for a change. Lighten the load. Maybe you and Faith could tie the knot, too." He swallowed hard, and turned slightly away. "It would be a good thing, considering--"

"Faith and I are just starting to explore a relationship," Jarod returned warmly. "We're not ready for something as permanent as I view marriage. I don't want to do something rash, just because I don't know what the future holds for me, and regret it later."

"But Jarod, I've seen…" Trevor bowed his head, covered his face with his hands. "So many people won't be coming back--"

"I don't want to know," the Pretender assured him, feeling the weight of impending doom settle in on him. He had been feeling that dread for weeks now, not only because of little Jacob. "Please, keep your visions to yourself this time. I really don't want to know what you've seen."

Trevor laid his hands in his lap and nodded, staring at the floor. "Will you come with us, then? Have a night on the town with us, and wish us happiness?"

Jarod smiled. "I wish you that anyway, and thank you for the invitation. But I need to stay here. I have things to do, to get ready."

"Okay." He stood up, and Jarod did also.

The Pretender stepped forward and embraced the man. "You'll be happy with each other," Jarod declared. "I've seen how she feels about you in her eyes. You're a lucky man, Trevor."

"Yeah. I know." Trevor smiled, and left quietly.

Jarod sat down again and maximized the post, reading it over again, even though he had it memorized by now. Elizabeth would not be in camp that night, and she would not stand watch over his dreams. They would be terrible, he knew, filled with fear, horror and tragedy, all the things that bothered him in the subconscious realms during his waking hours, all the possible flaws in his planning and their terrible consequences. This time, he had to be perfect, but that was impossible. There were too many random factors, too much he couldn't anticipate.

And that meant death. Trevor had seen it already. Someone Jarod loved was going to die, and he had come to love many of the unusual, gifted people of Sanctuary. There was a sense of family with them, even though he had his whole family back now, everyone but Kyle.

The Pretender closed his eyes and summoned up a picture of his brother's face from memory.

Only this time, Kyle was smiling at him.

He wondered what that meant.

* * * * * * * * *

Children's Medical Center
Dallas, Texas

Jordan sat by the bed, holding onto the little boy's hand, staring out the window while Jacob slept. He slept a lot these days, because his body just didn't have the energy to function anymore. He had pain in his joints that no amount of morphine would address, and headaches that rendered him almost blind, due to intracranial pressure. Jordan could feel the ghost of that pain in his own body, and knew that there was nothing he could do to help.

His eyes burned from wanting, needing to cry, but he couldn't. Jacob didn't understand that he was dying. Or maybe he did, and looked forward to it. Still, Jordan couldn't let him know how much the prospect of losing him hurt.

He had a son. Jacob was his child, born from his DNA, not Jarod's. And in the short time he'd had with the boy, he learned to love him, to think of him as his own. His father's words in Barrow came back to him as he remembered necking in the dark with Merritt, about what they had almost done. He'd have been willing at the time to go as far as she would let him, without thinking of consequences. Now, however, he understood what Jarod had been trying to say. Barrow was a lifetime away, and he could never go back to the innocent he had been then.

Turning to look into that weary little face, he felt his heart squeeze another painful beat in his chest. One day, he would marry and have a child the normal way. He knew that now, understood the responsibilities, the heartaches and joys of parenthood. But no child who ever came into his life again would take the place of this one.

Jordan glanced up as the major wandered into the room. The older man offered a grim smile and a nod, and took a seat in one of the guest chairs. He glanced at Jacob, and sighed.

"I just spoke to your dad," Maj. Charles told him quietly. "He's told me where your grandmother is. I'd like to go and visit her soon, maybe bring her back here. But I'll stay as long as you need me."

Jordan straightened up and sniffed. "You go on ahead. I knew where she was, but Emily swore me to secrecy." He rubbed his face wearily with his free hand. "We'll be all right."

The major shook his head. "Margaret's not in any danger where she is," he explained. "She's doing well. There's no hurry." His gaze wandered over to the sleeping child. "How long did the doctors say?"

"Maybe a week. Or days. Not long, now." Jordan's eyes welled up and spilled over, and he scrubbed the tears angrily away with the back of his hand. "It's so unfair. He's so little. He's had so much pain…"

Major Charles got up and came to him, put his arms around the teen's head and shoulders and held him close while he wept. "I know, son. But you gave him the world. He's happy now. He's ready to let go."

Jacob stirred, and Jordan cut off his weeping instantly, sniffing back the last of his tears as he turned reddened eyes to that dear little face. "Hey, squirt. How're you feeling?"

"Tired," Jacob told him breathlessly, wheezing as he talked. "Don't cry, Daddy. I'm not scared anymore. Not with you here."

"I don't want to lose you, Jake," Jordan told him, reaching up to stroke the boy's hair and cheek. "It hurts me to think about it."

"I'm sorry," the boy whispered back. "I don't want to hurt you. I love you."

"I love you, too, baby," the teen sniffed.

Jacob smiled. "That's all that matters, isn't it?"

Jordan nodded. "Yeah. Love is all that matters. It's all we get to keep. That and memories."

Jacob closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep again, worn out by the effort to talk. It took a little while for his smile to fade away. Jordan watched the regular rise and fall of the child's chest, and heard the wheezing increase as he struggled to breathe. Jacob's organs were shutting down, one by one, and no amount of medicine or surgery or treatments would help.

His son was dying, and he had no choice but to watch.

Love and memories.

That would be Jacob's legacy.

End Episode 24
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