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A cool breeze blew gently across the balcony attempting to flip the pages of the travel magazine Marlene was reading. Smiling at Jason, Marlene runs her hand gently down his back. “Hmm?” he mumbles around the paintbrush held in his mouth.


“Nothing,” she says. “Just making sure this is really happening and we're both here.” Marlene glances at the painting he is working on, a sailboat out on the water done in watercolors that he had found in a gift shop.


With only one hand on her magazine the passing breeze managed to tug a few pages from between her fingers. There before her was something that bothered her. Something that she had never brought up to Jason. A simple picture of a cabin in the woods. It wasn't a big cabin. And there was a lake. It wasn't in the mountains. At least not the sharp, rough mountains of the west. Maybe the softer hills of the Appalachians or the Catskills. She didn't look for a location or a caption.


“Do you know what I regret?” she asked.


“Hmm?” He pulled the brush from his mouth. “What's that?”


“I never got time in the cabin.”


Brow furled, Jason turned his head to look at her. “You spent time in the cabin.”


Marlene closed the magazine and set it on the table so that the wind wouldn't flip it open. “Not like Sandy and Leah did.”




“And while waking up beside you with your hand on my butt,” she said, standing up, “it would have been better if my butt had been bare, you had been naked, and my best friend your girlfriend hadn't been laying on the other side of you.”


Smiling at the memory, Jason set his brushes down and turned his chair to face Marlene. “At least I was warm between the two of you.”


“I may be being playful, but I'm serious, too. There were a lot of good memories made in that cabin, Jason,” she said quietly. “And they weren't all yours. Spring Break in our senior year; you, me and Sandy. You disappearing up there after she died.”


“I wouldn't call that a good memory,” he said just as quietly. “And I didn't tell that guy to burn it down.”


“Maybe not, but that cabin was your hideaway. It was the first place you took Kris and Ash after meeting them. If you asked them I'm pretty sure they would say that they miss it. I know Leah did. She wanted you to take her back up there after that trip she took to Europe.” Marlene set her forearms on Jason's shoulders and ran her fingers through his short hair. “But you, you seemed to think it only affected you, so you never bothered to rebuild it.


“In the time that I have been the account manager for the Guardians I have seen bills and receipts for cars to replace those lost in battle. Not yours, but other peoples. Medical bill assistance for injuries incurred by bystanders and police. Salvage operations. Construction, new or repair. All these different things that you paid for, for others, but because you feel that you are the only one that impacted you never bothered to rebuild it.” Her forehead was pressed against his now. He was frowning.


Trying to smile, he said, “I love you.”


“Hmm, tell me that again,” her voice husky.


Jason's hands moved up her back. “I love you,” he said quietly. His fingers moved through her hair and it spilled forward. “You've been letting your hair grow out.” Marlene brushed hair from her face and stroked its length down her sweater.


Nodding her head, she smiled at him. “Yeah. Not sure why, but yeah, letting it grow back out some.” She pulled his head up so that their lips touched in a gentle kiss. “Think about what I said,” she said breaking away.


“Where are you off to?” he asked.


“The show is in four hours,” she said. “While it isn't Broadway, I'm sure those actor types are the same everywhere and they wouldn't want us walking in in the middle of the first act. And there's dinner, whether or not it is before or after, maybe before and after depending on how hungry I get. So I figured I would take a little time and get my hair styled. You finish up your painting. I want to see it when it's done.”


Stepping through the glass door, Marlene smiled to herself. This is going to be a rather interesting relationship, Mr. Scott.


* * * * *

Still frowning, Jason watched Marlene walk into their room. There was a sway to her hips that he was used to seeing when Marlene was in heels. Thinking about it, he realized that she wasn't trying to be sexy. Not now wearing low-heeled boots and jeans, or other times in heels and more formal wear. Or less. He got the impression that it came when Marlene was feeling self-satisfied about something. The more he followed that train of thought, he got the idea that he was at the center of it.


This is going to be a very interesting relationship. With a crimson flash, he tossed Marlene's hair tie on top of her magazine and turned his attention back to his painting.

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“That was Ghost of a Rose by Blackmore's Night.”


Dabbing the bristles of his brush into paint on his palette, Jason nodded. “Queue up another.” His attention on the painting, Jason cocked his head to the side before applying the brush to a pane of glass.


This one is The English Ladye and the Knight.


Sir Walter Scott?”


Yes, sir. The artist is Loreena McKennitt. It is from her An Ancient Muse collection.”


Jason closed his eyes and lost himself in the music for a moment. He smiled and put his attention back on the painting. The brush moved on the canvas, giving definition to Marlene's reflection. It was rare when Jason pulled an unfinished piece out of storage. His heart ached and he missed her, but he was better off doing something than hoping that she would call. Listening to her music almost made it feel as if she were there with him.


He dabbed his brush once more and applied it to the glass pane. Marlene's head was turned towards the window. The bristles moved across her lips in the reflection. She had a wistful look on her face that Jason was trying to change.


Eyes growing distant, Jason's head tilted and his mouth went slack. The tip of the brush slipped down from Marlene's lip and across her chin.


Damn,” Jason said quietly. His palette was set on a table along with the brush. His eyes snapped back to the painting and the line running down Marlene's chin. “Damn.”


Window, sir?”


Flight shaft. Roof access.” With a flash of crimson, Pulsar stood ready for battle. “Last time you opened a window in my room I lost drawings.” The door to the room opened and he flew out.


Yes, sir, but Leah was rather insistent.”


Lost drawings, Mentor. You scanned all the business papers. My drawings? Lost.”


Yes, sir.”

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“Warren!” Kate said in a harsh whisper while shaking her husband awake.




“There's someone in the house!”


Warren's eyes snapped open and he tossed the covers back. He moved out into the hall. The first thing he noticed was a red light emanating from Aaron's room. Moving to the doorway he saw someone standing over Aaron's bed. Someone he knew.


Won't hap-pen, Aaron,” Jason said. “I prom-ise.” He moved his hand closer to the sleeping babe and the flare around his hand grew brighter. Jason pulled his hand back and made a fist. The flare died down.


Flipping on the lights in the hall, Warren said, “Saying you could drop by any time, I didn't think you'd pick the middle of the night.”


Sor-ry, War-ren. Needed to.”


Are you okay?”


Jason straightened his back. He brought his left hand up. “No.”


Warren saw a ring dangling from a chain hanging from Jason's fist. He moved next to Jason and lifted the ring on its chain. He didn't look at it. He knew it. Intimately. “This is Kate's ring. Where did you get it?”


Long stor-ry.”


Kate, where's your wedding band?”


On my finger. Why?”

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“No, Boyd!” they heard Beth exclaim. They both looked in her direction. “Because I have to work!”


“Oh, crap on a stick,” Warren said quietly.


“Hey! Why don't you leave her alone?” Warren, Beth, Boyd, and most of the rest of the customers looked at Jason. Jason's eyes were on Boyd.


“Why don't you make me?” Boyd spat back. He smiled as Jason sat there. He turned his attention back to Beth.


He wasn't smiling when he realized Jason was standing beside him. Jason said quietly, in a threatening tone, “Leave her alone. She is working. Talk to her after work if you have to.”


Boyd turned leading with a left hook, staggering Jason with the impact. Warren winced. “That has to be the most expensive punch you've ever thrown, Boyd.”


Jason righted himself, a trickle of blood escaped from the corner of his mouth. “Wrong move.”

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Reeling from a blow to the temple from the spinning staff, Jason stumbled backward. Regaining his bearings, Jason saw Kris moving in with her staff in a two-handed grip which would lead to a killing blow. He flew backwards out of her reach as the staff came down and slammed into the ground.


“Kris, we're just sparring,” he said calmly.


Kris moved in with the staff spinning. Her wings, as Jason had pointed out, shifted and moved, leaving the spinning of the staff unimpeded. Anger blemished her looks.


Watching, Jason went on the defensive. There were no feints. Each blow Kris made connected solidly with Jason's staff. The angrier she became the faster the blows came. And it seemed, the faster her discipline and training fell away.


An opening sensed, Jason shifted his own staff to one hand and caught Kris's, yanking it free from her hands. Only a sudden and impulsive spreading of her wings kept her from sprawling. She glared at Jason for a moment and he wondered if she was going to come at him unarmed.


Kris turned, and hands in claws by her sides, screamed at the sky.


Keeping an eye on her, Jason set the staffs by the stump. He retrieved two water bottles from the cooler. Kris was breathing hard. He cracked the top on one bottle while walking slowly toward the woman. He held the bottle out to her.


Turning to him, he saw the anger still burning in her eyes. She snatched the offered bottle, spilling some water. Drinking some, Kris then poured what was left over her upturned face. He watched the water run from her face, down her neck to soak into fabric of her shirt.


When she finally brought her head down, her breathing was more controlled. There was a look of guilt in her eyes. “I'm sorry.” Jason smiled and shrugged. “Can I see what you were working on?” she asked.


“Sure.” Returning to the stump, Jason picked up his sketch book and handed it to her. Starting with the page he had been working on, Kris turned the pages back slowly. There were different sketches of a female form, her, as she gone through her exercises. She noticed that Jason had paid more attention to the movements and positions of her wings than to her body.


Until she came to a full-color portrait. Kris blushed and closed the book. In what looked like paint to her, Jason had put her name on the cover. “A whole book just for me?”


“I've got one started with Ash,” he said. “And one with Warren. It makes it easier for me if I have an idea I want to work with and who I think would be a good model for it.”




“I paint, Kris. People, landscapes, still life. If I don't have a pencil in hand, I usually have a paintbrush instead.”


“Oh,” she said quietly. She held the book to her chest with her arms crossed over it.


“Do you want to explain?”


Her eyes darted to Jason's and then she looked down. “Explain?”


“About why you're angry,” he said gently.


Kris sighed and held his book out to him. “My sister.”


Jason returned to his chair, slipping the water bottle into the cup holder in the armrest. He didn't say anything. He just looked at Kris. She hung her head for a moment. Looking up, she moved to the stump. Her empty bottle went back into the cooler and she pulled out another. Kris pushed the cooler back and sat on the stump, her feet against it and her knees up.

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“I have a sister. A twin. Her name is Kari. Growing up we were inseparable. You wouldn't know what that was like.”


“I'm an only child. There are people that I consider family, but I don't have siblings,” he said.


Her mouth in a tight line, Kris folded her arms across her knees and rested her chin on them. There was a long moment before she spoke. “Do you know what sympathetic twins are?”


“Only in the realm of science fiction.” Kris was silent, but looked at him out of the corner of her eye and raised her eyebrow. Jason realized she wanted more of an answer. “Sympathetic twins are the belief that if something happens to one twin the other is aware of it. Some form of telepathic or empathic connection.”


Kris nodded her head. “Only it isn't within the realm of science fiction. It does happen.”


“I'm sure there would be scientific studies done to support that.”


“Why? Unless the children, and for the most part it would be children that they studied, tormented and tortured for the studies, realized that they would be separated. So they don't let others know. Parents and other family just think it is some quirk that the children have.”


“If it helps any, I can empathize,” Jason said.


“You can? How?”


Standing up, Jason walked out towards the overlook. He felt Kris's eyes follow him. “One of my...gifts,” he said turning back to face her, “is the ability to make a connection...a link with another person. You'll meet one of them soon. These people, through those links, I know what direction they are in. I have a rough idea of how far away from me they are. If I concentrate on them I can get a feel for their mood. If they get injured, I know.”


“Can you read their minds?” she asked, a smile playing around her mouth.


Jason shook his head, “No.”


Dismounting from the stump, Kris walked to Jason. “But you do have some idea what it's like. Unlike you, I don't know if Kari is alive or dead! I mean I know she isn't dead! I'd know if she were! But it's been years and I don't know where she is or what has happened to her!”


Smiling, Jason said, “You're the responsible one.” Kris sucked her bottom lip in and nodded. “Which of you is older?”


“I am,” she answered, hanging her head. “By fifteen minutes.”


“What if,” Jason slipped a finger under Kris's chin and lifted it gently, “what if I can find her? Have her brought here? Would you give us a chance then?”


“Why?” she asked quietly. “Why would you do that?”


“I'm a rich kid.” Shrugging, he said, “I've got money and other resources. What kind of friend would I be if I didn't offer to help?”


Kris lifted her chin higher. Tears glittered in her eyes, threatening to fall. “Are we? Are we friends?”


“I'd like us to be,” he said quietly. “I mean, you slicing me open with that spear notwithstanding and all.” He was smiling as he said it.


Fighting a smile of her own, Kris dropped her head down, tears falling free into the dirt. “Okay,” she said after a few moments. “Yes, if you can find her and bring her here, I'll give this crazy scheme a chance. Where else do I have to go?”




Eyes opened wide in surprise. “Kari?” came out as a whisper. She turned slowly, peeking around her wing.


Smiling, fighting tears, Kari said, “You've got wings.”


“You've got a tattoo,” Kris said facing her sister.


Kari's hand went to her arm, covering the tattoo. “It's temporary,” she said stepping closer.


“The wings aren't,” said barely above a whisper.


“It's okay,” Kari said with a shrug. “I've got wings too. Want to see?” She turned and lifted her shirt revealing the small of her back and the tattoo there. “I had this done last year. For you.”

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Loosing her last arrow, Silverthorn hit Pulsar high in the chest. He missed a step but still continued forward. Shifting her bow and swinging it like a club, Pulsar ducked back to let it pass unimpeded.


Spinning, Silverthorn's foot came up in a back kick, catching Pulsar in the hip. Shifting his weight, he rolled with the kick. His hand caught her ankle. With a push from his other hand and lifting her leg, he sent her sprawling. Her bow fell to the side.


Silverthorn rolled and skittered backwards until she was backed up to a wall.


“I've been looking for you,” Pulsar said, kneeling down to face her. “We need to talk.” His hand went to the arrow and with a crimson flash disappeared it. Blood flowed freely for the moments that it took the wound to close.


What do you want?” There was a touch of fear in her voice.


I want you to deliver a message for me.”


To Bauer?”


Pulsar gave a small shake of his head. “No. I want you to deliver a message to all those that are working for him and to those that might think about working for him. You hurt someone.”


It was a job!”


She was a noncombatant. A bystander.”


Collateral damage!”


Pulsar leaned in close. “Exactly my point. From here on out, there is no more collateral damage. From this point forward,” with another crimson flash the arrow was held in his fingers, a drop of blood formed on the tip, “every drop of blood spilled will be mine.” The drop fell to the dirty floor of the warehouse. “They come at me, it will be business as usual. They go after anyone else, every injury will be paid in kind. There will be no rules of engagement. It will be all-out war.


No heroism. No arrests. The lucky ones might get a pine box.” He dropped the arrow between her splayed legs.


With her eyes on his, Silverthorn slowly reached for the arrow. Her fingers touched the shaft and his hand shot out, catching her wrist.


One more thing.”


What?” Silverthorn asked.


Pulsar's power flared.


Silverthorn screamed.

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January 1, New Year's Day. A time for new beginnings and all that crap. A day for more false smiles than he cared to think about. Firework explosions lit the sky over the river. With the way his luck had been going lately the river would catch on fire.


The two women center-most out on the balcony drew his attention. There was an empty buffer around them, space no one seemed willing to violate. Jason smiled. One of the few real smiles he had that day. Many of those here just thought it was a party. Maybe a New Year's Eve after-party. The truth of it was, it was a birthday party. A party for one of the two women.


They were models that Jason had met during a weekend photography workshop. Leah had talked him into it. Her idea was for him to get some idea of what her work was like. Leah was one of the models scheduled for the workshop.


Leah was the only model not to show.


With a mental sigh, Jason resolved himself to another pass through the guests. His intention was to end up out on the balcony near Aurora, the young woman he hosted the party for, and perhaps manage to derive some pleasure from the day's events.


Tossing back the last of his drink, ginger ale, he placed his empty glass on the tray of a passing waitress. Small talk and handshakes, platitudes and gratitudes were the waves and obstacles of his journey. Shannon Welles, a model of exotic beauty with dark hair, dark skin, piercing green eyes, and a good friend of Leah's, called his name. Shannon was another model at the workshop, and a regular caller wanting to know if Jason knew anything about Leah's disappearance.


Jason nodded his head at her with another forced smile. When he looked past her the smile fell from his face. Shannon looked confused and turned around trying to see what Jason was looking at.


Sitting in a quiet corner was a lovely blonde. Her hair was loose in soft curls. Her green eyes were cast down staring into a nearly empty wineglass held with both hands. The frown on Angelique's face was something Jason had never seen before.

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The cab ride from the airport had been long. After the first half hour the driver had given up trying to engage Leah in conversation. Her mind kept getting pulled back into her memories and her gaze was out the rear door window. She did allow herself a small smile when the taxi turned down the fenced lane of Warren and Kate's farm.


She looked forward to seeing Kate again. She had been a fool, played by Maxwell Spears. She missed her best friend. Worse, in her mind, she had missed her best friend's wedding. Hopefully Kate would forgive her. She should have at least told Kate where she was running off to.


The taxi rolled to a stop. Leah cast a glance at the meter and counted out the fare with a generous tip included. Further depleting her meager remaining funds. She stepped out of the car, pulling a large sports bag behind her. She slung that over her shoulder and closed the cab door. It pulled around, leaving her standing alone staring at the farmhouse door. Leah sighed and headed for the house.


...And momma sent me over with a lasagna for you and Warren,” she heard through the screen door.


Knock, knock,” she called out and let herself in. Her bag slipped from her shoulder just inside the door.


Kate lay on the couch and her attention shifted from Jennie to Leah. “Hey, Sparky!” Tears slipped from Kate's eyes and she smiled. Leah felt tears falling from her own eyes. She kicked off the heels she was wearing and dashed to Kate's side. Kate forced herself up and Leah's arms embraced her. She squeezed Leah hard. “Look at you!” Kate managed through the laughter the two women shared at being reunited.


Look at me?” Leah pulled away from Kate. “I haven't changed a bit. You, on the other hand,” Leah poked Kate in her very round belly.


Yeah,” Kate said, “I know. I got hungry and ate the Goodyear blimp. The doctor told me that it would take about nine months for it to pass.”


Leah pulled Kate back into her embrace. “I've missed you.”


Hi, Leah,” Jennie said.


Releasing Kate, Leah looked into the kitchen. “Jennie?”

“Yeah,” the girl said. “I'm still me.”


Leah eased Kate back to the cushions and stood up. “Let me look at you.” Jennie came out of the kitchen. “You've grown,” she said with a smile.


Well, yeah. It's been two years.” That brought Leah up short. Jennie smiled. She stepped to Leah and caught her in a hug.


You got your ears pierced,” Leah noted.


Yeah. Kate did it for me.” She turned her head from side to side. “I wanted to have more, but dad put his foot down. He said I could only have one in each for now.”


Leah smiled. “Well, I guess I should keep my promise then. I realize that it's a little late.” She worked herself gently free from Jennie and fetched her bag. From a zippered pocket she pulled out a jewelry gift box and handed it to Jennie.


Jennie lifted the lid from the box. Inside she found a set of emerald earrings. “Oh, wow! They're beautiful.” She hugged Leah tightly. “Thank you!”


So, Sparky, I suppose you want to do your 'end of travels' ritual?” Kate asked.


Leah laughed. “What ritual?”


Shower. Change.”


Pfft. That's not a ritual.”


Kate cocked her thumb at herself. “Best friend and roommate. Every time you traveled to a shoot, when you got back to the apartment, the first thing you did was got out of whatever you wore and took a shower. Don't tell me it wasn't a ritual.”


I just needed to make sure all the makeup, paint, or whatever else they wanted to use on me got washed off completely,” Leah said with a laugh.


Uh huh. You get dressed up to go flying.”


I just want to make sure I look good,” Leah said with a pout.


Oh, please,” Kate teased. “You always look good. Your room is where you left it. Clothes, too. Though you know, when the baby comes, that room will be the nursery.”


Then what? I sleep in the barn when I visit?”


I can arrange that, Sparky!” They all laughed. “Go on, Leah. Go start to unwind,” Kate told her. With a grateful smile, Leah gathered her bag and shoes, and headed up the stairs.

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“Hey, Kris, I brought pizza!”


“Sorry, Kari,” Kris called out from her room. “I'm not going to be here. I'm going out for dinner.”


Coming through the open door, a slice of pizza in hand, Kari asked, “Oh, who's the lucky guy? Hey! Are those my shoes?”


Giving her twin a look of annoyance, Kris said, “No. These are my shoes you borrowed three months ago that I haven't seen since. I had to go digging through your closet to find them.”


“That's what I said. My shoes.”

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What did you get me into, Frank?” Lauren Bressler looked at Frank Stone trying to get a reading from his face.


Coffee?” the waitress asked. Both Bressler and Stone nodded their assent. When her cup was filled, Bressler wrapped her hands around it. “Would you like to place your order?”


We're waiting on someone,” Stone told her.


Then I will check back with you in a bit,” the waitress said with a smile and turned to other customers.


When she was out of earshot, Stone answered Bressler. “What did I get you into? I got you into Special Crimes. Like you wanted.”


With a demotion. Thanks.”


Only on paper.”




Your demotion, it's only on paper. It will not be reflected in your jacket. And it shouldn't impact your paycheck.”


I don't understand,” she responded with a confused look.


Can't have two captains in the unit. One captain to a precinct. Special Crimes is my precinct.” Stone took a drink of his coffee and silence reigned for a few moments at the table. “I tired, Bress. I'm getting old. SCU was set up as a proof of concept. I've been in on it from the beginning. It works. It's necessary. Why do you think we get nice toys from Scott, Kendall, Templar and the others? New York has about the worst infestation of capes. Both good and bad.

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Sarah went through the files in her arms, pulling papers out of some or setting the file intact on Jason's desk. “This is the document that Legal wants to go over with you tomorrow. Their assistant also wrote up a memo brief. That's the top sheet.


“This is the approval for the funds for the survivors and families of the explosion. It just needs your initials here,” she pointed to a blank line, “here,” pointing to a different blank line, “and needs your signature at the bottom.” Jason scanned the page and initialed each space before signing the bottom. He pushed it back across his desk toward Sarah.


“Anything else?” he asked.


“Just that Captain Stone is more than happy to put off your meeting until tomorrow and that he hopes your consultation with your doctor isn't anything serious.”


“What consultation?”


Popping her head around the open door, Kris said, “Hi. Hope you don't mind. You haven't been in town for a while, and I thought that it might be a good idea for me to check up on you.” Smiling, Jason looked her up and down as she walked across his office. “Yeah, there's that appraising look. Now I'm wondering what painting or drawing I'm going to end up in next.”


“So you got all dressed up for me?” he teased.


With a slight shake of her head, Kris said, “No. I got all dressed up for me. You're just the person I was coming to see.”


Quirking up a half-smile, Jason's eyes dropped to the paper in front of him. “So, what's on your mind?”




Jason chuckled at that. “Am I making or buying?”


Kris smiled warmly. “You're feeding me. Beyond that, I don't care.”


Pulling a notepad closer, Jason took up his pen. Nib scribbling across the pad, Jason looked to Kris. “Any preferences? Shrimp? Chicken? Fish? Beef?”


“Shrimp,” she answered without hesitation. “And chicken,” she added.


Jason jotted a few more notes and tore the page off and handed it to Sarah. Her eyes went down the list. “Hmm. About two hours. I will have this in your apartment.”


“That's fine,”Jason said. Sarah collected her papers and files, leaving the ones for Jason. She made her way out, closing the door quietly. “How did you know I was here? Have a seat.” Kris ignored the offered chair and moved to a sofa off to the side. She sat, crossed her legs, and adjusted her skirt. Jason got the feeling that Kris did not want his desk being a barrier between them. “Can I get you a drink?” he asked, rising.


“Please. I knew you were here because, as your doctor and in light of current circumstances, I've had Mentor keeping me informed. Aside from your hastily arranged meeting with Captain Stone want to tell me why you're in town?” Opening a cabinet, Jason took out a glass and a bottle. He paused for a moment and then brought the bottle closer to his face. “Is something wrong?”


“Traces,” Jason answered. “My senses aren't at the same level as Huntress' is, but sometimes, usually when I least expect it, I find traces of Marlene. Her perfume on a shirt or blouse like she had just worn it yesterday.” Jason chuckled. “I found a new lingerie set in my travel bag still in the box.”


“Sounds like she had something planned,” Kris responded quietly. “So, what brings you back to New York?”


“Artemus Croystetter.”


“Ugh. What now?”


Pouring, Jason said, “Well, since that secretary is no longer around, why don't I consider a more suitable partner.”


“You're kidding.” Shaking her head, Kris asked, “Who does he have in mind? His daughter?”


“Granddaughter, actually. She came with me on the flight. Ostensibly to do something for her grandfather.”


Taking the glass Jason offered, Kris smiled her thanks. “Like find a way to get him more control of the company.” Jason nodded once in agreement and took a seat opposite Kris. “I don't understand why he is still with the company.”


“He's good at what he does.”


“He's a manipulator.”


“And a shrewd negotiator. Was why my grandfather brought him in. I just wish he would get past the point where Scott Enterprises isn't Croystetter Industries.” With both hands, Jason rubbed his face.


“Fire him or retire him?” Kris half-joked.


Pulling his hands down below his eyes, Jason looked at Kris and then shook his head. “I would if I could, but there's the contract he signed with Grampa and the 'shrewd negotiator'. I neither need nor want more legal problems.”


“Okay, what about his granddaughter?”


“Spoiled bitch.”




Jason smiled. “Don't get me wrong, spoiled is all well and good so long as I'm the one doing the spoiling. Having to deal with the spoiling that someone else has done? I don't think I have the patience to overcome or correct that.” Kris smiled into her glass. “So, what brings you here?”


“Well, after your late-night visit to Warren's we were all rather concerned.”


“Warren told you about that?”


“No. You did.” Holding up her hand to stop Jason from speaking, Kris said, “When you disappeared, Leah let us know. When you reappeared, we already had Mentor monitoring. Mentor let us know that you and Leah had returned to the house. And then something happened. Leah was knocked out. When she came to you were gone again. There was that flare out over the ocean. Then you turned up at Warren's.


“Warren had his phone on, so Mentor let us all listen in. You haven't said anything really about what occurred.”


Looking down, Jason quietly said, “I will.” Jason slowly made a fist and then opened his hand. “In time.”


Kris watched, looking for any clues, she pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes. Nodding, she said, “All right.”


“Anything else?”


“Actually, yes. I heard a rumor. I was wondering if you could clear it up for me.”


Cocking his head slightly to the side, Jason said, “A rumor? I would think you wouldn't listen to much to the rumor mill.” Setting her glass on the table, Kris interlocked her fingers around her knee and stared at Jason. “What's the rumor?”


“The room is secure, Doctor.”


“Thank you, Mentor. I heard a rumor that Pulsar managed to track down Silverthorn. Any truth to it?”


Jason's eyes narrowed. “I don't have to try too hard to connect the dots. I would remind you that birds eat bugs.” Kris raised her eyebrows, more in question than surprise, and continued to stare at Jason.

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Jason's eyes narrowed. “I don't have to try too hard to connect the dots. I would remind you that birds eat bugs.” Kris raised her eyebrows, more in question than surprise, and continued to stare at Jason. He let the silence reign long moments. It wasn't that he was intimidated or nervous. Kris never had that effect on him. She wouldn't be satisfied with anything less than the truth. Jason wasn't sure he was ready to give it.


“You know I've been looking for her since the incident with Jessica.” Kris nodded. “It took a while to finally arrange the meeting. It was a cat and mouse game through the warehouse district. She was good, hard to hit, kept moving. All while shooting arrows at me. Several hit, too. It took an hour, hour and a half maybe, before I cornered her.


“We were in an old warehouse. Dirty. Dusty. Not much in it. At the end it wasn't much of a fight. She was out of arrows. I let the last one hit and then dumped her on her ass. I told her that I wanted her to deliver a message for me. I told her to tell the others, the Guard and whatever mercs and other yahoos Bauer has working what they can expect if they go after anyone other than me.


“And then I took her hand off.”


“How...how did...?”


With a crimson flash, Jason brought forth a pencil. He reached across the table and set it in front of Kris. “Pick it up,” he told her. She did. Jason caught her wrist. “And then I released a bit of power and sliced it off.”


“Which hand?”


Jason lifted Kris' hand before releasing it. “Why did you pick it up with your right hand?”


“I'm right-handed.”


“So was she.”

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Moving slowly and silently through the paneled hall of the mansion, Marlene sifted through her memories: meeting Charles for the first time; playing piano with Stacy; cleaning and reorganizing Charles' office and Charles offering her the job of being his personal assistant; her and Sandy baking cookies under Missy's care. So many happy memories for her.


She clutched the jeweled key Jason had given her. She frowned at it. With a sigh she snapped it into the back of the setting of her necklace, completing the circle around her stone. She smiled at that and ran her finger across the stone. The star of it shone red in answer to her touch.


Looking up she saw Jason in the study. He was reading over something and loosening his tie. Jason closed whatever it was he was reading and rubbed his forehead, smoothing his furrowed brow. Marlene watched as he got up, pulled a book off a shelf and settled himself on the sofa. He flipped through several pages before deciding on what he was going to read.


“Hey,” she said from the archway.


“Hey,” he replied with a smile for her.


“Got room for me?” Jason moved the book out of the way. Marlene sat in Jason's lap and put her legs up. Her head lay on his chest. She listened to the beat of his heart. His arm came around her so he could continue to read. His other hand caressed her leg.


Taking hold of her necklace, Marlene shifted it up and down the chain before finally releasing the key again. She turned it over and over.


“Something wrong?”


Detecting a hit of humor in the question, Marlene thumped him in the chest. “You!”


“Me? What did I do?”


“You gave me this key. I have been through every lock in this house I can find. I have been in the attic and in the basement. I have gone through the guest house. I've gone through the grounds keeper's shed. This key doesn't open anything in this mansion!”


“No. It doesn't.”


She glared up at him. “Does it open anything in the New York mansion?” Jason gave a slight shake of his head. A hint of a smile fed her pique. “Anything belonging to Scott Enterprises?” More of a smile and another shake of his head. “Then what does it open?”


“Memories,” he answered her quietly. Marlene growled at him. His arm held her a little tighter and his hand pulled her leg a little closer. Marlene snuggled down and Jason returned his attention to the book.


After a while Marlene said, “I'm bored.”


Jason lay the book against Marlene. “What would you like to do?” he asked.


“Kidnap me.”


“Kidnap you?”


Marlene nodded her head. “We've got time. There's nothing really major going on that needs our attention right now. Kidnap me. Please.” She looked up at Jason biting her bottom lip, her eyes pleading.


“Any place in particular you'd like to go? New England? Europe?”


“Take me...” The key seemed to bite into her hand. “Take me to wherever this key opens!”

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“What's wrong?”


Warren hugged and kissed Kate. “That song was one of Marlene's favorites. She often played it. I guess it was kind of a prod at Jason, wanting to know where the two of them were going.”


“She's the one that gave it to me. Should I apologize?”


“No. I'll talk to him.” Warren slipped into his coat and Leah handed him Jason's. Warren went outside. Scanning the yard for signs of his friend he saw Ash point at the barn. Warren waved thanks and walked to the barn, allowing himself time to gather his thoughts.


Jason was standing by the loft doors, the top half of one side wide open.


“Want to talk about it?”


“Go away, Warren.”


“No. No, I don't think so. We left you alone last time and we all pretty much agree that it was the worst mistake we could have made. If you wanted to be left alone you wouldn't have come. So on some level you realize that you need to be around friends. It's cold out here. You left your coat in the house. You can claim that your healing factor keeps you from feeling it, or that some trick Sharon taught you allows you to ignore it, but I'd really prefer that if you intend to freeze to death that you not do it in my barn.


“I'm tired, Jason. I realize that you hurt, but I'm tired of everyone else feeling like they have to walk on eggshells around you. You've got Kate wondering what she did wrong. And I don't like that.”


“I'll apologize to her.”


“Good. I realize that you don't like people seeing you hurting, but you can't hide it from us. Stop trying. You are the most depressive son of a bitch I know.” Warren laid Jason's coat over the sill of the loft door. “Kate and Leah are tending the kitchen, but you're the one that agreed to cook.” Warren turned to walk away.


“What did you do when they told you?”


Warren stopped and turned back to his best friend. “I cried, Jase. I sat down with Kate in my lap. I held her and I cried, and I thanked God that it wasn't her.”


“It shouldn't have happened,” Jason said quietly.


“We can't save everybody. You know that.”


“Not everybody. Just her. I should have been able to save her. I should have seen it coming.” And Jason broke.

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Warren watched, through the Witch helping Marlene calm enough to meditate, and through Jason kneeling before her and do the same. After several moments passed, Jason laid two fingers across Marlene's. That was the only contact between the two of them. Angelique withdrew from Marlene and sat on the couch behind her.


Warren took hold of Beth's arm. “Excuse us,” he said to everyone in the room. “We need to talk,” he told Beth. “Outside.” He led her to the front door.


Beth struggled to get her arm free from his grasp. “Warren! You're hurting me!”


Once outside and off the porch, Warren released her arm. “I'm sorry. Do you want to explain exactly what that was?”


“What what was?”


“Beth, I don't like feeling that I just led Jason into an ambush. Had I realized what you had in mind, asking me if I could get Jason here this weekend, I would have said no.”


“Warren, those two needed to talk.”


Warren sighed with exasperation. “I'm aware of that. Jason has tried talking to her!”


“She wasn't ready.”


“She could have called! She could have had the jet gassed up and flown back to New York!”


“She wouldn't do that.”


“She could have asked him to fly out to California!”


“She wouldn't do that either, Warren. New York, the tower, that's Jason's home field. If she'd gone back that would have put him in control. If she'd asked him to come to her, that would be putting him in a position of weakness, and she wouldn't do that to him. She wanted to meet him on neutral ground. This place is, more or less, in the middle and all things considered, pretty neutral.” Beth crossed her arms. “Do you remember when we first met her? How Jason introduced me to her?”


Warren looked up to the stars. “He said, 'this is your new best friend'.”


Beth nodded. “And I have been, Warren. When Jason hooked up with Leah, I'm the one Marlene cried her eyes out to. Because one more chance for her to have a chance with him ended. The same thing when she found out he was seeing that witch.


“I have seen her go out on dates, trying, but no matter who, or what they did, or where they went, none of them worked out for her. Remind you of anyone?” Warren was reminded of how Jason acted after Leah was gone. He nodded. “Neither one of them is weak, Warren, but those two, I don't know, they seem to belong together. I'd ambush Jason any number of times if it gives those two a chance to work things through.”


“This is different, Beth. Jason lost her twice.”


“He didn't lose her, Warren. She needed time to think things through. Jason gave her up for dead. You think that's easy on her?”


Warren shook his head. “I was talking to him before you two got here. He said that he felt that he lost her, again, when she left. That's something you might have taken into account. How he feels matters, too. But in there? That was about the most scared that I've ever seen him.”


“Why? Isn't what he's doing just another power stunt? A way to show off what he can do?”


“Beth,” Warren sighed, “that isn't him showing off. That's him laying his soul bare to her. And I think that when it's over, he's afraid that she's going to hate him.”


“I've seen him do things, Warren. I've seen you do things. You can't tell me that he doesn't show off!”


“You don't get it. Jason is an athlete. A gymnast, an acrobat. Yeah, he'll show off. He'll do triples going off a diving board just for the fun of it. When it comes to powers, he won't show off. He'll use them to make a point, like he did when he first showed me what he was capable of doing.” Warren sat on the picnic table. “Beyond that, he won't, Beth. It's been too ingrained in him, the way he was raised and trained.”


“Oh,” she said contritely. Beth sat on the table beside him and leaned her head on his shoulder. “Do you want me to leave?”


“Beth,” Warren chuckled, “we've been friends since before either of us was in kindergarten. You're family to me. You know that. No, I don't want you to leave.”


Beth straightened up and looked up at the stars. “Why is he afraid that she'll hate him?”


“Because there's parts of us that we bury deep down inside and hide, even from ourselves. And if they happen to come out, the people we love the most, the people that we're closest to? Those are the last people we ever want to have see it. Jason doesn't have any safeguards in place for what he's doing.”

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Quietly, on bare feet, Jason ascended the stairs. Condensation formed on the chilled glass he carried. Boz Scaggs quietly sang Look What You've Done To Me. Jason smiled when he heard Marlene quietly singing along.


She lay in bed, her bare back to him. Her finger traced the track of raindrops running down the window. A window to the side was open, allowing a gentle breeze to blow in, bringing with it the smell of the rain.


Setting the glass on the nightstand, Jason sat on the bed. His hand traced the line of her back and over the curve of her hip. He gently kissed her shoulder. Marlene shivered. “Are you okay? You want me to close the window?” he asked.


Don't you dare. That had far more to do with your touch and kiss than the breeze blowing in,” she informed him. Jason moved her hair out of the way of her neck and applied more gentle kisses to her shoulder moving slowly upward. He heard Marlene purr.


Abruptly she pulled away and sat up, reaching for the glass Jason had brought. Jason handed it to her. “I don't know how you can drink that.”


She smiled. “Our doctor says it is good for us.”


Somehow I don't see Kris eating bird seeds. Unless they happen to be covered in chocolate.”


Chia seeds,” Marlene corrected him.


Same thing to me,” he said smiling. He stopped smiling when he saw the look on her face drop. “What's wrong?”


Marlene glanced up at him, forced a quick smile, and looked away. “Honestly, I'm bored.”


What would you like to do? We could go into the city. Visit one of the museums, or the aquarium. Maybe a show or a movie?” Marlene shook her head. “Then what would you like?”




Company.” Marlene nodded. “Anyone in particular?”


* * * * *



Yeah, Lisa?”


What's a code vee?”


Somewhat confused, Ash said, “Code Vee? We haven't had one of those in a long time. Why do you ask?”


Emergency: Code Vee,” a female voice said from the sound system while blue lights pulsed from wall panels. “Emergency: Code Vee.”


Oh, no particular reason,” Lisa answered Ash.


Kris entered the common area and touched a panel. “It's about damned time,” she said, seeing where the call originated.


Is that where I think it is?” Ash asked, glancing at the screen.


Kris smiled and nodded.

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Rain from a late summer storm hammered down, trying in vain to scour the buildings and streets clean. Near the opening of an alley, avoiding the brunt of the storm, a tall man leaned back against the wall. Leaning and slouching hid his true height from passersby. Sparks flew when he scraped a match against the wall. The flame lit up his bald chin and muttonchops when he put the match to his cigar. Dangerous eyes reflected the light. He flicked the match deeper into the alley.


“Ah, Kath, seems like all the fun is gone,” he uttered quietly. He scanned the sidewalk as best he could from his vantage point. Nothing in particular caught his eye. “All prey. None seem worth the huntin'.” A police cruiser rolled by. Royce Gideon grinned, baring fangs. “Maybe, but not yet, Kath. We'll be playin' with the boys in blue soon enough.”


Gideon pulled the collar of his duster up, covering his long mane. He adjusted his cowboy hat. The band was fashioned of barbed wire and miniature skulls. He stepped out of the alley.


A woman stepped out of a shop and he paused. She briefly glanced both ways, opened up a clear, domed umbrella. He admired her toned calves when she turned and started walking away. His interest was piqued and he began to follow. He smiled when he saw the two predators begin stalking her. The hunt was on.

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Leah slowly made her way down the hall. Her fingers combed through her hair, still damp from the shower. Jason had given her the weekend, and, so far, it had been an emotional one.


She didn't know why she had kissed him. He hadn't done anything to indicate that he wanted to try again. She didn't know what his reaction would be. Her own reaction, running away from him, scared her more than kissing him had.


Her mind turned to the bus full of people. People who had been on a tour of the Pacific coast. Their only crime being too close to Jason's mother's Corvette when the Black Shark pilot opened fire. She would never forget the face of the young girl that died in her arms.


Catching sight of Jason sitting in the study gave Leah pause. Gone were the button-down shirt and slacks to be replaced by a sleeveless sweatshirt and shorts. He was sitting with two fingers pressed to his temple, his feet up on the footrest. A drawing pad was in his lap, a pen moving across the paper.


A wine glass full of white sat waiting on a table. Leah smiled. “Thank you,” she said, entering the study. She took up the glass Jason had left for her.


“For what?” Jason asked, his attention never leaving his paper.


“For holding me.”


Jason smiled. “Holding you was never a problem.”


“Just holding on to me was.” No sooner had she said it, Leah regretted it. Jason's eyes shot up to meet hers. A jolt went through her. “I'm sorry,” she quietly said.


“Want to talk about it?”


Shaking her head, Lead said, “No. We will. Eventually. My counselor said it would help, but when I'm ready.”


“You're seeing a counselor?”


Leah nodded. “Kris thought it was a good idea. Dan recommended one. Marla Pearson.”


“Is it helping?”


Smiling at his concern, Leah said, “It's too soon to tell, but being able to talk to a neutral person helps.” She cast her eyes down to her wine before taking a sip. “What are you going to do about...?”


“I don't know yet,” Jason answered seriously. “But my instinct is to make it long, painful, and permanent.”


Leah frowned at that. She watched the pen move; the only movement in the room. Taking a few steps closer to Jason, Leah took hold of the top of the pad. “Me see.”


Jason lifted the pen and Leah pulled the pad free. Flipping it around, Leah saw a cartoon image of Lightning chasing a toddler version of himself. “Do you think Aaron will be a Legacy?” Jason only shrugged.


Other doodles on the paper were Dove, Hellfire, and Psi-Storm. Leah recalled that when Jason drew cartoons it was generally an attempt to not think of more serious matters. When Jason was focused on his serious artwork he was...focused.


Glancing over the pad, Leah smiled at Jason. He had closed his eyes and laid his head back. Closing the drawing pad, Leah set it on the table. She put her wine glass on top of it. Bending over, she took the pen out of Jason's hand. His eyes opened. “Hmm?”


Capping the pen, Leah shrugged and set it with the pad. “It's still my weekend.” She slipped into Jason's lap, lay her head on his shoulder, stretched her legs out on the sofa, and let the weariness drag her down into sleep.

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Leaving Jason behind the counter, Kris slipped out of her heels, took up her wine glass, and commenced to take an unguided tour of the executive penthouse. The carpet was a luxurious deep-pile that seemed to massage her feet as she walked. The walls were textured; whether they were painted or papered, Kris didn't bother to check. The color was bland.


There were paintings on walls. All the frames matched and all were perfectly hung. On one wall a seascape, on another a flower vase, on yet another a forest scene. None of them were Jason's work. Kris frowned.


Glancing down a hall, there was an open door. Within was a perfectly made bed. Kris turned back to the living area. The couch looked comfortable, as did the matching chairs facing it. A low chest serving as a coffee table.


Nothing Kris saw said “Jason” to her. This would be a high value apartment were it in the city. It had all the amenities a person could wish for.


And it felt like an impersonal hotel room.


Jason's loft had been cluttered. Drawing pads of different papers, pens of different types made for making art, pencils for drawing, sketching, coloring all had tended to make a home on his coffee table. Bookshelves had held books covering art, art techniques, artists, along with myriad other books of other subjects. Kris recalled several books on philosophy, poetry, and classical literature. She turned her head and glanced at Jason.


Steam rose from the pots and pans on the stove. Using a knife, Jason slid chopped vegetables into one of the pans. They sizzled when they hit. Kris caught the aroma of butter and garlic.


“You aren't working on anything?”


“Dinner,” he responded.


“Funny. Not what I'm asking about and you know it.”


Using the knife as a pointer, Jason said, “Bedroom.”


“Do you mind if I take a look?”


Shaking his head, he replied, “Go take a look.”


At a sedate pace, Kris made her way down the hall. The king-sized bed was covered in a black comforter. It was perfectly made. Beside the bed were matching night stands stained reddish like cherry wood. The doors to the closet and bath were pulled closed.


A tarp had been spread to protect the carpet from spatters or spills. Standing up was an easel holding a large canvas. Natural light from the glass wall would be Jason's lighting of choice while painting. Kris noted that it would be easy for Jason to move the easel out onto the balcony if he so chose.


Moving closer, her eyes took in the details. The background was seemingly done. Storm clouds on one side with a sunlight breaking through the other. Rough mountains on the side with the storm clouds reminded Kris of the Rockies. Trees were done roughly, obviously unfinished, on the side of sunlight. Two female figures were sketched in the middle, their poses seeming to mirror the other. The foreground where the figures were was only a coat of green, unfinished. Overall it appeared the females would be on a meadow.


“What do you think?” Jason asked.


Kris turned her head and looked at him over her shoulder. “When did you start painting book covers?”


“I don't. Just an idea that came to me. An image I can't shake. So I figured I would paint it.”


Turning to face him, Kris asked, “Who are the women?”


“I'm not sure.”

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