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This is, believe it or not, a Highlander/Pretender crossover. With any luck, you won't need to know that, however, since any Pretender information will be explained in the story. The only immortals are either ones I made up or ones we already know. The other part of this story is, of course, is one of my usual, somewhat boring, Methos and Joe, in a bar, continue their habit of making conversation. When Methos says he was "Here and there, mostly there", this is the story of where here and there are. As usual, Highlander is the property of Rysher. Pretender is the property of NBC. Thanks to my ever patient beta readers, Toni and Beverly. Any errors in here are my fault, not theirs.



Discretions
By Stephanie Barrett




The end of the Highlander episode Indiscretions, Paris, France.

Methos comes to the table with liquor and glasses.
M (pouring drinks for himself and Joe): She'll come back.
J: And how do you know?
M: Because I'm very old and wise.
J laughs.
M (toasting Joe): Someday.
They drink.

Joe's smile indicated he'd gotten the point. Methos had seen enough of the world. If he said she'd likely come back, she would. Methos was a friend, a good friend. Joe was glad that he hadn't decided to leave right away. He did wonder why, though. Methos had left for a long time, abandoning MacLeod. Why would he stay to cheer up an old mortal?

"Dawson, you look way too serious. We're all alive. There's every reason to believe you'll live long enough to straighten things out with Amy. Mortals do it all the time."

That's not the problem."

"What is?"

"You"

"What did I do?"

"You took off. Just as soon as I got even a little bit of my act together, you took off."

"Maybe I didn't want to see every good friend I had suffer." He said. "Besides, it's not like you couldn't handle it alone."

"Why did I have to be alone? What was so god-awful important that you couldn't hang around and give me and MacLeod a hand? Where were you?"

"I told you. Here, there, lots of places, some of them nicer than others."

"Immortal business, which I suppose makes it none of my business."

"Something like that. Joe, do you always tell all your friends every place you've been, everything you've done?"

"Not the same thing. I don't run out on my friends."

"Your average friend doesn't carry a long, sharp pointy thing that can cause great pain."

"So you were scared for your head?"

"Weren't you?"

"It wouldn't matter if he took my head."

"Yes, it would, actually. It'd hurt like hell, and then you'd be dead. Just like Richie Ryan."

"You really believed he'd kill you? " Joe was amazed. Methos faced death all the time. The fact that MacLeod might have taken his head shouldn't have been enough of a reason for him to bug out.

"He killed Richie Ryan. Once you start killing your student, or your teacher for that matter, you run the risk of killing randomly. No excuse would have been enough to keep him from killing me, if it struck him that I was a threat."

"The demon tricked him. MacLeod wouldn't kill his friends in his right mind."

"Sorry to disillusion you, Joe. I think at certain points MacLeod would have killed anyone who got in his way. Either that or I'd have been tempted to kill him and put him out of his misery."

"So you were keeping an eye on him."

"I'm a Watcher. We watch," he said with an obnoxious smirk.

Joe looked at him, sighing. "Could you get us another bottle?"

Methos did. He moved deliberately, to give himself time to think through the thoughts racing through his mind. Joe was a Watcher, but he'd been basically a loner. Now there was Amy. How was this going to effect his security? Sure, he trusted Joe, trusted Joe's judgement. He wasn't real sure he trusted Amy. The kid was too young, too green, and way too uptight. Not a good combination. Joe didn't trust him. That would convey itself to Amy. She'd start looking into Adam Pierson. And no one knew better than Methos exactly how little scrutiny Adam Pierson could stand. This round of questions meant a lot to his future security. And killing a mortal one was known to associate with was not the best way to avoid a murder charge.

"You would, too, wouldn't you?" Joe said.

"Would what?" he replied. The sudden nostalgia for the old days must have been on his face. Either that, or he was really letting Joe get to know him way too well.

"Kill Mac if you thought he was a threat to you," Joe answered.

"Maybe. It would depend on the nature of the threat. I didn't kill Morgan Walker because I didn't think he was a big enough threat. Mac, though, Mac could be another Horseman, if he wanted to."

"He doesn't want to."

"Not now. But having anyone whisper power and temptation to you, that's a hard thing to resist. You can tell, even now, what it's taken out of MacLeod. I wasn't going to get too close while he was wrestling with temptation. I've challenged the devil more times than I care to relate. I wasn't going to do it again."

Joe frowned. "I was tempted, and I resisted. It can be done."

"Yes, but you don't have a secret yen to rule the world."

Joe almost laughed, then he saw how serious Methos was. "For real?"

"Some days. Not when I'm feeling particularly lazy, or antisocial, or shy. But I have done it, you know. Ridden out with armies behind me, when I was the toughest strongest, meanest bastard on the planet. Power like that is addictive. The only way to keep out of its' grip is to avoid it," Methos said, following the precept that every so often, one had to tell the truth. It threw people off guard.

"I guess so. But couldn't you have at least picked up the phone?" Joe quibbled.

"Sometimes, no. Sometimes yes, too, of course. " Methos debated. Should he tell Joe, or not? Not every Watcher read every Chronicle. In fact, being MacLeod's Watcher, Joe was probably busy just writing current events up. If Methos didn't bring it to Joe's attention, there was a fairly decent chance that Joe wouldn't find out. Joe, after all, didn't know what continent to start on, what immortal to look up. For that matter, Joe had never met Elisa, and therefore did not know about Rebecca Kincaid. Sweet be beautiful Elisa, who had been Rebecca's Watcher for the six years that mortals believed Rebecca had been immortal. Becoming Elisa's lover hadn't been part of the original plan, but it was up there with truly great improvisations. Methos had been Rebecca's teacher. He liked to keep an eye on her, the way he kept an eye on all the promising young immortals. Rebecca did not like even the slightest suggestion that he would interfere in her life. Having an affair with her Watcher was what Rebecca would have described as downright nosy. But what Joe didn't know for sure, he couldn't let slip.

Joe watched the expression on his friend's face go all fuzzy, like Mac's did when he was thinking of the past. It made him speak just a bit sharper, in an attempt to keep Methos in the same century as he was.

"You didn't think, did you? It didn't occur to you I might be scared that you weren't OK, that somehow Ahriman had killed you. You don't have a Watcher, because I can't risk anyone knowing that Adam is Methos and but I can't think of you as Adam any more. Whenever you drop out of sight I worry, because someday someone's gonna kill you."

"Yeah, and someday you're going to kick the bucket, too. You can't let it keep you up at night."

"I'm not being hunted."

"Today. I do remember when you were, though. We really old guys haven't all lost our memories."

Joe frowned. Like anyone else who had survived something he hadn't expected to, he'd long since put all the gory details of his adventures with the Hunters firmly in the back of his mind. It was only just occurring to him that maybe Methos did this, too.

"OK. Maybe I'm just being crabby." Joe paused and had more to drink. "No. Not just crabby. I'm curious. Where does a 5,000 year old man go when he wants to get away from things?"

"Visiting the people Kronos was training, actually."

"You're kidding?"

The sideways look of "who me?" was pure Methos at his most bland and dangerous.

"Not hardly. If I wanted to pull your chain, I'd tell you the one about Hawaii and the dancing girls."

"That'd be more entertaining."

"Maybe, maybe not."

"Would you just come out and tell the truth for once?"

"Why would I tell the truth?"

"Because we're friends."

"Well, if you put it like that" Methos took another glass of wine. Joe could be useful, very useful. This was one case where telling him the truth might just give Methos the edge he needed to survive. He'd change the names a bit. Maybe even leave out bits of the story here or there. But if Joe knew this secret, maybe he'd be in a good enough mood to convince Amy that Adam Pierson was just another mild manner Watcher, better ignored than Watched. And the attitude that Adam was a nice guy boded very well for a long lifeline on the part of Methos the Immortal.

Methos settled into storytelling mode.

"Well, there was this immortal friend of mine of mine who had a little problem with a kidnapper. That led to the people Kronos had been training, before he found out that he still had three Horsemen wandering around unaccounted for. Believe me, Kronos is a good trainer. It was a bit touch and go for awhile, but I made it back in one piece, as you can see. So, amazingly enough, did all the other major characters."

Joe was frowning, fairly sure Methos was pulling his chain and trying to find words to convey that without causing the immortal to walk out on him, when Methos' cell phone rang. Not thinking that his friend even owned one, Joe found himself in the slightly silly position of having opened his own phone by habit. Fortunately, the immortal was way too intent on the conversation to be paying him any attention.

That changed when he got off the phone. The look Methos gave him had 5,000 years worth of pleading and power behind it.

"What?"

"Joe, I need a favor. A big favor. I'll owe you plenty if you go along with this."

"Does that mean you'll tell me what's going on?"

"If you help, yes. The unabridged version, I promise."

"Ok. You name it."

The immortal was mildly amazed that his friend wasn't asking how dangerous it was. But then, Joe wasn't a coward.

"I need you to hide a couple of friends of mine. Three of them, actually."

"Sure. Where do you think?

"How about the bookstore? You could be taking inventory. Tell the Watchers we're sorting Don's notes. We haven't actually done that."

"They were never recovered."

"By the Watchers. I've got them."

"Oh." Dawson shut his mouth. Every so often, Methos the ever vigilant and devious immortal popped out from behind Adam's mild mannered facade and startled the crap out of him.

Since further words were superfluous, both men got up and headed, in their own separate ways, for Shakespeare and Co. Joe was already established in the little apartment Methos had fixed up in the basement by the time the immortal arrived with his guests. He had been expecting many things, but not what looked like a happy family. A tall, man with very short dark hair, following by a woman with a wealth of black curls was accompanied by a small, dark pixie of a little girl of nine.

"Joe Dawson, meet Jarod, Rebecca, and Kaitlyn."

Jarod offered his hand. "Pleased to meet you, Mr. Dawson."

"Kait, why don't you sit down and read for awhile, OK?"

"OK" The little girl sat in the overstuffed chair in the corner and opened her book. It was a big, thick book, and it didn't look like proper bedtime reading to him. But both her parents, if that's who they were, seemed to think it was just fine. And their barely kept in check dangerousness kept Joe from voicing his questions.

"Jarod, I'm going to go and find out what's going on. Remember the deal I told you about?"

"Yes. I'm not convinced playing Scheherazade is the best thing we could be doing today, but we did agree to do it."

Rebecca nodded as well, and the adults moved to the dining room table. Jarod turned the radio on to a jazz station. The music wouldn't drown out their conversation totally, but it would make listening in harder. Methos had, with his usual ghostlike ability, slipped quietly out of the room.

"Um, why don't we start with introductions? I'm Joe Dawson, a Watcher and a good friend of Adam's." Joe figured he'd play it safe and call his friend by his current alias.

Jarod smiled. "We know. He talks about you a lot. That's one of the reasons I agreed to this. The other is that it seems to be an important addition to the Kronos Chronicles. The kind of evil that he started should be recorded, so that it can be stopped."

Rebecca sighed. "Yes. It's just hard to talk about it. The whole experience was singularly unpleasant."

"Most of it, anyway," Jarod added, with a special smile for his lady.

"Since it began with me, I'll start. Would you get us some tea while we talk?"

"OK, Joe said. "Can I record this?"

"That is the point," Jarod said. Joe got out tapes, and tape recorder. He put mugs in the microwave, and made tea. He also got the little girl a mug of hot chocolate and some cookies.

Through all that Jarod and Rebecca waited patiently. Then she began.

Flashback to a small apartment. An even smaller bedroom, with stuffed animals and dolls, betrayed by it's open window.

"Kait, Kaitlyn, you have to get up now, it's almost time for the bus." Rebecca had no reason to suspect anything was wrong. Her foster daughter had gone to bed promptly, and the window had been locked. Rebecca would have sensed any immortals. And, although she was a lawyer, she was involved in nothing that would have prompted mortals to steal her daughter. But the open window was a tribute to the fact that her daughter had been stolen. The teddy bear eye on the floor, the handprint on the window, were all subtle signs that Kaitlyn had not gone willingly.

Rebecca's first reaction was to search for clues. Her second, which put her well into the "late for work" catagory, had been to call in saying that Kait and herself both were down with the flu and would be out of the picture for awhile. The search for any tiny clue kept her home, violently practicing with her sword, becoming more and more frantic. All the while, of course, she was expecting a challenge from another immortal. No such challenge had come. Rebecca began to realize she needed help, needed at least a friend to keep her from freaking out. She called Duncan MacLeod's Paris barge.

MacLeod didn't answer. {A nod from Dawson.}

The person who did answer was someone Rebecca had known a long time ago. His name now was Adam Pierson. And as much as he hadn't necessarily been on Rebecca's list of favorite people when they had parted, he was someone she knew and would trust to help her find her foster daughter.

Adam had come immediately. {So he is loyal to his friends, Joe thought. He obviously thought I could handle Mac and this problem with Kait wouldn't wait until Mac got back on his feet. Just as obvious was the fact that the eldest immortal didn't like to admit he'd done anything nice for anyone.}

Rebecca impatiently paced the airport. "What took you so long?"

"You're not that naive. You know very well what I had to quietly retrieve."

Rebecca snorted. "This way." She was, of course, glad to see him. But there was no way she was going to give him a break. If anyone could come up with a fast way to get a sword through customs, it was Adam.

They got in the car, and headed for her place.

"So, um, exactly what else has happened?"

"Not a blessed thing. No one has called, or come by. I can't locate any immortals in the area. I don't dare call the police, because if they start looking too closely they'll notice I have gaps in my past. Any ideas would be welcome, ancient one." she said with just the tiniest bit of an edge to her voice.

"The first thing I'll do tonight is to break into the Watcher databank. I can do it from Leo's bar."

"Leo, I take it, is a Watcher you trust?" she asked.

"Second cousin to Joe Dawson." {"Oh for...," muttered Joe. He'd seen the report Leo had sent him. He just hadn't recognized Aloysius Collins as Methos the immortal. Or, for that matter, Adam Pierson. How he'd done that, Joe would have given a great deal to know. It was going to take a lot of finesse to get Leo to tell him who Al was pretending to be without giving Adam away.)

"Is there anything I can do?" Rebecca asked.

"Not tonight. But tommorrow you should go to Kait's school. You need to find out if anything unusual happened." Adam replied.

"At school?" Rebecca really wanted to go and strike out at someone

"Don't tell me she goes to a regular public school?" Adam questioned.

Rebecca glowered, fairly sure Adam already knew the answer. It was much more Adam's style to have already collected all the data he could and then to talk her into going along with his plans.

"No. It's a private school for gifted children."

"It's always possible someone wanted her because she's Kait, not because of you. We need to face that possibility."

"Well, it isn't a local psycho, that I'm sure of."

"You are?" Adam was surprised. Rebecca hadn't sounded very sure of anything on the phone.

"Yes. Our neighbor, Carlton Tyler, saw a group of men wearing suits outside our house at 4:30 in the morning the night Kait disappeared. Your average run of the mill psycho doesn't work like that."

Adam breathed a sigh of relief. The idea of people actually experimenting on a little girl frightened him as a concept, and he devoutly hoped it wasn't true. But if it had been the work of a random lunatic all he could have done was to have provided Rebecca emotional support. And her attitude showed he still wasn't her favorite person, not even after close to a century. So he wasn't real sure how much support he could have been.

Leo's bar, the next night, about 7 pm


The long lean man who entered the bar had passed himself off previously as Adam Pierson's cousin. Leo had never met Adam, but he liked his cousin, the reticent field-worker who came in every so often to share his scotch.

"Hey, Leo. The usual, please."

"One scotch on the rocks, coming up."

"Don't suppose you have anything special for me tonight?" he said quietly. He'd come in very late the night before, and had asked Leo to discretely put the word about that anyone involved with child snatching, especially the snatching of child prodigies, would find themselves considerably well off if they reported it to him.

Leo shook his head. "Not yet, anyway."

"Hm." He nodded. "I'll hang around for awhile, just in case."

"Sure. It'd be a shame to waste good scotch."

Adam surveyed the bar. There were one or two Watchers in the corner, who would be making reports to Leo soon. Sure enough, Leo left the bar to talk to them. Adam kept a close eye on them, but none of them knew Adam well enough to endanger his cover.

So it was that he didn't notice the new bartender come in, and started when he heard him quietly say "I understand you want some information."

"And you have some?" he replied in the same low tone.

"I might. If you are talking about a little girl about ten years old, yes, I do know where to find her."

"Where?"

"A place called the Centre. I can get her out, if you'll just be patient."

There were occasions when Methos would have been delighted for someone else to do all the work and him take all the credit. This was not one of them. A bungled job would very likely result in Rebecca's taking his head for practice.

"Her mother wants in. As do I. We are not inexperienced and could be helpful."

Jarod had always worked alone. But the controlled menace this guy was exhibiting made him consider.

"Military?"

"Does it matter? Some of those skills would be available," Adam replied.

He couldn't think why he hadn't just said yes, but this guy was getting to him a bit.

Let's meet tommorrow and discuss it."

"No. Let's make it later tonight. I'll call Rebecca. You stay here."


Leo's bar, same night, about 4 am


Jarod locked up the bar and handed Leo the keys. He slipped quietly down the street, unaware that he was being shadowed by two immortals. Given his experience and the fact that he was sure Jarod would lead him to Kait, it was not surprising that the elder immortal wasn't spotted as he followed Jarod to the warehouse rooms he was renting.

Rebecca was more annoyed than anything. Adam refused to allow her to question this man with a blunt instrument. He claimed that the man positively shown with innocence. At the same time, he expected her to believe that following him could lead to Kaitie's kidnappers. She had threatened to mess everything up if her foster father didn't let her get closer than Adam actually felt was safe. So she broke into the warehouse moments before Jarod arrived, and hid under the bed.

She had been expecting a phone call, as had Adam. That was why he was outside, tapping the phone. But instead Jarod opened what appeared to be a laptop computer, and inserted a laser disk. From her extremely uncomfortable vantage point, Rebecca saw the younger Jarod, saw him relate to an older man called Sydney as a scared kid. Blindfolded, the four year old Jarod met the man who would be all the father he'd ever known. She saw the rejected father's day card, the strike when Jarod had refused to work on any simulation. And she saw the simulation that scared her to death, the fire simulation. Clearly, these people seemed to think it was OK to torture a child.

Jarod then started to play with colored water. Rebecca wasn't sure what it was, but as the former daughter of a doctor she was sure there was a good deal of pure alcohol.

Jarod then used the phone. Rebecca listened to the one sided conversation with growing concern.

"Sydney. I'm coming. I thought we'd stopped it the last time."

"I can't let it happen again. You know I can't. Even if I have to destroy the entire building, you, Parker, everyone and everything. I can't let an innocent girl suffer."

"You won't really help, though, will you?"

Rebecca had had enough. The blankness in Jarod's voice warned her that he was giving away way too much to whoever was on the phone. That could make things very dangerous.

She stood, startling Jarod, and shot the phone out of his hand. Whoever was on the other end of the phone was going to believe Jarod dead or at least of little threat.

"All right, Mister," she said, as she kept her gun on him, "Suppose you discuss your plans with me, rather than the enemy."

"You're Kait's mother," he said.

"And I want my daughter back, badly. I have every intention of knowing every thing you do, every step of the way," she replied.

"It's dangerous. You should stay out of it. I'll bring her back to you, I promise." Jarod said.

"Oh, sure. And I'd believe you because...." Rebecca challenged.

"Because I've been there. I got myself out and I can get Kait out." Jarod answered.

"Or die trying. I don't think the latter is a good option for either of you." Rebecca wanted to find out if Jarod knew anything about Immortals.

"I don't want to die. But the Centre needs to learn that they can't keep kidnapping children," Jarod answered.

"Always a good thing for bad people to know," Adam said, as he softly entered the room. "Do you have a plan?"

"He has pictures. Copies of the security system on the computer. Probably even passwords to the mainframe," Rebecca replied.

"Oh, good. I do so love dramatic rescues when nobody gets hurt," retorted Adam.

"Yes. But he is right about one thing. We can't wait long. I don't know how well Kait is holding up. She's got to be scared to death, though. From what I just saw they really won't stop at any kind of mental intimidation." Rebecca was fairly sure Jarod knew nothing of Immortals. That meant he couldn't betray them, since he didn't know anything to betray.

"Sydney says she's being very quiet. Withdrawn. He's been told to drug her, to turn her into a proper Pretender. He's stalling. But he can't do that forever." Jarod said.

"Pretender?" asked Adam.

"A Pretender is someone who can get into other's head and create a scenario that will achieve a goal. Some people do this naturally," Jarod explained.

"Jarod's one of them. The Centre kidnapped him when he was a little boy, a lot younger than Kaitie. He got away. Apparently they've decided to use Kait to make up the lack. Why they waited until now, I don't know, " Rebecca stated.

"This is just their latest attempt. They've been trying to get me back for a long time. And they've tried to make other Pretenders." Jarod said.

"You wouldn't want to try something radical, like calling the police?" Rebecca replied.

"What about you? Why don't you call the cops?" Jarod retorted.

"We know our reasons. I'd like to know yours. I have the right to know more about the guy I'm trusting with my daughter's life, " Rebecca insisted.

Jarod looked at her. Her dark brown curls were getting to him. She bore a startling resemblance to his mother. Oh, she wasn't a twin, but she was close enough to push his buttons.

"Yeah," he said, "I suppose you do." He paused. "If I call the cops, I lose the chance to ever locate my real parents. So far, I've been unwilling to run that risk."

Rebecca looked at Adam. "He was too young when taken to remember his parents well. It makes sense as a reason."

The glance they exchanged meant that they were agreed. They wouldn't push Jarod to do something he wasn't ready for unless they had to. And what Jarod couldn't know was that two immortals were more than a match for the Centre.

They spent the rest of the night confirming the plan. It was to begin the next evening, but both Adam and Rebecca felt better sleeping at Jarod's place. Neither of them was willing to take a chance on Jarod's going off on his own. And both immortals could sleep and still stay alert enough to hear Jarod move.


Jarod's place. 10:45 am.

When you've been a fairly light sleeper for 5,000 years, you don't just settle in on a stranger's couch. Adam had awakened about 6, done his
exercises, slipped out to check his e-mail and made a few calls on his cell phone. He was now ready for the most important meal of the day. An inspection of Jarod's cupboards indicated that that meal was going to start with coffee instead of beer. Oh, well, he thought. Sometimes one did have to rough it.

The sound of someone in the kitchen woke Rebecca. Since she could sense the person moving around, she got up to talk to him.

"So, you couldn't sleep, either," Rebecca said. Switching languages to an ancient dialect of Greek, she added, "I suppose you looked at the disks I saw. I can't believe they did that to a small child. There is more and less to Jarod than meets the eye. After we rescue Kaitie, I want to find out exactly what it is."

"I used my time more profitably than indulging in curiosity. I have a plan," he said. "I think that I had best create a diversion. That will insure that all you and Jarod will face are guards, who you can injure with equanimity. After all, any guard holding a child is certainly not a nice person."

Rebecca nodded, reminding herself that Adam hated to sound sympathetic about anything. "I take it you've already set something up."

"Yes. It's a bit risky, but the worst it can do is kill me," Adam said.

Switching to English, she said, "Couldn't happen to a nicer guy." Rebecca regarded the coffee pot. "So, are you going to make coffee or just stare at it and wish it were beer."

"You just don't appreciate a good beer," he muttered, while filling the coffee pot.

Jarod, listening to the conversation, felt left out. Whoever they really were, they had clearly known each other for a long time. Jarod only had one friend like that, if you could call Parker a friend.

"I'm way too young to appreciate beer for breakfast," Rebecca said with a wry grin.

"I'd like some coffee, too," Jarod said.

"Sorry," said Adam. "Didn't mean to take over your kitchen without asking."

"Why not?" said Rebecca. "You do it to MacLeod all the time."

"MacLeod is a friend. I think on such short notice the best Jarod can claim is gracious host."

Jarod stood up and went to get dressed. From behind the bathroom door, he replied, "And I shouldn't be a host for long. I won't waste any time in getting your daughter, I promise you that."

Rebecca's smile was small and vicious. "He obviously doesn't know me well," she muttered to Adam under her breath. In a louder voice she said, "Jarod, trust me. There is no way I'm letting you rescue my daughter all by yourself. Not going to happen."

Adam nodded. "The plan includes you, of course, since your intimate knowledge of the Centre is integral to our getting in and out in one piece. But neither Rebecca nor I are inexperienced in this kind of thing and we won't permit you to do the "lone hero" bit."

Emerging from the bathroom, Jarod was prepared to argue. Sure, both of them were competent with guns. This morning's conversation indicated they knew a language he didn't. But his plans didn't include taking innocent people into a danger zone.

"I don't think so. I'll break in alone. You can wait for me outside. You'll be safe, and strong for your daughter."

Rebecca was about two seconds from drawing the cutlery and using Jarod's head for target practice.

Adam handed her a cup of coffee. "Drink, relax. Jarod, I've arranged for the codes to the Centre's computers to only respond to my code words. You need us, in order to get in close enough to nullify the surveillance. Now, the plan goes like this. First, I'll create a diversion which will draw security away from the weakest area, which is here. You and Rebecca will go in, through this entrance." He pointed locations out on a map. "Certain backup has been arranged, in that fire and police transmissions will be just a little bit intercepted and delayed. One possible vehicle for escape will be located here. Another will be here and a third here. We will use these for communication. (pulls out a sophisticated miniaturized radio) The job will begin at 4pm. We should be in and out in under two hours. Am I making myself quite clear here?"

Jarod had never been steamrollered by anyone quite like this. As Adam continued to detail the plan, Jarod hid his amazement. He had no way to know that Adam simply saw the Centre as one in long series of fortresses he'd had to break into for one reason or another over the centuries. But unless he wanted to not help, something which was unthinkable under the circumstances, he was going along with these people. He'd just have to be extra careful to let no harm come to them, no matter what the cost.

"Sure. We'll play it your way. But inside the Centre I'm boss. There's only one way in and out without attracting attention and the main thing is to rescue Kait," Jarod said.

The others nodded. Rebecca snagged a piece of bread to complete breakfast, and Adam did the same. Rebecca decided it would be safer for Jarod not to know exactly how many people she'd killed. Granted, it was a small number compare to most immortals. But twenty-seven, even if two thirds of them were immortals, was still a higher death toll than most mortals could claim. True, she killed in self defense. But that wouldn't stop her from killing to defend her daughter.

Rebecca was suddenly glad MacLeod hadn't been home. Two knights in shining armor would be a bit much. Adam wasn't going to coddle her, but he'd get the job done. What Jarod couldn't know was that Adam had been her father and teacher in the same way she was Kait's parent. It had been a new idea, to train an immortal from childhood. Not in the same way Jarod had been trained, both she and Kait had been a part of the life around them. But a secret, stealthy training had still gone on. The training was why, although she was worried, she had faith that Kait would be OK. Her daughter was strong, and would survive.

It was Jarod's strength she doubted. The conversation with Sydney had made her nervous. Sydney had raised Jarod, according to the disks. That meant that he could be used against him. The Centre would know that. She just hoped they could get in and out before anyone could prepare for them.

The planning continued for the next several hours. Then there was a short nap and they got in their separate vehicles. Jarod drove.

"You know, you seem pretty calm, all things considered," Jarod said.

"We won't fail," Rebecca replied. "So there's no point in worrying."

She kept silent during the rest of the drive. Adam had taught her not to waste energy before a battle on "what might happen". That tactic worked well in the courtroom and she felt sure it would work here.

They arrived, hid the car, and made their way to the entrance. For just a moment, Jarod got a far away look in his eyes which the immortal recognized. Jarod observed that Adam's safe way in was also his own. After all, with the Centre's security it made sense that there could be only one way in.

"We don't have time for memories now," she said, "Just pick the lock and let's get on with it."

Jarod gave her a searching look, then got on with it. They made their way through the air ducts and empty corridors. At one point, Rebecca stopped him, and tapped into a junction box. The surveillance cameras were definitely not working. This was good. Jarod led her to the same sub-level he'd been held in, that Adam's intelligence work had indicated held Kait.

They took out a guard, and located Kait's room. Jarod picked the lock. All the while, he'd been moving slower and slower. This room meant a great deal to him. What meant even more was seeing the little girl who greeted Rebecca with a big hug and a cry of "Mommy".

"How touching. Now we have three of you," said the woman with a gun who had appeared out of nowhere.

"Parker, you've got to let them go. You can't let this madness continue," Jarod protested.

"Escape is not an option."

Kait's eyes were big, and focused on the door. All her mother's instructions had dealt with getting away to a safe place. She was determined to handle this and make her mother proud.

Rebecca forced herself to see this as just another battle. This was one that she could fight and win.

Jarod was moving closer and closer to Parker. It was as though he wasn't registering the gun as real, as something that could hurt him.

Great strategy if you're immortal, thought Rebecca. Unfortunately, standing in front of a bullet would just get Jarod killed.

"Jarod. I have the girl. I can shoot you." Parker, however, was paying attention to the wrong people. Kait ran under her legs, and Rebecca kicked the gun out of her hand.

"Kaitie, go get the gun and come back here," Rebecca said as she knocked Parker unconscious. Kait obeyed, then she spit in Parker's face. Rebecca noticed her daughter's anger and thought. What would make them both feel better? She reached inside the sheath and pulled out her knife. She cut a neat line up Parker's dress, and removed her clothing. Kait, still angry, grabbed Parker's cigarettes and shredded them over her.

Jarod still looked pale. Rebecca forced herself to remember that theydid have to escape tonight, preferably before Jarod did something one of them would regret.

"All right, now. Kait, we have to go. Come on," she grabbed herdaughter's hand. Jarod wasn't moving, whether because he hadn't seen Parker in her underwear before or for some other reason she wasn't aware of. So she took his hand, too, and led him out of the room and back the way they came.

Once they started, Jarod picked up the speed, and they were soon out of the Centre. As they made their way quickly to the car, they were overtaken by three guards. Rebecca shot one, Adam the other two, quickly and efficiently. It would have shocked Jarod, except that they had been shooting at both he and Kait. Clearly the Centre was willing to kill both of them if necessary.

Kait ran to Adam, who she thought of as a combination grandfather and uncle. "I'm so happy to be out of there."

Adam gave her a quick hug. "So are we. But now we do our disappearing act."

"Maybe I should leave separately," Jarod started to say, when he saw an explosion. Adam had made his leaving without them impossible by blowing up the other car on the other side of the compound.

"Let's negotiate that later," Adam said.

"Come on," said Kait. "I don't like it here."

"There will be time for a lot more discussion once we're somewhere safe," Adam added.

Jarod wasn't sure he liked that, but there was no time for questions as they piled into the van. Adam drove, Rebecca held Kait, and Jarod was silent, trying to absorb the events of the day. He wasn't sure he liked them. Parker was going to be mad, and that wasn't good. And in the meantime, memories of the Centre kept coming back, making him feel strange.

Kait didn't have that problem. Uncle Adam was playing a game with her, one they called "I-Trivia". It involved such questions as "when were the fifties and what happened then?" "who was Chubby Checker?" and "what's the current speed limit in Maryland?" Rebecca would join in, teasing Adam about thinking that Barbie was an old girlfriend of hers and Charlie Brown was a relative of Buster Brown. Kait's family was here and all was right with the world.

Later that night.

They had been driving for hours. Adam had obstinately kept the wheel. Jarod knew he had to have a destination of some kind, but right about now it felt like they'd just keep driving until they ran out of America, gas or money.

Rebecca cuddled Kait and the mother and daughter talked quietly. The little girl had been asleep for about three hours when Adam pulled into the rest area.

"Are you sure we want to do this?" Rebecca asked.

"I'd rather have a full tank when we may have time to get it, rather than risk running out because we weren't prepared," he replied.

Kait woke up and rubbed her eyes sleepily. "Are we at Connor's yet?"

Rebecca closed her eyes in mild exasperation. Kait wasn't old enough to not refer to Connor by name. That could be dangerous unless they decided to trust Jarod.

"Not yet, honey. We're just stopping to go to the bathroom and get gas."

Adam had apparently already made a decision to trust Jarod halfway.

He said, "Jarod, if you want to stretch your legs, that's fine. But we are not finished with the Centre by a long shot, and we'd appreciate your staying around to help out."

Jarod had been planning just such a disappearance. Rather than lie, he said, "If I stay, I'll put you in danger. I don't want to do that."

"Good," said Adam. "Don't. But don't run away from destiny."

Kait pouted. "I put people in danger, too. They want me and they're not gonna get me."

"No, they aren't," said Rebecca. "It's my guess, though, that Adam knows something the rest of us don't. Never take him lightly when he goes all mystical. It usually means he's holding five aces."

"There are only four aces in a deck of cards," Jarod said.

"Adam keeps a spare up his sleeve for emergencies," she retorted.

"Oh."

Jarod had not been sure what he was going to do when he walked into the rest area. But when he stopped to buy a soda, Rebecca and Kait came up to meet him.

"Beautiful family you have there," said the clerk as she got them their snacks.

"Thank you," replied Jarod out of politeness. That remark gave Rebecca an excuse to put her arm through his and lead him out to the car. Kait grinned up at him and Jarod automatically smiled back. The longing to be a family, part of a group that actually belonged together, was so intense it hurt.

They piled back into the car. From the rest area, it was only another hour to New York. As the city approached, Jarod tried one more time.

"I really don't have to go with you. We could meet somewhere. Then you wouldn't be in direct line of fire," he suggested.

"Not acceptable," said Rebecca. "We need to be able to plan when we're ready to act, not when it's safe to meet. Besides, you'll just have to trust us on this one. Our host, Russell Nash, is wealthy enough to have a difficult to penetrate home, a way to hide transportation, and he's quite incorruptible."

"Almost a Boy Scout," Adam inserted. "And his caretaker, Connor MacLeod, is a very old friend of ours. We'll all be able to rest up and plan our strategy fresh. I have some information to share with you which, once you learn it, would make your falling into the Centre's hands extremely dangerous. So we will ask you to put up with our paranoia for now. Just think of it as a little vacation."

Jarod was outmaneuvered for now. He road the rest of the way in silence.

The home of Russell Nash, very early in the morning.

At Nash's, MacLeod opened the gates for them. Jarod couldn't see that the immortal had gotten close enough to sense the others in the car, and do a quick head count before he let them in. But the smiling blond man who swept Rebecca in his arms and swung her around impressed Jarod with his style. He kissed Kait, and shook Adam's hand.

Then he said," And this is..."

"Jarod," Rebecca replied.

"It gets complicated beyond that. We'll talk in the morning, OK?" Adam asked.

MacLeod nodded. "This way." He led the way into the brownstone and reset the alarms. Jarod noted that the security system was state of the art. It would let the caretaker know about anyone who came or went, and would take several minutes to disarm. When he saw the art collection in the foyer, however, he stopped wondering why his host had such an elaborate system.

Jarod was shown into one of the guest rooms and MacLeod pointed out the adjoining bathroom and the full set of clothes in the closet.

"Make yourself at home," he said. "Good night."

"Good night," Jarod replied, sitting down on the bed. Rebecca had gone, presumably to put Kait to bed and to sleep herself. He was all alone, an odd feeling at two am. There was no phone here, so Jarod reached for his cell phone to call Sydney only to find it gone. It must have fallen out in the car. He thought he'd just run down and get it. He went out the door, turned right and went down the stairs.

A quiet voice said, "Don't you think you've had enough fresh air for tonight?"

"I left something in the car. I'll be right back," Jarod answered.

Adam sighed. "None of us want to go out to open the garage door. It would involve resetting alarms, you see. A person would probably have to be clairvoyant to connect us with our current host, but let's not take any chances. You can choose between a bath, warm milk, or scotch, but then it's time you were in bed."

"Do I need to tuck you in, too?" Rebecca asked from the landing.

"No, that's all right. I've been going to bed on my own for a long time," Jarod replied, admitting defeat.

"Good night," the two immortals said.

"Good night," Jarod answered and went back upstairs.

"You know," said Adam, "tucking him in mightn't be a bad idea."

"Not tonight, dear. Though I'll check on him in a few minutes. He's so *very* young," Rebecca answered.

"Mortal, you mean," Adam corrected.

"No. I mean young. It's in his face, probably because it's so late. He's too tired to have absolute control. He doesn't want to admit there is a part of him that is as young and scared as Kait." Rebecca sounded very confident of her conclusion.

"From what we both saw, his experience is somewhat limited. So far, Kait's had a normal life. But those tapes, and the added records I
found.." Adam paused.

"Appropriated from the Centre, did you?" she teased.

"As I was saying, the records I took show that Jarod spent the first thirty years of his life isolated. Even monks don't have that kind of a background," Adam snorted.

"Yeah. It makes my skin crawl. Those people hurt him, badly. And he'd have let them hurt him again, just because they are the only family he's ever known," Rebecca answered.

"So, you want to adopt him?" Adam smiled.

"Can we?" Rebecca asked.

"Eventually, yes. I think he's trustworthy. But give him a little while to settle in," Adam advised. He really appreciated moments like this, when his daughter was particularly mellow.

"I will," she said, kissing him gently. "Good night, old man."

"Good night, little one."


Rebecca did pass Jarod's room. He heard her enter, and closed his eyes. She did tuck him in, gently. Then she shut the door and went to sleep.


In the morning

Jarod gave up on sleeping around 7. He got dressed and went downstairs to explore. He heard the clang of swords. As he went through to the room they were practicing, he heard them banter.

"Getting slow, old man."

"I'm just not a berserk Highlander."

Anyone who knew immortals would have recognized it as simply a little healthy exercise. Jarod was surprised.

"I thought you needed to use masks to do that."

Both men put down the swords. Another clue that neither man was serious was that they weren't using their own swords. These were matched sabers which Connor expected to sell at a very fine price. Getting them bloody would decrease their value.

"Depends on the skill of your opponent. Adam is skillful enough not to harm me unless he wants to," MacLeod replied.

Adam nodded. "The, uh, same for Connor. We might joke, but neither of us would risk harm to each other with Kait in the house. She doesn't need any more excitement for a while."

Jarod nodded. Clearly Sydney had left things out of his education. "Could I try?"

Both immortals shook their heads. "I don't have the proper safety equipment here," said Connor. "You could get hurt. Why don't you come and have breakfast instead?"

"Quickly, before Rebecca wakes up and actually tries to cook something. She's been known to burn water, you know," Adam added.

"Burn water?" Jarod asked.

"A figure of speech. But let's just say that it's a good thing for her that they now make a lot of healthy food that can be microwaved or both she and Kait would have starved a long time ago," Connor replied.

"Not true," Adam protested, "Kait actually can handle simply cookery. Rebecca just never seemed to catch on, no matter what one did."

"Was cooking important to her parents?" Jarod asked as they made for the kitchen.

"It's a survival skill," Adam explained. "One would hardly expect loving parents to turn a child out into the world without the skills to survive."

Jarod still didn't know what to say, Adam could see it all over his face. Probably his fault. He'd spent way too much time lately around people who knew about Immortals. It was hard to remind himself that he hadn't yet decided to tell this man everything.

"Anyway, I can cook. What would you like?" Adam asked.

"Pancakes," requested Connor. "I think we used up enough calories for them. I'll thaw the bacon."

"Don't tell me. You don't have a microwave." Adam said quizzically.

"Too modern. I run an antique store," MacLeod retorted.

"Hmph", Methos snorted. "MacLeod doesn't have that problem."

"This MacLeod does," Connor paused a moment and grinned, "At least until I get out to buy a new one. Strange electrical storm shorted out the last one."

"Oh? You'll have to tell me more about that sometime." Adam wondered exactly whose Quickening had destroyed the microwave. Luckily for him, Connor, like most coffee drinking rich immortals, kept a spare coffee pot.

"I know you. You'll read about it when you get back to Paris," MacLeod replied.

"They have New York papers in Paris?" Jarod asked, hoping to find out more about these people he was with.

"You have no idea the reading matter they have in Paris," Adam said. He was well aware that Connor had been referring to his checking the Watcher Chronicles. "But I do think you ought to come with us and find out."

"The Centre is in Maryland. I thought you wanted to destroy them," Jarod answered.

"From a position of safety. We have much planning to do if we are to be effective in destroying the Centre. We can do it better if we don't have to keep looking over our shoulders all the time," Adam said.

Rebecca and Kait had entered the room, and sat down at the table.

"Are we going away soon?" Kait asked.

"It's my charming personality," joked Connor. "He can't stand the competition."

"I should go soon. My presence here will put you in danger," Jarod added.

"Boy, he's vain. Listen, Jarod, with all the antiques I sell, I'm a prime target for thieves. I've known danger. We're good friends," Connor replied.

Rebecca and Adam had been exchanging words in a foreign language.

Adam nodded briefly, and began to make a speech. "Jarod, I was in the special forces and Rebecca was a marine. We are qualified and involved. However, Kaitlyn, we want you to go in the other room and amuse yourself while I let the others in on some adult type information."

"Shouldn't I know, if it involves me?" Kait asked. She was somewhat recovered from her ordeal, but it was obvious that a part of her was still scared.

"Yes. Any plans we make which involve you or your mother, you'll be informed of. But this is adult talk and you're too young for it," Adam stated firmly.

"Mommy.." Kait started.

"He's right. You are way too young for the details of this. I was fifteen before he told me. And I've a feeling this will be more detailed. Deal with your own nightmares, stay out of Adam's," Rebecca replied.

"Oh," said Kait, "You mean it's ADULT talk?" This was Rebecca and Kait's code word for immortal business that she should stay out of. Kait looked relieved. Immortals could be handled. It was the Centre that still scared her.

"Yes."

"Connor, can I play the piano?" Kait answered.

"Sure. There's a chess set, too. Whatever you want. And remember how the intercom works?" he asked.

"Yes. I can hardly wait until I'm old enough to die. Then you won't keep secrets from me any more," Kait said, leaving the adults to talk.

"What?" Jarod asked.

"Long story. And we haven't finished the one Adam was telling," Rebecca prompted.

"Well, I didn't have a lot of time, but I found some interesting stuff in the Centre's records. Here's the hardcopy of some of it. As you can see, the financials lead to a dummy corporation called Apocalypse. That company happens to have been owned by an old friend of mine. He's, um, had a little accident while visiting Paris, but it appears that he trained many people in the Centre in an old style of doing business. And using high technology to do it. Because it's something I was involved in, I'm involved now. But at the same time, as Jarod is well aware, the Centre does do good. That's what makes it such a dangerous enemy."Adam handed the sheets of paper around.

"An interesting list of sponsors. Some of them are notorious, yes?" Connor replied.

"Exactly. Are you in?" asked Adam.

"What do you plan to do?" Connor answered.

"Gather more information. Plant a few bugs. Add a few worms," the elder immortal said.

"Worms?"

"Computer viruses. I want them to suffer. If their communications and records are threatened, it will hurt them. Not as effective as a bomb, but it harms fewer innocents." The look on Adam's face was definitely unfriendly.

"Not my field," said Connor.

"No, but you are into international finance. We need to trace the lines of funding and plug the ones that would object to the illegitimate side of their business. We also need to get something we could take to the papers. Publicity would definitely pull a few of their teeth," Adam replied.

"But they are the only key to my past. I was four years old when they kidnapped me. My brother was younger. We remembered nothing much about our childhood. But somewhere, someone at the Centre has the key. I saw my parents once. I'd really like to find them again," Jarod protested.

The immortals had a great deal of sympathy for a fellow foundling. Besides, they all knew that information gathering properly took time.

"We'll help you look for your answers, Jarod," Adam said, "But we'll also do our best to destroy them. It was very clear from their records we aren't just talking about you and Kait here. Far too many people have been harmed to ignore."

"Yes." Jarod told them about some of them. He, of course, was trying to get them to realize the danger they were in. They were not quite taking it that way.

Adam then described the atrocities he'd read about, the training of killers and psychopaths which, having been kept from Sydney, had also been kept from Jarod. He detailed some of the covert operations which would have shocked anyone not accustomed to the evils men can do. And he handed out assignments. Jarod's duties included providing them with all the intelligence he could on the Centre's operations. Connor's required the assistance of fellow immortals who could use their wealth and influence to counter that of the Centre. Rebecca was to handle the legal aspects.

That he'd consented to Adam's being in charge astounded Jarod. But again, the plan was well developed. It involved no overt risk. How could he have said no?

Later that week

Kait was in bed, trying to sleep. The noises from the next room were disturbing her. She hadn't noticed them previously, all too often she'd left her bedroom and ended up sleeping with her mother. But three immortals determined to keep her safe had done a lot for her sense of security. Well, so had the covert knife lesson Adam had slipped her. She wouldn't be totally defenseless.

Still the sound of the man in the next room tossing and turning was driving her nuts. So she did what any kid would do. She went to her mother and stood in front of her bed.

"Mommy," she said.

"Kait, is there a problem? You OK?"

"I'm OK, but Jarod isn't. He's having a nightmare. I can kind of hear it, but not like all of it. Could you help him?" she asked.

Rebecca sighed. "OK, kitten. You crawl in here and get some rest. And if you hear a gun go off, don't worry. I think Jarod will feel better if he knows what we are. Uncle Adam isn't sure, but I am. The kid needs to know he can trust us." She tucked her daughter into the bed and went off down the corridor, a gun in one pocket of her robe and a bottle of massage oil in the other.

First, she quietly woke Jarod, standing far enough back that he couldn't strike her. Jarod woke, and she gently pushed him back.

"Sweetie, lie back down. You need to relax and get some sleep, or you'll keep us all up all night. Let me give you a back rub, and see if that stops the nightmares," she smiled.

"Just a minute. I mean, we don't know each other." Jarod was just a little bit startled.

"If I were a masseuse, we wouldn't know each other. Just relax," Rebecca answered.

Her hands on his bare back were not exactly relaxing. But after a few minutes, he did settle back to enjoy it.

A few minutes more, and he said, "Rebecca are you going to stay here all night?"

"If that's what it takes," she replied.

The back rub went on, and Jarod was soothed. But she could tell that this wasn't the answer.

"Jarod, will you just tell me what's wrong? What is giving you the nightmares? What will stop them? Can you not believe that none of us wishes you any harm?" Rebecca asked.

"It's not that. You'll just react like you did earlier," Jarod replied.

"And this disturbs you?"

"Rebecca, the Centre is my problem. Staying here, working with you, I'm putting you all in danger. I can't seem to get you to understand that," Jarod answered.

"Oh, dear. I was afraid of that. Trust me, this is going to hurt you more than it does me." Rebecca leaned out of bed, gun in hand. "Don't call anyone for at least seven minutes," she said. "I'm a slow riser. Ouch." The gun went off, killing her.

Jarod didn't get it. He took her pulse, felt her die. One minute she was comforting him. The next minute she was dead. It made no sense. Of course, he did the one thing she told him not to, he ran and pounded on Adam's door.

"What is it?" groused the five thousand year old man.

"It's Rebecca. She's dead. You have to help me. I didn't do it," Jarod told him.

"I'd hope she'd have sense enough to lock the door first, "Adam complained. "Come along. Even Rebecca should be back by now."

"Back? What are you talking about? She's dead."

Connor, having heard the commotion, was in the hallway. "Be quiet. You'll wake up Kait."

"He's making enough noise to wake the dead," joked Adam as he entered the bedroom.

"What is it with you people?" Jarod said, following along behind.

There was nobody visible in the room when they entered.

Rebecca tapped him on the shoulder from behind the door. "I'm back."

"Now can the rest of us get some sleep?" Adam complained.

"But, but...dead people don't come back to life," Jarod protested.

"We do. Rebecca, next time, do it in the daylight. I want some sleep, too," Connor said. "Good night."

"And lock the door next time, little one. I'll make sure Kait knows it was just you. You explain it to Jarod," Adam added on his way out.

"I already told Kait. I have learned some things, Pops," Rebecca said sarcastically.

"Good night. Jarod, do try and teach her a little respect for her elders," Adam said, shutting the door.

"It'd be a neat trick, considering Jarod and Kait are the only two people younger than me," Rebecca retorted under her breath.

"You two will probably bicker for a thousand years," Connor interjected from the hallway.

Rebecca smiled ruefully. "Adam does bring out the worst in me. And he does have a point. Would you like brandy or tea while I tell you the reason why the Centre can't put us in a whole lot more danger than we face each day?"

Jarod looked at her, astonished. "Could I just hold you? I can't believe this is real."

"Sure," she led him into the bedroom, and told him some of her story. How all immortals are foundlings, and Adam had found her. One hundred and fifty odd years ago, he'd raised her to fight and to hide, to cope with all of her immortality. She explained that Connor was an old friend, four hundred and some years old. That their kind fought with swords, and could only be killed in that way.

"But if the Centre catches you, they'll experiment on you. With no end, forever," Jarod protested.

"Jarod, they're your demons. The Centre is only one of many horrible things Adam has faced in his time. And one of us is or was behind the workings of the Centre. Adam suspects more than one. That's why they concern us. You may be able to stop the mortals, but it will take us to face the immortals," Rebecca answered.

"You have a lot of faith in Adam," he replied.

"In Adam, Connor, myself, and many others. We good guys stick together. We want you to stick with us, Ok?" she said.

Jarod was still unsure, she could tell that. But he stayed, he held her, and eventually he went to sleep, all talked out.

Rebecca slept, too. One step had been taken. But it was going to take more to win Jarod's trust.


For another week, the planning continued. Rebecca spent the nights calming Jarod, keeping the nightmares at bay. Jarod began to realize that he cared about her greatly. She was one of the few women he knew who could face the dangers of the Centre. Before this, Parker had been the only woman who had known the truth about him. And he could never really tell what she was feeling.

A certain amount of trust had also developed between Jarod and the male immortals. This had been partly because they treated him no differently than before. The only change was that he caught some of the jokes, and realized when they were making semi-comprehensible jokes that they probably referred to immortality. Jarod had nothing in his past to encourage the development of a sense of humor directed at his elders. He was astonished that Rebecca and Connor could tease someone so much their elder.

Jarod had grown so accustomed to the routine of intelligence gathering, exercise, and planning that it came as a complete surprise to him when Adam suggested that it was time they headed back to Paris.

"I'll miss you guys."

"Why would you do that?" Adam replied blandly.

Rebecca glowered. "Adam means you're coming with us, of course. So how could you miss someone you'll see every day?"

"I can't."

"Why not? Jarod, as near as I can tell, you've never had a vacation. Consider the trip to Paris your first."

"Besides, some friends of ours will keep Kait safe. It's very secure, being that it's a castle surrounded by old family retainers," Rebecca reassured.

"Old in more ways that one," Connor chimed in.

"We can't effectively go up against the Centre until we've made everything as safe as possible. Surely you see that," Adam answered.

"But why do you need me to come along?" Jarod protested.

"Technically, we don't," Rebecca sighed. "I just wanted to show you a city I love."

"And there are some friends of mine I'd like you to meet," Adam added.

Jarod looked at them. Rebecca's legs touching his were distracting him terribly. "Um, I don't know how to bring this up, but I don't have a passport."

"You think ours are legal?" Connor grinned. "No problem. Just pick a last name and we'll be all set. And none of this flying commercial. I'll fly you there. All the comforts of home."

For once, Jarod was speechless. It was the first time since he'd left the Centre that he had no reason to say no when people were trying to do something nice for him.

"I can come back, right?" Jarod said. His parents had been American. His answers had to be in America.

"We all are. The Centre owes us, all of us. They are not just immoral, they are immortal, at least their leader was. That makes them as much our responsibility as yours," Adam answered.

Kait had been thrilled. She'd spent summers in Paris for as long as she could remember.

"We're really staying with Gina and Robert? Way cool," she exclaimed.

"But if the Centre can trace you to them, aren't you putting them in danger?" Jarod asked.

"We're talking about two immortals, both well over three hundred. All their servants have been with the family for centuries. Nobody could enter the village without sticking out like a sore thumb. And they'll be alert. It's as safe as life gets," Adam answered.

Jarod frowned. He was still not sure.

And it was Jarod's innate caution that had insisted they go in two groups. Connor and Adam had gone first. Adam would meet Gina and Robert, and move out of his apartment. He'd set everything up so that it'd be safe. Then Connor flew back to pick up Jarod, Kait, and Rebecca. Jarod's instincts were correct. The Centre had been guarding the airport, as they had planted operatives in all major airports. They had barely gotten away in one piece. Only with great care had they made it to Montreal, to a Canadian airport, new identities, and a trip to Paris. Now they were in Joe's bookstore waiting for Adam to return to take them to the de Valincourt's. Telling the story, at least the first part of the story, helped to pass the time.

Return to the present, Paris, France

"And that's the tale, Joe," Rebecca said.

Jarod nodded. "I owe them all a great deal."

"The Centre owes you more," Joe looked embarrassed. "I apologize on behalf of all secret organizations. Anyone who could use a child like that is past contempt. At least we wait until they grow up to annoy them."

"The Centre doesn't care. They stole my life from me. They're not getting this life. It's worth too much to me."

Rebecca touched his cheek. "And you're worth too much to me." She turned, sensing an immortal.

"Are you ready to go?" Adam asked.

"Sure."

"Hey, Mommy, will it be Jarod's first castle?" asked Kait, rubbing her eyes as she woke up from her nap.

"Yes, it will be," Jarod replied.

"If that makes you Cinderella, I'll just have to be Princess Charming," Rebecca joked.

Jarod smiled. "I think that makes me American."

"He thinks they don't have any castles in America," Adam said. "Obviously, there need to be major improvements made to your education."

Hm, thought Jarod, as they left Joe's, I could really get used to their idea of education.


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