No Quarter

by Rachel Ehrlich

Author's Note: This story takes place almost a year after "Somebody's Daughter".

"Happy birthday, Rose!"

Rose's expression was hidden by the giant bouquet of helium balloons Jessica had just surprised her with. Fighting her way around the mass of shimmering, bobbing mylar shapes, she stared up at the balloons and then at her sister-in-law. "God, Jessica, I don't think I can fit all these in my bedroom and still have room for myself!"

Jessica shrugged. "That's the least of your worries, kiddo. Get your coat on; your brother is taking you downtown with every intent of spoiling you rotten."

"Do you always make such a big deal over birthdays?" she asked Joseph as he came into the room, pulling on his jacket.

He grinned. 'It's your first one with us, Rose. I missed the last 14, so I have a lot of catching up to do.'

'I'll need three hours, so take your time,' Jessica signed as Rose disappeared down the hall with her cluster of balloons. 'Her mother's former employees and their children should be arriving in a couple of hours, and they'll help decorate the place, but whatever you do, don't bring her home early!'

He saluted her and she laughed, pulling him closer by his jacket's lapels. Raising herself up on her toes, she gave him what she intended to be a quick goodbye kiss. He caught her as she tried to break away, wrapping her in his arms and kissing her again. She offered no resistance, pressing herself against him and running the tip of her tongue lightly against his.

The sound of a throat being impatiently cleared quickly broke their embrace. "Are his tonsils OK, Jess?" Rose asked sardonically. "You know, for two people who barely come into contact in public, you sure can't keep your hands off each other at home."

Jessica smiled up at her husband. "That's what marriage is for." She gave him a playful shove toward the door. "Get going, you two. Don't forget to have fun."

Rose took downtown by storm. Books, video games, computer peripherals, and new running shoes were all high on her list. Joseph decided she needed to acknowledge her more feminine qualities as well, and bought her a lovely beaded dress, which faded from deep purple at the hem to a pale lilac at the collar. When she complained that she would never have an opportunity to wear such a dress, he informed her that she was more than welcome at his mother's annual formal parties, and that she needed something to wear.

After a quick stop at a park bench to consolidate all the packages into fewer bags, they went for lunch at a nearby pizza joint. Since pizza places never ranked as kosher, Jessica always refused to go to them, which made pizza a rarity in their diet. Rose relished every opportunity she had to eat pizza. Especially the very non-kosher pepperoni pizza.

"Jess doesn't know what she's missing," Rose laughed, savoring the pepperoni grease that dripped from the end of the pizza slice onto her tongue. "You can't get closer to heaven than this!"

Joseph smiled, watching as his sister battled to break the string of mozzarella that stubbornly attached the rest of the pizza slice to the bite she had taken from it. Like anyone raised in Europe, Joseph ate his pizza with silverware, thus avoiding the very problem Rose was dealing with.

"I didn't mean to make fun of Jessica," she added after emerging victorious over the cheese. "She's a really cool sister-in-law; I like her a lot."

'You should tell her that,' he said in all seriousness. 'She knows she can't be your mother, and sometimes she feels that you resent her for adopting that role.'

Rose was surprised to hear that. "Is that why she didn't come with us today? Because she thinks I'd resent her being here?"

He shook his head quickly. 'No, not at all. She just thought you'd like to spend some time alone with your bossy, annoying big brother.'

She laughed, almost choking on her pizza. "Yeah, you're such a tyrant at home! I can't understand what Jess saw in you, you big bully!" She shot an uncertain glance at her brother, knowing that what she wanted to ask was probably considered rude. Curiosity drove her to ask anyway. "Um, speaking of Jessica, if she can barely hear, why does she talk so well? I mean, most deaf people either don't talk at all, or they slur their speech because they can't hear enough to correct it. But Jessica just sounds like she has an odd accent, or maybe a minor speech impediment."

Joseph sighed. 'Her parents couldn't accept her deafness.' He signed slowly; Rose was still learning to read sign language. 'They had her wear hearing aids and hired a speech therapist to teach her to enunciate clearly.'

"Why do you act like that's a bad thing?" she asked, noticing his irritated expression.

He gave her a lopsided grin. 'And what message would you, as a child, take away from such behavior? That wasn't the whole story, by any means. They home-schooled her -- but not her sisters -- and she knew there had to be a reason why. Add to that the fact that she wasn't allowed to wear her hearing aids in public, and she caught on very quickly that her parents were embarrassed by her deafness. She was only taught sign language because the speech therapist had no other way to clearly communicate with her; once she learned to speak well enough to be understood, she wasn't allowed to sign at home. Her parents never even bothered to learn to read it.'

"So that's why she wears those little hearing aids when she visits her parents, instead of her regular over-the-ear ones?" she asked. He nodded. "Why does she know sign language so well if she wasn't allowed to use it?"

'You haven't noticed that independent, rebellious streak in her?' he laughed. 'She deliberately enrolled in Gallaudet College -- you know, the all-deaf school. Her parents were mortified, but she didn't ask them to pay for it, so they had no leverage to keep her away.'

"And that's where she met her first boyfriend? What's his name, Hyman? Hyde? Something like that."

'Chaim. No, she didn't meet him at Gallaudet; Chaim isn't deaf. And he wasn't exactly her boyfriend, since it was an arranged marriage; she'd only met him three times, and then only briefly. We went to his wedding, remember? It was only a month or so after mine.'

"That was him?" Rose gasped. "He let her come to his wedding after she dumped him?"

Joseph smiled. 'Well, the whole thing was much more complex than that, but there were no hard feelings between them; he didn't really want to marry her, either, so it all worked out for the best.' He glanced at his watch. 'Any more stores you want to go to? We have another 45 minutes before we have to catch the subway back.'

She wiped her mouth and inhaled the last of her soda. "I still want to check the music store to see if the new Beastie Boys CD is in, and if I can find a decent rendition of Verdi's Il Trovatore; mom had a great version, but it's an LP, and the background noise is really bad."

Three music stores later they had the CDs, but had to run to catch their train. "Yes!" Rose exclaimed, squeezing in behind Joseph right before the doors slid shut. "Thanks for a wonderful shopping trip," she said, giving him a quick hug before having to grab a nearby pole in order to keep her balance as the subway jerked into motion.

They had a half-mile walk from the subway station to their condominium, but the day was sunny and neither of them minded. Although they had been gone nearly four hours, Joseph set a leisurely pace, in the event that preparations had lagged behind schedule. Rose fell into step and chatted about her plans to master the video game she had just purchased.

"Look at all these cop cars parked by our building!" Rose exclaimed as they approached the main entrance to the lobby. "What do you think's going on?"

He shrugged. 'Probably nothing; their lights are off. Maybe Cherise is having a party; she's a police officer.'

"You mean she'd throw a party and not invite you?" She gave her brother a quizzical look as she swiped her pass key through the magnetic slot and opened the lobby door. "Doesn't Jessica get jealous that all the women in the building seem to have a thing for you?"

'Why should she be jealous?' he asked. 'All they get to do is look; she gets the good stuff.' He smiled to himself.

"No!" Rose slapped him on the arm. "Get that lovesick look off your face! You two already make me heave with all the face-chewing that goes on 24-7 at home; give it a rest, already!"

'You have my permission to look elsewhere, then,' he grinned, pausing to gather the day's mail before heading to the lifts. The mail ended up being either birthday cards for Rose or bills; he dumped her cards into her shopping bag and tucked the bills into his jacket pocket.

Their condo was on the 13th floor. The view was unimpressive -- the surrounding buildings were higher than 13 stories -- but the air was cleaner the higher one went, and Jessica liked to open the windows in the summer. Unlike his mother's condo a mere mile and a half away, theirs was confined to a single level that occupied half the floor. The floor's other occupant, an elderly widow, lived in an identical unit with her pack of seven Shih Tzu dogs, and was usually gone on trips to Paris, dogs in tow.

Two spacious elevators serviced the 23-story building, with the emergency stairwell set across the hallway. Rarely were the elevators so busy that one had to wait more than half a minute for a lift to arrive, and today was no exception. The only drawback to the swift arrival was an equally-swift departure that left one feeling like an astronaut in training to withstand g-forces.

The 13th floor was unusually busy. Most of the individuals present were uniformed, but even those in plainclothes had their badges noticeably displayed. The sea of bodies parted briefly, revealing a bright yellow ribbon of tape stretched across the door to deny entry to anyone save police officers.

There were only two doors on that level, and their neighbor's door was closed.

Joseph broke into a run, only to be stopped by one of the officers milling about the hall. "Sir, I'm sorry, you can't go in there --"

'My wife! Where's my wife?' The officer obviously had no knowledge of sign language, staring blankly at Joseph. "Uh... Captain Hall?" he called over his shoulder. "Captain! Civvies, sir; you're needed out here!"

A middle-aged black man in a worn trenchcoat ducked under the police tape across the door and looked expectantly over at the officer who had summoned him. Recognizing Joseph, he immediately took charge of the situation. "Joe, she's alive," he said gently, holding the distraught younger man by the shoulders. "She's going to live, OK?" He waited for Joe to acknowledge the statement, then glanced around the hallway until his eye fell on the bench near the elevators where Rose was still standing, looking pale and frightened. He smiled reassuringly at her and said to Joe, "Come on, son, let's sit down."

Captain Hall took a deep breath as he settled on the bench next to Joseph. He didn't really know what to tell him or where to begin; making a police report was nowhere near as difficult as explaining the events to the victim's relatives. The years of experience he had never seemed to make the job any easier.

"I'll tell you right now, we don't have a clear handle on what happened or why," he began. "There were obvious signs of forced entry, but as far as we can determine, no signs of robbery, sexual assault, or even a prolonged struggle. Whatever the intruder was after, I don't think it had anything to do with your wife; she was just unlucky enough to be at home.

"From what we've been able to piece together, we think she was in the kitchen when the intruder broke in. There was an iron skillet found near her; we suspect she clocked the guy and made a run for it... and that's when the bastard shot her in the back. But from there on out, nothing makes sense. The guy was firing wildly, probably still dizzy from getting whacked with the pan; only half of the six shots fired hit her. But once she was down, he just left. My guess is that he was only trying to keep her from alerting anyone, since he had plenty of opportunity to kill her and never did. Or maybe he planned to and didn't have the time; a woman named Estella arrived and called 911 pretty soon after the shooting."

"Estella was one of mom's girls," Rose explained. She looked at her brother, confused. "But what was she doing here?"

'We were planning a party for your birthday,' he signed woodenly, clearly overwhelmed by the recent events. 'We invited all your friends from your mother's business.'

Captain Hall summoned one of his men over. "Alex, give them a lift to Island Medical Center in Hempstead, will you? Address is 800 Front Street." He turned back to Joseph and Rose. "This is Lt. Alexander Scott; he'll take you to the hospital where she's being treated."

The ride to the hospital could have taken minutes or hours; either way, it was over before Joseph fully registered that he was sitting in the police car. Rose had to take charge of the situation, thanking the officer for bringing them there and pulling her brother into the building and up to the front desk.

"Oh, I remember her," the woman at the front desk replied to Rose's description of Jessica. "She's in the ICU -- the Intensive Care Unit. I'll get Nurse Axelsen; she's in charge of that unit."

Rose waited impatiently while the registrar went to fetch the nurse after getting no response through the intercom. Looking around, she noticed some empty chairs shoved into a corner and led Joseph to them. He didn't seem to notice whether he was standing or sitting, but even if it was all the same to him, Rose preferred to sit. It was easier to hide her own tension when she sat.

Fifteen minutes later, the registrar returned, pointing the nurse toward the corner where Rose and Joe were seated. Nurse Axelsen was a tired-looking older woman with a kind smile. "I take it you're family?" When Rose nodded, she gestured for them to follow. "We try to limit visitations to the ICU patients to reduce the risk of secondary infections," she explained. "Even the staff attempt to touch the patients as little as possible. We make exceptions for family members, though, since we must consider the emotional impact of the situation." She glanced at Joseph, who still had a look of stunned disbelief on his face. "Is she your wife or your sister?"

"His wife," Rose answered her when Joseph did not. "I'm his sister."

The nurse sighed. "Sir, did you know that your wife was pregnant?"

That got Joseph's attention. 'What?'

"Um, I don't think he knew," Rose translated.

"I'm sorry," Nurse Axelsen apologized, "but the injuries she sustained were extensive. The stress was too much for her body; she had a miscarriage. It's actually rather common in pregnancies under eight weeks, as hers was, even for otherwise healthy women. I know that's of little comfort, but for her sake, it was good that her pregnancy terminated; now her body can devote all of its reserves to healing."

She held open one of the double doors leading to the ICU. "Please hang up your jackets in the closet, and leave the packages there, too," she told Rose, who was surprised that she was still carrying her bags of birthday presents. She had meant to leave them at the condo, but in the confusion, that hadn't happened.

When everything was stashed away, the nurse handed them each a bundle of green hospital clothes. "Wear these over your clothes; they tie in the back." In addition to the green smocks, there were disposable booties that slid over their shoes, green filter-paper masks, and latex gloves that gave them the appearance of surgeons. Nurse Axelsen was serious when she had said they tried to prevent infections.

The ICU itself was through a second set of double doors, after which they passed several rooms before coming to the one where Jessica was. Although it was set up as a double occupancy, the other bed was empty. That it was more spacious than most hospital rooms was hardly cause for consolation; the extra space was to allow for emergency equipment, such as the numerous devices to which Jessica was already attached.

She was nearly as pale as the sheets on which she lay, propped up on one side with wedge-shaped pillows. Various tubes and electrode wires sprang from her arms, chest, and face to connect to monitors, IV drips, and an oxygen tank. Other tubes, for wound drainage, led to collection bags concealed under sheets. It may have been necessary, but it sure didn't appear to be comfortable.

Nurse Axelsen turned a critical eye on the EEG. "She doesn't show any signs of brain damage." Rose wondered why the nurse would suspect brain damage in the first place, unless Jessica had lost so much blood that her brain had been oxygen-deprived. She felt suddenly nauseous; it hadn't occurred to her that Jessica might not recover completely from this ordeal. No wonder Joseph had been so upset -- he knew better.

"Mrs. Wilson," Nurse Axelsen called, trying to rouse Jessica. "Your family is here. Wake up."

"She can't hear you," Rose told her.

"I can see that," the nurse snapped. Rose quickly realized how her statement had been misinterpreted, so she bit down on a nasty response; the nurse had no way of knowing that she wasn't being sarcastic. Besides, Jessica didn't wear any sort of medical tag identifying her condition, so the nurse had no way of knowing that, either.

"No, I mean, she's deaf," she explained. "She's not wearing her hearing aids, so she really can't hear you at all."

The woman gave her an apologetic look before gently shaking Jessica's shoulder. "She's been pretty heavily sedated, so she may not be up to a conversation, but you're welcome to stay as long as you like. Please remember to keep your protective clothing on at all times, especially your masks; I realize they aren't comfortable, but some of the nastiest germs are airborne, and that's the last thing Mrs. Wilson needs at this time. Call me if you want anything," she said, pointing to the large red button on the rail of Jessica's bed. With that, she left them alone.

Joseph sank into the chair next to Jessica's bed and extended a shaking hand to her face. Touching her face was no easy task, with the curtain of tubes and wires that separated them, but he managed to brush his fingertips gently along her cheek. Her cheek twitched, and her eyes slowly fluttered open.

A shadow of a smile crossed her face as she recognized them. The look in her eyes told them how happy she was to see them; she simply didn't have the strength to express it. "Well," she said faintly, "the bullets must have missed my spine, because I can feel both my toes and that horrid, clammy catheter tube. Baruch HaShem, I'm not paralyzed."

Trust Jessica to find the positive in a situation like this -- not, Rose thought, that it seemed to be doing Joe any good. His face was almost as pale as Jessica's, the green mask striped with tear-darkened streaks. He would have taken every one of those bullets for her, without hesitation. Of course, that was no less than what she would do for him. Love really does make you crazy.

'I'm sorry, this is all my fault,' he signed with trembling hands. 'I should never have assumed that just because I was no longer a Titan I was also no longer a target.'

Surprisingly, she laughed -- or at least made a small noise that, along with her smile, apparently indicated laughter. "We've come full circle," she whispered, "only we've swapped roles. Now I'm the one attached to all the tubes and wires, and you're apologizing to me." Her hand moved slowly in his direction, and he covered it with his own. She squeezed his fingers lightly. "It's not your fault, any more than Number One was my fault."

'Lt. Scott said that Captain Hall thinks this whole thing might be Titans-related,' Rose signed, hoping that she got her sentence structure correct. 'But I don't get it; Joe hasn't been a Titan in years, and I was never really one to begin with.'

Jessica's head moved slightly in negation. "Not the Titans. The one you described at Donna's last year; your uncle, Wade. He's alive, and he's looking for you -- for both of you." She clutched Joseph's hand weakly. "He wants to kill you. Be careful."

The fury in Joseph's eyes frightened her; she had never seen its like. Even in his confrontations with Number One, Jacques Morel, and his own parents, he had never expressed anything other than a normal anger -- long-suppressed anger, perhaps, but still nothing out of the ordinary. This was different. This crossed the border from anger to hatred, igniting the cold flames of death that flickered in his eyes now.

"No," she ordered sharply, "promise me! Promise me that you won't spill the blood of family! It doesn't matter what he did to me, or to Rose, or even to you, so long ago! Promise me that you won't do this thing, this abomination in the eyes of HaShem!"

He didn't respond immediately. Wade represented everything that had gone wrong in his life, all the times that someone had tried to use him to strike at his parents. He was tired of being preyed upon by people who harbored irrational grudges, tired of devoting all his time and energy to protecting those close to him from the danger that stalked him. If killing Wade finally ended that cycle...

He sighed heavily and closed his eyes. It was a pointless conjecture; he didn't have the ruthlessness needed to kill someone, even someone as deserving as Wade DeFarge. He nodded his agreement to his wife.

"Todah rabah, ahuv," she smiled, relieved. Neither she nor Joseph noticed the look that flashed across Rose's mask-shrouded face, an expression which indicated that she had made no such promise to Jessica, and with good reason. If at all possible, it would be her hand that ended Wade's miserable existence, in retribution for what he had done to her mother.

"We should leave now, Joe," Rose said suddenly, breaking the silence that had settled over the room. He didn't turn to face her; he merely shook his head in negation. She crossed to the other side of Jessica's bed in order to get his full attention. "Do you want her caught in the crossfire again?" she asked, pointing to Jessica, who had drifted back to sleep. That was a low blow, but necessary. "We're the ones he's after; we're the ones with the targets on our backs. If we stay here, we're just asking him to come in here after us." She tossed out her final lure. "Your mother will want to know about this."

Joseph shot out of his chair and ran for the door; Rose followed, uncertain as to why her last statement should have provoked such a response. He had already removed most of his protective clothes by the time she reached the door, and she was hard-pressed to keep up with him. "Joe! What's gotten into you? This sudden rush --"

'My mother,' he signed quickly. 'He's after my mother, too -- he'll target anyone connected to my father. We have to warn her!'

The phone bank in the lobby was deserted. Joseph scanned the machines, irritated that none of them was connected to a TTY. Grabbing the nearest receiver, he handed it to Rose while he dialed his mother's number.

"Um, Adeline? It's Rose -- Rose Worth. Joe wants to warn you about Wade -- oh. No, I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Yeah, we'll wait out front. Bye."

She hung up the phone and turned to her brother. "She already knew all about it, even the part about Jess being hurt. Estella must've called her after calling 911. Anyhow, she's sending a battalion of Searchers, Inc. troops to come pick us up; she said they'll be here in ten minutes."

Slightly less than ten minutes later, a long black limo pulled up to the front entrance of Island Medical Center. The back door swung open and they slid onto the backward-facing seat, across from Adeline and Amber. Despite the specially-installed filtration device, the air inside the car still smelled faintly like cigarette smoke.

"Great idea, putting all the eggs in one basket," Rose noted sourly as they pulled away from the curb. "One well-placed pipe bomb, and his work is done."

"If I ran such a sloppy operation, I would deserve to be taken out that easily," Adeline replied coolly. "As it happens, this car is armored and kept under 24-hour surveillance. Wade would have a simpler time getting to me than getting to this car. It's the safest place you could be right now." She turned her attention to Joseph, resting one hand gently on his knee. "Honey, I'm so sorry about Jessica. I'm sure she'll be fine; she's a strong, determined woman, and she's survived worse than this in the past."

Joseph nodded, more to reassure himself than his mother.

"I must admit to feeling more than a little responsible for this situation," she continued. "I used to date Wade, never realizing the fixation he'd developed about me. I called off our relationship years before I married Slade, but in Wade's mind, it never ended. I convinced myself he'd get over it, and ignored all the signs to the contrary. When he attacked you and Grant during our skiing trip in Switzerland, I was stunned; I couldn't believe I'd been that stupid as to entrust you to his care. And here I've gone and done the same damned thing, observing as he went after all of Slade's contacts and never once considering that you might be a target, too. Again."

'No,' Joseph signed angrily, 'it isn't your fault. It's his fault. He chose to do what he's done, just as we've chosen how we'll respond.' He met his mother's eyes with a look of hard determination. 'He has to be stopped, mother. Permanently.'

Startled to hear such sentiments from her son, Adeline made no response. Joseph abhorred violence, always choosing the more lenient, forgiving path. Not this time, apparently. His reaction was understandable, of course, after what Wade had done to Jessica, but it was still shocking. Their final confrontation with Wade, though, would be the telling point; Joseph was known for fighting as hard as he needed to win, then pulling back to allow his opponent to surrender voluntarily. If he did that this time, Wade would use the opportunity to kill him -- or someone else.

Kane Manor was located in upstate New York, nestled in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains. A three-and-a-half hour drive from New York City, the seemingly placid estate and its sprawling grounds were as fortified as any top-secret military establishment, only less obviously. It was entirely possible to drive right by and not suspect that the house, barely visible on a distant knoll, was anything unusual.

As they pulled up to the main gate, the driver activated the limo's intercom. "Nightcrawler to Shadowpanther; the shipment has arrived."

"Acknowledged, Nightcrawler. The main loading dock will do. Shadowpanther out."

Rose rolled her eyes. "The first time Wade showed up, he turned my life into a bad horror novel. This time, it's a bad spy thriller. If it shows any signs of becoming a bad Harlequin romance, I swear I'm gonna kill someone."

The "main loading dock" was the central garage, which attached to the house via an underground passage and exited in the lobby. Once closed, the door leading to the passage looked like an ordinary closet, albeit a locked one. It was Rose's second visit to the estate -- the first was Joseph's wedding -- and she still couldn't adjust to the ostentatious display of wealth. Her mother had not been poor, and neither was Joseph; all her life, Rose had lived in very comfortable settings. But none of them could compare in size and luxury to Kane Manor. Her envy was tempered by her memories of Jessica's dislike of the Manor and everything it represented; it was a criminal waste of money on useless luxuries that was much better spent on tzedakah, in her opinion.

Adeline wasted no time getting back to the business of tracking down Wade. She and Amber vanished into the "Searchers, Inc. Wing" of the Manor, leaving Rose and Joe to find their own busywork. Joe headed listlessly up to his studio, so Rose went to the same guest room she'd used the last time she had visited and dumped her bags on the bed. Let Adeline do the legwork; when the time was right, Rose would take matters into her own hands. She slid her Verdi CD into her new portable CD player, popped the headphones over her ears, and lay back on the bed to enjoy the music.

Amber knocked on her door halfway through the Anvil Chorus. "Hon, Addie wants you an' Joe down in the living room; she's got some info on Wade you probably wanna hear."

Adeline was smoking -- casually, it would seem, but Rose knew better. Joe had let it slip some time ago that his mother was more prone to lighting up when she was tense, and it didn't take a genius to see why she might feel that way now. It was no secret that Adeline didn't think much of Slade's fathering an illegitimate daughter, though she had no problem with Rose herself. Rose, on the other hand, saw Adeline as just another extension of her hated father, and had made the mistake of saying as much upon their first meeting. The look on Joseph's face had let her know just how unappreciated her comment had been, so for his sake, she had kept her mouth shut on the issue from then on. But the undercurrent of friction remained.

Joseph was already there, still looking pale and tired. Moreso than he had before, Rose thought, concerned that her brother wouldn't be up to a life-or-death battle with his warped uncle. She glanced at Adeline as she dropped onto the couch next to Joseph, wondering if the news she had to tell was the cause of his drained appearance.

"This telegram was delivered to us twenty minutes ago," Adeline said without introduction. She handed the telegram to Rose. "All attempts to trace it beyond the company office that produced it have failed, which means our next step is to meet him on his turf."

Amazing, that in this age of incredible technology, things like email and the Internet were still science-fiction dreams to many countries. Either Wade had retreated to one such locale, or wanted them to think he had. Rose stared down at the single line of blurred type until she realized the letters were blurred by her angry tears and not by some inferior brand of ink.

JOE TELL ROSE I HAVE ESTELLA STOP TANGIER STOP YOU KNOW WHERE STOP END

"Why Estella?" she choked. "She doesn't have anything to do with this; she doesn't even know Wade. She's got little kids --" She stopped herself, forcing the tears down. There would be time for tears later, if they were needed. She could only hope they wouldn't be. "Tangier is in Morocco, right? What's so special about that place?"

Adeline exhaled a cloud of smoke, hiding the quick movement of her eyes to Joseph's face. "Tangier is where the Jackal took Joseph. He's referring to the warehouse where the Jackal challenged Slade to reveal his employer's identity." Where Slade's pride overruled his common sense, and Joseph paid the price of that folly.

"As for Estella, I'm sure she was simply a convenient lure to entice you to accompany us," Adeline added. "It won't be necessary, of course; Joseph and I are more than capable of handling Wade and rescuing your friend. You'll stay here with Amber, where you'll be safe."

"Like hell I will!" Rose spat. Bad enough that her brother, seven years her elder, occasionally treated her like a child; she didn't have to take that from a woman who was no relation to her whatsoever. "I can take care of myself!"

Adeline regarded her impassively. "I'm certain your mother taught you basic self-defense," she conceded, "but you'll need more than basic skills to fight an obsessed, seasoned killer like Wade. Skills that you clearly didn't possess during your first encounter with him, so there's little reason for me to assume that you suddenly possess them now."

Rose's eyes darkened as she glared at Adeline, and in that split second, Adeline recognized the nature of Rose's new defensive skills. Long familiar with this particular power, she didn't panic when Rose vanished or when her body moved of its own accord, tossing the cigarette into the nearby ashtray and rising from the chair to pace restlessly around the living room. The loss of her vocal control, however, was both unexpected and unnerving.

"See?" she heard herself say, her hands waving in the air for emphasis. "Do you think Wade will expect this? Do you think he can counter this? Do you think you're a better match for him than I am? He'll expect whatever you throw at him. I'm a wild card."

Joseph blocked her path suddenly, towering over her with a presence he rarely asserted so aggressively. 'Leave her,' he signed sharply. 'Now.'

She hesitated. She had no desire to irritate her brother, but by the same token, she wanted his acknowledgement that he wasn't the only one to wield the power that was their father's twisted inheritance. He wanted her to leave his mother, did he? Fine, she would do just that.

Her eyes met his, and their world exploded.

Someone groaned; it took Adeline several seconds to realize the voice was her own. There had been a blinding flash of light, accompanied by a feeling comparable to being vaporized, the molecules of her body flying apart from each other in a single instant.

The plush carpet was soft, but not a particularly comfortable substitute for a bed. She opened her eyes and stared up at the chandelier overhead. The light hurt, but the pain was almost good; it confirmed that she was alive. Still, she chose to block the light with one very solid arm across her face. Excellent; she was not only alive, she was intact.

But could the same be said for Joseph? She forced herself to sit up, desperately casting about for her son.

He had been thrown clear across the room; she couldn't tell if he'd actually hit the wall or stopped just short of it. Clutching his head in obvious pain, he lay on his side, curled into a tight fetal position. He didn't respond when she called his name; shaking him gently also produced no result. There were no physical injuries that she could detect; apparently, she'd caught only the edge of the massive psychic backlash of which Joseph had taken the brunt.

Turning to admonish Rose for her carelessness, Adeline was surprised to see the girl in similar straits on the other side of the room. It dawned on her that the half-siblings' identical powers worked as a repellent, the same way like ends of a magnet repulsed each other.

Well, she was no expert in psychic phenomena. If neither of them recovered in the space of an hour, she would have to deal with Wade on her own, and pray that her son would survive unharmed. She would also have to have Amber contact someone with telepathic experience to find out what damage had been done, and hopefully, to correct it. Not too many names on that list; the one she trusted the most was Charles.

Fortunately, it wasn't necessary. Both Joseph and Rose revived after 45 minutes, though neither looked particularly happy to be awake. Shedding the blankets Adeline had draped them with, they barely had the energy to drag themselves to the couch and collapse, exhausted.

'Sorry,' Rose signed weakly.

Joseph flashed an 'OK' with the last of his strength.

"Good, you're awake," Adeline noted as she breezed into the room, Amber in tow. She sounded relaxed, but if she had really been so unconcerned, she wouldn't have said anything at all, and Joseph knew it. He gave her a weak nod and winced at the pain produced by the movement.

"You can rest on the way to Tangier," she told him, helping him stand while Amber assisted Rose. "We can't afford to wait any longer; the more time that passes, the more likely it is that Wade's need for violence will increase. Not only will that be bad news for Estella, it will make it harder for us to take him down."

The journey from the couch to Tangier was a blur. Logically, he knew that they had to have driven to the airport and taken one of the Searchers, Inc. jets to northern Africa, but he recalled none of it. One minute, his mother was waking him, telling him they needed to leave, and the next she was waking him again, telling him that they had arrived.

At least his headache had lessened. Rose, too, was looking more alert than she had been. They quickly changed their clothes, grabbed their passports, and followed Adeline off the plane, leaving Amber to guard it. Attacking the plane was probably too subtle for Wade, but better safe than sorry.

They carried no obvious baggage, so the trip through customs was brief. They had arrived at night, as they had intended to; as Wade had expected them to. Adeline remembered the route to the warehouse as though she had just walked it yesterday. Ducking into a narrow alley, she stopped at the far end and turned to face her son.

"That's it," she whispered, pointing quickly to the building across the street from them.

He didn't recognize it. There was no reason he should; he'd been very young, and they had taken him to the nondescript building in the middle of the night. Nonetheless, it surprised him that there was no emotional impact upon seeing the building, considering that his entire life had been disrupted there.

They quickly removed their loose outer clothing, revealing black bodysuits underneath. Pulling on black hoods that left only their eyes uncovered, they stuffed their clothes into a black bag Adeline had brought with her and left it tucked into a doorway in the alley. Adeline wore a gun strapped to either leg in black leather holsters, and a black-sheathed knife on her left arm. Rose carried a black-stained hardwood bo staff strapped to her back; alone of the three of them, Joseph was unarmed.

Stealthily, they crept across the poorly-lit street and climbed the building's fire escape ladder to the roof. No sense in walking into an expected ambush by using the front door, after all. Silence was essential, now; though no surveillance cameras were mounted in the vicinity, there was little ambient noise in the city at this time of night, and all their efforts to avoid detection would be for naught if Wade heard them approach.

'He wants to draw us inside,' Adeline signed, 'so she's bound to be hidden somewhere in the central region of the warehouse. He may or may not be guarding her, so no matter where you are, be alert.' She glanced at Joseph. 'Honey, are you sure you don't want a gun? You know Wade will be armed to the teeth.'

He shook his head. 'I don't need one.'

She looked skeptical. 'Your power only works on eye contact. If he's facing you, he can shoot at you.'

'I wouldn't shoot him in the back anyway, if that's what you're advocating,' he replied angrily. 'You should know that by now.'

'I do,' she conceded. 'That's why I'm worried. Your sense of honor has no place in this kind of fight. In a battle to the death, I prefer it to be the enemy's death.'

He dismissed her concern with a wave of his hand. 'I'll be fine.'

'I'll take a gun,' Rose chimed in, suspecting that Adeline would reject the offer.

She was right. 'You're too young,' Adeline said, 'and I suspect you've never been trained to use one. I don't want you shooting one of us -- or even yourself -- by mistake. Stick with what you know.'

Rose nodded. She didn't need a gun either; it would just make killing Wade that much easier.

'Remember our plan,' Adeline reminded them as they picked the lock on the roof entrance. 'Rose scopes out the upper floor; Joseph and I will comb the main warehouse. Whoever finds Estella first, get her to the roof and out of the way.'

'She can help us,' Rose insisted. 'She taught me marital arts.' Adeline sighed. 'Don't assume she'll be in any shape to help anyone, Rose,' she warned. 'I have no idea what Wade did to her during her capture -- look what he did to Jessica, just to keep her quiet. He's psychotic; that's not an easy thing to second-guess.'

With that sobering reminder, they made their way down the stairs, leaving Rose at the second floor while they continued to the main floor. They separated instantly, Adeline moving toward the front of the warehouse while Joseph covered the back.

A new shipment of goods must have arrived recently, for the warehouse was full of crates, some stacked nearly as high as the ceiling. It made for excellent cover, but difficult searching, in the narrow, maze-like corridors between piles of crates. The lighting was dim and intermittent, the corridors anything but an easily-navigable gridwork.

The interior of the building was as unfamiliar as the exterior, though that was less of a surprise, since the configuration of its contents changed with every delivery. There was something vaguely unsettling about being here, knowing what had happened so long ago. His mind kept wandering back to those earlier events, and he had to fight to keep his concentration in the present -- it was definitely a bad time for a trip down memory lane.

Sometimes, though, the trip was unavoidable. Turning a corner around yet another stack of boxes, Joseph came upon a battered wooden door, its red paint flaking off in irregular patches. The sign on the door wasn't in English, but the word must have meant 'office', since that was what the door led to. Joseph knew that without ever opening the door; this was one thing that he remembered perfectly, despite his countless attempts to forget.

His heart pounded fearfully as he moved tentatively toward the door. Part of him wanted to run from it, to hide from the memories it evoked, while the other part of him wanted to confront those same memories, to assure himself that he was in control of them, and not the other way around. One trembling hand gripped the door handle, and for several long seconds, he simply stood there, unable to proceed.

Slowly, he turned the knob and pushed open the door. The hinges had been recently oiled, so the door swung inward without the screeching protest of rusty metal he so vividly recalled. His other hand automatically found the light switch, illuminating a room he had no real wish to ever see again.

Odd, how it was so much smaller than he'd remembered. The room was almost a closet, barely large enough to contain the metal file cabinets and rickety wooden desk that filled it. Other than its size, though, it was identical to his memories, right down to the clutter of papers on the left-hand side of the desk, the binders stacked on the file cabinets, and the thin layer of dust that covered everything.

The images struck with the force of a tsunami. The Jackal's masked henchman, dragging him into the room and closing the door; lifting him, struggling, onto the desk, pushing him face-down on its rough wooden surface; the pain, tearing through him like nothing he'd ever felt before. His breath caught in a ragged gasp and he stumbled backward, out of the room, away from the awful memories that threatened to overwhelm him.

That awkward, instinctive reaction saved his life. Wade's bullet, intended for his head, buried itself in the doorpost instead. Titans training took over, and he dove out of the line of fire, rolling behind a tower of crates. An adrenaline rush suppressed the nausea evoked by the unpleasant recollections of moments ago, and he used the strength it provided to swiftly climb the stacked crates, perching near the top.

What now? He could hear the soft footsteps of Wade's cautious approach, and knew that his uncle would not miss spotting him eventually. Thanks to the long months of abuse at the hands of the Wildebeests, he was no longer as fast or as strong as he had been during his time as a Titan, and Wade was in top physical condition, with a strength borne of psychosis. Plus, he was armed, while Joseph was not; though he had his powers, they were well-known to Wade, who could thwart them as effortlessly as avoiding eye contact. He would just have to strike first and hope for the best.

"I know you're there, Joe," Wade whispered, his voice carrying easily through the silence of the warehouse. "I have to kill you; it's nothing personal, you understand, but you're his son. Like Rose is his daughter. You both have to die, but if you show yourself now, I promise you, I'll make it quick."

Wade came into view as he passed under a nearby lamp, gun drawn and ready to fire at a moment's notice. The hand holding the gun was artificial, a metal gauntlet, and Joe remembered Rose's comment about shooting Wade's hand off after her mother's death. With the exception of his thigh-high boots, though, his costume no longer resembled Grant's. Instead, it was a red bodysuit, with long metal shoulder guards and ammunition belts crossed over his chest. If his costume had a mask, he wasn't bothering with it now; no point, since his identity was no secret to any of the people he stalked.

Joseph leapt from concealment as Wade passed under him, translating his downward momentum into a powerful kick that sent the gun flying into the shadows. Simultaneously, he lashed out with his arm, aiming an elbow at Wade's face. The contact was only grazing, and Wade recovered swiftly, pulling a knife from his belt sheath to replace the weapon he'd lost. As expected, he didn't look Joseph in the eye; victory, if it came at all, would not come so easily.

If Wade had hoped that Joseph was phobic about knives, he was in for a disappointment. As much as he disliked using knives, he had no problem fighting a person wielding one. Wade's grip on the knife was loose; his artificial hand was nowhere near as dexterous as it needed to be in order to use such a weapon effectively. Realizing that, he switched the blade to his other hand, though now he was handicapped by having to use his non-dominant hand, which was not as swift and sure in its aim.

He swung wildly at Joseph, who evaded the attack gracefully, sliding closer to Wade in the wake of the swing to block a return stroke. A quick turn of the wrist and Joseph disarmed his uncle again, kicking the knife away as it dropped from Wade's grasp.

Unfortunately, the knife was merely a ploy to bring him into contact range. Wade's steel fist shot out, slamming into Joseph's temple and dropping him like a marionette whose strings had just been cut.

Wade was on him before he could recover, pressing one knee firmly into his back to prevent him from rising. Dazed, he was unable to stop his uncle from looping a nylon cord around his neck and pulling it tight. He clawed desperately at the garrote as it bit into his throat, squeezing off the air flow to his lungs as Wade cinched it ever tighter, but to no avail.

His struggles grew weaker and finally stopped altogether as he slid into unconsciousness. Wade kept the garrote taut for a few more seconds and then released his grip. Choking Joseph to death would take too long; he had to find his other weapons. He spied his knife lying on the floor against some crates and ran to retrieve it.

Joseph still hadn't moved when he returned, which was good; since Joe was Addie's son, Wade didn't want to hurt him more than was necessary. This wouldn't be the first time Joseph had his throat slit, but this time, at least, he wouldn't feel it. Positioning himself behind his nephew to avoid what was going to be a decidedly messy spray of blood, he removed the hood, tossed it aside, and grabbed a handful of blonde hair, pulling Joseph's head back.

The knife flew from his hand as Rose body-slammed him, knocking him away from her brother. Her bo staff shot out repeatedly, cracking him across the face, the arm, the ribs, the knee. He was going to pay for what he'd done to her, to her mother, to Estella, to Joe. She'd sworn to kill him, but she never said she would make it quick.

Wade, however, was determined to be difficult. He blocked her staff with his artificial hand and tried to twist it from her grip. In her effort to prevent him from doing so, she allowed him to draw her closer -- too close, as it happened. He swept his leg out and knocked her off her feet, causing her to lose her hold on the bo staff as she fell.

He was fast, much faster than one would suspect of a man his age. He leapt to his feet and swung the staff down at her face; she instinctively raised her arm to block it. Unlike her uncle, though, her arm wasn't metal, and the bone snapped with an audible sound. Galvanized by the pain, she glared up at him, and when he made the mistake of meeting her eyes, she possessed him.

She had expected resistance, but not effective resistance. Wade's insanity gave him an edge she didn't know how to counter. Her control of him was incomplete, as he thrashed and stumbled about in his attempts to break free of her.

It was pointless, she realized; she had no way to kill him while she remained inside of him, and she couldn't get him under control enough to force him to kill himself. Spying a telltale lump on the floor that was concealed by the dim lighting, she relinquished her host body and dove away from him.

As she suspected, the object was Wade's gun. She rolled into position and brought the weapon to bear on her uncle. Firing one-handed was difficult even for a good marksman; for someone with no shooting experience, it was a disaster. The gun's recoil sent bullets flying in all directions, some of them narrowly missing Joseph, who had yet to regain consciousness. By sheer luck, two of the bullets actually hit Wade, though neither in a place to do him any serious harm.

Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20. Instead of facing a homicidal psychopath, she was now facing a wounded, enraged homicidal psychopath. Not one of her better decisions.

All she could do was throw the empty gun at him as he approached. He batted it aside with her bo staff and kept coming, following her as she retreated. Her foot kicked the knife he had dropped when she tackled him, and she scooped it up, unsure of how to use it most effectively. It wasn't balanced properly for throwing, but if she let him get close enough for her to use it, he had a better chance of killing her first.

She flipped the knife around so that she was holding the blade and flung it at Wade's face. He partially deflected it with his metal hand, so that it cut a deep gouge across his cheek before clattering to the ground behind him. Rose bit her lip; now she was well and truly dead.

A movement in the shadows near Joseph registered in her peripheral vision, and she threw herself to the ground the moment before the air was filled with bullets. Even with her arms over her head she could hear as Adeline reloaded and pumped another round into Wade, then used her second gun and emptied that as well.

Cautiously, she lifted her head in the silence that followed. Wade's body had been thrown back by the force of the bullets, and lay in a bloodied heap against the far wall. Her bo staff, chipped by the bullets that had struck it, was lying across his chest, soaked by the blood and bits of tissue blown from his body. She'd buy another one, she decided, unwilling to venture close enough to the gory scene to rescue what was left of her staff.

Estella was behind Adeline, looking pale, frightened, and in pain. Rose noticed that she was holding one arm gingerly, and suspected that Wade had used more force than was strictly necessary in abducting her. Getting to her feet, Rose realized she was only in slightly better shape than Estella; in addition to her broken arm, she was shaking so badly she could barely walk over to where the others stood.

Estella gave her a one-armed hug as Adeline dropped to one knee next to Joseph, who was just beginning to stir. His neck was ringed with dark bruises where the garrote had cut in, and his lips had an unnaturally bluish tint to them, but Wade hadn't managed inflict any permanent damage. Even so, he had to rest for several minutes before getting to his feet.

Adeline glanced at her watch. "We still have an hour or two before anyone will show up for work, but I'd like to be gone long before then. As it is, it won't be particularly difficult to link Wade's body to our trip here, so I'll have my hands full at Searchers, Inc. deflecting questions from various authorities; I don't want to compound that difficulty by being here in person when witnesses show up."

Joseph turned briefly toward the back of the warehouse. 'There's something I need to do first.' looked uneasy. "Honey, don't do this to yourself. It's over. It's been over nearly two decades."

'Maybe for you,' he signed curtly. 'I live with it every day.' Still unsteady on his feet, Rose had to help him down the dark aisles. He hesitated only briefly as they approached the door to the rear loading bay, then pushed the door open and stepped out onto the loading dock.

The dock faced a narrow alley that eventually opened onto a main street. Empty crates were sporadically stacked on either side, illuminated by the light poles that jutted out from the side of the warehouse. It looked no different than any industrial-park alley, bearing no signs of the violence that had occurred here so many years ago.

He left Rose standing in the doorway and slowly walked to where he had been on the dock the last time he'd been here. Staring down the alley, his vision blurred by tears, he could almost see the figures of his parents as they confronted the Jackal, his mother pleading for his life while his father refused to compromise his professional standing. What happened next was a blur of action, and he had found himself lying on the ground, bleeding to death while his father proved his physical superiority to his rival. He had lost consciousness there, cold and alone, aware only of the pain and the ever-increasing difficulty in breathing as his lungs filled with blood.

Overcome by emotions that he had kept repressed for almost 20 years, he sank to his knees and buried his face in his hands, his whole body shaking with the force of his sobs. Had he really meant so little to his father, that his life was less important than his father's reputation? How could his mother, who trained both his father and the man who had become the Jackal, fail to see where the confrontation was heading and act to stop it? Why was he targeted, and not his older brother, who was clearly his father's favorite? What had he done, to deserve having his whole world torn apart?

Rose knelt next to her brother and hugged him with her good arm. She didn't know what to say to make things better, so she simply sat there, quietly humming a soothing Israeli song she'd learned from a CD Jessica had given her. Gradually, his tears abated, and they sat in silence for a few more minutes before got to his feet and extended a hand to help her up.

Adeline and Estella were exactly where Joseph and Rose had left them, though the reddish tint to Adeline's eyes revealed that Joseph hadn't been the only one upset about their location. The sooner they all left, the better. They exited through the front door and retraced their steps to the alley where they had left their civilian clothes. Estella had to help Rose dress, and they made their way back to the airport, where Amber waited anxiously with the plane.

The insane cycle of revenge had finally ended. The Jackal was dead, the Ravager was dead, and the ghosts they had left in their wake had been laid to rest. The more recent injuries, both physical and spiritual, would need time to heal fully, but now they could fill that time with the peace and joy that had been missing too often in the past. Today marked the final day of their old lives, haunted by pain and violence and loss; from now on, life would be what they made of it.

All things considered, it was quite an impressive birthday present.

Author's Postscript: Rose's Jerichoesque powers courtesy of Louise Freeman Davis' "A Rose In Bloom", which can be found in the Titans Lair Fan Fiction Library.

2000 by Rachel Ehrlich

Joseph Wilson, Rose Worth, Adeline Kane, Captain Hall, Amber, and Wade DeFarge DC Comics

Dr. Jessica Wilson, Lt. Alexander Scott, Nurse Axelsen, and Estella Rachel Ehrlich

Dictionary of Hebrew Terms Used

todah rabah = thank you very much

ahuv = beloved (male; ahuvah for a female)

tzedakah = justice; charity