Bearer Of Bad News Pt 2

From the Story Arc: Phoenyx Ascendant

Previous Story in the Arc: Bearer Of Bad News by Belladonna Aura (Friday, January 27, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: Crossroads by Seraphic Flame (Friday, February 10, 2006)

(posted Friday, February 03, 2006)


The last of the visitors had gone. Ratt slumbered in his room...the boy was impossible to wake once asleep. And Sera knew why. Here, for the first time ever, he felt safe. He knew nothing could harm him here. So he slept as if making up for fifteen years of sleeping with one eye open.

She sat beneath her trees in their indoor garden, finishing her tea, wondering what had had John so agitated all evening. It was as if there was something dark weighing on his mind, but she could not imagine what it could be.

John was sitting cross-legged next to her, his back against a tree and his hands behind his head. "It's good to be alone, now." He was trying very desperately to stay calm and clear-headed around Sera. After his meeting with Bella, he had spent the rest of the day taking his frustrations out on the villains in Peregrine Island. It wasn't something that he liked to think about, inflicting pain in that way. Even if he was arresting and putting away criminals that would hurt or maim who knows how many others...there was still the part of him that relished lashing out, striking them down. Paying back his own pain by dishing it out to those who really deserved pain, perhaps?

She put down her cup, went to him, and held him closely. "Now----what has had you so troubled?"

"Well..." He looked into her eyes and saw the concern there, the expectation, and he hesitated. It would be better to break everything he had learned gently---but first, something on a lighter note. "Good and sort've good news first. That alright?"

She sensed he was going to have to work up to this, whatever it was. "All right."

"Well, I've sort of gotta show you to tell you 'bout it." He said, sighing.

He disappeared into the bedroom and emerged--in a "classic" spandex superhero costume. She had never seen anything like that on him...and she had to think at that moment that it was a real pity. Because...well, it suited him. And he looked--

Well, perhaps it was just as well that he had not worn such a thing before. Too many women already followed him with yearning glances.

"I'm now an official member and representative of the Peacebringer Army on Earth." The costume itself was a form fitting "spandex" suit--it wasn't spandex, of course, but that was the generic term for the fabric most heroes chose for their costumes.

"Love!" she exclaimed, gleefully. "You look splendid!"

"This fancy get-up is the 'official' look that they've adopted."

She nodded, and felt herself smiling broadly. "You look entirely splendid!"

He shrugged. "I may look like hot stuff, but I feel goofy as all hell." He was used to things being designed for function over form, protective, reliable. Truth to tell he felt naked. "Like somethin' out've one of those cheesy cape-movies that come out every summer."

She chuckled, then put both arms around him, pulled down his scarf, and gave him a long kiss. John leaned into the kiss, putting his arms under hers. Sera had a very unique way of shutting him up. He pulled back after a few moments to look at her, a rakish grin over his face. "Do you want to break out the camera? Take some blackmail photos to use as leverage against me later on?"

She shook her head, and reverted to her accented Kheldian. *You look nothing like cheesy. You look wonderful*

*Cheese is out. Hmm. How 'bout corny? Why couldn't we have some aliens with fashion sense?* They both fell easily into the mind-to-mind dialogue of Kheldian as easy as breathing. A lot of it was due to Sera's own abilities, and to their connection. Everything, every time they communicated like this, felt so...right.

She leaned back and studied the pattern on his chest. "Darling, I suspect the pattern is meant to represent energy."

"You'd be correct in that assumption." He said, nodding. Had something to do with the symbolism of human (or in some cases humanoid) and Kheldian joining, matter infused with energy.

"It could be worse," she pointed out. "It could be swirly things." She had seen some heroes with that sort of pattern; it made the eyes water.

His brow furrowed as he looked over her shoulder. "Or we could have hats with tassles on 'em. Now that would kick it; I'd quit. While we're on the subject," he said his gaze returning to meet Sera's, "I'm gonna change back real quick. Before someone respectable sees me." She didn't let him escape without a kiss. He craned his neck down to peck her on the nose before retiring to their bedroom. "Not to say that you aren't respectable. You're lovable." He changed quickly; years of practice rushing from task to task built that skill. From sewer muck to acid burns, you didn't want to spend too much time in a dirty "costume". Before walking out of their "cape closet", he steeled himself for what was to come.

Like flipping a switch, he sobered. He was ready. She only hoped that she was.

Sera was already lounging under the tree again, sipping from an almost empty tea mug. He settled down to take a seat next to her, his legs crossed. "Now...for the rest of it." He hadn't even started, and already he wanted to quit. Just thinking about what he had to say sent shivers of pain down to his core; he hid all of this, biting back down the emotion and closing it off from their connection.

She looked deeply into his eyes, and sensed pain. Whatever this was, it was not going to be easy. "All right," she assented.

"Well, y'know how we've been thinkin' 'bout startin' our own family?" John took the opportunity to slip his left hand into her free hand, holding it gently.

A cold finger of apprehension slipped down her spine. "Yes---" she answered, wondering why something that should be so simple, so uncomplicated, something done by people all over the world every hour without thought, should suddenly make her feel uneasy.

And here it comes. "There's...complications, love. Things that we need to consider and think 'bout before we go on about startin' a family an' livin' happily ever after."

Try as he might, he couldn't block everything from her. This was why apprehension was creeping over her. Something was...wrong. She studied his face seriously, looking for a clue. "Tell me," she whispered. There it was. The past returning to haunt them just when she thought everything had been sorted and taken care of. "I think I know, from what I felt from you this evening, but tell me--" She wanted to hear it, hear it spoken, and then perhaps her mind would unfreeze and she could think of an answer. She was so good at finding answers for other people. Why was it so hard to find them for herself, for him, for them both?

"There's---" He lost his voice right then. She knew, and he could almost feel her fear and anguish in the air, it was so palpable. "It's me. You're fine, love. Perfect. But I'm still---even though the fusion cured me of my powers and their effects on me, it didn't change who I am. It didn't change what gave me those powers, my genetic makeup." An evolutionary dead-end. Short-term, fatal aberration, which should have died off after only a generation. But here he was, capable of spreading his one-time misery to his family. He was starting to choke up, everything catching up with his mind. No. Be here for her. "Bella came to me earlier. She's become our de-facto MD, especially most recently. She's been doin' some researching, since she had figured we would be having children of our own." There. It was out of him. That was less of a comfort than he had hoped it would be.

She let out her breath in a long sigh, trying to send out her own pain with her breath. She felt his. Felt it as immediate as her own. She was beginning to see the shape of the pain now, and feel the edges of it cutting into her heart. "I--said something of that. To her, to others. That we were--" She couldn't go on.

John stepped back into the conversation, trying to keep them both from bogging down in the grief. If they had a problem, and ways to fix it, then they would be able to think and do something about it. "The genes that granted my abilities...they're dominant. If we're to have any children---boy or girl---they would all receive the genes. And they would be active."

Receive the genes...dominant... the words made no sense for a moment, and then, horribly, they did. One tiny word escaped the closing of her throat. ".....oh."

"After the power manifested...it would immediately begin to take its toll. Within several years of use...maybe not as quick as with me, since I had ample cause to use my gifts...but still. The end result would be the same." He sighed heavily, his hand tightening slightly around Sera's. Looking away from her eyes for the first time, he continued. "It's not certain, but it's near enough. Since they aren't the first generation to have the genes, they might be removed enough to survive..."

She closed her eyes. The memory of his last days branded on her heart. Dying, dying by inches, lungs shutting down, everything failing but his mind so that he was horribly, dreadfully aware of it all. And in her mind's eye she saw a child, with his eyes, with his death in its eyes. "....but?" she said faintly.

"I really don't know, though. I'm not versed in this sort've thing." He felt powerless, even moreso than when he was sick. Back then, no one else was getting hurt; it was just him. He was able to find strength in Sera, to come to terms with his past and existence. Even its end. But this...this was worse than anything in the world. What can I do? Bella had been right; it could have been worse, they could have started a child already...and yet...this was the death of hope.

Sera searched within herself and found a tiny scrap of something to cling to. She knew her friend, her apprentice-now-turned master at the art of healing. "Bella never gives bad news without having answers."

John became hesitant again. The problem itself was hard enough to swallow. The possible solutions left nothing for him...they weren't solutions so much as more complications. "There are...solutions, however. One is preventative, and the other is curative. This first is the least certain of the two." He would never agree to this "fix", and he was pretty sure Sera wouldn't either. Still, John didn't want to hold anything back from her. "Gene therapy." He sat there, watching her for a reaction.

Hope flared, faded, flared. "What was done to stabilize Bella's mutation? But--we had a stable template, the clone--"

John nodded. "Our children, however, wouldn't have their powers stabilized, since my genes weren't actively mutating. They would be born without powers of any sort."

Without any powers...what...."--but--oh---" She thought about that, and her heart sank. If they, the two of them, had been...normal...this would be a blessing. But--

"They would have any metahuman potential---potential that is their birthright---stripped beforehand. No choice on their part. They would...normal, in every way."

She tried to imagine it, and her imagination was more than up to the task. She had seen the little ones watching the heroes with shining eyes. Eyes full of longing for the power, the imagined freedom, all of them too young to understand what came with the freedom and the power. Now make that their little ones. Who would never be able to understand why Mother and Father could do all these things...and they could not. Then look into the future and think about their questions...."That would be like---like having flightless kiwis raised by eagles. John, that would be too cruel."

"It's not a fate I'd wish on anyone, especially my own child." He would, however, be more than willing to strip himself of his own powers for the sake of his children. Sometimes, before he had met Sera and become transformed, he'd longed for such an opportunity, to just be a...man again. Nothing more. "There is another option...only one other. The 'curative' one." This is where his knowledge lay. "Nothin' known on Earth can cure what my abilities did to me. Not a thing."

Nothing known on earth. "---but a fusion could. Did."

Even though this was the most logical, the best option for Sera and him to have a family together, it was also the one that weighed heaviest on his conscience. "We'd also be destining our children for a certain path," he sighed heavily, nodding. "A hard path."

She felt herself growing cold, thinking about all the things she had seen John endure before he became as strong as he was now. "Not just heroes. Kheldian heroes."

"Hosts to an alien species. They'd have to become that, become heroes. There is no other path for Kheldians." Along with all of the "mundane" issues of being a hero in this modern world, they would also have to deal with the...unique, and at times frightening complications of being Kheldian hybrids.

Memories flashed through her mind, flickers of moments of fear for her, fear, sometimes terror. "With every Nictus and Void Stalker and--" Yes, there were Healers, and hospitals and all of those things but what if--what if-- Hard enough when it was John, but her child, their child?

"Legions of thugs arming each day with Quantum array weaponry. And they would have no choice as to whether that would be their future." That was the crux of it, for John at least. He didn't want to destine his children to a future that they might not have chosen on their own. He had become a hero, become a Kheldian voluntarily, knowing full-well the risks involved. There was no violation of his freedom of thought and choice. But---in order to have his own children, he might have to become a hypocrite, betraying his core beliefs, the things that made him who he was today.

She watched her futures closing off again, as she had watched them close off for John. "It seems that....that there are only three paths to us."

"Three?" John was taken aback. Was there something he had missed? Something else that could be done? Hope welled up in him, even at this barest of hints of a solution.

The first, the most obvious, and she felt her heart spasm with grief at seeing so many paths cut short, seeing the children she had imagined so vividly fading away, not even ghosts, the shadows of ghosts, of never-would-be. "No children of our own..."

John was stunned, for a moment. It hadn't ever occurred to him as an "option". He had always seen Sera and himself someday having a family. It seemed---unjust for them not to have one, an expression of their love for each other. Of all the sacrifices they'd made to come as far as they had.

She clamped down on the pain, feeling his, feeling her own. Just--talk it through. They must. "Children that we cripple before they are born--- Or children that we set on a destined path---" Perhaps in talking through it they could talk through the pain and come out on the other side. Walk through the fire again. And again. Would there never be an end to the fires they must walk through? For a moment, she had another flash of memory, but this one of a kind of peace, fraught with sorrow but peace. Underhill, in the quiet Realm of the therapi---

She felt a shock run through her. "No--"

"Love?" John leaned forward where he was sitting. He had felt a jolt of something through their connection. Concern played over his face, looking into Sera's eyes.

"Not three. There are four paths--"

John shook his head. Bella had laid everything out that could possibly be done. There wasn't anything else known to man that could help them. "I---I don't understand."

She took both his hands in hers. "Magic," she breathed. "Not magic here. It isn't strong enough here to keep them cured. But Underhill---Vickie has friends there. Many, many friends there." They could have their family, raise the children Underhill, and they could be safe, happy, free. Have their powers. Have their lives, and live them among people who had powers of their own. Be, well, normal in such a setting. Couldn't they? Couldn't they be happy in such a place? Even if it wasn't real? Even if they could never see real sunlight, live in the world their parents lived...in...

...or would that be another kind of cage?

No, no, she must say something about this. It could be their hope...

"That's... that's the magical plane connected to our own, with the elves an' such, correct?" He'd read a little bit about it, mostly from Vic's portfolio.

"Yes. I was there, you remember?" Yes, if he was Blaze and himself, he would...

John nodded. "For your therapy. I---Blaze---remembered. Remembers." It was still disorienting, a bit, when he remembered things that Blaze had done. It was like recalling two memories at once, both playing over top the other. John only caught himself when there was someone to around to note that he remembered something that he himself hadn't quite done or witnessed.

"We could go Underhill," she said, spilling out the words. "We could have the children, raise them, the Elven healers could keep them healthy while they learn about their powers." Not forever. No, that would work, surely that would give them enough time, space, freedom. No, only until they were old enough-- "And when they are old enough we put the choice in their hands. We can even go to a Domain where the time passes much more swiftly than it does here." There were such places, where they could have a child, and raise it together, for sixteen, seventeen years in their time and yet next to no time would have passed in Paragon City. "We could go and come back in a single day."

John sat there, working it all out in his head. After a few moments, he spoke. "Either stay in Underhill, dependent upon near constant healing to stay alive, or join with an alien creature and be thrust into a world of strife?" It was the most hopeful of their choices...but it didn't satisfy John. There had to be something better, something more.

She felt her futures closing again. If John could not reconcile this with his own hard-won, soul-deep beliefs...it was not an option at all.

"It's the best option so far, but still..." He could feel the tinge of despair filter over into their connection, hopelessness clouding it. He did his best to pour his own love and trust to combat it, but it was becoming...overwhelming.

She bit her lip, and tried to remind herself of what she had. She had so much. She had him, the center of her universe, . She had Ratt and Shuma. "When you put it that way...."

"Well---" He cursed himself. He was a blunt man, and had prided himself on being pragmatic, always going to the heart of a problem. But at times like these he could really get clumsy. Sera was very distressed right now, and he had torn a little more hope from her. Damnit.

But it ached, it ached, she had somehow seen these children with his eyes, felt them real. And now they were gone. Her imagination; she cursed it, cursed the thing that had made those children so real to her...two boys, one girl. It had to be her imagination. She could no longer see the futures. But she had dreamed of them, so vividly, feeling their warm little bodies in her arms, the sweet baby-scent...

"Oh, love." It hurt him to see her like this. She had always been the more collected of the two of them, his source of strength in his darkest time. He would sometimes think back with regret that he was unable to truly be with her after his fusion, when she was lost and broken. And right now, his words and assurances felt hollow, paper-thin when stacked against all she had sacrificed.

She felt his ache, too. "I---I see how much you love being a father to Ratt and Shuma" And he was. There were so many bad or simply inept parents in the universe. He, without thinking, without needing to think, was instinctively a good one. And he reveled in it. Having a family completed him in ways she had not understood until the moment Ratt called him "Pops."

John exercised his meager control over his empathic abilities, extending his love and warmth to wash over Sera. It wasn't much, but he needed to hold her, bind her to his calm.

"You would be such a good father....." she said, helplessly, her words trailing off into sorrow, and from sorrow into tears of grieving. Why, why was she doing this?

Why? Because...the imagined children had seemed so real...and now they would never be.

"And I will be. And you'll be the best mother to grace the face of the Earth." He wasn't about to allow her to descend into despair. She had come close before, and it had taken her years to recover. He would not allow it to happen again. "I'm not givin' up." He stroked her hair, but she could sense the iron in his voice. He really wouldn't give up on her, ever. No matter what.

"...and I......I would like...." she faltered. Would like to be a mother to my own baby? Too pale a word. She craved it. She had the memories of other mothers, from before she lost her powers and had access to every memory there had ever been, what it was like to be a mother...dim though those memories were...and her dreams...and her dreams.

Then she actually heard what he said, and looked up, smiling through her tears.

John had learned that the best way to comfort someone was to remind them of their own good, their own strength. He needed to help her remember. "You didn't give up on me when I was close to being lost. And I didn't give up on you. We won't give up on each other, and not on our children. He looked down, a glimmer of a smile coming over his face. He couldn't help but smile, even at times like these, if he was with her. "I love you, Sera. We'll find a way through this. And when we have our family, when we're raising our children together." Now he really was smiling, the words building his own confidence that this was the only way their future could progress. "We'll spoil 'em rotten."

She throttled down her grief. "---oh beloved---" she breathed. Wanting to believe he would find a way. Wanting it so badly--

John reached around her, to lace his fingers through hers. She pulled both his arms around her and huddled against his chest while he held her close. This was her shelter. Here, she could be still and in peace, could find strength. "You complete me," she whispered. And he did, he did, they were the complement to one another. The ties that held them together would not break, no matter what divided them. Space. Time. Nothing could ever keep them apart again.

"You're everything I've ever needed, love. From the moment we met, and you healed me, takin' me through the H---" He stopped in mid-sentence, looking up. The Heart. Realization dawned over him. It could be possible...they'd been to the Heart often enough, explored it enough...maybe... "Love..."

"Yes?" she answered, as she felt...something...from him...he was thinking of something, remembering...

She turned in his arms, facing away from him, concentrating on his words, and what she sensed from him as his arms tightened around her.

"The Heart of All Time. It...it encompasses everything, everyone, that has ever existed. It's is the Past, Present, and Future, correct?" John spoke quickly, as if he was barely able to contain his excitement.

"Yes," she acknowledged, "But----not just Future. All futures." It took millennia of experience to read those tangles, to sort the unlikely from the likely and to see the ramifications. The futures...there was only one she really wanted. If only she could know how to thread her way to it, as she had once known. If only she could have that surety of purpose, just this once.

"We don't have to condemn our children to anything. We don't need to limit their options, at least I don't think." If they could view their paths in time, their children's paths...they might even meet their future children. The possibilities...this could work, it wouldn't even need a compromise on their parts.

Her brow furrowed. "I---don't understand," she faltered.

"They exist, in their future manifestations, in the Heart. We can go to the Heart, love." He could see Sera's doubt, feel it through their connection. It didn't dampen his wild hope, almost manic need for this to work.

She saw what he was thinking, that they could look at all their options and see where each led. Except that it was never that simple, because the paths twisted and crossed and merged, and they parted. "But---the futures are all a tangle, the further you get from 'now.'” And there was another thing. Most humans were not supposed to know what was to come. Except on very rare occasions. "I---I don't know that it would be permitted to us to look at the futures. You remember all the things I could and could not tell people---mostly could not---"

Not that he was dying before he himself found out. Not the hour of his death. Not---so many things.

"--but---go on--"

He nodded. He'd had this explained to him before. He knew that they wouldn't have been allowed to view the future; even if Sera had, she'd be prohibited from telling him. Even access to such knowledge might have come at a cost, another sacrifice, just for the opportunity to search. No, he wasn't thinking quite clearly. But he so dearly wanted for Sera to have this, for both of them to have this. "I understand, love. It was a flippant idea on my part. I just---I've made a promise to myself, that I wouldn't force anyone into anything. I wouldn't coerce anyone unless it couldn't be helped. It's everything I stand for now, freedom." John leaned forward, his head over her right shoulder. He brought their hands up so that he could kiss Sera's, speaking quietly as he did so. "We'll work through this, love. We're gonna have a family."

For a moment she held herself in silence. She listened to her own heart, which told her a truth. "I trust you," she said. "You promised me that you would find your way back to me, and you did. If you say we can do this, we will." She would trust him, perfectly, forever. Perhaps she could not see her way to the dream, but perhaps together they could make a path.

"Everything meaningful I've done in my time here has been with your help. With your love. I need you like I need air, dear." Parts of the same whole, he couldn't help but feel lesser without her. He was what he was today because of their time together.

She buried her face in his shoulder.

"Come." He released her, walking around to face her. "It's been a very, very long day, and we're both tired. Besides," he said, a tinge of mischief in his voice. "I'll letcha take some pictures of me in that goofy suit."

*I adore you,* she whispered, Kheld-like, into his mind.

*Then I better woo you some more before that wears off* They both fell into an embrace, holding fast to each other, like people caught in a storm. They were each other's lifeline, each other's tie to this world.

She dropped all her shields and barriers, showing her utter and complete trust. Letting him feel that she believed in him and everything he was. Her emotion absorbed into him, and radiated back out with the same energy, enveloping her.

*Seraphic Flame, I love you with everything I am.*

*John Murdock, I am yours, now, always, forever.*