Janessa could only imagine how hard this would be for Nico, leaving his former home. It was something Janessa had always lacked during her youth, especially since her sister first disappeared years before. The Pierce Estate was a huge house with enough eloquent furniture and décor to reflect the family’s wealth and project the pristine image of a well-respected family that the Pierce household strove to maintain, even after Keelyn’s loss. All their efforts, however, just made the building feel so impersonal. To Janessa, the Pierce Estate had been and will always be a house… not a home. This place was far different. Janessa had known from the moment she stepped into Nico’s childhood home that love and memories still lingers within these walls. While Janessa was able to leave her parent’s Estate and never look back, Nico would dearly miss this safe house. If there was any chance of making this place safe again, Janessa would have never asked him to leave. Sadly, she just couldn’t trust her former pack.
[b “I’m so sorry Nico. You’ve already sacrificed so much for me and my family… I hate to take any more from you. It’s not fair for you to have to suffer the poisons from my past. I just can’t trust Raven and Delta not to turn on us.”] Janessa told him, returning a sweet smile when he kissed her cheek. She would have returned the gesture were it not for the sudden interruption of their young Technopath.
[#ff6622 “Come on Nico, you know me better than that! I’ve already checked into similar missing persons cases in the area. The only interesting fact I found aside from them all being Supers and all disappearing without a trace, was that the police seemed to be entirely uninterested in these cases. Almost like they were convinced not to investigate.”] Tech explained, having searched for police records, reports, interview logs, and detective notes finding virtually nothing on the missing Supers.
[#ff6622 “I’ll keep looking and see if I can find anything suspicious, but for now, it looks like the Organization might have got to him. If it’s true, it means the Organization might have access to visions of the future. Lucas doesn’t seem like the type to help them willingly but…”] Dylan trailed off, not needing to mention his thoughts aloud. Janessa and Nico would know that after spending nearly three years in the hands of the Organization, they would have found some way to make Lucas talk. These were the same people that nearly killed Dylan in front of his friends and family just to see what would happen. They had held a comatose Kate hostage to force Nico’s cooperation, and were currently keeping Jason like some sort of leashed pet. They didn’t see Supers as human, so there was no limit to what they would do.
[#ff6622 “Bennett did tons of research about how the effects of adrenaline stimulate Supers’ abilities. She used pain, fear, and rage to push her subjects past the point of self-control. If the Organization wanted Lucas’ abilities, they know exactly how to get them working… which means, if Lucas is still alive, he probably wishes he wasn’t…”]
[b “We’ll find him Tech. Don’t worry Nico, I’ll talk to Jason. I need to check in with him to follow up on the Director anyways. Why don’t you take one of the Tanners and check out Lucas’ house? I can meet you there after I talk with Jason.”] Janessa suggested. She stepped over to Nico and took his hand, kissing him gently before giving his hand a reassuring squeeze.
[b “I’ll be careful. Don’t worry about me. Just be safe out there Nico. I love you.”]
It didn’t take Janessa long to cross the city. By now the path to Jason was well known and well tr5avelled. She had memorized the movements of the guards and plotted her best routes, making the trip far safer and quicker than it was the first few times she had visited her Alpha. As always, the closer she came to the Empath, the stronger the pack bond would get. She knew he’d be able to sense her too: the instant his Feral abilities kicked in, he’d know she was close. Janessa just hoped he wasn’t too angry with her to see her tonight. Jason didn’t exactly approve of her deal with the Director and had even begged her to stay away – a plea she promptly ignored when she once again tried to bargain his freedom from the Director. Her guilt made her timid as she approached her Alpha, making sure they were alone before she stepped out of the shadows that sheltered her.
[b “Jason, it’s good to see you. With everything going on right now… I needed to know you were ok.”] Janessa didn’t hide the relief in her voice. With Kyleen still in such a precarious position, Emma dead, Lucas missing, and the threat of her old pack at the safe house, Janessa was was terrified of losing anyone else.
[b “I’ve got news: We think one of Nico’s old friends has been taken by the Organization. He went missing years ago, but we’ve only just found out. Have you heard anything within the Organization about a man named Lucas Lee?”] She asked, both eager for answers and afraid of what she might hear. The Feral had only met the man once, but his kindness had saved hers and Dylan’s life that day. She owed it to Lucas to make every effort to find him.
[b “I’ve also come to warn you… My former pack – two ferals I used to run with – they’re working for Michael now. I’m worried that they might want to hurt me, and they know better than anyone that the best way to do that is to target the people I care about. They could come after you just for being my friend, my Alpha. Don’t let them hurt you.”]
[i "If you succeed in this, you won’t just be my assistant, I’ll prompted you to partner."] Those words were sweet to the Organisation leader, it meant his plans were working, it was a small step up, but the world was changed by men making small steps. First it was Bennett's partnership, then her job, or even Pascal's then he would be only a step below the Director himself. From there it he would be able to use his charms to control the Director and manipulate him into giving Michael everything that he could want. The Organisation would be his and Supers would never be persecuted by the vile group again.
[#cc8000 "You can count on me Ms Bennett, I'll whip them into shape and soon no one will be able to stand up to us. That little group of misfits will have nowhere to hide, nowhere to go. I'll bring you two of those freaks and then Pascal will have to step aside and you can have his job."] Michael was happy to let Bennett and pascal scrap for second place and when everything was all said and done he would be atop all of them. With the three Supers that he had selected, all fiercely loyal to him, all Bennett's work would do was strengthen his hand and the fool girl didn't even realise it. She hated Supers so much and little did she know she was helping one of the most dangerous of them all into a position of unrivalled power.
Michael left Bennet and made his way through the sprawling corridors of the Organisation headquarters towards the holding cells where he had requested these three particular supers be placed. There was no doubt the process of "training" them for Bennett and exposing his former inhabitants of the Sanctuary would be unpleasant and very probably painful but it was undeniably necessary. Thankfully the room was empty of other researchers leaving just the caged supers and Michael himself.
[#cc8000 "Tempo, Zeke, Mirage. You have the honour in playing a grand part in the struggle to free our brothers and sisters from the tyranny of this Organisation and those that support it. If you play your part then I will take one step closer to taking over this hellhole and ending the injustice our people face. Your part will require sacrifice and I have specifically selected you because of your dedication to the cause and your trust and loyalty to me. With your help we can end the nightmare that our brothers and sisters face here everyday."]
[b "All this will be over soon and then you'll have your sister back and everything will have been worth it. You deserve to have your family back."] Nico agreed with the feral, he never wanted to leave Jackson alone with Michael's cronies, no doubt if they thought that they could get away with it they would steal him away from right under their noses. Janessa's other suggestion to leave his old home did sting a little but she was absolutely right, it was the pragmatic choice and right now none of them could afford to let anything slip up, after all that was what had cost Emma her life.
[b "I suppose you're right but...it'll be tough to leave here again. Truth be told it was just starting to feel like home again...but Jackson and Keelyn deserve a safe place. If giving up this place means that I can give that to you then I'm happy to do it."] The dark elemental gave Janessa a quick kiss on the cheek before Dylan came speeding into the room and stated talking about the past. Nico wasn't particularly pleased to hear that Dylan was looking into his past, there were a lot of painful memories buried in his past and still more than a few secrets he hadn't yet shared with the others. Somethings he was quite keen to keep to himself but talk of Lucas sent his hypothetical concerns away and replaced them with far more pressing concerns.
[b "What do you mean Lucas just dropped off the map? People don't just vanish without a trace, there has got to be an explanation for all of this. There needs to be a pattern, what you should do is see if Lucas has anything in common with the others who have disappeared other than if they are all supers. If they do then maybe there is something bigger going on. If not...well we all know who is likely behind the abduction of supers. Janessa can you get a message to Jason, I want to know if he knows anything over at the Organisation and know if they have Lucas what they're doing to him. Maybe we should go and check out Lucas' place as well."] Nico felt responsible for whatever was happening to an old friend, everything seemed fine when they had seen him three years ago so any of the problems relating to Lucas' current predicament was all his fault. Nico couldn't help but hurt those around him. Regardless of what was happening with Lucas they needed to use their time wisely. His first priority was Keelyn, making sure that she woke up healthy and in full control of all her mental faculties. As much as it pained him Lucas would have to wait until Keelyn was alright before he made any other moves.
[b "Dylan I want you to keep digging, find out absolutely everything you can about Lucas Lee, including why anyone would possibly want to kidnap him."]
Pascal’s praise should have been a relief for Bennett, but instead all she felt was bitter suspicion. She was anxious to show her work to the Director and to take full credit for the research she had done. Showing Pascal didn’t give her near as much Pride as showing the Director, partially because she knew how backhanded Pascal could be. She had no doubt that man would steal all her credit and pass the Catalyst Project off as his own if she wasn’t careful. That’s why she had tried to keep him in the dark about her research for so long.
[#ff00ff “There is still much work to be done. My research is not yet complete but I have every intention of getting our first subjects out into the field as soon as possible. I will let you know if I need anything, Sir.”] Bennett assured Pascal as the man left the office. Once he was out of earshot, the word “bastard” slipped from her lips, barely contained while in his presence.
[#ff00ff “Ah yes… I remember these three. Young, psychologically malleable, powerful abilities… and you believe they are strong enough to withstand the Catalyst’s abilities? Well, these three should do nicely for our first test. We’ll begin tonight. Each of the three will be transferred to the containment cells next to my lab. We’ll have them fitted for electric shock collars – make them well aware that any disobedience will be met with severe punishment.”] Bennett stated, speaking of the pending torture as casually as one would speak of the weather. Her disregard for the safety and well being of the Supers was astounding.
[#ff00ff “Once we can be certain of their loyalty, we’ll test them with the Catalyst: make them stronger, give them a taste of the power they an achieve while working for the Organization… then send them on their first mission: We were tracking a telepath in the area, but he disappeared several weeks ago. We have reason to believe he’s been inducted into the group of fugitives we’ve been fighting for the past several years. Once these three are trained, their first mission will be to bring us the Telepath and at least one of the fugitives. If they can manage that, I would say all this hard work will have paid off.”] Bennett stated. She made the arrangements, having the Supers that Oliver chose transferred closer to the lab so she could keep an eye on them. So far she was pleased with Oliver’s decision, but the real test would be pairing off these three Catalyst-charged Supers against the very group that had eluded the Organization for so long. If they could manage to bring in the Telepath as well as Shadow, Tigress, or any one of the Tanners, Pascal would have no choice but to recognize Bennett’s successes. This may finally be her opportunity to take her rightful place as [i his] superior!
[#ff00ff “I’ll put their training in your charge Oliver. Use whatever means necessary to gain their allegiance and make sure their ready. As soon as you think they can handle it, I’ll give you permission to take them out into the field for their first mission. Bring me two captives from that elusive group and you will be vastly rewarded Oliver. If you succeed in this, you won’t just be my assistant, I’ll prompted you to partner.”] Bennett offered, dangling the title as one would dangle a carrot in front of a horse. Since power and authority were the motives behind all of Bennett’s antics, she naturally assumed the same would be true for Oliver. If anything would wake him work for this, she hoped this title would.
Janessa hadn’t really felt comfortable in the safe house since her former pack arrived. Most days she would be caught looking in on them, keeping a watchful, untrusting eye on these invaders, while trying to keep things as civil as possible. Whenever she, Delta, and Raven were in the same room, it usually ended in a bitter argument, so for the most part, the three stayed away from each other. At the moment, Janessa was sitting in the room across from her sister’s, with narrowed eyes staring at the three intruders through the opened doors. Nico’s voice brought her out of her mesmerized state, calling her full attention back to him.
[b “Thank you Nico, but I’m alright. I’m just anxious for this healing process to be over. I spoke with the healer this morning. Keelyn’s starting to come out of it – small movements, flinches, flexes… nothing conscious yet, but it’s a start. Surprisingly, I think Jackson’s helping. Keelyn seems to react more when he’s around… but I don’t let him stay in there alone. I don’t trust those three anywhere near my nephew unsupervised.”] Janessa explained, ending with a growl at the thought of risking the child’s safety. As far as she was concerned, this truce with Michael was shaky at best. She wasn’t about to trust the man who had caused so much misery in their lives, especially when their own little family group was so vulnerable lately.
[b “You’re right… Actually, I’ve been thinking: I know this place means a lot to you, but with Michael’s minions knowing how to find us here… I think we might need to start looking for a new safe house. We don’t know if Michael’s going to keep the truce once Keelyn’s healed. I’d feel better having a safe, secure place where we can hide if we need to.”] Janessa suggested, not hiding her discomfort.
As if on cue, the youngest of the Tanners files into the room. Dylan looked exhausted and worn from the grief of losing his sister, but he was at least making an effort to return some normalcy to his life. While Cody and Sarah were still unnaturally quiet following Emma’s funeral, Dylan had returned to working on his laptop and setting up additional security measures around the safe house He still felt guilty that in his distraction over Emma’s death, he had neglected the security so much that the healer and two ferals snuck in and for the past several sleepless nights, he’d been trying to make up for his lapse by working even harder.
[#ff6622 “Hey… I was looking for you guys. Since Janessa’s past kinda came back to haunt her, I decided to do some digging into all of our past acquaintances. You know, to make sure we don’t get any more surprise drop ins. I found something… you’re not going to like it…”] Dylan said with a grimace. He opened his laptop, showing numerous newspaper articles, online registries, and confidential documents, all centered around one individual from their pasts: Lucas.
[#ff6622 “You remember that Precog that helped us after our first run in with Boyd? Nico’s friend Lucas? Well, he disappeared not long after we last saw him. He completely dropped off the map! House left vacant, bills left unpaid, job dropped without explanation; no word to his neighbours, his friends, his family; he just disappeared… like the other dozens of Supers that mysteriously vanished off the street in the past several years. We’ve been so wrapped up in everything we didn’t even think to check in with the man, but Lucas has been missing for almost three years.”]
Pascal listed to Bennett natter on about her new research and how this new project would revolutionise the Organisation as we know it and how she could force all of these supers would be completely loyal to the Organisation. It was bold talk to say the least. The two high ranking Organisation walked to the Organisation event, Pascal had to admit that what Bennett talked about was interesting and if she could actually achieve what she was talking about it would open the Organisation to a whole world of new possibilities. Pascal clenched his jaw in irritation as she mentioned his run in with Shadow all that time ago when he had been beaten to a bloody pulp, the gall of her! One day Pascal would laugh at Bennett as she was firmly under his foot, soon enough her hubris would be her downfall. The spiteful bitch. Watching the pyrokinetic super from the observation deck and when the child entered the cell a smirk crossed the Agent's face.
[+blue "Is this it, a child? You might actually be more delusional than I thought."] The smirk lasted as long as it took for the Catalyst to show his power. That young boy was able to completely annihilate this super using his own flames against him. It was incredible, seeing a seemingly powerful super brought down by the mere presence of this child was extraordinary. Seeing what the Catalyst could do to a hostile enemy was certainly impressive, and Pascal had to admit that Bennett's research with the Catalyst might actually come to something, maybe she wasn't as useless as he had thought. If Pascal could manoeuvre the Catalyst away from Bennett and bring him under his own influence then not only would he be able to gain favour with the Director but it might bring Bennett down a peg or two.
[+blue "I have to admit that this Catalyst of yours is impressive, perhaps your work will actually bear fruits. Keep working with this Catalyst and if you need anything else come to me for it. I'm going to be looking at your progress with great interest."] With that Pascal left Bennett and returned to his own work, his head full of possibilities brought forth with the Catalyst being brought into play. It was certainly an interesting prospect. Michael was left with Bennett in the observation area, profoundly relieved that he had not been exposed to the Catalyst's abilities, he wondered h0w that would work given that his abilities were more mental rather than physical, he hoped that he never had to find out.
[#cc8000 "I have managed to find three supers that I believe would be more than suitable for your needs with the catalyst. First we have Tempo: Male, 24 years old. Speedster. He is physically strong and resilient but is mentally malleable, perfect for your uses. The next is Zeke: Male, 17 years old. Density Shifter. Obviously this supers abilities allow him to survive things others could not, and is smart. Our benefit is his age. Young and ambitious but also naive in many ways, this super will likely become more loyal than the others with less effort. Finally we have Mirage: Female, 36 years old. Illusionist. This super is slightly different to the others. Their powers are mental and as a result may be slightly harder to tame and while they are an average physical specimen I believe it is their mental resilience which will allow them to survive whatever process you design to put them through. I hope these subjects are to your liking."] Michael's reports obviously left out that these three supers were all loyal to Michael and knew of his plans to eventually take control of the Organisation for himself. The Catalyst was both a great danger but also a great opportunity, he would need to tread lightly.
Nico paced across the room next to where Delta, Raven, the healer and, of course, Keelyn were, he didn't like having them here this was meant to be a safe place for his friends to hide out and here were Michael's lackeys just walking in. Just because it was necessary didn't mean that he had to like it. At least he had Andrew there to listen in on these interlopers and let him know if they were planning anything nefarious. That wasn't what gnawed on his mind the most, that was Janessa. It was her sister that was being worked on and if all went well then she would get her sister back, but what if it didn't? Would Keelyn be lost forever? There were many uncertainties when dealing with matters of the mind. Nico had dealt with it when Kate was in a coma all those years ago and seeing Janessa go through what he had to deal with was heartbreaking.
[b "How are you holding up? I know it can't be easy for you with Keelyn being in her condition. Your old pack being here as well can't be easy for you either. Is there anything that I can do?"] Nico remembered the talk he had with Raven the night he killed Nightmare and freed her and the other captives from Boyd. Nico wasn't sure if he liked Raven, she seemed in many ways to hold certain similarities to himself and just about the only thing he was certain of was that he didn't trust the Feral...he wasn't sure what that said about himself though. There was also the issue of the mourning Tanners, while their sister had been laid to rest the group was still acutely feeling the loss of Emma and the mood surrounding the group as a whole was just about at an all time low. It was a bad sign when Nico was one of the more upbeat people in any situation.
[b "Maybe we should go and see Dylan, Cody and Sarah, see if there is anything that they want to do. We can't stay huddled here forever."]
To Bennett’s credit, her mask didn’t falter despite Pascal’s criticism. Internally, Tara was seething at the sheer audacity behind Pascal’s words. The only reason he assumed so little of her work was because he was far too busy brooding in his own office to come and see her research for himself! It took every ounce of Tara’s self-control to keep her biter retorts to herself an maintain that composed expression she had forged once she entered the room.
[#ff00ff “I would be happy for you to inform the Director of my work, Sir. Perhaps he would better understand the gains my research has made for the Organization. I can assure you, the work I’ve done is more than to simply satisfy my curiosity. By next week, I will have created a Task Force of Supers, powerful, obedient, and – unlike your pet Hyperion – completely loyal to our Organization. Allow me to show you.”] Bennett jibed, before guiding him towards her office. Along the way, Bennett briefly stopped at the bolted security doors that severed her prisoners from the rest of the building. She placed her hand on the scanner and entered the 7-digit passcode on the provided screen before the doors opened to reveal her various subjects. Though, Bennett was the only one with clearance to the room, as per protocol, several guards followed her and Pascal inside. Each cell contained a weakened Super, carefully contained so to nullify their abilities.
Bennett stopped in front of a young, black-haired man with flame-like tattoos etched along his arms. Tara nodded to her guards who opened the cell and restrained the Super, bringing him back to Bennett’s office for a demonstration. Once they left, the cells were once again secured and Tara guided Pascal to her lab while the prisoner was escorted to the specially designed viewing chamber. He and his abilities would be safely contained, but Pascal and Bennett would have a clear view of everything that was going on in the cell. The young Super appeared to be seething in rage. Bennett and Pascal might assume he was glaring directly at them, however the man’s eyes were drawn to the one standing in the background. This was one of Michael’s loyal followers and right now all he saw in exchange for his loyalty was being subjected to cruel torture and experiments while his leader sat idly by. The betrayal burned on his face, forcing the Super to react – flames erupted from his arms and swirled around his small cell, burning everything except for the Pyro himself.
[#ff00ff “As you know, Sir, My research had already proven a direct link between a Super’s control of their abilities and exposure to adrenaline. When pushed to extreme measures, the subject’s abilities will take over and damage anyone in the vicinity… you became intimately aware of the effect this had on Shadow.”] Bennett pointed out in a smug tone as she glanced at the remaining scars Pascal had from his near-lethal encounter.
[#ff00ff “What I’ve discovered is a method of manipulating a Super’s abilities in a far more controlled and measurable manner.”] As she spoke, she stepped towards the cell where the Catalyst was kept. The young boy still seemed numb to the world, but upon her request, he left his cell and walked towards the viewing chamber. Placing his hand against the glass, the Catalyst’s eyes began to glow.
[#ff00ff “What you seem in there is the fiercest extent of Subject 677’s abilities. This is as strong as he gets on his own, while still maintaining control. Now, if Subject 677 was under our employ and met an enemy he couldn’t defeat on his own, we can better the odds. Catalyst.”] Tara ordered. Upon hearing his name, the young boy’s glowing eyes widened slightly and brightened in colour. The effects were instantaneous: Inside the cell, the Super’s abilities increased. Spindles of fire became torrents of flame, the temperature of the room doubled, and the Super’s face alit with a look of near euphoria at the sheer power within his grasp.
[#ff00ff “No fugitive Super will be able to fight back against a Task Force of Supers with such heightened abilities. Of course, giving such power also places us at risk should these Supers be… less than loyal. Which is what my research had been focused on as of late. The solution, is simple: a failsafe. Should our Supers – or any others for that matter – turn on the Organization, the Catalyst will intervene.”] Once again, with Bennett’s prompting, the young boy’s eyes narrowed into slits and darkened with malicious intent. The Super within the cell looked bewildered at first. The euphoria dying in his expression only to be replaced with panic and pain as the fames that once obeyed his every command were found out of his control. The cell erupted in screams as the heat increased, now turning on its creator and burning his once-invulnerable skin to a blackened crisp. The process took seconds, during which the Super was engulfed in his own flames before the entire inferno abruptly ceased, leaving a horrifying, blackened form lying motionless on the floor of the cell.
[#ff00ff “In a hostile situation, the Catalyst can push the Super to kill themselves. Here, however, his orders are to stop as soon as the threats has been disabled. Subject 677’s abilities have been extensively exhausted. He won’t regain the use of his abilities for the next 6 hours, minimum. At that time, his natural tolerance to fire will return and his skin will heal. But this process does give the Organization 6 hours with a fully incapacitated, wounded, and submissive Super to deal with as we see fit.”] Tara explained. The Pyro was left in the cell to recover while the Catalyst obediently returned to his cage to await further orders.
[#ff00ff “You want a method of tracking Supers? Bring me Ferals. With the Catalyst’s enhancements, they can track Supers throughout the city. You need enforcers? Any ability you want will be under your complete control. My research is invaluable, Sir, and as you can see, I have certainly not been wasting my time. There is only one thing I need to perfect this method… I need to find a Super with the ability to create force fields… such power would be incredibly useful to contain these violent episodes in the field. Aside from that, I believe I’m ready to put this plan into action. My assistant is choosing the first candidates for our new task force as we speak.”]
Special Agent Adrian Pascal was growing increasingly frustrated at the current situation at the Organisation. While he still held a position of influence in the Organisation and had the trust of the Director things had changed. He had spoken with Bennett's research assistant Oliver on several occasions, the man was smart and willing to do what was necessary to succeed. While Pascal was loathe to trust anyone if he didn't need to he certainly preferred Oliver to Tara herself. Bennett was a capable woman but her temperament was far too volatile to ever advance significantly in the Organisation. Pascal knew she wasted her job, she wanted to be the Director's right hand if not the Director herself. Her ambition was commendable even if her reach far exceeded her grasp.
[+blue "Bennett? Yes I admit that I have been disappointed with the lack of progress you have been making. We rely on your department to find new ways of combatting the Super infestation, so far you have failed in that task, rather spectacularly I must add. If you continue to fail then maybe I shall have to inform the Director."] Pascal would love nothing more than to replace Bennett, Oliver would make a fine replacement, in fact he was already fairly certain that he had earned the research assistant's loyalty and stolen him away from Bennett. Now the young man would inform him of Bennett's every move, he would be able to plan for her every conniving move. It was almost laughable how easily he had outmanoeuvred her.
[+blue "Yes, I would very much like to see what new gains you have made. They must be significant for you to be so confident about them. Lead the way Bennett."]
Michael sat looking at the files on Tara's desk about the next three supers he should select for her next experiments with the catalyst. This was an interesting choice he needed to make. Not only did he need to choose a super who was strong enough to survive and weak willed enough to still obey orders but he had a third condition to maintain; he needed to chooses those that were undyingly loyal to himself and would never betray him, and that could fool the Organisation into believing that they still worked for them while actually taking orders from Michael. An interesting choice indeed. Of course he was already familiar with the supers in the files very well and it was now a matter of the fine details. This was a key moment in his planning He had started pitting Pascal and Bennett against each other leaving him free to take control while they fought against each other tot he exclusion of all else. They wouldn't even realise how much they had lost until it was all too late. These people were so blind it was comical. A child could see more than them. What was even more amusing was that Pascal actually thought that Michael had turned and was now loyal to him, the very thought was laughable. He turned his attention back to the files on the desk ahead of him, he had already selected two names Tempo and Zeke were obvious choices and right now he thought Mirage was an acceptable third choice. With those three by his side inside the Organisation he could elevate himself to the Director's right hand, then it would only be a matter of time before he could replace that figure and take his place in control of it all. It would all be his in time.
One possible obstacle might just be the Catalyst, he would need to be careful around that particular test subject. If the data was correct then that super could derail everything, a part of the Charmer wondered what would happen if Michael himself came into contact with the Catalyst, would his power be amplified beyond his control and destroyed him or would he be able to shape the world to his whims with a mere word. It would certainly be an interesting experiment. In any case Michael had his three choices for Bennett's new experiment, and with it the next step of his plan to take control of the Organisation. Michael scooped up the relevant files in a hand and left the lab to find Bennett, she would likely be with Pascal now trying to justify her new projects to him. He should check up on them and see that his carefully crafted words were having the desired effects.
Nico’s threats didn’t sit right with Delta, who tensed defensively at the words. Surprisingly, it was Raven that acted to pacify the situation this time. Though never the collected type, Raven abandoned her usual role as the instigator as a favour to Nico. He did, after all, rescue her and her companions from the Casino.
[#bb44ee “Threats don’t work well with Ferals, Shadow. I’m sure your time with Tigress has taught you that. Regardless, we’re not here to cause trouble. Michael asked for volunteers to escort the healer and Delta and I figured we’d be a little better received than some other strangers from the Sanctuary. Don’t worry, once the healer’s done, we’ll be out of your hair.”] Raven announced, though something about her tone made it evident that she was far less appeasing than her words would lead you to believe.
As the day dragged on, The two Ferals maintained their post, guarding the Healer. On the rare occasions they assumed they were alone, the two would talk between themselves in hushed whispers, unaware of the Technopath in their midst, reading their every thought.
[#008800 “You told me Tigress had a new Alpha. I don’t sense any other Feral here at all. Do you think the Elemental followed your advice?”] Delta asked, having expected to come across his former ally’s new pack while he was here.
[#bb44ee “No. If Shadow had killed the Alpha, Tigress wouldn’t still be here. You know she’d never forgive him for that.”] Raven retorted.
[#008800 “Well, we’ll just have to keep a wary eye out for him. If the rumours are true and the Alpha is in connection with the Director, Michael will want to know about it. Maybe he can use the Alpha to take out the threat once and for all. And if the Alpha dies in the process…?”]
[#bb44ee “Who knows? Maybe Shadow will even thank us for solving his problems for him.”]
Tara Bennett bustled into the room, the rapid stride of her clicking heels betraying her impatience. As usual, the white-coated researcher had a clipboard in one hand and a pen in the other, swiftly scrawling notes about her resent findings with only a rare glance up from her page. In the last several weeks, Bennett had been back and forth between the cells, the testing rooms, and her own lab conducting her own experiments on the several captive Supers she had bargained out of Vincent Boyd. It was with bitter satisfaction that she now had the only captives as most of Boyd’s had been freed by Shadow and Michael. Though, that fact did bring her reason for caution. Bennett had strict security surrounding her charges. For her own office, only she and her most trusted assistant – Oliver – had access to the room. Her labs were only open to a select few with high enough clearance and the cells were locked behind a secure metal door that only Bennett had the authority to open. This often meant that the captives were only fed and tended to as often as the busy woman thought appropriate… which was not very often at all. But Tara Bennett couldn’t risk anyone having access to her prisoners in case something went wrong and her test subjects escaped. Not only would such a tragedy destroy her research, but the loss of her assets would surely lose her the favour of the Director and Tara Bennett was well aware that such a loss would not be easily forgiven.
Currently, Tara was guiding two of the Organization’s guards, each with a firm grasp on a thin, pale, sickly looking boy that Oliver would recognize as [i The Catalyst]. This was the only prisoner Bennett insisted on keeping in her lab, wanting to maintain a constant watch over her most valuable asset. Following every experiment, the young teen was escorted back to his cell in her office and the guards were eagerly dismissed, leaving Bennett to her work. The young, but powerful Super, sat eerily still in his cell, staring through the protective glass with a dull, empty stare. He had behaved this way since Boyd brought him to the Organization, as Bennett assumed he was far too accustomed to being a prisoner and had long since abandoned the same restlessness and hope for escape that the others harboured in the other cells.
[#ff00ff “The test on Subject 602 was a success. The young woman’s powers were increased nearly ten-fold by the Catalyst’s influence and – just like the others – she had virtually no control over her abilities. The effects should be wearing off soon, though I highly doubt the Subject will survive. We’ll leave her in her cell tonight and see whether we have more than a corpse left of her by morning. It will not be a significant loss, her powers had little value to us anyway. We will continue our testing first thing tomorrow morning. Now leave.”] Bennett instructed her guards, harshly dismissing them before her attention was captured by her trusted assistant.
[#ff00ff “Pascal? That impatient imbicile has no idea how important my research is to this Organization. Research like this takes time and that incompetent fool can’t seem to understand that! Such a hypocrite… I don’t see him making any further progress on the Supers either! At least I was hard at work while he took [i months] lying on his hospital bed like the lazy ass that he is. And to think, he wants to replace me with Smith?! My life’s work, my assets, my research corrupted by that ignorant…”] Tara was so frustrated at this point, she slammed her clipboard down on her desk, effectively cutting off whatever string of insults she had formed for her would-be replacement.
[#ff00ff “I will deal with Pascal. In the meantime, Oliver, I have a task for you. Since we acquired the Supers from the Sanctuary, eight have died during the course of my experiments, four others are in critical condition down in their cells, I expect they won’t last much longer. Fortunately, though my test subjects are dwindling, I believe I’ve finally ready to move on to the next stage of my research. Of the Supers that your sorted for me – the ones with the abilities that are of most value to our Organization – I want you to choose three. Make sure they are physically strong enough to survive exposure to The Catalyst, but are weak willed enough that they could be coerced into working for the Organization. It’s finally time to start building our own army of Supers. The files are on my desk. Make your decision, and we will retrieve the Subjects from their cells once I return from Pascal.”] Bennett ordered, her voice even stricter than usual due to her own frustrations.
She strode swiftly down the hall towards Pascal’s office, taking the opportunity to compose herself as she walked. By the time she arrived, she had forced a mask of polite, respectful stillness to her expression. Though she may despise the man, Pascal was still her superior.
[#ff00ff “Sir, my assistant informed me you wanted to speak with me? He was under the impression that you were unimpressed with my progress. ON the contrary, Sur, I’ve made more gains in my research in the last few weeks than I ever thought possible. Please, allow me to enlighten you.”]
[#17686e "I knew that you would do the right thing and i'm gad that the two of you aren't keeping secrets from each other. I know that I haven't known any of you for very long and I'm grateful that you decided to give me a chance. I don't think people realise how lonely it is being able to hear other people's innermost thoughts, not knowing if they spoke to you or you invaded their mind. Thank you for letting me be a part of this."] The telepath received Janessa's thanks with gratitude of his own, and what he spoke was true Andrew often had to tread lightly when he spoke being careful of accidentally revealing another's innermost thoughts or desires. While Andrew hadn't had the trauma that the Tanners, Nico or Janessa had felt as a child the truth was that he often resented having abilities, he often felt outcast from others who didn't understand what he could do or that were prejudiced against his kind. After Janessa excused herself Andrew too went to get some rest as the night was well and truly upon them.
The next few days were tough and passed in a blur as Janessa moved heaven and earth in order to give the Tanners the best sendoff for Emma that could be managed under the circumstances. It was a small, private affair lasting no longer than strictly necessary and even that was a comfort for the dark elemental to attend. Nico never had the chance to do anything like this for Kate, he was far too busy wallowing in self pity and anger for him to take notice of anything as mundane as funeral arrangements. He assumed it was Jason that dealt with her funeral, backed by the Organisation if the inscription on her headstone was anything to go by. They did it to keep Jason's favour but still insulted Nico at the same time, it was no less than he would expect from them. As it turned out the slights of the Organisation were the least of his concerns that day as Janessa revealed there were intruders at the safe house. Nico was on guard and ready to retaliate at the slightest provocation as he entered the house alongside the feral and revealed a most unusual sight. Raven, Delta and another Nico didn't know stood by Keelyn's bedside, Nico stood silent as Janessa and Cody spoke, remaining focused on a possible attack or a need to defend his friends.
[b "Michael sent you...that was fast. I expected him to drag this out as long as possible. Do what you are here to do but if I see anything that I don't like then I'll end you, just like I ended Nightmare."] Nico was troubled by Janessa's previous pack, it was an unnedded complication. Obviously they would have told Michael everything that had happened the other night and the Charmer obviously looked to gain whatever advantage that he could. It was to be expected of the man but it made Nico very nervous. Janessa was already fool of thoughts regarding Jason as her alpha and who knows how the presence of her old pack could influence those thoughts.
[b "Andrew, stay with our guests and make sure if they need anything that they receive it."] Nico's words may have been courteous enough on the surface but the Telepath would get the other hudden part of his message that he sent through his thoughts. [i "Andrew I want to know everything that these people think while they stay here, if anything seems suspicious come to me or Janessa."] Nico didn't trust what was going on right now and the Telepath might just be their hidden ace and the key to finding out what alternative motives Michael had here.
Michael was typing furiously at one of the computer terminals at the Organisation, familiarising himself with various projects that may be of interests to him in the future, along with some more pressing concerns. There were still several supers from the Sanctuary either unaccounted for or out of his reach and he would see that rectified sooner rather than later. he lifted his head up from the screen in time to see Tara Bennett walk in the room on business of her own, and he was about to put another one of his plans into motion. It was time to pit Bennett and Pascal against each other properly, if all went to plan they would destroy each other so thoroughly that Michael could surpass both of them in the ranks of the Organisation.
[#cc8000 "Excuse me Miss Bennett, Agent Pascal was down not too long ago eager to speak to you. He wanted to know if you had any new devices or research regarding the capture or tracking down of hidden supers. Forgive me for saying this but he seemed...disappointed with the lack of recent progress. I even heard a rumour that he was thinking of replacing you with one of the other senior researchers. I think it might have been Smith. I just thought you should know."]
Janessa left Nico to rest, having only one last duty before she too could get some much needed sleep. Walking through the halls, she checked on her sleeping nephew before seeking out the other new addition to their team. The telepath may have been new to their family, but he had already proven his loyalty. Such efforts couldn’t go unacknowledged.
[b “I wanted to thank you. I know I was asking a lot of you, to keep my secrets from Nico. I wanted you to know that we’ve talked. I told him where I was tonight, and he was honest with me in return. Still, he needed to hear these truths from me. So thank you, for keeping you word and for letting me speak with Nico on my own terms. You’ve more than earned your place here.”] Janessa commented with a warm smile. She bid goodnight to the Telepath before making her way to her own room so she too could rest.
It was one of the best sleeps Janessa had in years. The turmoil in her life was far from settled but her honest talk with Nico the night before had at least eased the strain in her mind. Coupling the relief of her confession to Nico with the Physical exhaustion of her mission with Jason, Janessa had slipped into oblivion seconds after lying down and didn’t wake from her restful sleep until the early hours of the following morning.
The first thing the Feral did was check on her grieving friends. The Tanners agreed that arrangements should be made. As much as they hated to say goodbye to their sister, Sarah, Cody, and Dylan were in desperate need of closure and that simply wasn’t possible with the lifeless form of their sister lying motionless in the next room.
Fortunately, Janessa still had some contacts and other strings to pull in order to make the arrangements in a swift and secretive manner. As much as Emma deserved a grand celebration of her life, they were forced to be conservative so as not to alert any of their numerous enemies.
Janessa used her inheritance to cover the costs, arranging a small, private graveside service for the family. They stood with red eyes and tear streaked cheeks as the lid of the casket was closed and the Speedster’s face left their sight for the last time. There could be no visitation, no formal funeral, and no prolonged service. To protect their identities and their whereabouts, everything had to be kept short and quiet, but it was at least a chance to everyone to make their peace with the passing of their friend and sister. Everyone had attended, including young Jackson, leaving only the comatose Keelyn alone in the safehouse. It didn’t even cross the grieving party’s minds that the Transferance Healer would be discovered, which was why the hair on the back of Janessa’s neck raised as an unfamiliar scent lingered on the doorstep of the safe house.
Janessa swiftly handed the young child to Sarah and motioned for Cody and Nico’s attention.
[b “Someone’s here, in the house. One’s a stranger, I don’t know the scent, but the other two… Raven and Delta.”] Janessa hissed with a narrowed gaze. She hadn’t made contact with her old Pack in years and their parting wasn’t exactly on the best of terms. The thought of those two – obedient followers of Michael’s – finding their way into the safehouse where her defenceless sister slept, was terrifying. With Cody and Nico at her side, she knew they were more than a match for two Ferals and whoever they’d brought with them; what concerned Janessa was why Michael’s followers had sought them out in the first place. Her fears only grew as they entered the safehouse and she followed the intruders’ scents towards her sister’s room. Janessa let her fear drive her as she darted through the door, letting her anxious eyed fall on the unfamiliar figure leaning over her comatose sister while the two Ferals stood nearby.
[b “Get away from my sister!”] She growled, understandably defensive. Janessa had no way of knowing that the unfamiliar Super at Keelyn’s side was the healer Nico had bargained for. With tensions high and past quarrel’s rekindled, both Raven and Delta turned hostile eyes towards their former Pack mate.
[#880088 “Raven and Delta work for Michael. I knew them when I lived at the Sanctuary. Easy Tigress, I’m sure they don’t mean any harm.”] Cody intervened, hoping to pacify this clearly strained situation.
[b “I’ve known these two a lot longer than you have Phase. Trust me, they’re far from harmless.”] Janessa retorted, not daring to relax while these three Supers stood between her and her sister.
[#BB44EE “So you do remember us? I’m flattered Tigress. It sure didn’t seem that way when you walked out on your Pack! But Phase is right, we’re not here for personal vendettas. Just ask you boyfriend, I’m the one that helped save his life!”] Raven chimed in, her tone sounding more like a dare to Janessa than a peace offering.
[#005500 “Raven.”] Delta’s voice was halting, giving both Raven and Tigress a warning glance to calm themselves before this got out of hand.
[#005500 “Michael is a man of his word Shadow. You kept your end of the bargain, so he kept his. We’re simply here to escort the Healer you requested. It’s not an easy process and I assume it will take a while. The least you could do is be a little more hospitable.”] Delta stated gruffly. They were here for information, but they wouldn’t get anything unless they were trusted. Unfortunately, with their history, Janessa would get suspicious if they were too accommodating. It was in Raven and Delta’s best interest to play up the tension, at least a little bit, in order to assure Janessa nothing had changed. They would learn their fair share simply by staying here for the next few days, and once the dust settled, they could pry some useful information from those living under the same roof.
Even after all this time of people telling him he wasn't as bad as he thought it still made the dark elemental a little uncomfortable, he had never liked being the centre of attention and hearing these people that he loved and respected telling him that he was far better than he gave himself credit for was still strange. He might not believe it himself but obviously everyone else did and that was still strange in itself. Nico was sure that he wouldn't kill all of his friends like Nightmare showed him, even Nico was sure that he wasn't capable of that much evil...but he could definitely kill one or two. It wouldn't take much, all it would need is for him to lose control just once and he might so something that he would regret forever. Janessa's hand on his face was a soft, comforting touch and it filled him with warmth, she was a comforting presence and even when he doubted himself she was the reassuring presence that he needed in order to continue with his life. She even managed to coax a small, genuine half smile onto his face.
[b "You're right we've moved past our trust issues, I know I'm not always the most open or easiest to talk to but I appreciate that you believe in me. I really do. Let's move past it all, if you say It wasn't my fault that you ended up with the Director then I believe you. I just don't want you to get in over your head. You can trust me and I want to help you."] Nico meant what he said, from now on he wanted to know what Janessa was doing with the Director so he could help her in whatever was needed and in turn he wouldn't go behind her back anymore, not about anything he was planning with Michael or if something happened with the Organisation, from now on he would be totally up front and honest. It was the least that Janessa deserved.
[b "You don't have to worry about what happened to your old pack ever happening again, I won't let it. You have my word Janessa. You have a new pack now and while I don't understand it I know it's important to you, that means it's important to me.'] As talk turned to the Tanners and arrangements for Emma Nico realised that he didn't really have anything to contribute, when his parents had died he ran to the streets, hen Kate died it was presumably Jason that made all the necessary arrangements while Nico wallowed in grief. Luckily for him Janessa seemed to have some idea of what to do, and Nico agreed with her, give the family some more time to grieve then see if Janessa's contact could help them out.
[b " Rest sounds really good. I might just rest my eyes for a bit."] Nico made himself more comfortable in the couch he sat in before quickly dozing off to sleep oblivious to the outside world.
Michael was discussing various matters with Starform now that they had a good number of Supers returned to them curtesy of Shadow, Michael was working on how to keep his Organisation cover intact with all the supers now in the holding cells there, all it would take is one word from any of them and his cover would be broken. He had some plans yet to put into place regarding Tara Bennett but anything could happen before now and then. That was when the knock came at his door and the two ferals entered the room. What they had to say was interesting indeed, he hadn't paid much attention to their past with White Tigress before, it hardly seemed relevant and why would he care about a random street vigilante before she got wound up with Shadow.
[#cc8000 "No, nothing that can't wait. Hmm, yes I think that would be acceptable, an escort to make sure nothing untoward happens. Information is always useful, and if you can get her talking about her past she might reveal something useful to me. Do whatever you can, earn her trust again if possible then report back to me. If we get anything on the Organisation or the Director that would be a bonus. Starform, you get those items that I need for the next stage of my plan. Go all of you, I have other matters that require my attention."] Michael needed to get back to posing as a research assistant, that was still where he could learn the most and do the most damage to the Organisation.
Even without the evidence in Nico’s voice, posture, and expression, Janessa could tell how deeply the man had been affected by Nightmare’s visions. She had suffered from her own torments at the hands of that woman and knew how realistic those visions could be. To have shaken Nico this much, Nightmare must have truly made him believe what he saw – that he hurt those closest to him, including the person he loved. Janessa shifted closer to the Elemental and placed her hand on the side of his face, drawing his eyes to hers.
[b “You would never do that Nico. You would never hurt our friends, you would never hurt me. Years ago, when you and I first met, we had our share of trust issues. I had my doubts about you, which led to more than a few of our falling outs. But you proved to me over and over again that I can trust you wholeheartedly. You are a far better person than you give yourself credit for, Nico. I’m ashamed it took me so long to realize that… I’m even more disappointed that you still haven’t realized that about yourself.”] Janessa spoke sincerely, not showing a hint of doubt when she stressed how much she trusted him. What served as Nico’s greatest fear was nothing but fiction to Janessa. She knew he would never hurt any of them. He wasn’t capable of causing that much pain to the people he cared about.
[b “I’m sorry you had to go through that alone…”]
When the topic gravitated away from Nico’s experiences and over to her own, Janessa couldn’t help the anxious flutter in her stomach. She was half expecting Nico to lecture her about the risks she’d taken. It was a surprise to hear him shift the blame onto his own shoulders. She could think of only one reason he’d think of that, and she didn’t hesitate to set the record straight.
[b “None of this was your fault Nico. If you think this s about my senses, you’re wrong. I didn’t go there for the Director to fix me. I sought him out so that I could find out more about his hold on Jason. I used my senses as an excuse to see him, and it ended up working in my favour. I just had to be careful about what I was willing to bargain. I made certain the Director could never order me to hurt you or the others. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if that ever happened…”] Janessa stated, expressing the same fears as Nico had revealed earlier. Neither one of them could bear their loved ones’ blood on their hands.
When Nico continued, expressing how he couldn’t understand her reasoning as a Feral any better than she could understand his as an Elemental, Janessa gave a solemn nod. She couldn’t expect him to grasp the strength of a Pack Bond if he’d never felt it for himself. That was the one benefit Jason had over all others – what Janessa considered to be the strongest asset of his abilities – spending a few hours with another Super would give him a valuable perspective into their lives and motivations. The rest of the Supers weren’t so fortunate. They could only gain empathy through communication… certainly not one of Janessa’s strengths. Even now she realized she was still hiding so much from Nico, even after he bore his soul to her.
[b “This must seem strange to you then… this unwavering faith I have in Jason, and the unwillingness to give up on him. You’ll just have to trust me Nico, this isn’t something I can turn my back on.”] Janessa told him.
[b “I didn’t want you taking to Raven, because I didn’t want you to know about what happened to my last Pack. Two of our members – one being my Alpha – died because they were trying to help me. I can’t let that happen again Nico, I wouldn’t survive it.”] Janessa admitted in a rather abridged version of Raven’s story. Janessa wanted to spare Nico the gory details since the only thing that mattered in her mind was the fact that her Pack mates were dead and it was her fault. She gave a shy smile when he promised to help her and already Janessa felt a weight lift from her shoulders. She hated having to do any of this behind Nico’s back, and this truth between them was liberating.
With Nico’s invitation to change the topic, Janessa’s brow drew a crease. Dealing with the Tanner’s wasn’t something she was looking forwards too. But Cody, Dylan, and Sarah would want to put Emma to rest, they all just needed to sort out how and when.
[b “I’ve got some connections I could use. A friend of mine interned at a funeral home a few years ago. She might even be working there full time now. I’ll see what I can do about arrangements. Emma deserves a proper farewell. We just have to be discrete so our enemies don’t try to interfere. For now… let’s give them another couple hours. You said it yourself, we could both use some rest first.”] Janessa suggested. The events of the night were weighing on her and her injuries could use the rest. Nico looked like he might pass out of she kept him on his feet at this point.
Raven and Delta had spent the last few hours getting each other up to speed. Neither had thought about their old pack mate in years, but with Janessa so closely intertwined in Michael’s business, neither felt that old connection could be ignored any longer. They waited until the rescued Supers had been treated and settled in, until Michael seemed unoccupied, before the two Feral found their way to Michael’s office.
[#bb44ee “Michael? Starform? I hope we’re not interrupting anything important…”] Raven began with a polite greeting to their leader and the Super that was almost always at his side.
[#bb44ee “Delta informed me of the deal you made with that Element and I thought we should offer our services. Whenever you are planning to send a healer for the coma-girl, we would be happy to escort them. Delta and I both have history with White Tigress. We could get her to talk to us, gain some intel, maybe even have some influence over her.”] Raven offered, wanting to be honest about their connection to the Feral as well as any means where said connection could work to Michael’s benefit.
[b “From what Shadow told me, White Tigress is tied to the Organization’s pet, Hyperion. If we get to her, we can get to him. Maybe we’ll even find something useful about that Director everybody seems so scared of.”]
Nico was relieved to not have to keep secrets behind Janessa's back, he was tired of sneaking around, it seemed like he had been doing it for so long that finally being open about ti was a relief. It wasn't just this recent bargain with Michael, it was everything going back to before Kate died. Working for the Organisation, keeping Keelyn's son from Janessa and now this. Keeping secrets was second nature to Nico but it wasn't something he was proud of doing. Hopefully all of that was behind him and now he could start being honest with Janessa, and more importantly himself.
[b "She made me see my deepest fear. I had killed you, all of you. Jason, Cody, Dylan, Sarah, and of course you. It would break me if I did that."] The weariness in Nico's voice wasn't just because he was physically exhausted, the terrible sights that Nightmare had forced him to see still haunted him, they likely would for a long time yet. Nico often still had nightmares of Kate's death when he slept, he saw her head explode as the bullet ripped through her skull. He hadn't gotten over her death, maybe he never would but to lose everyone else and know that it was him that had done it would be enough to drive him mad, if not something worse. The topic of Raven obviously caught her off guard,the obviously flustered Feral said some very interesting things. [i "you weren’t supposed to meet her… not like this. Whatever she told you…"] What was she about to say, what did she not want him to know? The curious mind of the dark elemental started to race wondering what Janessa was keeping from him, what she didn't want him to know.
[b "The Director...how did you even find him? Three favours you say, what did he make you do and what do you mean by direct harm, that seems very specific. I'm sorry, this is all my fault."] There were so many things that Nico needed to understand, firstly she had been lying to him for weeks, she hadn't found a healer to fix her senses and instead went to find the man in charge of the most dangerous group to supers possibly in the world. Nico couldn't help but feel guilty, it was his fault that Janessa and Cody had been stuck in the shadows and why Janessa had lost her abilities, therefore it was his fault why she was involved with the Director now.
[b "I'm going to be honest I don't understand, not really. This is something I have trouble with, i'll probably never really understand. I'm not a feral, just like there are things you'll never understand about being an elemental. I'm going to be honest with you I want nothing more than Jason to be free from the bonds of the Organisation but i'm sceptical. This is a difficult position you've put yourself in, do you even know if it's possible for him to be free? I'll help where I can."] Nico left unsaid that if it came down to a choice he would choose Janessa over Jason every time, he had chosen Kate over her brother once, he could choose so again. [i I can’t lose my Alpha, Nico. Not again."] Raven had said that one way to sever the bond was to kill Jason and given the recent developments maybe that wasn't the worst idea in the world. It would crush Janessa and maybe ruin their relationship beyond repair but if it saved her was that a risk worth taking...Nico wasn't sure but it was something he would have to consider.
[b "Let's forget about it for now, I'm exhausted and need some sleep, you could use some rest as well. We also need to deal with Emma, we can't just keep her body here she needs buried or cremated or something...how do we even start tat conversation with Cody and Dylan."]
[I “We need to talk.”] Janessa was fairly certain that those four words had never prefaced anything good. Her reassuring smile fell into concern as Nico led the way to a more private room. The pain from her resent venture seemed to dull in light of the current tension and Janessa braced herself for a trial far more difficult than what the Director had just put her through. Doing her best to ease the situation, Janessa placed a gentle hand on Nico’s shoulder and guided him towards the couch so he could at least rest his feet. She took her place beside him, relieved at her own opportunity to rest her sore and aching muscles as she waited for Nico to speak.
Despite the many objections that flooded her mind, Janessa held her tongue while Nico spoke. She couldn’t say she was surprised to hear he had run a mission for Michael. She knew the manipulative leader of the Sanctuary would not have allowed them to leave so easily without something in return and why would he risk his own people if he could sent one of his rivals into the hostile territory of Boyd’s casino. Desite her silence, Janessa couldn’t help the bitter scowl that flashed across her features at the mention of that man. To hear he was giving orders to the man she loved was something that left a fowl taste in the Feral’s mouth. She should have known Nico would never agree to work with such scum unless he had a valiant motive. It did surprise her that Nico’s bargain would potentially wake Keelyn from her coma. Janessa’s optimism was slowly waning the Feral was beginning to this she had lost her sister forever. To hear that her recovery was within reach was something that sparked a wave of gratitude towards the elemental… as well as a shroud of guilt. Nico had taken these risks for her, even agreeing to work with a man he hated, just to give Janessa a chance to reunite with her sister. Janessa, on the other hand, was working behind Nico’s back to make a deal that she knew would end up hurting him. He’d never forgive her if she traded herself for Jason.
[b “You killed Nightmare… What did she make you see? I know you Nico. You it would take something terrible to push you to the point of murder. Are you ok?”] Janessa asked in genuine concern. Physical injuries aside, Nighmare’s torment was agony on an entirely different level. Janessa couldn’t blame him for taking a life. She despised the idea of senseless violence and did everything she could to avoid taking a life, but she also knew that Nightmare wouldn’t have given Nico much of a choice.
The next statement caught Janessa entirely by surprise. Hearing the name of her old pack provoked a peculiar mix of emotions from the Feral – among them: relief, confusion, longing, suspicion, and even anger.
[b “Raven? I thought she was dead! You… you weren’t supposed to meet her… not like this. Whatever she told you…”] What? Forget it? Don’t believe it? Ignore it? Janessa couldn’t exactly say Raven’s words were lies. She didn’t know what the young woman might have told him, but the truth was more concerning than anything she could invent. That part of Janessa’s past was supposed to be buried. She left Raven and Delta and never looked back, abandoning them and all the pain and trauma she associated with them in the past. Finding out her old life and her current life had collided… Janessa wasn’t sure how to deal with that. Unfortunately, before she had long to dwell, the topic turned to something far more damning.
Janessa couldn’t hide the truth. Not when Nico asked her so directly. She couldn’t lie to him when all he wanted was her honesty. The Feral fidgeted in her seat, staying silent for several long moments while she gathered her thoughts and unsuccessfully tried to calm her nerves. There was no way to explain her injuries tonight without admitting to her deal with the Director and she was genuinely terrified of Nico’s reaction to that. Still, with the swirling darkness of his eyes boring into her, Janessa had little choice. She had to tell him what he wanted to know, regardless of the consequences.
[b “You bargained with Michael… you made a deal with the Devil Nico. And so did I. Weeks ago I… I met with the Director. I needed to find out what power he had over Jason, but I couldn’t do that without making him an offer. I agreed to a deal: Three favours – none of which could cause any direct harm to you or the others – and in return, I would get my Feral senses back, as well as the opportunity to keep closer tabs on Jason.”] Janessa admitted with a shaky breath. The recovery of her senses left a pretty obvious timeline of events for Nico. He’d know she had been lying to him for weeks.
[b “Tonight he called in the first of his three favours. He wanted to test me… to see if I was worth the effort. He wanted to push me, to see what my limitations were, but I was safe Nico. Jason was with me the entire time; he would have intervened if I couldn’t handle it. He’s my Alpha, I trust him with my life.”] Janessa assured Nico in an attempt to be comforting. In light of his recent conversations with Raven however, her unwavering faith in her Alpha might not be so well received.
[b “Nico please… I have to get Jason out of there. I have to free him from the Director before he forces Jason into something he’ll regret. Before he hurts you, or the Tanners, or himself... I can’t lose my Alpha, Nico. Not again…”] She admitted, muttering the last two words as the memories of her former pack flashed through her mind.
[b “This is the only way I know how to help him. You understand, don’t you?”]
Nico couldn't believe that Janessa had gone to go and see Jason alone, it was madness! She had gone behind his back, exactly as Raven said she would, maybe the other feral knew Janessa better than he thought she did...or maybe Nico didn't know her well enough. Nico wanted to trust Jason more but it just wasn't a good idea. As long as Jason was bound to the Director then he couldn't be trusted his loyalties lay elsewhere and that was simple fact. The dark elemental looked over Janessa's wounds and saw that she had taken a real beating while out with her Alpha, and he wasn't sure that he believed her words, if anything he was sure it felt worse than it looked and that was saying something. He barely managed to hold his tongue with that comment as he was sure Janessa really didn't want to hear his admonishments. [i “I didn’t want to interrupt the Tanner’s grieving and I knew you were busy gathering supplies, so I didn’t want to call.”] So she knew that he was out there, she knew he had lied to her. The dark elemental suppressed a wry smirk, he should have known that she was far too intelligent to fall for that simple a lie.
[b "We need to talk. Alone."] Nico's voice sounded as tired as the rest of him looked, he was being a fool, he shouldn't have kept what he was doing from her, just as she shouldn't have kept what she was doing from him. These secrets were going to get them both killed. He was going to tell her all about his arrangement with Michael and what it entailed. He didn't want to lose her and he didn't want to lie to her either. Andrew looked at him curiously as he left the room and felt nervous. Was the telepath listening to his thoughts now? Would he listen to Nico's private conversations? He even briefly thought about asking Andrew to tell him what Janessa had been up to or to corroborate her story but that was crossing a line, and it shamed the elemental that he even considered that option.
[b "You're right, I am exhausted. I'm so tired I can barely stand and there is nothing I want to do more than to go to sleep but this is too important to not talk about. I killed Nightmare tonight. I did it when I freed the captured Sanctuary Supers and returned them to Michael. I did it as part of the arrangement I made for him to allow us to leave with the Tanners. That's not all, there's way more to it. I also got him to agree to provide a healer that will be able to wake Keelyn up. I promised you I'd give you your little sister back and I mean to keep it. As soon as he finds someone suitable I'm taking her to him and you get your family back. That was where I was tonight and that's why I did it...and if I had the choice I'd do it all again. Besides freeing those people was the right thing to do, we both know what it's like to be in a cage. No one deserves that."] How would Janessa react to hearing he killed someone tonight, even someone as despicable as Nightmare and that he had allied himself with Michael, albeit not out of choice. He knew she hated Michael for the way he had toyed with her feelings back at the Sanctuary but it was a necessary evil in order to get Keelyn back. Nico thought about his next words carefully and was ready to see how Janessa would react to them.
[b "There was one more thing, one of the supers I saved tonight was someone that you knew. A feral named Raven. She said that you used to be in a pack together a long time ago. I thought you might be interested to hear that she was still alive."] Nico left it at that he didn't want to push her into a reaction he just wanted to know how she felt about hearing that her former pack members were alive. He had told her everything that had happened to him tonight and now it was her turn. She was a more than capable warrior and so was Jason, there was no way she would end up this badly hurt unless she was either incredibly unlucky or had been doing something worryingly dangerous.
[b "Now what were you up to tonight, there is more to it than just going to see Jason. I've been honest with you, please be honest with me. What have you gotten yourself involved in?"]
It had been years since the incident, long enough to desensitize the Feral to the tragedy and yet Nico’s reiteration of Talon’s crime still forced a furious curl of Raven’s lip. Loyalty to her brother – her Alpha – seemed to last through years and even the veil of death.
[#BB44EE “It was an accident!”] She growled fiercely, not tolerating any form of accusation to be hurled towards her former Alpha.
[#BB44EE “We mourned Sly, but it wasn’t Talon’s fault! No Alpha would intentionally harm one of their own.”] She stated firmly, but her retort was lost as the Elemental continued his conversation. She visibly relaxed at the news that Delta was safe and any traces of anger officially twisted into stunned curiosity when Shadow asked about the Pack Bond.
[#BB44EE “A Pack Bond is stronger than family. We live and die for each other, counting on one another to survive and never questioning where our loyalties lie. The Alpha is the most important member of the Pack. He or she is responsible for their Pack’s wellbeing and has the authority to do what is best for their members… whether the members agree to it or not. Disobeying an Alphas order is almost impossible, but it’s not as oppressive as some people think. We all follow knowing that our Alpha has our best interests at heart and that without our Alpha, our pack falls apart. The Alpha will do anything to protect his/her pack, and so, the pack will do everything in their power to protect their Alpha. That’s just the way it is, there’s no fighting that instinct.”] Raven explained, finding it hard to put into words. She doubted any non-feral could truly understand what that feeling was like any more that she could understand the power of bending shadows to her will!
[#BB44EE “Severing that bond with an Alpha… it’s not impossible, but it isn’t pleasant for anyone involved. As far as I’ve seen there are only three ways to break that bond. One: another Alpha fights for control over the pack. If the current Alpha is proven to be too weak to protect his pack, another can take his place. Of course, I’ve only ever seen this done between Feral’s. No offense Shadow, but an Elemental like you isn’t really Alpha material.”] Raven remarked. It didn’t take a telepath to see he was asking on behalf of Janessa. If he didn’t trust her Alpha he’d be looking for a way to sever that tie. A sharp tug at the back of Raven’s mind begged her to shut him down and protect her pack mate’s current Alpha, but the more prominent, resentful side of Raven couldn’t care less.
[#BB44EE “Two: If an Alpha’s wishes don’t align with their pack, the bond can be broken. If Tigress’ Alpha were to give her an order that she strongly, morally opposed to, she could refuse and break the bond that way. That said, not every Feral has a strong enough will for something like that.”] Raven explained, not very confident in Tigress’ abilities. She had lost all respect for the Feral when she had turned her back on Raven and Delta. Someone frail enough to walk away from their own pack surely wouldn’t have the guts to bare teeth against their Alpha, right?
[#BB44EE “Three: the easiest way to depose an Alpha is to kill him. The Pack will fight to the death for their Alpha… but if he dies first? We do our best to move on.”] Raven states, speaking from experience. Although her loyalty to Talon lingers after death, to this day she nor Delta have been ruled by another Alpha.
Arriving back at Michael’s safe house, it was no surprise to Raven that her last remaining member of their pack was waiting anxiously at the door. Delta greeted her immediately and the two shared an understanding glance before retreating and allowing Michal and Nico to say their peace. The Feral’s held their tongue until the Elemental turned to leave. Despite cursing herself beneath her breath, Raven just simply couldn’t let him leave without one final warning.
[#BB44EE “Sly died an honourable death, fighting side by side with his pack. Talon died in a ditch, miserable and alone, having lost everyone he cared about. Your actions regarding her Alpha will determine Tigress’ fate. Think long and hard about the chose you make.”] Raven hissed, giving her last cryptic warning before she and Delta slipped back inside the safe house to recount everything that happened over their last few days of separation – any thoughts of their long lost Pack member fading into the Shadows along with Nico.
By the time Nico arrived, Janessa’s arm had been reset and her burns wrapped and treated as best as possible given their somewhat limited resources. The bruise along her neck and the various cuts and blemishes across the Feral’s exposed skin were still evident, and they complimented the bitter, disapproving stares of her teammates when Nico entered the room.
Nico’s tone was enough to stop Tigress from evading the question completely. She couldn’t go into details without alarming him, but brushing off his concern altogether seemed like a poor idea. Instead she settled for the vague middle ground.
[b “I went to see Jason and ran into a some trouble along the way. It was nothing I couldn’t handle Nico. Trust me, it looks far worse than it is.”] She excused with a confident, reassurance in her eyes.
[#ff6622 “She’s already had the lecture about not calling for back up.”] Tech grumbled as he stepped up to stand next to Nico.
[b “I didn’t want to interrupt the Tanner’s grieving and I knew you were busy [i gathering supplies], so I didn’t want to call.”] Janessa reasoned. The emphasis in her tone as she mentioned Shadow’s mission was a clear sign she knew he was hiding something from her. But being that she was also hiding something from him, Janessa decided not to push the issue.
[b “Besides, Jason was watching my back. He’d never let anything happen to me.”] She stated with such certainty that it spoke to everything Raven had said about the unwavering loyalty of a Pack Bond. Once Sarah finished her current bandage and backed off, Janessa stood from the table and stepped closer to Nico, resting a gentle hand on the side of his face.
[b “You look exhausted…are you alright? I haven’t seen you this worn down since…”] Janessa tried to think of the last time. It was only in situations where Nico overexerted himself with his abilities that he ever looked this drained.
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