1. Zero degrees by whashaza
2. Changes by whashaza
3. Meeting by whashaza
4. The saddest Little Valentine by whashaza
5. Faith by whashaza
6. The gift by whashaza
7. The truth about what makes you sad by whashaza
8. It's a powerful thing... by whashaza
9. At the hour... by whashaza
10. Bloodlines by whashaza
11. Getting closer by whashaza
12. Proposals by whashaza
13. Darkness descends by whashaza
14. The world is changing by whashaza
15. Legacy by whashaza
16. Despair by whashaza
17. Just like me by whashaza
18. Maybe we both deserve more by whashaza
19. If they're real by whashaza
20. If you change the story... by whashaza
21. ...the ending is up to you by whashaza
22. Inheritance by whashaza
23. Breaking point by whashaza
24. Broken by whashaza
25. Memories by whashaza
26. Explanations by whashaza
27. Epilogue by whashaza
Disclaimer: See Chapter 1
Thank you for the reviews. Enjoy.
The only witness to her grief was Jarod and Angelo. She couldn’t believe that somebody she barely knew could touch her like this. It felt liked everyone she knew had died. Her mom and now Faith.
“Are you going to be all right?”
“I think so…Where did she go?”
“I don’t know,” Jarod answered, “At least she didn’t die alone.”
“I wonder if we will ever see her again.”
“Have faith,” Angelo stated with conviction. It only increased her tears and she couldn’t hold the empty feeling inside anymore.
“She said she’ll always be watching over us.”
“I miss her and I don’t even know who she was.”
Jarod didn’t answer her, instead he drew her into an embrace, hugging her tight as she cried onto his shoulder her grief and loneliness.
Two months ago
“Excuse me, nurse. Please, can you help me? A man had been brought in…hit and run…”
She only stood there, watching as Sydney frantically tried to get any information on Jarod. Her mind was a blur, she couldn’t seem to focus. Broots asked something but she didn’t answer. She noticed Sydney’s shirt was covered in blood spots. She closed her eyes but they still danced in front of her. She opened her eyes again and they still haven’t disappeared. She was aware that Broots was looking at her funny and she thought maybe it was because he saw the blood too.
She only registered the glass that was pressed against her lips and then found that somewhere she had lost time. She was seated on a dull orange plastic chair, Sydney next to her, coaxing her to take another sip. Pushing his hand away, she mumbled that she was fine.
“Dr Green, Dr Walker will see you now.”
She watched Sydney disappear, dissolving into air while her stomach crammed with a familiar ache she had not experienced since Faith. But she was older and wiser and not about to cry in front of Broots. And Jarod wasn’t there to tell her that everything will work out all right.
“You promised you would be watching over us.” She screamed inside, wanting to blame anyone but herself. “You promised!”
“Miss Parker, do you need anything else.”
She remembered Broots. Tiredly she dropped her head into her hands. “I need some aspirin.” He left, making his way towards a nurse and she leaned against the hard back plastic of the chair to rest her upper body against the wall.
“Where did you go, Faith?”
Her own question went unanswered in the void that had opened inside her. She had no idea how long she sat there. At some stage Broots returned with the white capsules clutched in his hand and more water. She had downed the pills without a word and then continued to wait.
Sydney’s haggard face was her answer and her undoing. The pit in her stomach grew until she could barely keep it in. Her throat went tight and for a moment she struggled to breath but she kept it open. Her vision blurred and all she could focus on again was the blood spots on the older man’s shirt.
“Miss Parker. He…he’s gone. They…,” Sydney broke down and then managed to compose himself again, “His injuries was just…”
She nodded and then left the emergency room that smelled of blood and disinfectant without a word.
“At least you didn’t die alone, Jarod.” She murmured, clutching the letter to her chest. “I miss you.”
With those words, she finally allowed sleep to steal her thoughts and dull her pain.
The next morning
She had just washed her hair, having spent most of the morning in bed, when the door bell rang. She wasn’t in the mood to deal with anyone, especially after last night. Ben wasn’t home. He had gone to visit an old friend and she had been glad to have the whole house to herself.
The doorbell rang a second time. She wanted whoever it was to go away. When it stubbornly rang the fourth time, she got up from the couch she had been lounging on, and stalked over, forgetting about the fact that she was in her bathrobe with a towel wrapped around her hair. She jerked the door open, ready to tell the person to get lost.
“Uhm, Miss Parker?”
She grabbed her robe, pulling it tight while she could only stare at John blushing in front of her. Their conversation of yesterday came back with a bang and she groaned. Wanting to do nothing but disappear, she slammed the door shut in his face.
The closed door glared back at her. A tentative knock sounded. Leaning her head against the dark wood, she considered her options. She could always shoot him. That way no-one else will ever hear about her little mishap.
She could always claim insanity and hope he believed her. Again a soft knock accompanied by an even softer, “Miss Parker?” She could always leave him standing there until he left.
His voice was muffled by the barrier between them. “I’m always early. I’m sorry. I can come back later.”
For a minute she seriously considered disappearing while he left but instead she opened the door. It’s not as if she had anywhere else to go.
“Do you mind waiting?”
He smiled, his warm eyes bringing life to his face. “I’ll wait on the porch. Take all the time you need.”
She was eternally grateful for those words.
Two hours later
“What would you like to drink, Miss Parker?”
She browsed the menu again, not really seeing anything stronger than caffeine. She needed something stronger after what had happened earlier. John cleared his throat and she looked up, noticing the waitress for the first time.
“I’ll have what he’s having,” she said, hoping that it wasn’t something exotic. She hasn’t really been concentrating on what he had asked for. The waitress left with a bustling efficiency and Miss Parker was alone with John.
“Do you always answer the door in your bathrobe?” John asked, his eyes dancing with mischief, a smile tucking at the corner of his mouth.
“Only when dates arrive. It ensures that no illusions are kept regarding who I am.”
“I like your illusions.”
She didn’t have an answer. She could feel her skin glow and suddenly she wondered why she was blushing like a school girl. If I giggle, I’m going to shoot myself, she thought murderously.
“Miss Parker is a bit formal, isn’t it? What’s your first name?”
She smiled, feeling the glow dissipate. “My secret.”
He laughed and again it struck her how much it reminded her of Jarod. “What if I find out from other sources? Will I have earned the right to use it?”
She grinned, enjoying the game. “I’ll decide but I don’t think you’ll succeed.”
They were interrupted by the waitress bringing their coffee, and she relaxed, enjoying the company.
“I don’t usually fail, Miss Parker.”
“Really. You know the saying, there’s always a first time.”
He took a sip, watching her over the rim of the cup. A small slice of cream stuck to his upper lift and it made crinkles when he said, “Not on this.”
She laughed, watching the cream lines disintegrate. “Well, good luck then, milk boy.”
He finally seemed to understand and with a slight embarrassment, he licked the cream from his upper lip. They sat and talked, content in their banter and companionship. The second cup had just finished, when Miss Parker lowered the tone of the conversation and asked, “How did you get your scars?”
He touched the side of his face and grew somber. “I don’t remember much. Apparently somebody drove into my car and the impact flung my body out. The glass and tar road made a mess but they managed to restore most of my skin. The doctor who treated me told me more than once that I was lucky to be alive. And I am. I got to meet you.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to pry.”
“Not at all. How did you get your scars?”
“My what?” As far as she knew, she had none.
“The ones inside, Miss Parker.”
She dropped her gaze. This man was far too observant. “I lost someone close a few months back. I’m just learning to deal with it.” She had no idea why she had told him. She had never opened herself like this before to anyone but Jarod. Not even Tommy.
A gentle hand took her by her chin, lifting her face until she could see into his eyes. He had come around the table and was now crouching before her, his eyes compassionate and full of understanding. “I’m sorry.”
Nothing more. But it was enough and she allowed him to pull her into his arms, feeling the strength of his shoulders. She forgot about the coffee shop or anyone else who would be watching. Her steely resolve crumbled and she allowed her grief to be spent in his embrace.
You’ll just have to wait until the next chap…but…I get reviews…and who knows who John may turn out to be…lol
Disclaimer: See Chapter 1
This chapter is dedicated to the memory of my mom, who passed away on the 16th of September 2006.
Miss Parker’s House – 3 years ago
She immediately noticed the wrapped package on her table when she entered her house. Tiredly she tossed her keys on the table, wondering what Jarod had in store for her again. Her ringing phone interrupted her thoughts and she answered with a tired, “What?”
“They say it is better to have loved and lost, then to never have loved at all…Do you believe that is true?”
“If you’re lonely, call a 900 number.”
Jarod ignored her remark. “Did you read my book?”
She wasn’t about to reveal the truth to Jarod. Hoping she sounded convincing, she answered, “I skimmed through it…You paint a pretty sad picture.”
“I just…write the way I see it.” Jarod stated as he absent-mindedly played with a red rose. Miss Parker didn’t answer, and Jarod continued sadly, “How did we end up like this.”
“Like what?” She ignored the answers staring her in the face. It is easier not to see.
“Alone…Searching…It is ironic because we both want the same things…Someone to care about.” Jarod allowed his words to sink in, waiting for a moment before stating, “Someone to care about us.”
Miss Parker sighed, not wanting to go down this route with the person she is supposed to return to the Centre. Unperturbed, Jarod continued, hoping for some answer.
“Do you think we’ll ever find that kind of love in our lives?”
“What the hell do you want from me, Jarod?” She replied angrily, not willing to admit what Jarod had said was echoing her fears she had kept carefully hidden from those around her. It was Jarod‘s turn to sigh, but in frustration. Shaking his head while smiling sadly, he told her to open the box before hanging up, not waiting for an answer.
Miss Parker held on to the phone for a brief moment while Jarod’s words continued to haunt her heart. Bringing her emotions under control, she returned the phone to its cradle and eyed the box. She reached out, removing the top and placing it beside the bottom part. Opening the rest of the paper she was confronted by a candy heart.
Be my valentine
Holding it in her hands, she thought about their conversation. She was alone, just like Jarod. Not wanting to dwell on it anymore, she ate the candy.
“Hello…who is this?”
Miss Parker closed the connection abruptly. Letting the phone slip from her fingers onto the bed, she leaned back against the headboard. She was wearing one of Tommy’s favorite shirts and she pulled it tighter against her body, warding off the chill that had settled inside her.
What am I doing?
Shaking her head to ward of the images speeding through her mind, she stared at the phone. She had thought to phone the contact number that Dr Walker had given her. And every time she picked up the phone, she lost her nerve. She could still feel the ebb and flow of his muscles beneath her head when she had grieved. The strength of his arms, although long since gone, still lingered. She imagined that Jarod’s arms would have felt similar.
But regrets almost always came too late. And in her case, it had come with a finality that couldn’t be undone.
This is a mistake.
Her words from a few nights ago echoed again in her mind.
What if it is Jarod?
She leaned over, opening the drawer and taking out Jarod’s letter. Tracing her name, written in his handwriting, she closed her eyes. If she had to be honest, she knew the reason why she couldn’t make the call. She was afraid. The finality of knowing would either confirm her suspicions or end her hope that he could have survived. Even despite all the evidence that negated that hope.
And what happens if John turns out to be who he says he is, John Hutching. What then?
Do I want to walk this path again?
And if it is Jarod by some miracle, what will she do then.
Frustrated at her conflicting emotions, she rose and started pacing, still debating the ifs and whys. The phone continued to draw her gaze.
..have no idea how much I had wanted to complete that kiss…
Dammit. It would only be Jarod that could draw this confusion and doubt from her. And he managed to do it again with his last letter to her. Why couldn’t he send the box to Sydney and leave her in ignorance.Then she wouldn’t have to remember Ocee’s and their near kiss.
She was unaware that her pace has increased with each thought.
I wonder if I ever would complete it
The guilt ate at her when she remembered the phone call directly after she had gotten home from the island. Her words had been spoken with a false confidence, hoping that Jarod would get the message. And still he continued to hope for both of them.
We’re not little anymore, Jarod. Things change, people change.
Did she really believe that? She stopped her pacing, suddenly tired. She glanced at the clock on the side table. She was surprised when she took note of the time. 12:30. She smiled, remembering all the times that Jarod had called. Usually when she had a tiring day and needed to sleep. Since the day of the accident, she had woken around their usual time, waiting for the phone to ring. It had stayed silent and that more than anything else had ate her hope little by little until Sydney had confronted her in her office. It had been then that it had sunk in. Her phone would never ring again.
Slipping under her covers, she placed the phone next to her pillow. Taking Jarod’s letter, she folded it neatly, returning it to its former place. She took out one of the Pez dispensers. Snuggling underneath the covers, she clutched her last hold on Jarod’s past. Her breathing deepened and for the first time since Jarod’s accident she didn’t cry herself to sleep. Instead, her last thought settled on her mind and not for the first time since she had started the chase so long ago.
What do you want from me?
Miss Parker woke with a jolt, her heart pounding. Her eyes were drawn automatically to the source that had jarred her awake. Her hand closed around the phone while she glanced at the clock on the side table. She frowned when she took note of the time. Still in the process of coming fully awake, her first thought was that Jarod had never called her at 7:30 before. Her next thought ended her first, reminding her of his death.
She groaned, flipping the phone around and took a look at the caller id. Her finger moved towards the cancel button and she shut the screaming off.
She wasn’t in the mood to speak to Lyle.
“Just sign here,” the courier said, giving her the clipboard and a pen. Her interest peaked, she scribbled her signature. The courier took the clipboard and then gave her two packages wrapped in red. She barely thanked the guy, ignored his outstretched hand and closed the door in his face.
The smaller package had a note attached to it.
The handwriting looked familiar. She tried to place it but couldn’t. Placing the bigger box next to her on the couch, she opened the first. A small smile started to form when she uncovered the gift. She brought the white rose to her nose, inhaling its fragrance. The petals were soft and silky, perfectly formed without any flaws. A red bow had been tied around the stem, small and intricately bent.
Her attention returned to the box when she noticed a white candy heart nestling in the folds where the rose bud had lain. Placing the rose next to her, she reached out and picked up the candy. Written in red on white was the words - Be my date.
She was still debating the meaning of the three words when her phone interrupted her thoughts. She answered, knowing who it would be.
“Is that your usual greeting or is it just a tactic you use with dates?”
Despite herself, she relaxed back into the couch. Her face softened and she smiled. Stroking the petals, she said huskily, “Where did you get the rose?”
John’s voice was full of light when he answered, “My secret.”
Miss Parker grinned, remembering her words used yesterday. She didn’t reiterate and the silence was comfortable.
“Did you open the second box yet?”
She eyed the bigger box. Clutching the phone between her ear and shoulder, she opened the box and took out a white thick sweater. Underneath was a faded blue pair of jeans.
“I hope they fit. I guessed your size.”
The sweater was soft and warm and she hugged it to her chest. “I’m sure that they will fit. Why?”
“It’s for our date. I’ll pick you up at one.”
She wanted to reply but got no chance. John had already hung up. Feeling flushed and tingling, she told herself that it had nothing to do with his call. It was the fire roaring away in the fireplace that was heating up the room.
The sun was trying hard but couldn’t compete against the cold wind that was flowing around them. Snuggled warm in her sweater, she enjoyed the walk. They were strolling across the pale yellow grass in the park, making for a very familiar stand.
“What would you like, Miss Parker?” John asked, turning to her when they had stopped by the stand.
“You’re not serious?” She eyed the logo and the man standing behind the counter. “This is the new outdoors eating place?”
John grinned. “I did say it would be a new experience. I promised adventure and fun. Eating a hot dog on a cold winter’s day is all of those.”
Miss Parker eyed the roll that was in the making. Her stomach was souring just thinking about what she was about to eat, her mind rebelling against anything made outside. Then she remembered Jarod’s delight at each new taste and she eyed the almost completed hot dog again.
“Fine, I’ll try it…but the next time, I decide where we go.”
John smiled, taking the rolls and giving one to her. “So you think there will be a next time.”
“The possibilities are endless, don’t you think,” she returned, happy when she noticed his surprised and pleased look.
“I don’t know. I think a man should decide these kind of things…like where to take his date,” he took a bite and his eyes closed with enjoyment.
“It depends on whether or not the man is living in the past,” she replied, deciding to take a smaller bite, so that if she gagged, she could throw it up in the serviette, hopefully without him noticing. The flavors hit mouth. It was warm, saucy, spicy and incredible. Calories had never tasted so good. She forgot about what she had said, she failed to listen to his response while she took another bigger bite.
She looked up, her mouth full when she finally noticed the silence. She wanted to smile but couldn’t.
“It’s good,” she mumbled around the food, feeling the mustard drop from the roll she held to plop onto the pavement. John’s eyes laughed, small crinkles forming around the corners. He nodded, taking another big bite, his mouth greasy around the lips.
They moved towards a bench, and sat in silence while the consumed the rest of the rolls. It was finally broken when John wiped his mouth and asked, “What is it that makes you so sad, Miss Parker?”
She wiped her mouth and then crumbled the napkin in her hand. She stared out at the park, not really noticing the other people that were walking down the pathways. Her mind was elsewhere, memories of her mother’s death running through her mind. She gave a small smile, hoping it would be enough.
John slowly reached out, wiping at the corner of her mouth. He didn’t say another word, pulling her to nestle under his arm. She enjoyed the warmth of his body and she closed her eyes, smelling his aftershave.
It reminded her of wood and open spaces and too much of Tommy. He held her close and she took strength from his grip. Not wanting to dwell on her memories anymore, she allowed the beating of his heart, to calm her fears.
They sat in silence till the cold finally drove them home.
Disclaimer: See Chapter 1
A/N: Just to say thanks for all the support and emails I received regarding my mom. My sincerest thanks. And to imagine: sorry. My muse couldn’t help itself. ;-)
The truth about what makes you sad
Miss Parker’s House – 1st house call
Her ringing phone finally registered and she rolled over to grab at her phone. “What?”
Jarod grinned, and replied innocently, “Oh! I intentionally wake you in your deepest sleep phase and all I get is a lifeless ‘what’?”
Miss Parker sighs and rolls onto her back. “You want wit, read Noel Coward….What time is it where you are?”
Jarod continued his strokes on the canvas and answered, “Cute. Not funny. But cute.”
“You’re making house calls now. I’m honored.”
“Well, I was feeling a little guilty about my virtual phone game.”
“You know, I really should tape this to replay at the Christmas party. You’ll be there, you know, rest assured.” She almost breathed a sigh of relieve when finally managed to locate a cigarette on the side table while listening to Jarod whine that he wasn’t getting much sleep these days.
“Breaking my heart,” she paused briefly to give her a chance to light a cigarette, “So, Jarod…why the Y.M.C.A.?”
“I was watching retro night on VH1, and they were doing the ‘70s…which as you know I missed. There was this singing group that was extolling the virtues of staying at the ‘Y’. So here I am.”
Listening to Jarod while moving to her window seat, she replied mockingly “Cute. Not funny, but cute.”
“Did you know that they make fake dog poop?” Jarod asked her as he picked up the poop. “It’s amazing how it appears to be one thing” tapping the phone with it, he continued glibly, “…but it’s really something completely different.”
“And I should care because…”
“Well, this sort of thing could be a real moneymaker for the Centre. Besides, isn’t it the perfect metaphor for the way your father and the Centre distort the truth?”
Miss Parker frowned. Having no choice, she asked the obvious question, “And what truth is that, Jarod?”
“It’s all in the note I sent you. The truth… about what makes you sad.”
John breathed in deeply, trying to ignore the cold steel of the stethoscope against his chest. Satisfied, Dr Walker removed it from her ears and stepped back. Indicating that he can put his shirt back on, she returned to her desk.
“You didn’t need to do that. I told you I feel fine.”
Dr Walker gave an indulgent smile while she made a brief note in John’s medical file. She heard the chair creak and knew from experience the frustrated look that would be on his face. Not looking up, she asked, “Are you sure you know what you are doing?”
She waited out the silence until the chair creaked again. “I don’t understand. What do you mean?”
She looked up, pinning John’s eyes with her own. “You’re not exactly an idiot, John. You know what I mean. It could jeopardize…”
“What? Come on. Say it,” he angrily interrupted, returning her stare darkly.
“She is very vulnerable at the moment. Not to mention the fact that you’re being around her continually remind her of Jarod.”
John at least had the gall to look guilty before he replied in a dead voice, “Jarod’s dead. Nothing will change that.”
She sighed and ran her hand through her hair. “All I’m saying is that you have to be careful. I don’t have to continually remind you how lucky you were to survive. You have an opportunity to start over. My suggestion is use it.”
John didn’t reply as she knew he wouldn’t. Closing the folder, she slid it onto her desk. “Fine. Continue on this crusade of yours. I just pray that it won’t backfire.”
“This is Sydney.”
“Do you think second chances are given or earned?”
Sydney frowned. This was her second call in so many days. He could hear the fatigue in her voice and with it a tinge of warmth. The question reminded him of another conversation he had long ago with her mother.
“What happened, Miss Parker?”
Her sigh carried over the line and lingered for a moment in the air. Sydney shifted in his comfort chair, watching the flames splutter in his fire place. A moment later she answered softly, “I met someone.”
Sydney couldn’t help the smile. Miss Parker had no idea how much like her mother she really was.
“Tell me about him.”
A short silence followed and he had expected it. Calmly he waited, knowing that she needed to feel that she was in control of the conversation.
“I met him through Ben. When I saw him the first time, I thought that…,” she trailed of and Sydney kept quiet, waiting for her. He wanted to know what her initial reflection were but he knew better than to ask. “It doesn’t matter, Syd. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have phoned.”
“Miss Parker, wait.” When she didn’t end the call, Sydney breathed deeply. “Maybe it will help if all I do is listen.” A long silence followed his words and just before Sydney thought that he had lost her she said, “I miss him.”
Her words echoed in the void left inside him since Jarod’s death. His heart ached with familiarity and he had to constrain his emotions for a moment. Me too, he answered silently and instead asked, “How are do dealing with what had happened, Miss Parker?”
“I…don’t know. Look, I’m sorry I called. It was a mistake.”
Before Sydney could reply, she ended the connection. Restless, not liking the way the conversation had gone, she opened the front door and walked out. Not really caring one or the other, she randomly chose a direction and started to walk. I shouldn’t have called him. I can only imagine what’s going through his mind right now. But she had felt the overwhelming urge to talk to someone, anyone. Even while she had been berating herself for her lapse in self control, she had found herself dialling Sydney. Again. Lyle will have a field day with this if he ever found out. Dammit. Cursing loudly at her jumbled emotions, she finally stopped and looked around. It was quickly getting darker. She could see lights begin to blink on in the surrounding houses. She finally registered that she had not put anything warm on and she hugged herself, shivering. She was standing in a small leeway that led to another house tucked away amongst the trees. For a moment the sound of laughter danced on the icy wind that tucked at her blouse. Glancing at the warm glow from the top window, she could well imagine the love and happiness inside. So unlike what she had experienced growing up since her mother died.
She looked around, feeling the darkness drape itself around her, tucking at her soul. The silence was oppressing, eating away at her defences until all she had left was raw emotion. A single tear escaped, leaving a warm trial down her cheek that quickly turned icy from the wind. Wiping at the wetness, she stared blindly into the dark. For the first time in her life she came face to face with her worst fear when she finally realised the price she had paid by being daddy’s girl. Slowly she sank down onto her haunches, her hands clutching her stomach. She felt physically ill as understanding dawned and sank in.
She had no one who cared about her. She had no one to love. She was completely and utterly alone.
“Miss Parker, I was concerned,” Ben started to say, glancing at John. They seemed to notice her state of dress when she clutched her arms tightly and shivered.
“You went out like that?” Ben admonished gently as at the same time John grabbed a blanket thrown over the couch. His concern increased when he noticed that she barely registered Ben’s words. Slowly, so as not to startle her, he gently draped the blanket around her and then coaxed her to the couch. She shivered continually now. Ben took one look and headed for the kitchen. They needed to warm her up and quickly.
“Miss Parker?” John said softly, reaching out and touching her lightly on the cheek with the back of his hand. She was icy to his touch and flinched slightly. Hearing Ben busy warming some milk in the kitchen, John turned briefly from her to stoke the fire.
Startled, he turned back. She was staring into the fire, her hands clutching the blanket around her. She shifted her eyes and met his. They were dark and glistening with unshed tears. He could see the effort she put in to hold them back. Slowly he rose and went over to her. Tenderly he pulled her into an embrace, holding tight.
“You’re not alone, Parker. I promise,” he murmured, his breathe stirring her hair. He could smell the fruity scent of her shampoo. He could feel the tension slowly give and she relaxed in his hold. Shifting, he leaned back and cradled her head against his chest, his other hand pulling her even closer. She drew her legs up and he draped the blanket to cover her feet. She lay against his chest not saying a word. Ben came in shortly afterwards and left a cup of coco on the side table and just as quietly left again, leaving them alone in front of the fire. It was some time later when he felt the regular motion of her body moving against his arm. He looked down and noticed the relaxed muscles in her face.
She was incredibly beautiful.
His arm was slowly going numb and she shifted slightly, settling into his body. Her hand had crept across his stomach and finally settled about midway. She frowned briefly before her face smoothed out again. Her breath was warm against his chest and he tried to calm his thudding heart so as not to wake her. She sighed, and softly whispered, “Jarod?” The corners of her lips curved slightly upwards. Eyes still closed, fast asleep, she murmured, “I missed you.”
He closed his eyes briefly and then said softly, “Shhh, its ok, Parker. I missed you too.” And in that timeless moment that stretched into eternity, he watched over her sleep.
Disclaimer: See Chapter 1
For those who asked, a longer chap. Hope you like. ;-)
It’s a powerful thing…
“Tell me about love, momma.”
“What do you want to know?”
“Will I ever find somebody to love, like you found daddy?”
“I think you will.”
“But how will I know when I’m in love?”
“Mmmm, it’s different for everybody. I used to get lightheaded when your father looked at me.”
“Was daddy very handsome?”
“Handsome, yes. Beautiful. But don’t ever tell him I said so because I certainly wouldn’t want his head to swell.”
“I hope the man I fall in love with make me feel lightheaded.”
“I hope so too, baby.”
The beat was comforting in its steadiness. The soft but deep life-giving force enveloped her in a cocoon until it was all that she could hear. Her body was warm from where she touched his. She could feel each intake of breath he took, the rising of his chest almost in rhythm with his heart.
She was frightened. Not since Tommy had she allowed herself to be this vulnerable. To be this open. At the same time this felt so right. And why shouldn’t she allow herself a chance at happiness. It was what Jarod ultimately wanted.
His hand shifted slightly against her shoulder, his fingers relaxed. She didn’t move, knew that he was asleep. A log shifted and the crack sounded loud in the room. She held her breath, wondering if it had woken him.
The slow rhythm of his breathing didn’t change. She let hers out slowly, feeling her heart settle down again to a steadier beat that matched the one just underneath her ear.
Too fast. All this is happening too fast. She didn’t even know who John really was. Could she trust him? Did she want to trust him? She thought back to Tommy but her memories were too painful and she felt tears burning her eyes.
She was startled when she felt him move and only then realised the slightly wet patch beneath her cheek. She knew that he was awake, yet his breathing didn’t change. She wanted to say something but no words came.
She could feel the play of muscles against her back as his arm tightened around her. He waited for her as the silence expanded and she tried to calm her thudding heart. His breath stirred against her when he whispered, “Where do you hide your strength?”
There was no strength in her now. She shifted upwards and pressed her cheek into the comfortable curvature of his neck and shoulder. For once in her life she wanted to let go of the discipline that had protected her all these years since her mother had died but she couldn’t. She silently asked for his understanding and for a time he only held her, recognising her need for simple comfort.
Somewhere in that moment she fell asleep again.
He opened his eyes and shuddered, staring at the white walls. He was hot again, pulse pounding underneath his burning skin. Something cold pressed onto his forehead, bringing with it welcome relief. His gaze shifted towards his left, blurred and unfocused, trying to decipher the mixture of colours that shifted in his viewpoint. Tired, he closed his eyes.
He had to remember but he couldn’t seem to focus. He took shallow breaths even while his body shook from the fever. He didn’t know for how long he continued like this until in one of his wakeful moments he realised that he was starting to feel better.
The next time he woke, she stood by his bed. She acknowledged his stare with a smile. He had watched as she continued to take his vitals, her fingers slightly cold on his wrist.
“How do you feel?”
He had to swallow before he could answer. His throat was raw, his voice scratchy. “Sore.”
She nodded as if she had expected the answer while she wrote his observations on his chart. He changed position and then winced when his body protested in pain. His thoughts shifted, and he realised that he had no idea how he had ended up here. Swallowing, he managed to ask,” What happened?”
Her eyes filled with concern and then became guarded. She moved around the bed and he followed her with his eyes.
“What do you remember?”
He closed his eyes, thinking. Panic seared through him when he realised he had no idea who he was. He didn’t know his own name. He didn’t know what he looked like. He didn’t know…and then a hand was on his arm, insistent.
“Take deep breaths, John. You’re going to hyperventilate.”
He opened his eyes, focusing on her as he tried to comply. His heart continued to beat at a frantic pace while he concentrated on taking slow, deep breaths. “That’s it….slow breaths.” Her voice was oddly compelling, calming him until he felt he was in control again.
“I don’t remember who….who I am,” he managed to whisper, his eyes searching hers, hoping for an answer.
“It’s normal with head trauma like yours. It will come back. Don’t worry.”
He believed her. He had no idea how, but he knew medically what she meant. Was he a doctor? He wasn’t given a chance to delve further. She turned his head sideways and he felt the bandage stretch across his skin. Suddenly afraid, he stiffened.
“It’s ok, John. I just want to have a look,” she said warmly.
He could feel the coolness of the air against his skin and he didn’t want to know. He remembered a girl, her face disfigured by a scalpel but the memory shifted before he could fully grasp it. He could hear her make small sounds underneath her breath as she held his head, prodding slightly.
“It’s healing quiet nicely. There would be some scarring but not as bad as we had thought.”
His mind still reeling from all the sensory input, he tried to make sense. “Some?”
“Get some sleep, John. We’ll talk tomorrow.”
He wanted to protest, to ask what she meant but his body betrayed him and before he had a chance to ask, he fell asleep.
He remembered who he was two weeks later and then he understood why he wasn’t back at the Centre. He could still vividly recall his conversation with her.
She smiled and nodded. She left his bedside and closed the door, locking it. He wasn’t surprised or alarmed.
“They think you’re dead.”
He frowned. The simple expression hurt to perform and his face smoothed out again before he asked with dread, “Who?”
And he remembered clearly how she knew about the Centre. He had helped out at the clinic she had worked, trying to catch a doctor that had misused his knowledge to get his patients hooked on drugs unwittingly. She had caught onto his pretend and had confronted him. He didn’t know how, but she had managed to get his DSA case and had watched one of the little discs. He had no choice but to tell the truth and once she knew, she had allowed him to continue with his pretend.
He met her gaze, trying to understand. “How?”
“I recognised Miss Parker and when I asked one of the nurses she told me about a patient who had been in a hit and run accident. I knew that if you survived, they would take you back. So I transferred you and told Dr Green that you had died from your injuries.”
He unconsciously simmed the whole scenario. He could well imagine what Sydney and Miss Parker had gone through.
“He would have wanted to see me. How did you…”
“He did. You were really in a bad way, Jarod. I wasn’t even sure that we could bring you back. You flat lined while he was with you. He was removed from the room while we worked on you. We barely got you back. I went out and told him that we had been unable to bring you back. That your injuries had been too severe. He believed me.”
He listened as the tale unfolded. When she finished, he could see a possible future but he needed to make sure. “Didn’t they claim my body?”
“I told Dr Green that the coroner needed to do an autopsy to determine the cause of death. Also, that only next of kin could claim the body and seeing that his surname wasn’t the same, I couldn’t in good conscience release your body to him. It was almost two weeks later when a man called Lyle came with a certificate and a claim that he was your cousin. I told him that you had already been cremated. He was understandably upset, but I gave him the autopsy file. There were some very unflattering photos of you in there.”
“And he bought it?”
“You’re still here,” she replied seriously.
After that revelation, Dr Walker had left him alone. He had spent the whole of that day and the next running simulations and scenarios until he was satisfied that his plan would work. Knowing that if the Centre thought that he was off their radar, that she would be free.
And he knew exactly where she would go. He had Dr Walker transferred to Maine, along with himself. Still recovering, he had made friends with the O’Connell’s and they had invited him to their home.
What he had not planned was meeting her that first night. He had to cover his surprise when he saw her. It had taken all of his skills as a pretender not to react when she had told him that he had reminded her of someone. He full well knew because he was that someone. He almost told her when they sat outside and he had to remind himself sternly of his goal.
He looked at her sleeping figure in his arms, knowing his goal was being realised.
The first thing she realised when she woke was that she was alone. Disappointment filled her as she opened her eyes and noted that she was stretched out on the couch, a pillow beneath her head. She pushed herself to a sitting position, blinking her eyes against the sunlight that streamed through the windows. Running her hand through her hair, she suppressed a yawn. She couldn’t remember the last time she had slept this well.
She could hear Ben humming in the kitchen. Smiling, she rose and stretched languidly, enjoying the relaxed feel of her muscles. She made her way towards her bedroom and stopped in her doorway when she took in the state of her room. She had to hold on the door jam while her heart continued to thump away.
Her bed was covered in red rose petals. The cream coloured duvet only enhanced the whole effect. An envelope had been placed in the centre of the pillow. She couldn’t help the grin that was slowly spreading across her face or the trembling of her hand as she ran it through the silkiness of the petals. Breathing in the aroma that hangs over the bed, she seated herself and opened the envelope.
Meet me at the pier at ten.
Again the handwriting looked oddly familiar. Frowning, she placed it on the bed. She took out Jarod’s letter and placed it next to the other. She could see some similarities in the way the words had been formed, but not enough to validate her suspicions. Half remembered words taunted her briefly from last night. She didn’t have time to continue her musings when a soft knock sounded and she looked up into Ben’s smile.
“I did, thanks,” she replied, wondering just how much Ben knew about John. As if he could hear her thoughts, Ben entered the room and said, “He’s a good man, Miss Parker. And he cares deeply about you.”
“What we had as kids is not the same now.”
Ben studied her, waiting for her. “I don’t even know who he really is.” She didn’t know if she said it out of frustration or as an excuse.
“Do you trust him?”
Funny that Ben would ask that question. Trust. She had trusted Tommy. Not with everything, true, but she had allowed him into a part of her life that was closed of to others. And he’s now dead.
Even to herself, it came out unexpected and a surprise. Ben only smiled, his brown eyes looking at hers knowingly.
“If I were you, Miss Parker, I’ll take a bath and then leave. Otherwise, you’ll be late for your meeting.”
He left her in her room, closing the door quietly behind him. She finally understood why her mother had Ben as a friend.
The sky was ominously gray. His hair was ruffled by the wind that whipped across the water. He turned from watching the small yachts pull against their mooring to watch her approach. She walked with a grace that took his breath away. He stayed where he was, leaning against the railing. She stopped next to him and he noticed the grip she had on the fence. Smiling, he turned and watched the white caps while every nerve was aware of her body next to his.
“I’m glad you could make it,” he said, watching her closely out of the corner of his eye. She didn’t answer. He turned his head, watching her in profile. Her dark hair stirred against the wind. He was in awe at the strength that showed itself in her bearing.
“You were right.”
Momentarily taken from his thoughts, he turned, leaning his hips on the railing. “About?”
She turned and looked up at him intently, her fire blue gaze probing deeply, searching his soul. “We both want the same thing…do you remember when you had said that?”
He swallowed; his mouth suddenly dry. She knew. How? She seemed to understand his silence. He didn’t move as she took a step closer, the distance between them a hand’s-breadth. All the comebacks and words he had prepared dried up when she reached up and traced his scars with a feather-light touch. He closed his eyes and leaned into her hand, wondering what he was going to do now.
“I’ve known when I saw you that first time. I just couldn’t believe it. I didn’t want to,” she said softly. He opened his eyes and watched as she studied him intently. A light gust of wind drew a strand of hair across her face, and this time he reached out and moved it back, tucking it behind her ear. The wind had the scent of rain in it.
“I like John.”
He smiled, understanding her meaning behind the words. “Jarod’s dead.”
She laughed and he joined her. Saying those words brought freedom for them both. They understood the deeper meaning behind it. The new beginning that stared them in the face. He couldn’t help himself. He pulled her into a tight embrace, wondering suddenly at the feeling of lightness he experienced. She returned his embrace, leaning into his body.
They stood like that for minutes, until a light gust of wind tucked at them, reminding them that the first winter’s storm was on its way. Pulling her slightly back, he kissed her forehead, whispering her name. Then his lips moved along her velvet cheek to her mouth. He heard the soft intake of breath as their lips touched and he wondered at the fragile texture of her mouth and why it came as a surprise that so much could be said with no words.
Disclaimer: See Chapter 1
Hope I’m not hated for having left this story for so long. ;-) My muse has decided to get back on me on this one after she royally changed my story outline, leaving me hanging in the air. Thank you for those that kept asking.
So, without any further musings…here’s the next chapter.
At the hour…
Something was tucking at his consciousness, pulling him back from the brink of the long, dark sleep. It sounded like…laugher. A child’s laughter. Slowly, he opened his eyes.
Nothing. But the laughter persisted. Then a soft form materialised in front of him, dancing in the snow with a carefree attitude. He tried to understand what he was seeing until she stopped and he could finally make out her face.
She smiled down at him and said, “Hi Jarod.”
He was so cold. He couldn’t find the strength to answer back, so he just continued to stare.
“Jarod, you can’t give up.”
He managed a frown and then a whisper, “I don’t… understand”
“Just hang on.” She paused, her whole being radiating confidence that he didn’t feel. “They’ll be coming for you soon. Don’t give up.”
Her laugher filled the air again as she slowly danced from his sight.
He was alone again.
And he remembered his own words to Sydney, so long ago. The confidant words of a boy that had refused to be pulled under by the Centre’s evil.
“I’ll never give up, Sydney. Never.”
He pushed himself into a sitting position, knowing instinctively that if he stayed where he was, that he will die. Pulling the space blanket tighter, he reached for the emergency kit. He broke the seal of the glow stick. When he looked up, he noticed that the wolf was back, sniffing the area where Faith had appeared not so long ago.
The wolf lifted his head, sniffing in his direction. “Not yet.” The wolf continued to shuffle, eyeing him and he said, “You can’t… have me… yet.” He pulled the blanket even tighter. “Just hang on. It will…be daylight…soon….Hang on.”
Jarod opened his eyes and blinked. The snow had stopped falling sometime during which day had started to turn into night. It was quiet; very very quiet. The only sounds were Jarod’s ragged breaths.
It took five full breaths to establish that he could still move his legs and that the persistent agony was from his arm. He took a long time before he gathered enough courage to shift into a higher position.
He couldn’t suppress a moan of pure agony that erupted from deep inside. He could feel his grasp on sanity slip and he began to lose sense of the cold around him.
Time passed and when he opened his eyes again, it had gone completely dark. The snow-reflected light was enough to see by, and he was grateful for that at least. Jarod lifted his head and he felt the burning pull of each breath that was so difficult to draw.
If he stayed, he’ll die.
Ten heartbeats later, his thoughts caught up with his body. Cradling his broken arm closer to his body, he turned onto his side. Every move filled his body with fire. Pushing the agony aside, he pulled himself to his feet.
A wave of dizziness made him brace himself against the boulder. His legs shook from the mere effort of standing. He took a moment to concentrate on what he wanted to do next.
Parker. Got to get to her before…
He set off at a painfully slow stagger, following the stream as it meandered through the woods. He had barely managed half a mile when his legs buckled and he dropped to a knee. As he turned to rise, he vomited blood.
He stared at his own blood long enough for him to draw three painful breaths before he realised what he was seeing. He closed his eyes and took another ragged breath. He could taste the coppery tang in his mouth and it left him feeling slightly nauseous. Jarod opened his eyes and awkwardly staggered back to his feet.
Road. He remembered that…
He took a staggering step, ignoring the grating of bone against bone on his left side.
His concentration slipped slightly when he stumbled over a submerged root. The muscles in his side pulled and when a scream echoed back to him, did he only become aware that it was his voice.
Sweepers…no wait, avalanche…should be safe…
He counted a hundred steps when he became aware that the woods was starting to thin. He staggered out into the open, onto the road. He nearly sobbed with relief when he spotted his car off the side of the road. It was covered in a thin blanket of snow. Just behind it was the familiar black form of a town car.
He willed himself to move forward. Only when he was close enough to touch his car did he notice that the hood of the car was raised slightly. It took him less than a minute to realise that his battery has been removed.
It took even less than that to realise that he was not alone anymore. Keeping himself upright by sheer force of will, he managed to turn. A figure was moving towards him in a calm, measured stride. A stride he was very familiar with.
He could feel his strength continue to fade as the man stopped in front of him.
“You didn’t think you’d escape, now did you?”
Darkness closed around his vision and when he could see again, he was on his knees.
“I’m sure Parker will be happy to see you.”
He felt despair and anxiousness simultaneously for the first time in his life. He had not anticipated that they would have already gotten to her. She was supposed to be safe. They had been careful.
He felt her body close to his, felt her breath on his face. Her skin was silky smooth beneath his fingertips as he brushed it lightly along her back.
“What are you thinking?”
He shifted and looked down at her. “Should I be thinking?”
Her eyes twinkled and shone with an inner force he had never before experienced. It took his breath away.
She really is beautiful.
“I want to grow old with you.”
She laughed and turned so that she could look at him fully. “I think generally that’s implied when you get married.”
Curling his hand around her body, he pulled her tight against him, burrowing his face into her hair when she rested her head against his chest.
“I promise I’ll keep you safe…”
He felt sorrow well up inside him as his promise echoed around inside his mind, reminding him that he had yet again failed. He let go of the thin thread of awareness and he didn’t see the grin on Lyle’s face nor did he hear when the sociopath called in the helicopter transport.
By then, Jarod was unconscious.
Promise…the next one will be longer. Reviews most welcome. ;-)
Disclaimer: See Chapter 1
Thank you for the reviews.
He entered the cabin, the serotonin in his hand.
“Angelo, I’ve got it.”
“It’s not the kid you have to worry about.”
He couldn’t hide his disappointment. The Centre has found him. He took a deep breath before rising to his feet and saying, “It’s good to see you again….Sis.”
He will never forget the look she gave him.
“How do you know I have a brother?”
He picked up the two red folders from the mantle above the fire place and showed it to her.
“You’ve got the red files too?”
“Mr Fennigor was right…about Prodigy. Our bloodlines and the lies the Centre fed us.”
“What are you saying? That you’re my…”
Jarod interrupted her. “There were eight red files.”
“Each of these files represents one of the children the Centre isolated as a potential Pretender. There were seven children that your mother tried to save.” He took a step closer, taking one of the red files. “But the secret to your past is in the eight file….the eighth child.”
“You’ve got my attention.”
“NuGenesis monitored these eight children for the Centre. They screened them. You see, there’s a special anomaly in our blood. In our genetics that predisposes us with a gift.”
“What is the big secret of number eight?”
“Number eight….is you.”
He could see the disbelief in her eyes when she asked, “My blood was tested?”
“Yours and your fraternal twin brother who supposedly died at birth…instead he was whisked off to NuGenesis. I’ve narrowed the identity of your brother to these two files.”
She looked up from her own file. “One of those belong to you?”
The silence stretched until Jarod sighed and said, “No, I’m not your brother. But one of these files does belong to,” he turned and indicated Angelo, “him…”
Miss Parker’s eyebrows raised and she shook herself. “Him?”
“And the other to a boy named Bobby. But you know him better as Mr. Lyle.”
Miss Parker grinned in shock as she took a step backwards. “So you’re telling me that my brother is either a psychotic killer or mush head.”
“I need a drink…A big one.”
Two months ago, the Centre
Once again he was left with nothing but a dial tone. Frustrated, he swore briefly under his breath before turning to the director sitting in his seat behind the mahogany desk. Plastering a smile on his face, he shrugged his shoulders.
“She’s not answering. I’m sure she’s busy.”
She raised an elegant eyebrow but her face was all but bemused. He could see his demise in the depths of her eyes and he had to suppress a shudder. He had not felt this way since his first experience of Mr Lyle’s abuse. He could still hear the click of the lock as he was left alone in the shed.
He allowed nothing of his old memories to show. Now was not the time. He was walking a thin line all ready.
“The Triumvirate is not happy with the way you had handled this whole unsavoury business regarding Miss Parker and the Pretender. She is part of the Parker legacy and as such is needed at the Centre.”
The only outward appearance Lyle allowed was the slight clenching of his hand. For one brief moment he considered killing the woman and burying her body in the woods.
“It was her choice to leave. The pretender is dead. Therefore he no longer concerns the Centre.”
She leaned back in his chair and touched her fingertips together in a contemplative gesture.
“Have you seen the body?”
Lyle mentally rolled his eyes. He didn’t want to be reminded of his failure to retrieve Jarod’s body.
“I forwarded the autopsy photos to you,” he tipped his head slightly, “and Sydney saw him die. I don’t think the shrink could have faked his grief….do you?”
This time she raised both her eyebrows. “Really? Are you willing to risk your life for that statement?”
This time the thought lingered on killing her. He allowed himself this brief fantasy while he turned from her and poured himself a scotch. He took a sip and allowed the mellow flavour to settle before he swallowed.
“What is this really about?” he asked, leaning against the wall before taking another sip. She turned the seat and he watched her long legs stretch out. So much like Parker and yet…He brought he eyes up until he met hers. He allowed a small smile to settle, predatory and dangerous.
“What exactly are you planning, Madam Director, or should I speculate?”
She rose, graceful and smoothly. “Speculations can get you killed.”
Lyle’s smile widened. “With a position opening up in Africa…” He was stilled when she placed a finger against his lips, her eyes warning him. He could feel her closeness, almost taste the muskiness of the scent she used. She leaned in and he could feel her body pressing against his. Her lips were beside his ear when she said, “I want your sister back at the Centre.”
He turned his head and managed to take another sip. He could see the anger rising at his insolent behaviour but he didn’t care.
She moved back, glaring at him. He met her gaze and she broke it first. He allowed a small measure of victory to fill him before he stepped towards his desk and took his seat. She had followed his movement and was now standing where he had stood not so long ago. This time the silence stretched while she poured herself a glass.
“Tell me, Lyle…have you ever believed in the scrolls?”
This time it was Lyle who raised an eyebrow. “Don’t tell me you believe in that mumbo jumbo, Madam Director?”
She seated herself across from him, watching him over the rim of her glass as she took a long sip. Lyle sighed and then said, “No, I don’t believe in the scrolls.”
“You should,” she paused, allowing her words to sink in. “It has dictated your family’s actions for a century. And Jarod is the key to it all.”
“Jarod is dead.”
“And once again, I ask you, are you willing to bet your life on that?”
Lyle grimaced. The director smiled and rose, leaving her empty glass on his table. Before she closed the doors behind her, she left one last command.
“Bring your sister back.”
Ben’s place, a Day later
They were sitting on the porch, snug under a duvet when the noticed the car turning into the driveway. She could feel John stiffen when the car stopped and the finally saw who it was behind the steering wheel.
“How did he find us?”
She frowned, watching Lyle get out of the car. “I don’t know. He’s been trying to get a hold of me now for a while.”
They both rose and John turned her so that she faced him. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I thought Lyle would be smart enough to get the message. Obviously, he hasn’t.”
They both moved down the steps of the porch, intercepting the other man.
“What are you doing here?” Miss Parker snarled, moving slightly in front of John while she glared at her brother.
“I’m your brother. I wanted to make sure that you were doing all right. And from the look of things it looks like you are on the rebound.” He smirked knowingly. John’s face darkened and he stepped forward but was intercepted when Miss Parker moved past him, grabbing her brother and hustling him towards his car.
“Leave, while my gun’s still in the house.”
Lyle shifted his gaze from hers to John and then back. “He looks kinda familiar. A lot like Jarod.”
“Yeah well, keep your thoughts to yourself. He’s not Jarod. Jarod’s dead.”
Lyle lifted his eyebrows, suspicion on his face. “Why are you so defensive? If he is really so innocent, an investigation would only prove that what he had been telling you is the truth.”
She pushed him against the car, her forearm crushing his throat. Her voice was dangerously low when she growled, “I was there when he died, Lyle. You saw my report and the autopsy file. I will not have you or the Centre ruining my life again. Stay away from John and from me. You do not want me as your enemy.”
Lyle lifted his hands in mock surrender. “Fine, Parker. Have it your way.” She stepped away and he adjusted his tie. “There’s another reason why I came. I’ve been trying to get a hold of you and your phone must be faulty. You never answer.”
“I'm sorry. My fault. I forgot you were an idiot.”
She could see her remark hit home by the way Lyle tucked on his glove. “The Triumvirate wants you back at the Centre.”
“Really. Can’t imagine why?”
Lyle took a deep breath, his eyes ice cold that met hers. “Parker, you don’t want to piss them off. Just come back and listen to what they have to say. I’m sure you can come play house after they’re done with you.”
“I’m done with the Centre, Lyle. You can tell the Triumvirate that I’m busy and if they ever send another messenger boy, I’ll shoot him and then I’ll expose all their dirty little secrets to the world. Am I clear?”
Lyle narrowed his gaze and then said, “Crystal.” He wasn’t about to let this go. But his sister didn’t need to know that. He left, watching in the rear-view mirror as John put his arms protectively around his sister. His blue eyes darkening with anger, he reached for his phone.
Miss Parker nodded. “I know.”
“I’ve spoken to my dad. We can meet up with them at a safe house in Mason.”
She looked up from where she was seated on the bed. “Can we really disappear from the Centre?”
He smiled and sat down next to her. Pulling her in, he said, “Yeah. We can.” He tightened his grip, and felt a fierce protectiveness well up inside him. Without thinking, he whispered, “I promise I’ll keep us safe, Parker.”
Let me know what you think….;-)
Disclaimer: See Chapter 1
Thank you for the reviews.
She watched him walked down the gangway, smoking a cigarette. Funny, she couldn’t ever remember a time that he had smoked before. Just another useless fact that she now filed away. She matched him when he stopped onto the main walkway and then asked him if he was out on a midnight stroll.
He actually looked bored when he sighed and said, “How'd you find me?”
“I hit redial.”
He grinned in amusement. “It is always the simplest thing, isn't it?”
“The chip.” She held out her hand, silently warning him not to test her. And he still tried to bribe her.
“You know, 20 million dollars split two ways is...” she cocked her gun in final warning and he apparently got the message when he said, “…apparently out of the question.” He handed over the chip.
“Why follow Jarod if this is what you wanted?”
“That was to pay off a debt. Jarod is to... win friends, and influence people. I bring him back and all is forgiven.”
“The Centre welcome mat's been yanked for you, cowboy,” she replied with disdain.
“We'll see,” Lyle said, “So they sent you to clean up.” Then he asked, looking bored out of his mind, “You really gonna kill me?”
“That’s up to you.”
“Then why are you still talking about it?”
Her finger tightened noticeably around the trigger, but she held off, not really prepared for it yet. Lyle sniffed and said, “Not as easy as it looks, is it? You know why you don't want to kill me? Because you are me. It's a natural desire for people like us to dominate and define.”
“You and I have nothing in common.”
“We…” Lyle took a step closer and she immediately raised her gun. He stopped and then continued, “We both recognize that this notion of human equality just perpetuates mediocrity. But we're not mediocre, are we Miss Parker? We're independent. And independence, it's a privilege of the strong.” He paused, allowing the words to sink in. “Tell me Miss Parker, how strong are you?”
“Strong enough.” She put determination behind the words, willing herself to belief it.
“How strong are you?”
The silence stretched and she could see Lyle mulling over her words until he gave a half smile and said, “Nice working with you.”
He turned away from her, flicking his cigarette over the water. She followed it involuntarily until she became aware of the danger he posed when he continued his turn, pulling a gun out of his jacket. Confronted by the danger, she pulled her trigger and watched his body jerk as the bullet hit home before he fell into the water.
She had done what her father had asked. Lyle’s body was floating in the water and it left her with no feeling at all.
Lyle smiled and then proceeded to circle the older man sitting in the chair in the middle of the room.
“Who are you?”
Lyle pulled up a chair so he was seated across from Ben. Leaning back, he continued his silent scrutiny of the man.
“You can’t do this,” Ben said, starting to rise from his seat. A sweeper hand clamped onto his shoulder, forcing him back down.
“Do what?” Lyle asked, his voice smooth and urbane and to those who knew him, very dangerous. Ben said nothing, but his body language couldn’t quite hide his fear or the fact that he knew exactly who he was dealing with. Lyle continued his stare until one of the sweepers stepped from Catherine’s old room, holding a picture of them seated on his porch. Lyle took it from him, turning it over and then said, “Nice. Not that it matters, but were you two lovers?”
Ben’s lips tightened and Lyle could see anger replacing fear as an explosive negative left his lips. Lyle turned and draped an arm over the chair. “I’ve always wondered what type of man would make my mother happy. Not that I ever knew her but my sister could never understand that my mother was not the angel she had made her up to be.”
Understanding dawned in Ben’s eyes. “You’re the boy that she lost at birth.”
Lyle stopped smiling and said, “And now you’ll tell me how devastated she was that she had thought me dead.”
Ben leaned forward and looked at Lyle before drifting down to the photo he held. “A parent always remembers the loss of any child.”
Lyle’s eyes narrowed. “So you did sleep together.”
Ben sighed. “No. We were friends, nothing more. I loved her but…she….had always been loyal to your father.”
Lyle laughed. “That’s funny.” Lyle rose and threw the photo onto Ben’s lap.
“I have an offer to make, one that I’m sure you’ll not be able to resist,” Lyle said. “I want the location of my sister and I want the name of the doctor that had treated her new lover.”
Lyle’s eyebrows rose. “Don’t make this ugly, Ben. All I want is a location and a name. No one will ever know that you were the one that told.”
Determination settled and Ben took a deep breath. “I can’t tell you.”
Lyle leaned in, hands on the armrests of the chair. “And why is that?”
“Because I don’t know,” Ben said.
Lyle straightened and stepped away. He looked at the sweeper standing behind Ben. “Get me the information I need.”
She couldn’t get through to Ben. Turning her cell phone, she glanced at the signal bars on the left side of her phone. It didn’t help that they were in the middle of nowhere with almost no signal towers. Groaning in frustration, she closed her phone. Fences flashed by, surrounding fields white with snow.
“I’m sure he’s fine, Parker.” She gave Jarod a look and he sighed, “We’ll try at the house. There’s bound to be a landline.”
“We shouldn’t have left Ben alone. We should’ve taken him with us. I don’t trust my brother not to hurt him.”
Jarod glanced at her. “It was his choice and Ben has survived the Centre thus far.”
“Jarod, my father is not in charge anymore. Lyle is.”
Jarod shifted in his seat. “I’m fully aware of what Lyle is capable off.” Giving her a longer glance, long enough that he could see her grow uncomfortable, he turned his eyes back on the road. “Ben doesn’t know enough for Lyle to be interested in him.”
“Are you saying that to placate your own guilt?”
Jarod jerked the steering wheel when the car slipped on a piece of black ice. A breathless moment later he had the car straight again.
“Ben knows what he’s doing.”
Miss Parker looked at Jarod with enough emotion to allow a sinking feeling to settle in his stomach. It opened up all the doubt he had stored away that this will work. That they can disappear from the Centre and that everyone would be safe. He didn’t want to think about losing her.
Couldn’t think about it.
Taking a deep breath to cleanse his mind of backlash images of what Lyle had done to the women he had murdered, he glanced at her again, and gave her a smile of reassurance. Or tried to anyway.
He could see she wasn’t convinced.
“Everything will work out, just….trust me, ok. I’ve been doing this for a while now and the Centre has yet to catch me.”
She raised one eyebrow at his statement. “Did you forget the time Lyle kept me dosed up in a hospital when I got shot while you enjoyed his company for three weeks?”
Jarod closed his eyes briefly, not wanting to be reminded of how close he had come to losing her. And what he had given up to save her.
“That was different.”
“Ok, fine. But as soon as we’re at the Major’s place, I’m phoning Ben.”
He had no choice to agree even thought his mind was telling him that it was a bad idea. And it occurred to him as he turned into the rutted farm track that led to the house his father and the boy rented that maybe, just maybe he was afraid that for once, he had underestimated Lyle.
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She heard her name first before Broots rounded the corner and entered the room, out of breath. He came to a breathless halt before her and she said, “Starting to sound like doctor Fester.”
“I’m sorry but I was trying to find you all over this place,” Broots wheezed.
Broots couldn’t disguise his fear when he said, “He’s here.”
“I believe him… is me.” She turned and there stood Lyle, smug and dressed to kill.
“What the hell are you doing here, Lyle?”
“I’m here to help you catch Jarod.” What got her was the way he said it, as if it was self-explanatory and she the idiot for not seeing the obvious. She had nothing to add, no sharp retort when he gave a casual smile and said, “It’s good to be home again.”
Lyle tucked at his suit, straightening his jacket as the two sweepers led go of him. He met her gaze with one equally as cold until she indicated with a wave of her hand for the sweepers to leave them alone. He slid his thumbless hand into the pocket of his pants, the action fuelled by habit. He turned slightly, watching the door close behind the men and then took in the room. It was in one of the upper floors of the tower and he could see the ocean glisten from the windows that was etched into the wall behind her. The décor was rich in taste and design as befit a triumvirate representative.
“Why am I here?” he asked calmly as he sat down in the chair before her desk.
She smiled in bemusement, her eyes scrutinising his body language. He felt the familiar dryness in his mouth and his missing thumb throbbed in unison with every quickened heartbeat. He remembered the unbearable pain when the knife had hit bone and had then had cut all the way through. The memory came so vividly that he felt his stomach roil in sympathy and it was only with will power that he kept everything down.
“Do you really want me to answer that for you?”
He relaxed into the chair and the unfamiliar feeling of fear disappeared. He knew this game and with the immediate threat of death averted, he smiled lazily.
“It’s only been a week since we last spoke. You don’t expect me to find her this quickly, do you?”
She lifted one elegant eyebrow in answer and he had to stop himself from fantasying about her body under his as her life bled out from her eyes. There might be time for that later, but not now.
“The triumvirate wants her back before the end of the month.”
“I don’t know if that is possible. As much as I want my dear sister and her lover back, it’s out of my hands. They’ve disappeared and we both know how good he is at hiding.”
“That’s unacceptable, Lyle. I expect more from you.”
“And I expected you to give me the truth. I’m sure the triumvirate will be interested to know that their beloved pretender is alive and that you had orchestrated the whole dying scene,” he said evenly, watching her carefully as his veiled threat hit home.
“That’s not true and you know it,” she hissed in answer, “Be careful Lyle, you’re playing with grownups now.”
He laughed. “Oh, you don’t have to worry about that. Raines had taught me well so if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a pretender to catch. Make no mistake. We’ll continue this conversation again when my sister and her lab rat is safely home. That’s what you want, isn’t it.” He rose smoothly as the doors behind him opened.
“Lyle.” He heard his death in her voice and wondered insanely if he had read her wrong. He braced his body, knowing that he’ll never reach her before the bullets thudded into his back. But he’ll damn well try.
“I can delay the triumvirate for no more than two months. After that…” He understood the unsaid words and breathed again, his tight muscles relaxing. He’s gamble had paid off. His face impassive, he nodded briefly in acknowledgement before he turned and left, once again sandwiched between two sweepers.
Jarod slipped an arm around her waist as she replaced the headset on its base. She felt the warmth of his body against hers. She turned and rested her head on his shoulder, closing her eyes tiredly.
“Something’s wrong, Jarod. Ben’s not telling us everything.”
He rested his chin gently on her head. “Lyle’s searching for bread crumbs. He won’t find us.”
She stepped back, moving out of his embrace and gave him a bitter smile. “My brother has no compunction about using the Centre to get what he wants and right now he wants me. I can only imagine his obsession if he finds out that you’re alive.”
Whatever Jarod was about to say was interrupted when Major Charles entered the room. There was an awkward moment of silence, and then Miss Parker moved towards the big bay window overlooking a field covered in snow. Jarod followed her and she allowed him to envelope her in a hug.
“I’m sorry, Parker. I know that you feel frustrated and helpless. That you feel responsible for Ben’s wellbeing and that you’re concerned about him.”
He leaned his forehead against her and slid his hands down her arms until their fingers interlocked.
“All I ask for you is to trust me.”
He felt her hands trembling and new the effort it took for her to consider his words. Trust had never been something that came easy to her. She had been taught from a young age to mistrust everything regarding him, to trust the Centre. He was asking a lot and he had no idea if it would be enough.
He eyes shimmered crystal blue with unshed tears.
“What happened to Thomas won’t happen to me, Parker. I promise.”
Her face tightened as angry tears started to spill. “You can’t make promises like that, Jarod. The Centre is never going to give up just because we will it.”
“Don’t,” she said sharply, pulling her hands from his, “Don’t patronise me, Jarod. I’m not an idiot and I have no illusions as to our chances with the Centre. They will find us; the only question is when and how.”
Jarod reached out and pulled her into his embrace, folding his arms protectively around her. She resisted, standing frigid against his body. He felt the fragile trust between them start to unravel and he hated Lyle for having found them at Ben’s. For one insane moment he contemplated murdering the bastard.
“Please, Parker, just for once, trust me,” he whispered, willing her to believe his sincerity and to let go, to allow him to make things right.
He felt her tremble and then she lifted her head. He saw the conflict that raged inside her. He cupped her cheek and then – despite the fact that his father was in the room – he kissed her, long and deep. He felt the tension flow from her body and tasted her tears, mixed with the slight sweetened tang of her lips. They only broke their embrace when a slight embarrassed cough sounded from behind Jarod.
“Jarod, Chris is back from town. We should leave.”
He nodded, to let his father know he’s heard but his attention was still focused on the woman in his arms. He kissed her softly this time, a chaste kiss on the lips that lingered for a short while and then he whispered against her mouth, “Marry me.”
Her eyes widened and she pulled slightly back, searching his features. “This is crazy,” she said, her eyes bright.
They both grinned like idiots and the brief fear that had gnawed a hole in his stomach that she would say no was gone. And then Chris entered the room, his cheeks flushed from the cold with bags of fast food in his arms.
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Disclaimer: See Chapter 1
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He leaned over the table, meeting her gaze and said, “Clearly Jarod’s crazy,” before turning away, knowing he had her attention now. “It’s my opinion that it’s the only explanation for his carelessness. The question is why…why has Jarod gone of the deep end. And how did he manage to…”
“Wait, stop,” Parker interrupted, “Just how in the hell did you get back in here?”
Lyle turned so that he faced her. “I believe the Triumvirate, as well as your father; see me as a man who is willing to literally sacrifice his own flesh and blood for what he believes in.”
She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “As opposed to kidnapping, embezzling,” she paused, crossing her arms, “murderer.” Lyle looked at her with an innate smugness that irritated the hell out of her.
“It’s all perspective.” He stepped closer to her desk, unravelling the bandage wrapped around his thumbless hand. “Some see a missing thumb. Others four perfectly good fingers. Having a hell of a time to get this thing to heal over but like I said, sacrifice…Did you know that they actually offered to transplant my big toe to recreate a new thumb.” Lyle found the idea amusing.
“Nobody creates quite like you, Bobby,” Parker said stonily, her features carefully arranged in a mask of indifference.
“Tell me, Parker, exactly what are you willing to sacrifice?”
The Centre, Present minus 18 hours
He saw her as he stepped into the lobby, surrounded by sweepers. She was dressed for corporate kill. She looked delicious, despite the fact that she wasn’t Asian. There was nothing like the intoxicating feel of power that made his senses came alive.
“You have their location?”
He gave her a slick smile, filled with promise and she reciprocated. Her smile just as predatory and he had to remind himself that she had after all risen to Directorship and wasn’t without skills.
“Yes, we should be onsite tomorrow.”
She nodded in satisfaction and stepped to the side, giving him leave to go. He allowed her this brief power play as he stepped past her, the sweepers closing ranks around him. Let her win this round but when he had Jarod and his sister, he’ll take her to his cabin and show her what real power is before he’ll kill her.
Present minus 18 hours
Outside, snow had started to fall. She saw the flakes fall silently past the window even as she stepped into the room. Her bare feet sank into the warm, thick carpet and the fabric of her robe fluttered against her body. The fireplace was warm against her back when she came to a stop before the bed, her shadow dancing against the hard planes of his face. His eyes burned with intensity even as he shifted, the glint of gold on his ring finger flashing in the glow from the fire. She felt the weight of her own ring on her left ring finger. It felt….weird. To know that she belonged to him and he to her.
Their eyes locked and he didn’t speak or move as she stepped closer and then sat down beside him. She could read the quickening heartbeat in his throat and her own pulse quickened to match his. Jarod visibly swallowed and then whispered her name, his voice deep with burning passion held barely in control.
He leaned toward her, even as he said her name again. And then his lips were pressed on hers and she felt his arms close around her. Her breath caught and then came in short, shallow respirations, echoing his own. It asked acceptance and trust. The kiss was a beginning, it begged no restraint and she opened herself to it. It was almost disappointing when after what felt like an eternity, he pulled back.
She wanted to protest. She wanted control. Her body ached with need.
Silence surrounded them with warmth even as Jarod’s hand traced her cheek, his touch feather light and she shivered. He closed her eyes with soft kisses and her other senses opened up. Her body recorded his every move, every breath and every heartbeat. She felt the pause when he unfastened her robe before he pushed it back from her shoulders.
She let the robe slid from her arms and she opened her eyes, watching him. She was again aware of his power over her. Her tightened grip she had - to be in control - slipped. Sex had always been a game to her as she possessed and controlled. Now it was something more, something different and alien. Something that felt so very right and despite that knowledge her throat tightened in fear. She was afraid that Jarod could love her too much, that she would never be able to return that love.
She felt so close to tears even as he turned her, laying her down on the bed. She allowed her control to open even more and she unlocked the darker, more remote part of her. She remembered her mother and the gift of love she had so unequivocally received from her, given without judgement. And there she found her answer and she felt her constraint dissolve. She will love and give, not because it was expected but because she wanted to.
He stretched out next to her and she felt his need even as her own rose to new heights. His smile was gentle even while she drowned in the depths of his eyes. He traced her lips and then she pulled him down and this time her kiss was demanding and filled with an ache that transcended her current need.
She surrendered herself to it completely.
Present -1 hour
He could still feel her kiss on his lips. He smiled even as he grabbed a tub of Rocky Mountain from the freezer and placed it inside the basket he carried. The only reason he was at the Seven Eleven was their mutual agreement that they had to eat. He still couldn’t believe that she was his wife. He made his way to the front and after paying, exited the store. He hunched his shoulders as an icy wind danced in the almost deserted parking area, numbing his exposed flesh. An unfamiliar black van was parked in a darker corner, not close enough to his own car to warrant suspicion.
He took a step towards his vehicle and the door of the van slid open. Light glinted of metal and it drew his attention immediately. Terror gripped his heart and squeezed. Four sweepers emerged from the depths of the van, heavily insulated against the cold but still recognizable.
He dropped the bag of food and started towards his car, his hand fumbling for the keys in his pocket even as he cursed his luck. Footsteps sounded and he glanced behind him to see another sweeper round the corner of the shop. A body length separated them even as Jarod slipped on a patch of ice. He went down hard, his knee slamming into the asphalt as a hand closed on his shoulder, yanking him back. His elbow rose even as he allowed his momentum to continue and he breathed garlic as the air escaped from the man behind him. Keys finally out, he rolled into a standing position while the sweeper gulped for oxygen at his feet. The four sweepers had already spread, their guns lined towards his body. He ignored the guns as he ran towards the car. Footsteps sounded loud in the quiet and he was aware of his own harsh breathing as the cold seeped through. He got the keys into the slot when a sweeper slammed his body into the car. He grunted, feeling the key slice a long, thin line across his stomach. But it didn’t break and for that he was internally grateful. Using the car as a spring board, he spun and jabbed a fist into a leering face. The sweeper staggered backwards, into the line of fire of sweeper number two and three. He turned the lock and the door opened. Sweeper four rounded the car, screaming commands that Jarod ignored. The car started smoothly and he pulled away, not bothering to close the door. It hit the sweeper a glancing blow, sending him flying to the ground.
The car was colder than a freezer when he finally managed to slam the door closed. He reached for his cell phone, his concentration on the surrounding area. He couldn’t feel his fingers, couldn’t feel the numbers. His head aced from the bone numbing cold and his mouth was dry with fear for Parker.
Shit, come on. He finally managed to jab the correct sequence of numbers even as a town car swung behind him. Pick up. Pick up. Pick up, he repeated while nothing but a ring tone answered back. It felt infinitely long, a lifetime where he aged and reasons why she wasn’t answering ran unchallenged through his mind. And then the click and her soft, “What?”
“Get out of the house.”
She didn’t question and he closed the phone, all his attention now on the road in front of him as he led them away from Parker. He needed to buy her time, needed to let them send reinforcements, needed to let them forget about her. He was ten miles out when the town car finally managed to overtake him, cutting in front of him. It was his driving skills that saved him. He had slammed on the brakes and skidded across the road, slamming the car sideways into an embankment. The Town Car had already stopped as two sweepers emerged. Jarod tucked on his safety belt, feeling relief when the buckle was released and he tumbled from the car. His breath clouded in front of his face in quick succession, his body tight with fear and adrenaline. He made it past the first trees when a gunshot cracked. A piece of trunk beside him exploded into splinters and he ducked deeper into the woods.
He slowed his breathing, willing himself to calmness even as he evaded his pursuers. The cold was leeching into his mind. He couldn’t think, couldn’t sim a way out. He shivered even as he continued to move forward. His hands were blue with cold, his fingers tingling with a thousand pinpricks and then even that feeling disappeared.
He didn’t hear them anymore. He stopped, listened. Nothing. Careful, aware of each step he took, the crunch of snow underneath him, he moved forward and into a clearing. A branch snapped behind him, further back but still close enough to hitch his breath.
Please, please let Parker be okay.
He willed the sweepers behind him to call for back up, to pull all the Centre’s resources to him and to forget about her. He settled in behind a fallen trunk, burrowing his way into the snow until he was satisfied that he wouldn’t be seen.
And he prayed like he believed, prayed for Parker to be safe, for the Centre to leave and for himself to touch her again and to tell her one more time that he loved her. He made promises, that he would keep her safe, that he would tear down the Centre brick by brick if they harmed her, that he would kill Lyle so tortuously slow that the thumbless man would beg for death, that he would bury the Triumvirate so deep that their bodies would never be found.
A branch creaked and it jerked his head upwards and to the left. His eyes bored into the surrounding stillness, searching for any movement between the dark bark. He counted the minutes until he was satisfied that it had been nothing more but a fallen branch.
Darkness was now quickly descending…
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Disclaimer: See Chapter 1
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He was dragged into the room by Sam and another sweeper he didn’t know. He thought about resisting but a harsh warning from Sam curbed that thought. He needed to save his strength and getting another beating wasn’t going to help. Relaxing, he allowed them to drag him further until he was thrown unceremoniously in front of Lyle’s feet.
“He still stinks.”
“On the way to the showers he freaked. I thought he was gonna chew my heart out. Took a little swipe from the motivator to calm him down.”
Lyle’s fingers curled into Jarod’s hair, dragging his head up so that he had no choice but to look Lyle in the face. “If you don’t want to go to the showers, I’ll bring the showers to you.” Jarod’s only retaliation was to spit in his captor’s face. That earned him an additional bruise from where Lyle slammed his face into the ground before his body got smashed against the bars of the cell by the powerful surge of water from a fire hose.
Mercifully, the onslaught ended.
“We don’t want him dead. Just….less odoriferous.” Lyle threw him a piece of soap. “Clean the filth off yourself…and then…do the walls.”
He threw the soap back at Lyle while telling him to clean it. Not the smartest thing to do but he wanted to wipe the smug smile of Lyle’s face. Lyle didn’t get angry and that got his attention. This wasn’t good. Lyle crouched down, looked him in the eyes and said, “The world is changing. Mr Parker is gone. Mr Raines is gone. Miss Parker is…God only knows where. You and I are here, and I’m in charge.”
Sydney wondered idly if he continued to fake sleep whether the sweepers would leave. With a sigh, he opened his eyes. He knew better. The Centre had never been patient nor did they leave well enough alone. He wondered briefly why they had come for him this time. He was after all retired, not that he expected that small technicality to mean anything to the men surrounding his bed.
“Anything I can do for you, Willie?” he asked the dark man by the foot end of his bed. Willie didn’t reply, only indicated for him to rise and he did so, aware of the guns still pointed at his body. A sweeper threw his robe at him and as he slipped it on, he noticed his open closet and two suitcases beside the door. He turned and grabbing his chin contemplatively, asked calmly, “Where am I going or is that classified?”
He wasn’t in the least surprised when Willie told him that he was wanted back at the Centre. All he was left with was to figure out the reason why Lyle wanted him back.
She rose and folded her arms when the door hissed open. Lyle entered and gave her a bright, empty smile. As usual, he was dressed for corporate kill. She briefly wondered whether he wore the same clothes when he took his Asian woman for a last stroll in the woods. But then she remembered his jeans and flannel he had worn when Jarod had sent them investigating Lyle’s extra curricular activities. No, she thought, Lyle has work clothes for that.
“Accommodation to your liking, Sis?”
He only ever called her sis when he someone was about to die or disappear. Hoping it wouldn’t be her; she cocked her head and waited. Lyle didn’t like her silence and before she could move, could counter; he took two fast steps and slammed her body against the wall. Something hard, round and uncomfortably familiar gauged a hole into her stomach and she flinched, knowing that no matter what she did, he couldn’t possibly miss something vital.
“Tell me Parker, when was the first time you chose Jarod over Dad and me?”
“Hang on to something Angel, you can’t come with me this time.”
“Daddy are you just going to leave me here to die?”
“No, no, you’ll be all right. It’s not how they say it ends.”
Her throat tightened. Was this room the place her story was going to end? She wished her father was here, that he could tell her that it was all going to work out all right in the end. But then again, he might even order Lyle to pull the trigger while telling her it was for her own good.
“How long?” Lyle snarled and she didn’t like the look in his eyes.
“Does it matter?” she said, her voice firm and even. There was no one to rely on now, her father was most probably dead, Sydney was retired and she had no idea where Broots was. If there was a way out, she would have to find it on her own. The only problem was that she had no idea how.
“All those times that Jarod slipped through your fingers and no-one ever questioned your incompetence. You made excuses while blaming others for your failures. Your anger seemed so real, so focused on Jarod, so… potent that even I believed you’re willingness to bring the pretender back at all costs. But now we know better, don’t we, sis?”
She saw her death in his eyes and for a brief moment she wondered if anyone would know how and when she had died. As that thought registered she knew that Jarod would know Regret rose like bile in her throat and her eyes burned with unshed tears. Just another death to add to Jarod’s guilt pile but this time it would be different. Her death would be the one that will finally break his will, his courage and strength. It would allow the Centre to rebuild him in their image. She needed to survive, for Jarod’s sake.
Only seconds had passed since Lyle spoke but if had felt like minutes. She took a deep breath and said stonily, “Thumbs up for that observation, Lyle. I’m sure your exemplary track record is a shining example to us all.”
Lyle’s eyes gleamed dangerously and she knew she had gone too far when she heard the safety click off. “Well well, Parker, you think you know all the right buttons to push, don’t you? You're unarmed, at my mercy. And yet you still persist in hiding behind that trademark sarcasm of yours. Not so smart when you don't have a gun to back it up, is it?” He playfully shook his head at her, “Naughty –”
She lifted her chin, her features carefully arranged in a mask of indifference. Lyle bored the gun a little deeper into her skin. His breath was warm and uncomfortably close as he continued, “– Parker. What are you going to do now?” Lyle said, mocking her hope, “Make a dash for the door?”
“What do you want?” she asked quietly and forcing herself not to snap back an appropriate response.
“I think I’ve been down this road before with Jarod. Want to know what I told lover boy?”
“Let me guess, world peace?”
“There you go again, Parker. That sarcasm of yours isn’t helping you out. I can always have this conversation with Jarod after I put a bullet in your head.”
She forced herself to meet his eyes and willed moisture into her mouth. Lyle had her and they both knew it.
“If you wanted me dead you would have pulled the trigger the moment you walked in that door. So, what do you want, Lyle?” she said.
“I want your cooperation.”
“You have it.” It was the only answer she could give and Lyle knew it.
It wasn’t the first time somebody related to the Centre has risen from the ashes like the proverbial phoenix, Sydney thought silently as he checked the monitors that stood beside the bed. He had survived the Centre for a lot longer than most and he had thought he’d be immune to its machinations. He was wrong.
When he had arrived at the Centre, they had taken him to a room in one of the many sublevels and allowed him to dress. No one had spoken since they had left his house and he had not asked. And then they had taken him to see Lyle who was seated behind the Chairman’s desk, a smug grin playing on his features. He had listened while the sociopath had explained his role to him and had wisely kept his thoughts to himself.
Sydney adjusted the oxygen mask against Jarod’s face. His prodigy had broken both of the lower bones in his arm and two ribs, all on the left side. His body temperature had been dangerously low. Even now it was just barely in range of his core body temperature. Bruises and scrapes covered the rest of his body. The scar on his left cheek stood out visibly against the pallor of his skin and reminded Sydney of the raw wound that had been there not so long ago.
“Sydney.” Jarod’s voice was just a whisper but it was lucid. He shifted his gaze and saw that Jarod’s eyes were open and focused on him.
“How are you feeling?” Sydney asked, aware of the stupidity of the question even as he spoke. The Centre has never cared how Jarod felt, only that he did what he was told. He pushed back his own memories and guilt. Now was not the time.
Jarod’s breath clouded against the oxygen mask before the pretender reached upwards and removed the mask. Sydney thought about protesting and then decided again it.
It was just like Jarod to ignore his own pain and focus on her first. Lyle had not told him what had happened except that Jarod was back and so was Miss Parker. And that he was to give no indication that Miss Parker was anything but loyal to the Centre. Aware of Lyle’s earlier threats and with the camera focused on him and the occupant in the bed, he said, “She’s in her office. She has asked to be notified when you woke.”
Jarod frowned and Sydney could see the confusion in his eyes.
“What is there to understand, Jarod?” Lyle entered the room smoothly, a smile of triumph on his face, tugging at his glove. It was the red one today. He wears his missing thumb like a trophy, Sydney thought, like a war hero of old. He really is insane.
“Where is she? What have you done with her?”
Lyle turned his gaze to Sydney, the familiar tilt of his head strengthening his allusion of puzzlement. “Boy wonder seems a tad confused, Syd.”
Jarod struggled upward, his face edged with pain and fear but underneath those layers, Sydney saw determination and anger. Jarod opened his mouth and then hesitated when a familiar figure entered the room and came to a standstill beside Lyle.
“Jarod,” Miss Parker said with a fake smile, her make-up flawless, and her mini as short as ever. She looked like she had never left, like the past three months had never happened. Panic and anguish flashed across Jarod’s face in as many seconds before his eyes settled from Parker’s to Lyle.
“What have you done to her, Lyle?” His voice was dangerously low and Sydney knew that Jarod would kill Lyle without batting an eyelid.
“What makes you think Lyle has done anything to me, Jarod?” Miss Parker asked, drawing the pretender’s attention back to her. Jarod didn’t say anything, only watched as she rounded the bed and came to a standstill by his arm. “Do you even remember what happened the last time I saw you?”
“Do you?” Jarod asked matter-of-factly, before focusing his gaze on Lyle. “I’m impressed, Lyle. The Centre has really outdone itself. What was it? Memory suppression? Black mail? Well, I’m not buying it.”
“Sydney, I thought you had explained the events leading up to his return to him.” Lyle said.
“I was about to before you walked in.” Not waiting for Lyle’s approval, he turned to Jarod. “You were in a car accident, Jarod. You had been in coma for the past two weeks.”
Disclaimer: See Chapter 1
Thank you for the reviews and Terra for doing a superb job on the Beta thing
“The true casualties of war are always the innocent,” Jarod stated calmly.
“War. Is that what this is? He had four children and a wife. I just can't help but feel responsible.” And it was true, as much as any of her feelings made sense these past few days.
“We're all responsible. But not for this. This is the brake line from Miller's car. It was cut. Deliberately.”
“Someone sabotaged it?”
“Ron Miller was a good cop. He was just trying to find the truth behind Thomas' murder. That's why he and Dawson were silenced. So that ...”
“So that no tracks would lead back to the Centre.”
“That is what they do. They kill anyone who's remotely interested in the truth. And then they take away the people that we love the most.”
“Why?” Miss Parker asked tiredly.
“To control us. To use us to do their dirty work. For me it was my parents, my brother. For you, your mother. And now Thomas. You ever wonder how a man in prison got his hands on pharmaceutical grade morphine? I do.”
“How do I stop them?”
“With the truth.”
“You were in a car accident, Jarod. You’ve been in coma for the past two weeks”
For one brief, eternal moment Jarod could only stare at Sydney while the words echoed inside his mind. He knew it was a lie.But he couldn’t find anything in his mentor’s body language to help him. He closed his eyes, focusing on the last memory he had of Parker as they made love in front of the fireplace. He had tangible memories of the way her skin tasted when he kissed her, of the warmth of the fire on his own skin, the way her body moved with his…
A touch on his arm shocked him back to the present. Sydney was watching him, with something close to concern in his eyes. Jarod shifted under his scrutiny while surreptitiously glancing across the bed at Parker. Something was dreadfully wrong. Her body language screamed Daddy’s girl. Ice Queen. Huntress. Not at all the picture of what he remembered of her when he had left her in the house and prayed she got away. How long ago was that? A day? A week?
He snapped his eyes back to Sydney and said, “That’s a lie, Sydney and you know it.” Sydney didn’t say anything, didn’t defend his statement. Like he didn’t need to? Squashing the feeling of dread that was leaving a hole in his stomach, he turned his gaze back to Parker. He didn’t care that Lyle was in the room, or for that matter that the Centre was once again recording all he was doing for their posterity.
“You know what we have. Don’t let Lyle or the Centre take that away from us. Don’t let them win. We can beat this, you just have to trust me, please Parker.”
It sounded desperate, like a drowning man grasping at straws. Not the way he had envisioned the words to come out.
I’ll protect you. He thought silently and at the same time wondered how. He didn’t want to think about the possibility that he has already failed her.
“I don’t know what you think happened between us, Jarod,” she said softly, pity mirrored in her eyes, belying the harshness of her next words, “but we have nothing and never will. The last time we met you tried to do a Houdini except you didn’t reckon on the car that hit you at 30 miles an hour. You barely survived. As soon as you were stabilised you were brought back to the Centre where you’ve been in a coma for two weeks. Nothing sinister in any of these events, Jarod”
Each word sliced into his soul and left him bleeding and numb. He had expected defiance, lit into twin fires as she stood against Lyle and the Centre. All he got was more Centre lies.
“That’s not what happened,” he whispered forcefully.
“What is it you think happened Jarod because I’m sure as hell clueless? Is this some kind of sick fantasy that I’m supposed to be part of? Well, I’m not playing.”
“This is no game, Parker,” Jarod said solemnly, eyes only for her. “You mean to tell me that this is still November and my memories are all just my imagination?” And as he asked it, he wondered why he bothered. But he had to try, had to search for a glimmer of acknowledgement in her eyes that they shared the same recollections and that the Centre was just once again playing mind games with him.
All I need is one clue, Parker. Just one. Please…….
“It’s December, rat boy and I still have no idea what memories you’re talking about.” Her eyes met Sydney. “Are you sure his brain wasn’t scrambled in the accident, Syd?”
“The MRI did not indicate any damage to his hippocampus or left parietal lobe. It appeared that his short and long term memory were intact. But it’s not uncommon for coma patients to create memories to fill in the lapse and then believe that they were real. It’s a defence mechanism to cope with the anxiety of having a discrete passage of time without control over it.”
It was the way Sydney said it. Like he was just another subject to study, to analyze, nothing special. That he didn’t matter to Sydney, that their relationship was anything but strictly mentor and student. The familiar feeling of dealing with Sydney’s indifference made him choke out his denial and the fact that his memories are real.
“Jarod.” Sydney admonished, pushing the pretender back down on his pillows. “We’ll talk about this later. You’ve only just woken and coming out of a coma is traumatic for anyone – including you.”
Jarod ignored Sydney. Ignored Lyle who had stood silently gloating through it all. He focused all his energy and attention on her. He caught her wrist in his hand and before she had time to resist, he pulled her down, her ear beside his mouth.
“I know what’s real.”
She didn’t acknowledge his words, didn’t indicate that she had even heard him. She yanked her hand out of his grip and straightened, her eyes darkening in anger; an emotion that he was so familiar with. Try as he might, he could see nothing of what they had shared in her eyes. And insidiously, he wasn’t so sure anymore. But he had been so certain. Could his memories really be the result of projection? Dreams he created in his mind? Or not?
“Jarod, just let it go,” Miss Parker stated quietly. It was the way she said it that finally slipped through his defences. He felt tears burning behind his eyes, as a hole the size of his heart was carved into his chest. He didn’t want to believe, didn’t want to see her like this. Not like this
A strange mix of confusion and fear washed through Jarod, as he looked at Sydney and back again at Parker. He started to protest once more, but a firm hand from Sydney and he subsided, almost visibly deflating against the pillows. He watched silently as Parker left with Lyle, not even giving him a backwards glance. This can’t be happening.
And then he was alone with Sydney. Deeply sighing, he turned his back on Sydney and on the camera and curled up. After his mentor called his name for a second time, he tiredly told him that he wanted to be left alone.
He was paralysed by the thought that all that he had experienced was a lie. That Sydney and Parker had spoken the truth. That all his memories of them was as insubstantial as ghosts.
She had never hated herself more than at the moment she had stood by Jarod’s bed and had told him in so many words to back off. As they were in the hallway, Lyle had grabbed her arm and gave her another reminder, as well as, warning of what she had promised.
She had been too numb to reply. Too shaken by the Centre’s cruelty and what her role had been. Lyle had taken her directly to the Tower, where two Centre sweepers had waited. And here she was, sitting in front of the Director, palms sweaty as thoughts of more cruelty they could inflict on Jarod ran through her mind.
“No one leaves the Centre, Miss Parker, unless,” the Director paused for effect, smiling and with empty eyes adding, “well, unless they’re dead or on their way to Africa.”
Miss Parker didn’t reply. Any answer would be superfluous and would be seen as insubordinate. What the Tower wants, it gets. No questions asked. She was fairly certain that they didn’t want her dead, since Lyle had hinted as much with his earlier actions in her cell. But you can never be too careful. Her father was the only one she had heard of who had ever returned after being summoned to the Tower.
“Your father isn’t here to protect you anymore, Miss Parker.”
Which one? Miss Parker wondered tiredly. Not that Raines ever had the inclination to protect anyone but himself. At least the man she had thought to be her father did, even if it was for his own ulterior motives.
She was just so damn tired of all the secrets and lies.
“It’s unfortunate the scrolls were lost at sea. Your mother had understood their significance better than your father ever had. It was regrettable that she had betrayed the Centre. Because of her actions, she had been deemed a threat and as such, appropriate action was taken.
She sat, frozen at the callousness of the words, uttered without any emotion what-so-ever. It seemed so surreal, that the Director was discussing her mother’s cold blooded murder. She thought about protesting, about retaliating, about saying something inappropriate enough that would probably get her killed and put an end to all of this.
Then she thought about Jarod. And like the past five minutes, she said nothing, did nothing but sit there and take it.
“Since you were born, your destiny has always been linked to the Centre - you and Jarod together,” the older woman asserted and this time she paused and waited. Miss Parker’s mouth went dry as the ramifications of those words ran through her mind.
They wouldn’t dare….would they?
She chose her words carefully, aware of the consequences of getting it wrong. Just as with Lyle earlier, she asked the Director what she wanted her to do.
And, just as with Lyle, she loathed the answer.
She was stunned, when she saw her office. All the items she knew she had stored away were back in their usual places as if she’d never left. Except for the sweeper at the door, it all seemed like another normal day at the Centre – like nothing had changed. A stack of folders were the only thing out of place. Pouring herself a good measure of scotch, she took the tumbler with its contents to her desk. She didn’t take a seat; that would have seemed too normal. Hugging herself tightly, she stood in front of the window. It looked out on the bay where she could see the water breaking against the beachShe wondered what they’d do if she took her own life. If Jarod would ever forgive her if he ever found out why she’d committed such a desperate and final act.
“Don’t give up, Parker.”
She took a deep breath. It was as if Tommy was standing just behind her, his scent elusive. She vividly remembered it as musky, with a tinge of sandalwood mixed somewhere in between. Closing her eyes, she leaned her head against the glass.
“Don’t let them rule your life Parker.”
I don’t know what to do. Even admitting it to herself was hard. Feather soft, she felt his fingers curl around hers. There was an ache that wouldn’t release her, that clutched her heart. She was helpless and powerless to do anything.
“This isn’t you, Parker. Jarod needs you.”
What about me? What about what I need? I don’t know how to fix this. She turned around, her back against the cool glass. Not giving a damn about appearances anymore, she slowly she slid down until she was curled against the wall. She had never felt this helpless before. At long last, tears streamed down her face, escaping from under her closed lashes.
“Shhh, it’s okay, Parker. I’m always here for you.”
I can’t go through this again. She imagined Tommy’s strong and comforting arms enfolding her protectively. His flannel shirt caressing her face. Another sob spontaneously escaped. The image of Tommy slumped against her house still haunted her dreams. She didn’t want the image replaced with Jarod’s.
“You know very well they’ve always underestimated you, Parker.”
She smiled warmly and for now, her grief was defused. This time it had been Jarod’s voice juxtaposed, as the ghost of Tommy smiled with her and added in his own voice, “Jarod’s right, Parker. Trust him.” And then he was gone, just like before. She rose, made her way towards the desk and took up the forgotten scotch. The golden liquid swirled in the glass and as she tasted the fiery liquid, and then downed it, she felt hope building inside her. Strengthening her. A plan started to take hold, still unformed, but there nonetheless. Jarod had told her once – when she had been hurt and dying inside – how to stop the Centre.
All she needed now was to find a way to use that knowledge to their advantage.
My muse got inspired by all the reviews. ;-) Thanks. Looks like this is going in another direction than I originally planned, but that probably means I won’t finish in the next two chapters like I set out to do. Thank you to Terra for doing the Beta thing. You did promise to do it for life. ;-)
“There’s nowhere left to go, Alex.”
Alex turned at his voice, frustration evident in his posture. He glanced down at the water and back at Jarod; his intent and resolve clear. “Well, there’s one place.”
Clearly not liking what he had implied, Jarod stretched out his hand and said, “Come back in. What was done to you, what was done to me was inexcusable but it’s not worth dying for.” In reply Alex looked down again as Jarod continued to plead, “Let me help you.”
“Now why would you want to help me?”
“I have a flaw in my character, remember.”
“It doesn’t’ have to end this way.”
“You don’t know what you’re saying, Jarod.”
“I know that there’s always hope. Always!”
“There’s no hope for me. Or for you. Do you have any idea what they would do to me if they got me back? Do you even know why they want you back so much, why they’ve been chasing you for 5 years. You don’t really think it’s about being a pretender, do you?”
“What are you talking about?”
Alex laughed and then said, “You have no idea who you really are.”
Jarod clearly didn’t like the other pretender’s assertions. Even less when Alex asked, “Did you find your mom yet?”
“They’re never gonna let that happen.”
“And they thought you were the smart one.” Alex stepped back and slipped, arms flailing, he fell through the gap in the railing. He managed to grab onto Jarod and the floor of the grating.
“I’ve got you,” Jarod said.
“No Jarod, if you save me, you win. If I fall, only you lose.”
Jarod couldn’t help but scream his denial, as he watched Alex let go, knowing that with him fell all the answers he needed.
The air-conditioned room was situated underground on sublevel 5. It was richly decorated, the boardroom table a deep mahogany, with matching leather chairs. There was only one entrance with guards standing attentively outside the room. It was soundproof and regularly swept for eavesdropping and digital devices.
At the head of the table sat an old man. He wore an Armani suit, his tie a garish yellow against the backdrop of his white shirt. He was almost bald, his ears ringed by wispy white hair. Age-spotted hands rested on the table, folded comfortably in front of him.
Kittycorner to him on either side sat a man and woman, both of African decent. Dlamini surreptitiously wiped the sweat from his forehead. He glanced at the woman across from him. The old man had placed the wedding rings in the middle of the table; they gleamed in the light, not unlike his tie. It reminded the Triumvirate member of a series of books he had once read. Something about a ring that will rule all. That had been fantasy.
This wasn’t. The scrolls had been clear on that aspect of the prophecy. Even if the rest had been garbled and twisted.
Mr Parker had failed to keep his daughter in check. Had failed in cleansing her from her mother’s emotionally fraught influence. And the Pretender’s. If Mr Parker wasn’t already dead…
The old man’s attention was drawn to Nkosisana when she cleared her throat and said hopefully, “We have their rings. That should be enough evidence, shouldn’t it?”
Dlamini shifted in his seat uneasily. He was young, only forty five and wouldn’t have been here if not for his predecessor’s untimely demise. Adama had died under suspicious circumstances and the “story” that Raines told had for some strange reason been accepted without question by the older man. This behaviour, however, was not that which got him to the rise in power he now enjoyed. Dlamini had his private thoughts on the matter but he never voiced them, aware of what the other man was capable of when doubted.
When no one else said anything, the woman restated her previous words, “They got married.”
Even though he had heard it before, an icy feeling crept down Dlamini’s spine at the ramifications.
“We know, but all is not lost. Miss Parker has her instructions; and given her success, we won’t have to concern ourselves with their earlier…ah… indiscretions.” The most senior member of the Triumvirate said evenly, his gaze shifting between Dlamini and the woman. As far as Dlamini was aware, no-one except the two members of the Triumvirate had ever met the man that now occupied the seat in front of him.
“But the scrolls…” Nkosisana started to protest.
“…are buried at sea and not relevant anymore,” the older man cut her off.
Dlamini gathered his courage. Even though he had destroyed and killed ruthlessly to ascend the Triumvirate hierarchy, the man at the head of the table petrified him. Still, things needed to be discussed and said
“Really?” the youngest member said. Choosing to ignore the warning glance the woman threw him, he continued, “If that is true, why is the Centre trying to convince the Pretender that he never got romantically involved with Parker?” Indicating the rings, he continued, “Why do we have the rings?”
“It never hurts to cover all our bases,” the white man said, his dark eyes watching him with ancient menace.
Dlamini refused to back down, throwing caution to the wind. “Then what the scrolls say is true?”
“Not necessarily,” the older man said, his voice cold and thin and sharp. “They are like Nostradamus’ predictions…open to interpretation. That fool Adama chose to believe in them and it got him killed in the end. I will not have the Triumvirate or the Centre teeter on self-destruction because of the legacy the scrolls proclaims.”
Dlamini swallowed visibly, conscious that he may have already crossed a thin line. But he hadn’t gotten here by staying silent either. It was the proverbial fine line. So, he asked the question that had been burning inside him since he had joined the inner circle and had learned about the scrolls.
“Then the prophecies are real?”
Prehistoric evil stared back at him, holding him fast and sucking all the courage from his body. He had no doubt anymore as to why the old man was still in charge, still alive.
He never did get an answer to his question.
Jarod woke by his own scream, sounds of his nightmare still echoing in his mind. His head snapped up from the pillow, his eyes shot open and he stared blankly at the wall in front of him. His heart thudded in his chest while his breathing was ragged and harsh in the silence of his cell.
Just a dream, he reasoned.
Jarod placed his arm over his eyes, waiting for the last dregs of the nightmare to fade away. It had seemed so real. He swallowed against the lingering fear as he sat up, feeling the sheets pull against his damp skin. In a morbid sort of way, it had always struck him as fascinating how the events of a dream faded long before the emotions.
Parker, where are you?
The ghostly feel of his wedding band still remained, not unlike a phantom limb sensation. He wanted to believe – needed to believe – that the memories of all the experiences had been real. That his last encounter with Parker in the infirmary had all been another elaborate Centre setup. Another mind game to break down his defences.
He remembered clearly the day after - when Lyle had visited him.
He woke to find that he was alone. Even though he had somehow expected it, it still hurt to know that Sydney hadn’t stayed with him. He wasn’t a child anymore yet he still craved the false security and safety that his mentor symbolized. Without Sydney there, he felt vulnerable. Exposed.
Bad things always happened to him in the Centre when Sydney was gone.
He turned his head and stared at the camera which was focused on his bed. Maybe this time, Sydney’s absence will be temporary?
Footsteps echoed and then the familiar figure of Lyle entered the room. Jarod shifted higher, grimacing when his ribs flared in protest.
Parker didn’t appear behind Lyle like he hoped she would.
“Where is she? I want to see her.”
Lyle lifted one eyebrow, tilting his head, watching him with intent. “Where is who?”
“You know very well who I mean – my wife, Parker.”
“She’s probably in her office” Lyle informed him, his smile a twitch at the corners of his mouth. “You’re not going to see her for a long while yet, Jarod. Until you are deemed well enough to do simulations, Sydney and I’ll be the only people you see.”
Lyle studied him silently and when Jarod didn’t speak, he added, “You’re delusional Jarod. She’ll never be yours; she’s made that clear and I must say the look on your face was priceless, when she did so. She belongs to the Centre. Always has, always will.”
And then Lyle left, leaving him alone with his increasing nightmares and perseverative thoughts of all the possibilities why Parker had acted the way she did.
A small part of him continued to resist what the Centre was trying to do. He treasured his memories of Parker.
He would close his eyes and he’d see her again, radiant against the backdrop of winter. Her hair smelled of summer, rich colours that swam through his senses until he was drunk on their scent. He’d reach out and touch her skin, gliding his fingers across the soft satin of the canvas that was her body. He’d feel wind caress their bodies and then he’d lean down, kissing his dream-bride, tasting her all over again.
He’d never forget his first kiss at the jetty. It was one of his strongest memories and he held it up as a shield against Lyle’s manipulations.
His weariness was a dark encompassing cloud that clung ominously and would not let go. He fought the urge to close his eyes lest the nightmares return. However, he was so exhausted in body and mind, he finally succumbed to sleep.
The recurrent nightmare surfaced instantly, as he watched in utter numbness as Lyle stood behind Parker and pulled the trigger. Jarod watched her eyes register shock, then pain as she collapsed at his feet. Her life bled out of her as Lyle laughed, holding the smoking gun at his side.
It felt like a dream and as if it really had happened at the same time
No…..Don’t leave me, Parker. Please.
He thrashed and fought to come awake and afterward he laid sweating and gasping in the dark. Even though he was awake, her eyes still haunted him.
Maybe his memories weren’t real.
Maybe his dream of them was all he had.
All he wanted to do was talk to her, be alone with her and find out the truth. But all he had was Lyle and Sydney. And his fears.
Despair washed over him and he wept.
Her heart pounded in her ears, her palms were sweaty, her breath shallow as she took the gun from the sweeper sitting next to her. Sleep eluded her the night before. She had never imagined herself participating in this hunt, not even when she had been hell bent on catching Jarod.
Now she had no choice.
Bitterly, she cursed the Centre. Once more the Centre was ruining any chance at happiness for both her and Jarod. And what the Director had asked her dwarfed anything she had done in the past. It tore at her soul but if she faltered now, Jarod would be lost.
She couldn’t let that happen.
Their current location was the first clue they had managed to find since she had started on the Director’s mad quest. It had been pure dumb luck even then that they had found the address.
Gripping the gun firmly to keep her hand from trembling, she checked her gun like an automaton as the car crept up the gravel driveway to the farm house nestled between some evergreen trees. She could hear the crunch of the wheels against the silence of the surrounding area. The house appeared empty in the moonlight.
Please, please let no one be inside.
The car coasted to a standstill. They waited for the signal that the second sweeper team under Lyle’s direction was in position.
“One minute, Parker,” Lyle said in her earpiece, intruding on her thoughts. She took a deep breath before exiting the car and making her way to the front door. Willie was a dark presence right behind her, a constant reminder, not so subtle that she was still under the Centre’s scrutiny. Her freedom of movement was illusionary at best.
One of the sweepers on her team jimmied the lock open. She entered quickly with her gun aimed at chest level; crouching against the wall, her eyes and body swept the room. There was nothing there to indicate that anyone had lived here for the past two weeks. Hope flirted with her while she moved deeper into the house and took the stairs. Her senses were on high alert; the presence of the sweepers behind her was palpable
Just maybe she would be lucky for a change and they’d find no-one.
The gun heavy in her hand, she slipped into the first of the rooms on the top floor, while the sweepers headed for the adjacent doors. The curtains were slightly open, allowing a sliver of moonlight to enter. There was enough illumination for her to see a figure slumped over the papers that lay haphazardly across the surface of the desk.
As silently as possible, she closed the door behind her and locked it. It wasn’t enough, she knew. The sweepers could break it down with one good kick but it would buy her time, even if a little. Twisting the ear piece out, she dropped it into the pocket of her jacket, hoping it would be enough to ensure that her betrayal wouldn’t be noticed until it’s too late.
For a moment, she braced herself, asking for strength from deep inside. Her course was set and she could only hope that Jarod would one day understand why she did what she had to do. That she had to protect him no matter the cost to herself. Drawing herself up proudly, she opened her eyes, in control once again.
The soft click as she locked the door must’ve woken her former target for when she looked back at the desk, the woman was awake, her eyes glistening dark in the moonlight. Putting a finger to her lips, Miss Parker pressed her ear against the door. No sound except her own heartbeat.
Satisfied, that for the moment they were as safe as they possibly could be, with Lyle and the sweepers searching the other rooms, she made her way to the desk and the silent woman.
“Is there another way out of here?” Miss Parker asked softly, aware of the tension and frightened gaze that had darted from her drawn gun to the closed door and finally settled on Miss Parker in recognition.
“How did you find me?”
“That’s not important now,” she whispered back, “you have to get out of here before my idiot brother decides to investigate where I’ve gone.”
“Why are you doing this?” the woman asked softly, as she started to gather the papers before placing them in a large bag which Miss Parker had not noticed until then.
The sound of a doorknob being turned stopped her from saying anything. Ignoring the startled look from the woman, Miss Parker quickly grabbed a chair and pushed it against the door. Not that it would do much good, but at least she’d know she had damn well tried, Miss Parker thought.
“Parker, open the door.”
In answer to Lyle’s command she flicked the safety off her gun. There was no going back now.
Jarod, please understand why I did this.
She brought her gun up in one fluid motion when the door shuddered. Her makeshift barricade held for another ten seconds and then the door flew open, propelled by a kick and she fired, point blank at the first sweeper’s body. He went down without a sound, crashing against the chair that lay sideways on the floor in front of the doorway. She saw the second sweeper line up his gun but he was too slow. She shot him in the knee. He staggered back into the third sweeper and that probably saved her life. His shot went wild, thudding into the far wall even as she dove for the floor. She heard Lyle shouting commands and then the doorway was clear, except for the first sweeper that was still sprawled across the chair, unconscious or dead.
“I guess you found her, Parker. That’s the only reason why you’re suddenly so protective.”
She didn’t reply. Watched the doorway like a hawk for any indication that Lyle was sending his sweepers to try again. He’d never go first. That much she knew for certain even while she longed to put a bullet in his head.
“You only have three bullets left, Sis. You can’t possibly think that you’ll get away with this. Give up now and I might consider letting you live.”
There’s that. She smiled grimly and then the next wave of sweepers crashed into the doorway.
Disclaimer: See Chapter 1
Thank you for the reviews. Also thank you to Terra and Manoline for doing the Beta thing.
Just like me
The divider showed just enough of her body to draw his attention to it. A moment later he averted his eyes when she emerged, wrapping the robe tightly around her. Ignoring the sudden feel of tension in the air, he said, “It’s not exactly the monk’s brandy but Ocee says it’s good for emotional upheaval.”
“Can she back a truckload of it up to my house?”
Jarod sighed, placing the tea on a small table. “Let the storm rage outside, Miss Parker, not inside you.”
“Easy for you to say, Jarod. A graveyard full of Parkers burned to death by their father, my great-grandfather… the same year my great-grandfather arrived, alone, and founded the Centre. Generation after generation. That evil…has been passed down to me.”
“You know who you are.”
“I’m a Parker and with every new revelation in my life, my family portrait becomes a more hideous picture.”
She sat down before the fire place, watching as Jarod picked up her forgotten cup of tea and brought it over. She sighed.
“Do you remember when we were kids, that night that I snuck you into my father’s office?”
“You said if I were really a genius that I would help you figure out where your father hid the present he bought you on his business trip. And later you found it exactly where I said it would be,” he uttered with his trademark smirk.
“Yeah. Only it wasn’t. I just told you it was because I was so disappointed. My father lied about buying it. The pathetic part is that I’ve been searching for that gift from Daddy ever since.”
“Your father, the Centre – manipulation is what they do. The only present they ever left us with was emptiness.”
“All those Parker graves out there go way beyond empty. Which brings me back to wondering…”
“Who it is you really are?”
“I don’t know now if I ever really want to know.”
“Yes. Yes, you do.”
Miss Parker clutched the robe with both hands. A moment later Jarod folded a blanket around her shoulders. Their fingers touched and she froze before pulling the blanket even tighter around her body.
“The Centre wants us to believe that finding the truth is a mistake. That looking for answers about who we really are is futile and finding any kind of connection outside their control is wrong.” Jarod paused briefly, watching her face tense, knowing he had hit a sore spot. “I know you don’t want to hear this, but you can feel it. You’ve been a Centre prisoner all these years, just like me. And with every discovery you find, you’re every bit the outcast.” Miss Parker turned watching him as he said, “Just like me.”
“Why is it that the one person that I’ve been trained to distrust, to hate, to capture…is always with me during the most difficult moments of my life.”
“Maybe it’s supposed to be that way.”
And a timeless moment later, they started to lean towards each other for their first promise of a kiss.
Jarod’s cell, The Centre
He awoke again in the slow, aimless hours between midnight and morning. It was something more diffuse than nightmares that woke him, an inkling that something was impossibly wrong. He sat up, glancing at the closed door first before looking at the red blinking light of the camera. He couldn’t pinpoint the sense of his trepidation and it frustrated him.
Sighing, he lay back down and closed his eyes, willing the uncomfortable feeling to go away. A moment later he drifted back to sleep.
Somewhere in Virginia
She heard him whisper her name. She closed her eyes, feeling his lips moving along her cheek. A short intake of breath escaped involuntarily when his lips touched hers and then his tongue was inside her and she tasted him. There was a hint of cherry mixed with coffee. And as the kiss deepened she smelled the rain, felt the wind tuck at their clothes.
Miss Parker was at peace. A deep pervasive calm had settled inside her, something she had not experienced in years. She couldn’t explain it, couldn’t justify it. By rights she should’ve been terrified, knowing what the Centre and more importantly, Lyle was capable of doing.
After all, the chances that she was going to die were almost certain.
She fought with desperation, knowing that in the end, it might not be enough. The bodies of the sweepers she had killed surrounded her, their blood splattered across her face and body.
Her gun empty, she had used it as a club with precision and cold calculation measured in each stroke.
“What’s your name…you’re first name?”
A moment later she was there, whispering it in his ear.
She felt a rib crack. Grunted. Swung away from the second fist she saw coming, her arm snapping upwards to block it.
“You know, girls mature faster than boys.”
She staggered, went down. Saw the foot coming and somehow managed to roll away before forcing herself to her feet again. Blood dripped from a cut in her eyebrow and she wiped at it with irritation. And then they were on her again…
“You’re a… girl.”
She was weightless for a moment and then the she impacted with the wall. She collapsed to the floor, nearly blacking out from the impact. She gasped for breath and struggled up again, tightening her grip on the gun, surprised that she hadn’t lost it yet. There was blood and dust in her eyes and she could barely see. She caught movement to her right and turned, slashing with arms that were almost too tired to lift her makeshift club.
“My name is Jarod. What is your name?”
A forearm hammered into her face with such force that she was knocked sprawling and dazed. Heavy limbs pounded. Fiery pain lanced down her body. She felt her right arm go numb. She could tell something tore inside her as a heavy foot connected to her stomach, forcing already non-existent air further out of her body.
She looked towards her father and when he gave his consent, she turned back to the wall and said, “Miss Parker.”
She struggled to rise but found that her legs were not working. Blood pounded loud in her ears and she couldn’t even make it to her knees. She was aware of voices that surrounded her, of vague images and feelings of dread and despair and hopelessness.
His eyes dark with passion looked at her with possession and she found that she didn’t mind it at all. He cupped her face, bringing his own closer and he kissed her.
She didn’t have strength left to fight anymore. And as her world faded to nothingness, she whispered his name. She swore she felt his lips on hers, tender soft against the bruises and blood, kissing all her hurt away.
Jarod’s cell, The Centre
Jarod stared at the wall, his breathing fast, his body dripping with sweat. The sense of foreboding had deepened and what was worse, it all centered on one person.
He thought he had heard her whisper his name, had heard her tell him that she loved him. He could still feel the warmth from the fire that danced in the fireplace, could still smell her, could still see her smile, her eyes soft and filled with tenderness he’d rarely seen in her.
The feeling of dread wouldn’t leave him.
Somewhere in Virginia
“You were right. She did exactly as was predicted.”
“And you were ready?”
“Do you have both in custody?”
“We have Jarod’s mother fairly unharmed.”
“What about Miss Parker?”
“Mr. Lyle, are you there? Is Miss Parker still alive? Answer me!”
“She resisted; we had to use force.”
“I don’t want to hear your excuses, Mr. Lyle. I want to know if she is still alive.”
“They’re working on her now,” he said flippantly. “I sent for a helicopter to take us directly back to the Centre. Have the medical team standing by. I’ll personally deliver Margaret to your office.”
Margaret exited the helicopter slowly, ignoring Lyle’s hand. It must’ve been close to 35 years since she had been here last. Since that night she had come here, hoping for closure. Hoping to find her son. And failing. Tears slid silently down her cheeks and she wiped them away quickly, not wanting to appear weak even though she felt her stomach rebelling at the thought of being back inside the Centre.
She had kept her side of the bargain.
Why did they want her here? Why now.
She followed Lyle to a door set in the concrete and as she entered the Centre she remembered a similar time, so long ago…
“Oh God, Catherine, he’s gone.”
“Who? Is it Charles?”
“No, it’s Jarod. He’s taken my little boy, Cat. I…I can’t….”
“Margaret, listen to me. We’ll get him. Okay, we’ll get him back. Where are you now?”
“I’m here, in Blue Cove. I’m going to get him back. I have to….”
“Wait, where are you? Let me come and get you, we’ll go in together. Maybe I’ll be able to help?”
“Uh, I’m outside the bank. I left Charles at the farmstead. He…he doesn’t know I’m here. You…you have to promise me you won’t tell him. Please, Cat. Please promise me.”
“Okay, I promise. Just wait for me, okay. Don’t do anything stupid.”
It was Catherine that had stopped her from falling apart completely. She knew why this had happened, why her little boy had been taken from her. She had her suspicions when Jarod had been tested by NuGenesis but had hoped that they’d be left alone because of the promise she had made to him. And because of the promise, she had thought her family safe from his attention. From his insanity. She knew then with certainty that nothing in her life would ever be safe again; that it would be forever changed by the knowledge of what her little boy’s disappearance meant. And Charles hadn’t known about her past. He had asked once and she had told him that it didn’t matter because she didn’t want him to know. She had told him that she had no family even though that had been a lie.
She looked up from where she had been sitting on the steps. Catherine’s worried gaze met hers and she started to sob, unable to hold her fear and grief at bay. Catherine sat down next to her, pulling her into her arms as she cried, her eyes stinging with tears. But she couldn’t be comforted, not with the knowledge she had. She willed herself to stop crying and took a deep breath, wiping at the tears and moving away from Catherine’s embrace.
“I have to find him. I need your help to get him away from there.”
She didn’t meet Catherine’s eyes, kept staring at her shoes while she tried to imagine feeling Jarod’s arms around her again. Her little boy.
“I’ll ask my husband about Jarod. Maybe he’ll know if Jarod…”
“No!” Catharine shrank away from her forceful reply, surprise etched into her widened eyes as Margaret turned and grabbed her hands, holding on tightly. She knew she was hurting her friend, but she needed that lifeline, needed it to feel grounded. Needed it like she never had before.
“I want us to go there now. I want my little boy back.”
“Margaret, he might not even be there.”
“Don’t say that! He’s there. I know it. I can feel it,” Margaret pleaded, knowing that she sounded desperate; sounded like a mother clutching at straws. Dammit. She was allowed some feelings. This was her son.
“Okay, but you’ll have to trust me, Margaret. I’ll have to smuggle you inside and I don’t know if I can do it alone. Maybe we should contact Jacob. He’ll know where Jarod is.”
“He’s one of them. I can’t trust him. Not with Jarod. We have to do this. I know you’ll get me in. Please Cat, please do this for me.”
“Shush, okay, Margaret, we’ll do it your way.”
They left less than a minute later, driving towards the Centre in Catherine’s Cadillac. It was a big car and she fit comfortably in the trunk, hidden underneath a rug in case the sweepers did a spot check. They made it through security at the main gate and she breathed a sigh of relief even though she knew only the easiest part of her mission was completed.
Catherine parked underground, away from the ever present cameras; they entered the building unnoticed.
“Do you know where they would be keeping him?”
She was suddenly frightened that they’d come all this way and that Catherine wouldn’t know. She had somehow assumed that her friend would guide her right towards the room where her boy was kept, that she’d know how to get there. Catherine nodded hesitantly and Margaret closed her eyes briefly, lifting up a prayer that it would be true. They wandered through dank corridors, up and down empty concrete hallways with dim lighting every few feet. She didn’t want to think about her baby in this place. Couldn’t think of it.
An intermittent time later, she didn’t know how long, they stumbled upon a viewing room. It looked over a big room, at least two stories up from where the glass box in the centre of the room stood. And she saw her boy encased inside, sitting on a chair, his head resting on his arms on a table. She reached out for the glass, felt the coolness of it against her fingertips as her heart broke for her son.
She needed to go down there, needed to be with him. Needed to take him away from these people.
Because she knew all too well what they could and would do to him. She knew all too well what he was capable of.
“I thought I would find you here.”
She froze. She knew that voice but only had eyes for her little boy, knowing fully the distance that separated them might just as well have been a thousand miles.
“I’m disappointed in you both. You should’ve known better Margie, then to come here.”
“He’s my son.”
She felt the sweepers’ hands on her shoulders and tried to shrug them off. She didn’t want to leave her spot just yet; didn’t want to acknowledge the defeat that tasted like ashes in her mouth. He was standing behind her, confidant that the sweepers would keep her in check. Margaret didn’t need to turn to know that his dark eyes would be appraising her. Like he always did.
“You can’t do this…Please!” she screamedand even as she said it, she knew it would mean nothing to the man standing behind her. That nothing she’d say or do will change his mind.
“It’s done. Unless you want to see him hurt, I suggest you forget about Jarod and about the Centre. If you ever come here again, I’ll kill him in front of you.”
She turned, her rage evident, as she stared into his malevolent eyes. “You wouldn’t dare.”
“You already know what I’m capable of, Margie. What makes you think this will be any different?”
“He’s just a small child. Let him go. He can’t hurt you. He doesn’t even know about you.”
Just one word but it tore her heart in two. Her little boy. Here. NO! She couldn’t allow it. She tried to get to him, to tear him to pieces with her hands but she even failed to achieve that.
She lost her little boy to the Centre. Her greatest fear on this earth had just come to fruition.
And it was all her fault
And here she was, 35 years later and back at the monolith dedicated to the destruction of lives. This time she was with Catherine’s daughter. She gave a quick prayer for her recovery. She had tried to stop the sweepers but had been held back, forced to watch while they continued their battering. Lyle had held on to her arm with one hand, his gun pressed hard enough into her side to leave a bruise. And Catherine’s daughter had continued to fight long after even most men would’ve given up.
And she wondered as she was led down those same dank and dimly lit corridors to the Director’s office, if they’d allow her to see her son again. Even if it would be from a distance.
She could only hope.
Let me know what you think. ;-) My muse loves the feedback.
Disclaimer: See Chapter 1
Thanks go to the ladies who helped out on the chapter, Manoline, Jacci and Katie. And to the readers….nice long chapter to compensate for the long wait.
Maybe we both deserve more
“I can’t help but to imagine our mothers holding that box instead of them. I can’t help but to imagine a different ending to all of this.”
“What am I supposed to do, Jarod?”
“Only you can answer that. I just hate to see anyone miss a turning point when one is staring them right in the face.”
“And I suppose you’re going to open my eyes.”
“No, you don’t need me to do that. Only you can decide for yourself whether or not to take a hard look at your life. The way your mother once did.”
“Leave my mother out of this, okay? I am not her.”
“Then who are you? Your father? Is the Parker legacy what you want to pass on to your children?”
Jarod sighed. “Look, we’ve been through a lot together, you and me. From when we were kids at the Centre to the last couple of days. I know that rarely our allegiances are the same but I’ve always felt…I’ve always known that there’s something more to our lives than I run and you chase.”
“Maybe we do what we have to just to get by in this life, Jarod.”
“Maybe we both deserve something more.”
“Just…just forget what happened on that island. Forget that moment of weakness. Turning points only come when you’ve got something to turn to.”
Jarod leaned over and took her hand in his. Tightening his grip, he hoped that she’d finally realise his feelings, that she’d understand what he was trying to do. But she pulled her hand out of his and said, “I’m sorry this isn’t the different ending you’ve been waiting for. But it’s just the way the damn story goes, Jarod.”
He watched her exit the car and then the sweepers were there, dragging him out and past her. He managed to bring the procession to a halt and he said, “That’s the wonderful thing about life, Miss Parker. If you change the story, the ending is up to you.”
Infirmary, The Centre, Blue Cove
“Blood pressure is falling.”
“Get the paddles ready, just in case.”
“It’s okay, baby. I’m right here.”
Miss Parker allowed herself to relax, feeling her mother’s arms surround her. She felt safe and the nightmare from a moment ago was rapidly fading.
“I met a boy today.”
“Oh you did. Is he handsome like your father?”
Miss Parker giggled. “I guess. He says his name is Jarod. He looked lonely.” She felt her mother move against her but she only snuggled deeper into the safety of her mom’s arms. She rested her head against her mother’s chest, heard her heart beat and closed her eyes.
“Maybe you should make friends with Jarod?”
Without opening her eyes, she nodded. “Daddy didn’t want me to tell him my name. But I want to.”
“Maybe you can tell him tomorrow.”
Miss Parker had barely the energy to nod, her breathing already deepening to sleep. Tomorrow.
She’ll tell Jarod her name tomorrow and she’ll whisper it into his ear.
“She’s not breathing, we’ve got to intubate.”
“Shush baby, you don’t want to wake your father.”
Her eyes widened. She nodded and made her way silently across the room to where her mother sat on the coach in front of the fire place. It was cold and she had forgotten to take her dressing gown.
“What is it, honey? Another nightmare?”
She shook her head as she nestled into her mother’s arms, watching the fire dance on the logs. “Momma, why is Jarod at the Centre?”
Catherine sighed. Absently running her fingers through her daughter’s hair, she said, “Jarod is really smart, baby and that means that he can help people with his gift.”
“But doesn’t he have a family of his own.”
Catherine’s face darkened for a moment. Her daughter unaware of the emotion was still, waiting for her answer.
“Jarod is special, honey and his family knows this.”
“But why don’t they visit him then?”
“Because they’re very far away and I bet if they knew that you were friends with Jarod, that they’ll appreciate it.”
Not understanding but trusting her mother, she agreed.
The brush glided smoothly thru her hair. A small secretive smile settled and she met her mother’s eyes in the mirror. She could still feel his lips against hers from their earlier kiss and it made her giddy all over.
She giggled, her eyes bright with life and love. “Can you keep a secret?”
Catherine smiled. “Off course, baby. So, out with it.”
“I kissed a boy today.”
“Oh, you did. Do I know this young man?”
Miss Parker nodded. “It was Jarod.”
The brush stopped. Catherine was speechless for a moment, her eyes darkening with worry. “Honey, I don’t want you to tell your father about this. Promise me.”
Miss Parker turned on the seat, watching her mother. “Did I do something wrong?”
Catherine cupped her daughter’s cheek and smiled. “No honey. I just don’t think that you’re ready yet. You remember when I told you that Jarod is special?”
Miss Parker nodded.
“You don’t want him to get into trouble?”
“No. I’m sorry, momma.”
Catherine pulled her daughter into a hug. “That’s fine, baby. Just be careful, okay.”
“I’ve got a heartbeat…”
She evaded the sweepers’ hands and made it to the elevator. She heard Jarod’s cries in the distance but all her attention was on her mom’s body by her feet. She couldn’t move, couldn’t do anything except absorb the image into her mind.
She heard voices, felt arms surround her and then she was pulled away.
She fought the arms, tried to escape their choking hold. Wanted to get back to the elevator and back to her mother.
And she opened her eyes, the call for her mother still fresh on her lips.
The Tower, The Centre
Apparently there were some things to be grateful about. Margaret stood beside the window that overlooked the ocean, her back to the room. The click as the door was closed and locked sounded loud in the silence of the room, reminding her that despite the opulence in evidence, she was a prisoner.
She was back where it had all started. She reached out a hand and placed it against the glass. Despite the warmth of the room, she was surprised to find that it was icy to the touch. She closed her eyes as the image of her son encased in a glass box immediately surfaced. She swallowed against the remembered tears, willing the image to change into something else. Now, more than ever she hated her heritage, hated what her secret had done to her family.
It had scattered them all into the wind, had broken her family apart as surely as anything. All because she had wanted her family safe from the Centre and more importantly, safe from him. So much had gone wrong that it was difficult to imagine anything going right. The thin thread of hope she had been holding on to was slowly sliding out of her grasp and she couldn’t stop it. She was just so tired of fighting, of trying to bring her family back together against the overwhelming odds that were stacked against them.
She leaned her head against the window and ignored the tears that slipped down her face. Her guilt ate at her and her stomach cramped in sympathy. All that Jarod had experienced was her fault.
“I’m sorry, Jarod,” she whispered to the room, “Please forgive me.”
They had denied her access to her son. It was what she had expected, but it hadn’t taken away the deep set hope that they might eventually relent. She had then asked to see Miss Parker, wanting to know if she’d be all right. That had been denied as well.
Now here she was, in a room that looked like it had been prepared specifically for her. The colours reminded her of home, of a time long ago before her innocence had been taken from her. They had even placed a vase of lilies on a small table situated in the sitting area. It was the middle of winter, and yet they had found the flowers to remind her that he was the one that had wanted her here.
He always did have an eye for details.
She had never been allowed in the Tower before and yet the place seemed familiar somehow. She hugged herself tightly. Outside snow has started to fall, the clouds dark and sombre. It matched her mood perfectly and triggered a memory she had thought forgotten. She felt the world drop beneath her feet as the memory surfaced in a swarm of harsh, angry images.
And suddenly she was reliving her last night with Catherine Parker.
The hunting cabin where they had agreed to meet was just outside Blue Cove. The mountains rose behind it in straight spires, the forest surrounding it, silent and deep. She had arrived this morning, tired and feeling old beyond her years.
She started a fire, shivering slightly in the coldness of the room. Absently she moved around the cabin, checking the cupboards for food before deciding on heating some soup for lunch. She had just finished when she heard a car approaching. Although she knew who it would be, fear still took hold of her, reminding her that she was in fact far from safe. She moved to the window and shifted the curtains just far enough to see who the occupant of the car was.
It was Catherine, just as she had known it would be. They had agreed on the time and place and still she found a soft sigh of relief escaping her. The Centre was never far from her thoughts, never far from the devastation it had wrought on her heart and her family.
She opened the door for her friend, hastily closing it behind her when a frigid gust of wind blew in, making the fire flutter in the hearth, sending sparks flying into the air.
“They broadcasted snow for tonight.”
Margaret nodded, aware already of the weather report. She didn’t mind. It meant that the sweepers were less likely to be out tonight, away from the warmth of the Centre. She made her way to the kitchen, reheating the soup as her friend hanged her jacket on the hook behind the door.
By early afternoon the light had started to fail and the dark grew stronger. The sky and earth were of a single gray hue, the air crisp and cold. Soon after it had gone fairly dark, the snow had started to fall in steady drifts, blown sideways by a steadily increasing wind. Visibility outside was less than a meter and soon the brown and wintered backyard was enveloped in white.
Inside, the two women were seated on the rug; photos and books surrounding them. Margaret glanced at Catherine, aware that there was something wrong. Her friend had changed. Something had happened since she had seen her last. Margaret felt despair wash through her, wondering if it had anything to do with her boys being held at the Centre.
Over the years, they had made and disregarded plans to save Jarod and Kyle. All had been for nought, as she had deemed them far too dangerous. Margaret couldn’t risk his wrath against her children. At least Emily was safe with Charles. Maybe if all worked out and she and Catherine found the scrolls, they could be a normal family again, living without the constant fear and sadness.
She glanced at Catherine again, convinced that something was wrong. That her friend was hiding something big, big enough to make her heart cramp with fear for her boys.
Lord, please protect them. Let them be all right.
She had no idea how many times she had prayed that prayer, whispering it in her heart each time she was reminded of what the Centre had stolen from her while at the same time hating herself for her own inability to be there to protect them.
Because of whom she was. Because of him.
“I don’t know if I can do this, Margaret.”
Somehow she knew that Catherine wasn’t talking about finding the scrolls. Dread settled slowly around her, crushing something inside her as she looked into the anguished face of her friend.
“What happened?” she asked in a breathless whisper.
“I…I’m so sorry, Margaret.” Catherine said softly as tears started to fall, trekking a path down her face.
“What happened?” she asked again, her mouth suddenly dry with fear. The books and photo’s forgotten and with it her chance of finding the scrolls forgotten. All she had eyes for was Catherine.
And Catherine told her then about Raines and his plan of leaving her baby girl at the Centre and at the mercy of her father. About leaving her search for the scrolls because Raines knew about them and her quest. How he had blackmailed her into faking her own death. Margaret couldn’t comprehend the words.
“You don’t have to do this, Cat. Your daughter needs you. Please, don’t do this.” She tearfully watched her friend, her insides screaming for Catherine to understand what her decision meant for Jarod and Kyle. For her. That the possibility of her never seeing them again had suddenly become very real with Catherine’s confession.
“Don’t you understand? I have no choice. If I don’t do this, Raines will go to the Triumvirate and Jarod would be taken from Sydney and given to Raines. He wouldn’t be safe anymore. This way, at least we…you still have a chance to save your boys.”
“No, please Catherine. Don’t do this to me. I can’t find the scrolls alone. I need you. Your daughter needs you.”
As soon as Margaret said it, she regretted her words. She could see that her friend was very much aware of what she was doing, of the consequences that her actions would bring.
“I’m so sorry. I…I didn’t think….isn’t there anything else you could do?”
Catherine shook her head. “I’ll speak to Sydney tomorrow. It has to be this way. Raines doesn’t know about you. You have to find the scrolls, Margaret. They are the key to ensuring a future for our children. I’ll leave everything with you.”
Margaret started to cry. The hopelessness of the situation suddenly sitting heavily on her shoulders. How was she ever going to get her boys back now?
Every insecurity Margaret had ever felt seemed to come to light at that moment, taunting her of her past failures and her inability to keep her family together. Drawing a deep breath, she tried to calm herself. She needed to focus on what they had to do. She had to be strong for her friend.
And for the rest of the night they had not spoken again about Catherine’s choice. Instead they had continued on their research into the scrolls. The next day, despite the snow, Catherine had left.
A month later Margaret had heard about the shooting in the elevator. And she had heard what Charles had done. He had somehow found out about the Centre. He had left Emily with friends and had tried his own rescue attempt. It had been the same day that Catherine had been shot in the elevator and she had heard stories that he had been responsible. That while he had tried to escape, he had been shot and seriously wounded.
The memory came and went like the passing shadow of a cloud and she became aware that she was still standing at the window, staring at the falling snow.
She could never forget how angry and frightened she had been. Charles had almost unwittingly killed her boys. The promised threat that night that she had tried to rescue Jarod had still been so vivid in her mind.
And they had gone their separate ways that night – nearly a month after she had found him holed up in a dingy hotel, fighting infection from his gunshot wound. She had nursed him back to health patiently, knowing that their time together was precious, even under the circumstances. She remembered the fear and panic the nights when she literally almost had to drag her husband to the safety of her car while sweepers entered the room they had just escaped from. She could still hear his suppressed cries of pain while she moved him, the hollowness of his eyes as he looked out the window before passing out. And her own frantic heartbeat as she continually touched him to make sure that he wasn’t dead or dying while driving one handed through the night to find another place to stay in while Charles recuperated.
It had been a frantic two weeks, spend running from place to place, staying just long enough before the sweepers came to give Charles a chance at healing.
After he had been healed, they had decided to separate. It had become too dangerous to stay together. It would be more difficult to track them individually and it would give her a change to find the scrolls without worrying about Charles finding out her secret. She had taken Emily with her, kissed her husband goodbye and without looking back, gone in search of the scrolls.
She had not seen him since that night nearly twenty years ago. She wondered what he’d look like today and if she’d even recognise him. She regretted a lot of things, among them that night she had said goodbye to him.
She turned from the window and made her way towards the bed. Although she tried, she couldn’t stop the tears from starting. She rolled onto her side, clutching the pillow close as she buried her face in the softness. She was crying now for herself. She was crying for what she had lost, for what she had turned into. She suddenly whished that Charles was here, that she could feel his arms around her and that he’d tell her that everything was going to be okay. She tried to cradle his imaginary warmth and strength for a little while but it dissolved away into the bleakness of knowing where she was.
She couldn’t live her life on ifs. Shaken by her own perceived weakness, she glanced at the camera watching over her before wiping her tears away.
Decisions had been made, now she had to live with them.
The Centre, the next day
The morning after his dream, he was lead to the sim room. He sat down at the table, tired and emotionally drawn from his nightmares. He had been unable to sleep after his last vivid nightmare about Parker. The vision of her lying in her own blood was still too real. His nostrils flared in an almost unconscious response to the image in his mind, the coppery tang of her blood that hung in the air so real that his need to see her overwhelmed him.
It’s just a nightmare.
He kept on repeating the words, willing them to be true, having no concrete evidence to the contrary except Lyle’s words that she was in her office and safe.
Jarod said nothing in response, watching Lyle as he entered the room, a huge black bag in one hand. Banishing the last lingering images of Miss Parker to the recesses of his brain, he turned his attention to the bag when it was placed on the table.
“Let me guess, you want me to sort your garbage?”
Lyle chuckled softly. The smug look on Lyles face made the image of Parker lying in a pool of blood resurface; the vision was frightening in its clarity
“Consider this a gift from me to you.”
Jarod glared suspiciously at Lyle, unable to mask the uneasiness that now permeated his body. His eyes followed Lyle as the man opened the bag and dumped the contents on the table. Something hard hit the table, a greyish flash before darker shades covered the form. He frowned as the image of that greyish blur kept on repeating itself until he finally remembered why it seemed so familiar. It was Parker’s gun.
His skin ran cold. Sweeping nausea almost overwhelmed him even as his mind screamed in denial. No, Lyle wouldn’t have…There had to be another explanation, some other reason why Lyle would have Parker’s gun. She would never give it up willingly. He rose shakily and managed to make his way to where the bundle was lying on the table. His fingers brushed across the dark fabric, his mind conjuring up the last time he had seen her wear it.
That time she had been chasing him down an alley, her face determined, and the click of her heels loud in the enclosed space.
His mouth dry, he still managed to focus enough to know that the darker spots on her clothes were blood. He spread them out until he saw her gun. It was unmistakably Parker’s, the grey handle of the Smith and Wesson gleaming dully in the overhead lights. Automatically he checked it for bullets, his hands going through the motions. It was empty, as was expected. Even Lyle wouldn’t be so dumb as to give him a live gun.
The gun felt heavy in his hand and he found that he couldn’t let it go. The implications of what he was experiencing were jut to mind numbing. It was too much to take in and process all at once. He had always assumed that she’d be safe from this because of who she was. Because he had thought that the Centre would never step over the invisible line they had drawn so long ago. That Sydney and Miss Parker would be safe no matter what he did. Sydney because he was his mentor and had his own protection and Miss Parker because of her legacy. What he was seeing was as incomprehensible as meeting an alien from Mars.
“Miss Parker?” The name froze on his lips.
“She found your father and Gemini,” Lyle replied coolly, “Major Charles fought back and when we finally managed to find her, it was too late.”
Jarod just shook his head. He wasn’t about to give Lyle the satisfaction of reacting to his lies. He focused on the bloodstains on the handle, contemplating his options and how much he’d be able to really hurt Lyle with it before the sweepers managed stop him.
“I need you to help me find them, Jarod,” Lyle said smoothly, “You don’t want your father to kill anyone else, do you?”
“I want to see her.”
“She’s already been cremated.”
Jarod’s eyes snapped to Lyle’s, struggling to comprehend the man’s last words. He felt like he was standing on the edge of a cliff as it crumbled away beneath his feet. He mind desperately tried to ground itself as he tried to remind himself that the Centre thrived on lies. Lyle took her gun out of his unresisting grip, tucking it into his back.
Jarod stirred, his gaze moving from Lyle to the clothes and back until he finally managed to say, “I don’t believe you.”
Lyle shrugged. “Believe what you will, Jarod but unless you help us to find Gemini and your father, other people you care about could get hurt. You don’t want that, do you?”
The Centre, a day later
Jarod came awake with a shudder.
His head snapped up from the pillow of his arm, his eyes slid open and he stared blankly ahead. There was pain all through his body, endless waves of it. He forced himself to move, drawing in a sharp breath as he rolled onto his knees. He pulled one hand across his chest as he moved slowly backwards until he reached the wall. He manoeuvred carefully into a seated position and leaned gingerly against the wall.
A door clanked and he tensed as footsteps announced his visitor. He heard the keys as they rattled against his cell door but he didn’t look up.
Slowly he pushed himself up and somehow managed to stand, leaning against the wall. He still didn’t look directly at Lyle. Couldn’t. Not after his failure to kill the man standing before him. All he had managed in the sim room was to get his hands around Lyle’s neck before the sweepers had dragged him from the other man. He had fought them all, growling in rage and hatred until his world had exploded in pain and darkness.
Oh God, he hurt. Couldn’t describe how much he hurt to know that her death might be his fault.
Sydney, where are you?
But he hadn’t seen Sydney since Lyle had brought him Parker’s gun. He longed for his mentor, longed for his objectiveness because despite all he had endured, he knew that Sydney loved him. That Sydney would protect him. That Sydney would take away his nightmares and hold him like he did when he was little.
Sydney loved him.
His mind scrambled around his own doubt as he thought of all the times that he had wished for Sydney. And he felt ashamed that all he could think of was his need for Sydney. That his own father was not the person he sought for comfort. That if the evidence Lyle had provided was somehow true, that he wanted to share his grief with Sydney.
That somewhere inside him a little voice was saying that Lyle could be telling the truth. That his father could be responsible for her death in order to protect his clone. That she was really gone…
No! It's lies. Parker, I need you. Please…
Breathe….breathe! But against the idea that she could really be dead, he couldn’t. Couldn’t imagine living without her, even in the distorted world of the Centre where he ran and she chased. Even if she was his huntress. Even with the knowledge that his dream of them together had been just that, a dream.
Everything was frozen, paralysed. He didn’t react when he felt the familiar shackles close around his writs, didn’t react when he was drenched in water again.
Jarod was still unable to reply against the dark swirling images of Parker’s broken body. Of the knowledge that the Centre could be telling the truth and the thought that he had lost the only person that had ever meant anything more to him than the ghosts of his family he had been chasing all these years.
She had been substantial, had been real and had been his friend. Even in the twisted world of the Centre, she had been his friend.
He ignored Lyle, instead retreated deeper into himself as he sought her laughter in his memory.
And then the dam broke as white hot agony spread through his body, sending him convulsing against the chains. It ripped into Parker’s ghost, ripped into his soul and tore it into shreds. When he could see again, breathe again, he heard Lyle ask, “Where’s Gemini?”
But he couldn’t answer. Not because he didn’t want to, but because he didn’t know, because he couldn’t find Parker and he realised that this time he was truly lost.
And then he heard nothing but his own screams.
“I want to see Jarod, Lyle. You can’t keep me from him.”
Lyle shrugged his shoulders, “Sorry Syd, but Triumvirate orders. Only when Jarod is ready for simulations will you be able to coddle him again.”
Sydney’s eyes narrowed suspiciously and then the older man said, “Fine, then I’d like to go home until such time that I’m needed again.”
“No can do, I’m afraid Sydney. It’s too dangerous. I’m sure you’ll find other ways to amuse yourself until boy wonder is ready.”
“Dammit, Lyle,” Sydney exclaimed, wrapping his hand around Lyle’s arm, “I want to know what is going on? Why can’t I see Jarod?”
Lyle shrugged Sydney’s hand off. “Be careful, Syd, you’re not in charge of the Pretender program anymore. I don’t have to explain what that means, now do I?”
The Centre, 2 days later
He lay in the dark, curled against the wall and waited for Lyle to come back. He tried to go back into his mind to where there was once light, to where he had hope. But he couldn’t find it. Everything was dark, everything was despair. And guilt. Because he had in the end told them about the safe house that he had set up for his father and Gemini. He still didn’t know how but somewhere in the midst of the pain, he couldn’t take it anymore not to feel Miss Parker. And he told Lyle so that he could have peace, so that he could lose himself in his memories.
And Lyle had left him alone with a promise to come back once he had his father and the boy. That he’d be able to see them. He knew it was lies, but he didn’t care anymore. It didn’t matter anymore.
In the end, all that mattered was his memories of Parker and his dream of them together. Of imagining her love for him, the feel of her skin underneath him.
Jarod didn’t react. He didn’t want Angelo here. Didn’t want his time spent with ghosts interrupted.
His cell door clanked open and then Angelo touched him on his shoulder. “Jarod come. Daughter sad.”
Jarod stirred, trying to understand what Angelo was saying. Trying to decipher the words. “Miss Parker?”
“Daughter sad, Jarod come now.”
He wasn’t sure how to react to the empath’s words. Wasn’t sure if Angelo was even really here or just another illusion. Another hopeless dream. Rough fingers poked him again. He blinked against the darkness and tried to make out Angelo’s face. It was covered in dark planes, but his presence felt real. And then he really registered what Angelo had been saying.
Daughter sad… and that must mean that her death had been a...lie. He grabbed Angelo’s arm, held onto it like it was a lifeline. “Miss Parker’s alive?” His voice was weak, exhausted but still, he asked.
The force of his own betrayal hit him like an express train. He had believed Lyle, believed even though he had had his own doubts all along.
Oh God, he’d betrayed his father and the boy for Centre lies.
He could only pray that they wouldn’t be there when the Centre arrived. But Miss Parker was alive! That mattered more to him then his own guilt at what he had done, more than his own hurt.
“Where is she?” he urged Angelo, still holding on to the other man, still needing the physical contact.
He could only nod numbly, aware that he had no words to describe his hope at seeing her alive again.
The Infirmary, The Centre
Miss Parker awoke when she heard the noise from the vent. Her eyes blinked open to find that she was alone. Her body ached and she was tired, her eyes grainy and raw. The beating might have left her incapacitated for the moment, but it hadn’t interfered with her hearing.
And she was sure that she had heard a slight scuffle in the vent above her. She frowned in confusion. Images of her childhood with Jarod in the Centre came back to her, and she recalled vividly all the times that they had wandered through the vents.
The vent popped open and Jarod dropped down into the room, his eyes meeting hers across the short distance. They were filled with emotion: fatigue, fear, concern and only a trace of pain. She could easily read it from where she was curled on the bed, even in the semi-darkness that pervaded her room. Her mind scrambled for security, for safety from confronting him. She was acutely aware of her own harsh shallow breathing, of her exhaustion and pain. She couldn’t afford thought, couldn’t afford emotion. But despite all her effort, she couldn’t stop looking at him as he stood there. And then a thought slipped through, breaking the spell he had seemingly put over her, ending her paralysis.
Oh, God, Jarod. How do I explain why I had to do the things I did. Say the things I did.
Irrationally, she felt anger that he’d came, even thought she knew somehow that he’d find a way to her. Angelo was as ever, predictable. Even with Faith, he had known that Jarod was the one to comfort her.
Damn the Centre. Damn her father.
Suddenly tired of it all, she closed her eyes and tried to ignore his presence in the room. She knew something had happened for her to be in the position she is now and that Lyle had to be the reason why. But for the life of her, she couldn’t remember what she had done.
And she couldn’t remember if it had to do with her plan.
If the reason she was here was because she had failed.
His voice was soft, hesitant and it nearly broke through her anger and her fear. She ignored him. She didn’t want to face him, knowing that all her plans had been for nought. That Lyle is orchestrating this meeting. That her brother had dropped Jarod into the vent with instructions and he was waiting just around the corner for her to screw this up.
Waiting to see if she’d keep her side of his bargain.
She knew him well enough to know that he had reached out for her, that his hand was hovering uncertainly above her own, afraid to make contact. Afraid of how she’d react. Not a surprise, considering their last meeting.
“Who did this? Was it Lyle?”
It hurt too much to move and besides, the answer was obvious. Frustrated again by her lack of memory in regards to her injuries, she kept still.
Please go away. Please, Jarod, run and forget about me. Find your mother and don’t look back.
And then even while she thought those words, she knew that if she said them, that Jarod would ignore it. That he’d shake his head and stay. She didn’t want to be responsible for what Lyle could do to him. Didn’t want to feel the regret and fear and anger she knew she’d have if something happened to him because of her.
I don’t want Lyle to find you here.
Even those words would do nothing for Jarod. Why did he have to be so stubborn? Why couldn’t be like any other human being and run?
Why did he have to be here?
Because he’s Jarod.
“Parker, please look at me.”
She reluctantly opened her eyes to find that his own was inches away from hers. She felt the warmth of his breath on her cheek and remembered the last time they had been together before the Centre had came.
Before her world had gone straight to hell.
And she found that Jarod had tears in his eyes.
His hands were soft against her skin as they traced a path up her spine. She sighed in pleasure and then turned so that she was on her back, his hand trapped beneath her. His eyes met hers and he smiled before leaning in to kiss the tip of her nose and then her lips. She held him in her gaze all the while, forcing herself not to give in and close her eyes.
Their kiss deepened slowly as his free hand start to explore her body again. And then Jarod broke the kiss, leaning his forehead against hers.
“You’re so incredibly beautiful, did you know that?”
And she found that she could see Jarod’s eyes filled with a simmering light and when she leaned back slightly, realised that it was in fact tears.
“It’s real, isn’t it? Us, what I remember?”
She hadn’t the heart to deny him an answer. Couldn’t in the face of his sorrow and fear. Even if Lyle was just waiting around the corner, watching for just this moment.
She couldn’t deny her heart.
She began to cry silently, feeling the tears trace a path down her face as she nodded. She hated feeling this vulnerable, hated the fact that she hated it. But she couldn’t seem to stop it either.
Jarod wiped her tears away with a gentle hand and then he closed the distance and kissed her lightly on the lips. And even through the pain, she was aware of his hand curling tenderly around her own.
A moment later his lips was gone and she ached for it. He smiled and she smiled back. It hurt but she didn’t mind.
Jarod was here.
He’ll take all the hurt away.
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Disclaimer: See Chapter 1
Thank you for the reviews. Also thank you to Terra and Manoline for doing a great job on the Beta thing.
“So what do you think they said?”
“I was hoping you had some answers. Insights into the so-called prophesies.”
“Those answers are somewhere in the ocean along with my fa…Do you think that there’s any chance that he bailed for the right reasons, Jarod? Or…or was his Geronimo just another one of his lies.”
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s time you gave yourself that gift he never gave you. The truth.”
“I hope you find your mother.”
“And what about…us?”
“You run. I chase. That choice was made for us a long time ago.”
“Maybe that is the Parker curse.”
“Yeah. Hell of a life we have here, Jarod.”
“Only this time, the first one to find the answers, lives.”
“Jarod, the prophesies, if they were real…maybe….we could’ve find out what our future would hold.”
“If they’re real.”
The Centre, SL – 8, 10:15 a.m.
Mercifully the screeching wail of the alarm finally disconnected with a last disconcerted moan. In the sudden silence the faint ringing in his ears continued for a minute longer before it too faded into silence. He continued down the corridor again, silent and efficient, even though he still hurt enough to be aware of his injuries. They would slow him down in a fight but he had no choice now. This was their one chance to escape. He didn’t want to take the risk of being separated from her any longer. His fear that Lyle could just make her death a nightmarish reality was foremost in his mind and he needed that peace of mind right now of seeing her, holding her and knowing that she was out of her brother’s reach.
Forcing his overactive mind to suppress his fears so that he could concentrate on what he was currently doing, he tried another door, grimacing slightly when it didn’t open. Doubling back to the junction, he turned left, aware that his time was running out. It wouldn’t be long before the sweepers were down to this level and he had to be gone before then.To make matters worse, the very next door, which Jarod thought was the one Angelo had told him about, was also locked tight.Forced onwards, he tried two more doors before the third one finally opened.
It was an old supply room, the smell musty from disuse. It was also the room he had been searching for. The light switch didn’t work and he had to leave the door open so that the corridor light could enter the room. The room was dark, the shadows somehow sinister and menacing in the grey, diffused light that managed to filter through the door. His scalp prickling, he listened closely for any indication that the sweepers were close before he entered the room.
Jarod found what he was searching for at the back of the room, amongst the dust and cobwebs that had settled there. Trying to ignore the cloying feel of the dust on his skin, breathing lightly through his mouth, he picked it up. It was an old key, oddly shaped. He had known of its existence but never exactly where until Angelo had revealed it to him. Closing his fist around it, the Pretender started towards the door and the open corridor beyond that. Where they were going, the key would be needed. It was their way out of the lower levels.
Retracing his steps, he stretched his senses for the smallest sound that would alert him of the presence of any sweepers.
It wouldn’t do to get caught now.
He had just passed the first junction when Jarod thought he heard the faint scratch of metal against metal. At the same moment, movement in the corridor ahead of him caught his eye. The briefest shift of dark material against the grey wall. It was unmistakeable in what it meant to Jarod’s heightened senses as the sweeper turned into the hallway, eyes wide in surprise when he saw the Pretender standing before him.
Jarod flung himself into the nearest room as the scream to stop echoed around him. He slammed the door shut, managing to turn the key before the first body pounded against the entrance. He crossed the room, heart thudding in unison with the sounds from the door, searching for another exit. Another door, almost concealed behind an old wardrobe drew his attention.Managing to shift the wardrobe enough to get to the doorknob, the pretender slipped through the portal just as he heard the door burst open in the room he had just left.
Jarod could smell his own fear as he frantically looked around the room. He spotted a row of washing machines set against the wall; dust thick on the surface of the dull, white washers. It took two heaves before he toppled one of the heavy machines against the door. A moment later, a fresh wave of thuds pounded against the door. He could hear the grunts and swearing of the sweepers and knew little time remained to find a way out.
Palms sweaty, his eyes scanned the room. A square opening, dark against the wall drew his attention. It was a decrepit laundry chute and better yet it was his way out.
Meanwhile, the door behind him continued to heave and shake. There was a resounding crash and then the loud swearing of one of the sweepers.
The Pretender made his way across the room. The shaft disappeared upwards into darkness, steel staples of the service ladder embedded against one wall. Not wasting anymore time, he ducked into the chute and started up the rungs. His ribs ached, making it hard to breath. Pushing the pain away in some distant corner, Jarod focused all his strength on climbing. Halfway up he found the familiar square grid of the cover plate that led towards the air vents. Balancing himself as much as he could, he reached for the panel.
Having been painted over for decades, the screws didn’t want to budge. Hands shaking, he wiped them on his pants before trying again with a makeshift piece of metal he had found earlier. Echoing up the chute, he heard what was by now an all too familiar noise and the screech of metal, when the washing machine he had toppled against the door was shifted a few inches.
The sudden silence that followed was more disconcerting than the previous attempts at the entrance to the room. A moment later he heard a loud screech and shouts of triumph. Footsteps sounded and then the diffuse light which had, until now, filtered upwards, was cut off. Bright light replaced it, forcing Jarod to blink against the torch light shining in his eyes.
“I see him!”
The exclamation ricocheted around him. Mouth dry, stomach tightening, Jarod turned back to the panel and managed to slide the last screw out as another warning to cease and desist reverberated past him. Ignoring the command, he dropped the vent cover. There was a scream of frustration and anger as he slid into the vent. It was a tight fit, his ribs protesting. He couldn’t ignore the pain anymore, couldn’t breathe.
His vision blurred, threatened to plunge him into unconsciousness. He leaned his forehead against the metal. Concentrated on breathing. On getting enough air into his lungs, pushing past the pain that excruciatingly stabbed his ribcage with each intake of breath. As if from far away, he heard the shuffle of shoes against metal and knew on some distant plane he was running out of time. He had to move.
He took another breath and then slowly, agonizingly, he started forward. The horizontal shaft split after 30 feet in a T-formation and without pausing, he went left. Barely a yard further, the shaft came to another fork. Bundled lines of cable brushed his shoulders, thick and black. He followed the path of the cables, losing the sweepers in the maze of tunnels. Breathing too hard, he willed himself to calmness, knowing that the chase was far from over.
It was just beginning.
The Centre, Security room, 10:15 a.m.
“Post sweepers at all exits,” Lyle ordered the man in charge of security whose name he had never bothered to learn. “Initiate lockdown procedures.”
As the harriedman hollered instructions in his walkie-talkie, another sweeper turned to Lyle, his confusion obvious for all to see. “Mr. Lyle, we just lost cameras on SL-3 to SL-8. It looks like he’s moving towards the lower levels.”
“Are they together?” Lyle demanded. His missing thumb ached, reminding him of his past failure in regards to Jarod. .
“We don’t know, Sir. We’re losing systems before getting visuals.”
Lyle stared over his shoulders at the monitors right as another one blinked out and changed to static. “Seal off all the elevators. I want sweepers on sublevels 8 to 10 to block off all access to the stairways and air vents.”
“We’ve just lost all cameras on SL-9,” somebody told him.
Frustrated, Lyle slammed his right hand into the wall next to him. He ignored the sweeper’s furtive glances that were thrown his way. He wasn’t about to allow Jarod and Miss Parker to escape. And not after the stunt the Pretender had pulled when he had sent him to an old, disused house set in the middle of nowhere in rural Maryland. Snow heaped against the front door had been his first clue that the information Jarod had so readily provided had been false. No Gemini and no Major Charles.
The Pretender was going to pay for that mistake. Lyle was going to make sure of it.
“I want the sweepers fully armed. If anyone tries to leave this building, they have my authorization to shoot and if Jarod resists, kill Miss Parker.”
The Centre, SL – 9, 10:30 a.m.
Jarod froze, his heart beating triple time as the voice of one of the sweepers echoed around him. That was the problem with the vents; they distorted sound enough for him to make it difficult to pinpoint the origin. He tightened his hold on the key, feeling the edges of it cut into his palm. The desperation was there, bubbling just underneath the surface. He couldn’t control it, couldn’t keep his fear at bay as he forced himself to wait in what felt like the twilight zone of the tunnel he was currently situated. He tightly supported his ribs with every breath. Knees close to his face, he hunched against them as he continued his vigil.
He blinked against the sweat that was steadily dripping down his face. Too afraid to move to wipe it off, he watched it drip onto his pants, feeling the dark material soak in the liquid. The loud crack of metal snapping back into position had him jerking his head around as he tried to probe the tunnel for any movement. Small, faded squares of light that escaped through the grates fell in-between the darkness, but he couldn’t see anyone.
His chest tightened enough for him to remember to take a breath. Wiping his lips, he gathered his courage and decided that the sweepers were somewhere else in the maze of tunnels. Taking another slow breath, he uncurled his body and started down the passageway, stopping and listening every few feet for any indication that his hunters were any closer to his position than they had been previously.
Ten agonizing minutes later, he paused just short of the grates that led to the room he had been aiming for. He heard no sound and he peered cautiously through the grate. There wasn’t much to see, a discarded file cabinet, rust streaks marring the surface and an old ornate oak desk, dusk thick upon its surface. Satisfied, he took his impromptu screwdriver and twisted quickly until all four screws were in his hand.
Jarod slipped through into the dimly lit room, careful to put the grate back and screw it tight again. He ignored the intense pain in his chest, aware that his ribs weren’t doing to well with the exercise he was currently putting them through. But it couldn’t be helped. They had to get out of the Centre.
He found her exactly where he had left her, seated against the wall behind the desk, her eyes closed, her breathing as shallow as his. With his heart in his throat, Jarod kneeled beside her and reached out a hand to smooth back her damp hair from her forehead. Startled by his touch, she lifted her head and opened her eyes. “What?”
He tried to hide his concern behind a smile and a moment later realised that it wasn’t working. “It’s time to leave.”
Refusing his help, Miss Parker rose slowly to her feet. A sound from the air vent above them had them frozen against the wall. They waited, listening for any other sounds. When no further noise came, Jarod sighed in relief. He put an arm around Miss Parker and together they started for the exit and hopefully a clear way towards their destination.
The Centre, Security room, 10:30 a.m.
“All cameras on SL-10 are down.”
Lyle glared at the sweeper that had just told him the news, fuming in impotent rage at the Pretender. The deeper Jarod and Miss Parker moved into the sub levels, the less chance they’d have of finding them quickly. He needed to change the game plan to be more in his favour.
“Shut off all the lights from SL – 8 and downwards.”
The sweeper glanced up at him, protest dying on his lips when he noticed the look on Lyle’s face. Without a word he complied.
The Centre, SL – 10, 11:00 a.m.
Jarod took hold of Miss Parker and helped her down the corridor. Somewhere, midway down the hall, he stopped when he thought he had heard something. It had sounded like the familiar squawk of a walkie-talkie with the faint scuff of a shoe on concrete. A tense minute later, he wondered if he had heard it at all as they continued their stumbling down the dimly lit semi-darkness, his palms sweaty from his own fear that they’d be found before he could reach their destination.
Her whisper was soft, plaintive and pain-filled and it brought his attention immediately.
“Don’t talk. We’ll be there soon, I promise.”
She nodded, but her eyes mirrored his own fears. That they wouldn’t be strong enough, that their injuries would put a stop in their flight before it had even really begun.
This time he felt her stumble even though he was trying to support her as much as possible. He felt her get heavy in his grip. His ribs protested and he turned towards her, trying to catch her from slipping completely from his hold. And at that moment, the lights flashed, went out and left them in fearful, mind-numbing darkness.
The Centre, Security room, 11:00 a.m.
“Last position reported?”
“SL – 9, sir.”
Lyle nodded, he didn’t care except for finding Jarod and his dear sister and making them pay. The weight of Parker’s gun was sitting in the small of his back, reminding him how close he had come to breaking Jarod fully.
Coming to a decision, he gave short instructions before leaving the security room. With Parker’s gun in his hand, he began his hunt.
The Centre, SL – 10, 11:01 a.m.
Silence and absolute darkness surrounded them. The distant beat of the huge blades that circulated air through the lower levels reverberated around the halls. The groan of metal settling sounded loud in the silence. Jarod swallowed, forcing his thumping heart to still. He stretched out a hand and met warm flesh. Miss Parker’s breathing was shallower, her body radiating heat. He found a limp wrist and a moment later a weak pulse beneath his tender fingers. He swore softly under his breath, overwhelmed and at his wit’s end.
Jarod was very much aware that for once he had no idea what to do.
The Centre, SL – 1, 11:05 a.m.
Sydney grabbed Lyle as the man passed him, stopping him in his tracks.
“I want to know what’s going on, Lyle.”
Lyle looked at Sydney’s hand around his arm, anger evident in the silent set of his jaw muscle.
“Not now, Syd.”
Sydney narrowed his eyes, concern for Jarod and Miss Parker suddenly very real. “I can help.”
Lyle gave a short bark of laughter before lifting an eyebrow in question, “Really?”
Sydney nodded, still assessing Lyle silently, aware that his scrutiny was returned. “Jarod will listen to me. There’s no need for anyone to get hurt.”
Lyle smiled. “So, the coddling continues, Sydney. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have business to attend to.”
“You are making a mistake, Lyle,” Sydney said smoothly, turning aside to let Lyle pass, his suspicions confirmed, “Jarod knows the Centre better than anyone.” Sydney watched Lyle turn the corner before striding purposefully to his office.
The Centre, SL – 10, 11:10 a.m.
It was the hardest thing he had to do in his life but he couldn’t see any other way around their current predicament. He brushed back her hair and leaned down, giving her a quick kiss on her forehead.
I’ll be back, I promise.
He had to force himself to move away from her, his hand against the wall to guide him in the pitch darkness. The complete darkness was reminiscent of an old pretend when he helped Rachel adjust to her blindness after the rooftop explosion took her eyesight. He counted his steps, aware that with each one he was moving further away from her. It couldn’t be helped; he needed to find a light source first.
The Centre, SL – 10, 11:30 a.m.
On some level Miss Parker was aware that Jarod had left her alone again. She couldn’t find the energy to protest, couldn’t find energy to move. The floor was cold, the wall not much better. Muscles cramped, reminding her that she was far from healed. Hell, even that idiot dwarf Jarod had used once to send her on her own golden road to find the wizard could topple her with a finger.
Angry now, she opened her eyes to darkness and for one brief panicky moment thought she had gone blind. She lay quietly, taking short, shallow breaths as her heart slowed down and the knot in her stomach began to dissipate
She forced herself to move into a sitting position, her back against the wall, swallowing against the sudden nausea and loss of equilibrium that assailed her. Not moving, she waited for the feelings to dissipate, for the dizziness and pain to fade.
And then Lyle found her.
The Centre, SL – 10, 11:30 a.m.
The sweeper never knew what had hit him. Jarod caught him as he went down, easing him towards the floor. The torch rolled, its beam throwing a wide beam of light in the darkness of the corridor. Grimacing, Jarod glanced the way the sweeper had come, listening for any indication that he had been heard. Silence continued and he took the torch and walkie-talkie.
A moment later he was on his way back to where he had left Miss Parker.
The Centre, SL – 10, 11:32
Miss Parker shivered. The gun barrel was cool against her skin and she was very much aware that her death was a finger’s twitch away. She was reminded of red rock and the insanity of her whole situation hit her between the eyes.
“Did you really think you could escape me?”
She mentally rolled her eyes at Lyle’s question. Idiot. What did he think? That they’d never take the chance when it presented itself. Her brother’s body was flush against her back, his arm across her throat, keeping her upright and in check. And then there was the gun, gauging a hole in her neck. She blinked against the darkness and tried not to sag too much. She didn’t want Lyle to know how weak she really felt, that she was pouring all of her strength into just staying conscious.
“No sound, sis or I shoot him as soon as I see him.”
“He’s not coming back.” Her voice was throaty and sounded weak in her own ears. Not at all what she had planned but it couldn’t be helped. Lyle’s breath was warm against her ear and she could feel him smile in the darkness.
“Tut tut, Parker. It’s never nice to tell lies, especially when its family.” She felt him shift, his cheek coming to rest against hers. She started to shift to put some distance between them when the warning of a barrel being dug deeper into her skin put a stop to it. “I think Jarod is prepared to die for you, don’t you? So, guess that begs the question, are you prepared to die for him?”
Icy fingers ran up her back and her stomach tightened painfully. Lyle’s statement was ambiguous enough, warning her that her psychotic brother could easily kill Jarod and damn the consequences.
“Shush, relax, Parker. I’m not gonna kill lover boy.” Lyle paused, his one hand creeping up, muffling her when the faint glow of light started to show against the darkness.
“All this will be over soon,” he breathed. Releasing a stifled cry, she started to struggle against his hold. She heard a low, throaty chuckle and then abruptly, her oxygen was cut off as his hand not only covered her mouth but her nose as well. She bucked against him, her body screaming for air. Pain, exhaustion and something close to panic took hold of her senses. She didn’t want to die, not yet. .
Not ‘til she had a chance to kill Lyle.
The cold, sick weakness of shock entered as she realised that Lyle wasn’t letting up. That he was about to kill her. Her lungs burned even as the torch light became brighter. Instinct ruled her now but even that wasn’t enough to escape Lyle’s hold. She was too weak from her injuries to effectively fight back.
That was her last conscious thought before she mercifully passed out.
“Tell me about love, momma…”
They were sitting underneath a tree, the sun speckled light through the branches. Her eyes closed, she felt the breeze against her skin, soft and soothing.
“Will I ever find somebody to love, like you found daddy?”
She opened her eyes. Her mother’s answer echoed somewhere in the back of her mind. She wasn’t afraid like she had been in her dreams. She knew her mother was close.
“But how will I know when I’m in love?”
She rose and looked around. She was a little girl again, her hair loose. The tombstone from her nightmare was missing, instead daffodils had replaced it.
“I hope the man I fall in love with make me feel light-headed.”
She looked up and in the distance she saw her mother waiting for her.
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Disclaimer: See Chapter 1
For Kaylin, born on 25 Oct.
Thank you for the reviews. Also thank you to Terra and Manoline for doing a great job on the Beta thing.
If you change the story…
Jarod entered the hallway cautiously. His arm hurt but that was just a minor distraction to his current objective. And that was to find Alex.
“The ambassador is still alive, Alex. Your little game of tag is over. Looks like you’re not going to win this time.”
“You have to know what game you’re playing before anyone can win anything.”
Jarod turned toward the voice. Stairs led upwards and he started to follow, the echoing sound of Alex’s voice getting stronger. He had just reached the first landing when something hard hit him in the arm. He let go of the gun as a second more powerful force hit him in the back, slamming his body to the floor.
“How the Centre could ever think I was second to you amazes me to this day,” Alex said. He kicked Jarod in the side, watching as the other man curled up around his foot. “Sure, you can perfect any simulation. Once Mr. Altruism was finished, who do you think they brought in to corrupt your findings? Huh?”
“Who do you think made the planes crash that you made so safe? Who found and murdered the witnesses you gave new identities to? Turned your vaccine into an epidemic?”
Ignoring his injuries, Jarod threw himself at his nemesis. Alex kicked backwards, hitting him solidly in the head and Jarod crashed into the wall, losing his grip of the sociopath. Somehow, he managed to follow Alex up the stairs. A moment later he reached a safety gate, too late to stop Alex from closing it between them.
“Tell me Mr. Altruism, where was your flaw in character the night we escaped?”
“Eddie and I tried to save you. You know that.”
“What I know is that while you walked around free, I was shipped off to the Triumvirate and turned into their puppet. They needed a backup pretender while they were out searching for you. Well, I’m not a backup any more.”
“So, Starpoints was just a way for you to show the Triumvirate how talented you were? And Eddie found out, didn’t he?”
“Eddie was a speed bump. Jarod, you turned a routine Triumvirate assignment into something wonderfully personal to me. Luring you was simple. That flaw in your character that made it so easy. Always risking your life for somebody who’s not important to your world.”
Jarod slammed his hand against the safety door. “The ambassador is important to the world.”
“Not the world. Your world. The Swedish ambassador? She’s nothing to your world. But Miss Parker is.” Alex paused, allowing the words to sink in. “In fact, you have no idea how important to your life she really is. And after today, you’ll never know."
The Centre, SL – 10, 11:38
It took a split second for Jarod to realise that he wasn’t alone anymore. Tears blinded him from the sudden onslaught of lights. In fruitless defense; he raised the gun pivoting on the spot, as he tried to make sense of the hazy images that started to swim into view.
“No!” Jarod screamed – silently or aloud – he wasn’t certain. Miss Parker was crumbled at Lyle’s feet, her body seemingly lifeless. Lyle had a gun pointed at her, a veneer of outward calm and composure emanating from him, making the scene that much more dangerous in Jarod’s eyes.
“Oh, don’t fret, lover boy. She’s alive. For now... anyway. Now be a good boy and drop the gun.”
Jarod raised disbelieving eyes from Miss Parker to Lyle. His eyesight was still blurry even though he blinked in a desperate, yet futile, attempt to make the scene come into focus. He didn’t need to turn around to know that two sweepers were now standing right behind him, their presence menacing even in silence. Lyle raised an eyebrow, tilting his head slightly in mock exasperation.
“I won’t ask again, Jarod. Drop the gun or Miss Parker gets a big hole in her forehead.”
The Pretender didn’t need to sim Lyle to know that the Chairman’s son was serious about his threat. Aware of the guns pointing at his back, he let the gun go. It clattered on the floor, the sound harsh and loud in the hallway.
“I warned you. If you had done things my way, no one would’ve gotten hurt. No one but you, that is.” Lyle grinned in amusement. “But now I know your secret, Jarod.” The Chairman’s son grin broadened when he met Jarod’s blank stare. “I know what makes you get up in the mornings and I know what makes you tick.”
Jarod glanced at Miss Parker and then back at Lyle. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Even as he said it, he cringed inwardly. But it had been the most obvious thing to say while he tried to find a way out of their current predicament. Keeping Lyle busy seemed as good an idea as any.
“Don’t lie to me Jarod; it’s beneath you,” Lyle snapped. “I should’ve figured it out long ago. All the pieces were there, out in the open for anyone to see,” Lyle paused and smiled. “All the times she just missed you, all the times she had you in her grasp and let you go.” Lyle’s eyes narrowed as he glared at Jarod. “The Centre has always suspected that there was more. The only reason why it hadn’t been dealt with earlier was due to dear old dad’s protection. Well, that factor has been removed from the equation. And I know the truth; that’s all that matters now.”
“You don’t know anything, Lyle, least of all the truth,” Jarod stated calmly. “All it’s ever been about for you is to gain enough power to mask your desperate search to find reasons to explain why you were the one to be sent away, while she grew up in the Centre.”
“No, that’s where you’re wrong, Jarod. This is a simple matter of self-preservation.” Lyle glanced down meaningfully, his anger readily apparent to the Pretender, “My sister’s life is now in your hands. The only way to save her now is to acknowledge that I’m the one in control. Can you do that, Jarod? Are you prepared to give up everything for her? Even your vaunted sense of entitlement to freedom and family.”
Jarod stared numbly at the sociopath before him. I’ll never give up, Sydney. His words echoed back at him as he tried to find any reason, any way to get them out of the situation. But he couldn’t trust Lyle not to pull the trigger. Lyle had even managed to throw his own words back at him, forcing him to confront an ugly scenario he had never before truly envisioned.
Would he be able to surrender to the Centre, to Lyle, fully knowing it would likely do nothing to save her life? All he had was a thin thread of hope that her life was more important to the Centre than what her death would achieve.
His silence was deafening and Lyle seemed to read his frantic thoughts effortlessly. The chairman’s son nodded and said, “Be honest, Jarod. Did you ever think what we could have accomplished together? I would’ve made you the rising star of the Centre. Together we could’ve done so much more. We could’ve been great but instead you continue to go down the wrong path. You continue to elude your true destiny.”
A maniacal laugh almost escaped and Jarod managed to swallow it just in time. Feelings of resentment and futility rose at the familiar words he had heard so many times before. “You don’t own me, Lyle. Nor does the Centre. This is my life. You have no right to control it.”
“That’s where you’re very wrong, wonder boy. The Centre owns you. We even have the receipt.
A hollow pit settled in Jarod’s stomach. He shook his head involuntarily, in an effort to banish any thoughts that what the other man was telling him might just be true.
“No, you’re lying.”
Lyle chuckled, the sound chilling in its intensity. “Fine, don’t believe me then. But soon enough you will realize that what I’m telling you is the truth. If you want a second source, there are plenty to choose from. One woman is particularly interested in talking to you, has been for quite a while too. Why don’t you ask her about the day she sold you for 30 pieces of silver?”
Jarod frowned, trying to make sense of Lyle’s cryptic words. The only woman he knew that could possibly have anything to do with the Centre this far back was…NO, she wouldn’t have…
“Goodbye Jarod. And don’t worry. I’ll take real good care of Miss Parker.”
Shaken from the nightmare he didn’t want to envision, he realized belatedly what Lyle had said. Fear for his wife flooded his senses. He took a step towards Lyle, ignoring the two men who had until now stood silently behind him. “Lyle, don’t you hurt her.” A hand closed around his arm but he jerked his limb away. “Lyle, I swear to God if you lay a hand on her…”
Lyle’s eyes widened in perceived sincerity. “I’m sorry Jarod. But it has to end this way.”
Jarod surged forward, intent on reaching Lyle. Hands reached for him but he somehow managed to evade them, already a few feet closer to his target. Unfortunately he couldn’t avoid them forever. A moment later, air escaped him when he slammed into the ground, a knee grinding into his back. His ribs screamed in protest, the broken bones excruciating once again. He found that he couldn’t breathe, couldn’t see as the cold steel of cuffs closed around his wrists. Even then, he continued to struggle. A moment later his shoulder blades jerked as they pulled him upright. Pain, intense and unwelcome flared through his body. Spots started to dance in his vision as he tried to ride out the intense wave. From far away he heard Lyle instruct the sweepers to take him to the Tower.
The Centre, SL – 10, 11:42
From where he was standing, Sydney couldn’t see either Lyle or Jarod. But he could hear. Lyle’s cryptic message was all too clear to him. He knew to whom the sociopath was alluding and he shuddered to think what it would do to his protégé when he realises the truth. For a moment indecision weighted heavily on him as he tried to determine the best course of action.
It was time for him to do something.
Now he just had to figure out what.
The Tower, 11:42
She turned from the window when the door behind her opened. Three men entered the room, two spreading out wide. She almost laughed. What did he think she’d do? Run? There was nowhere left to run to. Nothing left but the insanity of the Centre and its machinations.
She didn’t return his greeting. Couldn’t. She turned away from him and stared blindly out of the window. She heard a sigh, heard him enter the room and a moment later the sound of the door closing.
“You knew this day would come. There was nothing you could do to prevent it.”
Her back stiffened in response. Her hatred for the man flared, making it difficult to breath. Difficult to think.
Her bed creaked and she knew that he was sitting there, watching her. Analysing her. Waiting for her to turn and acknowledge him. She couldn’t do that. She closed her eyes and leaned her head against the glass. Thought about theday so long ago when she had watched her little boy encased by a glass box. When the man behind her had ended her world with one word. One act. She heard him shift on the bed, knew that his patience was infinite.
“Why did you do this? “Why my son?”
Silence met her question. She wasn’t sure anymore if she had said it aloud or if it had just been another silent plea to understand his actions. Either way she knew it would not be answered. It never had.
She was tired. She couldn’t play this game anymore. Didn’t want to play it anymore.
Jarod must never know. Her little boy. She wanted his innocence protected. She didn’t want him to think that she had been the reason why he had been held at the Centre for thirty years. That she had been the reason why they had wanted him back so badly when he had finally escaped. The reason why he was back here, in their grasp and would never be let go. Ever.
She turned from the window and faced him. Watched him watching her. “What do you want?”
He smiled. It was grotesque on that ancient face, his eyes dark and glittering. He had gotten so old.
“What I had always wanted, Margie. The unquestionable obedience of my daughter.”
Reviews appreciated. ;-)
Disclaimer: See Chapter 1
Thank you for the reviews. Also thank you to Topanga and Manoline for doing a great job on correcting all my mistakes.
A/N: I’m writing shorter chapters – but that means quicker updates. Hope you like.
…the ending is up to you
The Pretender 2001: One triumvirate goon to another.
“Is it true that he was stolen as a child?”
No answer came forth from the Triumvirate representative, his discomfort at the question clear for all to see.
End of episode – season 1
Jarod stopped in his tracks. The man that had just cost him a meeting with his family stood in front of him. Raising the gun he had taken from the sweeper, he started to approach Raines.
“You stole me from my parents, you had the FBI kill my brother and now you’re trying to kill my family. What have I ever done to you?”
The Tower, 11:45
“What I had always wanted, Margie. The unquestionable obedience of my daughter.”
Margaret stared at her father in utter disbelief. After all the years of running and what he’d put her through, she was shocked that he could still expect her obedience. She was 60 years old, for heaven’s sake.
Complex emotions vied a brief war inside her. Pent-up frustration at her own perceived inabilities to have a say in her life and how it could’ve turned out fought for a place right next to her guilt that told her that this has always been her fault. For short periods of time during the past 30 years, she had allowed herself some respite from her search for the scrolls. During those times she had gone to the house in Charlevoix, hoping to connect again with her past. She could live in denial for a few minutes when she stepped into the ever increasing neglected house where they had stayed, the ghosts of her husband and children laughing in her memory. Later years she would sit on the dusty, cobwebbed floor that had been Jarod’s bedroom, imagining what he would look like; imagine his smile while trying not to think of that fateful night that had changed her life so completely. It had also been the place she gone to when she had found out about Kyle’s death. She had raged her hatred, screaming her sorrow at the skeleton walls that remained before sobbing uncontrollably when her hands were full of splinters and bleeding from repeated blows against the wooden walls. She had hated her life and for a brief moment had contemplated ending it but then calm had prevailed when she thought about Jarod, Emily and Charles.
Her life’s mess was attributed to one man. Her father had not only stolen her chance at happiness, but also that of her husband’s and her children. Despite her legacy and what her father had tried to install in her for years before she left him, she had still hoped – still prayed – that he would leave her alone.
Anger rose anew as she looked at him. If she had a gun she would’ve pulled the trigger without a second thought. She turned away from him to once again to stare out the window, as snow was blown against the window.
One of the sweepers’ cell phones broke the tense atmosphere that had started to develop and she heard his quiet responses. They had found Jarod. In a daze, she heard the sweeper relay the information to her father. Her hope was gone. The world outside seemed to mirror her feelings as a turbulent gust of wind blew another fresh flurry of snow against the window.
“It won’t be long now Margie, before you’ll be able to see your son.”
“I don’t want too.”
To her own ears she sounded like a petulant child that finally got her wish granted but in rebellion had decided that she didn’t want it anymore.
“I’m allowing you this one chance to see him, Margie. I suggest you take it. There won’t be another opportunity for you to see him after this.”
She turned from the window. Her eyes strayed to the lamp standing on the table near her. Her hand itched to reach for it as she wondered if she’d be able to get in at least one solid blow before the sweepers would be on her. Silently sighing, she moved across the room, away from the temptation to seat herself in one of the chairs. She wasn’t willing to risk Jarod’s wellbeing on a brief lack of control.
“What will happen to Catherine’s daughter?”
“She will take her rightful place in the Centre after some much needed re-education. Why the sudden interest in Miss Parker?”
Margaret ignored the question. Glancing at the clock that was bolted to the wall behind her father, she estimated that it wouldn’t be long before the sweepers would arrive with Jarod. Her son. Her father rose from the bed and made his way toward the window where she had been standing not so long ago. Watching the snow, he said, “I’m not a monster, Margie. All I ever wanted was the continued existence of my family. Sometimes sacrifices needed to be made in order for that to happen.”
“So you hunt me for 30 years while you imprison your grandson. How very noble of you. And what sacrifices did you make for you’re so called ‘legacy’?”
“I did what was necessary. Jarod has always been the key to everything.”
“If Jarod’s the key, why take Kyle. Was it to torment me further?” Margaret demanded.
“Kyle had been a bargain to keep Raines in check. He was not important to my plans but I needed him to make sure that Jarod’s life went the way it was predicted. Kyle’s death has prepared Jarod for this moment.”
Margaret clenched her hands at the callousness with which her father dismissed Kyle’s life.
“Jarod is not a chess piece. He’s a human being with feelings. He’s my son.” She uttered the last word quietly, knowing that it would mean nothing to her deranged father. That her words were useless.
“I’m well aware of who Jarod is. Even now he is fulfilling his destiny. His legacy. But he’ll find out soon enough that he’ll never be able to save Catherine’s daughter. That her destiny is inexorably linked to this moment. This…turning point is the culmination of years of guidance and Jarod will take up his inheritance without any compunction or weaknesses.”
“You’re insane if you think Jarod will do that.”
Her father turned from the window, his expression schooled into a caring half-smile. “Jarod will do what is asked of him. Just like the scrolls have predicted.”
The Centre, SL – 10, 11:50
The insides of her eyelids burned orange, squeezed shut against the bright light. Her mother wasn’t there anymore and she felt the sorrow of that knowledge immediately. The feeling of emptiness tugged at her unconsciousness, lifting her towards painful waking.
She stirred uncomfortably, aware of heavy breathing that moved against her hair. Her cheek rested against someone’s chest and she could hear his heartbeat as it thudded against her ear. Her control slipped as she realised the limits of her own self-awareness. Her head felt too heavy as she tried to turn it away from its perch on the person’s chest; instead it lolled back into position.
The hands around her tightened perceptively and she gave a small gasp, uncertainty of who and where she was made panic claw its way up her throat, cutting off her breath.
She remembered Jarod going away, promising that he’d be back.
Her eyes shot open and she flinched away from the brilliant light, closing her eyes again at the onslaught of brightness. The industrial strength of the fluorescence gave her a brief clue that she was still somewhere in the sublevels.
“So you’re awake,” someone said, the voice rumbling against her ear, coming from the chest she was leaning against. “Thought with all your injuries you’d be unconscious for a while longer.”
Squinting against the glare of the light, she cracked open an eye and peered at the face that eclipsed them briefly.
She hadn’t been mistaken. She was in Lyle’s arms.
Shit. What happened?
She took a shallow breath, trying to regain some semblance of control. Her memory seemed shaky at best, not at all inducive to building her crumbling confidence. Lyle chuckled and it bubbled against her ear nauseatingly.
“Got to give it to you, Parker, you’ve got more spunk than I gave you credit for.”
Anger simmered as concern for Jarod flared. Just what the hell had happened?
“Where…,” she started to say, grimacing at the sound of her voice – dry and rough – “…are we going?”
Damn, she sounded like Raines.
“Re-education,” Lyle replied with glee, “and I’ll be your sponsor.”
“Peachy.” Great, she thought. Give the task to the guy who produced Alex. Not that she planned to be there long enough for Lyle to get a chance to ‘re-educate’ her.
“No need for that attitude, Sis.”
She snorted at his tone of disapproval. She surreptitiously tried to move her hands and feet, grimacing at her debilitating weakness when she realised that she had the strength of a new born baby. Lyle shifted her in his arms again and she had to suppress a moan before it could escape. She was suddenly aware of all her injuries and the pain hit her full force.
All her plans about not giving Lyle a chance to re-educate her came crashing down as she realised that in her current state she was no flight risk. There was no way she’d be able to make a run for it, without help. Lyle could do what he wanted and she’d be physically unable to protect herself.
A litany of swear words echoed around her head.
Lyle paused at the sound of the voice and he gave a sigh of frustration. Footsteps echoed off the floor behind them as the person approached. They stopped a short distance away and Lyle turned, Miss Parker still secure in his hold.
“Anything I can do for you, Syd?” Lyle asked sarcastically, clearly annoyed at the interruption.
“I can’t let you take her.”
“Great time to develop a sense of conscience, Sydney. Now why don’t you just squash this little act of defiance and go back to your room. We’ll discuss this further after I’ve taken Miss Parker to her new room.”
Sydney gazed at Lyle, his features sombre and determined. He took his hand out of his jacket. Nestled in his hand was a small handgun, the shape unmistakeable in the light.
“I’m afraid that I’ll have to insist on you letting Miss Parker go, Lyle.”
“Okay,” Lyle shrugged and then unceremoniously dropped Miss Parker from his grip. Distracted by his concern for her, Sydney took his eyes off Lyle, as he automatically reached for her. .
A low moan escaped when she impacted with the floor and she instinctively curled up. There wasn’t one place on her entire body that didn’t hurt. She heard the sounds of a scuffle and then something heavy dropped and skidded across the floor. Her mind instinctively identified it as a gun. The next sound she heard was something she desperately hoped wasn’t the sound of Sydney’s head impacting with the wall. Whatever it was, the noise of fighting ceased.
She blinked her eyes frantically, trying to see through the hazy blur in front of her. Something inside her mind told her that she was in danger. Instinct or her mother – she wasn’t sure. The floor suddenly materialised in front of her as her vision returned full force. She stared at the barrel of a gun that lay just in front of her nose, less than a foot away.
Her hand curled around the gun just as Lyle stepped towards her.
Disclaimer: See Chapter 1
Thank you for the reviews. Also thank you to Topanga for her input and help in writing this chapter.
Season 2, Lyle’s statement to Miss Parker.
“He almost found his family, Miss Parker. Imagine the ramifications.”
The Centre, SL – 10, 11:55 a.m.
She was aware that she was teetering on the edge of a precipice, her energy depleted, and her breath coming in painful gasps. Despite all of this, her determination to stay alive was as strong as ever; she even managed a small grin that stopped Lyle in his tracks, a few feet away from her.
“Parker, don’t be a fool.”
She managed to raise an eyebrow and although the gun in her hand was barely controllable, she still found the strength to keep it fairly steady on her brother.
Lyle regarded her with cold fury, his body tense with animosity. “You don’t want to do this, Parker. You need me……together we…”
“Oh, spare me the rhetoric, Lyle. It got old a long time ago.”
“All I have to do is wait until you pass out, Parker. Which obviously won’t be long? Although I must admit, I admire your strength. But then again, you are a Parker and Parkers are survivors,” Lyle said while keeping his eyes focused on his sister, as he endeavored to take one small step closer to her.
“Hold it there, Sparky. Any further movement and I start taking pot shots.”
There were a few seconds of silence, broken by her jagged breathing, as they glared at each other. She had no doubt that she’d have the strength to pull the trigger but she was weak and she could feel the last reserves of her strength ebb away with each second. She couldn’t dare to take her eyes off Lyle, couldn’t dare to take even a second to search for Sydney.
She remembered the ghastly sound of Sydney’s head hitting the wall; she remembered the disconcerting silence after that.
“You’re not going to shoot, Parker.”
She blinked, hearing Lyle’s words through sudden static in her ears, as her vision started fading to white. She knew she was close to passing out once more, leaving her under her twin’s control again, without a second chance.
Her vision clouded and she saw Lyle give a Cheshire grin as he started towards her.
She pulled the trigger.
The Tower, 11:55 a.m.
Jarod knew of only once that he had been in the Tower before. He had been 10 and he remembers his fear. Sydney had gone to a symposium and Mr Raines had come to fetch him from his room in the middle of the night. All previous memories at that stage of Mr Raines had been frightening. His heart in his throat, he had watched the numbers flash in the elevator, opening onto a dimly lit hall on one of the top floors. He had thought he had done something wrong but had been too scared to ask Mr Raines what it was as they had entered one of the board rooms. Three people had sat at the head of the table and he had known that they were the Triumvirate without needing to ask.
He remembered all the questions they had asked him.
He remembered all the answers he gave them.
And he remembered the old man sitting at the head of the table; eyes cold and calculating making him feel uncomfortable and edgy. Making him afraid. Even more afraid than he had been of Mr Raines.
No need to sim that fear.
He felt it. But not only for himself. For Parker too.
The sweeper on his right grunted a terse command. He tried to follow the command, tried to will his body to move but in the end he was too slow. His ribs protested when they jerked him forward. He was herded towards a door where another sweeper stood, big and imposing – square jawed and looking like he knew every technique devised to defend himself. Jarod dropped his eyes, focused on the floor and the luxury carpet that softened their footfalls. It was a striking burgundy red colour, perfect for camouflaging blood stains until washed out.
He watched the sweeper knock and as the door was silently opened, he was forcefully ushered inside. He vaguely heard a woman gasp somewhere behind him. Half turning, he hoped to get a glimpse of who it was. He couldn’t move as the sweepers tightened their grips on his arms, forcing him to take another step forward. He lifted his head, lifted his eyes and saw a very old man silhouetted against the window. He frowned, wondering who the man was and then his memories of another meeting at another time forced their way back to consciousness.
He was 10.
His first meeting in the tower.
And he knew instinctively who was staring at him with those empty, cold and calculating eyes.
The head of the Triumvirate.
The Centre, SL – 10, 12:00
Sydney was confused. He blinked, staring at the face of Angelo above him. He felt the growing bump on the back of his aching head and winced when a sharp pain registered at his touch. From somewhere distant he thought he perceived voices, but couldn’t make out the words…
A gentle touch on his arm and he opened his eyes. Two circling Angelo’s were looking at him with concern.
“Daughter hurt. Sydney help.”
Angelo’s words finally seemed to register. As alarm filtered through his still aching head, Sydney sat up, grabbing at one of Angelo’s arms when his equilibrium started to swing madly. Breathing through his nose, eyes closed, he waited for the dizzy spell to pass.
It took three tries before he made it as far as his feet and then another minute before he reached Miss Parker. If Angelo hadn’t been there, he didn’t think he would’ve managed.
Miss Parker didn’t look good. Her cheeks were whiter than any powder with twin blushes of fever providing the only colour. His gun was clasped in her hand and he suddenly realised why he had come.
Then he noticed Lyle. He must have walked right past the man’s body. Hadn’t even seen it in his concentration to stay on his feet and reach Miss Parker. The Chairman’s son was dead, lying sprawled just two feet short of reaching his sister.
Ignoring Lyle, he turned back towards Miss Parker. Tried to remember the rudimentary first aid he had learned when he had studied for his degree.
Check for breathing.
Gave a small sigh of relief when he noticed her chest moving. With Angelo’s help, he shifted her onto her back. She gave a small moan in protest but stayed unconscious.
Sydney knew there was nothing he could do. He had no first aid kit, no bandages, no magic wand to make everything better all at once. He felt his age, felt the creak of his bones and the lingering concussion that threatened to send him back to oblivion. He felt helpless and old.
In spite of his better judgment, he gently tapped one of Miss Parker’s cheeks, calling her name softly.
There was no response.
The Tower, 12:00
The voice crackled, thin with age and thick with evil. Jarod shuddered, his stomach in knots and he knew that this was the man responsible for his tenure at the Centre. The man gestured to the sweepers and their hands fell away. A moment later the cuffs were released. Warily, he eyed the old man as he brought his hands forwards, massaging the life back into them.
He heard movement behind him. The old man was watching with amusement.
“Jarod.” The voice was layered with such a diverse array of emotions - tentative yet somehow radiating affection, hopeful but at the same time clearly also filled with fear and anxiety. It was feminine. It wasn’t Miss Parker; he hadn’t expected to see her here. She was probably somewhere in the sublevels and in Lyle’s “care.” Even now, with these lightening fast thoughts, he wouldn’t let his mind go there.
Jarod turned, the sweepers still practically glued to his sides but allowing him the movement.
His mother stood partially hidden behind a chair, one hand lingering on the back of it. Grounding her.
She nodded, glancing behind him towards the Triumvirate head. Jarod instantly went cold. Somehow, he knew.
His question hung in air fraught with nervous tension.
“Why don’t you tell him, Maggie?”
Jarod watched as his mother paled and seemed to wither before his eyes. Eyes dulled with a hidden pain for which he couldn’t see the etiology. If possible, Margaret’s hand clenched the chair’s fabric even more desperately.
“Please, don’t do this.”
Silence met her appeal.
Unsure, Jarod took a step towards her. The sweepers closed ranks and he stopped, watching his mother with concern and apprehension.
Margaret took another ragged deep breath, seemed to gather herself up and said, “Jarod, this is the head of the Triumvirate.” She gave a small defeated sigh and paused once again. With her heart full of shame and her eyes full of sorrow, she added, “and…..your grandfather.”
Disclaimer: See Chapter 1
Thank you for the reviews. Also thank you to Topanga for great work on making this better.
Donoterase, Miss Parker to her father
“Is there no depth to which we won’t sink?”
The Tower, 12:01 p.m.
For the very first time in his life Jarod fully grasped how Miss Parker must have felt when he revealed her family secrets to her. It felt as if he’d been punched in the gut. His legs could barely hold him upright as he fought the devastation that the words had brought.
I am part of the Centre.
My family is responsible for the death and destruction of thousands…
My mother…my mother
He wouldn’t dare complete the thought.
Couldn’t bear to think of the ramifications.
Couldn’t even begin to fathom what it all meant.
“It’s a lie,” was all he managed to utter, denial still very much evident in his features. With desperation in his eyes, he willed his mother to tell him that she’d been under duress and was forced to say those hateful words. When she stayed silent, he shook his head. “Please...” the words dried up beyond that plea. He couldn’t ask her again. He wiped his face with a trembling hand, wanting to vanish completely, wanting to banish this moment to oblivion.
Oh God, who am I?
His mind seemed to slow down and accelerate all at once.
“I’m the proudest mommy in the world...”
“Hello Jarod, my name is Sydney. I’ll be taking care of you for a while.”
“Where are my mom and dad?”
“I’m not doing the sim.”
“The Centre owns you, Jarod. They will never let you go.”
“Why did you try to kill me?”
“I know about your family, Jarod. Things that only I can tell you...”
“I can be a doctor, an engineer, a fireman but I don’t know who I am?”
“I’m the proudest mommy...”
The window was left open.
When they took him, the window to his room had been left open.
He dismissed the thought. His mother loved him. It had been a warm night and the breeze had been cool on his skin. She had kissed him goodnight.
But the window had been open...
She must have known he was at the Centre. How could she not? Why didn’t she rescue him? Why had she left him here, abandoned and alone?
All those years of loneliness, all those years of pain. All those years of hope and unanswered prayers.
She loves me.
The window had been open...
The force of the betrayal hit like an express train. He so desperately wanted to believe the fantasy he had created of his mother in his mind. He had searched for that love, had yearned for it as only a lost child could.
That night they took him she had kissed him goodnight.
Everything was frozen. He was paralyzed by the images and thoughts that flashed uncontrollably through his mind. He closed his eyes tightly but it didn’t stop the swirling motion . Didn’t stop the nausea. Didn’t stop the image of his mother’s face as she bent over his bed to give him a kiss on the forehead.
Didn’t stop the image of those men climbing in through the open window.
His first meeting with Sydney. His terror. His sobs. His quest for love. A hug. A smile. Instead, dark days locked away waiting for Sydney to come back from conferences. Dying. Pain. Agony. Torture.
“I can save him...NO!”
“No, don’t...no, no...”
“I can’t accept this, Jarod.”
“We have work to do...”
The Tower, 12:08 p.m.
Gradually he became aware that he was on the floor, a knee angrily pressing down between his shoulder blades. He couldn’t see his mother. His face was pressed into the freshly cleaned carpet, hard enough to make it suffocating. Suddenly claustrophobic, Jarod started fighting, ignoring the protests from his sore ribs. For a moment the pressure on his back remained and then, all of a sudden, he was free and fighting with himself. Taking in panting gasps, he pushed himself from the floor into a sitting position.
He had to get out of here.
Had to get away from this nightmare.
And then soft hands were on his face, touching him tentatively. For just a second he relaxed, took a deep breath and let it soothe him. Let it heal.
“I’m so sorry, Jarod. I...”
That was it. The gaping chasm in his chest tore open again. He wrenched his head away and pushed her from him. He couldn’t look at her, couldn’t bring himself to acknowledge her. The hurt was too real and too painful.
“It’s not what you think?”
“How the fuck would you know what I think?”
He surprised himself by his outburst. By the violence in his voice. He wanted to take it back, but this duplicity was too close and too new and he allowed the some of the rage that he had always kept at bay to escape a little. On some distant plane Jarod was aware that the old man was still watching them with interest; he couldn’t concentrate, as he was consumed by his mounting fury. He rose, turning his back on his mother. The two sweepers had drifted away, standing against the wall just to the side of him. Close enough to intervene if he’d try anything. Not that it mattered anymore.
“Tell me you didn’t know.”
They both understood what he meant. That she hadn’t known about his captivity at the Centre. That she had been searching for him all these years. That she had been running just as hard as he had to get out of the clutches of this place.
“Tell me!” He growled again as he lost what little patience he had to begin with, clenching his fists. His chest was tight, the tension slowly building inside him towards a breaking point that he knew he wouldn’t be able to prevent.
“He would’ve killed you.”
He gave a short bark of laughter, his voice rough and hard in the silence of the room. He felt the tears trickle down his face as he stared out the window at the storm blowing outside.
“That first night...after you were taken, I came. I came with Catherine and found you locked in a room.”
The tears didn’t stop. His chest tightened further and he wondered how long he’d be able to go without being able to breathe.
“They found us.” He heard her swallow. “Your...grandfather was there. Even then he was a powerful man. He told me that if I tried...if I tried to find you again that he will kill you in front of me.”
He had no words to reply, no words to say. He was robbed of breath and all he could do was stare at the snow as it fell past the window. Effortless and slow, dancing on the wind.
His life was falling apart.
“I’ve been searching for a way to get you out. Jarod, you have to believe me. All these years...”
The silence thickened, became palatable. He thought he could taste it, taste it as sure as he tasted his tears. His blood.
“When I heard that you’ve escaped, I tried to find you.”
“Why should I believe you?”
He heard her clothes rustle and then she was touching his arm. His body went rigid and the tears stopped. He could feel his eyes drying, burning but he still didn’t move. He couldn’t. Her hand curled around his bicep and then tightened as if she had made a decision.
“Don’t think for one second that I don’t run scenarios in my mind on what I could’ve done differently. That I play that day at the Centre over and over in my mind. Trying to find other angles, trying to find ways to have gotten you out. There are a lot of things I regret about my life, Jarod but don’t think for one second that I haven’t tried everything to get you out of this place.”
He wanted to believe her, wanted to believe that she was sincere, wanted to believe her more than anything his whole life. And then - the old man spoke. It was as if he read Jarod’s mind, as if he had seen inside his soul and he knew the exact words to say to destroy the tentative line of trust that his mother had started to weave.
“Tell him about the promise you made me so long ago, Margie. On that day you left me.”
Jarod’s breath hitched.
A moment later his mother dropped her hand from his arm and stepped away.
He heard so much in that one word. Panic. Sorrow. Anger. Determination. Fear. He turned and faced his mother. He was numb inside except for the pool of molten lava that was slowly building.
He glanced at his grandfather and then back at his mother.
“There was no promise. Just lies to get away from you.”
The old man laughed; an eerie cackle that seemed to fill the room. And then there was a gun in the Triumvirate member’s hand, pointed right at Jarod. There was malice and coldness in his voice that made it quite clear that he wouldn’t tolerate any further disobedience.
“Don’t think for one moment that I won’t make good on my promise.” The old man paused long enough for the words to sink in and then he said, “ Now tell him.”
His mother’s gaze locked with him. She opened her lips and closed them again. In the silence the distant boom of surf seemed loud.
“You need him.”
Somehow his mother had found her voice and courage. Anger flashed in the octogenarian’s eyes. Two steps later and a slap sounded and Jarod could only watch his mother stagger back, her hand immediately going to her cheek. The old man was heaving, the gun still in his hand, a finger curled dangerously around the trigger.
“Why do you continue to defy me?”
Margaret’s hand slowly dropped from her cheek, leaving a red mark where her father had hit her.
Spittle flew from the corners of her father’s mouth as he kept screaming at her. When she didn’t comply, he grabbed Jarod and placed the gun against the Pretender’s head.
And Jarod saw his chance.
He opened the floodgates and allowed all the anger he had been bottling up over the years to flow. The glimpses he had allowed those men and woman to see that he had gone after when he had been outside was nothing compared to this moment.
Darkness filled his mind.
And then he was aware that he was moving...
The Tower, 12:10 p.m.
The smoke was acrid in his nostrils, stinging them with sulfuric acid. The gun was heavy in his hand; he could feel the weight pulling on his muscles, as he stared in shock at the scene in front of him. Somehow through the heavy pounding in his ears he heard his mother give a small whimper. Finally the darkness in his mind cleared and he could think again. Feel again. See again. The first thought that entered his pristine mind was, “What have I done?”
Disclaimer: See Chapter 1
Thank you for the reviews. Moreover, my appreciation to Topanga for outstanding work on making this better.
Sometimes, things are too broken to be fixed. No matter what you do, no matter what you try, no matter the effort you put in or the new parts you buy. Sometimes there’s just nothing left you can do but realize it’s time to let things go. Time to stop fighting and move on.
I look at my son and I realize now the truth of what my family has done. What my blood has done to him. I ignore the violence of the moment, ignore the smell of death as I try to think of what I want to say and more importantly, of how to say my deepest, darkest secret that is not even realized in my worst nightmares.
My megalomaniac father’s broken body lies at my feet, his eyes in death just as accusing, just as tormenting as they had been in life. I do not feel anguish or bereavement. In fact, I feel nothing as a glance down at his stiffening corpse. I had known all along it would come to this; it was inevitable….
That my son would kill my father.
That this would be Jarod’s cross to bear.
Waking up was like coming out of deep sleep, suddenly and without warning. It was like the time when Jarod had woken her that first time he had phoned her.
“Oh! I intentionally wake you in your deepest sleep stage and all I get is a lifeless ‘what’?”
Damn Jarod. Why couldn’t he leave her in peace for just one minute? Why did he have to come and confuse the hell out of her perfect little screwed up world? She was perfectly happy with being Daddy’s girl. At least it was what she knew. With her life and her friends and her distorted memories of who she was supposed to be.
“Do you think we’ll ever find that kind of love in our lives?”
And now she had a deadfather who had pretended to be a hero for once and had taken a dive from a plane, telling her that someday she’ll understand.
All it meant was that she had ended up learning that her mother’s death was faked and then to confuse her even more, she discovered that her mother had in realitydied a little less than a year later. That her father most probably wasn’t her father but her uncle.
And that she had married the guy that had not only been her best friend when she had been growing up, but also had been the guy she had chased ruthlessly for 5 years at the behest of her father.
For the promise that she’d be free from the Centre at the guy’s expense.
“The true casualties of war are always the innocent.”
No shit. And now she was back at the Centre. Even with all the assurances and promises that Jarod had given her, she was back.
Why did she have to go and fall in love with him?
Hadn’t Tommy’s death taught her anything about the capabilities of the Centre. About the lengths to which the powers that be are willing to go to keep her here. To keep Jarod here.
That’s the wonderful thing about life, Miss Parker. If you change the story, the ending is up to you.”
It was as if she was back there again, on that damn island where so much had changed. Where she had finally realized that Jarod was right. As always.
Maybe it’s time that the story gets changed.
Maybe it’s time that she determines the ending.
After all, what else can go wrong?
On some distant plane Jarod realized what he had done. He ignored his mother, ignored the dead bodies around him. Dropping the gun, he moved away towards the window where the winter storm still raged.
He felt numb inside. He had no idea anymore who he was supposed to be. All his hopes and dreams seemed just as scattered as the waves that were tossed against the rocks down below.
What was he?
A child? A man?
He wasn’t real.
Did he even exist?
Sydney sighed in relief when she moaned and then opened her eyes.
“Daughter help friend.”
Miss Parker blinked up at Angelo. Then it looked like she visibly gathered her thoughts and the inner strength that Sydney had seen so many times over the years.
Her voice had a steely edge to it, her eyes dark and determined.
She nodded and then reached for his hand to pull herself up. Sydney tried to stop her, tried to protest about internal injuries and that she was too weak.
Angelo though seemed to understand what it was that Miss Parker needed to do.
A moment later he had her in his arms, making her way down the hall towards the elevators.
All Sydney could do was follow.
She tried again to reach him. Jarod was staring out the window, his eyes intent on the surf down below.
“Jarod. Please. You’re scaring me.”
He didn’t acknowledge her plea. Kept staring down and when she touched him, he didn’t startle, didn’t move.
Jarod’s body was in the room.
His mind most definitely wasn’t.
Margaret had no idea what to do.
Angelo seemed to know where to go.
For some strange reason there were no sweepers around. Everything seemed quiet but it gave Sydney the same sense of calm just before a storm. As if the whole Centre was waiting for the violence to erupt, for that pivotal moment in time where everything changes.
They rode in silence, watching the numbers change in the Tower’s lift. Then they reached the floor Angelo had pressed. The doors opened on a hallway that seemed to stretch ominously before them. A deep burgundy carpet decorated the floor, starkly different against the eggshell colored walls. The light was set to dim, the effect a nightmarish scene seemingly straight from a horror movie.
No wonder those that returned from the Tower had that look in their eyes. That look that said they had seen hell and survived it.
Angelo exited the lift, Sydney in tow as they made their way slowly down the hallway. Two turns later and they came to a halt in front of an open door. Miss Parker gave a short command. Sydney thought of protesting, but it fell empty against his lips.
Nothing was going to stop Miss Parker from walking through that door.
Not even her own broken body.
Margaret turned from where she had been standing next to Jarod to see Miss Parker enter the room. Her face was ashen, white against the dark mahogany of her hair. She couldn’t believe that Miss Parker was even standing, even alive after the beating she had witnessed.
But then again, Miss Parker was her mother’s little girl and the same strength she had seen in Catherine now showed in Miss Parker.
“What happened here?”
While Margaret was tryingto come up with answers, an impatientSydney brushed by Miss Parker, making straight for his prodigy.
Margaret watched as Sydney gently touched Jarod, watched as his eyes filmed in unshed tears as he tried to get the Pretender’s attention again without any luck.
So many things have gone wrong in the past 24 hours.
Sometimes, just sometimes, things are too broken to be fixed.
Disclaimer: See Chapter 1
Thank you for the reviews. Also thank you to Topanga for great work on making this better. And I'm done with all the rest of the chapters. As soon as they are betaed I'll post them.
For the first time ever, he finally has the missing pieces and actually knows the absolute truth of his life. He can't escape the memories, can't run away anymore. No longer attempting to forget or trying to temper them with insanely long hours of sleep deprivation while finding solutions to other people’s nightmares.
This time the raw wound he had been trying to hide was torn open. A huge gaping hole that he just couldn't seem to close. Or hide.
It’s almost too much to bear.
How much anguish can one man endure?
How much before he breaks completely. Until he becomes an empty shell, without a soul?
Where're my mom and dad?
He remembers asking that question so clearly.
Remembers his hurt and pain and rejection.
Hello, my name is Sydney and I'll be taking care of you for a while...
He feels his heart pounding, just as it had that day when Sydney had walked into the room. This man with the kind brown eyes that were going to take care of him. He hadn't understood completely what those words would come to mean. Had no idea how drastically his life would change from loving hugs to the cold impersonal space in the Centre. He just knew he was scared and wanted to go home,
All he had known since that inauspicious day was the feelingof loss. The taste of fear. Of suppressing his memories of the kidnapping with made-up stories. Stories that he oh so much wanted to believe.
The alternative was left for nightmares. Hidden away in dark recesses of his mind.
With one word Sydney had shown him how to hide himself. How to hide the bleeding ulcer in his heart. How to hide the wonderful memories of a time with family and Thanksgiving dinners. Childhood play.
How to bury the anger.
And the terror.
Each and every sim he'd ever done. He can see them clearly, can see the movie of his life play out before him.
Hanging from a rope as he tries to save the little girl. Feeling the flames as they start to devour his flesh. His heart thudding in his chest as he tries to peddle harder, faster.
Mr Raines and Lyle killing him to test a heart drug.
The feel of the jumper cables blasting electricity through every nerve.
Jarod, there's been a plane crash...
And he'd believed that lie. He knows now that it was because he'd wanted to. Needed to. It made it easier to just not think about the alternative.
About his secrets he kept hidden away and never looked at.
That he was a stolen child. Torn from his loving family. That he wasn't free. Would never be able to leave the Centre.
So he made himself believe Sydney. And pushed the unbearable thoughts even further, deeper into his mind.
But despite all this, sometimes when he was laying in bed, exhausted after a day's sims, the thoughts would rebelliously return to taunt him. He would try and think of the day's problems, would do complex integrals in his head, anything but that. Sometimes it worked.
Until the day it worked too well and he did forget.
And he couldn't remember his mother's face.
Or what his house looked like.
Or playing outside with his father.
Sydney found him under the staircase, lost and confused.
Because he had really and truly had wanted to forget. Had wanted to take the easy way out of dark thoughts that had haunted him about the lies he had made himself believe.
But now that he had , he wanted his memories back. To taste them again. To feel them again. To wholly embrace all of them with all his senses.
To remember what love feels like.
What a mother's hug feels like.
You're a girl?
Then she'd come into his life. Unspoken. Unbidden.
For a short period in his childhood, he had a friend. Even if he never ever could bring himself to talk to her about what he did in the sims. Or of what went on with Mr Raines. She brought calmness and laughter and excitement into his dismal existence.
Suddenly he truly had someone he cared about.
She became his substitute for all the loss and loneliness and heartache his life had previously encompassed. With her he could concentrate on finding himself again. Deciding who he was.
Who he wanted to be. Not who they told him to be.
Not to be the lost little boy under the staircase with empty drawings of his mother's face around him.
He could be just Jarod.
And then she went away.
It tore his whole world apart... again.
Abandonment. Hurt. Depression.
He lost himself in the sims. He became better at finding until he realised one day he wasn't a child anymore.
With that realisation, came the fact that unless he did something he'd be stuck in the Centre forever. This happened the very day he'd happened to glance at a folder on Mr Raines' desk. The day he realised that the sims he'd been doing so diligently were being used to kill innocent people.
It was the day he started to rebel.
It was the day that led to Kenny's death.
"Jarod, can you hear me?"
It was weird. Even though he couldn't respond, couldn't answer; he could see the room. He was standing against the window, staring out towards the winter storm.
Miss Parker was standing by a chair, her face chalk white against the black darkness of her hair. He knew she was hurt, knew that standing there like that must hurt. He so much wanted to reach out to her but he found himself incapable.
He saw Angelo. His best friend all through the years of his stay in this hellhole. Angelo was staring right at him as if he could really see him. As if he could perceive his struggle to move.
He didn't want to see her.
There was so much blood.
Blood that was on his hands.
He looked down. Could see it dripping from his fingers. Could feel the satin soft texture as itenfolded him completely.
Could smell it.
He knew the smell very well. Too well.
He'd lived with it for seven years.
It was his actual nightmares.
The ones he always had when a sim was done. When there weren’t those gruelling long nights or drugs to prevent it with exhaustive sleep.
When he felt at his most vulnerable.
He despised the feel of it.
"Listen to me..."
The snow was going to be thick tomorrow.
He remembers his first trip out of the centre. Of standing in the cold and catching the snowflakes as they swirled and swooped toward the ground. The only sound an occasional plop of snow falling from a nearby tree. Remember the icy feel of it on his face. On his hands.
He remembers how alive he'd felt.
The smell of snow in the air.
The bite of cold air in his lungs.
The taste of snowflakes melting on his tongue.
The clouds thick and woolly in the sky.
The crunch of snow under his feet.
"You need to remember..."
Every fist of the sweepers.
Utter complete helplessness.
Pounding heart. Quickened breath. Clammy hands.
All this he feels.
He remembers every single day when Sydney wasn’t at the Centre.
To protect him.
All 237 days of them.
Today was no different.
"I kept it"
"I kept the card and every..."
"Father’s Day I took it out"
Something was happening.
He couldn't understand. It felt like he'd worn something heavy all this time.
The cold and hurt and rejection he'd been carrying all these years in the pit of his stomach.
Jarod, I'm sorry but I can't take this...
"I'd remember the little boy who gave it to me"
He had taken it.
Had saved it.
Had kept it.
"You're my son as much as it was possible to have been then."
It was the words he had been waiting to hear his whole life.
It was the words
"You have it..."
Disclaimer: See Chapter 1
Thank you for the reviews. Also thank you to Topanga for great work on making this better.
For the first time in his life, Jarod truly began to mourn the copious losses he'd accumulated over the years. He sobbed uncontrollably, as he clung to Sydney's shirt for dear life while he buried his head into his mentor's chest. It was heartbreaking to observe yet a sense of relief filled Miss Parker as she watched her husband and best friend finally beginning to let go of all the hurt he'd just been covering up with bigger Band-Aids over the years.
Suddenly exhausted and feeling each and every ache and pain of her battered body, she collapsed into the chair she had been standing next to, still unashamedly watching the scene before her.
Looking lost, Jarod's mother stood a little way off to the side, her face drawn and lined with her own hidden grief.
Miss Parker leaned her head back and closed her eyes to rest for a minute.
When she opened her eyes again, she was down in the Centre's infirmary. She panicked momentarily, when she thought about danger of sweepers and the dead Triumvirate leader upstairs.
Somehow during that chaotic maelstrom of thoughts she fell asleep again.
Sometime later, despite the drowsiness, she gradually realized that someone was sitting by her bedside. It took her a few minutes to will her eyes open, to force her body not to fall asleep again.
Instinctively, her eyebrows rose when she was who it was.
Jarod's mother must've realized her unasked question because she indicated with her head to the left.
It was enough for her. Her next question was left hanging in her mind as she slipped back into blessed unconsciousness.
She finally managed to push herself upright against the pillow 3 days later. Befitting her character, she was irritated with her own body's weakness. Aggravated she couldn't stand on her own two feet. and infuriated that her sense of control and independence were entirely dependent on her own body's timeline in its ability to heal.
At least she wasn't falling asleep every 2 minutes.
That should at least count for something.
The curtains moved and like a specter Margaret reappeared, her hand hesitantly stalling against the sheer fabric.
"What day is it?"
Miss Parker was surprised that she managed the question, even more so that she had asked.
Despite the thousands of remaining unanswered questions, she actually hadn't exchanged a word with Jarod's mother since she found her sitting by his bedside.
Miss Parker nodded, her hands smoothing the blanket across her lap. Margaret shifted slightly, indecision clearly etched on her face. Just when it seemed as if she was turning to leave, Miss Parker asked the question that had been burning inside her ever since she had entered the Tower room and set her eyes upon the aftermath.
"My father and your grandfather were friends long before they knew about the scrolls. About any of this madness that is the Centre and the Triumvirate. From what I could gather from my mother and …other sources… is that when they realized that the scrolls existed, they both went searching for them.
You know the story of your grandfather. How he killed his family and left Carthis for the States. How he founded the Centre.
What you don't know is that my father founded the Triumvirate. They did this because for some insane reason, they believed the prophesies that the scrolls had foretold. Between them, they had planned out the future for all involved.
Your grandfather had planned to hone your father to be the chairman. But as a child, Mr. Raines was sickly and weak; unlike Mr. Parker, the man he got to play stand-in as your father your whole life. So he gave Mr. Raines away. But as you know your surrogate father was infertile. Another blemish but your grandfather was determined that you had to be born. So he had Mr. Raines' sperm implanted into your mother and you were conceived to his great delight. Even more so when he realized that you were part of a twin. He envisioned a plan for your brother that Mr. Raines implemented as soon as your brother was born. Whisked away from the Centre and any influence that your mother could've had on your brother. You know the rest.
Your grandfather died thinking his master plan was in place.
My father meanwhile started the Triumvirate in South Africa. The Zulu's are a proud nation. A warrior nation. So, according to what he had read in the scrolls, he selected two of the best Zulu men he could found that was devoid of empathy. Two men who were after power and money. With my father as leader, the Triumvirate grew silently and with a reputation as ruthless as Hitler's death squads.
When I was born, my father knew that when I had a son what he would do to him. As I grew up, he would tell me repeatedly, his conviction that it would all be for the common good for everyone still ringing hollow in my ears. It was a like a religion to him and he was trying to convert me, rather brainwash me. My mother had left shortly after I was born. I never met her and I'm convinced that she had in fact been murdered by my father.
For a while I believed him. Wanted to believe him that I would be like Mary, giving birth to a savior for the world. I felt special. I was willing to do anything to please him. Wanted him to love me. To show him that he could be proud of me.
One day, while he was away on a business trip I went to his study, searching for a book that I had inadvertently left there the previous week. I remember the day all too well. It was early morning, the sun had barely risen. The wood-paneled room smelled of him, the musky tobacco he liked to smoke in that old meerschaum pipeand the warm deep aroma of the whiskey he liked to drink. My book wasn't on the chair were I'd left it, so, thinking perhaps he'd left it on his desk, I went looking.
Instead I found an open folder on his desk. That day I had thought that he'd left it by mistake. I know better now. It had been all part of his plan. He had wanted me to read what was inside that folder. Had wanted to set things in motion for his so-called master plan.
The Centre shall rise. The Chosen will be found, a boy named Jarod…
It was the first words of the prophesy. As I read more, I started to realize what my father was planning. And what my involvement would be in it.
That was the day I realized how true evil can exist in people. As soon as my father returned home, I confronted him.
I've never seen him that angry. I feared for my life even though I knew he needed me for his plans. He told me that if I had wanted to go to a university in the states, I had to promise him my first born despite knowing the truth of what he'd do to him. Had read about his plans for my child. Or what his future would entail.
Please…You must understand. I would've promised him anything just to get away. I thought that if I disappeared he wouldn't be able to find me. Wouldn't be able to ask for his pound of flesh. And for a while it seemed like it worked.
As soon as I had gotten to the states, I went off radar. I didn't go to the campus, didn't register for my degree plan. I simply went off grid. I had thought myself save from his reach.
I met Jarod's father in the diner where I worked. He was a pilot, recently graduated. I fell for him albeit I had promised myself I would never marry. Never have children.
We got married 2 years later, a small ceremony. just his parents and us. He wanted children. For a brief time I seriously debated telling him about my father and his threats about any children I would have. But I was young and frightened. I didn't want to lose Charles.
You can imagine my delight when I released that we couldn't naturally conceive children. And for a while we consoled ourselves and had a happy uneventful marriage. But then some of Charles' friends had children and I realized even with my father's promises hanging like a sword over me, I also yearned to have small feet pitter patter all over the house. For children's laughter to fill our yard. My maternal instinct won over.
With Charles, I felt secure.
I felt safe.
Charles heard about NuGenesis. I thought it a mistake but despite my misgivings we went. I had no way of knowing that the Centre owned NuGenesis.
Or that my father was in any way related to the Centre.
The day I saw the pink stripe was the happiest day of my life. Jarod was busy growing inside me while the NuGenesis people kept careful watch. My father knew of the developing pretender as well. He must've been ecstatic.
His plan was coming to fruition even though I had fought him on it.
You should've seen Charles' face when Jarod was born. I had wanted to call my son Samuel but Charles had his heart set on 'Jarod.' I couldn't believe it. How could possibly be the exact same name as in the scrolls? He even spelled it that same odd way – with an "o." Apparently it was his grandfather's name. A family name, no less.
I couldn't resist my husband and although the words I had read still echoed in my mind, I surrendered my own insecurities and fears and agreed to name him Jarod. As I looked down at my beautiful infant son sleeping in my arms, I made a silent promise that his grandfather would never find him. Would never know about his existence.
Obviously I failed.
Every year I had to bring Jarod back to NuGenesis. For us to conceive, we had to sign a contract stating we agreed to bring Jarod for a few tests on his birthday. By then, we were desperate; the inconvenience was minor. Plus, I could never have predicted how a yearly visit could have threatened our security or in any way be interconnected with my father.
We settled not far out of Blue Cove where we developed a warm camaraderie with the Parkers and that's when I became very good friends with your mother. I thought the Centre was a place where altruistic work was being done. I never entirely trusted your father, but it wasn't until one day when Catherine inadvertently let it slip that the Centre did business with an outfit from Africa called the Triumvirate that it all made sense. I was shocked. What a stupid idiot I'd been. All those years I'd hidden from my father and there I was on his doorstep. How could I have forgotten – The Centre was in the Scrolls. "The Centre Shall Rise…" It was such a common word that I'd never made the connection.
I was absolutely petrified. I fabricated some story about the sea air and allergies and we moved to Michigan onto a farm. I felt save again even though I missed Catherine.
Three days after his fourth birthday Jarod was kidnapped. Taken from his room in the middle of the night.
Charles was devastated.
I knew who it was. Knew that the police would find nothing. Knew that our efforts would be in vain.
I called Catherine. I don't know how but something inside me convinced me that Jarod would be at the Centre. We went looking for him and I found him all alone in a big room within a glass case. Like some animal on display.
I couldn't save him.
My father knew I'd come looking. He'd been waiting for us. He told me if I ever returned, he would kill Jarod in front of me.
I believed him.
It was the last time I saw my son. The next time I'd see him would be in Boston, with sweepers behind him. I panicked. Emily was with me in the car and I just closed the door and escaped, knowing that the Centre's men was there, waiting for him. It was the hardest thing I had done. But not for my father...
I went back to Charles. We tried to move on. We mourned the loss of our son. Charles still kept on searching, kept on phoning the police for any leads. Kyle was born and for a little while Jarod's brother kept the heartache at bay.
And exactly four years after his birth he was stolen.
Just like Jarod.
Except this time they took him in broad daylight.
The police started questioning us about the disappearance of our sons. They thought that we might've been involved. That we had killed them and buried them somewhere.
I knew the truth. I knew that it was my father again.
I phoned him. Pleaded with him to at least let me have Kyle back. He wouldn't relent. I then threatened him about going to the FBI. I remember the silence over the phone.
And then his voice. Low and quiet.
The FBI will do nothing. The key people belong to us. Contact them and you sign the death warrant on Charles, Kyle and Jarod and anyone else you had ever been friends with.
Once again I acceded. I didn't want my husband dead. I didn't want my children dead. I didn't want my friends to suffer for my stupidity.
Two years later I found out I was pregnant. Without any help from NuGenesis. We went on the run. Emily was born in a small room above a barn on a farm of a friend of mine. We knew we had to keep her safe. We never settled anywhere long enough to make friends.
Somehow, when Jarod was nearly ten Charles found out about the Centre. Your mother and I had been busy with our own plans to save Jarod and the other children. I had found out that the folder I had read on my father's table had only been a copy.
The real scrolls were still out there somewhere. We were searching for it, sure that it would be a bargain point with them for the children. That night your mother had told me that Mr. Raines was blackmailing her to fake her own death. I remember the anguish she had felt at leaving you but she had no choice.
A month later I heard from sources that she had been killed. That Charles might've been responsible. My dear ignorant husband had gone to rescue Jarod but instead got shot. I remember the overwhelming fear that my father would believe that it had been me that had tried something. We split soon after he healed, believing that it was too dangerous to stay together. I was relieved. It meant that I didn't have to explain about my family, about the scrolls and about my search for them.
Emily stayed with me as I kept on running, keeping her out of my father's long reach.
Until the day when the Centre found me and brought me here.
All this pain because my father had believed in words that had been written by some insane monk in a monastery long ago.
Because Jarod had always been the key to him realizing his thirst for power and greed. "
Let my muse know how she did. ;-)
Sydney couldn't help but give a small grin tactfully hidden behind a hand as Miss Parker gave one last look at the table set out before her. Jarod's father was already seated at the table, the boy he had known as Gemini seated next to him. Sydney sat at the head of the table with Miss Parker and Jarod seated across Chris and Charles and Angelo across from him.
It was now 4 months since that day in the Tower when Jarod had killed his grandfather. Miss Parker had healed completely from her near fatal injuries. Sydney was still amazed by her strength and resilience. Especially in helping Jarod overcome his insecurities and guilt.
Because despite the fact that Jarod outwardly looked his own self, he had been hurt deep by the revelations that his mother had made. Even though he could logically pull his feelings apart with Sydney, he couldn't reconcile the image he had built of his mother with the truth she had revealed. Even while her actions had been exploited and manipulated by her father, Jarod still held her responsible for his incarceration at the Centre. And for killing a man, no matter how evil.
Currently Jarod had a fragile bond with her and Sydney knew that it would take a lot of time for his prodigy's trust to be rebuilt to a point where he can trust her in his and Parker's home. Margaret was staying in a small apartment in town and works at a local shop selling antiquities. Sydney knew that she was at least grateful that her son was willing to work on their relationship. It could as easily have gone a different direction.
Charles was also slowly rebuilding his relationship with her. But Sydney could see in the man's eyes that he had been deeply hurt by his wife's distrust in him. He had once found Charles in the garden, sitting underneath a big oak tree – the branches naked except for a thick layering of snow - staring into the distance. He had wanted to leave the man alone with his thoughts but instead had found himself seating himself next to Charles. They had sat in silence for several minutes. Then slowly Charles had started to tell him about his days when they had been a young family. How happy they had been until the day Jarod had been stolen. How he had never suspected his wife despite wondering about the haunted look that seemed to overcome her every time he would mention finding Jarod. And the stark fear he had seen in her eyes the day when she had found him hidden in a motel, barely alive from his gunshot wound. He had thought at that time that it had been her fear of nearly loosing him. Now he knew better. It had been her fear for Jarod. For the fact that her father could have interpreted his rescue attempt as part of her plans. He had spoken of the fact that he had no idea if he could ever forgive her for withholding all the information about her past. How he was trying his best to find his love for her again but that it all seemed empty and meaningless. That everything they had gone through could've been prevented if she had only been honest.
A large part of Jarod's life had been spend in captivity because Margaret had been too afraid to be honest with him, her husband.
Sydney had helped as much as he could, giving advice when asked so that Charles could start to process his feelings for his wife.
Good things had come out of all the bad things that had happened.
The Centre had ceased to exist. Jarod, as heir apparent as stated in his grandfather's will, had disbanded the Centre and the Triumvirate. All assets had been sold, the employees given very good severance packages. The Centre building had been sold to an electricity company that was planning to use it as a plant for generating extra power for the surrounding towns.
All this had made Jarod an independently wealthy man.
Angelo now resided in Sydney's house, happily reading his way through Sydney's vast collection of books. The man-child seemed happy. Sydney was thinking about doing some more research into finding a way to unlock Angelo's mind. To help Timmy come back again.
"For crying out loud, Jarod…"
Jarod entered, a huge grin on his face when he saw his wife's exasperated face and the waiting guests.
" I'm not that late, am I?"
And Sydney knew that despite the difficulty and heartache his prodigy and friends had to work through, things will work out okay.
Thank you to everyone who endured this journey with me. I'm sorry to see this one go. It's been a friend for a long while now and I really enjoyed writing it as well as exploring the more romantic side, although I think I deviated a bit back to action and angst. To all the readers and reviewers, thanks for having spend time with me on this. Without you there would be no stories and no sites like this for amateurs like me to try their hands at writing. From the bottom of my heart, thanks.
I've started writing another pretender story way back in 2008 allready feutering Jarod and Lyle in a very interesting position where they have to work together to overcome one bad ass bad guy. So, if you want me to dust off and finish it and are prepared to continue reading pretender stories, let me know.
Again, thanks for all the lurkers, reviewers and betas who read, kicked and helped me on this story. Till we meet again. :-)