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A Blinded Mind
by Cari Z.

Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica/Romance
Description: Jonathan Hatcher has led an interesting life. Once the psychic protégé of Dr. Nelson Cagney of the Bureau of Psychological Corrections, he escaped and went on the run through post-World War Three Europe, scraping a living out of the ruins of civilization and avoiding the mindless vics: humans turned berserker by exposure to biological and chemical weapons. Once again at Cagney's mercy, Jonathan is stuck in PsyCo's high-security wing with no idea whether Sam, the man he thinks he may love, is alive or dead by his hand. Though at first he only plays along for news of Sam, soon Jonathan sees the conditions in the warring European Coalition are desperate. Sam and Jonathan must make a choice: make for France and a life together? or team up with their captors against a devastating new threat.
eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, 2011 2011
eBookwise Release Date: December 2011

eBookeBook

3 Reader Ratings:
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Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [255 KB]
Words: 56007
Reading time: 160-224 min.


Prologue

Jonathan knows he could have gotten away. There was a moment, just as the smoke began to seep down the tunnel hall but before the flashlights appeared, that he could have run. He could have done what he's been perfecting for the past decade and slipped away, vanishing into the night. But he didn't.

Sharp, percussive pain against his torso and forehead blur an already hazy world, and he goes down onto his knees, still holding obstinately to the man lying next to him. So still... Sam had been dangerously still before the PsyCo soldiers showed up, too far gone to walk on his own and too heavy for Jonathan to carry. His dark skin looks as thin as paper, sallow, sick. His heart is beating, though... Jonathan has to make sure Sam's heart keeps beating.

Blows from matte-black batons crack against his upper back, missing the spine and the base of the skull, but still hard enough to lay Jonathan out on the floor. His attackers' minds are so infuriatingly muffled--not the pure, soothing blankness that's Sam's natal gift--the dull-edged muzziness of a mind soaked in drugs, a mind not so much blind as deaf and dumb. Jonathan can't manipulate those minds. He can destroy them, wear them down until eventually nothing is left but the basest of functions, but there are too many minds and not enough time. Not nearly enough time.

The last thing Jonathan feels before he loses consciousness are Sam's fingers slipping away.

* * * *

Chapter One

The first thing Jonathan Hatcher notices when he wakes up is the smell. It isn't the smell of sewers. It isn't the smell of dust and old wax and slowly encroaching earth. This is the smell of antiseptic, overwhelming the nose with rubbing alcohol and the sickly sweet scent of menthol. It wafts up from his body like an assault, and he grimaces unconsciously. There are notes of bleach as well, a scanty miasma of antibacterial soap, and the barest hint of... mashed potatoes? Jonathan groans. His eyes won't open for some reason, but his arm lifts itself reluctantly to the back of his aching skull. Questing fingertips touch a metal bulge projecting from his medulla, and he groans again. He's been suppressed. Wonderful.

Even the best suppressors can't entirely shut down Jonathan's psychic ability, not insofar as it pertains to himself, and he runs a personal inventory that's far more thorough than "arms, legs, hands, feet." Apart from a very nasty knot on the side of his forehead, dangerously close to his temple, he's sustained a few stitched-up gashes from batons across his back and shoulders and contusions where the rubber bullets impacted his chest. Aside from the metal now sticking out of his skull, he's okay. Sore as hell, pissed as hell, and trying to ignore the rising panic born of ignorance inside of him, but okay.

"Jonnie, Jonnie, angry Jonnie...." Wizened vocal cords rasp the mocking chorus, and bare gums smack obscenely. "It's Jezebel in hell. Wakey wakey, you stupid little fuck."

"Patience," Jonathan mumbles, forcing his eyes open. Lead-grey ceiling tiles stare back at him, heavy and dull, just like he feels right now.

"Look familiar?" she asks, her voice filled with relish.

"Unfortunately," Jonathan replies, schooling his tone to be dry. Feeding Pattie emotions is a surefire way to go insane. He pushes slowly to a sitting position, anticipating the wave of pain that batters against the dregs of morphine floating through his system. Morphine... he got morphine for the suppressor's implantation, right. Morphine for a three minute surgery. Jonathan would have killed for morphine a few days ago, anything to ease Sam's pain... Sam. Fuck!

He looks across the hall at the holding cell opposite his. A round old woman in a sack-like jumper stares back at him. Her feet and hands are completely enclosed by cloth mitts, not even her thumbs protruding for mobility. The garment zips up the back, where it's locked into place against her security collar. She's mostly bald, but wisps of grey hair hang lank across her face. Her jaw is short and sharp, her mouth entirely toothless, and her eyes entirely gone. Sunken lids close over the empty pits, dark purple splotches in the paleness of her face. She is a specter from Jonathan's past, ten years older but hardly changed at all.

"Pattie."

"Jonnie," the old woman cackles. Her lips curl in around her gums, garbling her consonants, but Jonathan has a lot of experience at interpreting her speech, far more than he wants. "Little puppy turned into a bitch, not a wolf."

"How long have I been here?" Jonathan asks.

Pattie grins, her mouth a venomous hole. "Feels like you never left."

"I'm serious, Pattie, how long?" He needs to know. Sam... he needs to find out about Sam. He needs to know how much time he's lost.

"What is time in here?" she asks, shrugging her hunched shoulders. "Time doesn't pass in here. Not for me, not for..."--she lifts her chin in the direction of Jonathan's right and the cell next door--"him. Not for you either."

It's useless to try to get information from Patience when you need it. Jonathan closes his eyes and goes back into himself, evaluating the freshness of his wounds and the cloudiness of his mind. Twelve hours... maybe as much as fourteen. That had been long enough for PsyCo to extract him from his bunker in the ruins of London and get him to Heidelberg, perform the suppressor surgery, and put him back in the super-maximum security prison that's the dumping ground for the most dangerous, high-risk, high-reward psychics. Fourteen hours. It's an eternity away from Sam. He'd been so bad, failing so fast... had they just left him there? Had they brought him along? Jonathan needs to know what happened to him.

"What's wrong, little puppy?" Patience doesn't need to be able to see to know he's worried. She's probably the most powerful offensive psychic alive today, and like with Jonathan, a suppressor isn't enough to wholly take away her ability. "Missing the tit?"

"I haven't missed anything about this place," he says flatly.

"Then why come back? You're a stupid little fuck, but you're not careless."

Jonathan doesn't say anything. He feels her mind like a pressure around him, trying to penetrate, but where Patience is gifted in attack, Jonathan is unparalleled in defense. He blocks her best efforts out with a thought, but whatever glimpse she manages before the walls went up, that coupled with her predator's intuition is enough to give her a target.

"Bitch is right!" she shrieks gleefully. "Panting after a man, trading freedom for some pretty boy's cock. Freedom." Her voice drops lower, its register harsh and growling. "Freedom. All yours, all wasted. The things I could have done with that freedom, and it went to a filthy, puling puppy who couldn't keep his nose out of the shit." Her speech devolves into a litany of curses and insults, spit flying from her maw as she hisses at him.

Jonathan ignores her. That's another thing that comes back with ready, unfortunate ease--ignoring Patience. Memories of ignoring other indignities crowd at the back of his consciousness as well, demanding entrance, but Jonathan pushes them away. He can work through all that later, all the mental crap that comes up as a result of being in this hellacious place again, this fucking... no. Not now. He needs to focus on Sam, find out what happened to him.

Jonathan is prepared to bargain for good information, and that will please the PsyCo brass. PsyCo, aka the Bureau of Psychological Corrections, is the European Coalition's black ops headquarters. They're in charge of the psychics, the spies, the mercenaries, and the officially sanctioned murderers. They'd had Jonathan in their grasp from the age of five until his escape at sixteen, and the ten intervening years haven't done much to dull his memories. Fleeing for his life has tended to focus them instead.

God damn it, think of something different. Something better. Dwelling on PsyCo is a pit that Jonathan doesn't want to fall into. Something better... like Sam. Jonathan leans back against the wall and thinks about Sam. Not the way he'd been at the end, so sick from infection and exhaustion that he could barely move. Not the way he'd been at the beginning either, freshly wounded and highly suspicious. The middle, though... the honeymoon phase, Jonathan dubs it, his sarcasm tinged with longing. That had been amazing.

Sam. Samuel Darion Sharpe. Thirty-two, African American, tall, broad, dangerous. Muscles on his muscles, but not so much that he can't move quietly when he needs to. Capable with a gun and absolutely lethal with a knife. Coffee-colored skin, dark brown eyes, a surprisingly natural smile that transforms his face from forbidding to enticing in an instant. Sam Sharpe. He carried hundred-year-old paperback novels side by side with his spare ammunition, and he speaks better Spanish than Jonathan does. His palms are ridged with calluses, but they're gentle when he touches Jonathan, gentle even before Sam liked him, before they were friends, before they became lovers.

Those memories are too good, too close to be borne when he doesn't know whether Sam is alive or dead. Jonathan can't think those thoughts now, and he forces himself away from them and back to the basic facts of the man. That strange American accent, so rare now after the United States' implosion at the end of the Third World War. Sam's family was from Chicago, he said. The Windy City. No more city now, just twisted rubble and buried bodies. Jonathan's seen satellite photos. It's more than Sam himself has ever seen, but his parents described it to him.

The best part about Sam? Well, the best G-rated part, anyhow, is his mind. His ability. His total, utter blankness when it comes to a psychic imprint. Sam thinks, he feels, he plans, but it doesn't show up. Not even Jonathan could detect him, and he can feel the mind of a fetus less than a month along in the womb. Sam's invisibility is the biggest advantage he has in his line of work, which was--no, is--hunting down rogue or enemy psychics.

The hunter and his prey. Only Jonathan had turned that around beautifully. Sam had been a loan from the United States government, and like anyone entrusting their possession to another would, his owners had insisted he be well taken care of. That meant he was given backup in unfamiliar zones, which most of Europe was for the American soldier. There are so many dangerous things out there in the dead zones, the ruins, the fragments of the great and glorious past. Outside the walls of the EuroCo's well-guarded cities, there are packs of roaming animals, mostly dogs gone feral generations ago and now breeding like mad. There are salvage teams and scavengers, some official but most little more than bandits preying on the stupid and unwary in-between forays into the cities. There are loners, often insane but always dangerous. Then there are the vics, those people who had been overexposed to chemical weapons during the war but somehow survived. They're largely a dying breed, but those who survived the decades after the war are practically indestructible and often highly contagious.

So many dangerous things, so much that could go wrong for the American asset. His support staff was small and elite, but not quite up to speed on the particulars of their latest target. Better yet, the men had been overconfident, coming within range of Jonathan's ability before sending Sam off on his own. It was all Jonathan had needed to turn the situation on its head.

The door at the end of the hall suddenly unlocks, and Jonathan opens his eyes with it, not wanting to continue down the mental track he's been on just then. He doesn't need to look to recognize the footsteps. That slow, steady cadence is something he'd listened to throughout his entire childhood. It used to make him feel good, protected. It had come to mean nothing but fear, however, and it's the fear that he's fighting now.

Jonathan tentatively reaches his mind out toward the man. Suppressed. Of course. Doctor Nelson Cagney is probably the only person in the entire command structure of PsyCo who wears a suppressor, not because he's a rogue or damaged psychic, but because he's their jailer. It's an additional failsafe against mental assault. Cagney stops outside of Jonathan's cell and looks at him through the tempered glass. Jonathan stares back impassively.

"You're not half so wild-looking as your last known photograph, son."

Don't call me son. "The one taken outside of Edinburgh, I suppose."

"Yes. That was, what, two years ago now?"

"About that."

"You look much better now." Cagney touches an index finger to his plump mouth as he assesses Jonathan's appearance. "Your beard is gone, and I know how desperate you must have been to grow one. Your hair has been trimmed with actual scissors and not just hacked off with a knife, hasn't it? Very nice. Who was your barber?"

"I think you know him."

"I know a lot of people, son, but none of the ones I've sent after you over the years would have politely cut your hair without cutting your throat as well. Except maybe the last one. I didn't have the training of him, so it's no surprise if he turned out to be weaker than we expected."

"He's not weak."

Cagney smiles blandly. "If he were truly strong, he would have captured you. If he were just strong enough, he would have killed you. It was a distant second objective, but preferable to you leading our psychics astray for another ten years. He did neither of these things. Therefore, weak."

"Perhaps Lieutenant Sharpe has a different idea of what constitutes strength than you do." It's a risk being the first to mention his name, but Jonathan is truly desperate for information. Cagney opens his mouth to speak, but then Patience lets loose with such a raucous screech of laughter that neither of them would have been heard for a moment. After she's done, Cagney glances over at her, then looks back.

"Perhaps," he says, his eyes cool behind silver wire-rimmed frames. "Not that it matters now."

Jonathan's mouth is suddenly dry. "And why is that?"

"No." Cagney shakes his head. "I think I've already given you more information than you deserve. I'd prefer for you to sit and think a while longer about what you've done before I open our channels of communication again. Your good behavior will earn it."

He gestures at the corner of the cell. "You'll be monitored constantly, of course. Your suppressor is top of the line, but given time you're capable of just about anything, so we're taking no chances. I have three psychics running shifts on you day and night, and naturally we're starting up the medication regimen again." Cagney smiles thinly. "A more docile personality suits you, Jonathan. Once I'm convinced you're beginning to mend your ways, then we'll talk about Lieutenant Sharpe." He tilts his head mockingly. "Or is it 'Sam'? I believe you referred to him like that a number of times while you were coming out of the anesthetic." He turns and walks away down the hall, and if Jonathan thought for a moment that begging would get him anything, he would do it despite Patience's presence.

Instead he lets the door close without another word.

* * * *

Chapter Two

Jonathan Hatcher was born to a seamstress and a mechanic in the low-rent district of Luxembourg, where a lot of British refugees had fled to after the war. His life began utterly normally, coming red and squalling into the world and demonstrating no special talents for the first five years of his life. He had a younger sister named Caroline, equally normal, and his parents worked hard, paid their taxes, and relied on the reigning politicians of the newly fledged European Coalition to keep them safe from the frightening new world that had sent them fleeing from Exeter a decade earlier.

They discovered Jonathan was psychic in the most innocent of ways. Their four-year-old daughter came inside from the local park crying one afternoon, complaining that her mean brother wasn't playing nice.

"What did he do?" their mother, Esther, asked.

"He cheats at hide and seek!"

"Do not!" Jonathan yelled as he came rushing in the front door. "I do not, Mama. I don't look."

"You do!" Caroline insisted. "You always find me too fast."

"I always know where you are, but I don't look," Jonathan said crossly.

"How do you know?" Esther asked, a hint of unease in her stomach.

Jonathan shrugged his thin shoulders. "I just do. I know where you are too, Mama."

"Oh. Daddy too?"

"Yes."

"Where is he now?"

Jonathan thought for a moment, his bright hazel eyes losing focus. "In the bathroom at work." He wrinkled his face. "I don't want to watch right now, he doesn't feel good. His tummy hurts."

Laurence's stomach had been bothering him for the past few months. They thought it was ulcers, but Esther wasn't so sure now. They'd done their best to hide their unease from their children, though, and until today Esther had thought they'd been successful. Unless Jonathan was actually seeing his father right now....

She pushed it from her mind for the moment and sent her children to wash up before getting ready for Laurence's return and dinner. That evening, though, as they settled into bed, she told her husband about what had happened. "Do you think we should take him to get tested?"

Laurence squeezed his eyes shut, not wanting to deal with potential problems with his children after a long day of work. "He'll be tested like all the kids are when he starts school next year. Surely we can wait."

"He felt your stomach pain."

"Ah, shit." Laurence looked over at his wife, took in the lines of tension around her eyes and mouth, the fear and worry that she kept locked inside for all of their sakes, and relented. "We can take him if you think it's best, luv."

"If he is psychic...." Esther's hand traced a line down her husband's shoulder. "We'll be given better care. Good government care, not just the free clinics. We can get you properly taken care of. Get Caroline into a better school when she starts. Jon will have everything he needs...."

"Don't get your hopes up too high," Laurence cautioned his wife. "It could have been a fluke, luv."

"I don't think so," Esther murmured. "I don't think so."

They took Jonathan to get tested that weekend, when Laurence wasn't working and they could leave Caroline in their neighbor's care for the day. The line outside the local Psychological Corrections office was already long at nine in the morning, a steady stream of parents hoping that their child would prove to be gifted and help lift them out of the drudgery of everyday life.

They waited for three hours, Jonathan getting more and more bored by the minute. Eventually he started muttering to himself and tapping his hands on the tops of his thighs, first fast, then slower, changing it up after about five seconds.

"What are you doing, Jonnie?" Esther asked tiredly.

"Playing heartbeats."

"What?" Both his parents looked at him curiously.

"Playing people's heartbeats." He pointed out at random people in the crowd. "Hers is this." His hand pattered out a steady, rhythmic beat. "His is like this." Slower, but with a hitch in it. "I think he's sick. And his is like this." His hand got faster as he changed targets, and then it got even faster, and he looked up at his mother concernedly. "Yours is really fast, Mama." His hand skittered across his lap, going faster and faster in imitation of his mother.

"Excuse me." A young blond woman in a dark blue pantsuit approached them with a smile. Her nametag said "Gertrude." "Doctor Stein will see you now."

"Hey!" a wiry woman with three children in tow objected. "I was next in the queue!"

"You'll be seen soon," Gertrude said soothingly. She waited politely as the Hatcher family gathered their things, then escorted them to the back.

Doctor Stein was an older man, heavyset and bulky in a wool sweater beneath his white jacket. He had a pronounced German accent and seemed impatient through the introductions. The tests began, starting with pattern recognition and branching out from there, to be sure Jonathan wasn't just very precocious intellectually. He laid out cards, and they played a memory game, matching each picture to its mate, then doing it without showing him what was behind the cards first.

Jonathan performed the tests flawlessly, happy not to be bored and feeling the pleasure and approval coming from his parents. He was a good boy. His mother had always said so, but now these people would know as well. He would make them all happy.

He was excellent at the concrete tests, but less so when it came to thoughts. Jonathan could tell Doctor Stein exactly how many people were in the building, at least as high up as he could count, but he couldn't distinguish one person's thoughts from another in a crowd. His failure upset him, but Doctor Stein still seemed pleased.

"Your son has excellent potential," he said crisply, making a few more notes on the sheet stuck to his clipboard. "The best we've seen here in months. It's hard to believe there is no family contribution." Both of his parents were stolidly normal.

"Well, thank you." Esther rubbed her thumbs against her knees nervously.

"He will of course immediately enter the Academy for Psychological Corrections."

"Wait." Laurence held up a hand, frowning. "I thought kids didn't go to the Academy until they were ten."

"Exceptions are made for exceptional children, and Jonathan is exceptional," Doctor Stein said coolly. "He'll be well taken care of in Heidelberg, I assure you. You will have regular updates on his progress and wellbeing, and of course there will be frequent opportunities to visit."

"This is very sudden."

"You could have waited for him to start school to be tested, Mr. Hatcher. You came to us. I presume you want what is best for your child?"

"Of course," Esther murmured uncertainly. "Of course. But...."

"There is no 'but', Mrs. Hatcher." Doctor Stein folded his thick-fingered hands on the table and looked sternly at them. "Jonathan needs training and guidance, and the European Coalition needs loyal, functional psychics. We already lag behind the Central Asians in terms of manpower. We need every person we can get, man, woman, or child."

"I'm not comfortable with the idea of him leaving," Laurence said. "Isn't there a local school he can attend for the time being, where he can still get some instruction?"

"Mr. Hatcher, there are no local schools that are adequately equipped to handle gifted students. The only facility where he can receive the proper instruction is in Heidelberg."

"Can we go with him then?" Laurence persisted. "He's only five years old, Doctor Stein. He needs to be with his family."

"What he needs is compassionate control and guidance. Gifted children who are left unattended can become unmanageable, dangerous, even psychotic. Your son is strongly gifted. With the right attention he could become a very potent asset, but we need to start immediately to ensure he reaches his full potential in the safest way possible." His expression softened a little as he switched gears. "You have another child, yes? Take your solace in her, in knowing that she will be given the best care that our government facilities can offer. There will be better healthcare for all of you, your travel expenses will be paid when you come to visit Jonathan... your son's gift is a blessing for your family."

"What if we say no?" Laurence persisted.

Doctor Stein frowned. "That is, of course, an option. One that I do not recommend."

"Laurence...," Esther whispered from her seat, her eyes pleading. "We can't say no."

"Jonathan should be with us."

"I don't want to go away." Jonathan finally spoke up, tired of having the adults speaking about him as though he wasn't there. "Daddy, I want to stay with you and Mama and Caroline."

The room was thick with tension. Doctor Stein broke it after a few moments. "I'll give you the evening to think things over. If you're amenable, I will expect you and your son to be here at eight o'clock tomorrow morning." He stood up, signaling that the interview was over. They didn't shake hands. Gertrude showed them out.

That night Jonathan's parents had a terrible fight. They had never fought before, not like this, with yelling and crying and the sharp crackling of anger in their minds. Jonathan had burrowed into his bed, squeezed his eyes tight, and tried to block the sound from his mind. When Caroline came to join him, he pulled her close and pressed his face into her soft blond hair, filling his nose with the smell of baby shampoo. It helped some, until finally the shouting stopped, and his parents went to separate places inside the small apartment, still furious and upset but having reached some sort of accord. His mother came to him first, her eyes rimmed with red but her face and mind composed.

"Time for your bath," she said simply, pulling Caroline gently aside.

"I don't want to go," Jonathan told her, tears welling in his eyes.

"Let's get you cleaned up," she said. Esther took Jonathan to the bathroom and ran warm water into the old claw-foot tub, swirling it gently to even out the temperature. She poured a little of the shampoo into the stream of water, creating bubbles. Bubble baths were special. "Come on in, baby." She didn't say anything else the entire time.

Later, when Jonathan was tucked back into bed, his father came to see him. Laurence's mind was heavy and his stomach was hurting. He ruffled his son's fluffy blond hair and gave him a half smile. "We need to talk, luv."

"Daddy, I want to stay here with you," Jonathan whispered. He was trying so hard to be brave. He knew his mama didn't want him to make a scene, didn't want to hear him cry, but it was so hard. He didn't want to go.

"I wish you could stay, Jonnie. But Doctor Stein thinks it's better for you to go to a special school, where you can learn how to use your talents. Your mama thinks it's for the best as well."

"I can stop," Jonathan promised his father. "I won't look inside people any more, I promise."

"Oh, Jonnie luv. You can't stop. It wouldn't be fair to try and make you, not when it's your God-given gift." His father's eyes looked so, so old. "They'll take good care of you, and you'll have fun learning so many new things. And we'll come to see you, luv. We'll visit you as often as we're able. Heidelberg isn't so far away. Jonnie... hey now, luv...."

But Jonathan couldn't hold the tears back any longer. They swelled and fell, and he reached in desperation for his father and held on tight to his thick denim shirt, weeping as he pressed his face into Laurence's chest. Laurence held his son close, stroking Jonathan's back as he sobbed, rocking him gently in his small iron bed. The stabbing pangs from Laurence's stomach matched the ones in his heart, and they both reverberated through his gifted child, his special little boy, who wished more than anything that he couldn't hear those feelings.

There was love too, though. Love mixed with the regret and remorse, a love so strong that it drowned out the other emotions with its soft, warm comfort, soothing Jonathan's sobs as much as the tender hands did. His daddy loved him. He was sad, so sad, but he loved him, and if he loved Jonathan so much, then surely he wouldn't let him go without a good reason. He and Mama had to have a good reason. Logical thinking wasn't entirely natural for the five-year-old, but it was the only avenue of comfort available to him, and he latched onto it desperately.

Eventually he stopped crying, stopped protesting, and his daddy laid him back down in his bed, cleaning his tears away with his pocket handkerchief before kissing him soundly. "It'll be all right, Jonnie," his daddy promised. "It'll be all right." And Jonathan believed him.

Early the next morning, Esther packed up all of Jonathan's clothes, his few toys, and some pictures of the family. Laurence made a special breakfast of bacon and eggs, toast and beans and grilled tomatoes. They ate in near silence, all dressed up in their Sunday best. Then they headed downtown, back to the Psychological Corrections office. Doctor Stein and Gertrude were waiting for them, with several other people as well.

"It is excellent to see you," the doctor said with satisfaction. "You've made the right choice."

"I'll be accompanying Jonathan to Heidelberg," Gertrude said, her smooth, sweet face curved in a cheerful expression. "I'll make sure he gets settled in very well. He'll be able to call you sometime tonight, perhaps tomorrow."

"The train leaves in thirty minutes," Doctor Stein added, his tone implying that they had better hurry up any goodbyes.

Esther knelt next to Jonathan. She didn't meet his eyes, and her emotions were such a distressing tangle that he didn't try to make sense of them. "Be good," she said softly, leaning in and kissing his cheek. "I love you, baby."

"Mama...." Jonathan reached for her, but she stood up too quickly. Caroline was next, and she was crying.

"We're not supposed to cry," Jonathan told her, his own breath hitching a little. "Stop crying, Carrie. Stop it."

"No!" she screamed. "No! Don't go!" She grabbed him and squeezed him, her little heart beating a mile a minute. "I'm sorry I tattled, I won't do it again, don't go!" Esther pulled her daughter away, wrestling the writhing little girl off of her brother and into her own arms.

Jonathan's composure was paper-thin, and Laurence knew it. He kissed his son's forehead, ruffled his hair, and tried to smile for him. "It'll be all right, luv," he said softly. "I'll take good care of Carrie and your mama. We'll see you soon, Jonnie. Very soon. I promise." And because it was his daddy, Jonathan believed him again.

Papers were signed, directions were given, and then Jonathan was taken away, Gertrude's grip on his shoulder gentle but implacable. He looked back at his family once before they disappeared from view as he went inside the building. They were close together, holding each other. They looked so pretty in their nice clothes. He wondered if they would wear them when they came to visit him in Heidelberg.

It was the last time Jonathan ever saw his family all together.


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