The Path of Fireflies by zero2bitch
Story Notes:

For my bestest friend, KSPretenderFan.  You keep me on the straight and narrow.  Now get over your writer's block already.

The Path of Fireflies by zero2bitch

He had always known how to find her and deep down, she always wanted him to.  Her gift called to him, a distant keening, and he was helpless to resist it.  The Centre dictated the terms and conditions they lived by because of their inherent fear of them.  But fate would not be denied; it was how they came to find themselves in the middle of Nowhere,Mississippi, trapped together by a horrific line of thunderstorms.  They had taken shelter in an abandoned farmhouse, soaked to the skin and uneasy in the other’s presence.  After Carthis, this thing between them could not be pushed down like Jack in his box, it was out there for both of them to experience and struggle with.

 

The fine line they walked grew fainter and fainter with every encounter.  It was a desperate struggle to maintain the status quo, to keep suspicions at bay for both of their sakes.  It was why she kept her back turned to him, shivering despite the oppressive humidity, the voices whispering to her to embrace destiny because denying it would mean the end.  Of what, she did not know, but she suspected they meant her life.

 

Some time later, he returned to the room, the fine hair on the back of her neck standing up, and she knew he was watching her, waiting to take his cue from her.  Turning, she looked into his eyes, what she saw there shook her to her core, until he spoke.

 

“The place hasn’t been abandoned for long, probably a foreclosure.”  When she didn’t respond, he continued, “There’s a bed upstairs.  There aren’t any sheets, but I think we can make do because of the heat.”

 

She stifled a bark of laughter at his unintentional double entendre.  “It can’t last all night.  I’ll go when it lets up.”

 

“If you insist.”

 

Sighing heavily, she said, “It’s the best thing, Jarod.  Quit beating a dead horse.”

 

His jaw tightened and he walked away, leaving her alone with her thoughts.  He was growing weary of the uphill battle, believing for the first time that he was fighting for a lost cause.  Stepping onto the front porch, he sat in the squeaky old glider, staring out into the gathering darkness, listening to the rain and the rolling thunder.  A gust of wind blew rain onto the edge of the porch, but he was oblivious, remaining so until a gentle motion caused the glider to squeak.

 

“Don’t talk, just listen,” she said, settling comfortably and clasping her hands in her lap, “Think you can do that?”

 

“I’ll give it my best,” he retorted.

 

“From this point on, no talking until I say so, so here goes.  I have no doubt Daddy brainwashed me to hate you.  The second I see you or hear your voice, a switch flips, the hallmark of years of manipulating me to do what he wants me to where you’re concerned.  But over the last two years, that programming has grown weaker.  Because of you, but not the way you think.  You opened my eyes when I had willingly closed them to please him.  Your escape threw me together with Broots and Sydney, who have become family to me.  Debbie is the little sister I always wanted growing up.  You arranged for me to meet Tommy.  And when he-he died, you helped me pick up the pieces in ways you’ll never know.

 

“I’ve played dumb, I turned a blind eye, I’ve mocked your gestures, but I’ve always known how you felt and what you wanted from me.  I’ve never-no, that’s not true.  Once, I deserved your affections, but now...I’ve done too much, I’ve hurt you too badly.  And I won’t lie and say I don’t think about what we would be like because I have dreamed about a life with you away from them.  But we both know it can’t happen.  We would always be running.  I would grow to resent it, and you, and I don’t want that to happen because I do care, I never stopped caring, even when you make me want to kill you with my bare hands.”

 

He opened his mouth to protest and she pointed at him, shaking her head in the negative.  “No talking!”

 

Nodding meekly, he sat back, turning toward her so he could watch her profile as she spoke.  He waited patiently for her to continue, but a blind person could see she was grappling with something.  Based on the way she was swallowing convulsively and blinking rapidly, it was something that distressed her.  Taking her hand, fear seized him as tears rolled down her cheeks at his simple gesture.

 

“But right here, right now, I can give you something you’ve always wanted.  Then I want your word you’ll leave for good, disappear with your family and never contact us or the Centre again.  Do we have a deal?”  Her speech was delivered in a remarkably steady voice, despite the tears on her cheeks.  She refused to look at him until she had her answer.

 

“Parker, you’re not a car going to the chop shop.  If I can’t have all of you, I’ll have to learn to live with none of you.”

 

Her face crumpled and she covered her face with her hands as she wept, joy and pain overlapping in her heart.  It was made worse by Jarod scooting over and putting his arms around her, holding her close, despite her initial resistance to him.  “It’s okay, Parker.  Go ahead and cry, let it out.”

 

She lowered her hands and said softly, “Don’t be nice.  I don’t deserve it.  Just-just take what you want, because that’s all I can give.”

 

“No.”  He cupped her chin, turning her face so he could look into her eyes.  “I’m not the Centre.  I’m not Mr. Parker, Raines, Lyle or the Triumvirate.  I’m not one of those one-night stand assholes you wasted your time with.  I-I love you.”

 

She gasped in shock, her eyes growing wide.  “No.  No, you don’t mean that.  You can’t.”

 

“I do mean it.  Why can’t I mean it?”

 

“Because I don’t deserve it, I don’t deserve to be loved, that’s why they are always taken away.”

 

Fiercely, Jarod gave her a shake and said, “That’s a lie, Parker.  Whoever told you that is a damn liar.  The people who love you didn’t leave by choice, you know this.  They were taken because they threatened Centre interests.  I’m still here because I can beat them at their own game, and I will, after we have our answers.  We will be the last ones standing this time, Parker, you and me.”

 

“Jarod,” she whispered.  Touching his face gently with her fingertips, looking at him with a light in her eyes he hadn’t seen in too many years.

 

“I love you, Parker.”

 

Her tears fell anew as her lips touched his for the first time in twenty-five years.  It was gentle, innocent, just like the first time, until it wasn’t.  As their passion rose, she hiked up her skirt and climbed astride him, her fingers sinking into his thick dark hair.  Breaking away for air, his lips sought the long column of her throat and he pressed wet kisses to her creamy skin.

 

“Parker,” he breathed in her ear, “I can’t, I won’t, be another one-off that you come to regret.”

 

“I’ll never regret you,” she whispered breathlessly against his lips, her eyes gazing steadily into his, “Never.”

 

Time lost all meaning and the glider began to sway and squeak rhythmically, the rain and thunder muffling the sounds of their unconditional surrender.  The following morning, Parker awoke alone in a room filled with sunshine.  Stretching overused muscles gingerly, she rolled on the mattress onto her side, a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach.  On the bed beside her was a freshly picked sunflower and a note with her given name.  Sitting up, she unfolded the paper and began to read, a small smile lifting the corners of her mouth.

 

M,

 

Random chance?  I think not.  All these years, you have lived in my memory.  Last night was more than I’d ever dreamed of, but everything I’ve always hoped for.  Now your heart lives next to mine.  Until next time, live in my love.

 

J

 

~*~

 

The voices confirmed what she had already suspected.  As she looked around her mother’s house one last time, she realized she had no longer needed it for comfort because Catherine had always been with her, even before she knew it.  After so many years of sorrow and emptiness, her heart was full again.  Though she hated to have to admit it because it would make Jarod right-again- that she owed this, and her peace of mind, to him.

 

She had managed to wrangle a long weekend off and not only had Raines begrudged it to her, he had stated outright he didn’t believe she had earned it.  Swallowing her anger, she had asked again meekly, keeping her eyes downcast on her clasped hands.  When he agreed, relief flooded her, but she kept her features neutral, thanking him demurely and inclined her head respectfully before turning on her heel and escaping his presence.  Now, her suitcases sat by the door, her garment bag draped over the back of a chair as she said her final farewells.  Taking the only scrapbook she had managed to save from her father’s purge of Catherine from their lives, she tucked it into the messenger bag with her laptop.  Secreted inside, the photo of Catherine, Ben and herself as a baby, another mystery unsolved.

 

Outside, a car horn beeped, signaling Sam’s arrival.  He escorted her to the airport and deposited her at security, watching to make certain she went through and didn’t double back.  But she had no intention of catching the flight toRome.  Using one of multiple identities Angelo had helped her create, she had booked a different flight bound forChicago.  Once there, she boarded a flight toDallas.  She spent the night and early the next morning, flew toPhoenix.  After a three hour layover, she made her way to her final destination,Oklahoma City.  Each flight was booked under a different identity, designed to be discarded after serving their purpose.

 

Parker was exhausted after her travels.  She took a cab to the Marriott near the airport, checked in, and collapsed into bed.  Waking that evening to eat and unpack her toiletries, she brushed her teeth and washed her face before crawling back into bed to sleep until nine the following morning.  Refreshed, she stretched languidly and rose, smiling to herself.  She felt happy for the first time in a long time.  And if the voices were to be believed, the joy would only grow exponentially.

 

~*~

 

Evading the Centre, minus Miss Parker, was child’s play.  In his search for Parker, he had breezed in and out of the stone behemoth, spoken to the friendlies (and the clueless), unraveled most of the secrets and played his own game of cat and mouse with Lyle.  He had studiously avoided the cottage, until one afternoon when the temptation proved to be too great.  Something drew him there, a feeling he could not name nor explain.

 

Letting himself in through a back window, he did a quick sweep for bugs and other monitoring devices, but judging by the mess he found, it was obvious the Centre had come and gone long ago.  Once again, a red file had cleverly outmaneuvered them and successfully run away.  There was no trace of Parker anywhere and no clues in her home.  But Jarod, like his former huntress, was smarter than the average bear.  He noted the photograph of her mother was turned at an odd angle, her eyes seeming to follow him around the room.

 

“She left the photographs,” he muttered, frowning.

 

Turning around and around, he looked for the photograph of Parker and Thomas.  She would never leave it behind.  He finally located it in her bedroom, beside the bed, lying face down.  She had planned her escape meticulously and it had taken two weeks before they realized she had fled.  By then, she was long gone.  He understood the logic behind her leaving her treasures, but a tiny voice whispered at least one of them held a vital clue to her disappearance.

 

Taking the frame into his hands, he carefully took it apart.  At the bottom of the picture, hidden by the frame, the letter ‘O’ had been written in black marker.  Frowning, he put the photo back into the frame and carried it downstairs with him, intent on checking every one in the house.  He discovered three more letters in the photographs of her mother and those of her with her mother during her childhood.  Deciding to take the photos with him, he tucked them into an empty manila envelope he found in her desk, abandoning the frames in the mess.  Taking one last look around, he left her home for the last time.

 

~*~

 

“C, O, O, K,” he mumbled, staring at the pictures lying on the table.

 

“Honey, what are-where did you get those?” Margaret stared at him in shock.

 

“From Miss Parker’s house.  They’re a clue, I just have to figure it out.”

 

“Who’s that man?”

 

“Thomas.  He was a good friend.  I set them up.”

 

“But why?  Why would you do that to someone you called a friend?”

 

“Because she is my friend too,” he answered wearily.

 

“Oh really?  You could’ve fooled me.”

 

“She was a lab rat too, mother,” he stated coldly.  “She is everything her father trained her to be.  Deep down, behind the mask reminiscent of her father, she had her mother’s heart.  She saw Catherine’s death, well, what we thought was her death, but actually, Rained murdered her after she gave birth to Ethan.  And her father, that sick son of a bitch, manipulated her at every turn, lying to her about her mother and me.”

 

“You-you knew Catherine?”

 

“Of course.  She was so kind, visiting all of the unlucky ones.  After Parker and I were introduced in a human sexuality experiment, she would bring her and distractSydneyso the two of us could play together, or she would bring her after I was finished for the day with my sims.  We always thought we were so clever, but Catherine knew even then.”

 

“Knew what?”

 

“We were meant for each other, of course.”

 

“Oh, Jarod,” she sighed.

 

“I have to find her.  I have to know she’s safe.”

 

“She will turn you in!”

 

“No, mom, she won’t.  She left.”

 

What?”

 

“She left the Centre.  She vanished five months ago.  They have no idea where she is.  It took them two weeks to realize she wasn’t coming back.”

 

“How do you know?”

 

“All those trips I took were to Blue Cove.  I’ve spoken with Sydney, Broots and Angelo.  Raines put them through a T-Board and once he realized they were as clueless as he was, he ordered her pursuit in conjunction with mine.  They know we aren’t together because I’ve been planting false leads all this time, making it harder for them because they have to split their focus.”

 

Margaret, who had been listening closely, now studied the photos carefully.  “The letters are the clue, you said?  Maybe they’re in the wrong order.  They might not be a message, maybe they’re a location?”

 

His eyes lit up and he began moving the pictures around.  After a few moments, he hit on the right combination.  “OKCO. Oklahoma City,Oklahoma.”

 

“I guess a little investigating is in order.”

 

“You’re not angry?”

 

“Catherine was a dear friend to your father and me.”

 

“Before I go after her, I need to retrieve her baby brother.”

 

“Ethan is here, with us.”

 

“No, she has a brother who’s almost three years old.  They hid him away and she was never able to find him, obviously, because she never would have left him behind otherwise.”

 

“Good heavens,” she breathed, wide-eyed.  “Where is he now, do you know?”

 

“Yes, I found him.”

 

“Can you rescue the boy?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Do it.  Bring him here and we’ll look after him until you find her then you can take him to her.”

 

“You’re sure?”

 

“No child should be left with them.”

 

“She would love to have him.  She can protect him better than anyone else because she knows what he is and where he came from.”

 

“Then you’d better get to work.  By the way, it seems to me she’s telling you something else too.”

 

“And what is that?”

 

She smirked and said playfully, “Catch me if you can.”

 

~end~



This story archived at http://www.pretendercentre.com/missingpieces/viewstory.php?sid=5581