Jason walked back to the apartment, hands in his pockets as he thought. He'd actually chosen to trust an assassin with his life. He knew he could trust that assassin. Turning left at the corner, he mused on the oddity of the situation, mind focused on the strangeness of it all.
He'd been living with Ronan for all of six and a half months now. He'd come a long way, but before he'd met Quentin, he'd never have believed he'd come this far. To trust a cold blooded killer... He mused absentmindedly about it as he walked, while another part of his mind concentrated on his auras. Ronan had strongly suggested -- Jason felt a slight grin cross his face over the idea of Ronan trying to order him around now -- that he continue his training by practicing simply being aware of his auras, and what was going on around him. Situational awareness in a new form. And, clearly, Quentin agreed.
He turned right at the next corner, arms moving smoothly as his stride gained purpose.
It wasn't really as easy as it sounded, even for someone who'd been practicing situational awareness -- albeit, with varying degrees of success -- for the last several months. He probably wouldn't master these new skills for months -- and they'd barely begun his training.
He crossed the street to turn left, stride lengthening, arms pumping, gait the gait of a man in a hurry.
His training would be interesting, Jason didn't doubt that. Air-glass, aura 'armor' -- Jason checked that his was still active -- and of course, the Guiding. Which apparently could be brutally blunt -- as last night, when he'd suddenly known Paul was in danger -- or as subtle as a random decision to turn right or left.
Jogging now, his thoughts flowed as easily as the breath rasping lightly into and out of his lungs. The Guiding was fascinating. Responsive to a Guardian's will, yet with a 'mind' of it's own -- Ronan had emphasized that they really didn't know if it had a real mind, or simply wouldn't function in certain ways -- and completely helpful. Strange, at times, but seeming to act for good. 'We can't be sure, no,' Ronan had reassured him on the subject, 'but until we catch it acting, guiding us, in a direction that causes harm, we really have no choice but to trust it. We have no justification to ignore the good we can do with it, otherwise.'
Jason's stride lengthened into a run as he pondered, ducking across the street to turn again. His auras loose and spread, detailing the thousand and one sagas of city life, from adulterous wives, naughty school kids planning pranks, youths discovering the pleasures of their bodies, colicky babies that drove parents nuts...
It was amazing just how much he'd never seen -- and now that he was seeing, it was amazing how much was left to be seen. Ronan had barely scratched the surface with the training to date, focusing on the theories they'd taken so long to work out. 'Will drives the power', Ronan was certain. 'Your will determines what happens, your will fuels the events to fulfill it's desires'. Of course, this left the problem of choice -- 'Choose carefully what you place your will behind because the more basic the will, the more likely you are to succeed, and the less likely you are to face backlash'.
Jason's mind wandered both in it's own halls of memory, and rode with his aura to touch the life around him as the air began to move in and out of his longs at a more rapid pace, the pleasant burning of exercise beginning to tingle inside his legs. He felt his auras beginning to gather, to focus on one point of interest... There!
Jason's mind narrowed in on one place, one individual, and he realized he was sprinting all-out, at a speed that would draw all sorts of attention. But the street were eerily empty for the moment, people disinterested in being outside for the few minutes he needed, his aura barring their minds of this place for this time.
Jason didn't realize The Guiding could do so much, but clearly it was. It would be a bad idea to rely on it though, it wouldn't always be there to aid him. When the time came, it would be human will and human skill that decided fate.
Jason barreled through the locked door, lock clicking open under his hand and will, and darted up the stairs, taking them three at a time. Second door on the left, he realized as he came to the right floor. Second door... The deadbolt wouldn't turn on its own to match his will, and he was too angry for anything subtle. Too angry for anything but pure rage, brute force, and red anger. A single kick to the center of the door achieved more than the desired result, as the thick, sturdy wood gave way explosively as too much energy transferred into it too swiftly. A fine spray of splinters ripped through the room beyond in a murderous wave of destruction.
Thankful no one had been in front of the door -- and noting for future reference that restraint was helpful -- Jason walked into the apartment. Without the insulating thickness of the door, the sounds of sex where perfectly plain to hear, as was the sobbing of a despairing child. Turning to the bedroom door, Jason decided for what turned out to be a rather dramatic entrance.
Where the last door had exploded into razor sharp shrapnel at the impact of his foot, he simply blew this door off its hinges with a single thought. Touching the child's aura with his own in an effort to sooth him, Jason did by accident what would have taken Ronan weeks of training to teach -- if he'd thought it useful to teach.
Scotty muffled the scream of agony to a muffled sob, desperate to avoid-
The door exploded inward, flying away from the doorway to land beside the bed. Scotty twisted to see clearer, reflex ignoring the certain punishment for failing in his responsibility to his father. On the other side of the door a figure stood, obscured by the strangely dusty air, rage written in every line and curve, quivering within every breath. Tall and powerful, the figure strode through the door in three quick steps, revealing a face like Dad's when he got _really mad, but somehow worse and better. Normally graceful curves twisted into a grotesque parody of nobility with teeth bared in an angry snarl, head dropped protectively down to cover the throat with his chin. His skin seemed to glow a pale, radiant white even as blood flushed the area, turning the cheeks a gentle pink. The eyes seemed to glow, a dark, subtle shifting of the light around them._
Scotty writhed on the bed, loosing control of his sobs at the thought of a beating on top of his duties. His butt was already hurting so bad! Why did he have to break the rules by yanking around to look like that?
"Who the _f--k are you?" Dad snarled, pulling out of Scotty and jumping angrily to his feet. The stranger snarled a wordless reply before he gazed mercilessly at Scotty._
"Don't worry, I won't harm _you," the stranger addressed Scotty directly, ignoring Dad. "I'm here to help you."_
"Like hell you are!" Dad yelled as he advanced in the stranger. "Nobody gonna take my boy from me, and nobody gonna complain when I-"
The stranger moved in a sudden, violent blur, grabbing Dad by the arm and twisting, sending Dad flying across the room head first.
Dad hit the wall with a sickening thud and collapsed bonelessly to the ground as the stranger turned to advance. Seeing him motionless on the ground, the stranger paused and turned around.
Free -- for the moment -- of the stress of imminent conflict, Jason was finally free to take a moment and close off the accidental link he'd set up.
Ronan had mentioned the theoretical possibility of establishing such a link, but the experience itself was beyond belief. Thankfully, it had been a one way link and not a synchronicity event -- that would have been bad.
Experiencing, if only for a few moments, the child's view of the world had been a sickening experience. He really wished Ronan were here to help, or better yet Lara, but they weren't and he was. Jason knelt by the bed, and softly stroked the child's shoulders as he sobbed, face in a pillow as his rear-
Jason grabbed the covers from the bed and pulled them up over the child's waist as best he could, with his rear shaking obscenely in the air. "It'll be all right, little one," he reassured the boy, "every thing's gonna be OK."
The child twisted out from under the covers and resumed his earlier posture, still sobbing. "Please, sir, do it already. Don't drag it out!"
Jason's heart broke as he began to understand. he bent over and softly kissed the child's hair. "It's over. Never again. Never again." He pushed down on the child's lower back, but instead of relaxing the child simply pulled his knees up forward to lower his rear, rather than laying flat.
Jason's head drooped a little as tears overcame him. The poor, poor child. Jason had thought he'd had it bad, but this was worse. How many times -- for how many years -- had the child been through this? At least Jason had-
Jason's eyes shot wide and he quickly pulled out his cell. Idiot, he cursed himself. "Ronan?" he asked when the ringing finished. "I need some help, fast."
"What happened?" Ronan asked, voice taut, but nowhere near as concerned as he should be.
"You already know, don't you?" Jason asked, almost amused.
"Not in detail, but Lara ran out the door a few moments ago. Which, since you aren't hurt, leads me to believe victim support is needed. What happened?"
"I..." Faced with the enormity of the situation, Jason froze for a moment. Ronan's voice, low and urgent, whispered in his ear, ignored as shock rolled through him.
He'd broken in, kicked the crap out of a man, and now was calmly conversing about it like it was an everyday event?
What was wrong with him, that it didn't really bother him that he'd knocked a man out cold, maybe hurt him seriously, and hadn't even bothered to check out how badly hurt he was?
The sight of the child, shivering on the bed as he sobbed brought Jason back to reality. Swallowing convulsively, he returned to his conversation with Ronan. "Sorry, I got distracted for a moment. Where were we?"
"What is going on there?" Ronan demanded.
"I was on my way home, and, well, the Guiding-" Jason started.
"I'm less interested in how you got there, than the current situation. The whys and hows can wait for another time," Ronan ordered. "And... Are you alright?"
"I'm fine... I rescued a child from being raped. His father is out cold, and the kid's on the bed, convinced... convinced that I'm..." Jason couldn't finish. "His father convinced him that this was his 'responsibility', Ronan, a 'duty' that he had to... And now he thinks he's going to be beaten for failing to..." Jason felt his gorge rising. "He's been doing this for years," he whispered.
"Shit, Lara is not going to be happy," Ronan complained. "And this is going to throw tonight's plans in complete... Damnit!" Jason didn't have to close his eyes to see Ronan pacing, left hand holding the phone to his ear as right pinching the nose between his eyes. "We may have to call off on Mary, and that just... Who can we replace Lara with..."
Ronan muttered on like that for a few moments before Jason got tired of it. "Ronan, some advice would be helpful."
"Lara should be there any minute, let her worry about the kid. If you muck around with suggestions without training..." Ronan trailed off and didn't explain.
"Suggestions?" Jason asked.
"We haven't covered that yet? I could have sworn I mentioned... oh, yeah... damnit!" Ronan complained. "OK, do what you can to comfort and reassure the kid, but don't use your powers to do it -- don't even think about them. I don't have the time to explain over the phone about the rules for that, and it is seriously dangerous."
"OK, any other advice?" Jason asked, less than happy.
"Wait for Lara, this is her area of expertise, not mine," Ronan admitted. "I break stuff, kill people... screw with minds, even. And command. I made myself the leader of our little crusade for a reason. Healing... that's Lara's job."
"Alright, any idea when she is going to get here?" Jason asked.
"I don't even know where you are, much less where she is," Ronan pointed out.
"I'm..." Jason began. "I'm right here," he finished, a little embarrassed. "I didn't pay a lot of attention to street signs as I was coming here. Somewhere in the downtown area, northwest of the meeting location."
"That doesn't tell me much I didn't already guess," Ronan laughed. "Lara will be there as soon as she can, do what you can. For the moment, I have other things to arrange."
Jason stared at his cell for a few moments after the 'click' told him Ronan had hung up. Other things to arrange? What other- Oh, Mary and her kid. Damnit. He hadn't been taught -- he didn't know how -- to do this. What should he do?
He knelt back by the side of the bed, hand on the child's shoulder. How could he convince the child it was over?
Remembering what Ronan had said about entering the minds of others, Jason put his hand on the back of the child's head and focused. His goal was to comfort the child, pull him back from the hysteria he was working his way into. He wanted to do this by convincing the child it was over, finished. He needed to know how. He wanted to do this because it was the right thing to do-
Jason fell backwards as the forming rapport shattered, backlashing against him. "Lies, even to ourselves, are dangerous," Ronan whispered in his ears. "Thankfully, there are defenses against them..."
"Thanks for telling me," Jason dismissed the memory and started over. From large to small, adding details as needed as he went. He wanted to help the child, and didn't know how. He was entering the child's mind for that knowledge. He entered because he wished to help the child. He felt that the best way to do this was to convince the child that this constant raping was over and done with.
Tighty-whiteys flashed before Jason's eyes in a moment of vision. He pushed, not understanding, tighty-whiteys being pulled up, but it was no use. He didn't understand the information being provided. He pushed harder, adding into his mental list the need for the knowledge to be understandable.
Scotty sobbed into the pillow as always, as his father pulled his underwear up on him, finished for the night. Jason jerked away as the link closed itself, rapport's limiting purpose passed.
He'd done it -- turned the theory of mental contact into practice on his own, without help. He felt a small grin form as he turned to hunt down the missing pair of briefs. After a few moments he found them, useless for his purposes. He needed a whole pair for this to work, not-
Jason paused on his way out the room. Why go looking for what he needed when... Closing his eyes he concentrated. He needed a replacement pair of briefs, clean, whole, and fitting the child. Preferably one of the child's own, and should be easy enough to find inside the apartment. This time he felt it as his auras reacted to his applied will, twisting around, extending, probing with tentacles of energy. There!
A drawer not four feet from Jason shot open just long enough to disgorge a slightly yellowed set of briefs -- someone didn't know how to use bleach, it looked like. As they landed in his hand, Jason looked back at the king sized bed, with a master bathroom just beyond, and felt his anger begin to rise again. Concentrating, he felt his aura's stretch out a moment and snarled. The other bedroom wasn't the boy's room, it was set up as a study.
It was a two bedroom apartment, but only the one bedroom, only the one bed for the two living there.
"Son-of-a-god-damned-bitch!" he swore at the still figure in the corner of the room, before moving back to the child. Gently lifting the child's legs, he moved the briefs up until they covered the child as best they could, careful to avoid any more contact between the chill of his hands and the child's hot flesh than necessary. As the child felt them rise, his shaking slowly eased. Finally he turned and looked at Jason for a few moments, seeking something in his eyes.
Jason met the stare evenly, desperate to avoid further traumatizing the boy, but unsure what actions might do so. Held for a few moments by that uncertainty, the problem resolved itself as the child threw himself at Jason, desperately clinging to his chest. Jason wrapped his arms around the boy, one across his back, the other his thighs -- avoiding at the last second the mistake of holding him up by the butt -- and held him close. Not so tight as to restrain, but hard enough to comfort and support the child. He felt the child relax into his embrace, tears flowing again, and felt tears of his own began to fall. Lifting himself up, he walked into the living room, trying to comfort the child. Heedful of Ronan's warning -- though a little late, he realized, having peered into the boys mind -- he was very careful to focus on keeping his powers out of the effort to comfort the child. But having willed his powers to stay out, he deliberately focused his will on trying to comfort the child, on picking the right tone as he whispered, the right variations on 'it's over' and 'everything is gonna be alright', on rubbing the child's back at the right speed and manner. He turned his powers inward -- surely that wasn't going to break the rules against messing with the kid's head?
"You aren't going to hurt me," the child said, as much question as awed statement of fact.
"No, never," Jason swore with a slight smile.
"Daddy hurt me, a lot. Said it was his job, that if he spared the rod, he'd spoil me," the child challenged.
"There are ways to punish that don't involve hurting you," Jason said softly, cautiously.
"How?" the child asked.
"Depends on what you do," Jason answered.
"I tell you no," the child supplied.
"Well, depends on what I asked and how," Jason answered. "If it was something important, I might make you do it anyway, but I wouldn't hurt you doing it." The child cried, softly, into Jason's shoulder on hearing that, and without thinking Jason answered his fears. "Hey little guy, no tears. I won't make you do the bad stuff your Dad made you do."
"You won't?" the child asked.
"No, never. In fact, I'll make you a deal: I'll never punish you for telling me no, so long as you promise me never to say it without good reason."
"You won't?" the child asked.
"No, never," Jason reassured him.
"What's your name?" the child mumbled into his chest.
"My name is Jason, what's yours?"
Jason felt what little tension remained in the child fade away, and realized the little angel had fallen asleep, exhausted. Planting a small kiss on the child's head, he smelled the natural scent of 'boy' and noticed the heat of the child's body, and suddenly started crying again. This was as close as he'd ever get to being a father, he knew, and now he suddenly realized that he resented that loss. He wanted this -- to hold and be held, to love and be trusted.
And he would never get it. Oh, he might hold a lover -- maybe, one day, a husband -- but children... Never. He couldn't... even if it was just to create a child, women just weren't in the picture for him. And he'd never do that just to get a child, a child should be born of love not just... It was wrong, Jason believed that with all his heart.
He kept his own tears quiet, not wanting to wake the boy, and leaned back in a corner that let him watch both the front and bedroom doors. A couple of people walked down the hallway while he waited, but he remembered how he'd kept people from noticing his flying bullet impression earlier and repeated the trick.
Eventually Lara showed up. Jason sensed her parking outside, sensed her reaching out towards him. He answered the reach, and let her follow the rapport back to find him. She wasn't moving very fast, but he figured she'd already realized there was no hurry.
Eventually she walked in, and smiled at him. "I was halfway here when I felt the urgency vanish from your call," she said softly, to avoid waking the child.
"My call?" he asked, confused, as he shifted the child in his arms. He didn't want to hand the child over to Lara, he was enjoying the cuddle too much, the heat of the child comforting him.
"Yes, your call, Jason," Lara answered, crouching down in front of him. "I felt- Oh!" she exclaimed. "You didn't mean to call me, did you?"
"Not really... I would have used a cell to call you if I'd had any brains, though. The little guy here was..." Jason couldn't finish.
"Bad, huh?" Lara asked gently.
"Yeah. Bad. His dad is in the other room, KO'd. He..." Jason's voice broke. "Lara, it's unspeakable what he did to this poor kid. It's... I..." Jason was at a loss for words as the tears began to rise.
"I know how bad it gets, Jason," Lara reassured him gently, not bothering to hide the fire in her eyes from him. "I've seen things... done things..." She sighed. "I try to avoid it, I focus on healing the wounded as best I can, but even so too often I have had to be the one to..." She broke off and shook her head. "Let's focus on the here, on the now. Just try and bind these wounds."
Jason nodded. "I can't believe I got the kid to fall asleep," he admitted softly. "I don't want to wake him up moving him."
Lara sighed. "I can't say I disagree. Sleep is always a good thing," she reached out to stroke the child's hair and stiffened. Moving her hand around, she felt his forehead and frowned. "Jason, why didn't you tell me he was running a fever?"
Jason blinked in surprise. The kid's warmth had just felt so comfortable to him after the winter chill outside that he hadn't realized just how hot 'hot' was. "I thought I was just cold from being outside," he explained lamely.
"Men!" Lara swore. "I suppose you didn't even check for injuries after you KO'd the father, did you?"
"I looked, didn't see anything but the obvious-" Jason began.
"Ronan still hasn't taught you, the idiot," Lara interrupted him in sudden comprehension. "Fine, time for a little lesson. Lay the kid down on the ground and get up. Don't worry about waking him up, he's completely out."
Jason obeyed reflexively as she took charge. Laying the kid out on the ground, he backed off and looked at Lara.
"No, I think you get to do this," she said with a raised eyebrow. "It's easiest if you lay you hands on him -- place one on his chest, the other on his forehead," Jason obeyed and felt things waver uncertainly as he obeyed the next instruction. "Let your awareness drift into his body, seeking what is wrong, what is injured. You're aware of your own body, of the beat of your heart and breath in your lungs, now be aware of his body..." Jason felt his awareness shift, as suddenly he was aware of the child's body in much the same way he was aware of his own. Only sharper, clearer, more detailed, an external rather than internal awareness. Lara's instructions droned on, guiding him through the process of using his own energies to kick start and bolster the energies of the child's body, purging infection and accelerating healing. Finally he was nearly finished, the child's body flush with borrowed energies that would, in time, accomplish the goal of restoring health. He sensed the infection slowly giving way beneath the onslaught of golden energy, the wounds both internal and external fading.
Lara instructed him in how to withdraw his awareness without causing ill-effect, then had him reinsert it and watch as she healed the child. "Now, watch how I do this," she told him as she inserted her awareness in with his. Swiftly her energies jumped from place to place in a golden-green cascade of power that rushed from the child's abdomen outwards in a waterfall of healing. Jason gritted his teeth in pain as the healing simply happened, instantly, wounds closing in moments, infection seared away without touching the surrounding tissue. The agony of it surprised him, he could feel the way she was doing it and it just hurt. Not the child -- he could sense the child, if anything, felt good as it happened -- but him. He withdrew to watch the healing from the outside, panting.
"Sorry, Jason," Lara told him softly. "You needed to see it at least once, and it was the quickest way of seeing if you could ever learn fast-healing."
"Fast-healing?" Jason asked.
"Slow-healing is what any Guardian can do," she explained. "Fast-healing is what only a few of us can do. Slow-healing can reverse almost any long term ailment, fast-healing acts almost instantly to restore almost any wound or cure almost any disease."
"Almost?" Jason asked.
"Some diseases aren't curable -- we can burn out a cancerous tumor, restore health to dieing cells, but we can't prevent genetics from taking it's course and causing them to break down again. And some diseases just don't respond to our powers -- AIDS is the best example," Lara explained, then looked away in tears. "We discovered that one the hard way. We fought the rest of the illness to a standstill, but the immune system just kept degrading until finally... It collapsed without warning. If the doctors had known..." She stopped speaking, unable to continue.
"I'm sorry," Jason said, reaching out and holding her shoulder.
"Even with your powers, be careful about AIDS. I don't know if... we don't have any data on whether it's something you can cure yourself of," Lara warned him.
Lara shook his hand off and continued with her lesson. "As far as injuries go, the obvious limitation is regenerating missing tissue -- if a part gets cut off, we can't heal that. And there are limits on blood loss, too, if they loose too much blood, there's only so much we can do."
"Alright," Jason said. "So what I just did-"
"What you just did is all you need to learn," Lara explained. "Slow-healing... really isn't a very developed art. No one has been able to push it very far."
Their discussion was interrupted by the ringing of Lara's cell. "Yes?" she answered irritably. "And why not?"
Her eyes shot wide as she listened to the response. "They're what?" she nearly screeched. Lara's face grew darker as the caller explained. "Those no-good sons of... Are you going to let them get away with this, Ronan?"
Jason picked up the little kid again, resting the child's head on his shoulder as Lara continued to discuss something with Ronan, clearly unhappy. The kid pulled in closer, sleepily clutching to Jason and distracting him from Lara's conversation. Jason didn't know what had gone wrong now, but he was reasonably certain that he'd hear about it in time. For the moment, he smiled down at his current worry, his current 'job'.
"Jason, leave the kid with me and go-" Lara began. Jason turned and saw the strangest look on her face before she shook her head. "Nevermind, I'll go do it," she told him, and walked into the other room. Jason turned his attention back to the little guy in his arms and smiled again. Too bad he couldn't adopt the kid, but with both 'single parent' and 'gay' strikes against him, he'd had three strikes against him in a game where you couldn't afford one. Men don't adopt -- gay, single men just really don't adopt.
"Shit! Jason, you idiot!" rang out from the other room. Lara stalked out, and stabbed Jason with a hard stare. "You idiot, what were you thinking?"
"Um... What's wrong Lara?" Jason asked, nervous.
"I don't know what you were thinking, but you'd damned well better explain it, now," she ordered him, upset. "And make it good!"
"I was thinking I don't know why you're so upset," Jason said cautiously.
"You don't know why I'm so-" Lara began. "You told me-" sudden realization flooded her face and her mouth snapped shut in shock. "Jason, give me the kid-"
"Muh name's Scotty!" the kid protested in a mumble as he clutched tighter to Jason. "And I like his cuddles."
"Scotty," Lara said sweetly, "Jason needs to go have a look at something that you don't need to see. It'll just be for a few minutes, and I'll give you some cuddles while he does it. How does that sound?"
"No!" Scotty snapped without thinking.
"Please?" Lara wheedled gently. "I promise, it's just for a few minutes, and-"
"No!" Scotty interrupted, shifting his grip to hold tight to Jason's neck.
"It'll just be for a few moments, little guy, and I'll be right back," Jason tried.
"No!" Scotty looked up and met Jason's gaze, large eyes shining brightly, deep pools that Jason nearly lost himself in.
"Little guy, Lara wouldn't ask if-"
"No!" Scotty almost screamed. Jason shot a warning look at Lara as Scotty started shaking.
Lara nodded, recognizing the problem herself. "Scotty, I'll make you a deal-"
"No!" Scotty shouted again, burying his head into Jason's chest. Jason decided that Scotty just liked the word, now that he had permission to use it. He was testing them.
"Lara, does Scotty have to let go, or can he go with me?" Jason asked.
"He really should stay behind-" Lara started, then paused for Scotty's shouted "No!" before continuing,"but I suppose he can go with you if some reasonable precautions are taken."
"I can stay?" Scotty asked.
"You can stay, but you have to let me put you to sleep," Lara agreed.
Scotty's horrified reaction nearly destroyed Jason's eardrums as Scotty screeched out yet another "No!", and followed it up with an explanation. "I don't wanna get put to sleep, I'm not a doggie and I'm not sick! No!"
Eventually Jason and Lara calmed him down enough to explain what she really meant. "Scotty, you've seen people get hypnotized on TV, right?"
"Yeah," he agreed guardedly.
"I'm talking about that kind of sleep. I'll just trick your mind into sleeping so you don't see some things that'd upset you, OK?" Lara asked.
"Well..." Scotty thought. "OK, I guess."
"OK Scotty. Now, sleep," Lara commanded.
Jason felt the difference in the last word, and his eyes narrowed. He'd noticed how Ronan and Lara had emphasized certain words in the past, and he'd responded, but now he understood why. Scotty had no more choice about going to sleep than he did about his heart beating -- Lara had given him an order, and backed it with the force of her power. In essence, she'd abrogated his free will.
And he remembered, very clearly, how Lara had used that same tone on him more than once in the past. In the past, he hadn't noticed because he didn't have the power to sense it, but now he could. "Lara, we need to talk!" he ground out between clenched teeth.
Lara stared into his eyes and agreed, "Yes, but first go check out Scotty's dad."
Jason moved into the other room and knelt down before the KO'd man. Reaching out with his consciousness the same way as he'd done with Scotty earlier, he found...
Blinking, he reached over and felt for a pulse.
"Oh shit," he swore softly.
Jason fumbled around for a few moments, desperate to find what he was already certain wasn't there. "Lara, I swear, I didn't... not that hard!" he stammered, still poking at the dead man's neck in search of a pulse.
"Jason, the evidence says you did," she said a little harshly.
"I'm just not that strong," he said, horrified. "I mean, yeah, I'm strong, but... I only threw him across the room, and I've thrown people harder than that before..."
"Before you were a Guardian," Lara reminded him a little more gently. "You're a Guardian now. You're a hell of a lot stronger than you think you are, and if you don't use the Guiding to control it..."
"Oh f--k no!" Jason swore. "I didn't... the Guiding tried to tell me..."
"Next time, listen to it!" Lara snapped. "Now, let's get out of here before Scotty wakes -- he really doesn't need to carry around the image of his dead father. He's going to have enough baggage without seeing that."
"Alright..." Jason stood up and stumbled to the front door, following Lara, then paused. "Lara, what about evidence? I mean, the cops-"
"Won't find a thing -- stand back," she told him. Placing her hand at the threshold of the door, she closed her eyes and concentrated. A wave of green light flashed from the far corners of the apartment, closing in on an orb above her hand. "I simply will for all traces of our presence to be gathered... and then burn it." A sudden flash of light and the green glow vanished, curls of smoke exploding outward. "Come along, we need to move quickly," she told him and started walking down the hallway. Jason followed dutifully, Scotty still in his arms, as she lead him to her car.
"What about the body? I mean-" Jason began.
"Not now!" she snapped sharply. "Wait until we're a little more private, if you would be so kind!"
Jason carted Scotty down the stairs as he dutifully followed, remaining completely silent until they were safely in the car. "Now?" he asked.
"Fine, this'll do," Lara said as she pulled out into traffic. "Now, the police will undoubtedly find the body. But without any evidence to lead them to us, that won't hurt us. There wasn't any surveillance in the building itself, and I made sure to block the cameras in the other buildings that might have seen us, so the cops basically have no leads."
"And Scotty? Won't the cops go looking for him?"
"Scotty will be safely ensconced in the social services database as having been placed with some friends of ours after having been found wandering the streets. We'll even arrange a social worker who will swear to have been the one to have handled the placement," Lara answered, just a little smug. "This isn't the first time we've done an 'emergency placement' like this, Jason."
"I get the feeling that's true," Jason replied, keeping his tone even. "But, tell me, just how much of that is honest cooperation from the social worker, and how much is you using that little trick to bend her to your will?"
"Four of them are completely willing, and work the system for us," Lara answered calmly in the face of Jason's accusation. "There are another three we persuade to help us, though we don't trust them because blackmail isn't very reliable, and another two that we occasionally suggest when we absolutely must."
"Suggest," Jason sneered. "Is that what you call it?"
"Jason, this isn't a conversation to have in the here and in the now," Lara answered, aggravated. "Yes, we call it suggestion, yes it's more than that name implies, yes we've used it on you in the past, and yes we didn't get your permission. Can the hows and whys wait for another time, please?"
"Another time, huh? And how do I know you won't suggest away my desire-" Jason began.
"Jason, drop it," Lara ordered. Jason felt the force of the compulsion hit him, and shrugged it aside.
"Oh, gee, like using it on me-" Jason began again.
"Is the perfect way to demonstrate that we can't use it on you anymore!" Lara shouted. "Think about it, how hard was it to just ignore what I did?"
Jason closed his mouth with a loud click. "Both you and Ronan have the same problem: you go straight for the demonstration without even mentioning what you're demonstrating, and it's getting annoying!"
"Yes, I imagine it is, but it's a great time saver!" Lara shot back as she pulled onto another street. "And we're running awfully short on time, in case you forgot. We need to discuss tonight, now."
"Tonight? Oh, the girl!" Jason cursed himself for forgetting about her.
"Yeah, Mary is going to be really upset over the change in plans... Quentin will grab her before she hits the gym building and redirect her to a new meeting place, but with Ronan gone..." Lara rambled a bit.
"Wait, wait a second! Quentin is going to grab her?" Jason asked.
"Ronan's out, I'm out, we need someone to help fill in the gap. We're always a little short handed, but tonight is going to be worse than usual. I don't like it, I really don't like it, but I don't have a choice. I know you were going to say no, but we have to use Quentin!" Lara fumed in the drivers seat, and Jason decided that discretion was the better part of valor on the subject of Quentin.
"So what are our new plans?" Jason asked.
"We're going to meet up at Ashley's house since we have to drop of little Scotty there anyway and then we'll move on with Mary. Ashley and her brood will help Scotty out" Lara sounded dejected as she added, "They've had practice in dealing with his kind of problems."
"Practice?" Jason asked.
"Too much practice..." Lara whispered.
"Lara? You OK?" Jason asked, worried.
"Sorry, it's just... going there is never pleasant for me. Or for anyone who knows...." Lara trailed off for a moment. "The Guardians have what amounts to our own, internal foster system for kids we rescue. Ronan doesn't trust Social Services farther than he can manipulate them, and this way we can be certain that those we rescue get the support they deserve, the support they need." Lara sniffed, and Jason realized she was crying. "Ashley runs one of the bigger houses, and tends to need a lot of help on the psych end of things. Which, however little I like it, means me."
"Lara, you like helping people with their problems, and you love kids. What is so wrong with this place?" Jason was really worried now.
"What is the one kind of problem I don't like helping with, Jason? I do it, but it's as painful for me as the patient" Lara asked softly.
"Rape, you can't stand it because it reminds you of... your own..." Jason trailed off as he put the pieces together. "How many?" he whispered.
"Currently, fifteen or so. From five to seventeen, and all of them faced some form of sexual abuse."
"Good God in Heaven..." Jason swore softly in disbelief. "How can He... Why would He..."
"There are times I wonder, I will admit," Lara said softly. "Free will has always been Ronan's answer, but..." Lara trailed off and shook her head. "This conversation is getting us nowhere. We need to discuss other things for now. We're going to meet the others at Ashley's and plan things while we're there. Tommy will even provide catering, knowing him."
"What's catering?" Scotty asked suspiciously.
"Scotty!" Lara shouted in shock, nearly loosing control of the car. "What are you doing awake?"
"The bad stuff was gone, so I woke up," the eight year old explained quickly, burrowing deeper into Jason's embrace..
"The bad stuff was... how did you know that? And how did you wake up?" Lara probed gently.
"I just did," Scotty whispered, nearly crying.
"Hey little guy, it's OK," Jason reassured him, "we just weren't expecting it and want to know how it happened. You aren't in trouble."
"I'm not?" Scotty asked.
"No, you just startled me honey," Lara smiled over at him.
"Oh, OK. Um, what's startled?" Scotty asked.
Jason laughed gently as he explained, "You know how when someone sneaks up behind you and goes 'boo', you jump?"
"No, no one's ever done that," Scotty answered, curious. "Why would they do that? And why would I jump?"
"Well, some people find it funny, and you'd jump out of reflex, because you'd be startled," Jason tried again.
"What's reflex?" Scotty asked.
"Well, when you go to the doctor, has he ever hit you in the knee with a rubber mallet?" Jason tried.
"No, Daddy always punished me himself," Scotty replied, tone so pitiful that it broke Jason's heart. Jason felt his tears dripping down his face, and Scotty touched them. "Why are you crying?"
"I'm crying, Scotty, because your father hurt you so badly, so horribly. What he did to you..." Jason couldn't continue through the lump in his throat. He could have gone back and killed the man, if that had been a possibility still, but that wouldn't help Scotty either.
Jason tried to concentrate, but the feel of Scotty hugging him tighter, of the little boy trying to comfort him, was just to much. It tore his heart in two and he just couldn't take it. The eight year old boy just hugged him tighter and they cried together, lost in their mutual misery as Lara drove.
Scotty had fallen back asleep by the time they pulled up to a large, three story house out in the suburbs. Jason's eyebrows rose as he took in the sheer size of the three story building, it's well-maintained exterior, and ample front lawn. "I thought you said this was a foster care home..." he started.
"A private foster care home," Lara answered with a touch of sadness. "Even with all our wealth we can't pay to bring government run homes up to standard -- though you'd be amazed how much we help out 'under the table' -- but the ones we run ourselves we can keep decent."
"I'm starting to be impressed with your finances," Jason admitted. "How many foster care homes do you run like this?"
"This is the only one this large, but we have eight more of various sizes, plus a number of Guardians who can provide short term housing at need -- both on, and off, the books."
A tall blond stepped out the front door of the house and walked over, followed by a shorter brunette. Jason figured the blond was Ashley, but he had no clue who the brunette might be -- other than her not being a Guardian, judging from her rather plump physique.
Lara and Jason got out of the car and met them, Scotty still sleeping in Jason's arms. "Lara, it's good to see you again," the brunette exclaimed.
"Sara, I wasn't expecting you to be here!" Lara answered with a small smile. "I was just getting ready to call you about this guy..." Lara jerked a thumb at Scotty.
"That could be a small problem..." Sara answered with a frown. "I came here to ask Ashley to take one of my cases off my hands."
"Can't you just-" Lara started.
"No, I can't. Too much oversight on this particular case -- that's half the reason why I brought him here," Sara answered sadly. "Trying to manipulate records at this point... I'm lucky all the other times I did that didn't bite me in the ass as it is."
"OK, how do we do it then?" Lara asked. "This guy really needs to stay here."
"I don't know," Sara admitted. "I'll have to think about it for a while, but..." she trailed off and looked at Lara. "I can't manipulate this facility's records, but I might just..."
Meanwhile the blond woman came up and tried to take Scotty from Jason, but Scotty didn't want to let go, clutching tightly to Jason in his sleep. "He seems to have grown attached to you," she said softly.
"Yeah, and the feeling is mutual to be honest," Jason told the woman. "My name's Jason, and I'm guessing you must be Ashley," he introduced himself.
"Indeed I am," she answered with a small grin. "I run this place, and help Lara out with the really bad cases when she needs it."
"Really bad?" Jason asked softly.
"Yeah, we talk about them and I offer advice and support to her," Ashley answered his question. "She really needs the support more than the advice, though," she added.
"Well, you'll have your work cut out for you with this guy," Jason told her.
Ashley looked him in the eyes and shook her head as she spoke harshly, "I've handled worse, and doubtless I will again. It's a lot of time, and effort, but each case..." She broke off and looked away. "I'm sorry, that was wrong of me," she told him.
Jason suddenly felt her pain as if it were his own as she continued, "I see so much pain, so much evil, and for a moment there I thought you were belittling some of my other patient's pain." She looked back into his eyes through her tears, "I treat children who have been abused in the most horrific manner imaginable, an injury so great... Unless you face it you can't understand the impact rape has on a life, and people just..."
"You can't just 'get over it'," Jason told her, placing a hand on her shoulder while holding Scotty with the other. "You live with it for your entire life, and either you face it down or you drown in it."
She looked back in his eyes and flinched. "I guess I owe you a double apology," she offered.
"Nothing owed," Jason told her. "What do you say we get this guy inside?"
"Good idea," she told him. "I don't have a room ready, but he can sleep on the couch upstairs for a few hours."
She turned to face the house for a few moments, staring intently at it as if concentrating deeply on something. Facing him for a moment, she tilted her head in a signal to follow and headed off, leaving Lara and Sara deep in conversation. Jason glanced back, and saw Lara smile and nod at him in reassurance.
Walking into the house, he let himself be guided past the living room and towards the stairs. He looked around as he walked and smiled. The room wasn't really all that large, but the furniture had been carefully arranged to make it feel that way, presumably to give rambunctious kids room to run amuck in. Given the plentiful stains, dents, and generally lived in look of the rather plain furniture, it looked like the kids did just that.
Not that it was dirty, he could see the efforts that were made to keep it clean of dirt and mud and the other detritus that would build up. But this was a house filled with children, and this space was clearly theirs to use, within limits. To Jason, it felt like more than simply a house to place children in need, to give them a roof over their heads and food on their table, it was a home into which you could invite those who had none. A place that welcomed and-
Jason shook his head and narrowed his eyes. It was subtle, clever, and done as much through everyday things like scent and decorations as magic, but a very well crafted suggestion permeated the house. "Ashely, just out of curiosity," he began.
"Yes?" she asked, waiting at the head of the stairs for him to catch up.
"Well, is it just me or is this place a little, well..." he trailed off, uncertain how to finish without antagonizing her.
"That was quick, most Guardians don't notice until after they're long gone, if ever," she said laughingly. "Don't worry about it -- it's just a little insurance, protection for the kids."
"Oh?" he asked.
"It started as an effort to make sure they felt at home, then I added in a little bit to make social services feel this was a good place, even if it wasn't exactly traditional," she explained as she motioned for him to follow again.
"From there it grew, mostly on it's own, though I do feed it some power and advice now and again," she continued as they navigated the hallway.
"Grew? On it's own?" Jason asked incredulously.
"Sometimes a spell will take on a life of it's own," she explained. "It will never violate it's core purpose, or basic... we call them protocols, for lack of a better word, but it will add in more as needed. At it's base, the spell I placed here had two purposes. The primary one was to help the kids who lived here, and the secondary was to protect them. The spell decided that it's original parameters weren't enough, so.... it grew."
"Wait, you make it sound like a living thing!" Jason protested.
"In a sense, I suppose it is," she admitted before hedging, "but only in a very limited sense. You have to understand, Jason, that what we call a 'spell' is just the application of will, given a framework to survive when we aren't concentrating on it."
"So?" Jason asked, not getting the point.
"So, when it grows it grows only so far, and only in the ways- Ah, here we are," she said cheerfully, guiding him into a room. The room was well lit, colorfully decorated, and most of the furniture was sized for small children. Toys were scattered across the room, and in the corner two kids near Scotty's age played. "Tony, Jessica, please clean up here and go play downstairs," she asked.
"Aaaah," they complained, but proceeded to do as they were asked. Ashley pointed at a couch, and pulled a few blankets and a pillow out of a nearby closet. Jason gently broke Scotty's grip on him and set the tyke down on the coach. "Please," Scotty asked sleepily. "Please stay..."
"I'll be right here little guy, you just get your rest," Jason reassured him.
"Please! I don't wanna be alone," Scotty begged, and Jason smiled. Gathering him up, Jason lay down with Scotty in his arms. Scotty curled around to use Jason as a blanket, and Ashley laughed, softly.
"I'd say he's already gotten you wrapped around his finger -- smart kid!" Ashley flicked the light off and move to leave.
"No, stay here," Scotty asked, barely audible.
"Why?" Ashley asked gently.
"I gotta stay here, with you, an' I wanna know you first," Scotty pulled his head out of Jason's chest long enough to answer. "Jason's gotta go deal with the bad-men tonight, and I can't go..." Scotty sniffled, and then started to cry. "Those bad men hurt kids, and you wanna keep me safe, but I don't want Jason to go!" he wailed.
"Shh, it'll be alright little guy," Jason reassured him. "But how did you know about that? Lara and I didn't talk about all of that," Jason asked, concerned.
"What's a tel-a-path?" Scotty asked Ashley.
Ashley blinked for a moment, surprised, before answering, but was beat to the punch as Scotty asked "Who is Tommy?"
"Well, as far as what telepaths are, honey," Ashley explained, "they're really special people who can hear other people's thoughts, and look into their minds. And Tommy is a big kid here who can help you control your gift."
"Control it?" Jason asked.
"I'm not sure at the moment, but I think Scotty here had his powers activated at some point -- and due to the stress he's been facing, they're running at a high," Ashley answered. "Tommy will help him filter out the background noise so he isn't constantly hearing whatever telepathic communications are going on around him, or accidentally broadcast thoughts."
"Accidentally broadcast... oh," Jason's eyes widened suddenly. If the kid could pick up thoughts out of peoples minds, did that mean-
"I don't mind," Scotty smiled up at Jason. "I like you, and you think nice. Not like Daddy..." Scotty started to cry a little. "Poor Daddy always hurt so bad inside..."
"Jason, do me a favor and visualize walls going up inside your mind, at the edges, blocking out-" Ashley began to ask.
"No!" Scotty screeched. "Don't make me go, let me stay, please! I'll be good!" Jason felt something around the edges of his thoughts and realized it was Scotty, digging in at the edges, right where his walls were already beginning to form, summoned in sudden reflex as he sensed the intrusion.
"Scotty!" Jason bellowed in pain.
"No! No no no no no nonononono!"" Scotty screamed, voice penetrating deep into Jason's skull and mind. For a few long moments they struggled in perfect balance, then it started to tilt. Jason was in agony, and couldn't stand the idea of rejecting Scotty, and began to shut down his defenses rather than hurt the kid further.
"Enough," a voice rasped across Jason's mind, brushing Scotty's desperate clawing aside long enough for Jason to forge defenses, to realize those defenses were needed -- something was wrong here! But as quickly as the voice swept Scotty away, he was back, desperately hammering into those new-found defenses.
Jason was aware of Scotty's sobbing as they held each other close. "Please, no..." Scotty whispered, as Jason felt the stabbing pains in his head start to fade.
Soon Scotty fell back asleep against Jason's chest, and the deeper he fell into sleep the faster the headache receded. "What was that?" Jason asked Ashley before noticing the young man who stood next to her. "Oh, sorry, I didn't see you come in," he apologized.
"It's OK, given what the little guy was doing to ya, I wouldn't expect you to have seen much of anything," the young man laughed. "I'm Tommy, by the way."
"What was he doing?" Jason asked.
"Nothing I've ever tried," Tommy told him, brushing back his blond hair. "I don't think he was even aware of it himself, to be honest. Not until the end."
"I'm just glad Tommy was able to distract Scotty long enough for you to get some shields in place," Ashley told him. "I don't know what would have happened otherwise, but given the level of control he was establishing..."
"Control?" Jason asked.
"The way he was working into your mind, he was gaining a certain degree of control over you," Ashley explained. "He was nowhere near being able to do anything with it, but..."
Jason looked at her in surprise. "Mind control?" he whispered, shocked.
"I doubt he knew what he was doing, but yes," Ashley agreed.
"Actually, I'm pretty sure he knew he was doing something, just not what..." Tommy mused. "The way he was digging in, I think he was less interested in controlling you than he was in bonding, in making sure you liked him."
"He wanted a father... a real father," Jason asked more than said.
"Makes sense," Tommy agreed. "He's hurting, bad, inside. I don't know, but I suspect his powers have been active a while and he did something similar with his old caregiver."
"He said Jason thought nicer than his father did," Ashley provided.
"Makes sense that he'd know that if they were bonded," Tommy mused. "What I don't get is how his father could... What I saw for those few moments in the kid's mind..." Tommy shook his head.
"Jason's defenses are rather weak at the moment, could the bonding have worked differently?" Ashley asked.
"Differently?" Tommy repeated, chewing his lip in concentration. "Yeah, that makes sense..." he mused for a few moments before giving up. "You're gonna have to call someone else, Mom, I'm just not sure. Even if it did act differently, it should have protected Scotty at least a little, made his father concentrate on his well-being-" Tommy tilted his head as an idea struck him. "Or obsessed him, that's possible too. In fact, that'd fit what I saw in the poor kid's head perfectly. It obsessed his father, locked his father in on him..."
"Well, at least that gives me an idea of where to being treating the poor guy," Ashley smiled down at Scotty, who hadn't complained in the least when Jason shifted to put him down on the couch. "Here, lets get the blanket over him and let him sleep for a while..."
"I'm surprised, earlier it's like he knew every time I was going to try and put him down, and now he's just out like a light..." Jason smiled, kissed Scotty's forehead and followed Ashley and Tommy out of the room, closing the door behind them.
"That's exactly what happened, probably," Tommy told him. "The bonding would have let him sense every time your mind wandered from him, or grew more distant, and he'd have reacted to prevent it."
Jason shook his head. "Stupid question here, but... how does a kid that young get any part of a Guardian's power?"
Ashley coughed in surprise, "Jason, he didn't... he doesn't..." Lost for words she just stared at Tommy.
"I'm going to guess you're brand new to the Guardians, right?" Tommy commented wryly. "Simple version: possession of the Power of a Guardian will trigger any latent telepathic, telekinesis, and presumably any other latent psychic ability, but it isn't the only trigger."
Jason pondered that for a few moments then shook his head, "I really need to get a handle on this stuff, and why Ronan hasn't taken the time to explain it to me."
"Knowing Ronan, he has a very good reason," Ashley reassured him. "That said, I imagine it's more than a little frustrating at the moment."
"Ronan always has good reasons for what he does," Tommy disagreed with a trace of bitterness, "or at least he thinks so."
"Tommy, I will not-" Ashley began.
"I'm not. I'm allowed to disagree with the man, so long as I show proper respect!" Tommy snapped back, interrupting her.
"Is this a private conversation, or can anyone get a clue?" Jason asked with a small grin. Clearly whatever had been inhibiting him from causing a scene wasn't effecting these two.
"Tommy has disagreements with the way Ronan has handled certain things in the past," Ashley informed Jason. "I insist that he, well, that all my children, show proper respect towards adults at all times. It's a point of contestation just how strongly you can disagree with someone without being disrespectful."
"That sounds easy," Jason commented. "Ronan and I had a conversation about that ages ago..."
"How strongly you can show yourself to be in disagreement without being disrespectful," Ashley corrected hastily.
"Well now, that's a horse of a different color," Jason agreed. "Personally, I'd say as long as you don't insult the man, you'd be fine."
"We'll have plenty of time to discuss this later, for now Lara is probably expecting us downstairs," Ashley changed the topic. "Tommy, would you keep an eye on Scotty and let us know when he starts to wake up?"
"Sure thing," Tommy agreed with a grin, slipping back into the room.
"I'm going to guess you place the line a bit further back than I just did?" Jason asked.
"Not so much that," Ashley replied, "as a disagreement on how strongly you can disagree without being insulting. Especially since Tommy is still just a kid."
Jason froze, and Ashley turned around. "Yes?" she asked.
"How old is he?" Jason asked.
"What does-" she began, exasperated.
"Bear with me; how old is Tommy?" Jason demanded.
"Seventeen," Ashley replied, suddenly resigned.
"Is he responsible? Does he do what he's supposed to? Does he remember his promises?"
"Yes, but what does-"
"Do you trust him?" Jason asked.
"With my life! He's a good kid!" Ashley protested after a shocked moment.
"Do you trust him? Not with your life, with the kids lives?"
"In a heartbeat!" Ashley protested. Jason moved on, in the grip of an instinct he could not refute.
"If called on, would he fight?" Jason demanded.
"I am not letting you take any of my kids-" Ashley shot back.
Jason tossed her reply aside as he interrupted, "If called on, if the need arose to defend others with his life, would he fight?"
"Yes," Ashley agreed after a moment's thought to recognize the difference in what he was asking.
"Does he care for the others? Protect, nurture, and help them?" Jason demanded.
"Yes, everyday," Ashley answered with a slight smile. "What does that have to do with-"
"By what measure is he not a man?" Jason demanded. "By what measure save age alone, has he not stepped into the mantle of manhood? And even by that gauge, is he not on the cusp, wherein he begins to take up privileges and responsibilities of his manhood?"
"Jason, he's-" Ashley began to protest.
"He is your son indeed: but child no longer," Jason stated flatly. Ashley stared at him for a few moments, then turned to resume guiding him to Lara.
"You and Ronan both..." She whispered softly. "No respect for the standards society sets, only for the reasons behind them."
Almost mournfully she admitted, "A man indeed. And with that admission, goes the last excuse I have to keep him safe..."