Interlude Six: Confrontations

Jack hadn’t really known what to expect. He knew that Leesa and Krandl, who had been present at Jal’s house after he escaped from Darien, were both on the Elder Council and that neither of them seemed to be particularly old. Even so, he still half expected to be brought back in to face a group of stodgy, grey-haired old men. It was an effort to conceal his surprise to find his assumption couldn’t have been further removed from reality.

The Elder Council consisted of seven; four women and three men. All were reasonably young in appearance, and there was not a single grey hair to be seen on any of them.

As he was brought into the room – it was a lounge area that had been set aside for visitors – a woman who was short in stature but long on grace, and radiated authority, came forward to greet him.

“Hello, Jack. My name is Anna. I am head of the Elder Council. It is good to meet you properly, at last.”

The kindness and understanding in her eyes was almost as hard to stomach as Darien’s calculated cruelty, and he found himself flinching away from her penetrating gaze.

“Jal, you are welcome to remain,” Leesa spoke up as the older man turned to leave. “You too, Kyrii, if Jack would prefer it.”

“Do you want us to stay?” Kyrii asked, and Jack answered with a wordless nod, never so grateful for the support.

“All right, then,” Anna said once they were all settled. “I won’t delay in speaking the necessities, because it’s obvious how frightened you are. Jack, the Elder Council has decided to extend to you the same full rights and protection as is the privilege of every Mendyrian. Your pregnancy is not a factor in that decision. You were wronged by one of our own, and therefore we accept you as one of our own. Whether you choose to terminate the pregnancy or carry the child to full term, you will be treated as one of us for as long as you choose to remain on our world. Will you accept our offer of kinship?”

Jack’s breath caught in his throat. As a trained Time Agent, he knew only too well the magnitude of the offer before him. He thought numbly of his past years, looking for a level of love and acceptance that no one except John had been willing to give. Now, suddenly, it was being offered to him on a silver platter, no strings attached.

“You will be free to leave at any time once you’ve fully healed,” Anna went on. “But in the meantime, know that you have a home here. And should you wish to carry the pregnancy through, we can offer you the best possible care.”

Jack’s attention returned to his stomach. He tried to envisage it large and rounded, with new life growing within, and was quietly surprised that the idea didn’t frighten him as it had to begin with.

“I… I don’t know if I can look after her,” he admitted softly. “I’m not sure if I should.”

With his gaze cast downwards, Jack missed the knowing looks shared amongst the Elders. None of them had missed Jack’s reference to the baby as ‘her’ rather than ‘it’.

“There are options,” one of the Elders spoke quietly. Jack looked up at him, not quite daring to hope that there could be a palatable alternative. As much as he doubted his ability to adequately care for a child, neither did he really want to abort the pregnancy.

“What options?” he asked tentatively.

“Well, should you see it through,” Anna said, “there is always the option to allow her to be adopted by another family. That, of course, is not a decision you would need to make until after the birth.”

“Alternatively,” Leesa added, “if you wish, you may leave Mendyr and return home.”

The word ‘home’ struck a painful chord, and brought unexpected tears to Jack’s eyes. He wiped them away roughly in frustration.

“I don’t have a home,” he admitted. “I haven’t had a home since… well, for a long time. The closest thing I had was at the Time Agency. I… I’m used to it.”

“Have you no family?” Krandl asked, and again painful memories flowed through Jack’s mind.

“No,” he answered in a whisper. “Not anymore.”

Kyrii came up beside him, and closed her hand over his.

“Stay with us, Jack. Let us take care of you.”

There was ultimately no other choice to be made, he realised, and the more he thought about it, the more he knew that terminating the pregnancy was not an option. Neither was leaving Mendyr, for he knew only too well what would happen if his superiors at the Time Agency were to learn that he was pregnant to a man of Darien’s phenomenal power. They would want the baby to raise as a weapon, and he refused to allow that to happen.

“I’ll stay.”

He spoke the words so softly that even he barely heard them. Nevertheless, the Elders seemed to hear clearly enough.

“And we welcome you wholeheartedly,” Anna affirmed with a smile. “As for the child?”

“I’ll see it through,” he answered, rubbing his hands unconsciously over his stomach. “I’ll have her… but I don’t know that I can keep her.”

“We will help you to make that decision when the time comes,” Anna said. “Not before.”

Jack sighed and felt a weight lift off his shoulders that he hadn’t even known existed.


He healed slowly from his injuries; his body struggled to compensate for the pressures suddenly being placed on it by the pregnancy. Two weeks on from his meeting with the Elder Council, Jack suffered a relapse of the infection that had nearly claimed his life. Although nowhere near as bad, he still slipped in and out of delirium and fever, and it was nearly another two weeks before he recovered properly from it. It was another month beyond that before Brenna finally judged him well enough to leave the Healing House.

Two months, Jack reflected as he sat in a chair by the window in his room, enjoying the gentle breeze. He was just over two months along and was just starting to show. His fingers moved slowly over the bump that had finally begun to appear over the last couple of weeks.

He still found it hard to comprehend all that had happened, and was happening. Never in his imaginings had he thought he would ever find himself taken in on a planet such as this, and with a child. Part of him cursed the odd mix of genetic engineering and evolution that had allowed him to wind up in this situation, but he could also see the good beyond the bad.

The Time Agency, which had apparently written him off as dead, had been contacted by the Elder Council on his behalf. Anna had apparently informed them firstly of his wellbeing, and secondly of his decision to remain on Mendyr. Needless to say, the Agency’s response had been less than polite. Krandl had informed him later on, with much amusement, that Jack was ‘under orders’ to return to the Agency for debriefing and his next assignment.

Apparently, Anna had told Jack’s employers in no uncertain terms that he was done with them, and that he was officially under the protection of the Elder Council. Of all the descriptions that Krandl had given him in the wake of that particular conversation, Jack thought that his favourite was probably ‘speechless and frothing at the mouth’. It was a description that he could just picture if the one doing the frothing was the commander that he suspected it to be.

He didn’t regret his decision to leave the Agency. Regardless of whether he stayed on Mendyr permanently, or eventually chose to leave, it was a good feeling to be looked after for once – to be cared for by others. He appreciated that more than he could say.

“Ready to go, then?”

Jack smiled as Jal walked in. In two short months, he had come to see Jal more as a father than a friend. It seemed that Jal viewed him similarly, because the older man had insisted that Jack come to stay with him and Kyrii upon leaving the Healing House. Kyrii had agreed, and Jack had consented if only because he had nowhere else to go. There was no discomforting sense of obligation on either side, though. The couple had accepted him into their family and home, just as the Elder Council had accepted him into their community.

Now, Jack didn’t feel that he was intruding, but rather that he was going home, and it was a damned good feeling.

“Yes,” he answered. “Thankyou, Jal. I know you didn’t have to do this.”

“We love you, Jack. It’s as simple as that. You are as a son to us, and we would not have it any other way.”

Jack sighed softly.

“I love you both, too,” he admitted, and quietly marvelled at how easily he was able to say those words. “I don’t know what I would have done without you.”

Jal smiled and, in a moment of affection, pressed a kiss to the top of Jack’s head.

“You’re a survivor, Jack. You would have been all right, one way or another. The point is that now, you don’t have to just survive. You have a home now for as long as you want it, and a family that loves you.”

“I know,” Jack said. His fingers played lightly over his stomach. “I can’t ever repay you for everything you’ve done for me.”

“And I don’t want you to think that you need to. I just want you to be safe and happy. Now, I think we should get moving, son. Kyrii will be getting anxious.”

Jack grinned, and happily let Jal escort him from the place that had effectively been his home for the last two months.

That evening, as they sat down to a meal prepared by Kyrii, they fell to discussing the coming months, and what difficulties those months might bring.

“You must tell us what interests you,” Kyrii said. “Brenna tells us that you might not be able to move very far in the last couple of months. Do you like to read? We could bring some books home for you.”

Jack’s breath caught in his throat, and his face whitened by a couple of shades.

“What is it?” Jal asked in concern. “Jack? What’s wrong?”

He couldn’t bring himself to answer. The last thing he wanted was to bring down any sort of pall on the home that he had been welcomed into, and so he forced a smile onto his face.

“I’m okay.”

Judging by the looks on their faces, they didn’t believe it anymore than he did. Avoiding their gazes, Jack got awkwardly to his feet.

“I’m sorry, I’m not really hungry. I... I might just go to bed... if that’s okay.”

“If that’s what you want,” Jal conceded. Jack went, hearing the concerned murmurs behind him, but paying them no heed. All he wanted was to escape their presence before he lost what little control he had and broke down completely.

He woke up screaming in the darkness, his mind tormented by visions of Darien that lingered beyond his nightmares. When arms closed around him he went rigid in terror, but the pain that he was anticipating never came.

“Hush, now. You’re safe, it’s all right.”

He recognised Kyrii’s voice, and sagged against her in relief. She cradled him and stroked his hair soothingly, all the while murmuring reassurances.

“I’m sorry,” Jack whispered brokenly once he had the presence of mind to realise that he must have woken her up. She huffed softly, and he almost giggled at the tickling sensation across his ear.

“Don’t be. We suspected that you might suffer nightmares once you were away from the boundaries of the Healing House. You’ve nothing to be ashamed of. Come, now. Jal is preparing a warm drink for you.”

Minutes later, Jack sat at the kitchen table, sipping a hot, sweet drink while he tried to explain the nightmare.

“It was him,” Jack admitted, unwilling now to even say Darien’s name. “It wasn’t really clear... but he knew about my baby, and he tried to take her.”

“The Elders will find him, Jack,” Jal assured him. “He can’t run forever.”

“Who is he?” Jack asked, looking up at them through red-rimmed eyes. “Why is he so powerful?”

“You know that Mendyrians have what you humans call psychic ability,” Jal said. Jack nodded wordlessly, waiting for Jal to go on. He did, in a sober tone.

“Our power is as natural to us as breathing, and we can strengthen our individual abilities with practise, as you would any skill. Each Mendyrian is born with a certain level of power that is inherited directly from their parents. Firstborn children are always particularly strong.”

“And he’s a firstborn,” Jack whispered.

“Darien was the firstborn son of a former Head Elder. His father was an arrogant and cruel man, and he only gained the position through much careful manipulation. Once there, he wreaked havoc. He held the belief that the position of Head Elder should be an inherited position, passed from father to son. It’s a belief that he instilled in his own child. Domic was killed when Darien was only eighteen by your reckoning, and he was enraged that the position of Head Elder was not granted to him automatically. He fought with the Elder Council, and lost. He exiled himself to the outer regions, constructed a ship and began to travel off-world. There was an initial attempt to stop him, but in the end the Elder Council chose to leave him be. Had they known what he was doing, they would have stopped him, but unfortunately…”

Jal trailed off, favouring his wife with a grim look. Kyrii noted it with an equally grim expression.

“How many others?” Jack wondered as Jal’s words sank in. “How many others before me?”

It was not a question any of them could answer, and Jack was fairly sure that he didn’t want to know. The likelihood that he was the only one of many to have escaped Darien’s sadism was almost too much to bear.

“We are sorry, Jack,” Kyrii said quietly. “You are a victim here purely because we failed to curb Darien when we should have.”

At first, Jack thought that Kyrii’s choice of phrase was purely coincidental. Slowly, though, he registered the look on her face, and realised that it wasn’t.

“You were an Elder.”

It wasn’t a question, and she didn’t try to deny it.

“I retired my position less than a year ago,” she admitted. “Jack, there’s something I have to tell you, and when you hear it, you may not wish to stay here any longer. It was I who recommended that we leave Darien alone to do as he liked. As long as Darien wasn’t hurting his own people, I didn’t care. I was so wrong, and I can only hope you’ll forgive me.”

Jack met the confession with silence. It would have been so easy to lay the blame on her, especially with Darien still missing. It would have been so easy to redirect his anger towards her, and he knew that they wouldn’t have blamed him for doing so. He could have even justified it in his own mind.

As he sat there, trying to absorb everything, a nasty, sardonic voice whispered that everything was Kyrii’s fault, and that he was entirely justified in taking his anger out on her. It was a little voice that he very quickly dismissed.

Without getting up out of his seat, Jack leaned across and threw his arms around Kyrii in a ferocious hug.

“Wasn’t your fault,” he said in a voice that was muffled by her shoulder. “I don’t want to leave. Please don’t make me go.”

“We’d never make you leave,” Kyrii murmured. She glanced over the top of Jack’s head to look at her husband, and saw a look of relief that she imagined mirrored her own. Jal had been as worried as she over how Jack would react to learning that particular truth.

“I’m scared of him,” Jack admitted miserably when he eventually sat back. “I’m so scared that he’ll come for me again. He said… when he first brought me here to Mendyr… He said that even if I managed to escape, that he’d hunt me down. He said I’d never be free again.”

“We will protect you,” Jal promised vehemently. “You and the child will both be safe.”

Jack sighed softly, and stroked his fingers lightly over his stomach.

“I believe you.”

At five months, just beyond the halfway mark, Jack was invited to join a class of young Mendyrian women, all of whom were expecting. He was reluctant to go, and gave in only when Kyrii promised to accompany him. Any embarrassment he may have felt was quickly eradicated, though, by the warm welcome extended to him by the group. More and more, Jack wondered how Darien could be so cruel when the rest of his people were so kind.

The women quickly became some of the best friends he’d known for a long time, and in particular a young woman called Maera. Slightly younger than Jack, she nonetheless took him under her wing to ensure that he was not left out. It would not be until much later when Jack fully comprehended just how extensive her care towards him had been.

“What are you doing?”

He’d arrived for the group’s weekly meeting to find Maera lying on her back on the floor, eyes closed and her hands resting flat against her belly.

“Talking to my little one.” She opened one eye and smiled in his direction. “I connected with him for the first time last night. It was amazing, Jack. It is amazing. You have to try it.”

He looked suddenly apprehensive.

“I… I don’t think I can. I’m not like you, Maera. I don’t have that sort of power.”

“Rubbish,” she snorted, and sat up awkwardly. “Come over here and sit down. C’mon, hurry up.”

Jack hurried to do as she said; he was not game enough to argue further. As much as he liked Maera, he’d seen her lose her temper and had decided right from the outset that he never wanted to be on the receiving end. With that thought on his mind, he eased himself onto one of the big cushions on the floor and settled himself as best as he could. His belly was expanding rapidly now, and it wouldn’t be long before he couldn’t sit on the floor at all. It was a thrilling feeling that he just wasn’t quite ready to embrace.

“All right,” Maera said in a quiet, confident tone. “Close your eyes and try to relax.”

“I am,” he answered, only to be put out by her laughter.

“Sweetheart, you’re like a board of wood. Loosen up. Slouch a little! You’re pregnant, give yourself a break!”

He had to smile at her admonishment, and made a conscious effort to relax his body.

“That’s better,” she murmured. “Now, first I have to ask. Do you trust me?”

“Yes,” Jack responded without hesitation. He did trust her, just as he trusted Jal and Kyrii, and everyone else who had shown him love and kindness in the wake of Darien’s treatment of him. “I trust you.”

“All right, then. Close your eyes, Jack. Relax and open your mind to me. Don’t be afraid. I won’t go charging about like that sorry druikkia Darien. I won’t hurt you.”

He let his breath out with a shudder. He did trust her, but that didn’t change his reticence. Even so, he did as she asked, and let her into his mind.

Darien had made a habit of forcing his way into Jack’s mind and, as Maera had suggested, charging about like a mad rhino. Often, Jack had been left incapacitated for hours after such an invasion. By comparison, though, Maera entering his mind felt more like the touch cool water on overheated flesh. It comforted and reassured him, and helped him to relax. He sighed faintly, and almost leant into her mental touch, unconsciously relaxing his defences and giving her access.

Maera was true to her word, and diligently avoided touching on those memories which were painful to him. What he did sense, though, was a deliberate strengthening of his own mind – almost as though the psychic contact was acting as a booster shot.

A small gasp escaped him as he felt his mind opening up like a flower, and he tensed momentarily at the unfamiliar sensations that washed over him in the wake of Maera’s touch.

Relax, sweetheart. Nothing to be afraid of.

Maera? What’s going on? What did you do?

He wasn’t speaking out loud, he realised with a start, and neither was she.

Open your eyes, Jack. It’s perfectly safe, I promise.

He was almost afraid to, but in the end curiosity ruled over fear. When he looked, Maera was sitting back and watching him with a grin.

“What did you just do?” he asked again, aloud this time.

“I broadened your horizons, my love.”

Jack rubbed ruefully at his temples. There was an odd buzzing sensation in his head, not unlike the sound of bees. It wasn’t so much unpleasant as merely disconcerting.

“You… gave me powers?”

Her laughter both embarrassed and relaxed him.

“Gave you? Oh, no, Jack. We can’t give anyone powers. No, sweetheart, you had the ability all along. You just needed a bit of a boost to help you along. Don’t worry, though. We’ll all help you learn to use it, even if all you have is telepathy. Speaking of which, lesson one is right now. Put your hands over your stomach… Right, like you saw me doing before. Now, I want you to relax again. Yes, shut your eyes if you need to. Relax, and turn your focus inwards. Look for another consciousness inside you.”

A slight frown creased Jack’s features.

“I’m not sure I know how, Maera.”

“Oh, yes you do. It’s like being in a dark room, and reaching out to find the only other person there. It’s instinctive. Now try.”

Jack huffed a little in annoyance, but gave in and reached out within himself, searching for what Maera had described. The startled gasp that escaped his lips moments later told her that he’d found it.

“Tell me, Jack,” she said eagerly. “What can you sense?”

Jack’s hands rubbed soothingly over his own belly, and tears worked their way unbidden out of his closed eyes.

“I… I can feel her… my little girl. I can feel trust… and love… Oh god… I can feel her love. No one’s ever loved me like this… Not since my dad died, and Gray was…” His eyes snapped open, and he stared at Maera in stunned realisation. “She’s mine, not Darien’s. She’s going to be my little girl…”

Maera leaned forward and kissed him lightly.

“She already is, my sweet one. She already is.”

Later on, Jack realised that Maera had been more than a little devious in her actions, but he had no inclination to be mad at her. Instead, he found himself to be grateful for the incredible gift that she had given him. He was no constantly aware of his daughter’s consciousness as she grew within him, and that sense of love and trust was like a blanket that warmed him thoroughly.

He loved the life that was growing inside him more than he’d loved anything, and he found it no longer bothered him to know who was responsible for his pregnancy.

By the time Jack reached his eighth month, he knew that giving up his child was no longer an option. He suspected it was what the Elder Council had been subtly pushing him towards all along, and that Maera’s opening up of his mind to his unborn child had been a very sly part of their plan. Though he held no resentment towards anyone, he couldn’t stop thinking about it, and he broached the subject one day with Kyrii.

“I don’t understand,” Jack admitted. “I know the Council accepted me, and I appreciate it. But I would have thought that they would have wanted to give Li-Li to a Mendyrian family to be raised… well…”

“Properly?” Kyrii suggested, and Jack nodded.

“Something like that. I just didn’t think they’d want me to be the one to raise her… but they do, don’t they? That’s why they wouldn’t let me make the decision to give her up at least until after she was born, because they wanted to give me a chance to form a bond with her. And they knew that once I did that, I wouldn’t want to give her up.”

Kyrii was watching him with a bright, warm smile.

“She’s your baby, Jack. You deserve the chance to raise her, and to love her. No one wants to take that from you. The Elder Council knew that you just needed time to accept her. And you have now, haven’t you?”

Jack rubbed his hands over his belly. At eight months, he looked like he had a beach ball shoved up his shirt. He complained on a daily basis about looking fat; about his inability to walk more than a dozen steps at a time before needing a rest; and most of all, needing to pee five minutes after every time he drank so much as a mouthful of water. Beyond all the complaints, though, it was no secret that he’d loved experiencing the pregnancy.

“She’s my baby,” he confirmed quietly. “My Li-Li.”


“Nickname,” Jack confessed. “I’m going to call her Eleya.”

“That’s beautiful, Jack,” Kyrii enthused. “It’s a lovely name. Is it your mother’s name?”

“No, it was my great grandmother’s. I never actually knew her, but Mom had some great stories to tell about her.”

Kyrii paused, seeing the sudden melancholy in the young man’s eyes.

“Jack, love, what happened to your mother? You’ve never talked about her before. Is she still alive?”

“She’s still alive,” Jack answered softly. “But I don’t think she cares if I am.”

“Oh, I find that hard to believe. All mothers care for their sons.”

Jack looked up at her finally, and she was taken aback to see that all signs of happiness had fled his face.

“Our colony was invaded. Creatures… the worst things you could imagine… I was only fourteen when they attacked us, and decimated us. So many people died that day, my dad included.”

“I’m so sorry,” Kyrii whispered. Jack went on as though he hadn’t heard her.

“I was supposed to look after Gray, my little brother, but his hand slipped out of mine. I lost him… I lost him to the monsters.”

Kyrii saw the bitter truth in his face before Jack had a chance to say it aloud.

“She blamed you for losing him, didn’t she?”

“Yes,” Jack whispered. Tears spilled down his cheeks at the painful memories. “When we were with the other survivors, waiting for rescue, I tried to hug her. She slapped me across the face, and told me I didn’t deserve comfort. She… She told me she wished it had been me that had been taken instead of Gray… That I’d been killed instead of Dad.”

Kyrii pulled Jack into her arms and held him tightly as he wept.

“She was wrong to tell you that, Jack. It wasn’t your fault, and you deserved better.”

“How can you say that?” Jack choked out. “You weren’t there!”

He tried to pull away from her, but she refused to let him go, and eventually he gave up struggling and slumped against her once more.

“I may not have been there,” she murmured, “but I can see how deeply you love. I don’t believe you deliberately abandoned your brother, either. Bad things happen, Jack. We can’t always stop them. You have to stop blaming yourself.”

“It’s not that easy,” Jack sobbed. She rubbed his back gently.

“I know, precious. I know.”

He wept himself into a thorough state of exhaustion, and eventually allowed Kyrii to guide him back to bed. She then sat with him until he calmed down. Once he was on the cusp of sleep, she left him to go and stoke the fire in the living room.

Jack watched her go through sleep-heavy eyes, exhaustion threatening to claim him. He drifted a while, somewhere in between sleep and waking. It could have been minutes or hours that slipped past; he had no way of knowing. All he did know was that he was just about ready to let sleep take him when a loud crash from beyond his bedroom door shattered the peace and quiet.

He started up in fright, his heart pounding almost painfully in his chest. It was okay, he told himself. It was fine – Kyrii had just knocked something over. Something extraordinarily big and heavy, by the sounds of it… Suddenly afraid that she might have hurt herself, Jack manoeuvred his way out of bed – a process that had him feeling like a beached whale – and waddled to the closed door. He was about to open the door and call out to her when he heard her voice speak up in breathless anger.

“Jack is not yours! You have no claim to him, you filthy shakkran!”

And then, a familiar, silky voice spoke, the sound of which nearly stopped Jack’s heart.

“There’s really no need for that sort of crudity. And I believe I have quite a strong claim to him, especially now… That is, if my source was not lying to me. Now, I really don’t care to pick a fight with you.”

“Because you know I’m stronger than you,” Kyrii’s voice snapped, and Jack smiled weakly at her audacity. Darien continued to speak, though, as if Kyrii hadn’t said a word.

“So you’re going to stay right here like a good girl while I go and get my pet.”

Silence… followed by a strangled cry of pain that was very definitely masculine in its sound. A moment beyond that, Kyrii spoke in a harsh, angry voice that sent chills down Jack’s spine.

“You always were far too arrogant for your own good, Darien. If you think I’m going to just sit back and let you take that boy again, you are sadly mistaken. I meant what I said. You have no claim to him, and I will defend him with everything I have.”

Whether Darien replied or not, Jack couldn’t hear. There was an all-too-brief moment of silence, and then a heavy thud accompanied by a cry of pain that most certainly came from Kyrii. There was the sound of a wood scraping on wood, then another thump, and finally a bone-jarring crash and a how of pain and rage that erupted immediately after. Desperate to know what was happening, Jack finally flung open his door and stumbled out onto a shocking scene.

Kyrii stood nearby, nursing an arm that was very obvious broken. Darien was closer to him, but pinned to the floor by the heavy shelving unit that had previously stood against the wall next to the fireplace. The mere sight of him was almost enough to send Jack into shock, and it took real effort to hear what Kyrii was saying to him.

“Jack, go back to your room, and stay there.” She wasn’t merely asking – she was begging him. “Let me deal with him, please.”

“No, Jack, don’t,” Darien hissed. Abruptly, the shelving unit that was pinning him down cracked cleanly in two. A glance at Kyrii as he stood saw her swept roughly off her feet once more. Her head struck the little refreshment table as she went down, leaving her momentarily stunned.

As he rounded on Jack, Kyrii spoke to him telepathically, conveying all the urgency and terror of the situation in her thoughts.

Get to your room, quickly! It’s shielded, and he won’t be able to reach you. Hurry, Jack! Protect yourself and Eleya!

Jack took a stumbling step backwards at her desperate plea. He didn’t go any further, though; he was brought to a shuddering halt by the sight of Kyrii’s battered and helpless figure. If he fled, Darien would most likely kill her, and Jack knew he could never live with himself if he allowed that to happen. As desperate as he was to protect his unborn child, he refused to sacrifice the woman who had effectively become a surrogate mother to him.

Teetering on the brink of terror and rage, Jack looked Darien in the eye and faced his nightmare head-on.

“I won’t go with you,” he said, and wondered that his voice didn’t break. Darien, for his part, looked amused rather than annoyed.

“Is that so, pet? You don’t honestly think you have any choice in the matter, do you?”

It took everything Jack had not to show any outward signs of weakness in front of Darien, but even so he could not keep his hands from curling protectively around his belly. Darien’s piercing stare moved downwards, and a knowing smirk twisted his lips.

“I didn’t believe it when I first heard. But now I see that it is true. You carry my child.”

“She’s not yours,” Jack snarled, engulfed by a wave of protectiveness and possessiveness. “She won’t ever be yours!”

To his increasing frustration and anxiety, Darien laughed.

“Oh, my precious pet. She will always be my child, in one way or another. Now, I will give you just once chance. Submit to me now, and I will take care of both you and the child.”

Jack was horrified to find that he wanted to believe Darien. He could feel the man’s pull on his psyche, and he could feel that haze threatening to descend on him yet again. Beyond that, though, he heard another sound that cut straight through to his heart. It was the sound of Kyrii weeping, and begging him to fight Darien’s influence. He shut his eyes for a moment, and sought out that tiny presence inside himself, feeling the love and trust of his unborn child washing over him. In an instant, he made his choice.

Darien uttered a strangled yelp as Jack suddenly punched him hard in the face, sending him staggering back a few steps.

“I don’t belong to you,” Jack yelled, “and neither does my baby!”

Darien’s eyes went from angry, narrow slits to wide shock as he realised what was happening. He could sense the power gathering in and around Jack like an electrical charge. It wasn’t any latent power of Jack’s, but rather the power of the child in his womb. Panicked, Darien thrust out at Jack with every ounce of power that he had, intending to obliterate both him and the unborn baby. It wasn’t enough.

Combined with Jack’s rage and fear, the force of the unborn’s power swamped Darien with devastating effect. In the moments before his heart ruptured violently inside his chest cavity, Darien screamed in agony as his flesh was scored and burned by the combined power of the two bonded minds. Blood flowed from his mouth as his internal organs liquefied and his eyes literally collapsed in their sockets.

He collapsed to the floor; a sickening gurgling sound was the only noise he could make. His body twitched once, twice, before falling still and silent forever.

Kyrii stared at Darien’s lifeless body with impossibly wide eyes, barely able to believe what she’d just witnessed. Jack’s unborn child had used him as a conduit, unleashing a terrifying and destructive power on the one who had threatened them both. She had heard of such things happening in the past, but had never actually witnessed it with her own eyes.

Slowly, the shock faded, and she saw Jack properly. He was the colour of ash, and was looking sicker with every moment that passed.


His bloodshot eyes focused on her, and he took a tentative step forward. A moment later, his knees buckled and he went down with a jarring thud. Kyrii crawled over to him, past Darien, as Jack curled in on himself, clutching in pain at his stomach.

“It hurts,” he moaned in between distressed sobs. “Kyrii… God, it hurts!”

She laid her hands lightly against his belly, and gasped in dismay.

“The baby’s coming… Jack, sweetheart, you’re in labour.”

She could see the panic in his eyes, almost as pronounced as the pain.

“Too early… She’s too early. Make it stop, please!”

“I can’t,” Kyrii whispered. “Just hold on, Jack. I’m calling the Elders. We need to get you back to the Healing House. This baby is coming, ready or not.”

“I don’t want to lose her,” Jack whimpered, and Kyrii stroked his hair soothingly.

“Just be strong a little while longer, my love. The Elders are coming.”

Jack couldn’t reply. Pain engulfed him and finally tipped him over the edge into darkness. The last thing he heard was Kyrii begging him to hold on, and then he knew no more.

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