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Mother May I
by Rebeckah & Danielle :-)

Disclaimer: The characters Miss Parker, Sydney, Jarod, Broots etc. and the fictional Centre, are all property of MTM and NBC Productions and used without permission. We're not making any money out of this and no infringement is intended.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Cassandra pondered the problem Madeline posed as they progressed down the hallway. The girl seethed with anger, suspicion and fear. She still believed that Cassandra was a threat, even more so now that she realized Miss Parker considered her a friend. She was afraid that Cassandra would hurt Miss Parker, afraid that Cassandra was some sort of a spy for Raines, and afraid that Cassandra would discover something that she, Madeline, wanted very much to remain a secret.
Cassandra was very curious just what secret Madeline hid, but she refused to probe any deeper in to the girl's mind. Picking up surface thoughts and emotions being thrown like missiles was acceptable, especially since she could hardly keep the thoughts at bay most of the time, but to violate the mental privacy of another without permission was a definite anathema to her-----Raines had expected it of her far too many times. So, how to soothe the girl? Just how could she make the girl realize that she was not an enemy?
She peeked quickly through the girl's eyes, spying the door to a conference room that her extra senses indicated were empty. A quick push with her mind unlocked the door---kept locked as a matter of policy, and another delicate suggestion prompted Madeline to steer them both into the room and close the door behind them.
"Look." The girl said firmly, with no preamble, "let's just get one thing straight, okay? I don't know what kind of a game you're playing to make Miss Parker think you're some sort of a good guy, but I know better. No one associated with Raines could be anything but a monster, so don't for a minute think you've fooled me! And if you ever, and I mean ever hurt Miss Parker I will personally-----"
Cassandra held up a silencing hand, although it was the understanding and slightly amused smile on her lips that really silenced Madeline. The woman simply wasn't reacting the way Madeline kept expecting her too, and that was even more infuriating than her puzzling friendship with Miss Parker.
"Madeline, you need to know some things about me before you pass judgment on my character. Will you sit down and listen to my story? With an open mind?"
Eyes still narrowed with suspicion, Madeline grudgingly nodded her acceptance. When Cassandra continued to wait expectantly she remembered that the smaller woman before her was blind and managed a "yes" that was still filled with reservations. Cassandra smiled approvingly, bringing a sense of pleasure to Madeline before she remembered that she didn't like Cassandra, and the two sat at the conference table, placing the width of the table between them.
"Many years ago, when I was somewhere between the ages of 6 and 9, I am afraid I do not know my exact age, mi Mama decided to take me to her village in Mexico, so I could live with her family and go to school. We had no school where we lived and she wanted me to learn. But we were attacked by evil men, and she was killed and I became blind." Cassandra's voice was husky and a lump was in her throat as she related those still painful memories. Her accent, virtually non-existent now, became a shade stronger as well, as if the memories brought back old speech patterns.
"Mi Papa, he loved Mama so very much. He was so hurt by her death that he blamed me for losing her. At the same time my Gift became apparent."
"Gift?" Madeline interrupted in confusion. Her tender heart wanted to sympathize with Cassandra's obvious pain, but her suspicion, learned the hard way, kept her from expressing her more sympathetic feelings.
"Many women in my family have a Gift which is also sometimes a burden. We can see the heart of another, to know what they mean beyond what they say. Very few people can lie to me, Madeline. I know that you are angry right now, and worried for our friend Miss Parker. I know that you do not trust me and that you fear that I will expose some secret of yours."
A vivid image of Jarod, his eyes sparkling as he leaned across a small café table to make some point flashed into Madeline's mind with that statement.
"Ah." Cassandra sat back, nodding her head as understanding dawned. "Now, I see. Well, to continue my tale; apparently the same blow to my head that caused my blindness, or perhaps simply the blindness itself, has caused my Gift to be stronger and more varied than is normal even for my family. It was not too many months after the day mi Mama died that Dr. Raines showed up on mi Papa's door and offered him much money if he would release me to his care. He wished to study me, you see."
Even though Cassandra spoke with calm, untouched tones, Madeline found herself even more sympathetic as Cassandra explained that her father accepted Raines offer and literally sold his own daughter to the Centre, even though he didn't know what the Center was. She was outraged that a parent would simply send away their child, not even knowing what kind of people would be taking care of her. She was startled when Cassandra patted her hand comfortingly.
"Do not be angry for me, Tigrita," She commanded her gently. "It turned out that my Papa's choice was very good for me. Dr. Raines is not entirely the monster you believe him to be."
Madeline's sympathy evaporated in an instant and her suspicions were raised once again. Cassandra sighed softly.
"Not too many months after I came to the Centre with Dr. Raines, his daughter Annie was abducted by a serial killer and she died."
'Raines had a daughter?' Madeline questioned mentally with stunned surprise.
"Yes, he did." Cassandra answered the unspoken question easily. "And he loved her, very much. Her death hurt him deeply and he began to give to me the affection that he had formerly given his daughter. He has done very horrible things, this I know, but he has also been very good to me. He has protected me, provided for me, and trained me far better than I would have been had I remained in my small village in Mexico. I know what Raines is, Madeline, the good and the bad, and I love the good man I know very much. I hope that one day he will overcome that evil side of his nature, but whether he does or not, I will still love him----do you understand?"
Madeline struggled with her understanding that love truly can be unconditional and her conviction that Raines was inherently unlovable.
"No one is completely unlovable." Cassandra contradicted gently. "I do not expect you to like Dr. Raines. I perceive that he has caused you to worry much for the people you love and I understand that. But please accept that my love for him does not make me your enemy. I do not support much of what he does, and he knows that. I will not help him to hurt another, and I will never share with him anything that he would use to hurt another. I am not a monster, and I think that we have more in common than you realize."
"How is it that you and Miss Parker are such good friends?" Madeline demanded, finally with more simple curiosity than suspicion.
"She lost her mother too." Cassandra said simply. "We only met once, as children, when Angelo brought me----"
"You know Angelo?" Madeline demanded incredulously, cutting off Cassandra in mid sentence. Once again Cassandra received an image of Angelo from Madeline's mind----not the child he used to be, but the man. Sandy blond hair, gentle, childlike blue eyes set incongruously in that sorrowful man's face, and a gleeful, mischievous smile on his lips as he peered through the grate of a ventilation vent with Madeline.
"Hmmm." Cassandra murmured thoughtfully. "We have more in common than even I realized. Angelo is mi hermano, brother, although it is of the heart and spirit rather than by blood." She answered softly, a soft light in her eyes.
"He and I spent many evenings together throughout the years, he was my resource for information on life outside of my rooms and the labs where I was studied. He is my peer in the Gift. I wonder why he did not tell me about you?"
A vivid image of Madeline's angry face flashed in her mind, revealing not only Angelo's reason for keeping his friendship with Madeline a secret from her, but also letting Cassandra know that he was monitoring the conversation between her and Madeline with his special gift. She sent him a warm wave of love and understanding, easing his momentary worry that he'd hurt her by keeping Madeline's presence in his life from her.
"Perhaps he knew that I wouldn't be happy if he did." Madeline answered wryly, unconsciously echoing the answer Angelo had just sent her. Cassandra's brow rose at the coincidence---did the girl? No, it wasn't likely she had the Gift.
"Well, that is my story, now we must discuss Lyle's." Cassandra returned to the present briskly, although Madeline bristled again at the mention of Lyle.
"Calm down, Madeline---you must learn to relax a little." Cassandra laughed softly.
"I thought you were taking me to someone named Bobby." Madeline protested, her head whirling at the confusion caused by having so many of her preconceived notions shattered at once. Once again Cassandra patted her hand comfortingly.
"We are, but Bobby is a very, very hurt young man. He has been damaged in ways that are difficult for most people to understand, and to cope with the events that caused that damage he has become many different people."
"Are you saying Bobby is Mr. Lyle?" Madeline asked, disbelief and fear rising like a tidal wave.
"You are wise to fear Mr. Lyle." Cassandra admitted somberly. "He is the part of Bobby who expresses all of the rage and has no joy, no love in his heart."
"And Bobby?"
"Bobby is the innocent boy who has not grown since Dr. Raines came back into his life." Cassandra answered, grieving over the fact that her beloved Raines was responsible for Lyle's personality fractures.
"I have a feeling there's still more." Madeline guessed shrewdly. Cassandra smiled, wondering again if the girl was Gifted in some way.
"There is another, very young I am told, who never comes out----but he will have to if we are ever to put Mr. Lyle together again. And there is Romeo." Cassandra blushed, still disconcerted by 'Romeo's' determined flirtation with her. She still didn't know just how to deal with him. He brought forth feelings she didn't even existed until he'd touched them. She was attracted to the charming rogue, but she was far too aware of Lyle lurking in the background to feel comfortable with any part of the situation.
"Romeo, huh?" Madeline said in worldly wise tones. "So that's how Lyle snares them."
"He is very charming and he seems to like to flirt." Cassandra blushed again, seeming younger than the girl in front of her.
"Men often do." Madeline answered cynically, her defenses rising in an instant. She was just as uncomfortable with the thought of flirtation as Cassandra, although it was for far different reasons.
"So, will you come?" Cassandra asked softly, feeling the girl's apprehension and indecisiveness. "I really do think it would be good for Bobby to know you. He was beaten often by his foster father and is very wary, much like you. And Sydney said you have much in common, which would be good for him-----to know that he is not the only one to suffer, to know that it is not his fault."
"Do you know what you're asking?" Madeline cried, jumping up from her seat and beginning to pace up and down the length of the room. Her arms were wrapped tightly around her middle, as if to comfort herself, or to hold in the violent emotions surging inside her as Cassandra's request lifted the lid on desperately painful memories.
"Better than you might believe." Cassandra answered softly, compassion shining from her face. "I feel your agony right now, I realize that what happened to you was horrible, because you still hurt very deeply. I think, perhaps, that this would be as good for you as it would for Bobby. Maybe you will help each other to heal?"
"Do you KNOW what my stepfather did to me?" Madeline demanded harshly, tears that she refused to shed shining in her gray eyes. Cassandra pressed a trembling hand to her forehead as a kaleidoscope of images battered her mind----images of Madeline, cowering beneath a flurry of blows, desperately trying to fight off an older man, his hands and hot breath branding her soul forever, standing, cold and hungry on a dirty street, waiting for her stepfather to get her but seeing the leering face of another stranger-----
"STOP!" Cassandra shouted suddenly, covering her blind eyes. Madeline, shocked, stopped and stared at the woman, her shoulders shaking as she tried to deal with the overload of horror Madeline hadn't even meant to send to her.
"Oh, God!" Madeline murmured remorsefully, starting towards Cassandra's side. "I'm sorry, I forgot you-----I didn't mean to-----" her voice trailed off and she settled for merely patting Cassandra's shoulder in an awkward attempt at comfort.
"You did not quite believe." Cassandra replied in a trembling voice, taking slow deep breaths to combat her nausea.
"No, I guess I didn't." Madeline admitted slowly.
"I am the one who is sorry." Cassandra told her sincerely, grasping the hand still laying on her shoulder and willing comfort to the still badly hurting woman-child standing before her now. I am sorry that you were hurt so and I am sorry that my request brought it all back up to the front of your mind. If you do not wish to go on I will certainly understand."
Even as she spoke, Cassandra was wondering how the girl had learned to deal with such pain and betrayal. In fact, she was wondering just how she was going to deal with the images that had been branded firmly into her consciousness. Still, she suspected that the girl needed to deal with those memories, not hide from him. Madeline was strong, Cassandra could feel her powerful will even now working to subdue pain and fear.
"No." She said softly, her decision firming as she spoke. "Sydney has never steered me wrong before. If he thinks I can be of help, then I probably can. I'll go with you and meet Bobby. But if Lyle shows up all bets are off." She added warningly.
"Tigrita, if Lyle shows up I will beat you to the door." Cassandra promised fervently. "We will let our Mr. Sydney deal with him, si?"
"Oh yeah!" Madeline agreed, just as fervently
She stopped, just as they were about to exit the conference room, and voiced two questions that just struck her.
"Do you think, if we help Bobby and this younger persona now, it will affect Mr. Lyle? Like help make him a better person because we helped his younger selves??" Madeline questioned thoughtfully.
"No, Tigrita, Mr. Lyle is not the older self of Bobby, he is his own separate self. But, by being kind to Bobby now, we will help him to grow and become strong. When the time comes for all of the parts of Mr. Lyle to become one, then Bobby's experiences will help to determine who that new person will be." Cassandra answered, sad that the answer could not be so easy.
"Darn!" Madeline grumbled regretfully. "It would have been so much nicer."
Cassandra laughed again, and realized that in less than an hour she had laughed more than she had in most of her life. Whatever else the girl would bring into her life, she suddenly knew that humor would certainly play a big part.
"Why did Mr. Lyle develop split personalities, but I didn't? Or have I and I just don't know it?" Madeline asked her second question, panic growing as she started to question her own mental stability.
"Have no fear, Tigrita, you do not have to worry about that, and I would know if you did. As for why Mr. Lyle's self split into many parts and you did not, there are several factors that were different in Bobby's life than in yours. The two major ones were the fact that you were much older when your abuse started, and you had many years of love from your mother to make you strong. The second would be the drug that my----that Dr. Raines said he gave young Bobby. I believe it may have encouraged the personalities to split, and along the lines of personality traits. One is angry, another innocent, one is sensual, the other thoughtful and scholarly. At least, that is how it has appeared to me from the personalities I have already met or spoken to."
"Now, shall we see if Bobby is ready for us?" She suggested with a much lighter heart. Bobby and Madeline, she was sure, would hit it off wonderfully.

"I'm sorry, Sir, we've searched the entire complex and the surrounding countryside. There's no sign of them, and his car is gone." The guard making this report was shaking in his shoes. He knew his "Master" was going to be angry and he'd probably bear the brunt of that anger. He was right.
"Take your men and report to conditioning." The electronic voice said dispassionately. "And see that you do not fail me again. A second failure could have only one consequence."
"Yes, sir." The man acquiesced miserably. His shoulders were slumped as he turned to obey his orders.
"Pearl, you will get her back for me, won't you?" The voice said flatly. "And that traitorous pretty boy?"
"Of course, Mother." Pearl answered confidently. "I've had a cover ready for months that would get me into the Centre, no questions asked. In fact, with Mr. Parker's continuing absence I should have no problem at all."
"You're a good girl, Pearl. Truly my treasure without price."
"Thank you, Mother." Pearl basked in the warmth of unexpected praise.

"You came back." Lyle's voice was low and filled with sensual pleasure, alerting Cassandra to the fact that 'Romeo' was still in control of things.
"I told Bobby I would." Cassandra stressed the name of Lyle's younger personality, but Romeo just chuckled and grabbed her hand, pressing his lips to the inside of her wrist. Cassandra repressed a shiver and Madeline glared reprovingly at the unrepentant man.
"And just who is this lovely lady?" Romeo asked smoothly, his smile appreciative and flirtatious. Madeline's glare deepened.
"I'm Madeline, if you really don't know." She answered truculently. "Since you're Parker's brother I would imagine you know exactly who I am."
"Okay, I confess, I know about Miss Parker's ward Madeline." Romeo chuckled softly. "But sheath your claws, little tiger, I've never been out when you were around."
"Well..." Madeline said in a voice as hard as iron, "Cassandra told me that you're the one who can feel pain, and if you don't behave yourself I'm gonna give you some!"
Cassandra laughed, but was glad when she sensed that Romeo understood that Madeline wasn't joking at all. She was also astonished, and slightly disturbed by the coincidence of Lyle using nearly the same pet name for Madeline as Cassandra had.
{She is a tiger cub, all prickly claws and hissing and spitting.} He told Cassandra privately, with that mental ability that still startled Cassandra every time he used it.
"Is Bobby ready to awaken?" Cassandra asked aloud, reluctant to deepen the intimacy between them. Romeo sighed sadly, and Cassandra had to fight down a feeling of guilt at the sound. If she could have seen the impish light in his eyes and tiny smile on his lips she wouldn't have felt the tiniest spark of guilt. Madeline's glare was so hot it was something of a surprise that his bedding hadn't caught on fire.
"I could call him, querida." He admitted with seeming reluctance.
"Please do." Cassandra made the request quietly and Romeo's expression took on a hint of honest regret at her reticence.
"Okay, but I don't know when I'll get to come back. Lyle is really beating at the doors in this mind. He wants back." His voice was devoid of flirtation or mischief. He was completely serious now.
"We must take that risk." Cassandra decided. "I wish for Madeline and Bobby to meet and we must deal with Mr. Lyle eventually, must we not?"
"Very well." Romeo sighed again, lustily.
"Just one kiss to see me on my way?" He pleaded suddenly. Cassandra firmly repressed the urge to giggle.
"No, Romeo. No kisses, no hugs, no goodnight stories. Please bring out Bobby now."
"You came back!" Lyle's voice suddenly became young and boyish.
Madeline was amazed at the change on his face. Lines of maturity and sensuality vanished. His eyes opened wider and the grin on his face was open and joyous. In spite of her lingering reservations about the reality of Lyle having multiple personalities, she found herself liking this boyish persona.
"Of course I did, Bobby." Cassandra replied warmly. "And I brought a friend too." She nodded her head towards Madeline while she squeezed Bobby's hand reassuringly.
Madeline watched in amazement as the ever cool and collected Lyle blushed and ducked his head for a second, before raising his eyes to meet Madeline's.
"Hi, I'm Bobby." He volunteered bashfully. "You're very pretty."
Now it was Madeline's turn to blush. Cassandra positively old in comparison.
"I'm Madeline." She told him uncertainly. She still wasn't convinced that this personalities thing was real, but she couldn't bring herself to be as harsh with Bobby as she had been with Romeo.
"Dr. Sydney thought you might like a friend closer to your age." Cassandra informed him gently, feeling like a mother coaxing her child to make friends at the playground.
"But she's all grown up!" Bobby whispered back loud enough for Madeline to hear.
She covered her laugh by turning it into a cough. Cassandra didn't help her any with the conspiratorial smile she sent her way.
"Yes, Madeline is an adult now, but she has not been one for so long that she has forgotten how to be a kid. And she has some things in common with you, I think. Would you two like to speak alone for a while?" Cassandra urged bluntly, suddenly overwhelmed by her own need to talk to Sydney.
"Yes." Madeline said decisively. "I think Bobby and I could use a little time alone---without any of you old people." She added impishly.
Cassandra laughed and shook her finger warningly at the girl.
"Do not start teaching Bobby to be rude, young lady." She admonished in a lighthearted voice that hid her own growing worry for Mr. Rains. "I'll be in Sydney's office if either of you need me, okay?"
Bobby and Madeline both nodded, and then Madeline hastily assured her, "yes", remembering yet again that Cassandra was blind. Cassandra made her way confidently to the door.
"I will not be too long." She promised the two of them from the door.
"Don't worry about us." Madeline instructed her. "We'll be fine."
Somewhat to her own surprise, Madeline was finding this situation invigorating. Normally she was the one needing help, advice, or support, but now she was the supporter. And there was a certain satisfaction is seeing Lyle so greatly altered---in realizing that he wasn't the cold statue of perfection he pretended to be.

"Hello, I'm Mr. Lyle's new personal assistant."
The woman was tall, with platinum blond with icy blue eyes. She wore a royal blue mini-skirt suit with a deep pink silk blouse and matching tights covering her legs. Her heels were a modest three inches, but the guard on duty was somehow still reminded of Miss Parker.
"I'm terribly sorry, Ma'am." He said nervously, starting to shake when she turned her pale, nearly colorless blue eyes on him. "Mr. Lyle is incapacitated. And no one told me you were coming---"
"Then I suggest you contact whoever is in charge at the moment!" The woman snapped irritably.
"Yes, Ma'am!" He gulped audibly. "Who should I tell Miss Parker it is?"
"I am Patricia Frieze." The woman gritted out, obviously furious. "Now do your job! You incompetent moron!"
"Yes Ma'am!" He squeaked and with shaking hands did as he'd been told.*

"They are talking, Sydney." Cassandra said quietly as the door closed behind the Centre aide who'd guided her back to the psychiatrist's office. Mr. Raines was gone, much to Cassandra's relief. She didn't want to see her mentor until she talked to Sydney about what was wrong with him.
"I sent Miss Parker home to rest." Sydney told Cassandra. "She's still recovering from that bullet she took for her father."
"Mr. Sydney, what has happened to my Dr. Raines?" Cassandra asked abruptly, tears welling up in her brown eyes.
"I'm not sure, Cassandra." Sydney told her honestly, even as he enveloped her in a comforting hug. "Obviously he's been brainwashed in some way."
"How can we help him? How do I talk to him? I feel so---so wooden around him!"
"Just be yourself around him." Sydney advised gently. "I need time to observe him, to see if I can determine just how his personality change was accomplished before I can attempt to give you advice on how to react to him now."
"What about Lyle?" Cassandra wanted to know, changing the subject in a desperate effort to restrain her tears. Dr. Raines wouldn't want her to cry, especially for him.
"That will take a while as well. I need to meet as many of the personalities as I can and they have to want to integrate before much can be accomplished."
"Romeo said that Lyle is trying to come back out."
Sydney sighed. "That's not likely to be a good thing." He admitted gravely. "Lyle is perfectly happy as he is."
"Does he know? About the others? Bobby obviously does not."
"I don't know, but somehow I doubt he does. I'll come and see him soon, but you really should take some time to relax, refresh yourself, change out of that torn dress."
Cassandra nodded obediently, but the worried frown on her face indicated that she wasn't going to relax much. She had too much to fret about. What had happened to Raines and how could she help him recover? Were they going to be able to help Lyle become whole? Who had kidnapped her and why? The last question really worried her the most.
Who had kidnapped her? Somehow Cassandra was sure that her escape hadn't ended their plans for her. She could feel danger closing in but, once again, she didn't know from where it was coming. But, the mysterious he had been consumed by hatred. He wasn't going to take lightly to having his plans thwarted.
Cassandra's worries mounted as she took Sydney's advice and retired to her quarters. She took a long, hot bath, luxuriating in the feeling of soaking off the grime she'd accumulated during her imprisonment. She changed into comfortable jeans and a soft turtleneck and stretched out on her bed to rest. But she couldn't relax. Her concerns continued to plague her until she finally got up called for a guide to the hospital wing. If she couldn't rest, then perhaps she could help out Lyle. She refused to acknowledge the tiny voice in her head that suggested maybe Romeo would be out when she got there.

"Hello?" Sydney greeted the striking blond with a question in his voice. Since Lyle was incapacitated, Miss Parker back at her place recuperating from her gunshot wound, Mr. Parker still MIA, and Raines was quite frankly not himself at the moment, the lobby guard had been forced to call on Sydney to deal with this strange woman.
"I'm Sydney." He added, holding out a hand to shake.
"Frieze, Patricia Frieze." Pearl answered briskly, shaking the proffered hand firmly. "I'm Mr. Lyle's new personal assistant."
"I see." Sydney answered blandly. "I'm afraid, Ms. Frieze, that this isn't the best time. Mr. Lyle is," he paused, searching for the right words, "ah, not himself at the moment."
Broots, who had accompanied Sydney like a faithful shadow, had to look down at the floor to hide a grin.
"Perhaps you could just show me to his office, then? There are matters he particularly wanted me to get started on today." Pearl tried to look unassuming and efficient.
Sydney considered for a moment, and then nodded slowly. He'd already checked her hire records with Personnel and everything seemed in order, so he saw no reason not to allow her into the Centre proper.
"Very well," He told her kindly. "But it may be some time before Mr. Lyle is able to return to work. I really believe that under the circumstances there would be nothing wrong with you waiting a few days longer to report for work."
"Thank you, but some of the things Mr. Lyle wanted me to work on really have to be handled today." Pearl worked hard to keep her elation from showing on her face.
"Well, it's up to you." He smiled at her and then turned to Broots.
"Would you take Ms. Frieze to get her Centre identification and show her to Mr. Lyle's office for me, Broots?" He asked the younger man with a knowing half-grin. Broots blushed but nodded eagerly.
"It would be my pleasure!" He gulped, moving to one side of Pearl and gesturing in a courtly manner.

Once they were alone, Madeline saw just how badly Bobby had been beaten. She knew what they had to talk about, but wasn't sure how to begin...
"How old are you?" Bobby asked innocently.
"Eighteen." Madeline answered.
"I wish I was eighteen!" Bobby exclaimed wistfully.
"Why?" Madeline wondered.
"Because I'd be an adult and could leave!"
"Leave home? Why?"
Bobby nodded and answered softly, "My father hits me sometimes."
Madeline was amazed at how quickly her feelings of dislike and apprehension towards Lyle had changed to sympathy.
"My dad used to hit me, too." Madeline told him, taking his hand comfortingly.
"Really?" He looked up at her in wonder. Madeline just nodded, not sure she could trust her voice. "Your mom didn't try to stop him?"
"My mother died when I was fourteen, and then a few months later my step-dad started drinking and doing drugs, and hitting me all the time." She made a lightning fast decision not to share some of the more painful and revolting details of what else he'd done to her. Bobby had to deal with a simple case of child abuse, and she had dealt with the same thing; that's all he needed to know about her childhood.
"My mom never did anything about it. She just acted like it didn't happen!" Madeline could see Bobby's anger, but also betrayal that his mother hadn't saved him, and more of the protective walls guarding her heart crumbled. At least she'd had the love and care of a mother for the first part of her life; Bobby hadn't even had that.
"I'm sorry." Madeline wasn't sure what else to say.
"How did you get away from your father?" Bobby asked curiously.
"Miss- uh, your sister took me into live with her and became my legal guardian."
"Oh... I didn't even know I had a sister until today! But she scares me!!"
Madeline laughed gently, "I know, she tends to scare everyone at first, but she's really great once she gets to know and trust you."
"Okay..." Bobby said doubt evident in his voice.
"You know, " Madeline suggested hesitantly, not sure she was saying the right thing, but reasoning that it should be okay, since it was what Sydney had already told her. "It's all right to be angry."
"It is?" Bobby's eyes filled with tears as he begged for reassurance from the young woman by his bed.
"Yes." Madeline felt almost maternal as she seated herself in the chair by Bobby's bed and prepared to share with him the advice Sydney had been giving her.

Cassandra paced back and forth in her quarters while she waited for the aide to come and guide her through the labyrinthine corridors of the Centre. She was growing more anxious with every passing second; somehow sure that immanent danger loomed.
"Cass go with Angelo." Her friend said from the vent above her. "Pearl hurt."
"She's here?" Cassandra gasped with dismay. "Please, Angelo, tell me she's not here!"
"Cass go with Angelo." He repeated firmly, grasping her elbow. He didn't even pause to replace the grate on the ventilation shaft he'd entered the room from. He and Cassandra practically ran through the halls, and Cassandra soon realized that they were heading for the medical wing.

Parker hissed as she moved too quickly and pain lanced through her. Sydney had sent her home less than an hour ago, but she'd felt uneasy from the moment she'd driven out of the Centre's front gate. Every turn of her car's wheels had brought an increase in her anxiety. She wasn't usually prone to superstition, but she had a terrible premonition that leaving her friends alone right now would have dangerous, even deadly, consequences.
Now, as she hurried from the garage to the Centre lobby, she found herself cursing her weakness. Her fastest pace was still slower than that of a paralytic snail, she grumbled inwardly. At this rate everyone in the Centre could have been assassinated and the assassin relaxing over a drink before she got to them!
Taking a deep breath to fight down pain, she hobbled on.

"Cassandra said I would never have to go back to my father's..." Bobby was telling Madeline. She recognized the plea in his eyes for reassurance of Cassandra's promise.
"She was telling you the truth." Madeline said gently. She had to firmly repress a feeling of anxiety when she realized that she was actually feeling sympathy, even a certain kinship, with Lyle.
No, not Lyle, Bobby. She reassured herself firmly in her mind.
"Lyle!" A female voice exclaimed from the doorway.
Madeline jumped. The name coming on the heels of her thoughts had sounded just like a rebuke. When she saw the pale woman standing in the doorway, with Broots' face hovering anxiously behind her shoulder, she frowned, wondering who the woman could be.
She glanced at the man in the bed beside her, and saw that he was cowering fearfully against his pillows. She wondered, briefly, who she was, then moved into action without consciously planning to. Madeline was on her feet, propelling the woman back into the hallway by the grip she'd taken on her elbow, and firmly shutting the sickroom door behind her before she'd even realized that she intended to protect Bobby.
"What are you doing?!" The woman demanded icily, glaring up at Madeline who topped her by several inches. She didn't seem at all intimidated by the height difference, though, instead it was Madeline who felt a cold chill at the malevolence in the woman's pale blue eyes.
"Who are you?" Madeline shot back defensively, burying her nervousness in her concern for Bobby. Whoever this woman was, she'd frightened Bobby, and Madeline wasn't about to let anyone else worry her new friend. She didn't realize it, but she was determined to do for Bobby what no one had done for her until that winter day that she'd met Miss Parker----she was going to ensure that from now on he felt safe.
"My name is Patricia Frieze and I'm Mr. Lyle's new attaché." Pearl answered coldly, studying Madeline carefully. The girl glared back, clearly drawing battle lines between them.
"Mr. Lyle isn't up to visitors right now." Madeline told her firmly, thinking that most people she knew weren't afraid of their attachés.
"What would that make you; his nurse?" Patricia asked disdainfully. Then, letting curiosity get the better of her, "What is wrong with him anyway?"
"I'm Madeline." She chose to ignore the last question, certain this woman was a dangerous fraud who would somehow use Mr. Lyle's condition against him.
Inside the room, inside the fractured mind of Lyle, an emergency meeting was taking place. For the first time Lyle, Romeo, and Bobby met each other. Romeo was trying to calm Bobby, promising that he would be okay, while Lyle blamed the other two for locking him out and precipitating this disaster.
{Dammit! If you two hadn't been sucking up to that little freak, Cassandra, we wouldn't be in this mess! Pearl would have never dared come here if I were myself!} Lyle ranted bitterly.
{Nonsense!} Romeo retorted acidly. {She had no problem having you beaten to a pulp, she'd have no problem waltzing in here and demanding your cooperation with whatever it is she's after.}
{What does she want?} Inside the confines of this mental realm Bobby looked the way he imagined himself; like a frightened thirteen year old boy. Romeo was smartly dressed in an expensive suit and perfectly groomed, but he had Lyle's face. Lyle was also impeccably dressed, albeit in a different suit; navy blue to Romeo's black.
{She wants the Empath.} A new player spoke from the shadows, his voice lower and his face and body shrouded in a dark flowing cloak.
{Who the hell are you?} Lyle demanded, ready fury sparking in his eyes as it was driven home to him again that he was not the pillar of perfection he'd believed himself to be.
{I'm you, Lyle. Just as Romeo and Bobby are you. One of these days now we're going to have to all get together and figure out a plan to integrate,} he paused as the other three all protested that idea vehemently. {…but not now. Now, she needs us.}
{Cassandra?} Romeo's "voice" was worried and a frown contorted his handsome face.
{Of course. Isn't she the one Lyle kidnapped in the first place? Cassandra is the arrow in the other's weapon against Raines. Without her, revenge is fruitless.}
{I'm going out there.} Romeo declared resolutely. {I won't have her hurt!} He answered Lyle's incredulous look defiantly.
{I don't want her hurt either.} Bobby agreed, his eyes narrowing into a glare of dislike towards his older alter-ego. {I'll help you.} He assured Romeo.
{As will I.} The shadowy one agreed. {You're outvoted.} He informed Lyle smugly.
{As if I want to be within a hundred miles of that psychotic bitch or her master!} Lyle scoffed unconvincingly. {Go ahead and play hero---just remember that it's *my* body you're using for your White Knight routine and I want it back in one piece!}
{It is all of ours.} Bobby contradicted pugnaciously.
{We'll worry about possession later. We must join the others quickly. Cassandra is on her way here.} Said the other impatiently. {Romeo, you take over---get us dressed, because I have a feeling we're gong to be leaving. Bobby and I will remain alert, ready to provide what backup we can. Lyle will not interfere. Hurry!}
Just outside the door, unaware of the movement from the patient she was protecting, Madeline had taken up a firm stance blocking the way in.
"Broots," She was chiding the older man, "what did you think you were doing? What will Sydney say when he hears about this?"
Pearl debated her next course of action. She'd wanted to flit in and then out again, keeping her cover intact in case she needed it again later, but it was starting to look hopeless. She controlled her start of dismay when Sydney's unmistakable tones replied to Madeline's question.
"Sydney will say that Broots and Ms. Frieze have both overstepped their boundaries. Ms. Frieze, Mr. Lyle is off limits for the moment---even to his personal assistant. Broots, you may escort Ms. Frieze to the front door. We will call her when Mr. Lyle is ready to work."
For a moment Pearl hesitated, considering whether she should go along with this order and try to return at a more auspicious time, or drop the act and reveal her true colors. Then Parker moved cautiously around Sydney's tall frame, standing erect and looking at ease with an effort that she refused to allow to show.
"You heard Sydney." She told Pearl, unaware of how similar her icy tones were to Pearl's. "My brother is off limits."
Pearl didn't hear a word she said. The blood had drained from her head and a roaring filled her ears as she stared at the woman standing before her. Her mouth gaped, and formed an unintelligible word before she reached out a hand to the wall beside her and leaned against it dizzily.
"Hey! Are you okay?" Broots asked worriedly. "C'mon, I'll get you upstairs and get you a glass of water before you leave. Don't worry about Miss Parker, she isn't really going to bite your head off." He shot Parker a cautious frown. Pearl brushed of his solicitous hand impatiently, her color returning rapidly.
"Back off!" She snapped, much to Broots indignation.
"Well!" He huffed, moving away from the spectacular blond.
Cassandra, approaching the group from the opposite direction that Sydney and Parker had taken, breathed a silent sigh of relief. She could feel Pearl's confusion and rising distress, although she couldn't quite tell what it was that had her so agitated. But she knew that Pearl was right about at her breaking point, and she was well aware of how dangerous the woman would be if she did snap. Angelo had left her before they turned the corner to this corridor, knowing that Cassandra could navigate now from what she'd pick up from her friend's minds, undoubtedly retreating to some hidden location to return to his role as an observer. Cassandra was debating whether or not she should make her presence known when the door to the sickroom opened and Lyle strolled out, dressed in faded jeans and a flannel shirt, with his broken arm in a sling.
"Pearl?" He queried suavely, raising on eyebrow in mock consternation.
"No!" Cassandra cried, too late to make a difference. Pearl's control snapped and she had an arm around Madeline's throat and a small handgun pressed to her temple in an instant.
"How melodramatic." Lyle sighed.
"Don't move!" Pearl snapped.
"Let her go!" Parker and Cassandra spoke simultaneously; Parker in angry tones, Cassandra in soothing tones.
"Shut up!" Pearl shrieked.
Everyone silenced, aware that Pearl was well past her breaking point.
"That's better." She panted, trying to regain control of herself and the situation. She avoided looking in Parker's direction at all and fixed her resentful gaze firmly on Lyle's face.
"You and the black haired bitch will accompany me." She said in measured, cold tones, dragging a veneer of calm over her face. "He wasn't finished with you yet. The rest of you will stay here and make sure no one gets into my way. If I see one guard or one gun this little girl will have her brains spattered all over your lovely gray walls. Got it?"
Parker nodded slowly, her narrowed gaze never wavering from Pearl's face. She wanted to shriek at Pearl to release her ward; to threaten to break every bone in her body if any harm came to Madeline; but some instinct told her that Pearl would loose her precarious composure if she spoke. Parker elbowed Sydney demandingly and the psychiatrist started, glanced down at her, and realized why she'd remained silent.
"Broots," He said quietly, "go to the lobby and make sure Ms. Frieze has clear passage through the Centre. Have her car brought around to the front."
Pearl flashed him a tight, approving smile.
"That's better." She breathed, relaxing slightly as things once again seemed to be going her way. "Lyle, you escort our prize in front of me; I'll bring up the rear with this little girl. No tricks." She warned him venomously.
"No tricks." He agreed gravely, his good hand held open and away from his body. He moved to Cassandra's side, taking her elbow and ignoring her quiet sigh of resignation.
"Pearl!" Parker's instincts told her she could confront the woman now without disastrous consequences. "Madeline is my ward and Cassandra is my friend. If any harm comes to either of them…" She let her voice trail off into a meaningful silence.
"The girl is just my insurance. I have no desire to hurt her." Peal answered sincerely, although without looking at Parker. "As for Cassandra; her fate is up to him, I have no say in the matter."
"Pearl." Parker's voice was low and demanding and she paused until the smaller woman reluctantly looked her in the face.
"Madeline and Cassandra are under my protection. If any harm comes to them I will hold you personally responsible." Her weakness was completely hidden as she glared at the other woman. "If they get so much as a splinter, I will take it out of your hide---understand?"
Pearl's expression was frozen into blankness, then a wry grin twisted her lips for a moment.
"You have to be related." She breathed to herself before speaking a little louder to Parker.
"I can't give you any assurances." She told Parker honestly, her pale blue eyes fixed on Parker's darker blue. "In fact, I have no doubt that my---," she paused, looking for the most appropriate word, "employer, has unpleasant plans for Cassandra. If you want to spare her hardship, get Raines to follow us as soon as you can. It's the only hope your little friend has."
Madeline drew in a shocked breath and Parker hissed venomously at those words. Sydney, studying the two women, intervened suddenly.
"Your way has been cleared, Ma'am." He said formally, stepping in front of Parker to break the women's eye contact. "Please treat our friends with the same good faith we've given you."
Pearl's glance shot from Sydney, to Broots, to the glimpse of Parker that she could see behind Sydney, and back to Sydney. She gave a brief nod and began backing her way out of the labyrinthine corridors of the Centre. As soon as they turned the corner she propelled Madeline from her arms, and jerked Cassandra closer. Her fingers gripped Cassandra's upper arm so tightly that the tips were white.
"You can go, girl." She grated out to Madeline. "My own show of good faith."
"No." Madeline said quietly, standing next to Lyle. Her right hand gripped his left arm, whether protectively, or for comfort, it wasn't clear. "They're my friends. I'll go with them. Besides, you need someone to drive the car."
Pearl's eyes narrowed and then she nodded again.
"Fine, be a martyr. But it's a dumb choice." She motioned Lyle and Madeline to precede her and hustled her three hostages through the maze-like passages of the Centre like a seasoned veteran. She knew short cuts that even Lyle hadn't mastered yet; a fact that the Lyle fragment of the crew in his head pointed out to the Romeo fragment who was currently running the show.
{She's good. I don't know if Parker would know of these pathways.}
{I already know she's good. I saw her when she was tormenting you.} Romeo responded acidly. {Just leave me alone and let me concentrate on the situation.}
Fortunately, Sydney's assurances of safe passage held true, and even when they reached the lobby no one attempted to stop them. Pearl, wound tighter than a broken clock, didn't even start to relax until the four of them were shut into Madeline's car. She had bypassed the Towncar waiting for them at the doors, suspecting, quite accurately, that it would have a tracking device on it, and chose Madeline's vehicle after the young lady pointed it out to her as an alternative.
Pearl would have been angry if she'd known that Madeline had quite astutely noted her growing anxiety and offered the use of her vehicle to ward off a dangerous blow up. If she'd known just how easy it was for the younger woman to read her she would have been even more upset than the chaotic situation earlier had made her. She prided herself in having an unreadable face.
Parker, Broots, and Sydney stepped out of the Centre doors just in time to see Madeline's car; a gift from Parker, accelerate off of Centre property.
"Sydney," Parker said, all sign of lingering weakness ruthlessly suppressed. "Get Sam to choose some men and go after them. You go with them and report to me every hour. If Sam can't pick up the trail, we'll set up headquarters in the motel where we picked up Cassandra and Lyle this morning. Broots, you reserve us a room and wrack your bald little head for anything you can come up with to help us find them. I'll be in my fath---Lyle's office." She corrected herself in midstream with more than a hint of bitterness.
"And have Raines sent down to the office. We're going to have a talk; just the two of us."
"Parker, Raines isn't himself at the moment." Sydney warned gently.
"Who is?" She asked bleakly, thinking of the strangeness of her brother, her father's odd behavior at the hospital, even Pearl's bizarre reaction to seeing her in the hallway seemed significant; although she was damned if she could figure out how.

"Liam, dispose of the car." Pearl ordered curtly as the four people in the car were surrounded by several large, well-muscled and well-armed men. "Mel, Ron, you two escort the girl to a holding cell---no games along the way, just lock her up and report back to me. Tom, Dave and Jon, you three will come with me to deliver the Playboy and Pretty Girl, here, to him."
Madeline heard the orders to split them up with a sinking heart. She was convinced that she could somehow protect her friends, if she was only with them, but it seemed that she wasn't going to be given the chance. She quickly looked around at all of the people around her; assessing her chances of escape, nil; her odds of convincing Pearl to let her remain with her friends, less than nil; and, briefly, her chances of giving the two goons who were supposed to escort her to a cell the slip later---also not likely to happen. She kept her frustrated sigh inside---she'd just have to see what she could do about escaping her cell once she was confined.
The urge to remain with her friends, the conviction that she alone could protect them, wasn't logical at all. It was based on her own experiences as a helpless victim, and her need to make sure she was never in that position again. As long as she clung to her belief that she could protect Cassandra and Bobby she wasn't a victim, but the moment she admitted that she was as helpless as they were she would crumple like used aluminum foil. Of course, she didn't allow this reasoning to surface high enough in her mind to be recognized, she just held fast to her comforting fiction of power with all the strength she had inside of her.
Cassandra, still held by Pearl in a white-knuckled grip that would undoubtedly leave bruises, sensed the conflict within Madeline and longed to comfort the girl, but she was too busy fighting her own deep seated anxieties. Her last visit to this underground complex had been hellish, to say the least. She was terrified of what was coming next, knowing that Pearl's Master hated her with an unreasoning ferocity. She had a terrible foreboding that she wouldn't be leaving this bunker under her own power this time---in fact, she strongly suspected that she wouldn't feel the sun on her skin ever again---she was going to die in this subterranean lair of hate and pain.
For his own part, Romeo, held roughly between Tom and Dave, had to fight down a few uneasy thoughts as well. Tom would have probably killed him the last time he'd been here, if Jon hadn't interfered. Would he allow Tom to follow through this time? With a disgusted shake of his head, Romeo pushed away those self-absorbed thoughts and tried to concentrate on Cassandra and her danger. He didn't know what the Master wanted with Cassandra, but he knew that she was in far more danger than he was.
The three captives were hustled into the decrepit farmhouse, and down the stairs hidden in the refurbished study to the concealed facility below. Romeo shot Madeline an encouraging smile as she was hustled down one tunnel while they were directed down another. Madeline did her best to return the smile, wondering which part of Lyle was in charge now. He seemed too mature to be Bobby, and too kind to be Lyle. Concentrating on the puzzle of Lyle's many personalities helped her to keep fear and despair at bay while she was marched to a cell, roughly searched, and locked in. As soon as the men's footsteps receded into silence she began a thorough search of her cell, looking for an escape----any escape.
While Madeline searched, and worried, Cassandra and Romeo were escorted to the Master's presence, and the three guards were dismissed to guard the door from the hallway.
"You have been successful, my Pearl." The strangely distorted electronic voice sent chills down the captives' spines.
"Yes, Sir, I have." Pearl answered emotionlessly, maintaining "Mother's" fiction of gender.
"We are quite disappointed in your lack of loyalty, Mr. Lyle." The mechanical voice continued dispassionately from the shadows.
"Would it ease your disappointment to know that I am not Mr. Lyle?" Romeo asked with well feigned nonchalance.
"Do not mock me!" The shadowed figure seemed to swell with indignation. "Pearl, have him held until I have had time to determine the appropriate reward for his transgressions. Remove him now, before I deprive myself of the pleasure of torturing him by shooting him!"
Romeo cast a worried glance over at Cassandra, who was standing silent and withdrawn by his side. He knew she could feel his concern for her, just as he knew she couldn't see his look. But she looked up, her sightless eyes fixing uncannily on his face.
"Do not worry about me." She whispered softly. "It is out of your hands anyway. Help Madeline---get her back to Parker safely."
It took him a few moments to realize that she hadn't said a word, that he'd heard here request in his mind. By the time he did, Tom and Dave were manhandling him out the door.
"No!" He bellowed, somehow realizing that Cassandra fully expected to die. "No! Let me go!"
Tom, overjoyed to have an excuse to vent more of his ire on Lyle, knocked him unconscious with a vicious to the back of his head. Cassandra struggled to contain her secondhand pain at his mistreatment, and turned her attention back to her mysterious enemy.
"Now, girl," "Mother's" voice distortion unit was turned off and Cassandra heard her voice clearly for the first time. She frowned, recognizing the voice as female and more; recognizing it as familiar but not in any way she could nail down. "Have you reconsidered your ill-advised loyalty to that old goat?"
Ice ran through Cassandra's veins as her premonition of death grew stronger.
"I will not betray Mr. Raines. He is my father in all but blood and I will not renounce him or the love I feel for him." She answered through stiff and cold lips. She knew her response sealed her fate.
"So be it." The woman's voice was almost as flat as it had been when the synthesizer altered it. "Pearl, I will take her to my workrooms. You will oversee things while I am working."
"Yes, Mother." Pearl answered, her voice a masterpiece of detachment. Only Cassandra felt her growing revulsion for "Mother's" actions.
"You may oversee Mr. Lyle's refresher course in loyalty." Mother added magnanimously, seeming to sense some of Pearl's reluctance.
"Thank you, Mother." Pearl responded obediently.
Cassandra could tell that she was still unhappy with the entire situation. Something was altering Pearl's perception of Mother's crusade: Mother's goals. All Cassandra could hope, though, was that Pearl's changing attitude would help Lyle and Madeline. She felt responsible for their presence in this dangerous place, knowing that she and Raines were the only people Mother truly cared about, and that the other two were incidental.
She made no attempt to resist when Mother grasped her wrist and began leading her through a set of passages opening off of the back of her "throne room". Instead, she opened her mind and tried to penetrate the wall around Mother's mind. She put her body on auto-pilot and searched the seamless, tough shield for any crack or weakness she could use to penetrate Mother's secrets and, maybe; if she was lucky, find a tool to win her freedom and that of her two friends.
Her efforts were futile, however, and soon she was too busy trying to resist the truly sadistic persuasion techniques that Mother had perfected through decades of practice. In no time at all Cassandra's world narrowed to two realities; more pain and less pain. This time she didn't even try to reach Angelo or her friends within the Bunker. She was on her own, and she wouldn't drag anyone else into danger with her.

"Mr. Lyle? Bobby? Romeo?" Madeline's worried voice, listing every alter personality of Lyle's she knew finally brought Romeo out of his unwilling slumber.
"Madeline?" He groaned quietly. "Got any aspirin?"
Madeline smiled, happier than she would have been comfortable admitting, that Lyle was alive and relatively undamaged.
"Which one are you?" She asked, confident by the humor in his question that it wasn't Lyle.
"Romeo. How long was I out? How's Cassandra?"
Madeline's gray eyes filled with tears, blurring her image of Lyle's handsome face even as Lyle's vision cleared enough for him to see hers.
"I don't know." She answered, her voice reflected her emotional agony. "I've been sent three meals since they threw you in here. Pearl visited once, and sent a doctor to make sure you weren't going to die. No one will tell me anything at all about Cassandra!" Her voice raised shrilly with the last sentence.
"Calm down, Madeline." Romeo squeezed her hand reassuringly. "Help me sit up and I'll see what I can do. I have resources that no one knows about."
Madeline reined in the fear that was pushing her into near-hysteria and supported Romeo as he pulled himself up to a sitting position. She bit her lip, studying Romeo's face carefully for signs of dizziness or fainting, and was surprised anew at the warmth she felt when he smiled at her in response.
"I've got a monster headache," he confided softly, "but I'll live."
"Is Bobby okay too?"
Romeo retreated mentally and assessed the others. All but Bobby shared in the headache, and Bobby was the only one who still felt any optimism at all.
{You can find her.} He assured Romeo. {I know you can!}
"Bobby seems to be the only one of us who is okay." Romeo admitted ruefully. "I'm going to have to go into a sort-of trance to try and locate Cassandra. Can you keep an eye on things for me? Warn me if someone's coming? I don't want anyone else to know what I can do."
"Of course I can." Madeline assured him firmly, deeply grateful to have something positive to do for a change.
The dread that ate at her would have been far more bearable if it had been herself she was worrying about. The fact that it was Cassandra's fate that frightened her made her anxiety far worse. She knew that she could handle a lot, she just didn't know how much Cassandra could handle, and she hated the way this situation was resurrecting old feelings of helplessness.
"Thank you, Madeline." Romeo told her with quiet sincerity, and not a hint of flirtatiousness. "I'm worried too." He admitted with just a hint of Lyle's reluctance to acknowledge weaknesses.
Madeline gave him a warm smile, her instinctive revulsion for his womanizing personality vanishing under their shared concern for Cassandra.
"Hurry." She urged him briefly before moving to take up a post staring out the small barred window in the door.
Romeo moved on the cot to where it butted against the corner of two walls. He braced his back against the corner, closed his eyes, and retreated into his crowded mind. In moments he was surrounded by the other personalities, but he ignored Lyle's recriminations and Bobby's anxious questions, and addressed himself to the mysterious other.
{You are the one who controls the paranormal gifts we have, correct?} He half asked, half stated.
{Yes.} The other answered calmly. He continued before Romeo could even start his next question. {Yes, I will seek her. I've been trying, but while one of you others are in possession of the body I have only a fraction of the power that I do when you are all down. Now, if everyone will quiet down, I will see what I can see.}
Lyle and Bobby silenced at the other's words, Lyle resentfully, Bobby hopefully. He grabbed Romeo's hand and clung to it, as if Romeo was an older brother offering support.
{Do you think she's okay?} He asked Romeo worriedly. {Will we be able to help her?}
{I don't know, Bobby.} Romeo answered non-committally. {All we can do is try our best.}
In his own private thoughts, however, he was far more concerned and pessimistic than he wanted anyone, even himself, to know.
In the cell, all Madeline could see was Lyle's body sitting limply wedged into a corner of the cell. She found herself praying; something she hadn't done much of since her mother had died. Time passed slowly, and Madeline's tense watch became a stiff march along the width of the front of the cell, with a quick peek outside the window with each pass. Finally, just as she heard the sound of footsteps approaching the cell, Romeo stirred, and opened his eyes.
His face was ashen, with fatigue or bad news, Madeline couldn't tell which.
"Company." She mouthed. Romeo nodded, and stretched himself out on the cot like he was still unconscious. He motioned Madeline to his side before he closed his eyes, and she obeyed silently. She didn't know what he was trying to accomplish, but she surprised herself by having complete confidence in Romeo's intelligence and commitment to Cassandra. She was pressing a damp rag to Lyle's forehead when Pearl opened the cell door and stepped in.
"Still unconscious?" Pearl asked dispassionately.
"Yes." Madeline lied without the slightest flicker of an eyelid to betray her. "He mumbled something a few times, and opened his eyes once, but he hasn't regained consciousness yet."
"I'll give him another few hours, and then send the doctor back in." Pearl told Madeline, a hint of sympathy peeking out of her cold blue eyes.
"Thank you." Madeline was unwillingly touched by Pearl's reluctant offer. She didn't have Cassandra's empathic abilities, but she was beginning to suspect that Pearl had emotional scars that rivaled her own. Perhaps Pearl's were even worse, since she had evidently never had the affection and protection of someone like Parker.
"Mother want's to meet you." Pearl said suddenly. "He'll be okay without you for a few minutes." She nodded her head briefly towards Lyle's still body.
Madeline felt a rush of adrenaline shoot through her as her protective instincts kicked into gear. She didn't know who "Mother" was, but the expression on Pearl's face when she said her name warned Madeline that meeting her would be dangerous. Her face settled into an impassive mask that she hadn't even realized she had as she slowly stood up to follow Pearl. Only her eyes revealed her unease, and then only when she shot one last glance back at Lyle's seemingly unconscious form.
"C'mon, Madeline." Pearl urged impatiently. She'd been reluctant to bring Madeline before Mother when the order was passed along to her, but now that she had started she was eager to get it over with.
"Who is Mother?" Madeline asked, her mouth dry with foreboding.
"She's Mother." Pearl answered unhelpfully. Suddenly she paused, looking at Madeline as if she was being forced to speak against her will.
"Don't fight her, okay?" Pearl urged Madeline with a disturbingly intent gaze. "Just agree with whatever she suggests. I don't want----" She closed her lips firmly before finishing that sentence and set off again so rapidly that even Madeline's long legs were hard pressed to keep up with her pace.
I don't want, what? Madeline mused silently. She doesn't want me hurt? To end up like Cassandra, what ever that might be? Maybe she doesn't want any more pain on her head.
Madeline studied Pearl as she followed her to meet with "Mother". Something was eating away at Pearl, tearing her up inside. Madeline considered herself something of an expert on the kinds of internal demons that could latch onto a person who was doing something they hated, and she was confident that something like that was affecting Pearl right now. She knew, with the instinct born of experience, that Pearl wasn't sure herself what was bothering her. As Madeline assessed the barely discernible lines of discontent on Pearl's face, she tried to determine how she could turn Pearl's conflict of interest to their benefit. Her determination to save her friends hadn't faded in the least, but had simply grown stronger the more anxiety she suffered in the cell.
Pearl strode through the corridors of the Bunker as if she could outrun the doubts and attacks of conscience that had started to plague her from the first moment she saw Cassandra defy Mother with such quiet determination. Unlike the other victims Mother had dealt with over the years, Cassandra was good. It was a quality of unyielding virtue that Pearl had never before seen; that Pearl had never even considered possible. That Mother would destroy such innocence in her quest for vengeance threw everything Pearl had believed about the validity of Mother's revenge into question. Now Mother wanted the other girl, Madeline, and Pearl had to wonder why.
Was it because she suspected Pearl's growing doubts? Was she planning to turn Madeline into a replacement for her unsatisfactory daughter? Or was she planning to make Madeline a part of her revenge too? How should she react if Mother decided to torture Madeline too? Unlike Cassandra, Madeline was obviously not an innocent. Those gray eyes of hers looked out of a youthful face with all of the cynicism of an ancient. But like Cassandra, Madeline was obviously a woman of integrity and loyalty. Was she, too, loyal to Raines?
Far too soon for Pearl's peace of mind, she and Madeline reached the door to Mother's audience room. Pearl shot Madeline a searching glance, and read a reluctant compassion in the other girl's eyes, before opening the door and escorting the girl before Mother's chair.
"Here she is, Mother." Pearl's voice was flat and emotionless as she gestured Madeline to approach the shadowy figure in the back of the room. She held back, curious to see the girl's reaction to Mother's face----would she see the resemblance too?
Madeline shot Pearl a look that couldn't completely hide her apprehension, and moved obediently forward. A few steps, and the shadows hiding the woman in the raised chair lifted and she saw----
"Park?!" Was that her voice? So high and thin? Madeline closed her eyes and took a deep breath, holding it as she forced herself to process the image of the woman she'd just seen.
No, it wasn't Parker, her guardian. The woman's dark hair had liberal streaks of white, not gray, and her sculpted features were marred by a scar as thick as Madeline's thumb on her left temple, disappearing into her dark hair. So who was this woman? She was too old to be Parker's sister, even if Madeline hadn't already known that Parker didn't have a sister. She was too young to be Parker's grandmother. And Parker's mother was dead----wasn't she?
Madeline's eyes slowly opened, and rounded in amazement as that last thought ricocheted through her mind until it finally stopped.
"Catherine?" She breathed, the conviction that this was Parker's long lost mother growing with each second that passed. "Catherine Parker?"
"What are you blathering about, girl?" The woman's voice was harsh and unsteady, undoubtedly the result of the bullet that had grazed her throat. Madeline saw another scar on that long white throat.
"You are here to answer my questions, not to ask your own!" That familiarly strange voice continued irritably. "Now tell me, are you also a fan of that dog Raines?"
Madeline forced her racing thoughts to still and focused all of her concentration on the woman in front of her. Her life depended on how she answered these next few questions, her instincts told her that, and she trusted those instincts.
"Raines?" She repeated blankly, but with distaste. "No, I can't stand the man! He had Parker shot!"
"Good answer." The woman approved coldly. "What about Lyle, the pretty-boy who came with you here? What are your feelings towards him."
"I don't like Lyle." Madeline said carefully, "But he isn't the only person in that body. I like Bobby, and I like Romeo."
"Bobby?" Her voice sounded shaken and she frowned painfully. "Bobby? Who is Bobby?"
"He's your son." Madeline explained in a quiet, impassioned voice. "The one they told you died at birth. His sister, Parker, she's my guardian. She thinks you died, Catherine, but here you are!"
"Son? Daughter? Pearl is my daughter, girl!"
"Park is your daughter too!" Madeline snapped back, desperate to get through to the confused woman before her. "She misses you terribly! You have to let her know you're alive!"
Neither of the two noticed Pearl's shock and dismay from where she stood just inside the door. A daughter? Mother had a daughter? And Lyle is really her son? Little details, mannerisms that Lyle and Mother shared, their charm, their air of almost royalty, all of these images had picked away at Pearl's consciousness without her realizing it for years. She looked up to see Mother's face contorting with irrational rage, underneath which was heartbreaking pain.
"LIES!" Mother thundered shrilly. "All lies! Get her out of here, Pearl. Get rid of her!"
"Of course, Mother!" Pearl practically leapt to Madeline's side. "She'll never bother you again, I promise."
"She IS!" Madeline shouted as Pearl began to drag her from the room. "Park IS your daughter, and Lyle is your son! You ARE Catherine Parker!!"
"Shut up!" Pearl hissed, slamming the door shut behind them. "Do you want her to order your execution?"
"You don't understand!" Madeline retorted, tears pressing against the back of her throat as she realized that Parker's mother lived.
"I think I do." The gravity of Pearl's tones stopped Madeline's protests and drew her eyes to the other woman's face.
"What do you understand?" Madeline asked warily, wondering if she could trust the implied promise of help in Pearl's expression.
"I understand a lot of things that never made any sense before." Pearl answered vaguely, dragging Madeline back to the cell block by one wrist.
Not for the first time, Madeline wondered if she could overpower Pearl with her superior height and muscle. Then she assessed the steel in Pearl's grip and decided against making the attempt. Besides, she wanted to see if Romeo had discovered anything about Cassandra's whereabouts.
"Pearl!" Madeline dug her heels in and forced Pearl to stop just outside of the cell. "What does she want?" Madeline demanded breathlessly. "Why is she so bitter about Raines and Cassandra?"
"Raines killed her." Pearl answered somberly. "She doesn't really know it, but she blames him for the loss of her family. I only realized it just now----I didn't know who Mother was until you said her name. She rescued me from the Centre the day before Raines had her ambushed in the elevator. I had forgotten about her daughter; I was only five at the time of my rescue. I don't know how she survived, only that a man brought her to the convent where she had hidden me. He disappeared the next day and never returned. The Sisters saved her life, even though they claimed it was God who really worked the miracle. When Mother finally regained most of her strength, she took me and slipped out of the convent in the middle of the night. She wasn't the same, kind woman that she had been before. She was subject to blinding migraines and terrible mood swings. And she only cared about one thing, making Raines pay. Now I realize that one of those bullets caused brain damage---for all I know it's still lodged in her brain. She doesn't remember her children because she can't. She knows of no emotion but revenge because she can't. I have to get back to her---your revelations are sure to bring on another migraine and she'll need me. As soon as I can I will arrange to smuggle you and Lyle out of here. I won't let her kill her daughter's ward or her own son---she'd hate herself for it."
"Cassandra?" Madeline probed hopefully. Pearl's expression became grim.
"It may be too late for her." Pearl cautioned Madeline. "But I'll do what I can. She's connected with Raines and it could be that the only thing I can do for her is to put her out of her misery."
Madeline shuddered as she realized that Pearl was completely serious about killing Cassandra for her own sake.
"Please, please try to get her away from Catherine." Madeline urged Pearl. "Parker loves her too. Cassandra is her best friend."
Pearl looked down and sighed tiredly.
"I'll do my best." She finally managed pessimistically. "Now, get in here and wait for me. It make take me a while to set things up. Tell whoever brings your food that you need a doctor again if Lyle hasn't regained consciousness yet."
With that she practically threw Madeline into the cell and locked it behind her. Madeline regained her balance with the help of Romeo who was waiting for her just inside the center of the cell. By the time they reached the tiny barred window, Pearl was already out of the cell block area.
"What happened, Madeline?" Romeo demanded urgently, his eyes revealing the anxiety eating away at him. "Did you see Cassandra?"
"No." Madeline answered briefly, struggling with her conscience as to whether she should confess Mother's identity to him or not. She finally decided to keep it to herself, unsure if Mother would ever be healed enough to even recognize her own child, especially the one she'd never even seen. Besides, she wasn't quite sure that this aspect of Lyle's personality would even care. "She's crazy, Romeo, and I'm afraid for Cassandra's safety. Did you find her through your methods?"
"No." Romeo answered grimly. "She's deeply shielded. I have a sense of where she is but no idea of how she is."
"We've got to get out of here." Madeline fretted, pulling fruitlessly at the bars in the window.
"Yes, we do." Romeo agreed, moving her away from the door gently, but firmly. He laid his hands flat over the spot where the doorknob should have been and shut his eyes. After a moment of concentration Madeline heard the lock click and the door opened a crack.
"That's some trick!" She breathed, her eyes alight with relief and just a touch of awe.
"Madeline, one of us needs to go for help, and it has to be you. I'm the only one who can find Cassandra right now. Will you trust me to touch your mind?"
Madeline just gaped at him blankly. Touch her mind? What the hell was he talking about?
"Lyle knows the set up of this place. If you'll let me, I can place a map and a schedule of the guards' locations in your mind. You'll be able to escape, while I try to find Cassandra. Will you trust me?"
Trust Lyle? She asked herself, cut off from her emotions from the overload of shocks she had undergone that day.
{No, trust me.} Lyle's voice, but it wasn't his voice, spoke softly in her head. {Time is running out for Cassandra. She's going to need medical help, soon. Please, let me do this!}
"Yes." Madeline agreed numbly. "Do what you think best."
She reeled with dizziness as a foreign set of memories plunked into her brain, grabbing out blindly for support. Romeo steadied her until she managed to blink her eyes into focus again.
"That isn't an experience I'll recommend anytime soon." She commented absently, examining the memories for the best route out.
"Are you okay now?" Romeo asked impatiently. "We've got to get moving before someone returns."
"Yeah, go." Madeline replied firmly, pushing Romeo towards the door. "I'll get help as fast as I can. Tell Cassandra to hang on, okay?"
She nearly swallowed her tongue with surprise when Romeo pivoted suddenly and swept her into a powerful hug.
"Thank you, Madeline." He murmured, tears lurking in his eyes and voice as he released her. "God speed." Seeming as uncomfortable with his emotional outburst as Madeline herself, he pivoted again and practically ran out of the cell.
"Well!" Madeline huffed into the silence that fell after his departure. "What next? A green sky? A blue moon? I've got to get to college---the weirdness connected to the Centre is getting just a bit too much for this all-American girl."
Following Romeo's example, she raced down the short hallway of cell doors and vanished quietly into the maze of the Bunker's tunnels. From Lyle's memories she knew that the Bunker didn't have the many levels that the Centre did, only three to their 27, but they covered nearly three times the acreage that the Centre did. She was quickly so absorbed in avoiding re-capture while she negotiated her way to an exit that she had neither the time or the energy to worry about Romeo or Cassandra.

"Where the hell are they hiding?!" Parker's voice was harsh with anger; anger she was using to hide her deep fear.
"Parker, you really should go home and rest." Sydney repeated for what felt like the hundredth time.
"No!" She snapped back, for what also felt like the hundredth time. "We'll find them."
Just then the phone rang, and ignoring the fire the movement caused to blossom in her back, Parker snatched up the receiver from beside the tacky motel room bed.
"Sam? Where are they?" She demanded with equal parts impatience and hope. Sydney averted his eyes as her face fell with Sam's reply.
"Damn it! What the hell do we pay you for?" She shouted furiously, moments later.
"Give me the phone, Parker." Sydney was at her side in an instant, his hand held out demandingly.
After a brief battle of wills Parker's blue eyes filled with tears and she closed them wearily, surrendering the phone silently. Without another word she slowly stretched herself out on the too-soft mattress behind her, all without opening her eyes. Broots saw the tears slipping from under her closed lids, though, and he exchanged identically worried looks with Sydney.
"Sam?" Sydney finally said to the phone. "Give me an update, please."
His eyes never left Parker's pain wracked form as he listened with half an ear to Sam's report. Finally he spoke again.
"Highway 113 seems to be key. I want you to make sweeps from the Oakhaven exit to the closes exit thirty miles south of here, okay? Report the instant you find anything of interest, got it? Yes, we're keeping an eye out here. No, she'll be fine, she'd just trying to do too much too soon. Thank you, Sam, keep us informed." He replaced the receiver without ever taking his eyes off of Parker's too still body.
"Try to get some rest, Parker." He murmured gently, drawing an afghan that Broots had located in the motel's tiny closet over her. "We'll keep up the search while you do."
Parker made no response, but her shoulder's relaxed ever so slightly.

Cassandra's world had no room in it for anything but the pain. Parker, Romeo, Raines, Madeline, even Jarod and Angelo, they had all ceased to exist. All she knew of was degrees of pain, from negligible to excruciating. The bruises from Pearl's hands and fists were nothing by now; it was the broken fingers of her left hand, and her left forearm, both bones broken when Mother had brought down a tire iron on it. And her ribs, the pain of every breath suggested that they were fractured, if not broken through.
Her jaw was swollen and ached too much to move, she hadn't eaten anything since Mother had strapped her to this wooden table in her chamber of horrors. Her right eye had swollen shut, not that it mattered in her blindness. She was caked with blood from countless superficial lacerations. Most worrying of all, though, was the fiery pain in her abdomen, which also felt far too tight and hard. She suspect she was bleeding internally and wondered just how long she had left. All she knew at this point was the pain, the question that she had to continue to answer "no" too, and that this could not last forever. It had already lasted far, far longer than she would ever have believed possible.
When she felt the psychic blankness that heralded Mother's approach she whimpered, a hopeless, pathetic sound, but she didn't move. She had no energy to move, to protest, or to stop the tears leaking from her tightly closed eyes. All she could do was ride the pain, and pray for unconsciousness.
"Pick her up." Mother said tonelessly. "I need her in the audience room."
Cassandra recognized Pearl's icy mental barriers the moment she scooped her up. The barriers had been breached, however, and Cassandra felt her carefully hidden anguish as she obediently carried Cassandra out and followed Mother up the stairs leading to her chamber. Something had happened to shake Pearl's faith in Mother, Cassandra realized through her fog of misery. Pearl's touch seemed more gentle as she carried her, and she laid her gently on the floor rather than dropping her roughly as Cassandra had half expected.
"Bring me the phone." Cassandra heard Mother's voice coming from what seemed to be a vast distance.
"Of course, Mother." Pearl's answer was composed and calm. "May I ask what your plan is?"
"Of course you may, my dear." Mother replied as sweetly as if she'd never entertained a homicidal thought in her life. "I'm going to invite Raines to exchange himself for his little sycophant there."
"You're going to release her when he arrives?" Pearl asked, hoping Mother couldn't hear the rising hope in her voice. She had no problem with Mother killing Raines, and the more horrible his death the happier she'd be, but she had no desire to see Cassandra suffer any more.
"Of course not!" Mother snapped irritably. "I'll kill her in front of him. Then, I'll kill him." She added with deep satisfaction.
"How the hell did the old bastard inspire such loyalty in her anyway?" She murmured softly to herself as she dialed the number to Raines' personal apartments at the Centre. "All he's ever done is destroy whatever came into his hands."
"Raines." Cassandra's drifting consciousness was pulled back to reality by the sound of Mother's altered voice. "If you want to see your treasured 'Cassandra' again before she dies, you'll follow my directions precisely."
{No!} Cassandra shouted in her mind, desperately wishing she could 'send' over the miles to him. {Do not listen, Sir! She wants to kill YOU!}
"You will drive to the gas station just off of exit 27 in the outskirts of Oakhaven." Mother went on hollowly. "Be there in two hours. You will receive further instructions then."
{Cassandra?} She felt Angelo's familiar and welcome presence in her mind.
{Angelo?} She thought back, tears pricking her eyelids. {Is that really you?}
{Cassandra hurt bad. Want to go home.} She knew, somehow, that Angelo was speaking those words to someone else.
{Do not let him come here, Angelo.} She pleaded, sending all of her fear and grief with the thought. {She wants to kill HIM; that is what this is all about. Please, Angelo?}
Cassandra knew Angelo had no love for Raines, and she didn't blame him, but he knew how much she loved him and he didn't want her to be hurt.
{She wants to kill Raines.} Angelo parroted faithfully. {Cassandra says 'No Raines'.}
{Where is she, Angelo?} Like a telephone Angelo relayed the voice of Jarod to Cassandra's mind.
{I do not know. Do not try to find me, just keep Raines away.} Cassandra thought tiredly, not even trying to send, not wanting anyone else to get dragged into her nightmare.
Angelo apparently shrugged wordlessly.
{Damn!} She heard Jarod curse. {We're no better off than before. We know she's within a half hour's drive of Oakhaven, but we have no idea where! Wait!} Cassandra felt the renewed hope in Jarod as he continued with his thought. {Angelo, can you find the memory of the night Lyle first kidnapped her and give it to me?} Jarod demanded.
{Angelo, No!} Cassandra protested weakly, trying vainly to erect mental barriers against Angelo's probe. {If "Mother" does not kill him, the Centre will re-capture him. Do not help him!}
Angelo radiated regret and guilt, but unerringly found the memory and fed it through to Jarod's mind.
{Cass hurt.} He defended himself sadly. {Need friends.}
Fresh tears dripped down her face as she felt Jarod's mingled relief and rising determination to find her. One more friend endangering himself for her. Her energy drained rapidly as Jarod and Angelo's presence faded from her mind and she slowly sank into blessed unconsciousness.

Back in the only other motel Oakhaven boasted, Jarod's eyes glazed as he received an overabundance of sensory information. Each and every thought and sensation Cassandra had experienced the night Lyle had first taken her raced through his mind as if it was happening directly to him. He began to mumble, trying to glean the information he needed through the handicap of Cassandra's blindness.
"Lyle is excited, wildly so, on the line of not quite sane. What else is new? Smug, he's pleased with himself---this'll show those Centre bastards." He muttered, eyes darting beneath closed lids. He surfaced, fighting to regain his thoughts every step of the way.
"Need help." Angelo told Jarod as the other man opened his mouth to say the same thing.
"Yes." He grinned at Angelo. "But how do I get it without enjoying Centre hospitality again?" He mused.
"Miss Parker?" Angelo suggested hopefully.
"She's our best chance." Jarod agreed, pulling out his cellular phone from his hip pocket. He hit the speed dial with Parker's cell number on it, and waited for her characteristic;
"What?!" Her voice was as sharp and caustic as ever, but there was an undertone of fuzziness to it that made Jarod's brows draw together in a worried frown.
"Maybe I shouldn't bother you right now." He changed his mind quickly. "You should be resting. You could have died from that bullet."
"Don't start getting soft on me now, Jarod." Parker sighed tiredly. "Just tell me your little tidbit and I'll decide if I feel like following up on it."
"I was going to ask for your help." Jarods voice was uncharacteristically uncertain. "I might be able to find out where Cassandra has been taken."
"How do you know about----Never mind, I don't want to know." Parker broke her question off in the middle and changed course. "What do you need?"
"A driver." Jarod answered succinctly.
Parker opened her mouth to answer but was forestalled by the beeping of another call coming through.
"Hold on, Jarod." She disconnected him in mid-protest. "What?"
"We've just picked up your ward. She knows where they are." Sam, accustomed to Parker's brusqueness just made his report with no embellishments.
"Can you wait for us?" Parker knew that Sam could asses the immediate danger to the people still captive better than she could.
"I'd better not." Sam answered, after an unintelligible response from Madeline to him. "I don't know their condition, but the leader sounds pretty unstable."
Parker heard a squawk of protest come from Madeline, recognizing the girl's familiar tones, but she still couldn't understand what she was protesting. Sam must have quieted her somehow, though, because it was silent when she told him to give her directions and to mark the exit from the highway for them.
"It's an old forestry access road, about 10 miles north of exit 17a. I'll mark it with something bright." Sam promised. "I gotta go now; I'll check in as soon as possible."
As soon as he'd disconnected Madeline rounded on him.
"You didn't tell her!" She accused hotly. "Her mother is alive and you didn't tell her!"
"Calm down, Maddy." Sam soothed, unfortunately his shortening of her name simply stoked the flames of Madeline's anger. "I have good reasons for keeping this from her."
"DON'T call me, Maddy!" Madeline snapped frigidly.
"Okay, Madeline, think about it; you're a clever girl. Why do you think I didn't tell her?"
Madeline's eyes narrowed resentfully, but she swallowed her indignation and actually considered Sam's possible motives.
"You think you might have to kill her, don't you?" She finally asked, her eyes widening with horror.
"It's a possibility." Sam admitted gravely. "And, as you told me yourself, she's not herself. She doesn't seem to remember her children. Parker could end up having to grieve her mother all over again if we tell her too soon. It's just better to wait."
Madeline's forthright soul didn't like that, but she didn't want Parker to lose her mother twice in one lifetime either. In the end, she nodded her head grudgingly.
"Now, I have to go in, see what I can do. It would be best all around if you stayed here to show the way to the others." Sam went on briskly as soon as Madeline finally agreed with him.
"No."
"Maddy---uh, Madeline," If she hadn't been so tied up with worry for Cassandra and Parker she would have been amused at the effort Sam made to use her name. "Be sensible, you aren't trained for this and you won't be an asset."
"I'm going with you." Madeline responded adamantly.
For a minute Sam looked like her was tempted to knock her out and tie her up to keep her out of his way, but he obviously grudged the time it would take. He knew how upset Parker would be if something happened to her friend and he knew how upset the Triumvirate, and Mr. Parker---Sam had no doubt that the wily old bird would be back sooner or later, would be if he let anything happen to Lyle. All in all, this wasn't one of the high points of Sam's career with the Centre.
"Fine." He sighed in resignation. "But stay behind me, stay quiet, and do everything I tell you without arguing." He ordered her.
Madeline took one look at his glowering face and nodded with uncharacteristic obedience. She needed to go with him and she could tell, from years of reading men's faces simply to survive, that he'd gone as far as he would---to push further would be stupid.


Meanwhile, Parker had reconnected her call to Jarod as soon as she'd disconnected from Sam.
"Sam's found them. We're on our way to him now. Thanks anyway." She fired the words out like rounds from an automatic and disconnected them before he could say anything. Before Sam and Madeline had finished their battle of wills Sydney, Broots, and Parker were in their Towncar, speeding south towards 113.
"Angelo," Jarod told his friend, still looking bemused at Parker's abrupt dismissal of him. "I think that might be what my friends would call a brush off."
"Jarod go too?"
Jarod looked thoughtful, weighing the risks and the likelihood that his presence was vital.
"What do you think?" He asked Angelo, finally. "Should I go? Am I needed?"
"Cass hurt bad." Angelo told Jarod solemnly. "Real bad."
Jarod looked even grimmer at that news, but then he suddenly grinned.
"Okay, Angelo!" He declared jubilantly. "We'll go, and I have the perfect vehicle in mind!"
Angelo, whether he instinctively grasped Jarod's plan, or was simply going along with his friend's air of triumph, grinned back and looked as excited as a three year old on an outing to the ice cream shop.

Cassandra moaned quietly as consciousness slowly returned. She felt almost angry to be pulled back to deal with the pain. She gradually realized that she was no longer crumpled haphazardly on the floor, but cradled gently in a man's arms. The musky smell of a man and the softness of a flannel shirt penetrated her senses.
"Romeo?" She whispered softly, not bothering to try and open her useless eyes.
"Yes, querida." He murmured quietly back, brushing hair from her face with the fingertips of his splinted arm. "I'm here now, it'll be okay."
Cassandra smiled briefly, a painful proposition with the medley of bruises on her face.
"I supposed we're going to die together then." She felt selfishly glad at that. She wasn't alone, and having someone with her made her feel much stronger, almost comfortable. She sighed silently and snuggled closer into his soothing embrace.
"Apparently so." He agreed readily, continuing his gentle ministrations.
"Maybe she won't kill you." She suggested dreamily. "There's a reason why she shouldn't, but I can't remember it right now."
"It's not important, cara. You need to rest, to save your strength."
"No, Romeo, it's too late. I'm bleeding internally. I'm not even sure why I'm not gone already. One way or another, my time is over. It's too bad…" She mused in a semi-delirium. "I enjoyed those kisses you stole, but now you can't steal anymore."
Romeo's laugh ended on what sounded suspiciously like a sob.
"I'll steal more, I promise." He swore gently. "Just hang on for me, just a little while longer. Help is coming."
Her swollen lips pulled into a faint smile.
"For a kiss." She breathed just before she slipped into unconsciousness again. His tears falling on her face roused her again for a moment.
"Don't cry." She urged him solemnly. "It's okay. I hardly hurt at all now."
"Don't die, cara. Fight. Fight for me!"
"But I'm tired." Cassandra's voice was almost childlike and infinitely bewildered. "I want to sleep now."
"Not yet my little flower. You hold on for me." His voice was thick with tears and laced with steely resolve.
"Oh, my poor fractured Lyle." Cassandra managed to raise her unbroken arm and pat him softly on his cheek. "You will be okay. Romeo will woo someone else for you. And your Mama-----" Her voice trailed off and her brow furrowed in puzzlement.
"Your Mama loves you." She finished vaguely.
"My Mama is dead." Lyle said harshly. "And she never even knew I lived."
"No. She isn't dead, she's watching you. She loves you, I know this; she just doesn't remember. Promise me you'll help her remember."
"No!" He protested angrily. "No! I won't lose anyone else. I never knew my mother, I didn't meet my sister until it was too late for her to love me, I won't lose you too. You *will* fight!" He ordered and begged in the same voice.
"Mmmm, can you smell the flowers, Lyle? Or are you Romeo now?" She answered him, eyes starting to roll in her head. "The sunshine is so warm today, isn't it? Be happy for me, dear. It is so beautiful."
This time his tears didn't bring her back to consciousness.

"Cassandra!" Raines anguished voice sounded from the doorway. "What have you done to her? Get away from her!"
Romeo raised his wet face and glared at Raines.
"Don't yell at me, you old ghoul! She'd be safe at the Centre if you hadn't angered him so much."
Raines was in the room, kneeling at Cassandra's side, and checking her pulse so fast that the other man felt almost dizzy.
"She's alive." Raines breathed, his eyes closing in relief. "C'mon, let's get her to a hospital."
"Not so fast!" The cold female tones whirled the two men around and both of them stopped and gaped in disbelief.
"Catherine?" Came from two mouths in unison.
"You thought I was dead, didn't you?" She gloated, her blue eyes holding a wildness that frightened even Raines. "But I lived, and I waited, and I planned, and now it is you who will die."
The handgun she held was aimed unerringly right between Raines' eyes, but she shifted it to point at the unconscious girl on the floor.
"But she dies first. You will lose everything you love, just as I did, then you will die."
"No!" Once again Romeo and Raines were in synch and they moved to stand shoulder to shoulder to provide a shield for Cassandra without hesitation.
"She hasn't hurt you." Raines tried, his watery blue eyes earnest and pleading for a change.
"You don't want to hurt her----you aren't like him." Romeo added encouragingly, moving slightly closer. He froze when the gun moved to threaten him.
"You don't want to hurt me either, Mother." He added the last softly, uncertainly. His eyes held the wounds of a lifetime without her and Catherine's gun wavered uncertainly before it snapped up.
"No!" She shouted suddenly, madness possessing her. "No! Pearl is my daughter, Pearl! I saved her. He tried to stop me, but I saved her! I AM NOT YOUR MOTHER!" She ended in a near shriek.
"You are, Mother." From the other side of Catherine's throne-like chair, Pearl moved silently out of the shadows. "I am your foster daughter, Miss Parker is the child you gave birth do, and Lyle is her twin brother----the boy you were told was stillborn."
Lyle looked towards the open door at the tiniest whisper of cloth rustling, and saw Sam and his partner easing quietly into the room. Madeline, having heard the words of Pearl, forced her way past them and added her own arguments to Pearl's.
"Listen to her, Catherine. She cares about you; she's telling you the truth. And Parker, your other daughter, will be here soon----she looks just like you----you'll be able to see the truth for yourself. But don't hurt Cass. Catherine would never hurt someone who was helpless and innocent."
"I'm not Catherine!" Her protest sounded weaker, less sure, and her gun wavered as she backed closer to the throne room.
"You are!" Madeline insisted.
"At least, you were." Pearl modified quietly. "I remember."
"I—I---" Her free hand went to her forehead, pressing against the burning pain trying to split her skull.
"Catherine, I understand your anger." Raines stepped forward, his eyes fixed on hers. "If you must, kill me, but don't hurt Cassandra; she's never harmed you. She's never harmed anyone."
"Stop!" Catherine's voice firmed and her hand fell away from her head to the arm of her audience chair. Without taking her eyes off of the people in front of her she lifted the top of the arm off, revealing a row of buttons. She pressed the largest button and alarms began shrieking.
"Mother! What are you doing?" Pearl gasped.
"Get out, dear." Her voice warmed with affection, sounding so much like Parker's that it brought tears to her eyes. "All of you, leave. You have 30 seconds to clear the building before the charges go off."
Romeo moved to Cassandra and knelt to pick her up.
"No!" Catherine stopped him, her voice cracking like a whip. "She stays. She and I will stay here together. Now go, all of you."
She waved her gun towards the door commandingly.
"NO! I won't leave her!" Romeo hissed, hovering protectively over Cassandra.
"Me either." Raines declared, his face set.
"Then we will all die together." Mother answered serenely.
"Drag them out." Pearl ordered Sam in tones so reminiscent of Parker's that he found himself halfway across the room before he realized he'd moved, his partner a step behind him.
The two men acknowledged Pearl's superior understanding of the damaged woman waiting calmly by the throne and continued towards the other two men. Sam knew he couldn't leave Raines or Lyle behind to die; not without serious consequences towards his own career----possibly even his life.
He nodded his partner towards Raines and advanced on Lyle, he rose aggressively, hands fisted by his side. Without a flicker of an eyelid to betray his intentions, Sam suddenly swung on Lyle, and knocked him nearly senseless with the sucker punch to his jaw. He swung Lyle onto his shoulders in a fireman's carry, and headed towards the exit with his partner dragging Raines and his oxygen tank behind them.
"Go, girl!" Sam snapped at Madeline. With one last agonized look at Cassandra, Madeline obeyed, spinning on her heel and leading the way out of the underground fortress.
Madeline fought back both tears and a growing sense of panic as the seconds ticked past and focused on remembering the quickest way out. The five of them raced for the dubious protection of the trees surrounding the hidden farm as soon as they cleared the house, and dove for shelter as the complex exploded into a devastating fireball behind them.
"Cass! Where's Cass?" Parker limped over to Madeline, breathing heavily and favoring her damaged side. She put a hand on Madeline's shoulder as the young woman pulled herself up to her feet.
"We couldn't get her out, Park." Madeline answered, holding back her own tears with a Herculean effort. "We barely made it out ourselves."
Parker looked at the sunken, burning clearing numbly, images of Cassandra flashing in front of her eyes.
"I'm so sorry." Madeline whispered, her own tears shimmering in her eyes. With a visible effort Parker pulled her gaze away from the destruction and focused on the anguished, guilt ridden visage before her.
"You did your best." She whispered through white lips. "It isn't your fault."
"It is." Madeline returned, the tears finally spilling over. "I didn't do enough. I should have stayed with her."
Slowly, surprising herself almost as much as it did Madeline, Parker smiled.
"Don't be silly." She told her gently. "Cass would have been furious if you'd done such a thing, and I would have lost you both. Don't you dare blame yourself, Madeline, Cassandra wouldn't have wanted it and neither do I. You did everything you could---some things just can't be fixed."
Her eyes drifted up again to survey the devastation before she slid her good arm over Madeline's shoulders and turned her towards the road.
"Help me back to the cars, okay?" She demanded softly, practically pulling Madeline along at first. "I'm getting a little too old for this kind of running around with bullet holes in me."
Madeline smiled, more to please Parker than because she felt better, but she also admitted to herself that she couldn't blame herself for Cassandra's death any more than she would for Pearl or Catherine. She had been as helpless as everyone else. She knew that the guilt and self-blame would still attack her, no one would get off that easily from a situation like this, but she could almost hear Cassandra's voice whispering in her head.
{Do not be angry for me, Tigrita. You must be strong for Parker, for Angelo, and even for Jarod. Perhaps, together, you will all be able to heal.}
As if those thoughts had conjured them up, the small, battered group emerged from the wooded trail and saw Jarod behind the wheel of an ambulance pulling to a screeching halt at the end of the rough trail.
"Is everyone okay?" He demanded, his brown eyes nearly black with anxiety.
"Mostly." Parker answered heavily. "But---" Suddenly her control shattered and tears welled as her throat closed off.
"We lost Cassandra." Madeline admitted sadly, holding Parker just a little tighter.
"Damn!" Jarod cursed fluently for several minutes, burying his pain in anger, as men seem to prefer.
Madeline took advantage of his display to convince Parker to go into the ambulance and lay on the cushioned gurney.
"You've done way too much today." She chided her guardian tenderly. "You rest, I'll take care of the rest."
She hadn't felt this old since the day Parker saved her from her life of hell with her step-father, she thought wearily, as she stepped down from the brightly colored van.
"Sam, there's another bench for Lyle back here." She said firmly, all but ordering him to deposit Lyle's semi-conscious body in the vehicle. "And there's room for Mr. Raines and John too."
She waved them over, feeling a little better just because she had something constructive to do at last.
"Sam can drive us back in the ambulance; Jarod, you take the Towncar to where ever you have to go. You can call Sydney later and tell him where it is."
"No, he'll be coming with us." Sam countered, emerging from the ambulance with his gun out.
"No, he won't." Madeline retorted, a rush of welcome anger bracing her against the previous pain. She moved in front of Jarod, shielding him from the gun. "He came to help and he's going to leave in peace----you can hunt him again tomorrow."
She knew it was what Parker would have wanted her to do----just this once she would have wanted Jarod to go free. Sam's resolute expression wavered and then he lowered the gun with a sigh.
"All right, go." He agreed suddenly. "But this changes nothing."
He and Jarod exchanged glares, but Sam's eyes dropped first. Madeline noted the exchange with interest until Jarod turned and loped down the narrow track to where the cars had been left. By the time the ambulance reached the remaining Towncar where Sydney and Broots waited, Jarod was long gone.
Madeline looked at the black tire marks on the blacktop road and then looked at the tired sorrow in Sydney's eyes and sighed softly.
"Let's go home." She suggested carefully, sliding into the back seat of the Towncar next to Angelo. "We all need to recuperate from this one."
Tears slid hotly down three sets of cheeks as Jarod, Parker, and Madeline wrestled with their loss. Angelo, as always, kept his emotions deeply buried in his own mind, but he patted Madeline's hand comfortingly as they raced away from the scene of their pain. It would be a long time before this wound healed, he knew that, but perhaps, he reflected privately to himself, it was for the best.

The End












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