Jack could fairly easily remember Fi's dealings with Areahannah, only a short year or so ago, when Fi would vanish for a few days at a time and reappear either exhausted or elated, to collapse into bed and come down to breakfast the next morning as if nothing had happened.
Jack hadn't been sure, at the time, what was going on - only that his mother had decided to pretend that whatever was going on, wasn't, and that Molly had quite determinedly decided to avoid any and all conversation on the topic. It had been both confusing and demoralizing, for the first few weeks of it, to see Fi appear on one of those mornings where she was excited, obviously having accomplished something she felt proud of, to begin a conversation with the words: "Guess what happened" or "Know what I did?" and to see their mother answer with only a stern, icy glare before falling into silence or in some cases, changing the subject altogether.
It was the only time Jack had ever seen his mother behave that way, silence Fi with such a cold expression, and it had been disturbing to watch it, and almost as disturbing when on those days Molly would lavish the extra attention she had denied Fi on Jack himself. It didn't happen often, he remembered, but it was terrible when it did - it had seemed at times as if Molly were a different person, behaving like a petty child who didn't want to face an argument, but then returning to her normal patterns of behaviour, treating Fiona as normally and kindly as usual without any reference to the earlier incidents.
Jack had never been sure what to make of it - he had thought that maybe Fi had done something wrong, something embarassing that Molly didn't want him involved in - but then why would Fi be so eager to share her infrequent news about whatever it was, and seem so downcast when her mother displayed such a definite, and almost disgusted lack of interest? There had been abundant theories among Jack, Clu and Carey as to the reasons, for everyone had noticed the every-now-and-then changes in Molly's moods. Even Menopause had been suggested as a possible explanation - and after Jack had smacked Clu over the head for suggesting it, they had discounted that idea.
And then Jack had been at a loss, again, to explain the changes in his mother - it almost seemed as if she had been reminded, in Fi, of something she would rather not be reminded of, and almost resented her for it. Now, thinking back, Jack realized that that had, indeed, been the case.
He remembered meeting the Guardian for the first time, when he had been about Fi's age - as the older sibling, she had come to him first, when he had been fifteen, but she had never laid out the explanations and the reasonings and the rules so simply for him as she had for Fiona - he supposed she had never had the chance. Molly had somehow known she was contacting him, and he had been much younger. There had been three meetings before Molly put an end to it. One, when he'd sighted her at one of his baseball games, and known, somehow, that there was something odd about her. The second, she had introduced herself to him backstage at one of Molly's concerts as an old friend of his parents - Jack hadn't been able to figure out how she'd gotten back there in the first place. It wasn't until the third time that she had begun to tell him who she really was - but she had only gotten a few words in before Molly had appeared and ordered her to leave. Never before that moment had Jack ever seen hate in his mother's eyes, or such desperate fear.
Molly had been afraid for him, as she was later for Fiona; it didn't take a psychologist to see that some of his mother's strange moods were rooted in some kind of smothered fear. At the time, he hadn't been able to fathom why - he had never understood even to the degree of the mis-informed inkling he'd gained later until Areahannah had come to Fiona, and since Fiona had Called her, with a spell out of their father's old "magic" book, Molly had not had the right to send her away again. (In fact, he gathered, now, that Molly had never had the right to send her away in the first place, really, when she'd come for *him*.) He hadn't been present for the initial confrontation, but he did remember his mother's face when she had stormed past him, away from the scene, afterward. And then he'd begun, he supposed, to build up some picture of the Guardian in his mind, some idea of who she was, which he now realized was at best biased on the basis of Molly's anger, and at worst completely wrong. Now, all the tiny, incomplete facts he'd *thought* formed a real picture seemed hazy and insubstantial. He admitted it to himself now - that he had never really tried to understand beyond what he had incorrectly inferred. He supposed that he wanted someone to blame, just like his mother.
::Just like Mom,:: he thought bitterly to himself now, sitting on the back porch staring out into the trees, knees pulled up to his chin. ::I was pretty stupid.:: He sighed, leaning back into the swinging chair which was suspended from the roof by three chains. It creaked in protest, but he ignored it. ::I wonder if Fi ever knew that Areahannah came to me first? That there was a whole other level of this going on before she was even old enough to get it? Probably not.::
The storm from earlier was just now beginning to die down, just as he was. He dismissed the vague spark of excitement that line of thought caused - he wasn't quite ready, yet, to face the possibility that he had magical powers or was able to control the weather. It was too much like something out of a comic book.
::And I don't look anything like Ororo Munroe,:: he thought, rolling his eyes.
Another gust of damp wind tore past him, throwing dust and bits of dirt into his eyes, and he had to blink repeatedly until he could see again. When he looked up, eyes watering, he felt an odd shifting of... *something*, off in the distance beneath the trees. He craned his neck, trying to separate any recognizable shape or shadow from the black, green and brown of the trees, but there was nothing. At least not right away. A moment later, the strange sensation vanished, and Jack was left staring perplexedly off into the trees with less than no idea of what had just happened. He got to his feet, leaned against the railing of the porch, still staring off into the darkness. He was there when Annie came outside, closing the door gently behind her, and came to stand beside him.
When he paid her absolutely no heed, she touched his arm gently, and said: "Jack? What's wrong?"
He started and looked down at her - she was beginning to be almost as adept at reading his body language as Fi was. When he shook his head a little and looked back toward the trees, she said: "Was it that weird flash? Did you feel it too?"
He looked down at her again - Annie never ceased to amaze him. "What do you mean, *too*? You felt something?"
Annie shrugged. "Something's coming," she said. "Whatever, whoever it was, it wanted us to know it was coming. That's for sure."
::What does she mean, "that's for sure?":: Jack just stared - he had an ascerbic remark right on the tip of his tongue, but stopped it just in time. Antagonism had no point right now. He simply shrugged, instead. Annie looked at him speculatively before turning to look into the trees as well, but he watched her for a moment, wondering if maybe the strange sensation he'd always felt around Annie, of being constantly watched, was some kind of magic, too. It was strange, certainly - especially since it had never seemed to originate from Annie herself (which would have at least made some sense, considering how Jack had treated her when she'd first arrived), but rather seemed as if there was someone else in the room with them. It had lessened over time, but for the first few months, there had been an almost hostile feeling behind whatever watching eyes were there. But as it had lessened, so had his sense of it being there at all, and he had eventually dismissed it as ridiculous, not only that he was being watched, but that he would be able to feel it even if he was.
But now he wasn't so sure. It occurred to him now that he'd never thought to simply ask, either.
His thoughts were distracted by Annie suddenly tugging on his arm. "Jack, look!" She said it in a whisper, and Jack found himself feeling very glad that his mother wasn't home. Because a strange man had just appeared from under the cover of the trees, and was walking across the lawn, clearly heading directly for them.
For some reason, Jack felt no apprehension, no instinct to run, or even to go back inside. He felt a strange sense of calm and expectancy, and instead watched the man approach. He was of average height; in fact, Jack was probably an inch or two taller than he was, and he hardly seemed bulky or even muscular beyond a healthy tone, though he was in reasonable shape. His hair was red-blond and totally at odds with his almost-black brown eyes and the olive tint to his skin. Jack would have thought he had someting distantly Native American in him, if not for his hair.
He also moved with a quiet, confident gait that scarcely seemed to disturb the ground he walked over - he hardly even seemed to leave footprints in the raindrops still hovering on the blades of grass on the lawn. If he did, Jack thought, the grass certainly sprung back up quickly enough. Jack was so engrossed in watching the man's feet that he almost didn't notice when he'd come near enough to speak. He was almost at the steps before Jack met his eyes.
"Jack Phillips?" he asked, with a good-natured yet cautious smile. "And I presume you're Annie Thelen?" He had stopped at the foot of the steps, looking up at them.
Both Annie and Jack started, and Jack fell back a pace. "How do you know who we are?" Annie was the first to break through her surprise, and certainly she bore less traces of suspicion than Jack felt. The man looked at him then, though, and for some reason he couldn't bring himself to distrust him.
The man cocked his head to one side as he regarded them both, but kept his eyes trained mostly on Jack. "I'm a... friend of Areahannah's," he said.
Jack would have raised an eyebrow if he hadn't thought it would seem so obvious. The particular inflection the man put on the word "friend" made it clear that he and the Guardian were more than just that. But he quickly forgot that as the man took Annie's hand, did a comical little bow over it that made her blush, and then grinned at her. "My name is Terren Kurk," he said genially. He dropped Annie's hand, and shook Jack's amiably. "It's good to meet you," he said. "I've heard a lot about you."
"From who?" Jack asked, narrowing his eyes slightly.
Terren started slightly, but barely noticably, at Jack's reaction. "Why, Areahannah, and of course your sister." He smiled. "She spoke pretty well of you."
"You know Fi?" Annie asked.
He shrugged. "I know most of the current Delegates, at least the ones that visit as often as Fiona used to. It's a pity she hasn't come in such a long time." He turned his eyes to Jack, then, who instantly read the vague intention that the man displayed so openly in his face.
Jack couldn't suppress a glare. "Don't get the idea that I'm going to replace her, just because I'm *here*," he said acidly. He saw the instant surprise in the man's face, and even a little hurt, and dropped his eyes, reddening a little. But he kept the hard tone in his voice, even if he dulled it a little. "I never said I was joining up."
There was a moment of uneasy silence while Terren studied him, and Jack looked up to see something equating sympathy in his eyes. "No one ever said you had to, Jack," he said quietly, shrugging. He sighed. "Look - to be honest, I probably shouldn't be here. Arrah doesn't *know* I'm here. And she'd probably skin me alive if she knew I was out lobbying on her behalf. But listen, kid..." he seemed to grope for words for a moment, and his eyes flicked to Annie. "Annie, could you excuse us for a moment? Please?" He flashed her a charming smile. "Don't worry - I'm not excluding you - I just need to talk to Jack alone."
Jack turned to look at Annie, who was only looking at Terren. She flushed pleasantly, then regained her composure and nodded. "No problem," she said, and let herself back into the house.
Jack, less than impressed by the man's charm, sat back down in his chair as Terren ascended to the porch and perched on the railing. "I never knew your father, Jack," he began. Jack crossed his arms nonchalantly. It was a strange enough way to start a conversation. "All I know of him is what I get told by the others who were around back then - I didn't become Circle until a few years ago, quite a bit after that particular chaos. But from what I understand of it, he was a good man, brave, honest, trustworthy, loyal... all the qualities that tend to be inherent in those of us who get chosen for the honor of risking our lives for the sake of the oblivious majority."
He chuckled. "It's funny, I often think, that so many of us, especially those of us raised in families known to and knowing of the Circle, consider it such an honour to be chosen, even though taking on the job means that your life loses essentially any semblance of normality, predictability, and being part of the Circle means that your life can pretty much constantly be in danger. I won't lie to you, kid - it's a dangerous passtime, this life we lead. And most of us, especially the Eight themselves, the Guardians, don't live to a ripe old age." He stared at Jack until he uncrossed his arms. "But -- all that aside, it *is* an honour to be chosen. You know why?"
He obviously expected Jack to give some answer - what, Jack had no idea, and the expectancy in the man's demeanor annoyed him for no reason. "No," he said, striving the keep the petulance out of his tone. "Why?"
Terren smiled slightly. "Because," he said slowly, "It means that you get to be part of something really important, really make a difference."
"Why don't you just join the Army, then? Or become a politician?" Jack couldn't keep the cynicism out of his voice that time, and Terren chuckled.
"Valid questions, both," he said. "Of course there are other reasons. But do you really not know what they are?"
Soundlessly, Jack stared at him, then shook his head. "Fi sure seemed to understand it. I don't."
Terren then *looked* at him, for a brief instant. There was a momentary sensation of something brushing over him, ever so softly, so soft that it wasn't even tactile. It wasn't even enough to make him jump. But then Terren was looking perplexedly at him again.
"What is that?" The question was muttered, but Jack heard it anyway.
"What is what?" Jack asked, confused that there was something going on on a level he obviously wasn't privy to.
Terren's eyes had been slightly out of focus, but they snapped back to awareness when Jack spoke. "There's something very strange about you, Jack, and I think I just figured out what it is," he said, a vague trace of anger apparent in his features. "Did your mother ever do anything, when you were little? A patterned touch on your hand, or on your face? Maybe when you were asleep?"
"What?" Jack was all at once irritated and confused, even as the words triggered memories of early childhood, of how his mother would soothe him to sleep that way. He looked at Terren. "How did you..."
Terren shook his head, then stepped forward, and gently but firmly seized Jack's forearm. Before he knew what was happening, everything went hazy, and the world disappeared.
He was plunged into a warm, pleasant instant, and within a few seconds, he knew what it was. Cracking his eyes open, he saw his mother, more than a decade younger, sitting beside the bed, an open book on her lap. She looked at him fondly, and when she saw that he was asleep, she reached out and took his right hand, laying it in her lap. Then, with a frown of confliction, she traced some kind of pattern on his palm, over and over again.
She had done this countless times when he was little, to help him sleep, the best example of touch therapy Jack had ever known. It was what she had done when Jack had nightmares in the first months after his father's death. He had never thought about it very much before - but now, as he watched, re-experienced it through more adult eyes, he could see his mother's relaxed posture, the concentration in her puckered brow, and on another level he could sense something else - a flow of power, energy, pressure, between his mother and his younger self on the bed. She was doing something, *building* something, but what he couldn't fathom. And slowly his sense of awareness slipped away as he drifted off to sleep...
He opened his eyes with a jolt, yanking his arm out of the older man's grasp and leaping to his feet. Terren, for his part, squeezed his eyes shut and for a moment, leaned heavily into the nearest wall before he opened his eyes to look at the slightly-trembling Jack.
"What the hell did you *do*?" Jack demanded, half-accusing, half in awe.
Terren fell into a nearby chair. "I don't suppose you've ever heard of Touch, hmm?"
Jack furrowed his brow. The capital letter was as audible as if Terren had written it in the air. "No."
"Well, that's my thing," said Terren. "It's what I do - I can... invoke memories, sometimes, see through the eyes of others, or just help them to see. Or I can see through the eyes of a person who last touched an inanimate object, if the emotions tied to the event are strong enough." He rubbed his closed eyelids, then looked at Jack again. "But damn, she's done something strong to your Gift, Jack."
Again, the capital letters were audible. Jack sat back down in the suspended chair. "Who's done something? What do you mean?" he asked, even though he was fairly certain that he knew exactly what Terren meant.
Terren sighed. "You're not going to want to hear this, Jack, but your mother did something... blocked your Gift somehow, so that you couldn't use it, couldn't consciously sense it... it explains a lot. I expect she thought she was protecting you." Another sigh. "I don't know your mother very well, Jack, but I think she's a lot like someone I know." He scowled briefly. "Unfortunately, I'm not a Healer like our dear Katia, just a doctor, and probably not technically even that, anymore. It's been a long time." He grinned lopsidedly. "So I'm afraid there's not much *I* can do to help. You'd have to have someone who's better at this, or stronger, which I'm not. You might be able to do it yourself." He sighed a third and final time. "But of course, that's your choice, too."
Jack sat still, considering the implications of all that. His mother had done something to his mind? To protect him? To block him? It sounded like something his mother might do, even something he might have done in a less-than-reasonable state of mind. And his mother couldn't have been in a particularly rational state of mind during that period.
Terren interrupted his train of thought, saying: "Gifts, or Talent, or whatever you want to call it with whatever various capitalizations, are usually inherited from parent to child, Jack. And given that both your parents had some measure of a Gift... it was an almost iron-clad certainty that at least one of you would have something, too. And it's hardly surprising that *both* of you do."
Jack shook his head. This was simply too much for him to process right now. And he could feel the old Jack - strange, that he was beginning to think of his admittedly rigid former mindset at the "old Jack" - rearing his head in the back of his mind, pushing a wave of annoyance and frustration across his mind. He covered his face with both hands. "Look," he said, looking up. "I don't want to be rude, or anything, but --"
"I know, it's a lot to process," Terren said unexpectedly, laying one hand on his shoulder. "If you'd rather I left you to think for a while - given that I'm not really even supposed to be here..."
Jack nodded almost gratefully. Terren nodded and dropped his hand, and turned to leave, but stopped halfway down the steps, and turned back. "Say goodbye to Annie for me, will you?" Jack nodded, and Terren winked at him, then set off across the lawn.
For some reason, Jack didn't find it strange that the older man intended to wander off on foot back into the woods, in the middle of the night, to return to wherever he'd come from. It only ocurred to him a few minutes later, after he'd felt a repeate of the same sensation he'd felt that must have been Terren's initial appearance, that maybe he couldn't move about the way Areahannah did, and had to come and go some other way. He *had* said that she was more powerful than he was - or had he?
Jack shook his head bemusedly. He was feeling the beginnings of a headache, and he went back inside, in search of some asprin and some really meaningless television program to dull the clanking and rushing of the train of thought inside his head. He didn't want to think about this until tomorrow.