The Guardians

By Rilbur

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You're all probably familiar with the standard drill: this story may contain sexual scenes -- including same-sex encounters -- rape scenes, cross-generation themes, abuse, and other nastiness. If reading such is illegal in your area, please do not continue. If you are under eighteen, please do not continue. This writing is copyrighted to the author and unauthorized reproduction is illegal. Readers are authorized to download and store the page for reading purposes. Readers are authorized to print one copy of this story for reading purposes. Any distribution of those copies is prohibited. Reproduction of this text for any purpose is strictly prohibited.

Legal stuff aside, this is not a standard Nifty story: sex is there, and it's a major element of the plot, but only insofar as sex is a major issue in life. And the sex scenes, in general, won't be in any sense 'detailed'. This story isn't intended to get your rocks off, but to be an enjoyable read in its own right, much as any published work might be. (In fact, you can find hardcopies on sale via Lulu, and E-Book versions are also available at )

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Chapter Thirty-Two

"Alright, the driver said they should be here in about five more minutes," Paul said as he closed his cell. "I don't know why Lara insisted they take a scenic route, but-"

Mary's laugh cut him off. "You still haven't figured it out?"

"Is there something obvious I'm missing?" Paul sighed. Mary giggled.

"Oh what a fun time we'll have," she said under her breath. "Yes, and it's not that important at the moment. We should probably-" The sound of thunder cut her off. "Thunder?" she asked, looking up. "But there isn't a cloud in the sky!"

Paul's faced clouded over. "That wasn't thunder..." he said slowly. "That wasn't thunder!" Paul yanked on Mary's arm, pulling her close as he scanned the roofs of the nearby buildings. "Trouble!" he bellowed at the top of his lungs.

"What's wrong Paul?" Lara asked as she trotted up. In the distance, another peal of what might be taken for thunder rumbled, longer this time.

"I don't know, just... trouble," he told her, eyes warily scanning the area. "Everyone, circle up! Guardians in the outer ring, everyone else inside. I want shields ready and eyes out!"

"Paul, I know we agreed to drop the low key stance for this, but that's outright calling attention to ourselves," Lara hissed as the various guests were herded together.

"Everyone out of the building, now!" Paul barked. "Stand by!"

"Paul!" Lara snapped as the thunder continued to roll. "What are you doing?"

"Lara, my brother has his gifts," Paul said. "I have mine. Trouble is coming. The storm is almost here."

"Storm? What storm!" Lara gestured at the sky. "There isn't a cloud up there!" A frown crossed her face. "So where is the thunder coming from?" she asked.

"Not that kind of storm," Paul said, eyes almost vacant as he stared off into the distance. "A human storm. Fire. Death. Destruction. Doom. War." Paul shook his head. "It's almost here. Almost."

"Paul, you aren't making sense," Lara snapped. "What is going on?"

"Guardians! Draw weapons!" Paul ordered. "Ready! Hold! Shields up! Lara I want a dome over this entire area that will block regular weapons fire and I want it now!"

Lara grabbed the pendant that lay on her chest and closed her eyes. It began to gleam as she used it to help focus her mind and magic, shaping the shield she'd been ordered to create. When the chips were down, she loved Ronan... and trusted Paul.

"Ready!" Paul thundered. "Ready..." suddenly a number of men appeared, lining the roof tops of the buildings on either side of the street. Heavy weapons and assault rifles opened fire in an instant, only to bounce harmlessly off the shield Lara held. Seeing this, some of the men dropped their weapons and started throwing magical attacks. Lara groaned as she was forced to her knees. "Guardians!" Paul thundered. "Kill!"

The red, hot, pulsing energy Paul had called to himself the other day by accident answered his command when he called for it. Raising his hands, he obeyed his own orders. White hot fire erupted from his hands, scorching the air as it streaked across the street. Where it struck the brick of the building it didn't simply burn. The transfer of energy was too swift, too sudden for that. The brick was heated in an instant to a temperature rivaling the surface of the sun, and under the lash of that much energy it exploded in a flash of red fire, driving splinters of brick and wood outward in a lethal hail of shrapnel. Not only did Paul literally destroy the top of the building he'd targeted, but the hail of shrapnel scythed through the buildings adjacent, essentially destroying the forces on the buildings directly adjacent, and heavily damaging the buildings further out. For an instant the battle paused as everyone gawked at the sheer, devastating power unleashed.

The top of the building was simply gone. Paul had destroyed it. And flames were rapidly consuming the rest of it. The buildings to either side were in shambles, burning rubble driven deep into their interiors and sending out smoke as other things caught. That one strike had destroyed three buildings, leaving no hope that even a prompt response from the fire department could save them.

And then the battle resumed. The next bolt Paul threw was blocked, barely, by the people he was aiming for. He continued to throw blast after blast of power, forcing the attackers back onto the defensive as he threw his inexhaustible supply of rage at them. Unfortunately, while his rage wasn't prone to exhaustion he most assuredly was and he began to slow down. Just in time for a division of enemies to charge in at ground level. Drawing his ax, he forced his way to the front line and prepared to meet the assault head on.

And then the reception hall exploded outward, driving a lethal spray of shrapnel into the rear of the Guardians' lines. A few Guardians were cut down, but most avoided fatal injury and were back on their feet in moments. But they'd formed into a rough arc, anchored on either side by the building behind them... with all the 'civilians' they were protecting behind them. And those civilians didn't have armor, or magical protection of any sort, from the shrapnel. Paul turned, horrified, and felt his rage flare even higher. That attack wasn't targeting the Guardians. The explosion wasn't strong enough to overwhelm defenses, and the placement of the explosives had been deliberately chosen to produce shrapnel -- not an effective weapon against a prepared Guardian. No, that attack has been targeted at the civilians Paul had sought to protect. And it had been hideously effective. Paul now viewed the cliché behind the phrase 'the blood ran like water', and it was horrific. Perhaps four or five people out of the hundred odd he'd been shielding survived. To his horrified relief, Mary was more or less alright -- a terrible cut across her side would scar, and mark her for life, but she would survive. She was, in all probability, the only one. Tommy grabbed her and nodded an assurance at Paul as he dragged her off, one hand raised in a warding motion that was undoubtedly responsible for the strange shimmer that wrapped around them.

Exhaustion washed away from Paul under the renewed lash of his rage. They dared. They dared target the innocents, those who couldn't fight back, those who were powerless in this struggle. They dared!

All Paul could see was the red of his rage as he turned back around. "Guardians! Forward! Charge, and grant no quarter!"

The roar that came from every other throat around him was loud enough to shake the ground as the Guardians growled their rage, snarled their hatred. And they fell upon their attackers with a hatred and a vengeance that surprised everyone on the field of battle.

Paul quickly lost track of the overall flow of the battle. All he could concern himself with was the individuals directly in front of him, directly beside him. He lead with his ax, which carved enemies into ruin, and shielded himself with a dagger he'd taken from one of his first kills. Spinning like a dervish as he rushed forward, he felt more than saw the other Guardians slow, almost stop, as the two forces clashed. But he didn't. Still at a run he cut his way deep into the opposing force, drawing attention his way. And then, having drawn all eyes to himself, he proceeded to cut them out.

His ax cut down, severing a leg at a knee, and up, the spike on the end slicing across throats and releasing a spray of blood that left him coated. When his ax lodged in a body, it's back swing as he pulled it out was as lethal as the strike that had bound it. It sliced through bone, and flesh, and leather armor, and enemy weapons with equal ease, singing it's blood lust in his ears. His weapon's rage matched his own, each fueling the other.

And his left hand was equally busy, the steel edge of the blade constantly shoving other weapons aside or slicing through flesh. While his right hand was focused on the offensive and his left focused on the defense, in his hands both were lethal weapons and powerful defenses. And with every eye on him, every single opponent targeting him, he had no lack of targets for either.

But there were too many enemies. Each Guardian could take a dozen of these 'false' Guardians, but the enemy had dozens of them to spare for each Guardian. "Prepare to fall back! Prepare to fall back!" Paul bellowed as he hacked his way back to their line.

And then the second wave of explosives went off. The entire frontal assault, the first round of explosions, all of it had been a distraction. A way to wear the Guardians down and pin them for the second stage of the attack.

A Guardian might be able to level a building, but in their exhausted state even the sum of the Guardian order wasn't likely to survive having an entire building fall on top of them. Ronan and Jason held power enough to stop the avalanche of concrete, brick, and metal. No one else did.

Except Paul wasn't merely angry. What Paul felt was to strong to be labeled 'anger', or even 'rage'. It was a raging bonfire compared to what most people could feel and still think. It consumed his thought and reason and left only the red hot need. Not the need to kill. The need to hurt, to destroy. Too hot to allow thought, yet so hot it allowed nothing less than perfect logic in the pursuit of that destruction.

For months Paul had been 'nothing special' in the Guardian order. Today he displayed what Ronan had months ago sensed in him, what Ronan hadn't recognized but had still responded to.

Red flame erupted away from Paul, his raw anger made manifest as an all consuming fire that smote everyone standing near him and sent bodies flying. With all his heart, all his being, he said one word. Just one word.


The red flames reached out, licking past Guardian and anti-Guardian alike to strike at the falling buildings. Falling masonry was incinerated, bricks vaporized, steel sublimated. The explosive force of this hurricane of destruction slammed everyone down to the ground. Paul fell to his knees as exhaustion claimed him, but even as the darkness overwhelmed his vision he saw the falling buildings stop, then crumple outward, away from the Guardians. He'd leveled the entire street, but the buildings were falling outwards, driven by the explosions he had generated.

His last thoughts were a horrified realization that such a force, such a fury, almost had to have struck down innocents outside the battle zone. That by forcing the buildings to fall outward, he had targeted them at people who had no clue what was going on, no chance to flee. That in fighting these monsters, he had somehow become them.

One thing Jason had never anticipated about the cloak he'd asked for was the possibility that it could actually be helpful in combat. He and Ronan couldn't possibly survive the constant pounding of explosives and automatic rifles if they'd stayed in one place. Sooner or later something would have slipped through their defenses, and that would have been that. So they moved. They darted from place to place, swords scything through their opposition as they danced. And the capes proved to save their lives, constantly tricking the eye into thinking they were half a step behind where they really where.

"We need to get out of here!" Ronan shouted.

"Great idea! Follow me!" Jason jumped up and crashed through a third story window. "Get out! Get out now!" he bellowed at the family he found there as he ran through. Ronan crashed through a second window just a hail of bullets ripped through the room. "No!" Jason screamed, turning and throwing up a wall of pure power a second too late to keep the rain of bullets from ripping a three year old girl to pieces. "No," Jason whispered, almost falling to his knees.

"Come on," Ronan said firmly, yanking Jason away, "we need to go!"

"That was my fault," Jason screamed, dashing tears away.

"We'll talk about this later, let's just keep moving!" Ronan shouted back as he dashed down the hallway, cutting a man down as he passed. "Let's move!"

Jason forced his tears back as he fought to keep up with his husband, who moved with uncanny speed through the hallway, faster than Jason would have thought possible.

Hell, Jason would have sworn it impossible for him to keep up a week ago! "Turn right!" he shouted as Ronan reached the end of the hallway.

"Where to now?" Ronan asked when he reached the window at the end of the second hallway.

Jason didn't slow down to answer, he just dove through the window to the street below. "That works," Ronan commented as he followed suit.

"This way!" Jason bellowed as he ran with a bounding leap that carried him yards for every step.

Jason cut left at an intersection and then diagonally across another before turning right. "There!" he said, pointing at an apartment building down the street. Reaching the door he pushed out with his will and jimmied the lock. "I have some friends that live here, they're out of town for the week," Jason told Ronan as they dashed up the stairs. "Quick! Into the bedroom!" he ordered Ronan as he locked the door back up. "The closet, now!"

"What is the point of this?" Ronan snarled.

"They can track us through our powers," Jason snapped back. "So I'm going to screw that up. Shut up and trust me."

Jason pulled Ronan into a kneeling position in the center of the large, walk-in closet, then grabbed the back of his neck with both hands. Pulling Ronan's forehead to meet his, he closed his eyes and quieted his breath. "Be still the beating of my heart," he whispered. "Deep breaths Ronan, and just let me do this. Don't fight it."

Jason took deep breaths, and Ronan started shaking. "Don't fight it," Jason whispered. Ronan looked at him for a moment, then nodded sharply. His breathing began to slow as his body grew limp. "Our power signatures are almost impossible to hide," Jason breathed. "Almost impossible. But they exist as part of the natural rhythm of our bodies, matching them."

"So when our bodies are quiet, so are our powers," Ronan said in understanding.

"And when we sleep, the signature almost vanishes," Jason smiled back. "A deep, meditative trance can work too."

"I don't think I can go that deep," Ronan yawned.

"Which is why you're going to sleep," Jason told him. "I'll wake you. Sleep."

Jason let his trance pull him deep into the fabric of reality around him. He could hear his heartbeat in his ears as his breathing slowed. He had to be careful; too deep and his body might fail. But he could go very deep if he had to. His breathing was slow, so very slow. Perhaps two breaths a minute. In this state it felt like his awareness could reach across the entire city, even as his magical footprint practically vanished. He hadn't quite lied to Ronan. The process did almost completely mask their signatures. But it wasn't enough. These bastards were bound to know at least the general area where he and Ronan had gone to ground, and a room-by-room search would find them.

Jason let go of Ronan with one of his hands, and slowly, oh so slowly reached out and touched a line in the carpet. That's all it was, a simple line. Subtle, almost invisible. But Jason had noticed it when he was over the other night, and poured a small bit of his will into it.

The reaction he got was a complete surprise. He'd expected maybe a bit of glow from the floor, but there was a heavy thrum of power as energies built up over years were suddenly roused. But best of all there was no way to detect it. From the point on the line he'd touched a razor thin line of fire burned outward in both direction, swiftly illuminating a five pointed triangle, and then a circle around it. Just as Jason had hoped, the energies formed a subtle barrier that helped block the transfer of magical energies, containing the remaining magical footprint. Better yet, and completely unexpectedly, he could also feel it blocking the seeking senses of the searchers. It was as if the closet had become a small blind spot inside the magical field. But a fragile blind spot. Jason could feel it wavering under the strain of containing even his relatively weak footprint. So he let his breaths fall deeper, and his heart run slower.

His heart almost tried to speed up when he heard someone walking through the bedroom outside. If they opened the door... slowly, oh so slowly his hand lifted to his sword. He'd have exactly one chance. Depressing his footprint had also depressed his ability to act, and it would take critical seconds to spin back up to full power. If they opened the door, he had to get it right on the first try, because without the advantage of surprise he wouldn't be able to hold his own. Not half asleep as he was.

After a moment, he felt more than heard them leave. Sighing in relief, he started counting seconds. It wasn't a very precise count, but it was the best he could manage. An hour later he pulled Ronan up slowly and gently, just enough to wake him. "Hey," he whispered.

"They gone?" Ronan whispered back.

"It's been about an hour since they searched the room. I think they're all gone," Jason managed.

"You're getting tired?" Ronan asked.

"Very," Jason agreed. "Maintaining this state is... difficult."

"Once we start moving, they're going to be on us in a few minutes," Ronan warned him. "They had to leave a few sentries to watch for us."

"Doesn't work like that," Jason shook his head. "So long as we don't actively use our powers, they're going to be hard to sense. High on fight-or-flight we couldn't possibly mask them, they were like a blinding spotlight. Without fight-or-flight, they'll be weaker. Harder to pull out of a crowd unless we actually use them."

"Alright, so we leave without using them. Then what?" Ronan asked.

"I don't know," Jason told him. "Find Paul and Lara?"

"The gym, they'll head there," Ronan nodded. "OK, so easy does it..." he said as he levered himself up. "Even if it's harder to sense us when we stay calm, a lower exertion level has to be helpful."

"Yeah," Jason nodded. "Oh, it feels good to stretch."

"I'm sure it does," Ronan smiled. "We need to move."

"Agreed," Jason said. "And this time lets try to... to avoid..."

Ronan yanked Jason around and held him close. "It's not your fault."

"I should have seen it coming. I should have picked a different window," Jason sobbed. "I just acted. I shouldn't have trusted the Guiding."

Ronan jerked like he'd been shot. "The Guiding pointed you at that window?"

"Yes," Jason sniffled. "I don't understand. It helps us."

Ronan shook his head, confused. "That doesn't make sense. It... it does help us. It doesn't... mislead us!"

"Then why did it point me at that window?" Jason asked bitterly.

"I don't know," Ronan whispered. "Something has changed, clearly. It's been a lot less... active lately. But this... this is... different."

"We need to find the others, now," Jason sighed. "Before one of them runs into a trap like that."

"Agreed. To the gym. Quietly," Ronan nodded. "Jason, it wasn't your fault," he said one last time before poking his head out of the closet, to check that the coast was clear. "How closely are they likely to know where we were?" he asked.

"What do you mean?" Jason asked.

"Are they likely to have people patrolling the corridors of this building? Watching the doors? Watching the block?" Ronan asked.

"I don't know," Jason shook his head. "We went under pretty quick, and I used a few tricks to obfuscate our trail. They probably know the block, but not much more."

Ronan nodded. "Then we probably shouldn't walk onto the streets dressed like this. We'd stick out like sore thumbs."

Jason frowned. "Dammit, didn't think of that."

"Ideas?" Ronan asked succinctly.

Jason sighed. "Not much we can-"

"What is it?" Ronan asked when Jason cut off mid-sentence.

Jason walked over to the entryway. "Their car. They won't mind us borrowing it," he said as he tossed a set of keys in his hands.

"You sure?" Ronan asked.

"Do we have a choice?" Jason sighed. "I get the feeling that we're in way over our heads."

Ronan nodded, sharply. "As soon as we get back, I'm calling Merlin. We need help. Now."

"The phone here works," Jason suggested.

"I don't have the number memorized," Ronan shook his head. "Nice idea though."

"What I don't get, is why Lara and Paul didn't come hunting for us," Jason said after a moment. "Come on, we need to find out what's happening."

Ronan nodded sharply. "Intel is vital," he agreed. "Let's go."

"Wait," Jason said, turning to face the phone. "I need... to make a call."

"A call?" Ronan said, frustrated. "What kind of call?"

Jason picked the phone up and quickly dialed a number. "The time to remember is now," he said simply before hanging up. Looking at his hand, confused, he suddenly staggered backwards.

Jason let his arm drop. "I didn't finish it. I could have, but I didn't. Go to the doctor, have him examine you. It'll look like your body spontaneously began to regenerate, a genuine medical miracle."

"It is a miracle," the man tapped out on his synthesizer.

"Perhaps," Jason agreed as he let his arms drop. "But please, don't mention me. And beyond that, I need you to do something for me."

"Anything," the man tapped out.

"A time is going to come when I need you to call some numbers. You'll know them. Pass the message you're given, whatever it is. And act to help those around you," Jason ordered firmly. "Until then, forget."

The usher nodded, and Jason walked off. He found the right room quickly enough and walked through the door. Jason shook his head he blinked as he walked into the room. He'd just been talking to the man at the desk... he'd... he'd...

"And that wasn't the only time," Jason whispered.

"Listen, Timothy," Jason said softly. "You need to go talk to your Dad. But I need a favor from you."

"Aren't you already asking a pretty damned big favor?" Timothy growled.

"Yes," Jason agreed. "Just... when the time comes, I'm going to call you. There will be a problem, I won't have time to explain. You'll need to call some numbers, you'll know the ones. Tell them we need to get the city evacuated, that the longer people stick around the more lives will be lost."

Timothy frowned. "What are you talking about?"

"When the time comes, you'll understand," Jason told him. "Until them, forget about it."

Timothy shook his head, and then walked out.

Jason shook his head. There were more... but he didn't have the time. Not right now. "I think I just set something in motion," he told Ronan. "Something big."

"What kind of something?" Ronan asked, concerned.

"An evacuation. Of the entire damned city," Jason said, almost awestruck.

"How... why..." Ronan was totally confused.

"I didn't even know it, but I've been setting the ground work for months," Jason said, almost shocked. "I think it started... it started when I attended that funeral you made me go to. The one where we met... we met..."

"What do you want from me?" Jeremy asked, cowering.

"Truth, healing, and let justice belong to Him," Jason asked.

Jeremy looked up, and Jason smiled, holding his hand out. "Come," he said simply. For an instant, Jeremy hesitated, then let Jason help him to his feet.

"There's one more thing," Jason said. "Not for now. For later. All hell is going to break loose, and-"

Jason could almost remember the rest of it. Almost. But not quite. A thousand memories danced across his mind, and he couldn't quite place any of them. "Are you alright?" Ronan asked.

"I think somebody upstairs knew this was coming," Jason told him. "They used me, used me to set this all up. I don't quite know all of it. It's... blurry, uncertain. But I've been making arrangements for months. Just a word or two in the ears of people I've run into, people I've helped. I didn't even know I was doing it."

"Well, if we're getting help we can definitely use it," Ronan sighed. "We need to go. Now."

Jason nodded in agreement and led the way to the parking garage. They managed to find the right car and drive off without incident, though Ronan's sharp eyes spotted several watchers as they drove carefully away. "If they paid more attention to vehicular traffic, we'd be screwed," he said after a moment. "It's odd. You'd think at least one of them would be distracted at some point, but so far every last one of them has been very focused on whatever their job is."

"Mind controlled drones again?" Jason sighed.

"Probably," Ronan sighed. "So deeply controlled they aren't even really human anymore. Thralls, if their lucky. If not... less than a thrall."

"Great," Jason sighed. "Just what we do not need."

"Judging from the events of today, the bad guys can churn them out in great numbers," Ronan commented. "We had to have been hit by at least a hundred of them, and they had more in reserve."

"I want the masters," Jason growled. "I want them, not their servants."

"Agreed, but we can't do this alone. They should have been able to swarm us under earlier, I'm not sure why they didn't," Ronan warned him.

"If I had to make a guess, it was our wedding vows," Jason told him. "One in heart, in power, in soul."

"We're helping each other," Ronan nodded. "Makes sense."

"Pull over here, we should go the rest of the way on foot," Jason suggested. "If something is wrong at the gym, we want to find out before we stick our foot in it."

"Agreed," Ronan said instantly. "Do we approach over rooftop or by ground?"

"Either way it's hard to hide ourselves in this getup," Jason sighed. "I should have grabbed a coat or something."

"Shoulda, coulda, woulda," Ronan sighed. "We can probably move quicker over rooftops, but if they're looking we'd be readily visible."

"These guys have been really good at out thinking us every step of the damned way," Jason sighed. "I mean, I'm just assuming they're the same group, but..."

"But if it sounds like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck..." Ronan sighed. "Agreed, they have eyes in the sky of some kind. Ground level, and go very slow."

The sun was beginning to set, providing them with many shadows to hide in. "Just a light touch of magic probably won't be detected," Jason suggested. "And our powers respond to our desires; a spell of concealing tends to be hard to detect."

"Just enough to blend into the shadows," Ronan ordered, and Jason nodded. They darted from shadow to shadow, carefully watching everything. "There," Ronan pointed at someone walking on the rooftop. "They've got the approaches watched, at least."

"Look there," Jason pointed at the main doors to the building. "Someone is standing just inside the doors."

"Not one of ours, or a regular," Ronan murmured back. "Could be innocent."

"Try the side doors," Jason suggested. They slowly worked their way back away from the gym and then approached from another direction. "Again, eyes in the sky," Jason pointed at a few men keeping watch from nearby roof tops.

"Can't see through the door, but look across the street," Ronan pointed. "A sentry, I'm sure of it."

"We need to get in there," Jason snarled.

"Agreed. I need the contact info for Merlin, and I want to know what they're doing," Ronan sighed. "A frontal assault will probably get us partway in the door."

"We don't know how many are in there," Jason pointed out. "There could be hundreds of them."

"That is my building," Ronan growled. "And, hell, I built the wards. They'll answer to me. Strengthen my power, weaken theirs."

Jason crouched down and touched the ground. "They've twisted them," he cocked his head. "Not badly. But just enough. They'll protect the building from damage, but they won't take sides. All they'll do is make sure we don't set the place on fire or blow it up by accident."

"Shit," Ronan growled. "I need to get in there Jason."

"Agreed, but I don't think it's happening tonight," Jason told him. "We're both tired. We need rest, shelter, food."

"And I can help with that," someone said behind them.

Ronan and Jason spun around, hands going to their weapons before they recognized the voice. "Jericho!" Ronan smiled, pulling the man into a hug. "A sight for sore eyes indeed!"

"We need to get going, now," Jericho told them, "before trouble finds us."

"Lead the way," Ronan told him.

"Fuck," Jason swore as he entered the basement. The sewers had stunk to high heaven, but Jericho was right, the new lining the city had used helped block and scatter any magical 'signal' they might be giving off. Jason suspected they'd be using the sewers a lot in the next few days, thanks to that little feature.

But the stench of the sewers wasn't half as unpleasant as what he was looking at now. "What happened?" he asked, still shocked.

"They ambushed you at almost the same time they ambushed us," Jericho told him. "They hit us hard. We fought back, but..."

"Lara!" Ronan roared, bounding into the room full of wounded. "Oh Lara," he said sadly, gently stroking the upper part of her right arm.

And just the upper part; it ended just above where the elbow should have been.

"What are the bandages for?" he asked, touching them with concern.

"Poison," Lara croaked. "Their weapons are poisoned. Prevents our healing."

"What?" Jason snapped, instantly at her side. Taking hold of her arm, he pressed his awareness into her body. "Damn, nasty shit."

"Can you heal her?" Ronan asked.

"This stuff is nasty, grade-A nasty," Jason growled. "It counteracts our healing ability, and encourages infection."

"Can you heal her?" Ronan repeated.

"No, he can't," Jericho said sadly. "We tried."

"Don't tell me what I can do," Jason told him. Closing his eyes, he felt his breath deepen. "Lord, help me," he whispered. His hands, and the stump of Lara's arm, began to gently glow. The light flickered and shifted, shifting from color to color with no specific hue coming to the fore.

"What is that?" Jericho swore.

"Odd, that's what it is," Ronan told him. "Don't interrupt him."

"Not planning on it," Jericho told Ronan.

Jason heard the conversation, but tuned the rest of it out. The poison kept trying to break pieces of itself off to infect the rest of Lara, but Lara's immune system was holding the tide back for the moment. The balance wouldn't hold forever; the poison was consuming her strength, growing in power as she weakened. But he had time. A little time.

Jason let his consciousness drift down lower, until he saw her arm less as a physical object and more as a series of small, interconnected parts. Deeper still he went, past the level where he saw veins and arteries and muscles, until he saw what he was willing to bet were individual cells. If he were to fight this poison, he had to understand it.

It wasn't a poison, he quickly realized. It was something different. Not really alive, not really dead. It partook of traits from both disease and poison, somehow being both at once. It replicated itself using Lara's body as a resource base, it actively sought out weaknesses and exploited them. But it wasn't quite a living thing, something that could be fought with an antibody. It was a compound, something that had to be broken down and expelled. The contradiction was what allowed it to do so much harm, to bypass Lara's defenses.

Jason swore, angrily. There was nothing he could do. Not against this. It was shielded, protected from his power. "I can't defeat it," he said softly. "This was made using magic. Powerful magic. Whoever made it protected it from me, and I can't just brute force the protections. It's inside Lara; if I try to simply burn it out, the power needed will burn her up from the inside out."

"You have to be able to do something," Ronan said, shocked. "You're a healer. You don't have the same gift Lara does, but... there has to be something!"

Jason shook his head. "I can't kill it," he said sadly. "But maybe I don't have to..." he added thoughtfully. Closing his eyes, he dove back down in. He couldn't defeat the poison, he couldn't burn it out. But he could stop it, control it, isolate it. "There's a cost. I can stop it, Ronan, but only by blocking it off. Nothing, either way. It can't continue to hurt her, but she can't fight it."

"If that's the best we've got, then it's what we've got. Do it," Ronan ordered.

Jason's head jerked up, and Ronan and Jericho took a step back. But what they saw was merely a fraction of the titanic struggle going on in Lara's body. The poison reacted, instantly, to Jason's touch. It fought back with frantic strength. He could feel its loathsome touch reaching out, trying to use the bond Jason had forged between himself and Lara to infect him. Mistake. Jason couldn't wield his full power while inside Lara's body, but the bond was a metaphysical construct that existed outside of physical reality.

Which was a really fancy way of saying that the bond, which was both infinitely long and microscopically short, was a perfectly safe place to wield his power to whatever level he desired. He pulled the poison in, faking a retreat. Most of the poison took chase, leaving only a small trace behind in Lara. Jason smiled as the poison reached the 'gates' of his defenses, preparing itself to force its way into his body.

The dark, noisome presence of the poison had flooded the bond, and he struck. He couldn't sever the bond, without forcing the poison back into Lara or himself, but he didn't need to. That bond was his, forged of his will and his power. The poison had to fight treacherous inch by treacherous inch to reach him. He was the bond. And when he flooded the pure, unsullied light of the Lord's Power into the bond, he didn't try to force the poison back. He simply flooded His Power in everywhere along the bond. The poison recoiled, shocked, and tried to flee back to Lara, but Jason wasn't having any of that, cutting off its routes of retreat even as he advanced against it.

Ronan and Jericho watched as Jason's eyes grew dark, and a terrible blackness filled them. Then, unexpectedly, a terrible brilliant light flooded them. Ronan and Jericho threw themselves back in fear. The light was good, yes, but good didn't necessarily mean 'safe'. It was terrible in its power, great in its strength, and unswerving in its nature. It burned them with its goodness. It wanted everything made whole, and it wanted everything made whole now. Graduations meant nothing to it, weakness was alien. The necessary imperfections of human nature were a meaningless concept.

The flash lasted for but an instant, and then Jason seemed to sink in on himself, exhausted. He rallied quickly, and began unwrapping the bandage that capped Lara's arm. The bandages grew worse as he unwrapped, first blood, then pus, then other disgusting fluids as they neared the very bottom layer. But when Jason unwrapped the bottom layer what they found, while terrible, wasn't the hideous, raw visage of an unhealed wound. Jason used a clean, soft rag to wipe away the blood, revealing pink, new skin. "It won't grow back," Jason said after a moment. "The poison attacked me as soon as I acted against it, trying to infect me through the bond of healing. That was its mistake. It rushed in, not understanding what it was doing," he explained. "Only a trace was left, but that trace will prevent any effort to magically regrow the limb." He looked up and met Lara's eyes.

"I'm sorry, Lara," he said. She shook her head.

"Nothing to be sorry about," she told him.

"Alright, I think there are others-" Jason began to get up.

"Jason," she interrupted him, grabbing his arm. "Please..." she released him and touched her abdomen. "Check."

Jason touched her belly and closed his eyes, letting his awareness sink back into her. "Congratulations!" he said happily, then frowned. "Wait..."

"Damn," her head dropped back. "I was afraid of that."

"What's wrong," Ronan asked, concerned.

"It's the reason I was so shocked to be pregnant last time," Lara sighed. "Murphy... Murphy!" she struggled to get upright. "Oh God! Did he-"

Jericho shook his head. "Only a few of the non-guardians at the reception survived. He... wasn't one of them."

Lara fell back, then rolled over on her side and curled up into a ball, sobbing. "Oh, God... Murphy... Oh Murphy..."

"I'm sorry," Jason told her. "I'm sorry."

"At least she has the child," Ronan said sadly.

"No," Jason shook his head. "The child can't be carried to term."

"What do you mean?" Ronan asked, shocked.

"It's growing, and it's half her, but..." Jason shook his head. "It's like the other half, the part from Murphy, was scrambled. Damaged. The embryo won't survive."

"Oh God," Ronan said. "I knew he was... I just didn't think."

"You knew he was what?" Jason asked angrily.

"He was in an industrial accident as a child. It... damaged him. Made it difficult for him to conceive a child," Ronan shrugged. "I didn't think about it, but it probably contributed to this."

"You should have told me," Jason said angrily. "I might have tried to heal him!"

"We wanted to," Jericho told him. "Lara..." he hesitated. "She refused."

"Why?" Jason turned to look at her. "Why?"

"He said... he..." Lara rolled to her back and looked up at Jason. "He wanted me to be the one to do it, even if it took longer. He said... he trusted me to find a way, somehow. Didn't want to take that triumph from me, wanted our child to be... to be our work."

"I'm sorry," Jason told her as he stood up. "What happened, how did this...?" Jason gestured at the room filled with wounded and exhausted Guardians. "I know they ambushed you, but... what did they do?"

"Before we go over that, there are a lot of wounded that need attention," Jericho told him. "I know you want answers, but..."

"But healing them is more important," Jason nodded in agreement.

"Let's start with your brother," Jericho suggested. Paul was one of the few ones lucky enough to have a real cot, rather than some blankets spread on the floor. "It seems like just exhaustion, but... after what he did..." Jericho shook his head. "I don't think it's just exhaustion. He'd have woken up by now."

Jason closed his eyes as he pressed his awareness into his brother's body. "There is nothing wrong with him," he shook his head. "He's tired, but... not that tired. He should be awake."

"During the fight... he has never been that strong before, but he showed so much raw, terrifying power," Jericho said. "I don't understand it."

"Perhaps that's the problem," Jason whispered. Sighing, he opened his eyes and then Looked at Paul. "Yeah, that's the problem," he said sadly.

"What is it?" Ronan asked, clearly feeling a bit helpless.

"What he did, it..." Jason sought for words. "The other week, at the asylum I was kidnapped to. I drew deeply upon my abilities. Too deeply. It... injured me, inside. Paul is suffering from something similar. He's shut himself down while he heals. He's dreaming."

"Dreaming?" Ronan asked.

"Yeah," Jason nodded. "Coping mechanism. He's physically asleep, which accelerates the healing process by minimizing other metabolic activities. But he's also dreaming, to help his mind process what he did. What he had to do. That also helps him adjust to the way the power changed him."

"Can we help him?" Ronan asked.

Jason thought for a moment before shaking his head. "If he sticks in it too long I'll try something, but the best thing is to let him work it through on his own."

"So, we can't help him," Ronan sighed. "Is there anything I can do?"

Jason smiled. "The bond between us lets me draw on your power," he told Ronan softly. "That strength will let me do more than I could possibly have managed alone."

Ronan nodded. "Let's get to work then."

"You talk to Jericho, make sure we're secure," Jason told him. "The really neat thing about what I did with our leathers is that it negates the effects distance might have. However far away you are, we're still touching."

Ronan smiled, and touched the black leather. The stench and rot of the sewers had slid away from the specially treated leather, leaving it pristine. Even the blood earlier had simply run off, leaving no trace. "If you need me, I'll come back."

"Go. I have my work cut out for me," Jason sighed.

Turning and facing the room, he sighed again. Far, far too many injured. "The sooner begun, the sooner done."

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