Jason woke up the next morning still tired. For a few vague moments he couldn't figure out what woke him, then another childish scream resonated through the house.
The kids were up, therefore the adults were up too, like it or not. Groaning, he tossed the covers aside and stumbled to the door to track down a restroom. Blushing, he darted back to the bed long enough to grab a pair of pants off the ground before wandering out the door. He wasn't at home where nudity, much less boxers, was considered fine!
Eventually he stumbled his way to a restroom, and dealt with the night's buildup. Stumbling out, he opened the door just in time for Lara to stumble in and start puking in the toilet. "You OK?" Jason asked, kneeling down beside her.
"No!" she managed between heaves. "Do I look OK?"
"OK, so what's wrong?" Jason rephrased himself as the urgency of the situation brought him fully awake.
"I don't know, the last few mornings I've woken up and had to-" another retching fit interrupted her.
"Do you mind if I try and see what's wrong?" Jason asked.
"Go right ahead, make yourself hap-" Lara began before resuming her worship of the porcelain god.
Jason pressed one hand to her lower back, and another to her head, and slipped into her body with his mind. He sensed, distantly, the chemical imbalance that was causing trouble, but instinct urged him not to correct it. He lightly touched some of the chemicals causing the actual retching, but not the imbalances creating them. There, deeper in her body, was... was... something.
Jason broke out of the trance and leaned back. What was that part of the body? Then he blinked and reviewed the situation with a rising grin.
"Lara, my friend," he said sweetly. "You said you've been sick when exactly?"
"For the last several days I've been completely nauseous in the mornings, then fine the rest of the time," she answered irritably. "I've got a doctor's appointment for tomorrow, see if they can make any sense of it.
"Alright," Jason grinned, "but let me go ask Ashley if she has something that can help."
"She doesn't keep anything but basic first-aid around," Lara said tiredly.
"Oh, if we're really lucky she just might have what we need," Jason said as he left the room.
"Jason, what has gotten into-" Lara paused in her pursuit, then ran back to the toilet to resume her involuntary devotions, Jason's minimalist intervention having run it's course.
Jason quickly found Ashley, but she didn't have the needed supplies.
"Are you sure?" she asked gleefully.
"No, hence wanting to test my conclusion," He told her.
"Fine, fine," she said. "I'll go to the store. You go let Tommy know to make a good breakfast for her. French toast works well," she ordered.
"Yum," Jason commented as Ashley left at a run. "I hope I'm right," he added to himself as he followed the loudest noise to find the kitchen.
Predictably it was a mess, with several kids running around making things infinitely more difficult for poor Tommy, who stood in the center of the room, grinning as he shouted orders. The chaos seemed to respond to his attempt to impose order by getting worse with every passing moment.
"Hey, Tommy," Jason interrupted, "what are the odds of French toast today?"
"About zero, Ashley wants that saved for special occasions," Tommy answered.
"She's the one who wanted the stuff!" Jason said.
"What! Why?" Tommy asked, waving the commotion to a stop.
"Let's just say I had an... idea... that would be very good news, if I'm right," Jason evaded the question.
"Nice evasion, now, tell me what's going on," Tommy asked.
"Sorry, even if I'm right it's for L- another to reveal, when they are ready." If he was right... Jason was not even going to steal Lara's thunder. Not on this! Jason realized he was grinning wide enough for a train to fly through, and he just didn't care.
"Fine, I guess I'll just have to trust you," Tommy grumbled. "Alright guys, French Toast today!"
The kids glanced at each other and started whooping and hollering in joy. One ran out and started shouting and screaming to let the rest of the house know of the sudden change in breakfast plans.
Jason quickly found himself conscripted to keep a wary eye on two of the kids scrambling eggs and making the batter, while Tommy focused on those making the bacon and sausage.
"Why did I get conscripted to do this?" Jason asked plaintively. "I don't even know how to make the- Hey, watch it!" Jason shouted as a kid waved a wire whisk in the air, splattering egg over the counter. "You can wipe that up yourself, right?" Jason asked.
"Yeah!" the kid shouted, gleefully resuming his mixing duties.
"Now, right?" Jason clarified.
"Awwww!" the kid complained, handing over the 'fun' whisking duties to grab a wash cloth from the waiting sink of hot soapy water.
"That's why," Tommy answered Jason's earlier question. "The kids kinda-sorta know the recipe, but if we left them alone- Sarah!" Tommy yanked the thirteen year old girl away from the stove as a loose hank of hair swung a little to close to the fire. "You OK?" Tommy asked after assuring himself that while the hair was scorched, it hadn't actually started burning.
"OK, I get it," Jason told Tommy the next time the two of them had a simultaneous 'free' moment to chat. "This continuous near disaster requires adult supervision."
"You have no idea how much more difficult this-" Tommy ran off, gently scolding a little kid trying to carry a filled pair of rather large glasses of milk to the table. Glasses too large for the little boy to carry two at a time, as Tommy sternly pointed out as he took one of them. The kid nodded solemnly and resumed his errand, carefully avoiding any more spillage.
"Jason," Lara asked sweetly from the door, "what exactly is going on?"
Jason grinned at her tone as a mental klaxon started screaming 'Red alert! Red alert!' Lara and 'sweet' did not exactly go together. Unless she wanted them to, of course. Usually either to hide an impending explosion or wheedle an answer out of someone. Or both.
"Hi Lara," Jason told her, matching sweetness for sweetness. "I'm glad to see you up and about!"
"Jason," she growled half playfully, half warningly.
"Lara?" he returned, hiding a grin. The kids around didn't even bother trying to hide their giggling fits as they watched the exchange.
"What is going on?" Lara repeated after a few moments.
"Oh, you'll find out after breakfast with everyone else, I'm sure. Isn't that usually when Ronan gives his daily orders?" Jason evaded.
"Jason!" Lara snapped warningly, temper starting to fray.
"That's my name, don't wear it out!" Jason sang out with deliberate cheerfulness.
Lara sagged against the door frame and gave in. "Jason, please don't play games with me right now. Why are you guys making what appears to be French Toast?"
"Well, it appears to be French Toast because it is French Toast, Lara," Jason purposely misunderstood her question.
"Jason, are you having fun at my expense or is this just your demented sense of humor in full swing!" Lara complained. "Now, what's going on?"
Jason was saved from answering as a mob of children swarmed over Lara. "Come on, come on!" one said as they grabbed her arms and tried to drag her off.
"Yeah, you gotta sit down!" another insisted.
"I'm trying to talk to Jason," Lara protested, laughing at their exuberance.
"Bud Aunt Lara," one of the girls insisted, "Momma said you gohs do ead firs'!"
"Yeah, befow she left she told us to make sure fow hew that you got tweated weal nicely!" a boy insisted. "Like it's youw biwthday!"
"Yeah, but only better!" another added.
"Why would she do that?" Lara asked as the started to move her. "I can assure you, it's not my birthday!"
"She told us to! She said it's real good news if Jason's right!" a kid answered.
"If Jason's right? Right about what?" Lara asked, glaring at a very innocent looking Jason as the kids reached critical mass. They finally had enough warm bodies to just drag her out of the kitchen. Slowly.
"Oh, you'll find out soon enough," Jason told her cheerfully. "It's all in- Hey! Watch it!" Jason saved breakfast from yet another imminent disaster, and by the time he was finished Lara had been dragged completely away, saving him from further questioning.
Soon the kids had a plate piled high with scrambled eggs, French Toast, sausage, and hash browns. One of them carefully lifted it up and walked slowly out of the room, tongue visible at the corner of his mouth as he concentrated completely on the difficult task of walking the plate out without spilling the mounded food. Jason grabbed some syrup and butter and sent them out with another kid even as several more plates were rapidly being thrown together with a more reasonable amount of food on each. There was, after all, only one 'birthday girl' in the house.
"Kinda appropriate, in a way..." Jason murmured to himself.
"What's that?" Tommy asked as he leaned against the fridge.
"Nothing, just thinking out loud," Jason commented. "It's rather appropriate to treat Lara as the birthday girl, all things considered. If I'm right... and of course if I'm wrong it might help soften the blow a bit."
"Right about what?" Tommy asked.
"Oh, you'll see... As soon as Ashley gets home she's going to home right in on Lara and either confirm or deny my hypothesis," Jason grinned. "And if I'm right, Lara deserves the spotlight all to herself.
A sudden commotion in the dining room drew them out and Jason shook his head at his own stupidity. "Idiot, idiot idiot," he swore at himself. "Sorry kids, I should have been thinking ahead... the last thing Lara needs right at the moment is stuff this rich."
"What do you mean?" Tommy asked.
"She's having a slight nausea problem, and the French Toast probably set it off," Jason admitted.
"Nausea? Is she all right?" Tommy asked, concerned.
"Oh, she's fine... if I'm right, she's better than fine!" Jason reassured him.
"Right about what?" Tommy asked.
Jason laughed, "Lets just say I asked Ashley if she had an e.p.t. floating around the house."
"An e. p. t. around the... what's that?" Tommy asked.
"You don't know what an e. p. t. is?" Jason giggled. "Error proof test. For pregnancy."
"Pregnancy?" Tommy gaped. "Lara is... you're shitting me!"
"Nope," Jason said, "I might be wrong, but I really don't think so."
"Lara, Pregnant..." Tommy said softly, almost to himself. "If anyone deserves a kid, it's her!"
"Yeah, tell me about it," Jason agreed. "She'll make a great mom, I just hope I'm right."
"But... Jason, have you ever talked to Murphy?" Tommy said thoughtfully.
"Well, yeah, he lives just down the hall from us," Jason answered, confused.
"No, I mean really talked to him," Tommy said.
"Tommy, if you know something..." Jason probed.
"Listen, I had some problems a while back and... well, this isn't really my place to say anything, but..." Tommy was clearly struggling with his words, and Jason was starting to get frustrated.
"Tommy, just spit it out already," Jason ordered. "Or shut up about it, one of the two. Stop dancing around the issue."
"Jason, I.." Tommy sighed. "I'll think about it a while, I'm not sure if- Oh, I'm an idiot, just ask!" Tommy shook his head ruefully. "Listen, I'll get back to you later about this, OK?"
"Fine, whatever," Jason agreed. "For now, maybe we should get back to the kitchen?"
"Good idea," Tommy agreed.
The rest of breakfast went just as chaotically as the beginning, but the food that resulted was plentiful enough to feed all involved, and wasn't half bad. Jason knew that that magic had to have been involved. Not the magic he was learning to wield, but an older, more primal, everyday sort of magic.
Tommy was good with kids.
It was the little things that clued Jason in. He'd seen some of the women at his church, the ones who always volunteered to watch the kids, do the exact same thing before, so he knew it wasn't anything mystic about it. They just... knew. When a kid crossed the line, they were there, scolding him. When someone got hurt, they had the first aid kit out and waiting before he walked in the door.
There was nothing mystical about it, Jason knew that with a certainty that surprised him. But magical... as magical as a child's laughter, as a mother's love, as the miracle of birth, oh yes!
Jason smiled as he watched, pitching in to help as needed, but mostly just watching. "So, I see you've found why I like young Tommy so much," Ronan commented from behind him.
"Yes, I suppose I did," Jason answered with forced calmness, hiding how startled he was.
"So, care to tell me what's going on with Lara?" Ronan asked, moving out of the shadow's he'd hidden in.
"Care to tell me how you simply appeared behind me?" Jason countered.
"I didn't," Ronan answered. "You just weren't looking where you thought you'd looked."
"What is that supposed to mean?" Jason asked irritably.
"First things first, and you owe me an answer," Ronan smiled.
"Bully," Jason pouted, turning to face Ronan. Blinking, he flinched away and pressed his fingers to his temples. It had hurt to look at Ronan!
"You OK?" Ronan asked.
"Yeah," Jason said, still blinking. It hadn't actually hurt, but something was... wrong. "Whatever trick you used, I think it doesn't agree with me. It's like... when you use an illusion, and I see right through it."
"Try it again now," Ronan ordered. This time it didn't hurt at all, and Jason said so. "Thought as much," Ronan said grimly.
"So what is it?" Jason asked. Ronan looked away, plainly considering his answer. "A lie of omission is still a lie, Ronan," Jason warned.
Ronan sighed. "Jason, there are some things I shouldn't have to explain, that I don't want to explain."
"Then give the courtesy of an honest answer, in the form of 'none of your business, Jason'." Jason suggested.
"Like you'd accept that for half a second," Ronan laughed.
"Probably not, but I couldn't force it any easier than the game we're playing now, and at least it'd be honest," Jason argued.
"True enough," Ronan consented with a sigh gesturing for Jason to follow as he left the room. "I don't want to talk about all of it, but I'll explain some of it."
"Some is better than nothing," Jason agreed with a grin.
"We haven't talked about it in detail, but you know that in addition to the core powers, a lot of us get extras, special gifts that work in a number of ways," Ronan began as he entered a room.
"Lara's healing, my ability to see through illusions, my occasional flashes of intuition, etc etc," Jason agreed as he pulled the door shut beside them.
"Just so. One such extra is what I call 'glamour'. Part illusion, part compulsion, part genuine personality change, and none of the above. Over time, since I gained my powers, I've become more charismatic. I choose the right words and intonations, and on top of that people listen when I speak."
Jason frowned. "Part compulsion?"
"Yes. It's a strange little ability. It's partly illusion, very very subtle illusion, in that people see me as just that little bit more..." Ronan struggled for the word. "I'm more to them. Handsome, rugged, tall, short, pretty, I'm just a little bit more what they want to see. And hear, and smell, and touch, and..." Ronan hesitated. "Well, probably taste, too." Jason giggled. "I'm glad you think it's funny," Ronan smiled. "Getting back to the subject at hand, it's part compulsion, too. People just tend to agree with me, they're... nudged... into it. Nothing strong, and easy enough to throw off, but nudged." Ronan sighed. "Normally, anyway. If... Well, glamour is partially passive, but there's an active agent to it as well. I can 'turn up' the heat and make it stronger, less subtle."
"That sounds... easily abused," Jason commented. "Just how strong does it go? Another mind control trick?"
"Lara mentioned you were a bit... upset... over that," Roan said gingerly.
"You could say that," Jason agreed. "Any other mind control tricks I should be watching out for?"
"Glamour isn't really..." Ronan started. "OK, I don't use it as mind control. But you don't need to worry about anyone using it to control you. Guardians... Our power insulates us from the compulsion aspect. The weaker stuff gets through, but the stronger stuff doesn't."
"Weak stuff goes through, but strong stuff gets stopped?" Jason asked. "That seems a bit backward."
"Well, not so much stopped as it's... weakened," Ronan corrected himself. "And the more oomph I put behind it, the more it weakens. Diminishing returns up the wazoo."
"So no matter how much power you put behind it, it never gets strong enough to simply control my mind," Jason mused.
"Not... technically, anyway, no," Ronan said, biting his lip. "If I put enough power behind it, I could punch through. I just don't have that kind of power, no one does. And even if I did, the cost would be... unbearable"
"Cost?" Jason asked.
"Using my glamour like that... to enslave another mind to my will..." Ronan shook his head. "As above, so below. Call it karma, call it a system of checks and balances, call it whatever you like. There's always a cost. You can't do something you don't believe in, and you can't do something without changing yourself."
"I don't understand," Jason complained.
"Be glad," Ronan said bitterly. "You don't want to, not any sooner than..." Ronan sighed. "You've taken a life. How do you feel about that?"
"I'd rather not... stop changing the subject!" Jason evaded.
"I'm not changing it," Ronan answered. "You feel sick, dirty, wrong. You aren't sleeping well, you have nightmares at night."
"How do you... when... why..." Jason stammered.
"You think we haven't noticed, brother?" Paul commented from the door. "Ronan pressured us... me, at least... to let you deal with it yourself, to come to us when you were ready. But I've been watching."
"He killed Eric," Jason said distantly. "He deserved to die. He was a threat and had to be stopped. He would have killed me. I have no reason to... to..." Jason dashed a few tears from his eyes.
"You have every reason to feel like shit, Jason," Ronan said softly. "It's only human."
"What does this have to do with anything, anyways," Jason tried to change the subject.
"You have killed a man. You had every cause, every right, it was the necessary and the right thing to do. Still, it changed you. You have lost some innocence, gained some hardness, you've changed. Who and what you are is not who and what you were."
"I see where you're going with this, Ronan," Paul commented sourly.
"Do you, Jason?" Ronan asked gently. "You've changed, from an act that, relatively speaking, is a minor evil."
"Minor?" Jason sneered bitterly.
"Relative to enslaving another person to my will, a person who has done me no wrong and would never do me wrong? Yes," Roland insisted. "Death is a part of the natural order of things, and you acted for the right reasons. To use my glamour to enslave you, that would be wrong. Evil. It would change me in ways I can not stand to think of. And worse yet, it would be done with my powers, not by my hand or with a gun but directly by my will. No insulation, no buffers between my soul and the act."
"And how exactly is that different?" Jason asked crossly.
"I can tell you that it is, not why. Acting with your powers is more direct, more personal, than to do the same act some other way. And the more power you use, the more the effect is. We talked abut this before, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. For our powers, the reaction is more unpredictable than the transfer of kinetic energy, but the principle... ah, the principle remains."
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"Jason, think for a moment," Ronan protested. "Really think. What would enslaving you do to me, especially if I used so much raw power to do it?"
"If this corruption is an inevitable result of using our powers, why use them?" Jason shouted. "What's the point? If we can't fight the bastards without becoming them, we're already screwed."
"Jason, it doesn't work like that. We've been over this before. Killing because we must is different than killing because it's quick, it's easy, or it's pleasurable. It's... it's just different, I don't know why. I know... Exactly once have I killed someone un- No, that's not true. Exactly once have I deliberately killed someone when I didn't believe it necessary, and I felt so soiled by that act... Never again. It was justifiable, but never again, not unless I must."
"Intent..." Paul whispered to himself.
"What's that?" Ronan asked.
"Nothing, I was just thinking out loud," Paul explained.
"Yes, but about what?"
"Well, it seemed.... I mean, it sounded..." Paul shook himself and sighed. "Sorry. It's just... I think intent is what you were driving at. It's not the acts alone, it's why you're doing it. It's intent."
"Yes, but how does your intent change things? If I've killed, I've killed, it doesn't matter why, why is just in the mind. It doesn't make sense for it to matter-" Ronan began.
"But that's just it, it does!" Paul said excitedly. "We're talking about a mental effect here, so it does matter!"
"You aren't making sense, dead is dead, killing is killing," Ronan protested weakly.
"No, he is making sense," Jason agreed. "The effect is mental, so mindset matters."
"Mindset, I suppose I could buy that, but not intent. They're two separate things," Ronan protested.
"Now you're just splitting hairs," Paul complained. "Unless there's something you aren't telling me, anyway!"
"Nothing you shouldn't be able to see for yourself, intent and mindset are separate. Intent doesn't effect what happens when you act! If I kill someone for the right reasons or the wrong ones, they're still dead!" Ronan argued hotly. Rage flushed his cheeks, and he trembled in-
Jason felt his worldview tumble upside down in an instant. Ronan was angry, yes, but also afraid. Ashamed, even.
"Then why have more than one word for it? Why differentiate between murder and manslaughter and just plain killing?" Paul continued, unaware of Jason's realization.
"Why don't we just agree to disagree on this?" Jason suggested.
"Yes, a good idea," Ronan quickly agreed.
"But Jason, it's a-" Paul started.
"Why don't we just agree to disagree, Paul," Jason said warningly.
"But-" Paul began before catching himself. "Ah, I mean, sure, lets agree to disagree. Er... what brought us to this again?"
"We were discussing cost," Ronan answered. "We got off on one of several possible tangents."
"Ah, yes, co-" Jason frowned. "Several possible tangents?"
"Yes, we were discussing direct corruption, but hadn't gotten to inherent corruption. At least, those are the terms we've come up with." Ronan shook his head. "We've had to make up a lot of the language along the way, so please don't complain too much about the vocabulary lessons we're going to have to cover. Or how poorly chosen the words might be."
"Well, if you'll explain sooner, rather than later..." Paul joked.
"Sorry, I guess I'm a bit distracted," Ronan smiled.
"Ronan, if you're trying to distract us from the meaning of that little conversation earlier, you're going about it backwards," Jason pointed out. He sensed, distantly, an instant of surprised confusion on his brother's part. It was as if Paul had momentarily... not forgotten, but wasn't thinking of what had just happened.
"Part illusion, part compulsion..." Jason's eyes narrowed as he thought about that. Part illusion, so it wouldn't work on Jason anymore. Part compulsion to make them forget what had happened.
"Part illusion... and I see through illusion," Jason pointed out.
Ronan's confusion was obvious for a few long moments. Had Jason been wrong about what was happening, or... No, there, spreading realization. "And only partly under my control," Ronan pointed out. "I wish it forgotten, buried, hidden, so I choose words to create that effect... and thus the glamour acts without intent."
"Jason-" Paul began.
"Control yourself, Ronan," Jason cut Paul off.
"Jason, it wasn't-" Paul tried again.
"It wasn't right, it wasn't fair, Paul," Jason cut his brother off again.
"If you would very kindly let me finish?" Paul said testily.
"Sorry," Jason apologized.
"Thank you," Paul said. "Now, it wasn't that strong, Jason. Not a control, barely even a suggestion. A normal person wouldn't find it hard to break, much less me. All it would do, and I do mean all, is make me not think about this unless I needed to."
"How can you be sure," Jason protested.
"I am sure, Jason. I know it, I... I just am," Paul said firmly, if a trifle confused.
"Brothers," Ronan snorted.
"What?" Jason asked.
"I should have realized it sooner and checked. Not sure how to check, but I should have. Both of you have the gift of magical insight. Only explanation for his suddenly being so sure about this," Ronan explained.
Jason thought it over for a few moments. "I guess I shouldn't question you on this then, Paul. Rather hypocritical of me when I expect others to believe what I say."
"Alright, now if we can back up to our original discussion... again..." Paul laughed.
"What was that about, again," Ronan joked. "Ah, yes, glamour!"
"Sounds about right," Jason agreed. "What does it have to do with my headache? And why did you try to dodge the question?"
"Well your headache makes a certain degree of sense," Paul mused.
"Oh?" Ronan asked. "Do explain!"
"Well, Jason sees through illusions and deceit... since glamour is part illusion, he's going to try and see through it. Only glamour is only part illusion, so he's butting his head up against the parts that aren't illusion."
"That... is very close to what Jericho thought would happen," Ronan agreed. "And he's usually right about these things, so your probably right too."
"You talked to Jericho about this?" Jason asked, surprised.
"Way back when, when we first started learning about ways to see through illusions, the subject came up. You see through illusions naturally, though, where we have to specifically counter an illusion to see through it." Ronan shrugged. "It's a nice trick, and very unique, but not as.... unduplicateable as some. Mind you, the fact that you don't have to invoke it makes it incredibly valuable, and-"
All three of them jerked around as the very air seemed to ripple with what Jason could only call a wave of horror. "Lara?" Ronan breathed in shock.
They rushed out to find Lara in the main living room, staring at Ashley in horrified shock. "No... no no no no no..." she whispered, then staring at the box in her hands like it was a poisonous snake. "Oh no... no no no no no..."
"Lara, what's wrong?" Jason asked.
"I tried asking, she won't answer," Ashley answered, worried. "Lara, please, tell me what's wrong. Please."
"Ashley, I can't..." Lara whispered, looking back up at her friend. "I can't be. Oh God have mercy, no."
"Lara?" Ashley asked.
"Oh shit," Ronan swore softly as he saw the label on the box.
"I can't be pregnant Ashley, I just... I can't!" Lara protested mournfully.