All The Kings Men by jacci
Story Notes:

Thanks to Onisius and Mallory for all of your invaluable help. This has been a long time coming, glad to finally have the muse back, hopefully it decides to stay this time

1. Chapter 1 by jacci

2. Amber by jacci

3. Never Raines Unless It Pours by jacci

4. On The Run by jacci

5. Road Trip by jacci

6. Story Time by jacci

Chapter 1 by jacci

All The King's Men...

Part 1

 

The Centre

 

It had been two days since Jarod had gone AWOL and there was still no word about Jarod, where he was or how he got out. Although this lack of information was actually good news, Miss Parker was still a walking disaster. She had been certain Jarod would have contacted them by now, even if it was just to rub their faces in it that he had managed to escape their escape-proof cell. Every time the phone rang she hoped it was him, or at least some news of him. Parker had no allusions that the chase would be different this time, it wasn't going to be a game of cat-and-mouse that Jarod would be interested in playing any more. She didn't need Freud to tell her that. The truth was, it was a game she had no interest in either, and hadn't for a long time. An uncharacteristic flash of regret crossed her mind at how blasé she had treated the last pursuit, never fully admitting to herself what it would mean if she had ever caught Jarod. By the time she did, of course it was far too late, and much worse than even her darkest thoughts would allow her to imagine. All of her life she had kept the worst of Jarod's reality from her conscious mind, and it had been so easy to do that. Now however, the reality was all too sharp and there was no turning away, not ever again.

 

Poor Broots was faring no better either. He had been constantly at his computer in his Tech Room since the Pretender had disappeared. To avoid the emotional turmoil in his heart, he threw himself into work and the safety his technological haven offered him, which also allowed him to monitor any progress and hopefully stay one step ahead of everyone else. He was so terribly glad Jarod was out and free and at the same time remained terrified that his role in the escape would be uncovered. Broots owed Jarod everything, he never would have gained custody of his daughter, who was his entire life, had Jarod not helped. Sometimes Broots felt shame that he hadn't done anything sooner, or done more, but he also knew that Jarod understood why he couldn't. He wasn't prepared to leave Debbie without a father and he knew he was going to have to be strong, stronger and smarter than he had ever been in his entire life. Gem was a genius and Broots trusted that they had been clever enough for this to never be traced back to him, or Sydney and Parker. Jarod deserved his freedom and they had done the right thing. He knew that in his heart, and he just had to have faith in himself and Gem that he had not sacrificed himself for the greater good.

 

There was an emergency meeting scheduled for this afternoon by the Tower and Miss Parker knew that the head-hunters had been brought in. There were whispers of a major shake up with everyone involved in the Jarod Project and there were whispers of ‘T-Board' everywhere, which was no big surprise and Parker was prepared. It was safe to say the Africans were not happy, but then again, when were they ever? All the money Jarod had made for them would never be enough, they had to be in control, and the idea of him ‘out there' was an affront to their sense of world order. Parker figured that she was would make it out relatively unscathed, thanks ironically to her idiot twin. Sydney however, had been walking around in an almost fugue state and Broots was a lot more than one sandwich short of a picnic at the moment. The techie seemed to be hovering on the edge of a complete paranoia-induced nervous breakdown, but that was his normal operating state and probably wouldn't raise any suspicions. The fact that they had him overseeing the mainframe was a silent vote of confidence that he was not involved. There was no way in hell she would ever admit it to Broots, but she was actually very proud of her little techie.

 

When the investigations began, Parker was going to have no trouble with the finger pointing, especially at the Unholy Trinity of Raines, Lyle and Cox. She had prepared a careful summary of just how quickly she, and her 'Scooby Gang' had been excluded from every aspect of the decision-making from the moment they had taken Jarod into custody. There was no dispute that she was the one that had put the dart in Jarod's back, and that her role had been instrumental in breaking him. Lyle had made sure of that, but then the bastard had made the fatal mistake of shutting her out. Now he would have his comeuppance and pay the price for lapse in judgement. At the same time, Parker mused, there was the benefit that he had insulated her from the worst of the fallout. Not that some of it wasn't going to land in her path, the Triumvirate would be looking at everyone after all, and it was clear they didn't like her from previous encounters. When this particular hammer fell, she would be safely on the sidelines, watching with enjoyment as Lyle finally got what he deserved.

 

            Cox and Lyle were nowhere to be found and Raines had ensconced himself in his office and had not been seen since he had been informed of the Pretender's escape. Lyle and Cox had assured him that it was impossible for the Pretender to escape, which clearly was not the case. They had also claimed that if he did escape, he would be so conditioned and emotionally tied to Lyle, instead of Sydney, that he would not be able to go for very long without initiating contact. There was not so much as a single breadcrumb, the trail was non-existent and it put Raines in a very precarious position Time was not on their side now and every minute the Pretender was missing was a minute closer to the signing of all their death warrants, or even worse, some re-education if Africa. Raines was frantically trying to distance himself from the disaster and preparing to serve Cox up on a platter. He would give his son up too if he had to, but then there was that messy unpleasant business of appointing and grooming an appropriate heir, which was exhausting and terribly time consuming. If he did have to sacrifice Lyle, there always Baby Parker but Raines was worried that he would prove too weak, and that in the end he might grow up to serve Lyle's agenda instead of his own. Raines had serious doubts about the parentage of the child and Lyle was the most likely baby daddy. Despite his lungs being in good condition now, Raines had taken the health-scare as a bad omen, an inherent weakness that likely would carry over into his personality too. Weakness suffered by his half-sister, or perhaps it was Aunt, Miss Parker. That kind of weakness and sentimentality could not be tolerated. Lyle was still the first choice as his successor, assuming he survived this current debacle. He was ruthless enough and desperately wanted the power and authority the Chair would give him, sometimes too much. Still, if handing Lyle over had to be done, so be it. It wasn't that hard to acquire another child after all.

 

 

The continuing silence told Miss Parker that the damage she had inflicted was too extensive for there to be any hope of salvaging any sliver of her relationship with Jarod. The fact that he had not called indicated that he would not forgive her this time. All the things she had done in the past, the things they had done to each other, all the barbs and cheap shots, the mean tricks, had never been enough to destroy the undeniable ties that bound them together. With a pang of guilt, she remembered the look on his face as she had burnt his first link to his mother, and even from that distance, she could see the pain in his eyes, not just for the loss of the information, but that the deliberate cruelty. There had been a fierce delight she had taken in watching the envelop burn in that moment, and now it shamed her. She had known what it meant to him, how important it was. It had been nothing though to the pain she had seen him in that last time, as she watched him shatter, and it would haunt her for the rest of her life. That night she had burnt that shirt, drinking herself to oblivion as she watched it turn to ash in the fireplace. The bitter irony was that it was doubtful that Jarod would ever know that she had been instrumental in his rescue. She had no idea what Major Charles had told his son and wouldn't be surprised if he omitted more than a few facts, given his feelings about her and the Centre. Parker looked at the bottle of antacid and shook herself out of her reverie, taking a shot of the unpleasant liquid. What did it matter though what Rat Boy thought? She had got him out and now she owed him nothing. The past could not be undone and she had risked everything for him. What more could he possibly ask of her?

 

The hardest thing of all was seeing the effect on Sydney. The old psychiatrist had taken Jarod's capture hard, and what had followed had almost destroyed him.It had been heartbreaking for Parker to watch. It was clear that Sydney was relieved that Jarod was out and had his freedom, his family, but he was also devastated at the prospect of having lost the man that he thought of as his son, although he would never admit that. Over the years, Sydney had grown a little closer to Nicholas, but she knew that in his heart, he could never replace Jarod. Sydney had raised Jarod, taught him, watched him grow, nurtured him in his own way. Although it wasn't an ideal situation, and she knew how much more Jarod needed and wanted from Sydney, she also knew that Sydney and Jarod were closer than she would ever be to Daddy.

 

Miss Parker watched the evident disappointment grow across Sydney's distinguished features with every phone call and email that came in.  None were from Jarod. Parker knew that Sydney no longer cared what happened to himself, but she hoped that he had enough wits about him not to bury them all. Parker was glad that the whole business was almost over and if they could only survive the next few days, then perhaps things would get back to normal, whatever that might be. Perhaps Jarod would ring and let Sydney know he was out and living the life he had always dreamed, or send him a postcard, anything to put the old man's mind at some ease. Deep down she knew that things would ever be the same again, and suspected Sydney knew the same. She knew how Lyle had orchestrated everything, forcing Sydney to betray Jarod, leaving Jarod with nobody else to turn to. It wasn't all Lyle though, it was very easy to blame him, but both Sydney and Parker had played their parts, the things they had said, out of anger and frustration, had been true, which is why they hurt so much. There was plenty of guilt to go around, and for Sydney, that went back nearly 40 years. Despite all his strength and intelligence, Jarod was a social creature and Lyle had ensured that the deep bond was broken between mentor and protégé with lethal efficiency. Jarod's silence to Sydney was disturbing and she wondered if in their attempts to save his life they might not have destroyed his soul. Perhaps it was too high a price to ask anybody to pay.

When Parker's summons finally arrived, she was only mildly nervous. Externally she had pulled herself together, the Ice Queen façade firmly in place, and as usual, it would serve her well. She still had not seen her brother anywhere and hoped that the Triumvirate would hold him accountable for their missing pretender. Lyle and Cox, the freak show masquerading as a doctor. Then there was Raines, the old wheezing bastard. Maybe she would get lucky and they would all be dealt with in one fell swoop. She had no desire to run this place and if they wiped out the Unholy Trinity, she just might be able to walk away with her skin intact. Parker would not be shedding so much as a single tear over the demise of any of her remaining family. As she entered Raines' office, a studied look of bored indifference plastered on her face, she stopped, taken momentarily by surprise to see a man she did not know sitting at his desk. Raines had not left his office, as far as anybody knew, and now there was this tall thin African sitting there with cool confidence giving her an arrogant look as his eyes raked up and down her body coldly, with clear disapproval. Recovering herself quickly, she practically stalked over to the desk and planted a hand down on it, staring at him coolly.

 

"Where is Mr Raines?" She demanded, with an arched eyebrow, appearing unperturbed by this unexpected change.

 

The Triumvirate representative watched as the woman practically stalked in knew that this move was meant to intimidate him. That was not the case. "That is none of your concern Miss Parker." He told her calmly, although there was a slightly patronising tone in his voice, and he saw the moment of uncertainty flicker in her eyes. Good. He was not used to answering to the likes of her, and he was not about to start now. These Americans were simply too brash and far too puffed up with their own importance, he despised them. "Mr Raines is no longer running the Centre, his whereabouts are not your concern. For now you report to me."

 

"And just who might you be?" She was not about to be bullied by this moron. He was tall, she could see that even though he was seated behind what used to be her Daddy's desk. His sense of style was immaculate, and the body under his ten thousand dollar suit was well muscled, although she guessed not overly so. His hair was so short it looked like he might shave his head and he had very full and sensual lips which belied the cool tone of his voice. Despite its lyrical quality, it was not welcoming. Then there were his eyes, jet black as if they were all pupil, and not one ounce of expression or personality in them. He could have easily stolen them from one of the Weasel-stuffing-freakshow's circus exhibits.

 

"The man who is going to re-educate you if you do not find Jarod quickly. You Parkers think that you run this place." He let his eyes roam over her lean figure leisurely, noticing the inappropriately short skirt, extremely unprofessional. "Let me remind you that the Centre belongs to us. We will no longer tolerate such gross mismanagement."

 

Her eyes opened wide and she straightened up and looked down at him. "Excuse me?" She asked in a chilling tone. She was working herself up now and any sane man would wither at this point in time. "The Parker's have been running the Centre..."

 

"Enough!" He snapped and stood himself, his tone cutting through her tirade completely, reverberating around the room. When he was satisfied at her surprised response and her silence, knowing that he really had her attention now, he sat back down, smoothing his suit as if nothing had happened at all, his tone returning to normal. "Your only concern and your only concern is the immediate return of the Pretender. See to it Miss Parker, or you can join Mr Raines with us in a trip back to Africa." When he saw she was about to respond, he put up his hand to halt her. "This is not a democracy, and this is NOT a discussion."

 

Parker was about to open her mouth and throw some sharp retort at him and then thought better of it. The very last thing she wanted was this asshole poking around in her recent activities any more than necessary. The threat of re-education was real, she had no doubt of that, and shuddered at the thought, deciding to quit while she was ahead. Let him think he had won, let him think she was the weak fool he thought she was, let him underestimate her as they all did. She stared into his dead black eyes and then turned around elegantly and walked out of the office, flipping her coat at him in dismissal as she left without another word.

 

At least that answered one question, what was happening with Mr Raines. That left just her demented twin and the freakshow he ran with these days. If she was really lucky, they had seats booked on that same flight next to old Wheezy.

 

Making her way down to check on the progress, or lack thereof in tracking Jarod, she found Broots hard at work on his computer. Strangely enough, Broots had found some suspect transactions that looked like Raines had been the inside contact that had helped Jarod in his escape. There was probably no logical reason for Raines to do this, it was suicide after all, but the one thing that could be said about the Zulu's was that they didn't care about little trivialities like that. Circumstantial evidence was plenty enough for them. She smiled coldly at the thought and imagined that Major Charles was most likely the one who had set that up. There would be no guilt over the demise of Mr Raines and it would take suspicion off of others, which suited her just fine.

 

As tempting as it was to terrorise Broots now, she didn't, knowing how fragile a state he was in. The last thing she needed was to upset him any further. Broots had surprised her throughout this whole ordeal, proving to be much stronger than she ever would have given him credit for. After watching him work silently for a few moments, very aware of the ubiquitous cameras that were very likely being monitored closely, she nodded in approval and left him be.

 

That left Sydney, and the state of mind that the shrink was in right now left them very all vulnerable, and that was without even factoring Broots screwing up into the equation. Sydney had always been clinical and unemotional, the balanced one in the team. Now, his distress was all too evident to her and he needed that clinical detachment more than ever. As Miss Parker made her way back to her own office to try and dig up some non-existent leads on Jarod, she wondered what he might be doing now, whether he was enjoying his time with his family. He better damn well be or all of this was for nothing, and it wasn't like her to place her head so close to the chopping block for someone else, most especially not Jarod, that was Sydney's job usually. She wondered if he would forgive her, whether he would call again and she found herself hoping that he would. No longer so sure about her feelings for him, the one thing she did know with certainty was that she didn't want him back here.

 

She missed Gem already, or perhaps it wasn't Gem at all that she missed, but that opportunity to do things over with Jarod. It was all so screwed up and she was tired of thinking about it. All that mattered now was that it not blow up in their faces, praying that it had all been worth it. She sat down and poured herself a scotch and offered a toast, or perhaps a prayer. "Here's to you Jarod, good luck." She said very quietly, staring out of the window and sipping on her drink, thinking that her mother would finally be proud of her, Jarod's words haunting her. Parker had finally accomplished what her mother had tried so long ago. There was just so much more wreckage than anybody could have ever predicted.

 

 

Amber by jacci

Amber. A pretty name, a pretty colour.

 

The colour of warmth and forgetting. A colour he had come to trust and depend upon. The scent was of forgetting, which was really the best he could hope for anymore. When he held it up to the light, or even better, to the soft warmth of a fireplace or candle, it gave off the prettiest glow, refracting the broken light in a way that was almost magical. It was so inviting and comforting that he wanted to consume it, wanted to feel it in the corners of his empty heart and soul, assuming he still had one.  If he ever had one, and that was dubious. It was like somebody had stepped inside his soul and little by little they robbed and stole until someone else was in control. If only he could consume enough of the light, he was certain he could feel that amber glow and the blessed numbness that came with it, that warmth and it would last forever.

 

Nothing lasts forever echoed in his mind, and he pushed the thought away bitterly. That was the last voice he wanted to hear. The voice that blended the truth with the lies until it was too hard to figure out which was which, and it was just easier to believe what you wanted, what made things easier. The lies could be beautiful, the truth was ugly and painful.

 

He shook his head in denial, wanting that to be a lie, needing it to be. The bastard had lied about everything else, although with just enough truth embedded within the lie to sell it The irony was though that he had more truth from that voice than any other from the Centre. Plenty of thigs lasted forever, just not the things you wanted to. The aching loneliness lasted forever, the bitterness of betrayal, the loss of self. They all lasted and ate away at you from the inside, a little more each day. Forever stretched on interminably.

 

Best of all was the sleep it gifted him. Deep and dreamless, usually. The times he did dream, they were very vivid and usually awful, as were most of his dreams. It was even worth the price when he woke, just to feel that he had achieved some rest, his mind had been turned off for a few hours. There was a price for everything after all, and this was certainly worth it.

 

The glass was of the finest crystal, a perfect diamond cut and his first guess was it was probably Waterford, not that he really cared. Miss Parker more than likely drank out of glasses like this, and now he understood why. He liked the feel of it, the nice solid weight of it in his hand. It had a certain presence that was comforting, anchoring him to at least one thing that was real, that he could hold onto. No more cheap dives with cracked glasses that were often filthy. Why shouldn't he enjoy some of the finer things life had to offer? The Centre was picking up the tab, and that made him enjoy it even more, especially when he had dipped into the slush funds that belonged to Cox and Lyle, the ones nobody was supposed to know about. That somehow made the amber colour taste even better.

 

He had sunk to a depth of self-loathing that he had never before fathomed possible. Jarod had thought he understood depression and despair, but that always came with underlying anger, as well as hope, which was perhaps the most dangerous of all the emotions. Then there had always been the damn guilt, which overlaid everything. Now, however... this was different. The hate was directed at himself, for being so stupid, so weak, so gullible. He had never thought of himself as a vain man, but the bitter truth was that he was, incredibly so. He had been too stupid to predict Sydney's inevitable betrayal, Parker's second betrayal and the fact that Lyle had played him like an ignorant fool. Out of everything, that is what stung the most, just how easily he had let Lyle trick him. Jarod had barely put up a fight, because it was easier that way. He hadn't even wanted to fight. The truth was, Lyle had seduced him and he had gone along willingly in the end. Hell, he had wanted to go along, anything to kill the pain and not be alone. It didn't matter that Lyle was a monster and that the game had been so obvious it should have failed.

 

Another lesson that had been extraordinarily hard on him was the realisation that all the people he'd helped meant nothing really, not in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps he was finally beyond guilt now, it meant nothing, Lyle had taught him that. All those negative emotions he had bottled up for years, clinging to hope when there was none, looking to a future when there was none. It was just a fool's dream, nothing else. He was what he was, nothing was ever going to change that. Things had to change. He had to find new things to hold on to, he had to let go of the past, which was, of course, completely impossible. It was all he had left, after all.

 

All of his life, the only worth he'd ever had in the Centre's eyes was his intelligence. They praised him on that, valued that, and in many respects, it was the only way he knew how to define himself. If he didn't have that anymore, then what did he have? What was he?

 

Jarod's descent into despair had been as swift as it was complete. He had left his family, if it could be called that. After all, he barely knew the man who was supposedly his father and the boy was nothing more than a carbon copy of himself. Somehow he didn't think that it would qualify under a Webster's definition of family. It didn't feel like family, it felt like... nothing much at all. It was impossible to ignore the pity in their eyes, the way his father looked between him and his younger self. How could he not want back all of those missing years that were stolen from him? Gem was his son now, Jarod was just the copy, and a badly broken one at that.

 

It hurt to look at him sometimes. He was so whole, so undamaged, a constant reminder of how broken Jarod was now himself. His future was ahead of him, he would grow and be the man Jarod could never be, live the life he could never have. He was young enough to heal, to build real relationships and find a place in the world where he felt he belonged. For Jarod, there were too many lost years, too much pain and loss, and he had saved Gem from all of that, and part of him hated the boy for that, for stealing what should have been his. This was grossly unfair, and Jarod knew it, he just didn't care, it was how he felt and he didn't know how to stop feeling that way.

 

The week after he had left, he had wandered aimlessly, sticking mostly to the coast, wanting to be able to see the ocean and feel the warm breeze on his skin. The bright warmth of the sun and blue sky, however, was not enough to chase away the chill and dankness that had crept inside and taken up permanent residence. Nothing was like it was before, and he had struggled to find the joy he had once so delighted in and it just wasn't there. It scared him dreadfully that it wasn't ever going to come back. That was all he had to balance all the bad that had happened to him, to make it seem far away, not something that defined him.

 

Running had been easy, and he had worked purely on instinct, staying one step ahead of them for nearly half a year now. Ties had been cut completely with the Centre, something he should have done the first time he had escaped. By the end of the first month though, he had begun to wonder just what the hell he was really running from. It seemed no matter how far or fast he ran, he always ended up in the same old places, and the problems were all still there. The worst of it was that he was still him, and he still felt the same and that wasn't ever going to change.

 

The pretending had stopped, he just didn't seem to be able to care enough to do it now. Surviving was all he could manage for now, maybe ever.

 

 At least that is what he told himself, he didn't owe them anything, he had paid and paid and then kept on paying. That was a lie though, and even halfway to drunk, Jarod knew that. He just didn't think he could do it anymore; the hard truth was that he had lost his confidence. It wasn't the first time he had lost his confidence, but Sydney had always been there to coax or bully him back to working. Sydney was now just a distant memory, and Jarod had fooled himself so badly with Sydney that it hurt almost as much as allowing himself to fall for Lyle's bullshit.

 

His little brother had been right. They had never made a difference anyway.

 

With that last torturous thought, Jarod threw the last of the top shelf scotch back, slammed the heavy glass down onto the bar and stood up, more than a little unsteadily. Fishing his wallet out of his jacket, he pulled a hundred dollar bill from the stack, then reconsidered and added a second, letting them drop to the bar before leaving without even looking at the bartender. It was the Centre's money after all, why should he care what happened to it and the bartender had been astute enough to leave him alone and not bother him with any inane chatter. Even the women, and sometimes men, had learnt to stay away from him, and he was grateful for that. He did not come here to pick up, he wanted to be alone, having company only made him feel worse, more inadequate, not knowing how to make small talk, behave in an expected manner. What the hell did he have to talk about or in common with these people? With any people?

 

Part of him knew this self-destructive behaviour had to stop, knew that if it didn't, he would surely end up getting caught, maybe even killed. There was some small part of his mind that remained detached and clinical, with a suspiciously Belgian accent, that asked him if maybe that wasn't what he was really hoping to achieve, that he wanted to make it easy for them, he belonged there after all. White leopard and all that shit. That voice was not a welcome intrusion, even if it was right.

 

It was time to do something, take some control back and he knew the only way he was ever going to be able to do that was to end it all. Taking down the Centre though was not within his grasp, so he would do the next best thing, and chop off its head. It might not end the misery that they traded in, but it would damn sure feel good. With that decision made, he felt a little better and stumbled his way to the elevator and up to the luxury suite he had been staying in this week, on the Centre's dime of course. He would worry about it all tomorrow. Tomorrow was another day and right now all Jarod really wanted was a soft warm bed and sleep. Blessed sleep.

 

The next morning Jarod woke with a pounding headache, gobbled down some aspirin, washed it down with some scotch and got to work.

 

It took Jarod two weeks to formulate a plan and set everything in motion, and it felt good to be doing something again, something definitive, something destructive. There was a sense of purpose that he hadn't felt in the longest time, even since before he had been recaptured. He was doing what he had been made to do, what he was good at, the only thing he was really good for. This was going to be his turning point, now that he had found something to turn to. It didn't occur to him that he should be worried that he might be taking the wrong path.

 

 

 

 

 

Never Raines Unless It Pours by jacci
Author's Notes:

Realised some of this was missing, so have updated with the complete chapter.

Been a very long time since reading any fanfic, and just recently started reading again, and finally turned to this, feeling more than a little shame that I never finished it. Had the first stirrings of wanting to write again in a very long time and plan to finsih this monster off once and for all.

Broots just couldn’t believe it, it was as simple as that. There was plenty of stuff that went on here all the time that nobody else would believe, and Broots had come to see as pretty routine. This though, this was something else entirely and he had decided that It had to be a hoax, some kind of trick.

He wanted it to be true, felt a small pang of guilt about that, and at the same time was terrified what it might mean if it was true. Nothing in this place was ever good, even things that might appear so on the surface. Sinister undertones were also the norm.

Double checking the report again, he blinked as if that might change it, or he might wake up from a very realistic daydream, or nightmare. Could it be a nightmare? That was yet to be determined, he supposed.

So what did that leave, just to figure out who was responsible, and how best to survive. Immediately he thought of his friend Gem and the Major and quickly dismissed that idea. It couldn’t have been them, he would have known, and it didn’t feel like something they would do. No, this felt like something Mr Lyle would be behind. Definitely not Gem. Gem talked to him about everything these days, especially the complicated feelings he had towards Jarod and all of the things he was afraid to say to his father. Nothing Broots could say would ever convince the young man that it hadn’t been his fault Jarod had left. They were working together on doing as much damage as they could, and it was really the only thing that kept Broots from losing his mind. Gem was the best friend he had ever had and they could talk for hours, and not just about geek stuff either.

Nothing was going to convince him either that the boy was the architect of this… whatever it was. Tragedy or good fortune. It was hard to tell at this point, although it would be nice for something to go their way for once.

Quashing his first instinct to race down to Sydney, Broots settled down and started combing through the incoming police reports, wanting to make sure he had all the details first and that it wasn’t some kind of trick. There was something familiar about it, something tugging at his mind, although he didn’t quite know what it was that was nagging him. Not yet. Rather than fretting at it, Broots let it go, let his focus move away from it. He found that was often the best way to allow the solution to present itself. If you forced it, it usually took much longer. Gathering intel, knowing that Sydney and Miss Parker would want to know everything, he focused on that for now and when it finally came to him, he felt the blood drain out of his face.

“Oh no,” he whispered, his mind making all kinds of connections he didn’t want it to make, and knew what this would mean to Sydney. The cowardly part of him wanted to just hide here in his little tech office, which he rarely ventured out of these days, working primarily for Mr Lyle, trying to find leads on Jarod. The loyal friend in him knew that he had to tell Sydney before he found out himself, be there for him, and maybe Sydney could tell him it didn’t mean what he thought it meant. It hadn’t even crossed his mind that it might have been Sydney’s doing, that just wasn’t possible.

Hesitating a moment longer, Broots fortified himself as best he could and told himself not to worry. It wasn’t like he was the one who had done the deed, he was just the messenger after all. With the decision now made, Broots saved everything he had to a disc and took a deep breath before heading down to Sydney’s office.

 

It was hard to look at Sydney these days, he looked so old, almost frail and it was clear that he wasn’t really here anymore, was just going through the motions. The friendship that had formed between Sydney and Major Charles, as well as Gem seemed to be falling apart. Broots knew that was because Sydney blamed himself for everything that had happened and just couldn’t face the pain in their eyes. Ultimately though, the blame really lay on his own shoulders. It was his program that had set this entire miserable drama in motion. Broots had to live with that every day and he had no idea how to get past it. The fact that Gem and the Major didn’t blame him made it both harder and easier for him. Normally he would talk to Sydney about these kinds of things, but he didn’t want to burden the old many any further. Talking to Miss Parker was out of the question. She would most likely tell him to grow a pair.

Sometimes he wondered if Jarod knew that it had been him, and if he did, what he might do to him. Jarod didn’t seem to be Jarod anymore, and if what he thought was true, then Broots might have real reason to be afraid. Could Jarod possibly understand, let alone forgive, the awful choices Broots had to make, every day? He had not seen Jarod after his recapture, and he was incredibly grateful for that. The wreckage it had wrought on Parker and Sydney scared him and he wondered how they just kept going. The same way he did, just doing the best any of them could to get through this. How Jarod had survived was beyond Broots’ ability to understand, and he only knew bits and pieces of what had happened, and didn’t want to know anymore. What he did know was bad enough and fuelled his nightmares and guilt.

 

Heading down to Sydney’s office, he became more sure that this somehow was changing everything, and he didn’t even really know what this was yet. It felt like some kind of fundamental shift in the ‘game’ they had all been playing for years, and not for the better. Blundering into the office, he didn’t see that Miss Parker was there before he started to blurt out the news.

“Oh my God Sydney, have you heard?” he said breathlessly and then belatedly saw Parker and froze. This was not how this was supposed to go. It was going to be hard enough to tell just Sydney. Miss Parker always made him nervous and unsure of himself.

“Heard what Broots?” Sydney asked, although in truth he didn’t have much interest in what Broots’ news might be. Sydney didn’t have much interest in anything these days and was on the verge of getting into an argument with Parker, that he didn’t have the patience or energy for.

Parker turned to look at him and raised an expectant eyebrow and when the moron was still just standing there gaping, she asked coolly. “Well?”

Broots looked around and closed the door, moving over to the two of them. “He’s dead,” he whispered. No doubt the news would spread quickly and the rumours would be starting, and then the bodies would start to drop, and he wanted to be well out of the firing line when that started.

“Jarod?” Sydney gasped, his face draining of all colour and he felt the world slipping away.

“What?” Broots asked in confusion and shook his head. “No, at least I don’t think so,” he said, but added silently that he probably would be very soon if what he suspected was right.

“What are you babbling about?” Parker asked impatiently, reaching out with a perfectly manicured hand to grab Broots by the face and force him to look at her, digging her nails in a little more than was required, frustrated by Sydney, by the lack of information on Jarod and she had just jumped to the same conclusion as Sydney and that had terrified her more than she wanted to admit to herself. Broots was an easy means to deflect that fear into anger.

Broots always had trouble around Miss Parker, but this kind of close proximity was enough to send him into a meltdown. “Mr.. Mr .. “ he started and then his voice dropped as he forced himself to say it. “Mr Raines.”

Parker dropped her hand in shock at the revelation, and felt so relieved that it wasn’t Jarod, that for a moment it didn’t sink in that it was her ‘father’, that old wheezing waste of oxygen, that he was talking about. “Wouldn’t be the first time that walking corpse has died,” she snapped, trying to cover her shock and the relief.

That was true enough, people had a habit of not staying dead around this place, and Raines had died more than a few times. The old bastard seemed to have more lives than a cat and Broots sometimes wondered if he hadn’t sold his soul to the devil for some kind of immortality. This time was for real, or at least seemed that way, and Broots shook his head. “He won’t be coming back this time,” he said softly.

Parker looked at him for a long moment, her mind reeling and then turned to look at Sydney. It wouldn’t be the first time Sydney had tried to end Raines, but it was easy to see that he had no knowledge of this and was clearly in shock. She doubted he would mourn Raines, and she certainly wouldn’t be shedding so much as a single tear.

“What happened?” she asked. “How do you know for sure?” if this were true, then the sharks would already be circling and if she was really lucky, Lyle and Cox would kill each other trying to get to the Chair first. Maybe she would get lucky with some mutual form of destruction and she could be rid of both of them, permanently. Just thinking that brought a brief predatory smile to her face.

“It’s all here,” he said, holding the small disc up, “at least everything we know so far. The cops are calling it accidental at this stage,” he told her and flinched a little when she snatched it from him. There were too many outside agencies already involved for this to be a Centre cover up, and it had the sense of being orchestrated so exactly that would happen, making it next to impossible to be swept under the rug.

 

“Accident?” she scoffed, doubting that very much. If he was dead, then someone had made that happen, and while it was a very long list of suspects, she could guess who was at the top. Brother Dearest. Or it could just as easily be some kind of scheme that Raines had cooked up to gain some kind of leverage or advantage. She would believe it when she saw the body, maybe put a round in it herself, just for good measure.

Broots nodded, “that is what they are saying,” he said, slowly edging towards the door now. There was nothing more he could tell them right now, and he wanted to be on top of any incoming information. Mostly though, he just wanted to be out of the firing line when word got out.

Sydney snapped out of his shock and looked at Broots, his eyes sharper than they had been in months, his mind actually working. “What aren’t you telling us Broots?” Sydney said, although he suspected he already knew what Broots was going to say. He didn’t know how he knew it, he just did.

“It’s all uh… on the disc,” Broots repeated, practically slinking away now as they opened the files and started looking.

Sydney was working through the reports and froze when he saw the location of the accident, just staring at the screen numbly. He was fiercely glad Raines was dead, although he didn’t think it would mean any significant improvement for Jarod’s situation or future. “He IS dead,” he intoned dully.

Parker was looking at the same thing Sydney was looking at but couldn’t see how Freud had come to that startling conclusion. This was all just preliminary reports, nothing definitive at all. A positive ID hadn’t even been confirmed yet, and wouldn’t be until someone came to officially identify the body. She didn’t doubt it was Raines though. “What the hell is going on?” she demanded of the two of them, as it was clear that they had both figured something out.

“It can’t be,” Sydney shook his head in denial, not wanting to believe it.

“Oh come on Syd,” she snapped, “you can’t seriously be upset about Raines!” Something was definitely wrong here and she hated not knowing, and that Sydney had barely even reacted to her tone was the most disturbing thing of all.

Sydney looked up at her and shook his head. “No, of course not,” he said distractedly.

“Then what?” she demanded, her hands curling into fists, frustrated at what neither of them weren’t telling her.

Raines had managed to miraculously elude the financial trap that Broots and Gem had set for him, although his position as Chairman had been more precarious than ever and so the natural assumption most would jump to was that he had been terminated. Broots knew better though, and Sydney’s reaction had just confirmed what he had suspected.

Sydney looked up at Parker, uncertain how he felt about any of this, only knowing one thing, he had to see with his own eyes that Raines was actually dead. Only then would he actually believe it. Raines had ‘died’ far too many times already. “I am going to the Coroners,” he announced calmly and stood up, picking up his cap and jacket. “You are welcome to join me,” he offered before walking out, leaving a fuming Parker behind him.

“Syd,” Parker growled but he was already gone and she turned around to face Broots, a predatory smile on her face, and she was pleased to see how he wilted.

“Look… look at the location Miss Parker,” Broots stammered out, wishing he had gone with Sydney to look at mutilated bodies, which right now seemed preferable to this.

Parker did and still couldn’t see what he was babbling about and she turned to start to throttle the moron and one single word stopped her.

“Jacob,” Broots whispered.

Her eyes opened wider for a moment as she hissed in a breath and took a closer look at the photos and report. Clicking her fingers without looking up at Broots, she was surprised to find another disc he was placing in her hands, knowing what she had wanted before she did.

They both looked through the reports from this morning’s crash and the one from decades ago and there could be no doubt, they were identical, at identical times and in identical places. Sydney had tried to kill Raines once before, very nearly managed it, so she supposed this wasn’t a complete surprise. It was hard for her to see Sydney as a killer though, not now that he was so broken. Why not go after Lyle and Cox? There was something not right about this.

Frowning Parker looked up at Broots, “Does anybody else know…” she trailed off as another realisation hit her with absolute certainty. “It wasn’t Sydney,” she breathed. He had been too shocked to hide his reactions, and usually he was a master at that, especially when it came to showing his own vulnerabilities. Sydney could keep secrets better than anybody she had ever known.

“No, not Sydney,” Broots agreed. “The skills and planning it would have taken to match the details…” he didn’t need to finish, they both knew where it was going.

“No,” Parker looked up at him in shock, shaking her head. “He wouldn’t.” Jarod was many things, but a cold-blooded murderer wasn’t one of them, not even when it was as justified as this was. It was easier to believe it was Sydney than Jarod. There was just no way. An annoying pain in the ass he was, no doubt about that, but a cold stone killer? Never would she believe that.

 

 

Broots just shrugged, wishing she was right, but after what he had heard from Gem, he wasn’t so sure. It had been months since Jarod had left his family, without so much as a single word, or a pretend. The trails they did find were as disturbing as they were infrequent. Jarod was off the reservation, spending money like it was nothing, that was the only thing they knew for sure. What scared him the most though was he didn’t know if it was meant for Sydney, as some kind of gift, or as a message to Sydney that he was back and he was coming for them. Broots was hoping something would come in the mail, or a call, give them some kind of hint that the games were afoot again and that they didn’t really need to be worried. 

 

 

During the aftermath of Raines’ death, Jarod had laid low, and monitored the investigation and the power struggle at the Centre as best he could without risking himself. There was no doubt that Sydney would have understood the significance, and Jarod wondered what the old man would think about it. Jarod wasn’t even sure why he chose to do it that way himself. He could have ended Raines in a thousand different ways, and yet he had chosen to do it like this, and Raines would never even know it was him. It was hard to ignore the need to talk to Sydney, the yearning as Sydney was really the only person that came close to understanding who or what Jarod was. The pain of his betrayal though was still fresh and it didn’t take Jarod very long to kill the desire to talk with the old man. Like everything else, Jarod didn’t like to think too much about these days, he just pushed those feelings and questions away and tried to focus on the new task at hand. This one he wanted to be more hands on, he wanted to see his face when he realised what was happening, that he had lost.

 

The security on the lead Centre personnel was tighter than usual, which was not unexpected and Jarod had planned for that. He was a patient man and could wait, he only wished he could do the waiting somewhere further away. Everything about this place gave him the horrors and his nightmares had been particularly bad these past few nights. He figured it would be a week before his chance came and he had to continually fight the urge to drop in on Miss Parker or Sydney, or at the very least, call them.

During the months he had wandered, he had begun to wonder if all of the half-baked conclusions he had come to when he was first out, travelling with Gemini and his father, had been a little extreme. It was doubtful they had colluded in the way he had thought they had, and it had made him feel even more stupid that he had believed it, as it made no sense. Despite this awareness, it didn’t really change how he felt or what had happened and he doubted that there was any chance that things would ever be what how he wanted them to be, or that he even deserved another chance. His father had been right about Lyle, and the shame that Jarod carried with him every day was a constant companion. Even though now, as he was cleaning and re-assembling the state of art sniper rifle, he wasn’t sure he could go through with it. Lyle had been behind it all, and the only thing he hadn’t yet figured out was why Sydney and Parker would betray him to work with Lyle, although he could guess. It was hard to trust his own judgement anymore and he had no idea what he believed and how to separate that from what he wanted to believe.

It was all just too hard, and being back here was making everything so much worse. He just wanted it all over, wanted some peace, which thus far had eluded him. Putting these three in the ground might bring him some of that, but it was frightening how little he felt after he had orchestrated the accident, and how dully empty he felt now, knowing he was dead, knowing Jarod was the one to make it so. There was no sense of jubilation or even vindication, no lessening of the pain, only some sense of relief that he knew Raines could never hurt him again. The problem was there were so many eager to fill his shoes and it was never going to be over. Never.

 

With nothing to do but wait, probably another day at least, Jarod decided he needed some sleep, without the demons and so he turned to the only thing that could help, and cracked a bottle of cheap scotch. No top shelf stuff this time as he didn’t want anybody remembering a purchase. It burnt a little, and that was okay, he kind of liked it, and it got the job done satisfactorily. No point bothering with glasses, Jarod drank straight from the bottle and drank himself to sleep. That gorgeous sleep of nothingness.

Two days later, Jarod was in position, clear headed and completely focused. There had been no drinking the night before, and no sleep either, he was too wired. It did feel good to have made a decision and to see it through. The power was in his hands now, and as he settled himself, closing one eye and peering through the sighting on the high calibre rifle, he felt good, in control. A figure jumped into incredibly sharp focus suddenly and Jarod hissed in a breath and closed his eye for a moment. The onslaught of feelings that surged through him made him tremble and it took a long time for him to regain control of himself. Opening his eye again, Jarod trained the rifle on the figure as he moved around, clearly unaware he was being watched. Unsurprisingly he was in an immaculately tailored blue suit and looked devastatingly handsome, in control and supremely confident. He was on the phone and moved directly in front of the window, it was a perfect shot, and Jarod couldn’t miss. Slowly he slid the safety off, slowed his breathing and put a little pressure on the trigger. It was easy to see that Lyle was unhappy, maybe even angry, and that pleased Jarod greatly. Maybe it was the call about the fact one of his hidden accounts had been fully drained, and Lyle could feel the noose closing in about him, and now his golden parachutes were disappearing. It was too bad Lyle wouldn’t ever know that it was his own money that was funding this little expedition. He wasn’t the one in control any longer, whatever plans Lyle had had, they were slipping away, and while Jarod might have paved the way for him to take the chair by taking out Raines, Jarod had no intention of letting him enjoy that. He had no idea what the current situation was at the Centre, and right now didn’t care. No doubt Lyle was not in good standing while he was still free, but Lyle always found a way to bounce back.

It was fascinating to watch him from the safety of the sniper’s nest, to be the watcher instead of the watched. Ignoring the swell of emotions that were surging through him, none of which he wanted to deal with or recognize,  Jarod made a minute adjustment and then squeezed the trigger. The recoil of the rifle thumped him in the shoulder in a rather satisfying way and he thought briefly of the image of young Kyle and of the times that Jarod himself had pretended to be an assassin. Sydney had always been convinced that pretending was the same as the reality of doing, and in some ways he was right. In the most important ways though, he was dead wrong.

Everything appeared to be happening in slow motion and with perfect clarity. He saw the glass shatter as the bullet pierced it, in a beautiful spray of crystalline destruction. Through the powerful scope of the rifle, he saw refracted light from the splinters of glass and realized that he had just smashed rainbows to smithereens. Parker’s voice, coming from across a chasm of time, talking about consequences whispered in his mind. He saw the shocked look on Lyle’s face as the slug hit him, the phone flying out of his hand, a spray of blood fanning out and staining the expensive art on the walls. The stream of blood as running down his neck, a bright brilliant red against the crisp white of his shirt. Red was a primary colour. A colour of passion and hate, warning and sex. Power. It was good to have colour back in his world.

Like a puppet with his strings cut, Lyle crumpled to his knees, elegantly, as if it was a well practiced move, and he belonged in that position. His face had drained of all colour and was a pale white, his vivid blue eyes wide with shock, startling in their vibrancy.

 

Jarod watched a moment longer, waiting for the emotions to hit him, trying to prepare himself. The satisfaction, maybe even some guilt or remorse. They didn’t come. Watching him go down didn’t fill him with a feeling of victory at all, he was still just as empty as always. Standing up with a sigh, he left the rifle where it was, unconcerned about his fingerprints or any DNA they might find. Digging into his pocket, he pulled out a single packet of Pez refills and tossed it carelessly next to the rifle. Pez just didn’t hold the same appeal to him as it once had.

On The Run by jacci

They had found him and he had no idea how, nor the luxury of time to ponder that right now. The only thing to do was run, and hope that luck was on his side this time, just once more. Blind panic gripped him as he plunged forward, heedless of where he was going, just knowing that he couldn't go back, he just couldn't. Not again, he couldn't survive it. There was no fight left in him anymore, better to die out here than that.

 

Sounds of the pursuit were muffled by his own laboured breathing and the pounding of his heart, which thudded in his ears and somewhere in his awareness was the acknowledgment that he was woefully out of condition, which added further to the shame that was now his constant companion. Pausing for a moment to try and catch his breath, he closed his eyes and tried to gain control over his breathing and then opened them to ensure no cars were coming and dashed across the empty road into what he hoped was the relative safety and cover that the forest could offer. With nothing to slow him down, no DSA case, only the clothes on his back, and the gun safely nestled in the back of his waistband, its weight a comfort, he thought he just might have a chance. He would kill them all if he had to. Maybe save one bullet for himself.

 

As the darkness of the trees closed around him, blocking out most of the ghostly light the full moon had provided, he slowed his pace, mindful of the fact that a simple fall could end him. A stumble resulting in a sprained ankle would be enough to hobble him and make escape impossible. It was hard to tell how many there were, and his best guess were at least four, probably more. So his chances of dropping them all were small and he didn't think he was capable of taking them all out in his present condition, with the poor visibility. If there were more, gunshots would only alert them to his position. Perhaps it would be easier to just use the gun on himself, that would be better than being taken. Jarod had no idea how things could be worse than last time, but he didn't doubt for a second they would be.

 

 Pulling the gun out from behind his back, he felt the familiar comfort of its weight, and took a brief moment to imagine how it would feel to put a bullet right between Cox's eyes, not that he would be blundering through a dark forest on such a cold night. Oh no, that wasn't his style at all, he would be waiting back in the warmth of a town car, coldly directing the pursuit like a general far removed from the battlefield. Jarod had never hated anyone with as much ferocity as he hated Cox, not even Lyle or Raines, and he knew he should hate Lyle above all others. Lyle had been the one who killed his brother, Lyle had tortured him, and worst of all Lyle had befriended him, made him think he cared for him. Lyle had broken him.

 

Anger fuelled him and gave him a burst of renewed energy, and he relished in the feel of it, the absoluteness of it. It was the only feeling that was more powerful, more seductive than the numbness he sought so desperately. Black had become white and white black in his world, and this was the one thing he could hang onto, the one thing he was sure about and he clung to that hate like a drowning man who had been thrown a lifeline. Anger was safe, anger was pure and really it was all that was left for him now.

 

Torchlight pierced the darkness, bobbing up and down, and now he saw that there were at least 10 separate beams and he could hear the low static of radios. They had certainly pulled out all the stops this time, no small pursuit team, almost guaranteeing he could elude them easily, as he almost always had. The world had changed though and the game wasn't the same, and he guessed the only thing that really surprised him was that it had taken them this long to figure it out. Sydney and Miss Parker weren't running things anymore, all the players had changed, and so had the rules. The cocky confidence he had once felt that he would get away or that they wouldn't actually hurt him was long gone. This was life and death now, there was no turning back from what had happened. Consequences.

 

Taking another moment to catch his breath and to try to formulate some kind of plan as opposed to just blindly running forward, Jarod tried to find that place in himself that was still and calm, so he could think clearly, without fear and desperation clouding his every thought. It was becoming apparent he wasn't going to be able to outrun them, so that left only hiding. There were just too many to overpower, even if he managed to make every shot count. Looking up at the gigantic redwoods, he saw that even the lowest branches were well out of his reach, so going up wasn't going to be an option, not without the right gear. Perhaps though, he might be able to go in, some of these giant trees had hollows and if he could just find one, then he might be able to hide and wait until they passed, double back around behind them and make his getaway in one of their own cars.

 

Steadying his breathing, Jarod crouched down and watched the swords of light as the search party moved forward, a little alarmed at how organised and systematic they were. Their incompetence had saved him on more than one occasion. Moving more slowly now, he started to circle back around, trying to get behind them, knowing if he went too deep into the woods he might die of exposure. As it was, he would be lucky to find his way back out, except for direction so kindly illuminated by his pursuers.

 

When Jarod had his breath back, he looked around and planned his movements with far more consideration and no more blundering. If he was going to get out of this, he would need his wits about him, and blind panic wasn't helping. The light beams moved forward, slowly and methodically, stopping at intervals to listen and as they moved forward, Jarod  started circling back around, intending to make his way back to the road, moving very carefully, feeling a little more in control of himself once again, relieved he had a plan, although it wasn't much of one, but the best he could manage right now. His pretender skills were rusty and he needed to address that, get himself back on track, not to mention get back in shape too. It was frightening just how out of condition he had let himself become. Perhaps this wake up call was exactly what he needed to jolt himself back to his current reality.

 

Jarod became aware of the threat only moments before it was upon him. A slight noise in the woods ahead of him made him freeze, his heart rate racing once again as he stood perfectly still, listening intently, searching for any sign of a sweeper, or if it was just his exhausted mind playing tricks on him.

 

He heard something whispered and a small sound of static and knew someone had just reported in, but couldn't see anybody, nor any flashlight, and hoped fervently that he was still in the clear. A moment later it became crystal clear that they had found him and he started running again, his instincts kicking in and refusing to believe it was hopeless. It wasn't until a heavy body crashed into him, knocking him to the ground that he realised just how close they had been. His gun went flying, landing somewhere in the dark and he swore under his breath as he felt the weight of a large body pinning him, making it even harder to breathe, before he had even started to try and get back on his feet.

 

"No, no," he hissed as he struggled but soon found his arm twisted painfully up his back and tears of anger and despair pricked in his eyes as he stilled himself, his chest heaving trying to suck in air.

 

"Move again and I will break it," a voice warned him, warm and calm and someone he didn't recognise, right against his ear, and Jarod knew that this was no idle threat. The days of him believing he was protected against any real harm were long gone. Those were lessons he had learnt the hard way and would never be forgotten.

 

They were swarming around him now, all the flashlights moving in on his position. Then there was another pair of hands that hauled him to his knees, his arm still twisted painfully up his back and  an arm like a band of steel snaked around his neck, pulling him against the man that had just taken him down, holding him fast.

 

Caught. After all of this time on the run again, he was caught, and as his emotions swirled, he realised what he felt above all else was relief. It was over and he had no fight left in him this time. As this realisation hit him, his body relaxed a little, all the adrenaline that had fuelled his mad flight seemed to have dissipated and he just felt exhausted and resigned, defeated. There was no point in resisting, and maybe that was okay. It was so hard to fight for everything all of the time, so exhausting and why? What had it ever achieved? Maybe Miss Parker had been right from the beginning, this was how the damn story went, he did belong back in his cage, she would be pissed though she wasn't the one to put him there this time.

 

The small crowd around him parted, and Lyle sauntered forward, looking very out of place in his expensive suit in the woods. Stopping just in front of Jarod, he looked down on the kneeling man and smiled. Jarod didn't want to look at him, wanted to strike out and kill him, or at the very least hurt him with carefully chosen words, hurt him in the same way he had been hurt. The unseen sweeper still holding his hair, forced his head up, holding him firmly in place and it was impossible not to look at Lyle. Add something about his shiny shoes all being scuffed. That face had become so familiar, stirred up so many unresolved emotions. His eyes travelled up to his left ear, seeing the neat white bandage over it and felt some satisfaction as Lyle seemed to wince, and stop himself from touching it. Something flickered in his eyes but Jarod couldn't read them. Lyle had fooled him so badly that Jarod doubted he would ever understand how he could have allowed it to happen. How he could have been so monumentally stupid.

 

"Time to go home Jarod," Lyle said with surprising gentleness, no trace of the usual smugness in his voice, although even in the unsteady light, Jarod could see the smallest of smiles twitch at the corner of his mouth.

 

Whether that twitch was suppressed mirth or something else, he didn't know, and it probably didn't matter anyway. Nothing he said or did, or figured out right now was going to be worth a damn in changing his situation. Those beautiful blue eyes could be so cold, or so charming and full of humour and warmth, even pain, but it was hard to tell just what those eyes held now.

 

He should have used the gun.

 

Jarod couldn't see Cox anywhere and wondered if the alliance between Cox and Lyle had survived his escape, or had they fallen over themselves trying to blame each other, and make a mad dash for the coveted Chair? Even though Cox had appeared to be in charge, Jarod sometimes wondered if that were actually the case or not. It was rare that Lyle got anything right, but he had managed to fool and manipulate Jarod with an ease that was terrifying, and humiliating.

 

"Cuff him," Lyle drawled, and watched impassively as if he had no further interest in the proceedings.

 

Sam approached, dangling a pair of handcuffs from his outstretched finger, with an all too familiar grin on his face. Sam was a man who definitely enjoyed his work and since he had been answering to Lyle, didn't have to hold back. Jarod had been so much fun to play with, but always ended up making a fool of them in the end. Things were going to be different this time.

 

Jarod couldn't help but remember how gentle he was with his children, how tender with his wife, and the man that stood before him now had to be an evil twin. How could two such different people reside in the same body? Was Jarod wrong to have spared him? Had he let sentimentality make him even more weak and gullible than he already was? Jarod watched him in snorted a brief and bitter laugh. It didn't matter, not really. If it wasn't Sam, it would be another. The face they wore didn't change what they did, how they behaved. That persistent voice that still plagued him, softly accented, whispered that he had done the right thing. Nothing would be gained by destroying that family and he would regret it forever. Jarod couldn't help but think that what the hell difference did one more regret make?

 

The arm around Jarod's throat disappeared, to be replaced by a firm and painful grip in his hair, holding him just as firmly in place on his knees. Now there was some irony for you and as Jarod looked at Lyle, he saw him on his knees too, bleeding, shocked as the realisation had hit him. Had that only been a few days ago? A few more inches and he would have never had to see those brilliant blue eyes again.

 

It was much easier to breathe once again and he was finding himself grateful for that small mercy. Dragging himself out of the memory, he focused back on Lyle now, his half missing ear. What the hell had he been thinking? Just a few inches.

 

"You always looked good in chains," Sam's gruff voice was warm against Jarod's ear as he locked Jarod's wrists in the cuffs behind his back, a little tighter than was strictly necessary. With the other sweeper holding his hair firmly, there wasn't even a token fight Jarod could put up. Sam then moved to his feet and shackled his ankles together, effectively hobbling him. It looked like they were taking no chances, despite the phalanx of men that surrounded him. That gave him some satisfaction. They were scared of him now. It also worked against any hope of making a miraculous getaway, so who was the joke really on?

 

Jarod half expected the hood to come next and tried to brace himself for the utter feeling of helplessness that came with being hooded. It was an unreasonable fear, a phobia, after all, they could do whatever they wanted to him either way, as they had so definitively demonstrated time and time again. The hood changed nothing and changed everything.

 

Resisting was pointless anyway, and Jarod once would have fought it even though he knew it would do no good, but not anymore. The lesson that resistace was futile had been an extremely difficult and painful one for Jarod, and not quickly forgotten. The sheer presence of Sam's bulk was intimidating enough without the cascade of memories that threatened to flood in of Sam's role in Jarod's ‘re-education'. That insane feeling of relief and numbness was almost comforting in comparison, and he wanted to hang onto it against the building tide of terror that was starting to creep up on him. It was better to feel nothing at all, just to accept than to fight the good fight. He didn't want to think about being underground again, being in a cell, every part of his life monitored and controlled. The pain and even worse, the aching loneliness. It had been bad enough before, but now they were in his head too, he didn't even have the privacy of escaping into his thoughts... Lyle was there too.

"Get him back to the car," Lyle barked, watching Jarod closely, nothing of what he was feeling showing on his face. Lyle wasn't even sure himself of just what he was feeling right now. Smug vindication was certainly some of it, but there was something else too, something he didn't want to examine too closely. There was no doubt in his mind that Jarod hadn't killed him on purpose. Jarod wouldn't have missed. He had managed to eliminate Raines with the precision of a true master. What he didn't understand yet was why. The why was very important and Lyle understood that it was somehow the key to moving forward, to his ultimate success. It bothered him greatly though to know how close he had come and that Jarod had gifted him with his life, and he doubted it was out of mercy.

 

Nearly half a year tracking him down, the recent close call, and now that they had finally caught him, it all seemed somehow disappointing, a little anticlimactic. Hell, Jarod had hardly even put up a fight. Where was the fun in that? Despite himself, he touched his injured ear, which still throbbed painfully and his balance wasn't quite right yet, and tried to conjure the anger back, this was his moment and his redemption. This was going to secure him the Chair, finally. This was his time. This introspection bullshit could wait until things were secured and Jarod was safely and securely back home. Then he would worry about what was what.

 

They lifted him to his feet, tight grips digging cruelly into his arms, bruising, just like they had done a thousand times before. Jarod could feel the despair growing, consuming him, the numbness and relief overwhelmed now and he so desperately wanted it back. Now they had truly taken everything, when he thought there was nothing more they could take. Wrong again.

 

He let out an anguished howl that seemed to come right from his soul. Centre Property. "Noooooooo!"

Road Trip by jacci

Jarod awoke with a start, not knowing where he was, which was par for the course. Too many dingy hotel rooms, too many abandoned buildings. They all blurred into each other and they were all the same. The only thing that changed was the weather, and he barely cared or marvelled at that anymore either. He rarely knew where he was, sometimes he couldn't even remember which state he was in. It didn't matter, as long as he could get lost in a sea of unfamiliar faces where nobody knew what he was, what he had done. Never Delaware though.

His head hurt and so did the rest of his body. As his vision came more or less into focus, the first thing he became aware of was a pair of familiar cold blue eyes, staring at him through a wall of bars. So it hadn't been a dream at all. He had been caught. Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath, tramping down the emotions that were threatening to overwhelm him and dropped his aching head back down on the pillow, his first hint that something was off as pillows were a luxury and he doubted he had many gold stars on his card right now. Putting an arm over his eyes he tried to remember how to breathe. Breathing was essential after all and concentrating on that was all he had during some of the worst times.

"You really done it this time Genius!" the voice drawled, and Jarod frowned in slow dawning recognition.

Jarod had expected the owner of the voice to be Lyle, they were his all too familiar blue eyes after all. Squinting, trying to shut out the worst of the bright light, his eyes confirmed that the voice was indeed Parker's. The blue eyes, so very much like her twin's, were still staring at him as he dropped his arm assessed his settings more thoroughly. This wasn't a sub-level cell, it looked more like a county sheriff's cell. "Miss Parker," he said neutrally. There was no memory at all of how he came to be here, the only thing he did remember from last night was the dream in the forest where Lyle had caught up to him, it had been so very real that he was a little concerned this was the dream.

She looked as beautiful as ever, immaculately dressed, her skirt far too short, although she was wearing a long jacket that nearly reached all the way down to the floor. Her face was unreadable to him and he wisely kept his mouth shut for the moment, not understanding what had happened, or what her intentions. She seemed to be alone and once he would have taken that as a good sign. The memory of their last encounter in the real world hit him so hard, it actually rocked him, and he almost fell back. God, he had been so stupid, so certain she would let him slip away. The sting of the dart in his back was still the most painful memory he had, despite a thousand worse pains being inflicted on his since. That was the one that he relived the most.

Parker looked at Jarod, hardly able to believe what she was seeing. He looked awful. Unshaven, filthy, long hair that didn't look like it had seen a comb in quite a while, and the most surprising of all, a little flabby. Jarod had always been in incredible shape, and even when she was pissed at him, which was nearly always, it was hard not to admire his physique, the sheer physicality of the man. He stunk of booze and his eyes, normally such a soft warm brown, that often twinkle with amusement, were bloodshot and dull. It was easy to understand his poor physical condition in the Centre, when the abuse and mistreatment was constant, but to allow himself to come to this...  if she had not seen it with her own eyes she wouldn't believe it. Even seeing him now, she was finding it hard to accept.

When it appeared that he had nothing more to say, she sighed, and turned around to talk to the sheriff, who was hovering behind her. Every moment they lingered, the more at risk they were and she needed to get moving.

The Sheriff watched the interaction and it was clear his prisoner knew the marshal, and he wondered just what was going on here. Something was definitely off, she didn't look or dress or behave like any federal agent he had ever met. She looked more like she should be working the streets at night in that getup. If her prisoner ran, he had no clue how she was supposed to pursue in those 6 inch heels.

Her paperwork was in order however, and he had no reason to deny the transfer of custody. He wasn't sure if he was worried that she might be hurt, as the prisoner had been pretty out of control last night.  Despite that, he didn't think that he was a bad man, and for the life of him he couldn't explain why. Perhaps it was because of the damage he had seen and he couldn't help but feel sympathy for what the poor bastard must have been through. He was a little worried that she might be a threat to the prisoner. His uneasiness about this entire situation made him reluctant to hand custody over, at least not to her.

"What's the problem?" Parker demanded,  snapping her fingers impatiently when the hokey Sheriff hadn't yet made any move.


"Well Ma'am, I would be happier if you had some backup. It took 4 men last night to bring him down, and he broke one of their arms. I guess its not rightly my place to know why the Marshal Service wants him, or who he is..." he shook his head unhappily. "But it is my guess that he served, and judging by..." he glanced a little guiltily over at Jarod and lowered his voice, "he was a POW. You know it ain't right, the way our Vets are treated," he said soflty. "We tried not to hurt him, it was just a drunk and disorderly call, when we realised, but my deputies have a right to defend themselves too."

For a drunk, the man had put up a hell of a fight, and he seemed pretty capable too. The sheriff was about to order the prisoner tasered as he heard one of his Deputies scream and he heard the arm break, just like a twig snapping. It was then that all the fight seemed to leave the man, and the sheriff didn't think it was the alcohol, there was a strange look on his face, something he could only think of as abject terror and then he seemed to just submit like it was all he had ever intended to do in the first place. After that there hadn't been any resistance or so much as a peep out of him. When they had rolled him over and cuffed him, his shirt had hiked up and even in the pale moonlight the damage to the man's back was clear. When they got him back to the station and took some identification photos, he thought he might be sick as he saw the extent of the damage and any resentment he had about his deputy dissolved instantly. Whoever he was, he was clearly carrying around a lot of demons, darker than the Sheriff wanted to think about.

 

He took the pen and scribbled his name on the official transfer papers, although he wasn't happy about it. He had no idea who this guy was, what he had done or why the Feebs would want him, but he felt sorry for him, clearly the guy had had a really bad time of it. Part of him had just wanted to let him go, open the cell door and wish him luck.

It took a supreme effort of will for Parker not to snap back at the Sheriff who seemed to be a bit dim-witted and slow, nor react to the fact that Jarod had broken a law enforcement officers arm. It was just not something that Jarod would have ever done. Not to mention drinking enough to get himself arrested. Then again, Jarod wasn't a cold blooded murdered either, or so she had believed. Was he trying to get caught?

"Something like that," she nodded curtly, just wanting to move this along now.

Parker watched as the Sheriff instructed Jarod to face the wall, get on his knees, interlace his fingers behind his head and cross his ankles. This might be a one-horse town, but this guy wasn't taking any chances and was impressively professional. What really surprised her though was how compliant Jarod was. The other thought that struck her, which was very disturbing, was just how graceful he had gone to his knees, how fluid and natural the movement had been. How practiced. It made her shiver to think about how much he had fought, what price he had paid to reach this point.

Jarod offered no protest or resistance whatsoever, and she had been bracing for him to make a break for it the moment the Sheriff opened the cell door. Her hand was creeping towards the tranquilizer gun when he went to cuff Jarod, with the cuffs that she had provided. She was sure he would go ballistic, remembering that day in the Sim Lab, the last day she had seen him, and how out of control he was, how desperately he had fought. Instead, Jarod barely moved, nor indicated that he gave a damn. Acceptance.

Jarod had served, she supposed, and he certainly didn't deserve what they had given him, she could admit that now, if only to herself. Keeping her mask in place, showing none of the surprise or despair she was feeling, she now just needed to be out of here before someone else came along.

The story she had fed the Sheriff about returning to Indiana with her escaped prisoner, seemed enough to satisfy the man. She had embellished it just enough to hint that he was in Witsec, reluctantly. Others would be looking for him, and that she would consider it a professional courtesy if he didn't give them an accurate physical description of herself. There was no doubt Lyle and his goons would be aware of Jarod's arrest sooner rather than later, and she didn't want them knowing Parker got there first. Let them chase a false lead in Indiana. They would most likely wave around a photo of Major Charles, and if the Sheriff had half a brain he would confirm that was who took custody. It was thin, but for now it was all she had.

As the Sheriff guided Jarod out of the cell, Parker collected the envelop of his possessions, which didn't seem like much, and readied herself in case the Genius decided to make a break for it. There was no desire to actually hurt the Pretender, but she wasn't about to let him slip away either and she doubted he would be very receptive to talking given everything that had happened. There wasn't much chance he would believe her either. A bitter smile briefly formed as she realised the irony of the role reversals.

Jarod had finally managed to shake off the dream, and was assessing the situation he had found himself in. With absolute no memory of what happened last night, he assumed that he had probably made a nuisance of himself, it wouldn't have been the first time. His mug shot and physical condition must have sent up a flag and the race was on and it looked like Parker got to him first. It was probably just as well, as no doubt Lyle would still be royally pissed that Jarod had shot off nearly half his ear. When it had come to firing, he just couldn't bring himself to kill Lyle, despite everything. Really, he had wanted to, intended to, which is what he had been trying to convince himself of for the last week or so. That particular decision had been moved into the too hard column, just another thing in a long line of things that he didn't want to think about. After failing to make the kill shot on Lyle, and Cox never seeming to leave the Centre, Jarod had had enough, and decided to leave Delaware, never to return. Looks like that lasted about a week and a half, and he would be on his way back ‘home' in short order. Seemed there wasn't much he could do right these days. Maybe his Pretenderness had run out.

Resisting now was pointless, if Parker really was alone, then he would be smarter to wait until she got away from help, so he went along without protest. When the Sheriff handed him over to her, he felt a firm grip when she took his arm, but it didn't crush or hurt. He could see the disapproval in her eyes, although she wasn't saying anything, and Jarod decided not to either, just let her lead him out to a non-descript car, which wasn't her usual style at all. Nothing about this felt right. Where was Sam? Sydney? Had alliances at the Centre fractured? Jarod had no clue what was going on with any of them anymore.

"Get in," she ordered, opening the front passenger door for him and waited while he climbed awkwardly in. "Give me any trouble and it will be the trunk," she huffed, surprised at how placidly he obeyed, and without any whining. After slamming the door to hide her growing concern, she moved around to the driver's side, slid into the seat and reached over to do up his seatbelt. Her body briefly came in contact with his as she leant over and she felt him flinch, or perhaps even recoil. He said nothing, however and gave no other reaction. With the doors now locked, including the child lock, she was certain he wasn't going anywhere for now, she gunned the engine and sped off, not wanting to admit to herself how unsettled this was making her.

"Federal credentials?" Jarod asked once they were on the road, his voice flat and only mildly curious. Watching the world speed by wasn't doing much to help his headache, or his queasy stomach, but he didn't want to miss any of it. It was likely today would be the last day he ever saw it. Jarod understood and had accepted the fact that if they ever took him back, he wouldn't have the fortitude or will to fight them again.

"Taking that right out of your playbook," Parker shot back, wondering where the barrage of questions and whines were. She had known Jarod to be many things, but quiet wasn't one of them. This was a golden opportunity for Boy Wonder to start in on her, but he seemed completely disinclined and even more disconcerting, completely uninterested in his current predicament. Parker couldn't be sure if that was an act or he just didn't care anymore. Was he playing possum? He hadn't asked, or demanded, to be let out of the cuffs and it didn't even look like he was fidgeting to try and pick them. Nothing about him seemed like Jarod at all.

Jarod just grunted a non-committal response, not really caring why she had done what she had done. Local LEO's would be no protection against the Centre, so there was zero point in pleading his case, most especially when Parker had brought legitimate appearing papers. The last time he had seen Parker, she had put a gun to his throat and he doubted she had forgiven anything he had said in the interim, and he certainly had not forgotten what she had said and done to him. There really wasn't anything more to say and he was content to just look at the view until they arrived at wherever she was taking him, most likely an airfield.

The silence grew and Parker became more worried about it. After half an hour, she could barely stand it any longer and cast sideways glances at Jarod, but he didn't seem to notice, or he pretended not to. There were no smart-arse comments about her driving, no questions about where they were going, no arguments to try and convince her to let him go. It was freaking her out. She didn't expect them to go back to how it used to be, they had both said and done things that couldn't be taken back. She wasn't expecting this cold stranger though. Jarod was still, well Jarod, wasn't he? He had to be. There was no way she could accept the alternative.

When Jarod finally did speak, she relaxed just a little.

"I need the bathroom," he said simply, not turning his head away from the window.

So, this was his move, finally. It was almost a relief. This was so unlike Jarod, so unnatural to their dynamic that it was getting harder to deny she was truly afraid. Parker turned to look at him, expecting to see something of the old Jarod, but he was still facing away from her looking out the window and she couldn't read him. That too was disconcerting as Jarod usually wore every emotion on his face, and in his voice when they were together. Another piece in their puzzle had changed, and it was unsettling to say the least. They both knew this dance well, the way they verbally fenced with each other, often hurting, but rarely drawing blood. After a moment of hesitation, she nodded. "Okay," she agreed. "I will find somewhere to pull over. If you try any..."

"You will put a bullet in my knee," Jarod deadpanned, but there was no mischievous tone or hint of a smile.

Parker raised an eyebrow at that, remembering a very different time when they had been completely different people, and she knew those days, those people were long gone. This was a back-country road, and she doubted there would be any rest stops, so she kept her eye out for a reasonably secluded area that she could get off the road. When he said nothing more, she sighed internally, finding that she missed the smart-arse comments. Did part of her want him to try something? She did enjoy the way he tested her, although she didn't enjoy the way he bested her so frequently, and this was one time when she was going to win, but there was no pleasure or satisfaction in it for her.

It didn't take long for her to find a suitable place to pull over, and her initial thought of making him squirm just a little, seemed awful now. The game they had always played with each other was over, and she missed it. The car came to a stop and she turned off the engine, pocketing the keys before getting out and moving over to open Jarod's door, and then helped him out of the car.

Surprised that she wasn't threatening him with her gun, Jarod looked around and stretched a little as best he could. His body was sore, he was dehydrated and hungry. There was still no memory of what he did last night and he guessed that it didn't really matter. The dream seemed more real than this right now. Some days it was hard to tell the difference between reality and nightmares. Some days he felt like the reality was a dream and he was still back there living the nightmare, just waiting to awaken alone in that empty cell, with nothing to look forward to, except a visit from his tormentor, whom he had stupidly convinced himself was a friend and ally.  When Parker made no move to uncuff him, he looked at her. Even a Pretender couldn't manage what was required here.

"A little help?" he asked and looked down at the front of his jeans. Asking for help, begging, came naturally these days.

"What?" she barked, shaking her head, taking a step back. "In your dreams Jarod," she said, trying to sound cool and detached.

Her reaction brought a wry smile to his face as he watched her, perhaps even catching a glimpse of the old Parker under the carefully constructed façade that she had grown into.

Parker watched him, trying to assess if he might present a physical threat to her. He had ruthlessly killed Raines and she didn't know for sure if he had deliberately missed in ending Lyle too, or that it was some kind of message, that he was coming and this was just the beginning. Perhaps he just didn't have the stones. Whatever it had been, Lyle was going out of his mind, certain Jarod was back to kill him. When he had been informed, after they patched up what was left of his ear, that his car had been found in the Centre lobby, compacted into a neat little cube of scrap metal, with the personalised vanity plate left intact on top of the package, he had completely lost the plot. Seemed Jarod hadn't lost his sense of humour entirely after all.

Jarod was returning her scrutiny, without giving any clue as to what he might be thinking, Parker decided to just let it all play out and she moved behind him, reaching down to the cuffs, wincing at the lines she saw around his wrists. She undid one, and still holding the cuff, pulled his arm around in front, and without looking him in the face, locked his hands together in front of him, and then stepped away without a word. Being this close to him was hard, it was stirring up all kinds of memories she didn't want to admit were there, let alone have to face and deal with them. At various times she had hated him and pitied him and once...

All of that was in the past now and she knew what she had to do. The present was what she was concerned with, digging up the past had been his thing, not hers. It didn't matter what Jarod thought, she had set her course of action and that was that.

Jarod watched wordlessly as she moved away, giving him some privacy, which was an unexpected, but welcome, consideration. This was the first time he had seen her since his meltdown in the Sim Lab and he was totally unprepared for the onslaught of mixed emotions that he was experiencing now. It was so much easier when he resented and blamed her. Despite everything he had once believed, hate came easily now, and it was empowering. This was something he had never understood before. He wanted that clarity back.

Even though they had not really spoken during the car, she seemed different somehow, almost as if she didn't know how to handle things either. Jarod had been wrong about so much, could he have been wrong about her as well? Lyle had tricked and manipulated him so thoroughly. Jarod understood even less about himself these days than he ever had, and he didn't trust his own judgement anymore. There was only one thing he knew for certain, and that was he had been monumentally stupid. Could they have threatened Sydney and Parker into what they had done? Jarod didn't know and it was making his headache worse. There were so many questions, and like always, no answers. It was safer not to think about it.

Taking a step closer to the bushes, he undid his jeans and relieved himself with a heavy sigh. Running had briefly crossed his mind, but what was the point really? Parker had proved previously she wasn't squeamish about shooting him, and the truth was, he just didn't have any more running left in him. There was nowhere to go, nothing for him out here. The dream of the previous night was weighing heavily on him and what scared him the most was the overwhelming sense of relief he had felt when he had been caught. No, he wasn't going to run, he wasn't going to fight. The simple and inescapable truth was that there was no outrunning destiny, no changing the story. Sydney had been right the entire time and he didn't even have the energy left to hate him for it.

Doing his jeans up, Jarod looked around and there was nowhere to wash his hands, and so he wiped them on his jeans leg as best he could, looking sourly at the metal bracelets around his wrists. It had been a long time since he had been restrained and he didn't like it any more now than he had then.

Parker was waiting by the car and he could tell by her body language that she was wishing she had a cigarette. She had made no calls which had surprised him also, and she didn't seem to be in any rush to get him wherever they were going. The whole situation was kind of surreal. Jarod looked at her for a moment, not caring if he was caught staring. She looked as beautiful as ever, strong and confident, cold. The same old Miss Parker. There were also subtle differences too, and he didn't trust himself to know what they might mean. Her voice seemed gentler than he could ever remember it, and she seemed far more patient than she had ever been. She hadn't even called him a name or insulted him the way she always did. There had also been no reproach about what he had said during their last confrontation. He still believed she was more to blame, and she would blame him as she did for everything. Reason or logic had never really been her default position. Anger was.

Jarod had only the vaguest idea about what she had been doing after she had been taken off the case, and he hadn't cared enough to find out. Whatever it was, it was clear she was still unhappy and he supposed she always would be. She had won, and it was never going to be enough. That wasn't entirely her fault, and he didn't blame her, not really. Deep down he knew she had no choice in what had followed. If anything, he had blamed himself, for misjudging everything so badly. She had said it herself, it's just how the damn story goes, and he was so wilfully blind that he couldn't see it. Jarod had always believed Parker to be the one that was blind, she who would not see, but now he realised he had been no different, perhaps worse.

Feeling eyes on her, Parker looked at Jarod to find him openly staring at her and she stared back, almost as a challenge, although her heart wasn't in it. He didn't just look awful and out of condition, he looked defeated, smaller somehow. Diminished. There was none of the swagger or cocky confidence that was so damn annoying and kind of attractive at the same time. What surprised her the most was the silence. It scared her more than she was willing to admit. Arguments and endless whining was the norm for Jarod, always had been. What she saw now, and didn't want to admit, was the ghost of what Gem might have turned into if Jarod and the Major hadn't rescued him.  

That terrified her. She loved Gem, it was simple and pure and she wanted to protect him. He was Jarod, and yet he wasn't, and it hurt her head to think about it, what it meant, so she didn't, or at least tried not to.

Spending so much time with Gem had been such a gift, and she had come to an understanding of Jarod in a way she never had before. It had caused her to question why it had been so easy for her to dismiss Jarod out of her life, never questioning whether he belonged in the Centre or what it might have been like for him. Introspection was not really Parker's thing, and she didn't like this, nor did she want to dwell too much on it. It was what it was, and there was no changing what had been done. The only thing now was to move forward and do what she could.

Watching silently as he trudged back to the car, it struck her again at just how broken he was, and she didn't think he was pretending either. From what she understood there had been precious little of that since he had been rescued. The man before her didn't look like he could organise a change of clothes, let alone the precision murder of Raines and she began to wonder if maybe Freud had it all wrong. Perhaps he had missed killing Lyle because he couldn't make the shot after all. Christ, she didn't know what to think.

"Get in the car," she said, hating how tired she sounded. Just seeing him like this hurt her more than she wanted to admit and she didn't want him seeing that either.

Jarod got into the car without any argument, too tired to really care much about anything. He was grateful that his hands were at least cuffed in front of him now, which was far more comfortable. He didn't know if that was an oversight by Parker, or that she had taken a long hard look and seen that he wasn't any danger or threat. He didn't know if that made him feel better or worse.

Parker's attitude was puzzling, and he was even a little disappointed that she didn't seem to want to engage in their usual parrying. When she got in behind the wheel and leant over and did his seatbelt up, he caught a very strong whiff of her perfume and he closed his eyes, breathed deeply of it and tried to remember how that smell used to give him such pleasure. A ghost of a smile came to his face and when he opened his eyes again, Parker was looking at him strangely, although she didn't seem angry. Their eyes locked for a moment and something unspoken seemed to pass between them and then she started the car without a word, breaking the contact, the moment dying. Jarod was left wondering what it meant, or if it meant anything at all.

They drove for another hour in silence and Parker was half tempted to call Sydney and to have him head shrink Jarod for a bit to find out what the hell was going on with him. The shell of a man sitting next to her didn't seem like Jarod at all, and although she knew some of what had happened, hell she had been a part of it, she never really wanted to believe that he wouldn't just bounce back like he always had. Making a decision, she pulled off the road without slowing down, into a dodgy looking take away place, practically careening into the drive through, where she barked an order for some burgers and fries.

Jarod made no comment about her suicidal driving, just gripped the door handle to steady himself. When he realised what she was doing though, he smiled a little, and said nothing as she ordered, not imagining Parker eating anything this unhealthy. When she handed them over without a word or caustic remark, he took them with surprise and found himself having to blink back tears. The simple act of kindness, however begrudging it appeared, was somehow more threatening to his state of mind than insults and threats would have been. It had been a very long time since he had seen any real kindness.

"Thank you," he said simply, not trusting himself to say anything else, and then shoved in a mouthful of deliciously salty and greasy fries. There was nothing better for a hangover, it hadn't taken him long to discover, than greasy food.

Parker was about to snort something and saw the look on his face and just gave him a tight smile in return.  "Just don't make a mess," she said, more because she felt compelled to say something than because she cared about any mess. It was a rental after all.

Jarod gave her a little smiled and continued to wolf down the food as she pulled back onto the road. It had been a little awkward with the cuffs, but he made no complaint, guessing Parker was being as generous as she could, and he didn't want to push his luck. It appeared that they weren't in any rush to get back, and that suited him just fine. Having something in his stomach went a long way to making him feel more human again and he wiped his greasy fingers on the napkins and took in a little more of his surroundings. "That was really good," he said, crushing up the rubbish into a neat little ball.

"Hmm," Parker snorted, doubting there was anything of any nutritional value in that meal. "What the hell were you thinking?" she finally asked him, unable to stand it anymore.

"That I was hungry?" he said, a little confused.

"Letting yourself get arrested!" she only just managed to stop herself yelling at him.

"Oh that," Jarod shrugged. "I don't remember," he answered honestly.

Parker couldn't believe his attitude at all. There was nothing in this man that she recognised from the Jarod she had chased for so many years. "Did you want to get caught?" she asked him, wondering if he was somehow scheming, although what his end game could possibly be was beyond her. What she needed to do was talk to Sydney, see if he could make any sense of this.

Jarod looked at her and then raised an eyebrow, "What do you think?"

"I think you're a basket short of a picnic," she snorted, but smiled a little at his confused expression, the familiar tilt of his head. That was a Jarod she could recognize.

"Yeah, well," Jarod shrugged again, more interested in the scenery than in conversation. There was nothing to say to Parker that hadn't already been said, she had made her allegiances all too clear and had chosen sides. He supposed he had too.

There had been no choice other than to come to terms with that as best he could, and he had no desire to pick over old wounds, not anymore. Usually when he opened his mouth, all he ever managed to do was aggravate her, so this was a more prudent course of action. His belly was full, his head was feeling better and it was nice and warm in the car. The countryside was pretty and he intended to enjoy it. Wherever they were going, she seemed to be taking the long route and that suited him just fine.

When Jarod didn't respond, Parker quit trying and just concentrated on the road. She was still a few hours out from the safe house they had organised and once there she could talk to Sydney and they could decide what to do next. Sydney could deal with his sulking or personal identity crises or whatever the hell it was. Boy Wonder seemed to have zero interest in much of anything, and she wondered just how much he knew about what had happened, or if he even cared. She had risked everything to help get him out and the very least he could do was show some gratitude. As she drove she became more and more resentful of his attitude and about half an hour later it became too much and she slammed her foot on the brake and slid over onto the shoulder of the road with a screech. "You selfish son of a bitch!" she screamed, watching the shock on his face at their abrupt stop.

Jarod braced himself, the abrupt change in velocity snapping him out of his reverie and he looked at her in shock.

"Is this about Raines?" he asked flatly.

This was the Parker he knew, this was the Parker he had expected and knew how to deal with. This was the Parker that had finally replaced his stupid idiotic fantasies about the little girl that had given him his first kiss, taught him to be bold even when he was scared, showed him how to have fun.

His Parker had died, not on the day that she had shot him in the back, had still hadn't quite been ready to accept that particular truth. No, she had died on the day she had condemned him to hell with a gun in his throat, and then turned her back on him as if he was nothing. He had just been too stubborn and too stupid to accept it before then. There wasn't much that he trusted in his own judgement any longer, he had been shown repeatedly just how truly stupid and gullible he was, but he could trust this was the real Parker before him now.

Parker blinked in surprise at his emotionless response, it was the last thing she was expecting. Before she even knew she intended to ask it was out of her mouth.

"Did you kill him?"

Part of her didn't think Jarod was capable of such a calculated act, not even against Raines. He had to deny it, Jarod was capable of many things, but not that. Even though she was glad the old wheezing ghoul was dead, and perhaps a little sorry it wasn't by her own hand, deep down she believed Jarod was... well still Jarod.

Looking steadily at her for a long moment, her blue eyes so familiar that it gave him the chills and took every ounce of effort to fight off the flashback that he could feel was about to assault him. They came with less frequency now, but they still left him feeling weak and shattered and completely useless. When he was certain he had managed to regain control of himself, he looked at her and nodded.

"Yes."

There was no need to lie about it and he could see by the quickly covered shock on her face that she had not been expecting that answer. What he didn't know was whether it was the fact that he had admitted it, or committed it, that most surprised her. It didn't really matter he supposed.

They had all crossed lines none of them could return from. Retribution was coming either way and this wasn't going to make much difference in the grand scheme of things. The only regret he did have was that he hadn't finished off Lyle too, and he still didn't really understand why he had missed, and he didn't want to think too much on that, which is how he ended up so drunk that he had no memory of any fight with the police or how he came to wake up in a cell. He didn't doubt for one second though, judging by how stiff and sore he was, that what the Sheriff had told Parker was true.

There was no way to tell what was going on in Jarod's head, but clearly something had just happened. Wonder Boy had spaced out for a moment and then seemed to come back to himself, or the shell that he was now schlepping around in. Deep down she had known Jarod had killed Raines, and she wasn't about to shed a single tear over his death, genetics be damned. It scared her though that he seemed so casual about it. His method too was of grave concern. Was it a message for Sydney? A warning? Or a gift, like a cat that brings in a dead mouse? She remembered every accusation he had slung at her, and Sydney on that last day and she knew Sydney had watched the DSA's repeatedly, although she had never looked at them. Did he feel about Sydney now the same way he did about Raines, Cox and Lyle? Is that what he thought of her?

 

Jarod was all about compassion, helping people saving the little guy that nobody else cared about, blah blah blah. This wasn't Jarod at all, this man was like a complete stranger and the gravity of what had happened to him hit her with such force for a moment she couldn't breathe. It felt like it had actual physical force and she had to stop herself from gasping, or screaming. Seeing him like this, so up close, so damaged, there was no way to deny what she supposed she had always known and refused to acknowledge. Jarod had been broken.

Without thinking, reacting purely on instinct she reached out and took his cuffed hands in her own and although he stiffened a little, he didn't pull away from her. She looked up at him, raw emotion surging through her, and waited until he looked up too. With unshed tears shimmering in her eyes, she whispered.

 

 "I'm sorry."

Story Time by jacci
Author's Notes:

I know it has been absolutely forever, and was despairing would never get back to this but an earworm seemed to have settled in recently and here we are. time to bring this sordid monstrosity to an end. Not sure what that will be yet, it certainly has strayed far and wide into the badlands than what I first imagined it would be and certainly not even close to where I imagined it would. Will try to get another chap updated in reasonable time.

 

“What?”

Jarod gasped as if he had been struck and a frown furrowed his brow as he struggled to breathe, to believe what he had just heard, to make some kind of sense of it. It was as if all the air had suddenly been sucked out of the car and he desperately needed to run, but he couldn’t breathe, let alone move.

 

That was not the reaction Parker was expecting and had no idea what to make of her impromptu apology, nor Jarod’s reaction. She hadn’t planned it and didn’t realise what she was doing until after it was done. When Jarod snatched his hands out of hers and recoiled back, she couldn’t really blame him. It hurt though, hurt deeply, and she closed her eyes remembering another time in another car a lifetime ago. It was like a dual reality overlapping and she was back in that limo on the tarmac on another continent. Were they doomed to play these roles forever with no escape?

 

Jarod was struggling as strong emotions swept through him, the kind of emotions that he couldn’t push down, or hope to understand. When he looked at Parker he was glad to see that she was in her own moment, her eyes closed, so she couldn’t see the tears that he knew must be shimmering in his eyes. She had seen him at his absolute worst and weakest moments, had seen how vulnerable and pathetic he had become and the idea of her seeing him come undone again now was unbearable. It was hard enough for him to keep himself together, to keep himself from falling back into the abyss when he was alone, he didn’t want an audience, and most especially not her. Even now, when he had tried so desperately to cut her from his heart and soul, she had the capability to bring him undone with a single word. He hated her for that. He hated himself for it. Nobody had the power to hurt him in the same way she did. That touch though, it was lingering on his hands, warm and smooth and gentle and in his mind’s eye he could see her tapered fingers with elegantly manicured nails, trying to offer comfort.

 

Parker composed herself as best she could and started the car without looking at Jarod but could tell by his breathing how much he was struggling. She careened out onto the road without even looking to see if there was any traffic, just desperately wanting to get away from … what? Jarod? Herself? What the hell had she been thinking? What was she apologising for? Everything? It seemed too small, so insignificant and inadequate but somehow heavy and profound at the same time, reverberating with decades of unspoken…  Drive, that was the thing to do right now, just drive, just get him there.

 

Jarod didn’t understand what was going on here, but he could see Parker was as unprepared to deal with this situation as he was and that was a little reassuring. There was a time when he would have tried to understand, or even simulate her motives, now though, he knew he couldn’t trust his own judgment with regards to much of anything, but most especially Parker. His previous errors in judgement had cost him dearly, so it was just easier, safer to accept that he didn’t understand and never would.

“You can’t say that,” he whispered, finally breaking the oppressive silence in the car, which was weighing on him like a living thing. It was like the silence in his cell. For the last year, Jarod had avoided anywhere that was quiet, he liked background noise, anything, but most especially noisy crowds. He always felt alone in a crowd, unimportant, invisible, and that suited him fine, but the wonderful noise of it could block out the noise in his mind, most of the time, and when that failed, well there had been the booze. What was she doing? Guilt wasn’t something that Parker trafficked in, was she apologising for what she was doing now, what she was delivering him to?

 

Parker was startled by his soft voice and turned to look at him, quirking an eyebrow. “Oh?” she asked coolly, having regained some of her equanimity. “Why not, if it is the truth? Isn’t that your thing?” she asked him bluntly, attack had always been her best form of defence. He had beaten her over the head with his vaunted truth for years, never minding how much grief it might cause her.

 

After getting to know Gem, it was only then that Parker had really understood that the truth wasn’t the game to Jarod that she had always thought it was. It was as important to him as breathing was and he just hadn’t known any other way to ‘play the game’. That had been a bitter realisation for her and she still had no real idea what she was supposed to do with that knowledge now. She could feel his eyes burning into her as he processed that, sense him forming the instinctive argument and felt herself tense up ready for the sparring to begin. Instead though, he swallowed what he was going to say and titled his head in that way that was so like the old Jarod that her heart nearly broke.

 

“I don’t understand what the truth is anymore,” Jarod admitted in a voice so low that she could barely hear him. Truth had become something liquid, something he couldn’t hold onto, couldn’t really fathom its shape. It could be frozen into something and in the next moment, melt away and become something entirely different. It was fluid and contextual, not the granite he had naively once believed in.

 

To hear the genius admit that was nowhere near as satisfying as she would have thought it was and she sighed heavily, shaking her head. “You never really understood anything Jarod, not really, not any of it,” she said gently. Her eyes were back on the road and for a long moment there was silence, giving him an opportunity to rebuke, argue his way through it. When he said nothing more she looked at him again and admitted. “Neither did I.”

 

Parker hated introspection, navel gazing, and spent most of her life trying to avoid it, it was pointless, just made you feel crap, changing nothing. In this moment though, she felt that she owed Jarod, no, herself, nothing less than unfiltered honesty.

 

In another life, when he used to be another person, Jarod might have asked her for help, pleaded with her to let him go, given the surreal conversation that was going on. There seemed to be some kind of fragile connection between them now, something beyond the animosity and teasing, something that might even be real. Could the past feelings and mistakes have actually been burnt away? Was it possible? Had that turning point finally presented itself and she had taken in, and this is what that looked like? It was too ephemeral though and Jarod wasn’t the man he used to be. So, he said nothing, just turned his head to watch the countryside slip by and enjoy the warm sunshine on his face while he tried to understand what had just taken place, what it might mean or if it even mattered at all.

 

Jarod’s lack of response stung, and Parker bit back her sarcastic comment. Thinking about Gem, thinking about that time in the Sim Lab and realised that he probably wasn’t ignoring her or trying to get a rise, he was just lost. Sydney should have been here, she regretted not allowing him to come now. Sydney would know what to say to connect with him, to get him to snap the hell out of it. There was still about 2 hours of driving before she reached the safe house and she had no clue what to say to Jarod. She had no clue what she was thinking or feeling or how she was supposed to deal with this. It would just be so much easier If he behaved like he was supposed to. That was a Jarod she knew how to deal with, that she secretly enjoyed. She had just bared her soul, or whatever was left of it and he had barely reacted. Even incriminations and blame would be better than this.

 

When he had said nothing or barely moved for another fifteen minutes, she came to a decision, with no real idea she had even been thinking about it. This was too messed up, even by the standards of their twisted relationship. Fishing the key out of her pocket, she handed it to him wordlessly, forcing it into his unresponsive hands.

 

Jarod was snapped out of his reverie by her touch, and something cold. He looked down at the small silver object in his hands and then to Parker, totally confused. His entire life had been controlled by locks and keys and she had just handed it over like it was no big deal. He turned the tiny object over and over in his hands, staring at it like it was a powerful talisman and had magic in it. “What is this?” he finally managed in a hoarse whisper.

 

Parker pulled over, more gently this time and put the car into park. Looking from the key he was twirling up to his familiar but distant brown eyes she gave him a ghost of a smile.

 “What you always wanted,”  she said just as softly, no vitriol in her voice. 

The fact he had still made no move whatsoever to undo the cuffs, which she knew he hated, was puzzling. “Go Jarod, if that is what you want,” she said tiredly, disengaging the child lock with a click that seemed unnaturally loud. “You can get out right now Jarod, I won’t come after you, but I won’t be able stop those who do,” she told him honestly, she was well past lies by now.

Sydney would be furious, this was not how the script was meant to go at all. Sydney didn’t think Jarod could be trusted to act in his own best interests right now and Parker offering him a chance to flee was definitely not the plan. Parker never felt the need to explain herself usually, or defend her actions and choices, and this was deep in unchartered waters for her, and she felt like she probably was floundering, but pushed on anyway. “But if you stay, I can tell you what happened, because…” she paused for a moment, frowning.  “You don’t know, do you?” she asked with sudden clarity.

“Know what?” he asked, with a little more interest now. Part of him had accepted, with frightening ease, that he was on his way back ‘home’ and that fighting it was pointless. He could have run at the pit stop, she had certainly given him ample opportunity to at least try. A small, tiny part of him was curious about what was happening here, what Parker’s motives might really be. Jarod had thought that part of him was gone for good, that he no longer cared about anything, one way or the other. Was there a time Parker had ever offered him information without some kind of quid–pro–quo? It was almost certain that she hadn’t, not once. Admittedly he had also traded and withheld knowledge too, so it wasn’t completely one-sided. Was this another mind-game? Teasing him with the one thing she knew he wanted as much as he had wanted his freedom and family? Did she even know anything really? Despite her family ties, she had always been kept out of the loop on almost everything.

 

“You don’t know how you escaped, not really, not all of it,” she said, knowing she was right by the look on his face. That was so unlike Jarod too, always wanting to know every damn thing. “Did you even ask them?” she asked in surprise.

 

Jarod shrugged, feigning indifference to cover his embarrassment that she was right, he hadn’t even bothered to ask his father for the details. “It was no escape,” he admitted. “Dad dragged me out of there,” he said dully. In all that time he hadn’t even come close to an escape plan, not one with any real chance. Security had been tight, but in the end he had simply stopped thinking about it. The last thing he needed right now was a reminder of his abject failure.

 

Parker tried to keep herself calm, remembering what Sydney had told her about the likely state of mind Jarod would be in, and why. It was hard for her to understand, and even harder to accept, but like always, the old goat was right and so she took a steadying breath before she started.

 

There was much to tell, and she summarised as best she could, leaving out most of the tech details, which she would never understand. As she told him, she could see his reactions becoming a little more animated, which encouraged her. An apathetic pretender was not something she knew how to cope with. The expected interruptions and demands for clarification didn’t come, and so she ploughed on, not polishing anything. Sydney, no doubt, could have explained all of this with more finesse, being careful about landmines that were likely buried in Jarod’s psyche, but Sydney wasn’t here, he couldn’t see Jarod the way he was right now. It felt almost theraputic as she verbally vomited the story, like expelling a toxin, although she would never admit that to Freud, of course.

 

Jarod listened to her with growing dismay at his own stupidity, and shame for how he had behaved. Never before had he heard Parker talk like this, so unguarded and he started to think about someone else’s feelings in this whole shitshow for the first time. It wasn’t just about him after all, it never had been, and that slammed into him with startling clarity. How could he have been so blind? All those years of accusing Sydney and Parker of refusing to see what was right in front of them, and it had been he who would not see. From the sounds of it, Gem had worked himself almost beyond endurance and he could tell by the catch in Parker’s voice just how much affection she had for the boy and he had to fight down a surge of bitter jealousy. Although it was his father that had finally pulled him out of hell, Jarod now started to understand just how much effort the others, especailly Broots had gone into this, and without the support of Parker and Sydney, none of it would have been possible. It was humbling and shocking, the risks they had taken for him.

 

Jarod looked up at Parker when she finally ran out of words, and really saw her for the first time since she had picked him up earlier this morning. It was hard to believe it was only a few hours ago, it felt more like years. Those icy blue eyes had been all he could see at first, Lyle's eyes. Now, those eyes seemed beautiful, and sad, hers. Parker looked exhausted and vulnerable and he finally realised that whatever she was doing right now, he didn’t think it was taking him back to the Centre, despite the cuffs, which were still locked around his wrists.

 

Parker saw something change in him, something of the old Jarod struggle to the surface and she wanted to cry in relief. Her Jarod was still in there, somewhere, buried, but alive and kicking. When his eyes breifly flickered down to his wrists, she again saw a little more spark creeping in. Jarod, apparently wasn''t going to release himself, which should have been the first thing he did as soon as he had the damn key. Taking it back from him, she did it for him.

 

When she took the key from him, and moved to undo the locks, he lifted his hands so she had easier access. None of this seemed like it could be true, not after what he had done, not after how badly he had misjudged everything. 

 

“Thank you,” he said, his voice thick with a swirl of confusing emotions, rubbing his wrists absently, although the cuffs hadnt been tight at all, it was just a nervous habit. 

"What now?" he asked, putting his fate into her hands, not trusting himself to have faith in her enough to really hope, just far too drained to do anything else.

 

 

 

 

 



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