He could only just remember it, if he tried hard enough, grasping after the disjointed fragments of memory as they floated on the edges of thought. The memory came slowly and in pieces as he concentrated on it - a sensation of distant warmth, of bright light behind a closed door, so that he could only see, it, feel it, shining through the cracks at the edges. Voices behind the door, first quiet, hushed, then gradually louder, arguing in that harsh whisper that people use when they are trying to be quiet but also be louder than whoever they're speaking to. The door was slightly open, just a crevice, really, so that the baby could be heard, should she cry. Open, he could push it, silent on its hinges, until he could see inside.
His mother and father, a decade younger, stnding in the middle of the room. She had her back to him, arms crossed, expression angry, hurt, afraid. As he watched, his father put a hand on each of her shoulders, placatingly, lovingly, trying to soothe her. He put his arms around her, kissed her hair, and for a moment it seemed it would work, but then she shrugged him off, spun around.
He couldn't hear the words - that is, he could hear them, but they were garbled, seeming far away and high above his head. He saw her mouth the words "How dare you?" and then the rest of the tirade was lost in confusion. He couldn't really understand the conversation, but he understood the moods of them both, the postures, the expressions. He was doing something, or had done something, that she didn't want him to do. Something that scared her. It scared him, too, but he was held by a deeper calm that said he knew it had to be done anyway.
Finally, he sighed, held out his hands quietly in defeat. She smiled, the security of victory playing over her features, and let him take her in his arms. As he held her, though, Jack saw the expression on his face - he had lied, and though the guilt of the lie was hurting him, the certainty was still there, of what he knew he had to do. His eyes flickered off somewhere, mind elsewhere.
For a moment, that seemed like a conclusion, but he found momentarily that it was only a moment of transition - for that was when he saw him in the doorway, and the embrace was broken as his mother turned, and sighted him as well. She put a hand to her mouth in surprise, and then she stepped forward, gathering him in her arms, and with scarcely a backward glance, carried him off down the hall, toward his bed, as if trying to hide him from something she feared was coming.
His mother didn't see it - but faced to the door as he was, he both saw and felt it as his father turned his head, and there was some kind of motion, and with that instant he realized that there was someone else - two someones - present in the room. One of them, dark and smooth and looming, was invisible to his eyes - the other, the source, he was sure, of that distant warm and light he had sensed, stepped out from behind the door in the form of a small, dark-haired girl with brilliant green eyes. She stood beside his father, peering around the door at his mother's retreating back, an expression of guarded pain and worry on her face. Just before the picture was lost to the darkness, she dropped her face, and disappeared.
Sweating, gasping for breath, Jack sat bolt upright, hands tangled in the sheets. ::A nightmare. It was only a nightmare.::
He spent several moments trying to convince himself of that, waiting for the images to dissipate, to fade away into distance as nightmares tend to do, but when that didn't happen, he threw off the sheets and got out of bed. Moving over to his dresser, he stood staring into his own eyes in the mirror.
::No. Not only a nightmare. Not *only* anything.::
He had felt small in the dream - was it a memory? Something he'd so long forgotten or wanted to forget that he'd seen, because of what his mother had done, maybe, or because he'd been afraid of what it might mean.
The girl was Areahannah - she had to be. He'd seen the Guardian, much younger, with his father. Had his mother known she was there, while they were arguing? No - or she wouldn't have been so easily placated.
He had remembered the night o fhis father's death before - but he had never remembered *that*. And now, Jack was sure of the memory - that was the night. Before, it had always begun and ended with the police coming to the door, so early it was still dark, and raining. His memory of that night, that day, had been limited to his mother's view of things - which in retrospect, he now realized, explained a lot. He had been just old enough to feel what everyone around him felt, but not old enough to understand, to sort through the tangled mess of emotions of those first few weeks.
But even though his younger self had been so smothered and lost in the reactions of everyone else, Jack remembered, now, that there was in some way, a greater sense, understanding of something else. Like having learned a second language and then lost his first - he had a vague remembrance of soft touches, quiet words, songs that as an infant and even a toddler he had felt rather than heard. For a long time he had dismissed the significance of those half-memories as something mis-understood through the only partially-developed senses of a very young child. But now...
:;Damn it, what did she *do* to me?::
Now the memories seemed clearer, maybe more accessible, maybe because of what Terren had done to him, let him see. Now he could more clearly remember what it had been like, to see, hear, *feel* with more than just his eyes, and ears and sense of touch. He remembered *feeling* so much more, more easily - and as he thought about it more, considered it, remembered it, filling in the gaps with words and pictures, the more angry he became.
He felt violated. Infuriated. His mother had taken from him something he had been born with. She might as well have cut out his eyes, or cut off his legs. The idea that he had been shut off from a world taht he'd had a *right* to see... and that then she had gone a step further, and pushed him further and further away from that world, until eventually he'd forgotten that it had ever been there, that he had ever known it, until he didn't want it anymore. something he'd been *born* to, been *meant* to have, to be able to do - it was worse than dishonesty, worse than abuse. It was brainwashing.
::She took it away from me. Manipulated me. Who the hell does she think she is?::
Shaking with anger, he slammed his fists hard enough into the top of the dresser to make the mirror rattle. At the same time, pain shot up both his arms, into his shoulders.
Rubbing his arms to get the tingling to stop, he stumbled back, fell onto the bed. He was sitting like that, still shaking, face in his hands, when a timid knock made the door creak open.
He knew it was Annie - they were the only ones in the house. Everyone else had gone to a gig at a club a few hours away, and wouldn't be back until tomorrow. He also knew he was crying, but he didn't care - he was too angry to be embarassed.
He heard her turn on the desk lamp, and dim light shone through his fingers. He didn't acknowledge her, though, until he felt her weight settle next to him on the bed. Then he wiped his eyes with a fold of his t-shirt, and looked at her. She looked worried - her hair was mussed, and she was wrapped in a thick robe several sizes too big for her.
Annie took in the rumpled bedclothes, the scattered objects on the dresser, and then met his eyes. "Did you have a bad dream, Jack?" she asked, with none of the half-mocking tone he would have expected.
He shook his head. "Not exactly," he said, his anger draining out of him in the face of her concern.
"Then what's wrong?" she asked. "Aside from the obvious, I mean."
Jack breathed a heavy sigh. "He was right, Annie," was all he said.
She shook her head, not understanding. "You mean Terren? Right about what?"
Jack raked damp black curls out of his face. "Fi's always had this sort of... thing about her, Annie," he said, eyes turned skyward as if the answer was there. "That thing that drives her to do what she does all the time - to chase after all the stuff I always thought was stupid, to believe in it no matter what anybody else told her. I guess you could say faith. That's what he called it."
He laughed briefly, a short bark of bitter laughter, and looked at her. "I could never understand it. And he... he tried to explain it to me, Annie. He tried to explain to me why they do it - why they follow *her*, the... Circle..." Jack threw his hands up in the air. "It was like watching someone try to explain light to a blind man. It was... I don't know. Maybe I just didn't get it. But he tried. And maybe it did make sense. Just not to me. And then he looked at me, and said that the reason I couldn't get it was because Mom did something to me... blocked my Gift, he said. Closed it off so I couldn't use it, somehow."
He looked at her again, and there was pain in his eyes. "He showed it to me, Annie. How she did it - whatever she did. How she covered it up, inside my head, somehow, so I couldn't use it anymore. And then I started to remember what it was like before - the stuff I could see and hear when I was little that I always thought I'd imagined. But it was *real*, Annie!" He pounded his fists into the bedspread. "It was real! It was all real! And Fi was right all along, and Mom lied to me! She not only lied, but she fixed it so I couldn't find out! She... she..."
The silence lengthened until it was uncomfortable. "She probably thought she was protecting you, Jack," Annie said, but there was very little certainty in her voice. Jack shook his head.
"That's what he *said*. But it didn't give her any right! And even if it's true, then why me and not Fi? Why change me and not her?"
Annie shrugged helplessly. "I don't think even that would have stopped Fi anyway, Jack," she said. "It's just... you were older. Maybe she thought Fi wouldn't remember."
Jack's shoulders sagged, his eyes on the floor again. "When you first met Areahannah, Annie, what did you feel?"
Annie was momentarily confused. "Feel?"
"Yes, feel. What did you feel? Everyone gets a feeling the first time they meet someone. What did you feel?"
Annie looked contemplative for a moment, and then her eyes were distant. "It was... it was different than anything else I'd ever felt, Jack," she said finally. "It was like she was... not just what she looked like. Like she was just the shell for something brighter and *huge*. It was like..." Annie seemed momentarily lost for words. "I don't know how to describe it."
Jack nodded solemnly. "I remember that, Annie," he said quietly. "When I was really little, I remember - the night Dad died, she was there. And I felt that. I felt *her*. I was little, though - I guess it was something I didn't think to question. Why would I? But... from what I remember... maybe that's why I couldn't understand." He shook his head. "It's been so long... maybe I've forgotten how to believe in anything."
He was so surprised, then, to hear her laugh, that all he could do was stare at her in shock. "What's so funny?" he demanded with wounded pride.
She just threw her arms around his neck and hugged him, to his immense surprise. "If Fi could see you now, Jack," she laughed. "You should know better - you can't forget something like that. Not completely." She sat back and looked soberly at him. "You'll just have to learn again."