Jason adjusted his collar nervously as he gave his appearance one final go over in the mirror built into the sun visor in the passenger seat of the car. "Do I have to?" he asked plaintively.
"Yes," Lara told him firmly.
"I hate this monkey suit," he complained.
"No, you hate your punishment," Lara said bitingly, "the 'monkey suit' is just an excuse."
"I still hate it," Jason replied, opening the door. "This is so not going to be fun," he moaned.
"It's not meant to be fun," Lara told him, "and it's one hell of a lot better than jail time!"
Jason slammed the car door without a retort. After all, she was right on both counts.
Jason carefully looked both ways before he walked across the busy street. Standing in front of the funeral parlor he sighed, then looked over his shoulder at Lara. She was staring at him through her car window. Turning, he faced his fate.
The cold hit him like a physical blow as he walked in. Not a physical chill, he quickly realized, but something... deeper. Something spiritual. The years of grief, despair, and loss filled the air here, impregnated into the physical fabric of the walls and the furniture, into the bones of the building. This was not a place of joy, not a place to visit the dearly departed. This, pure plain and simple, was a focus of the hole left when someone died. A locus of the anti-energy of death.
Jason wanted to run, screaming.
Instead, he walked up the desk and smiled pleasantly. "Hello, could you direct me-"
The clerk pointed to a board at the end of the lobby. On it were clearly written the times and rooms of the various services being held today.
"Oh, sorry," Jason said affably. "I guess you deal with that all the time."
The man nodded pleasantly.
"Is something wrong?" Jason asked.
The man shook his head, then started typing on a keyboard behind the counter. "Nothing is wrong," a synthesized voice, vaguely male, explained. "I am mute, unable to speak."
"Oh!" Jason exclaimed. "I'm sorry!"
"Don't be," the man 'said' with a smile. "It's not your fault."
"Alright," Jason smiled. "But I have to wonder how you answer the phones with that thing."
"I don't," the man explained. "I'm here at the front desk to keep an eye on things. If someone walks in, I make sure they are properly attired and the like. If something comes up, I'm an extra warm body for the management to throw at the problem. I am a nobody, so my difficulties speaking are rarely an issue."
"You are not nobody!" Jason said hotly.
"I am a cripple, a freak. No one talks to me because I cannot truly talk back. Why should they care, anyway? They never even ask my name. I am nobody." the man replied.
"No, Edward," Jason said softly, "you are a good man. One who seeks to do right by others despite the price to yourself. Your lack of a voice does not make you less of a man."
Edward stepped back away from the counter, shocked.
"How?" he tapped out hesitantly, arms stretched out to reach the keyboard.
"God knows his own, Edward, God always knows his own," Jason smiled.
It was impossible. It didn't make sense. But Jason reached out and touched Edward, gently, on the front of his throat. Edward stood far behind the counter, out of arms reach even if Jason had leaned over the counter. And he wasn't; he stood comfortably on his side of it."The bastard could do this to your body, but he could never hope to touch, to sully, your soul. That was always beyond his reach."
Edward's eyes shone with tears. He leaned forward and tapped out another message. "Who are you?"
"One sent to bring comfort to the bereaved, healing to the injured, and peace to those that need it," Jason smiled. On Edward's throat, a ragged line began to glow beneath the skin, bleeding through layers of makeup applied just to hide the scar. Edward placed his hand over Jason's, looking confused. Then awe filled his eyes as he felt the warmth sink in deep and do something he'd thought impossible.
Jason let his arm drop. "I didn't finish it. I could have, but I didn't. Go to the doctor, have him examine you. It'll look like your body spontaneously began to regenerate, a genuine medical miracle."
"It is a miracle," the man tapped out on his synthesizer.
"Perhaps," Jason agreed as he let his arms drop. "But please, don't mention me. And beyond that..."
Jason blinked as he walked into the room. He'd just been talking to the man at the desk... he'd... he'd...
"Hello," someone said to him.
"Huh? Oh, sorry," Jason apologized, turning to face the woman who'd addressed him. "My mind wandered."
"Did you... know Christopher?" she asked timidly.
"Not well," Jason told her. "I thought I'd drop by and pay my respects, and offer a shoulder to cry on if anyone asked."
"Oh," she said. "Well, at least you aren't... I mean I heard..."
"Shh," Jason told her, reaching out a hand. "There's no need to be nervous. I'm Jason."
"Mary," she told him, taking his hand. "I'm sorry, it's just... well, he was my ex, and the rumors going around, and..."
"It's alright," Jason told her easily enough. He had to force himself to continue with the next part, though. "He's in the hands of God, now, words can't hurt him."
"Yes, but I'm afraid some of those... those people might show up and make a scene!" she complained. "I wouldn't have a clue what to do, and, well, he was my husband, so what if they decide I knew, and... well..." she collapsed into his arms, sobbing. "The worst part is, I did know!" she said eventually, then paused, clearly surprised at her admission. "Oh God, I wasn't going to tell anyone!"
"Shh, what you say here will remain with me," Jason reassured her. "God knows his own, and I don't think you were a willing accomplice."
"I wasn't... I didn't..." Slowly Jason drew the story out of her, keeping an eye on the rest of the room to make sure they were still alone. It had been a typical boy-meets girl type relationship, they hadn't loved each other that deeply but they'd ended up married because there was nothing better on their horizons, and they did care for each other. Mary emphasized that; that they did care for each other. They'd both thought it was love, at the time, or that it'd turn itself into love.
It hadn't. And when she'd walked in on him in bed with their twelve year old son, she'd kicked him out. She'd managed to run him completely out of town without revealing her shame. "Doug didn't want to come today," she told him, "but I felt... well, I was his wife, and... well..."
"I understand," Jason reassured her. And, surprisingly, he did. Then another person walked in, a man. Jason and Mary walked over and introduced themselves.
"I'm Clayton," the man said firmly. "I... used to know Christopher."
Mary's eyes had narrowed at the man's name. "Clayton Harding?" she asked.
"Yes, have we met?"
"Bastard!" she swore, slapping him. "I can't prove it, but I know. I know," she told him, voice harsh.
Clayton grew pale. "You say one word and... and..." his eyes flickered uncertainly. "I know the rumors going around because we were friends for so long, but you repeat them here and now, in public, and by God I'll see you in court for libel!"
"Slander," Jason said affably, moving himself between the two.
"Excuse me?" Clayton said belligerently.
"Slander is applied to the spoken word, libel applies to written statements and the like," Jason said, moving Mary off with a small shove and a smile.
"Oh really?" Clayton sneered as Jason steered him off.
Jason slowly pulled 'the' story out of Clayton, never revealing that he knew all along that the bastard was lying through his teeth.
Time and time again, Jason repeated the process that he had with Mary. Introduce himself, reassure them, draw the story from the person, and then console them. Jason had no clue how he had enough time to do it with each person, time didn't seem to be running slowly yet there was no way it had been under an hour since he'd started. And those damnable black outs were happening again and again. He'd say something, and then... he'd be walking over to another person, with no memory of the intervening moments. Just a few moments each, he was sure, but...
Still, soon enough it was time for the service.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, we are here to pay final honors..." the preacher began. Jason tuned him out and simply watched. He didn't like being put into this position, but by God if he had to be here he was going to spend his time more fruitfully than sitting there, listening to a preacher commend a child-raping bastard's soul to God! As Ronan had pointed out, this service was more for the bereaved than for the dead man, so Jason focused his efforts there. Reaching out with his mind, he touched the throbbing beat of sorrow, pain, anger, and a thousand other shades of emotion and steadied it. He couldn't describe what he was doing, but he felt the effects. He blunted the razor's edge of the emotions that coursed through everyone there, giving them a measure of comfort, of peace, and helping them heal.
The cost was almost more than he could stand, as the raw effects of those emotions whip lashed through him. A thousand times weaker than the reduction, but multiplied by every single other person in the room. It hammered down on his mind, and he stiffened in his seat, refusing to react. The pain was almost physical as he shielded himself from the emotions.
Jason, you idiot, not like that! someone thought at him. You have to accept the emotions, or else the pain will just continue to mount until you can't control it!
Accept them? Like hell he would! He was not going to feel sorrow for that bastard!
Idiot, the same person thought at him. Much to his annoyance, Jason couldn't 'trace' the signal back to the source. But the tone... the tone was somehow familiar. He filed it away for future reference as he struggled to channel and deal with the pain. He put a part of his mind to work hiding any symptoms of the pain, suppressing the physical reactions that might give his situation away. But the majority of his mind focused on the pain, channeling and controlling it.
He felt the energies around him shift and twist, and turned yet another part of his mind towards stilling them. With those energies steadied, the pain stopped mounting, and even backed off a bit, freeing him to turn another corner of his mind to observe the area around him, seeking out anything that might disturb the service.
The beacon of anguish, rage, shame, and guilt that he sensed about to walk through the door surprised him. Pain or no pain, he should have felt that a hundred miles off! Jason quickly dropped the spell he was holding, knowing that he couldn't possibly hope to handle the backlash that was about to happen.
In immaculate dress whites, shoes shined to a mirror polish and brass gleaming, the Naval officer stepped through the door almost violently. The door snapped open, the hydraulic device on top of it barely stopping it before it slammed into the wall. The door slowly swung shut behind the officer as he walked forward, every eye on him.
"This is a funeral, Sir, and a certain degree of decorum is expected, especially of-" the Pastor began, only to be cut short by a single upraised hand. That was all the response the officer made as he crossed the room to stand by the open casket. Looking in, he peered at the face of the dead man.
The last thing Jason expected was the single sharp surge of savage joy that the officer gave off. He was happy the man was dead, seeing him dead both soothed and enraged his inner demons.
"You shouldn't be here," someone told the officer, standing up and walking over. The similarities were subtle, but Jason could clearly see -- or, perhaps it was See -- the family relationship between the two men. When no response came, the man frowned. "Jeremy, you need to leave."
"Hello Derek," the officer said politely. "It's nice to see you too. Yes, I'm doing well. Yes, this is a new uniform -- I got promoted to Lieutenant Commander just two years ago."
"Jeremy, this isn't the time-" Derek began.
"Fuck. That!" Jeremy snapped, finally turning to look at Derek. "I'm going to stay for the ceremony... the entire ceremony... right through the part where everyone shares their memories, and that's final."
"Jeremy!" Derek said, shocked and scandalized. "You wouldn't!"
Jason debated for a few moments whether to get involved, and if so how. Then someone beat him to it. "Lieutenant Commander Young, this isn't the best time, or the best place, but... I need to speak to you," someone else said, getting up.
"You," Jeremy sneered. "The only words I wish to bandy with you are those said over dueling pistols."
"And you are completely within your rights to feel that way, given..." the man looked away. "Given all that happened."
"What, feeling guilty?" Jeremy sneered.
"For longer than you can possibly imagine, sir," the man said sadly, reaching out to touch the officer's shoulder. "Please, can we talk outside?"
Touching the officer was a mistake. Jason watched in awe and horror as the officer simply moved. Gracefully, fluidly, and with the speed of a striking cobra. Jason didn't even have time to draw in a breath to shout warning before Jeremy had struck three quick, deadly blows in succession, quick as thought itself.
Jason was moving before the officer recovered, though, and was quickly kneeling beside the injured man.
"You bastard!" Derek screamed, as Jason quickly set the broken leg bone before anyone could really see it. Moving quickly, he healed the worst of the injuries before the man realized how bad they were and stood up.
"I think that perhaps you and I should wander outside and have a little talk," Jason said softly as he took the officer by the arm.
He was an idiot for not expecting the reaction he got, as the officer tried to twist away and strike out in a single, deadly action. Dress whites aren't designed for fighting in, though, and Jason was able to keep his grip and block the blow, barely. Scarily, he had to draw on the strength and speed being a Guardian gave him. "I said," Jason tightened his grip until the officer grunted in pain, "perhaps we should wander outside and have a little talk."
"Let go of me," the man grunted.
"Like hell I will, you could have hurt that man!"
"Could have? I snapped his femur clean in two!" Jeremy laughed bitterly.
"For the moment, no one has been hurt... not seriously..." Jason said, gesturing to where the man he'd just healed was standing up.
"Impossible!" Jeremy said, shocked. "It was a clean break!"
"Clearly you were mistaken," Jason put his power behind the word to turn it into a suggestion.
"I've trained in martial arts for over a decade, there is no way I screwed that move up," Jeremy argued, slightly less forcefully.
"Come on, lets talk outside," Jason said.
"I have business in here," Jeremy tried to insist, but Jason gave up on subtlety and just squeezed. "Alright, alright! We'll talk!"
"I just knew you'd see it my way!" Jason said with a smile, leading the man from the room.
"How the hell did you do that?" Jeremy asked when Jason finally let him go.
"Do what?" Jason dissembled.
"Don't play coy with me, mister!" Jeremy snapped. "I have a black belt in Karate and I've spent years working with special ops teams. Nobody moves like that, nobody!"
"I'm good, very good," Jason said with a smile, "but you must be exaggerating!"
"No, I'm not. And that's not all," Jeremy said angrily. "I did break that man's leg -- despite what you tried to convince me!"
"Sir, please, I assure you-" Jason began.
"Don't lie to me," Jeremy snapped, glaring.
Jason closed his mouth and glared right back. Jeremy didn't look away. "Your behavior has been execrable from the beginning, and hasn't gotten any better since. You burst into a funeral -- a funeral, for God's sake! -- without any sense of decorum or respect-"
"That fucker didn't deserve any respect!" Jeremy broke in, shouting. "And everyone fucking knows-"
"Respect for the bereaved, if not the deceased!" Jason shouted back. "And I know damned well, Lieutenant Commander, that you have better manners than to interrupt someone while they are talking like that!"
"My apology," Jeremy ground out, "that was unbecoming of me."
"Oh, that was unbecoming of you? What was that little scene, earlier?" Jason knew he was pushing the line, but Jeremy had to be brought back under control and the other alternative would be a fist fight. The results of which would be unpleasant on all persons involved.
"Conduct unbecoming an officer," Jeremy admitted. Jason looked at the nameplate on Jeremy's chest for a moment.
"Commander Young, if I were to call your commanding officer about this little incident, what do you think would happen?" Jason asked.
Jeremy closed his eyes and swallowed. "At best? I'd be reprimanded, severely. More likely, I'd face court martial and end up cashiered. Possibly with time served."
"I'm going to assume you want that as little as I do," Jason said. "So, we're going to stand out here, and talk like reasonable men. And when we're finished, unless you have some really good reasoning against it, you're going to go and apologize to the gathering you disrupted, and then leave. Politely."
"Yes sir!" Jeremy agreed, reluctantly.
"Now, explain to me what was going on in there-"
"Excuse me," someone broke in as they stepped out of the funeral parlor.
"You!" Jeremy growled, taking an involuntary step forward before Jason restrained him, gripping his shoulder to pulling him back.
"Please," the man whose leg had been broken earlier begged, "all I ask is a minute. To beg forgiveness."
"Beg forgiveness?" Jeremy sneered, trying to shrug Jason off.
"Jeremy Derek Young, I beg you for your forgiveness," the man fell to his knees. "I was young, and... and..." he looked away, unable to finish. Finally he sighed and tried a different ending, "And they used me. The got me drunk, made me... made me..." again the man stumbled over the words. "Made me. And then held the videos over my head if I didn't play along. And... God help me, I let them drag me deeper and deeper and deeper and..." Tears falling from his face, the man looked away. "I deserve everything you want to do to me and more."
"Fucking bastard!" Jeremy screamed. "You deserve? You deserve? What the hell about what I deserved?!"
"I couldn't... I can't... my family doesn't deserve the public scandal. I should... when you went to the cops, I should have come clean, but..."
Jason felt the tension fall out of Jeremy's shoulders as he started to shake. "Should have come clean? You bastard!" Jeremy sobbed, falling to his knees. "One word from you, one fucking word, was all it would have taken to end the living hell my life became. My brother still won't talk to me, my father died alone rather than let me into the hospital room, all because of the three of you 'Uncle Frederick'! The only one who believes me is my wife, and I haven't told her the half of the story! The things you did to me, to a child in your care, and you dare say 'I'm sorry'?"
"I can't... I am sorry..." Frederick stammered, then looked away. "I would offer my life as penance, but I have a family, children to take care of."
"Children? You?" Jeremy said disdainfully.
"I have never touched them," Frederick swore.
"Do you expect me to believe that?" Jeremy scoffed.
"Look me in my eyes," Jason ordered.
"What?" Jeremy asked, but Jason just stared at Frederick. The air seemed to thicken around him, to grow dark and cold as he grew brighter, warmer.
"Not you, Young, Frederick. Look me in the eyes, Frederick."
Frederick, unwillingly, raised his gaze.
"Say it. Swear it," Jason ordered, voice unnaturally strong and clear.
"Never. I have never touched them... in the way I did Jeremy," Frederick swore.
"More," Jason demanded. "Past, present, now future. Swear it in my sight and in my presence and upon your immortal soul."
"I swear, I have never touched and will never touch them as I did Jeremy, and furthermore I will seek a means to redress the wrongs I have committed." Frederick shivered as the entire world around them seemed to ring like a bell.
"What the hell?" Jeremy asked.
"His oath is bound and binding," Jason said absently, allowing Frederick to drop his gaze. "His word is true, and to break it is death."
Jeremy almost laughed. "You expect me to believe that? After the Hell I've been through-"
"Believe it," Jason ordered, turning his gaze upon Jeremy. Jeremy blanched and stumbled backwards, reaching for the sidearm he wasn't wearing.
"Good God!" Jeremy swore.
"God is just, but he is also merciful," Jason preached. "Wilt thou not follow His example? Have not you sinned too?"
"Never! I would never-" Jeremy began.
"Please, my family, I have a little boy, just six years old!" Jason said, tone and cadence not his own. And the cough he added sounded more like a gunshot than anything that should come from a human throat.
Jeremy looked away. "Daddy? Daaaddy!" Jason added, digging the barb in deeper.
"Enough," Jeremy begged, looking away, "how do you... how can you know?"
"I don't know; He does," Jason said simply. "And His power is infinite, and for His own reasons He has placed a fragment of it in my hands."
"What do you want from me?" Jeremy asked, cowering.
"Truth, healing, and let justice belong to Him," Jason asked.
Jeremy looked up, and Jason smiled, holding his hand out. "Come," he said simply. For an instant, Jeremy hesitated, then let Jason help him to his feet.
Jason didn't watch very closely as Jeremy apologized to the gathering for his earlier disruption. Jeremy wasn't going to cause trouble, and he had other things on his mind. His eyes flickered over the various corners and niches in the room, seeking out the person he knew had to be there. Simply because he couldn't be seen didn't mean much; Ronan had already displayed his ability to sneak in and out of places without Jason noticing him.
Still, now that Jason was actively searching for him, stretching his mind and will as well as his eyes Ronan couldn't hide for very long. Jason had carefully positioned himself so he could see all of the doors if they opened, and-
"Looking for me?" Ronan whispered.
Jason closed his eyes and stifled a laugh. Turning his head, and answered Ronan over his shoulder, "How did I know you were here?"
"I don't know, because I talked to you earlier?" Ronan asked.
"Anything important happen while I was out?" Jason asked.
"Lara dropped by, didn't see anything amiss," Ronan said casually. "I'm sure if she'd spent a moment longer looking she would have realized you weren't here, but it was just a quick glance and your energy signature is... quite distinctive. She didn't have to see you to 'know' you were in the room."
"I see," Jason said. "Thank you."
"Don't thank me," Ronan said softly. "I didn't have to augment it; it was unusually strong. If she'd been paying closer attention rather than talking to me, she would have noticed it was even stronger in that alley outside."
"It was a quiet place to talk... and he was being most disruptive," Jason pointed out.
"Are you telling me you couldn't have quieted him another way?" Ronan snickered.
"Truthfully, I'm not sure," Jason admitted. "His mind was... unusually strong, in several ways."
"Strong? Strong how?" Ronan asked, concerned.
"He... resisted any attempt at mental coercion. I could bind him if I chose to, but I'd have to put a lot of effort and it would be very obvious what's going on," Jason said. "Several times he snapped basic mental illusions like they weren't even there, and he was observant enough to note details most would miss."
"Unusual..." Ronan said thoughtfully. "I may have to talk to him after this is all done."
"Might be a good idea to ask Lara, instead. He's... not whole," Jason said, struggling.
"Not whole?" Ronan asked.
"That is his story to tell, if he chooses, but he's been through a lot. Worse than I have," Jason said softly. "Lara could do a lot for him, if he let her. I'm not sure if he would, if he could."
"That badly off?" Ronan asked.
"Worse," Jason said sadly. "He's learned to hide it, to... paper over it, but there is a flaw in his psyche. Thanks to recent events, it's holding together by the slimmest of threads."
"Recent events?" Ronan shook his head. "Never-mind, I think I can figure it out. Son of a bitch!"
"There's another one we should keep an eye on," Jason agreed, pointing to a man in the crowd. "Clayton Harding, and I think he was involved."
"Ah, there he is. Have you met Frederick?" Ronan asked.
"How much did you know before you showed up?" Jason asked.
"Not as much as I'd like. I had some... friends in the police department make a few inquiries about the deceased. They were able to turn up a triple charge against three men, but the records had been deliberately damaged, we didn't know what the charge was for."
"Frederick wasn't... a willing participant. Not to start," Jason qualified. "He was dragged in over his head, and couldn't back out."
"Doesn't excuse it," Ronan said flatly.
"No, it doesn't, but he's seeking forgiveness and is no threat to anyone. He's outside our purview," Jason told Ronan, who simply growled. "Clayton, on the other hand..."
"One is better than none," Ronan agreed. "Are you sure Frederick isn't a threat?"
"Oh, you could say that," Jason said with a small smile. "I take it you really weren't paying much attention outside?"
"I had enough to do keeping things in here under control. A lot of people are upset over how he died... and what the bastard did," Ronan conceded.
"Well, Frederick swore an oath. He didn't know exactly how binding that oath would be, but he made the mistake of swearing it in front of me. Even if he wanted to turn his back on it, he can't," Jason informed Ronan.
"A binding oath? I guess he really is out of the purview of the Guardians," Ronan allowed.
"Ronan," Jason said warningly as Jeremy wrapped up his apology, "no games."
"Later tonight, yes games," Ronan giggled.
Jason's mind blanked for a second on the idea of Ronan giggling, and the distraction proved fatal.
"Do you really expect us to believe that you're just going to apologize and walk away?" Clayton shouted from the middle of the crowd.
"No, I don't expect you to believe it," Jeremy replied calmly, "I'm still going to find the evidence I need to get you tossed in jail. But my behavior here-"
"Like hell you will!" Clayton snapped, drawing a gun.
"Fuck!" Jason swore, reacting a second too late to the threat. Caught completely off guard, not even Ronan could react before the gun went off.
"No!" someone screamed, already throwing themselves into the line of fire, cleared by everyone else ducking for cover. Later, Jason would analyze the scene again and again, unable to figure out how the hell someone could react that quickly, quicker than either he or Ronan could have managed. And he always came to the same, unpalatable conclusion that it was his own damned fault.
After all, he was the one who had invoked God's power to bind the oath into the man, heart and soul.
Even as Jeremy hit the deck, hiding behind the podium, Frederick stumbled backwards, eyes wide. Jason ran forward to help him even as Clayton departed post haste, but Jason was just too slow. Frederick twisted to face Jeremy, even as he fell. What words he tried to whisper, Jason couldn't make out, knew in his heart were meant for and heard by only one man.
"Fred... Uncle Fred!" Jeremy cried out in shock, reverting for that one moment to the innocent child he once was.
Jason didn't catch Frederick before he fell, and by the time he knelt over the man knew that despite his hopes it was too late. "Bastard!" Jeremy swore, kneeling on the other side of Frederick. "He... he... I don't even know why I'm crying, I've spent years... hating..." Jeremy looked away.
"Bastard is right," Jason growled, glancing over his shoulder. Ronan had vanished, and Jason smiled grimly at that. The repeated sound of gun shots outside told Jason exactly where Ronan happened to be. "My... friend is dealing with him, though," Jason assured Jeremy. "No need to worry about that."
"What the hell?" Jeremy asked as a new, different sound erupted. It held the fury and noise of a gunshot, but was quite audibly different. A few moments later Ronan walked back into the room, a small smile on his face. Jason cocked his head in query.
"I guess nobody ever explained to him that if you try to fire a jammed gun, it just might explode," Ronan said grimly. "How is he?" he asked.
"Dead," Jason told him.
"Too bad," Ronan snorted.
"He was a human being, penitent for his actions and seeking redemption," Jason retorted angrily.
"Many people seek redemption; he's one of the lucky few who found it," Ronan said sourly.
"Excuse me?" Jason snarled, rising to his feet.
"You heard me," Ronan said, turning to leave.
"We're not done here!" Jason shouted, running across the room.
"Yes, we are. We're leaving, now!" Ronan told him.
"Like hell we're done!" Jason screamed, jamming Ronan against the wall and pressing his arm into his lover's chest to restrain him.
"Jason, this is neither the time nor the place-" Ronan began.
"What is it with you?" Jason asked. "I could understand if this was a reaction to his having been... to his crime, but that isn't it, and don't try to lie to me about it!"
"I don't know-" Ronan began.
Jason stepped back for room and backhanded Ronan, hard. "I said don't lie to me!"
"If anyone else had tried that," Ronan growled.
"You made me what I am," Jason reminded him.
"Yes, I did. Perhaps a little too well!" Ronan snapped back, rising back to his feet.
"You are out of control Ronan, and I'm starting to wonder if that hasn't been the case all along and nobody noticed it," Jason said angrily.
Ronan looked away, frowning. "Damnit, am I really out of line here?" he asked angrily.
"Yes!" The word erupted from Jason's throat with the frustrated overtones of 'well duh!' behind it
"Very well then. We'll discuss this further at home... for now, we need to be leaving," Ronan told him.
"Like hell!" Jeremy said, rising to his feet. "You two are sticking around for the cops," he ordered, digging in his pocket for his cell phone.
"I don't have time for this!" Ronan snarled, then looked Jeremy in the eye. "We weren't here, you don't need to report us to the police," he ordered.
"Oh really?" Jeremy snapped. "Jason should have told you that shit doesn't work on me!"
Ronan looked at Jason, surprised. "You were right, it is difficult to compel him."
"And making it last after we're gone would be practically impossible," Jason agreed. "So, why don't we try sweet reason, instead?"
"Sweet reason?" Jeremy asked nervously.
"What good would it do to make us stick around for the police?" Jason asked. "What would any of us tell them? That I have magic and if only I'd reacted quicker this whole mess could have been avoided?"
"No, we'll tell them the truth... that they can't debrief any of us, only my superiors at the Pentagon have the clearances necessary," Jeremy countered. "The Admiral will back me up, I assure you."
"Maybe he will, maybe he won't... we don't want to come to government attention, local or federal," Jason told him.
"You need to tell somebody!" Jeremy shouted. "Hell, what if someone else with your powers joins up with the fucking terrorists?"
"If someone from our order were to turn rogue, we would deal with him. As we are with... certain forces that already threaten us. Involving mundane governments would simply cause trouble," Ronan said with absolute certainty.
"Oh really? How sure are you about that?" Jeremy snapped.
"Jason, go get the car," Ronan ordered.
"Ronan-" Jason began.
"We need to get out of here quickly, and this won't take long," Ronan told him.
"Fine, fine!" Jason threw his hands up in frustration.
Ronan dug in his pocket and tossed his car keys to Jason. "It's in the parking lot across the street, bring it to the back door."
Grumbling, Jason did as he told. He might have tried to listen at the door, but Ronan raised privacy barriers around the room to hide the conversation. Crossing the street to the parking garage, he found the car quickly enough and without incident. Pulling up to the curb, he waited for Ronan to get in before driving off. "So, did he agree?"
"Not without some... reservations," Ronan said softly, "but he agreed."
"Reservations?" Jason asked.
"I have some... additional calls to make..." Ronan said hesitantly.
"I'm going to guess... to the 'Council' you were talking about the other day?" Jason asked.
"Yes, and no... there is more there than I discussed, and it is not my place to reveal it," Ronan sighed. "I've skirted around the edges of violating my oath because circumstances... and you... required it."
"I see. What did you have to tell Jeremy?" Jason asked.
Ronan sighed. "I didn't 'tell' him anything. I showed him something instead."
"Showed him what?" Jason asked, curious.
"War," Ronan said softly. "War between those who wield magic. He got the point, quickly."
"I don't understand," Jason said.
"War is hell. War between those with magic is worse," Ronan said softly. "Magic was bound because without the guidance..." Ronan cut himself off and looked at Jason. "Well, it reached the point where mankind's survival was directly threatened."
"Without the guidance of what?" Jason asked.
"That is a detail I don't fully understand," Ronan admitted. "He was never really comfortable with talking about it to me, but I suspect he'll talk to you more."
Jason snorted. "Well, I can hope!"
"Lets just... head home. Lara won't be around for a while, and I don't know about you, but I could use some... relaxation," Ronan said with a smile.
"Relaxation?" Jason asked.
"Well, once we're done, I'll be very relaxed," Ronan said with a grin. "And so will you!"
Later that evening, Jason lay in bed, staring at the ceiling. Lara had had more than a few words over what had happened, but agreed, in the end, that Jason's actions had fulfilled his 'orders' and were sufficient to cover his obligation. The events that had occurred were completely unexpected, and she hadn't caught the gun going in any more than he had.
Which was the problem, of course. She was watching the people who went in, and never saw the gun. She'd been looking specifically for that kind of thing, to help 'weed out' distractions that might interfere with his penance. The gun being there was impossible, unless someone had planned it. Whoever was attacking them had fiendishly good intelligence on even the most 'private' of decisions, suggesting they had an agent pretty high up in the ranks of the Guardians. Which was absurd; Guardians were trustworthy, to a man. Between the ability to 'scan' the minds of new recruits and the personality traits Ronan insisted on, there was no way to slip a traitor in or turn someone already in. Which implied they could lay a compulsion spell deep enough to completely control a person, yet subtle enough to be missed during the very intensive investigation Ronan had launched after discovering Jin had been so completely controlled. The spell that controlled Jin was the very opposite of subtle, so it had been quick and easy to rule it out. The long, in-depth probes that the Guardian's were now throwing at each other should rule out any other compulsions or controls, but Jason couldn't help but feel that they were missing something. Something that powerful couldn't be that subtle, which implied it wasn't a compulsion at all. Something... different. And it was at that point that Jason's logic chain broke down.
Jason rolled over and pulled the blanket in tight over himself and Ronan, enjoying the feel of warm skin and cozy blankets. Stretching his arm out over his lover, he smiled and cuddled up to sleep. Ronan didn't respond except to twitch a little. Jason was almost starting to drift off when the twitching began to get worse. "Ronan?" he asked as the twitching turned more and more violent. Realizing that Ronan was thrashing around as a result of a nightmare, Jason tried to shake him awake. "Ronan, wake up!"
"No! Ronan! Please no!" Ronan bolted upright, shouting in horror and agony. Panting, he looked around the room, eyes wide in the reaction to his nightmare. "Oh God, again... not again..." he sobbed, before falling to the bed and curling up into a tight ball. "Oh God... no..."