Standing on the edge by Vicky
Summary:

Following the events of Carthis, life seems to have gone back to normal for the two children of the Centre. But as they are on the verge of uncovering yet another secret, Miss Parker comes to realise she can only count on the one person she has been trained to distrust.


Categories: Post IOTH Characters: Angelo, Broots, Cox, Ethan, Jarod, Lyle, Miss Parker, Mr Raines, Original Character, Sydney
Genres: Angst, Romance
Warnings: Warning: Language
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 5 Completed: Yes Word count: 37891 Read: 9658 Published: 30/06/13 Updated: 30/06/13
Story Notes:

I had the general idea for this fic for about two years, and you can't imagine how glad I am that I was finally able to not only write it, but to write it for the Het Big Bang and to have been able to complete it. Many thanks to my two betas, the ever so wonderful csiangel and silecet. And thank you to whogate who have chosen to make art for this fic. I hope you will enjoy it!

1. Chapter 1 by Vicky

2. Chapter 2 by Vicky

3. Chapter 3 by Vicky

4. Chapter 4 by Vicky

5. Chapter 5 by Vicky

Chapter 1 by Vicky

Prologue

    Both men watched the screen as the woman was talking on the phone. They couldn't hear what she was saying, but they had no doubt as to whom she was talking to. The younger man didn't know why the older one wanted to watch what was happening.

    To him it didn't look any different than every other time the same scene had occurred. But it seemed like it did to the older man. He was ready to question him about it, when the man silenced him and gestured for him to keep looking at the screen.

    They watched as the woman stood up from the couch and walked to her desk. There, she picked up a frame, and after having looked at it, she put it close to her chest. Neither of the men had needed to see the picture to know who was on it. She put the frame back on the desk, and erased a tear with her now free hand.

    The younger man was ready to demand an explanation this time, when he was stopped by what the screen was now showing. The woman had hung up the phone, and had put her hand against her cheek, her lips pressing briefly against the fingers she had closed around the cell phone. It surprised him, though he knew it shouldn't; it certainly hadn't surprised the older man, as his face remained impassive.

    Turning his eyes back to the screen, he watched as the woman gathered her belongings and left her office.

"You think she's going to betray us?" he asked the older man, wondering if that was why he had been asked to watch this.

"And we need to do something about this," the other man wheezed.

"I can take care of this problem," the first man replied, a feral grin already on his lips.

"You'll take care of her in due time. For the moment, I have another use for her. You'll need help from Mr Cox."

"I'll call him. What about the rest of her team?"

"Do not worry about them. They'll be dealt with."

"Good. May I know what you have in mind for her, now?"

"She thinks she's the only one able to bring Jarod back home. She couldn't be more right."

    It took a second for the younger man to understand what he had been told, but as soon as he did, a grin stretched his lips, and he couldn't help but chuckle. The older man grinned in turn and left the room, the wheels of his oxygen bottle squeaking.

    The younger man turned back towards the screen showing the now empty office. With his right hand, he rubbed his once again thumb-less left hand, his eyes darkening.

"Soon, sis, very soon," he said, before walking out of the room.

    Unbeknownst to them, a third man had been watching the scene from the vents. He looked at the empty room beneath him, rocking back and forth on his heels. Only one thought was on his mind.

"Daughter in danger," he kept repeating in a low voice. "Daughter in danger."






Chapter 1


    She was walking down the corridors of sub-level 10, not really caring about who could see her. She knew she shouldn't be there; her father had forbidden her to ever wander down the corridors of the Centre, but he had left her all alone once more. And on this day, it hurt her more than any other day; on this day, a year ago, her mother had committed suicide, leaving her alone with a father for whom work was more important than his own daughter.

    And today, of all days, she needed to be with someone. That was why she was seeking out Jarod and Angelo. She didn't know where the latter was, but she was pretty sure she could find the former in the sim lab with Sydney; Sydney who would not be happy to see her, but who would understand her at the same time. She entered the sim lab quietly, and watched Jarod as he was working on pictures in front of him. Sitting at the top of the stairs, she listened to them talk.

"Are you sure, Jarod?"

"Yes, Sydney. The mother did it. She had paid those men to kidnap her son so that he would escape the abuse from his father. She hadn't expected them to ask for more money and to kill him when she couldn't pay them."

"How can you tell that she's responsible for her son's death?"

"Her eyes in this picture," Jarod answered, showing it to his mentor. "There's guilt in them."

"Great work, Jarod. That'll be all for today," Sydney said, gathering the pictures in his hands.

"Sydney? How can a mother put her child in danger? Even if it is to save him?"

"I don't know Jarod, I don't know."

    Sydney turned towards the stairs to leave the room when he spotted Miss Parker coming down towards them.

"You know you shouldn't be here, Miss Parker. Your father..."

"Please, Sydney. I heard you say that Jarod was done for the day, I won't disturb him."

    Turning towards Jarod, he could see in the young Pretender's eyes that he too was hoping for a positive answer. He knew for a fact that the Centre didn't want Jarod to interact with other children of his age, especially not with Miss Parker, but as a psychiatrist, he also knew that Jarod needed to just be a child when he wasn't doing a simulation. He was also very aware of the date, and of the fact that Mr Parker was in his office and left his daughter on her own. So, that was why he slowly nodded his head.

"But be careful, and don't go anywhere you're not allowed to," he warned them, and the children nodded in answer.

"Thank you, Sydney," Jarod said, and Parker echoed the sentiment.

    They watched as Sydney left the room, before Parker turned back towards Jarod. She motioned for him to follow her, and they went to sit on the ground beside the vent, knowing that Angelo would soon join them.

"Do you know what day it is today, Jarod?" she whispered. When he shook his head no, she continued. "Today is April 13th."

"It's been a year..."

"Since Mama died," she finished for him. "Jarod, why did she leave me?" she asked, and tears could be heard in her voice.







"Miss Parker?"

    Parker was jolted out of her thoughts, and turned to see Debbie looking at her from the threshold of her room.

    Broots had been called in Seattle to supervise a data transfer, and had asked her to take Debbie with her for the next two days. Parker had resisted at first, but when he admitted to her that Debbie wanted to spend time with her, she had agreed.

    Now, as she looked at her, she couldn't help but smile. The young girl she had first met years ago had turned into a beautiful teenager. At thirteen years old, she was just like any other teenage girls, and Parker knew for a fact that Broots was already worrying about boys. But in a way, she remained the girl she had met, and that was the case tonight; she was wearing her pyjamas, and Parker smiled as she saw that she was holding the book she had given her against her chest.

"Are you ready?" Debbie asked with a smile.

"Let's go into the living room."

    They settled on the couch, Debbie leaning against Parker's side, and the book lying on their laps. The girl opened it where they stopped the last time they read it together, and turned her head slightly to look at the woman. She could see the smile that played on her lips, as she let her eyes wander over the words she practically knew by heart.

"So where were we?" Parker said in a soft voice, glancing at Debbie before starting to read. "Beth did have the fever, and was much sicker than anyone but Hannah and the doctor suspected. The girls knew nothing about illness, and Mr. Laurence was not allowed to see her, so Hannah had everything her own way, and busy Dr. Bangs did his best, but left a good deal to the excellent nurse."

    Miss Parker barely looked at the words as she recited them. She still remembered the times when her mother would read those lines to her, and she couldn't help but think that this moment was like a mirror of the one from the past. Before she met Debbie, she would have never thought that a scene like this one could occur. But the girl had changed her. She might not show it to anyone outside of the house, but both Debbie and she knew better.

"Will we read the sequel, one day?" Debbie asked as Miss Parker closed the book when she reached the end of the chapter.

"If you want us to, we can. Once we'll be done with re-reading Little Women, I'll buy the next book."

"I've already bought it, actually," the girl said in a soft voice, a small smile on her face. "Did you read it?"

"No…," Parker answered, her eyes clouding. "My mother died before we could get to it. But I'll be happy to read it with you," she quickly added with a smile, not wanting to sadden the girl.

"Thank you."

"Now, let's go to bed. You have school tomorrow," she said, when she saw that Debbie was ready to protest.

"I could not go…"

"You're going," Parker replied, knowing that she couldn't let the girl do what she wanted. But as she saw the look on Debbie's face, she wondered if there wasn't something else. "What's going on? You know you can talk to me. I won't say anything to your father, if you don't want me to," she reassured her, letting her arm rest over her shoulders.

"It's nothing really."

"To me, it looks like it bothers you, so it must be something."

"It's just… You know, there are these girls at school, they're popular and all, and I'm not and... Forget it," she said, shaking her head, and getting up from the couch. "It's stupid, it's…"

"Do they bother you?" Miss Parker caught her arm before she could get away, and looked at her with concern. "Tell me, Debbie."

"Not really. They just make me understand that I'm not one of them, and that I'll never be one of them. And it hurts, even though I know it shouldn't. I'm perfectly fine with being who I am."

"But you want people to like you, too." Tugging on Debbie's arm to make her sit back on the couch, she turned towards her. "I was a bit older than you when Daddy sent me to boarding school. The school year had already started, and when I arrived, I was immediately put aside by the others. I wasn't one of them. It hurt, even though I didn't want it to."

"What happened then?"

"After a few weeks, I decided to not care anymore about them. I had my family and friends back home, and that was what was the most important to me. You have your friends here with you. Stay with them, don't bother about what those so-called popular girls think about you."

"I'll try. Goodnight Miss Parker," she said, hugging the woman, before retiring to her room.

"Goodnight Debbie," Parker whispered to the empty living room.

    Back in her room, she opened her closet, and took out a box that was sitting in the back, hidden by her clothes. She hadn't lied to Debbie; what helped her when she was at the boarding school was the fact that her father and her friends were waiting for her to come back. Or so she thought for the first few months.

    After weeks and weeks of writing letters to both her father and Jarod, without getting a reply, she had just given up. She had always known her father was a busy man, and hadn't really been expecting replies to her letters, but she had been hurt when she got no reply whatsoever from Jarod. She had thought that he had forgotten her, and that had been the seed her father had used years later.

    But she should have known better from the Pretender.

    After Mr. Parker's jump from the plane, she had gone to his house in the hope to find some answers. She needed them. But what she found hadn't been what she expected. In the safe that only she and the man she had thought to be her father knew about, she had found letters. The same letters she had written to Jarod all those years ago lay there, unopened. And beside them, there had been another stack of letter, letters that the Pretender had written to her and she had never received.

    As she looked at them now, she couldn't help but wonder what if. What if Mr. Parker hadn't intercepted these letters? What if she had gotten those letters from Jarod? What if she had more faith in him? More questions she wouldn't find the answers for. She had opened them, and read them, and for a moment, it was like she was back in her teenage years, at the boarding school, waiting for Jarod's letters.

    She couldn't help but wonder why he kept them all these years. It would have been easier if he had got rid of them. She would have never found out the truth; she would still be thinking that Jarod had forgotten about her just days after she left.

    She closed the box, and put it back in the closet, making sure that it was hidden.

    She was just about to get into bed when the phone rang. She picked it up quickly, not wanting the ringing to wake Debbie. She didn't need to hear his voice to know that it was him; only he would call at this late hour. And maybe Broots to make sure Debbie was fine, but she had made sure that he knew there would be consequences if he were to wake one of them up.

"What?"

"Do you wonder about what ifs, Miss Parker?" he asked, and for a moment, she was sure he knew what she had been thinking.

"Why are you asking?"

"And when will you stop answering my questions by asking more questions?" he countered, before sighing. "I do wonder. What if I was never taken from my home, what if I escaped earlier, what if we stayed friends, what if…"

"I'm not taking that turning point, Jarod," she interrupted him, knowing that it was where he was going. That had been the subject of most of his phone calls since they came back from Carthis. And her answer had always been the same. She heard him sigh once more, but she cut off whatever he was going to say next. "You know I can't and I don't want to."

"Sometimes, I also wonder what if the Centre never existed," he continued as if she hadn't spoken. "I wonder where we would be…"

"We'll never know because the Centre exists and it's our world, our lives," she interrupted once more. She didn't want him to say words that he would regret later, because he would. "What do you want, Jarod?"

"Listen to your inner sense, Parker."

"Jarod, wait!" she said, as she felt that he was about to hang up. "Do you have news, any news, from Ethan?"

"No. If I find something, anything, you'll be the first to know."

    And with that, he hung up. She stared at the phone still in her hand for a moment, before putting it back on the nightstand and crawling beneath the sheets.

    As she was waiting for sleep to claim her, she wondered what he meant when he told her to listen to the voices.






    Miss Parker woke up with a start from the nightmare she was having. It was the same nightmare that had plagued her nights since she was ten; she was reliving the day her mother died, trying to stop it, but failing.

    Knowing that she wouldn't get any more sleep, she got up and started to get ready for another day at the Centre, her own personal Hell. As she walked through the living room, she smiled at the book resting on the coffee table. Broots had given it to her from Debbie the previous day; it was the sequel to Little Women, Good Wives, the book they had spoken of when the girl had been staying with her two weeks ago. She hadn't opened it yet, wanting to read it with Debbie, and wishing at the same time that she was still a little girl herself and her mother was still there to read it with her.

    It was still early, way too early to leave for work, but she didn't want to stay at home; this would only lead her to think about the past, about things that were but weren't anymore, and she couldn't do that. Grabbing her coat and car keys, she left her house

    She had always loved driving; it helped her unwind, and made her forget about everything else. Even if it meant driving towards the Centre, at least for a moment, she would be free of everything else. Stopping only once on the way for her second cup of coffee of the day, she reached her destination and parked her car. As she surveyed the area, she noticed that neither Raines nor Lyle's cars were there, yet. It meant at least another hour or two of calm before they showed up and made her life a hell.

    She didn't really understand how she could be related to either of them. Thinking about Raines as her father still wanted to make her vomit, even four months after having learned about it. But she had run the test again, and without telling anyone else, she even asked a lab totally unrelated to the Centre to check the results again; there was no doubt, he was her biological father.

    Sydney had tried talking to her about that quite a few times, but she had always deflected him; she didn't need, and didn't want to discuss it. She just wanted to forget all about it, even though Lyle and Raines did a good job in reminding her every day where she came from.

    She stepped into the elevator, but instead of pressing the button that would take her to her office, she pressed one that would take her to the bowels of the Centre. She had one stop to make before her day really started. As the elevator came to a stop, she got out, and walked down the corridor. She knew that even with her eyes closed, she would find her way there; she had grown up in the Centre, and even more so in its sublevels.

    She stopped and crouched before an air vent, and wasn't surprised to find that her date was already there.

"Hello, Angelo," she said, smiling.

    It had become a sort of ritual ever since they had spent a few hours together, outside of the Centre. Even if she wouldn't admit it to the Pretender, being with him and Angelo again made her happy. It sent her back to a time in her childhood where she would seek them out and spend hours on end with them. So since then, once a week, she would come and visit him, talk to him for a moment.

    She suspected that Raines and Lyle knew about those visits, but neither of them had mentioned them to her, not even Mr. Parker when he was alive asked her about them. She guessed that as long as it didn't cause any trouble, she was somehow safe. Or at least, she hoped.

"Here you go," she whispered to him, handing him a box of Cracker Jacks.

"Thank you," he replied, opening the box and starting munching on some. "Miss Parker sad," he continued as he looked at her. "Nightmare?"

"Yeah, nightmare again. Nothing changes." She paused, watching him as he watched her, a questioning look on his face. "Why can't you be my brother?" she mused out loud.

    Angelo just shrugged in answer, but she hadn't expected him to say anything.

"Do you know where my little brother is?" she asked, as she did every week since she came back from Carthis to find that the baby had been moved. She wasn't expecting an answer to that question either, he usually said nothing, so she was surprised when he spoke.

"Soon," he replied with a smile. "Soon…"

"Soon what, Angelo?"

    But this time, he didn't answer. He just smiled enigmatically, before turning away, and leaving her alone. She couldn't help but wonder what he had meant by that, but she hoped that as he told her, she would find out soon.

    Getting up from her crouching position, she started the walk back to the elevator, wondering for a moment if today would prove to be as uneventful as the day before.

    The sight of a package on her desk as she entered her office made her think that she wouldn't stay idle. Quickly recognizing the writing as Jarod's, she opened it, finding a red notebook resting on top of a box.

    Flipping through the pages, she expected to read about his latest pretend. Instead, she found herself looking at pictures of Lyle and Raines talking with a man she had never seen before. A quick glance told her that it probably came from the security cameras of the Centre. Turning the last page, she wasn't surprised when instead of a name she found a question: 'who is he?' A question she would like to answer too.

    Making a mental note to ask Broots to search for any references to the mysterious man, she placed the notebook on the desk before taking the box out of the package. It was big, but it wasn't heavy. Opening the lid, she noticed that there was only one thing inside: a key.

    A quick look told her that it looked like any other keys, there was no number and no name on it to identify where it came from. Still, there was a nagging feeling at the back of her mind that told her that the key was somehow linked to the man in the pictures, and that the sooner she would find out who the man was, the sooner she would know what the key meant.

    Putting the key with the ones for her house, she decided to keep that to herself. If her feelings were right, then she'd rather that neither Lyle nor Raines knew about it.






    As he drove west to a yet unknown destination, Jarod thought that Miss Parker should have received the package he sent her by now. He hoped that with Broots, they would be more successful than he had been with finding out who the man was. Despite his unlimited access to the Centre mainframe, he hadn't been able to dig out anything about him. It probably meant one thing: whatever information the Centre had on this man, it was either on Lyle's or Raines' computer. Knowing he couldn't risk his freedom for that, he did the next best thing, and sent the key and the pictures to Parker. She would find out the truth, he was sure of it.

    Looking through the rear view mirror, he noticed that behind him, the night sky was slowly leaving the place to a new day. He didn't know what it would bring to him, whether it was a new person to help, some clues about his mother's whereabouts or nothing at all. But it would still mean another day away from the Centre's clutches.

    Entering a town in Missouri, he decided to stop for breakfast. Grabbing the local newspaper, he entered the diner, and sat down at the counter. As the waitress poured him a cup of coffee, he ordered his breakfast, and started reading the paper. Unexpectedly, an article grabbed his attention; a young girl had lost both her parents during the robbery of her house. The suspects were still at large. The rest of the article gave Jarod enough reasons to stay in town for longer than he had intended. He had to help this girl in one way or another.

    Paying for his breakfast, he quickly went back to his car, and drove off to the nearest motel; he had to create himself a new identity and change clothes before doing anything else.







    Jarod entered the sheriff's office in the small town of Sullivan, Missouri, took off his sunglasses and walked towards the only desk.

"Hi, my name's Jarod Baker," he said to the young deputy. "I'm with the BAU. I was sent to help you on the Schaeffer's case."

"BAU?" the young man repeated, confused.

"Behavioural Analysis Unit. We're part of the FBI," he clarified as he saw a confused look.

"The sheriff hasn't told me you were coming. Who called you?"

"No one. Our bureau in Jefferson City thought we could help, so here I am," Jarod concluded with a smile, hoping that he wouldn't call and check his story.

"The sheriff's out for lunch, but he shouldn't be long. I'm Deputy Peter Drumond."

"Maybe you could tell me exactly what happened. They haven't been able to tell me a lot besides the headlines."

    The Pretender sat down on a chair on the other side of the desk, and waited as the younger man took a file out from a drawer. Handing it over to Jarod with a meaningful look, he started to talk.

"I was the first one to arrive on the scene. It was… I think I'll never be able to forget it. The entire house was trashed as if they were searching for something specific. The family was out, but they came back before the thieves were gone. They were both badly beaten before they were shot to death. One bullet each, straight into the heart. It's a miracle that Lucy survived. Hearing the noise from outside, her parents told her to hide in the car. When I found her, she was trembling and crying for her parents. I hadn't had the heart to tell her they were dead."

    As he listened to Peter, Jarod took a look at the file, and the pictures in it. He hadn't been lying; they had searched everywhere, and for the moment, he had no way to tell whether or not they found what they were here for in the first place. A sad smile rested on his lips as he looked at a picture of the family. He knew he had to find who did this so that Lucy could be safe.

"What do you think?" Peter couldn't resist asking.

"I think you were right to say that they were looking for something specific. But you're wrong when you say 'they'."

"You think one person did all this?" he asked, surprised.

"I'm pretty sure, yeah."

"But if he was alone, Mr. Schaeffer would have been able to subdue him pretty easily."

"Unless he was threatening his wife with his weapon," Jarod reasoned. "You knew him. Would he have risked his wife's life?"

"Never. But how can you tell there was only one man?"

"Who said anything about a man?"

"You think a woman did this?" Peter nearly squeaked.

"I don't know," Jarod answered honestly. "But it's possible. As for how I know there was only one person involved… It's just the feeling I get from these pictures. This is too methodical; if there had been two or more thieves searching the room at the same time, it would have looked different, even more disturbed in some way. See here for example," he handed a picture over to Peter, "everything would have been messed up."

"Everything is messed up," Peter exclaimed, not understanding what Jarod meant.

"No, I meant that for example books over cushions over other books. Because more than one person would have searched the room at the same time. There, all the books are together, the same goes for the papers. See?"

"Yeah…" Peter didn't look convinced that Jarod was right.

"Call it a gut feeling," Jarod added, just as the door opened.

"Sir!" Peter said, jumping to his feet. "This is Jarod Baker, he's with the FBI."

"The BAU to be exact. They sent me to work with you on the Schaeffer's case."

"Sheriff John Brody," the man introduced himself, extending a hand for Jarod. "I believe that Peter has already brought you up-to-date with what we have."

"He did. But I'd like to see the crime scene. If we want to find who did this, I need to understand why that happened." He paused, looked at the picture of the family, before his eyes found the Sheriff's again. "And I'll need to talk to Lucy."

"She has seen nothing. She was hiding in the car all along."

"But she might have heard something, anything that could give us a clue."

"She won't be able to help you. She hasn't said a word since it happened."

"I've worked with traumatized kids, before," Jarod reassured the Sheriff, understanding his concern. "Did you know her parents?" he asked, as they were leaving the office.

"This is a small town. I went to school with Don, and Julia was my wife's best friend."

"Do you see anyone in town who could have done it?"

    Brody opened the car door and leaned on it. He took a few seconds to think about the people under his jurisdiction, before he answered; a case like this was sensational and would make the national news coverage, exonerating someone just because he knew them wouldn't do.

"Off the top of my head, no. We only got minor infractions around here. This is the first murder case we had for the past twenty years. But I guess that people can change or hide their true nature."

"Yes, even though there will always be a clue in their past: arsons, attacks against a pet… Those are signs of something bigger lingering inside." Jarod paused to let the Sheriff think about it. "A stranger could have done this, too. They were probably after something. Do you know if anything is missing from the house?"

"I don't think so. But the house is trashed, I can't be sure."

"Ok. Where's Lucy now?" Jarod asked as the Sheriff put the car into motion.

"With Cynthia, my wife. Don's parents were out of town for the week. I had to tell them what happened on the phone."

"What about Julia's family?"

"She didn't have any as far as I know. She and Don met when he was studying in Boston. She was working in a bar he would often go to and they fell in love. She came back here with him after he was done with his studies. They got married and had Lucy a couple of years later."

"I guess you don't know anyone holding a grudge against the Schaeffer's, either."

"No. They got on with everyone around here."

    After the Brody's reply, Jarod stayed silent. In his mind, he was analyzing every little detail he had learned about the murdered couple so far; there were still a lot of grey areas, but by the time he solved this case, he would know everything.

    But right now, he had to talk to Lucy, to help her through this ordeal. He had dealt with children many times since he ran away from the Centre, and he had read many books on child psychology, and he knew it would take time. Time they might not have if they wanted to find who killed her parents. But he also knew from experience that hastening Lucy would result in her closing in on herself even more. And it was the last thing he wanted.

    As Brody pulled in front of his house, he turned towards Jarod but was stopped before he could even open his mouth.

"I know you want to warn me that Lucy's current state of mind is fragile, and that if I upset her in any way, you'll have me out of the door the next moment. But you can trust me. The last thing I want is to hurt her. Just like you, I want to find who did this to her parents so that she knows she has nothing to fear anymore. A child needs closure more than anyone else," he concluded, thinking about Parker who had only recently found out what really happened to her mother.

    It seemed to reassure Brody who nodded at him, and got out of the car. Jarod followed him to the door, and when he entered the house, the first thing he noticed was a silence that was uncommon when children were around. A quick look at the pictures on the wall told him that the Brodys had three children, two boys and a girl, the youngest about Lucy's age.

    Jarod followed Brody to the backyard where the children were playing. Only one little girl wasn't playing, and he didn't need to ask to know that it was Lucy. She was sitting on a chair, her arms hugging a teddy bear tightly, and her eyes red from crying. The woman who was sitting next to her stood up when she saw them and walked towards them.

"Jarod, this is Cynthia, my wife. Cynthia, this is Jarod Baker, from the FBI. He's here to help us on the case."

"Nice to meet you," Jarod said, shaking her hand.

"Do you think you can find who did this?"

"I'll do everything I can. She needs closure, and I hope we can bring it to her."

    Cynthia nodded, before turning to go back to Lucy. Brody stopped her with a hand on her arm.

"Jarod needs to talk to her."

"She didn't see what happened," Cynthia replied, protective of Lucy.

"I know. But she might have heard something, anything that might tell us who did this to her parents."

"And she hasn't even said a word since it happened."

"Your husband told me that. I don't expect her to talk to me if she hasn't talked to people she knows. She's traumatized, and she's going to need time and help from a psychologist to get through this ordeal. But she's scared too, isn't she?" Cynthia nodded and he continued. "She won't be reassured until whoever did this is behind bars. Let me help her. Trust me, I can."

    Jarod could see that Cynthia was hesitating, but after a few seconds, she gestured for him to go to Lucy. He could see that she wanted to come with him, but her husband held her back.

    He walked slowly to Lucy, stopping a few feet away from her, deciding to talk to her before coming closer; the last thing he wanted was to frighten her.

"Hello Lucy. My name is Jarod. I'm here to help you."

    He hadn't expected any reply, and so he was surprised when she raised her head to look at him. What he saw in her eyes was something he had seen many times before in the eyes of the people he chose to help. And just like every other time, it was Miss Parker's devastated face that came to his mind when he met Lucy's eyes.

    He sat down beside her, and waited to see if she would look at him. He had dealt with traumatized children before, and he knew that they had to do things at their own rhythm and that urging them would only serve to antagonize them.

    When she kept her eyes on the floor, he resumed talking, not wanting the silence to be uncomfortable for the young girl.

"I know you don't feel like talking these days, and that's alright. You'll talk when you're ready, we both know that. Like I said, I'm here to help you, Lucy. I want to find who hurt your Mom and Dad."

    Upon hearing this, Lucy turned her head towards him, and he knew he got her attention. But he also saw in her eyes that she was even more afraid that before.

"Whoever did this won't come and hurt you, I promise you. We'll protect you, me, Cynthia and John. He won't be able to do you any harm."

    To his great satisfaction, she nodded in understanding, and he noticed some of her fear disappearing from her eyes. He smiled, and although she didn't return it, he knew he made some progress; they still had a long way to go, but it was a start.

    Taking out the latest Pez dispenser he bought out of his pocket, he offered one to her.

"Go on, they're really good. And I don't think anyone would be mad at you for eating just one sweet before lunch," he reassured her.

    But she still didn't accept it until Cynthia nodded her assent. Jarod shared a look with Cynthia and John, before returning his eyes to Lucy. His resolve was even stronger than before; he would do everything he could to find who killed her parents and to help her smile again.


To Be Continued

Chapter 2 by Vicky

Chapter 2


    Miss Parker left her father's office, running and crying. She wanted to get away from him as fast as possible. And she soon would be for good. Her father was sending her abroad to a boarding school.

    He wanted to get rid of her. He had told her she should see this as an opportunity to make new friends, to learn a new language and to discover a new country, but she knew that he just didn't want her to stay with him anymore.

    She reminded him too much of her mother; he had told her a couple of times before. She didn't need him to say the words to know that it was the reason why he didn't want to see her anymore. He tried to reassure her that he would come see her as often as he could, but it was just a lie; if he didn't have time for her now, how could he make time for her when she was away?

    Her feet brought her to a familiar corridor, and this was when she saw it: the door behind which Faith died a year before. If tears weren't already running down her face, they would have started to fall. She had barely known her, but another loss, so soon after her mother's, had been hard to take. For a couple of days, she had found a friend in Faith, and she knew the four of them would have been great together. But they didn't have enough time.

    She sat down on the floor next to a vent; it wouldn't be long now until they found her. She hugged her knees to her chest, and kept crying for what she had lost, for what she would soon lose.

    She didn't know how long she had been here when she heard footsteps coming her way, and someone crawling towards her in the vent. Soon, Jarod was sitting next to her and Angelo was looking at them from the vent.

"Sad...," Angelo whispered. "So sad..."

"Why are you crying, Miss Parker?" Jarod said in a soft voice.

"Daddy is sending me away."

"What? Why?"

"Because he doesn't love me anymore," she replied, shrugging.

"I'm sure that's not true," her friend tried to reassure her, but she couldn't let herself believe him.

"It doesn't matter anyway, I'm leaving. We won't see each other again."

    Saying these words out loud brought new tears in her eyes. Jarod put his arm around her shoulder and she buried her face against his chest. As always, his presence was comforting, but it would be the last time.

"I'm leaving tomorrow," she revealed between two sobs.

    Jarod tightened his arm around her, and Angelo left the vent to curl up against her other side. She didn't know how long the three of them stayed huddled together, not speaking. She didn't want to let go of them. She didn't want them to let go of her. She wished they could hide here forever, never to be found, but she knew it wasn't possible.

"I don't want to say goodbye," she said.

"Then, we won't say goodbye," Jarod replied. "It's not because you won't be here that we can't still be friends."

"We can write to each other," she suggested.

"Yes, we will do that. And you will be back for school holidays, and you can come see us."

"I will. I promise."

"Then, we will never say goodbye."

    Jarod took Parker's hand in his, and Angelo put his hand on top of theirs. Without a word, they sealed their promise to never say goodbye.







    Miss Parker was losing her patience.

    As soon as Broots had arrived, she had ordered him to look for any information on the man in the picture. It was already the middle of the afternoon, and he still didn't have anything for her. His search on the Centre's mainframe had been unsuccessful, but she hadn't been surprised; if there had been any information there, Jarod wouldn't have needed them to identify the man.

    All that was left to search were Lyle and Raines' computers. Broots had tried to protest at first, but he quickly relented when he saw the determination on Parker's face. Still, they couldn't do anything until both of them had left for the day, which meant that they had to wait, and she hated waiting.

    Tired of being able to do nothing, she left her office, and walked towards the labs where she knew she could find Sydney. When she rounded a corner, she stopped; her brother was there, at the end of the corridor, talking with none other than Cox. She had wondered where he had disappeared after he failed to stop Jarod from finding Ethan and taking him away from the Centre's clutches. She had hoped that the Triumvirat had dealt with him, but it looked like she had been wrong.

    Cox was the one to notice her presence, and tell Lyle. They moved down the corridors, further away from her, and Cox smiled in her direction before they disappeared around another corner. Just like every other time, it made her shiver. Whatever they had been discussing, they obviously didn't want her to know about it, and this made her even more curious. She made a mental note of having Broots look around for it once he was done with the man in the picture.

    She continued on her way to Sydney and found him in an observation room, looking at a pair of twins. Even though they couldn't see each other, they were doing the exact same gestures at the same moment. She found it really frightening.

    He turned away from the glass when he heard her enter, and smiled at her.

"What brings you here, Miss Parker?"

    She didn't answer; she didn't want to tell him she was pacing like a caged lioness in her office while waiting for Broots' search results. He would want to talk about it, and would try to bring the discussion to what was really the problem for him: her filiation. And for her, it wasn't a problem, it was just further proof that her life was screwed up.

"Let's go to my office," he offered, gesturing to a scientist that he was done for the day.

    She followed him, even though she knew he would try and make her talk about things she wanted to forget. But it was better than having to wait alone for Broots. At the very least, she could let the psychiatrist talk and tune him out.

    They entered his office, and he closed the door behind them. It only served to give them a false sense of privacy; the security cameras in the corners of the office would still record everything. Nothing could ever really stay private in the Centre.

"Any news?" he asked, making sure to leave out the particulars.

"Not yet, but soon I hope. Broots is working on it."

"Let me know if I can be of help."

"I just saw Lyle and Cox talking in a corridor," she said, needing him to know if only because Lyle's ally was dangerous.

"He's back? Do you know what they were talking about?"

"No. But I'm pretty sure we'll find out soon enough. Whatever these two are working on, this can only mean trouble for us."

"You think Cox is helping Lyle with his search of Jarod?"

"I wouldn't be surprised if that was the case. Though I doubt two idiots can do any better than one," she replied with a grin.

    Sydney smiled good-naturedly, but she could see that he wasn't really amused. She wasn't either. They both knew that alone, Cox and Lyle could be defeated, but together, they were really dangerous. She had no idea why Cox was back at the Centre, but whatever it was for, she knew it spoke of trouble.

"Did Jarod contact you, recently?" Sydney asked, changing the subject to talk about his protégé.

"No. Why would he? You know he only calls to torture me with some big secrets about my family. Though I doubt he could find anything worse than Raines being my…"

    She couldn't bring herself to say the word, and Sydney noticed it. This time though, he resisted asking her if she wanted to talk about it; he knew better than that. If she wanted to talk, she would come to him, but Miss Parker rarely needed to talk to someone. At least, she didn't need to talk to him.

"I was just asking because since you came back from Carthis, I hear some tiredness in his voice. He had never been like this."

"I guess the chase is finally wearing him down. Maybe he will soon understand that he needs to come home."

    It was something she had said many times before, but this was the first time she didn't believe it, and they both knew it. This confirmed to Sydney that something had changed between them when they were on the island. He didn't think it was a big change, but it made Parker realise that, just as much as she didn't want Lyle to be the one to bring Jarod back to the Centre, she didn't want to bring him back either.

    He wanted to question Parker about what had happened on Carthis, but he knew that she would never answer his questions. She had told him about their quest to find the scrolls, about Mr Parker, Raines and Lyle arriving just when they acquired them, about what happened on the plane, but she had carefully left out the parts when she and Jarod were alone.

    Miss Parker herself had changed too since she came back from the island. Only a few could see it; only people who knew her well could see the changes. And Sydney was one of the two people who could. The tiredness he heard in Jarod's voice could be seen in her eyes. They were both growing tired of this chase, and this meant that one way or another, it would soon come to an end. Sydney could just hope that it wouldn't end tragically for the two children of the Centre.






    Cynthia had asked Jarod to stay and have lunch with them, and he agreed. It gave him the opportunity to continue observing Lucy. Even though she was quiet, she finished her plate without being asked to. She had a good appetite and it reassured him; it proved that what Lucy really needed was time. She would be fine.

    The others were quiet too, which gave Jarod time to forge an opinion about them. John was a good man, and even though he had yet to see him in action, he had no doubt that he was a good sheriff for the town. He and Cynthia were obviously shaken about the whole ordeal, although they hid it well for their children and Lucy's sake.

    Of the two, Jarod would say that Cynthia was the strongest; he remembered Rachel, and to what length she went to protect her daughter, and he had no doubt Cynthia would do the same for her children. He could see that the children, although they were young, were very protective of Lucy, a trait they inherited from both their parents.

    All in all, this family was just like any other family, right down to the house with the white picket fence, which Jarod had learned during his time away from the Centre was a dream for every American.

    For a moment, he imagined his own family in their place. The family he would have had had the Centre never come into their lives. A mom, a dad and three children, two boys and a girl; this could be them. But then, as Parker told him, they would never know how their lives would be without the Centre in the picture; it was their life, and somehow, neither of them would ever really escape it.

    After lunch, Jarod and Brody went to the Schaeffers's house. Jarod wanted to see the crime scene for himself. He entered the house first and stopped on the threshold of the living room. He looked around, taking in every little detail, knowing that anything could be important. As he had already seen on the photos, the entire room had been trashed. It was obvious that whoever had been there, they were looking for something.

    He didn't need the body silhouettes on the floor to know it was where they had found Lucy's parents; there were two pools of dry blood marking the place. He knelt down before them and closed his eyes, taking a moment to grieve the loss of two lives.

    Getting up, another look around confirmed the gut feeling he had upon seeing the pictures that there had been only one killer. The room had been searched methodically: first the bookshelves, then under the cushions of the couch, and finally in the potted plants. Jarod couldn't see any footprint in the soil that had fallen on the floor, but it didn't mean it had never been there.

"Did the forensics find anything?"

"No. We didn't find any prints. The killer had taken the time to clean after himself."

    This didn't surprise Jarod; to him, everything in this room sounded professional. There was nothing personal in the murders or the way the room had been searched. Either someone had hired a contracted killer for this job or the killer had only one thing on his mind. He didn't share his thoughts with Brody yet, though. He was sure that the Sheriff wouldn't believe in his theory if he didn't have evidence to back it up.

    Leaving the living room, Jarod looked into the other rooms of the ground floor. They had been searched too, but not as thoroughly. When he entered the kitchen, he checked the back door, and noticed faint traces on the lock.

"This is where the killer entered the house," Brody started to explain. "He picked the lock. Our first guess had been that he hadn't wanted his presence in the house to be known, but when he couldn't find what he had been looking for without disturbing anything, he didn't care anymore."

    Jarod had to admit that this theory could be true, and it fit with his own. A contracted killer could have been hired to find something, and to eventually kill the Schaeffers if nothing could be found.

    He climbed the stairs, Brody following close behind, and entered each room of the first floor to find that they had all been searched too. Contents from the drawers had been thrown on the floor, mattresses were overturned. Not one square inch had been spared. They had searched everywhere, and he had no way of knowing if the killer had found what he was looking for. And if he didn't, Lucy might still be in danger, and with her, Brody and his family.

    Jarod stopped on the threshold of Lucy's room on his way back to the stairs. Like the rest of the house, it had been searched. He didn't know what the killer had been looking for, but whatever it was, it was important to the person who hired him. To go as far as to trash a little girl's room, it had to be.

"What are you thinking about?" Brody asked, interrupting his thoughts.

"I'm wondering what we don't know about the Schaeffers and that would explain all this."

    From the look on the sheriff's face, Jarod could see that he was considering his words, and that he realised that he might not know his friends as well as he thought. This opened up a new realm of possibilities for them.

"We need to look into Don and Julia's past, from when they were in Boston."

    Jarod nodded, having already thought about it himself. He didn't think that the killer was from around here, and the only other possibility was Boston, where Don went to university and met Julia.

    With that on both of their minds, they left the house, and went back to the office.

    While Brody shared what little progress they made with Peter, Jarod settled in front of a computer, and started to search about Don and Julia's lives in Boston. Maybe it would be a dead end, but maybe it would finally provide them with the information they would need to find their killer.

"What do you know about Julia's past?" Jarod asked Brody after yet another fruitless search on the woman.

"Not much, I have to admit. I'm not even sure Cynthia knows more than me. Julia always said that we should leave the past behind us and never talk about it again. Why do you want to know?"

"I didn't find anything of importance in Don's past, and I haven't found anything for Julia."

"This is certainly a dead end, but you were right to look there."

"No, you didn't understand me. I didn't find anything about Julia at all. It's like she had started to exist only six months before she met Don."

"Witness protection program?"

"It's certainly a possibility. I've probably raised a few red flags during my search. The Marshalls should pay us a visit soon." He paused, before voicing the feeling he had about this. "But to be honest, this is too sloppy."

"What do you mean?"

"If the Marshalls created Julia a new identity, they would have covered all bases. This isn't the case here. It looks like she did it herself."

"Isn't that complicated to create a whole new identity on her own?"

"Not really," Jarod replied, thinking about what he was doing every time he needed it.

    And really, it was his experience that told him that Julia wasn't in the Witness Protection Program. Everything looked like something he would have done himself, something he did a few hours before. But he wasn't about to tell Brody this.

"Did Julia have a friend from Boston that she kept in touch with? It would be someone who came from time to time."

"No. She has no one. Had no one," he corrected himself. He almost asked why Jarod wanted to know this before realising. "If she was in the Witness Protection Program, someone would have come to check on her."

    Jarod nodded, not saying anything. Now, they just needed to figure out why she created herself a new identity. At the very least, they were now almost certain they were looking in the right direction; someone from her past, the past she had tried to hide from, was probably responsible for all this.






    When she finally closed the door of her house, Miss Parker let out a sigh. This had been another tough day for her at the Centre. She was beginning to realise that every time she stepped into the House of Horrors, she was wearing a mask. And with every passing day, it was harder and harder. But she couldn't stop hiding because the moment she did, she knew it would be the end for her.

    Since Mr Parker died, she knew she was standing on the edge of a cliff, and she didn't know what was waiting for her below. Or rather, she didn't want to think about it. But one day, she knew she would have to jump or fall off the cliff, and this would either be the end for her or a new beginning.

    Shaking these thoughts out of her head – now wasn't the time for these kind of thoughts if she wanted to keep her head attached to her neck – she went to the cabinet and took out a bottle of scotch and a glass. She poured herself a drink, more than she probably should have, and downed it in one gulp. She wasn't hungry, but she could do with a bath, if only to metaphorically clean her skin of the filth she could find in the hallways of the Centre.

    Going into the kitchen first, she opened a bottle of wine and poured herself a glass, before finally making her way up the stairs. Just as she was about to take off her clothes, a knock sounded on her door. She was tempted to just ignore it, but then remembered that Broots said he would come by if he found anything about the mysterious man on the picture.

    She opened the door to find Broots on the other side, nervous and holding an envelope in his hands.

"Well?" she asked as he stepped inside without a word.

"I found something. It was on Mr Raines' computer. His name is Matt Anderson and he works for NuGenesis."

"NuGenesis? What are they plotting now?"

"I don't know. I haven't found anything else but the name of a Project: Renewal. That's all I have, but whatever it is, I already don't like it."

    Once she closed the door behind Broots, the envelope now in her hands, she admitted to herself that she understood him. Nothing was good when it came to the Centre, but add in NuGenesis and it was even worse. This new project, codenamed Renewal, intrigued her. She had no idea what this project was or when it started, but something told her it was important for Raines and Lyle; just the fact that Anderson met with Lyle proved it.

    Back in her room, she took off her clothes and let them fall to the floor. Clad only in her underwear, she entered the adjoining bathroom, put the glass on the rim of the tub and the envelope on the counter. She turned the tap and let the water fill the tub, adding bathing salts before picking up the envelope.

    She opened it, but inside, there was barely more information than what Broots already told her. There was a picture though, and she could finally see Anderson's face more clearly than in the security camera shot. There was just a mention of Project Renewal, as the technician had said; it wasn't a lot, but she knew that it was enough for now. Soon, they would know more, she was sure of that.

    Taking off her underwear, she finally stepped into the tub, and sighed when she sat in the hot water. She grabbed the glass of wine she had sat on the tub, and took a sip. Closing her eyes, she slipped a little further down in the water and rested her head against the rim.

    She didn't know how long she stayed like this when the phone ringing interrupted the silence. She didn't need three guesses to know it was him.

"What?" she answered, tiredness in her voice, but she didn't care if he could hear it at the moment.

"Are you enjoying your bath?" he asked, amusement in her voice.

"I swear Jarod, if you have found a way to spy on me, I'm going to put a bullet between your eyes," she said, a bit angry, but her voice lacking her usual venom.

    She heard him chuckling and realised that she had reacted exactly the way he expected her to. She rolled her eyes, and barely held back a sigh; it was better not to let him know that she was annoyed by him, he would only be more amused.

"Did you find something?"

    He didn't need to say more for Miss Parker to know what he meant. Of course, he was talking about the photograph he had sent her. She didn't even wonder how he could know that she had received the package.

"Only three things: Matt Anderson, NuGenesis and Project Renewal."

    She was succinct, but there wasn't more she could tell him: these were after all the only things Broots could find.

"I thought we were done with NuGenesis."

"Nothing is really over with the Centre, you should know that," she replied. "Where did you find this photo?" she asked, curiosity getting the better of her.

"I snooped around. You know I have a knack for doing that."

    Oh, that she knew. Since he escaped from the Centre, he had snooped around, as he put it, and had found secrets about her family. She had resented him for it in the past; she still did in some ways. Life would have been easier for her if she didn't know what horrors her family had done in the past and was still doing.

"Still no news of our brother?" Miss Parker asked, changing the subject.

"No. Nothing yet. But I'm sure he is fine, hiding somewhere."

"He better be, otherwise I'm going to kill him myself."

"I'll help you."

"I thought you were defending people who need it," she replied, smirking.

"I can make an exception for him." He paused, and the silence between them felt so heavy that she already knew what he was going to say. "Parker..."

"No."

    She had interrupted him before he could go any further; it wouldn't do them any good to voice it. He hung up straight after that, and she put the phone down on the floor. She sank a little bit further into the lukewarm water until only her head was out of it.

    She didn't know how long she stayed in her bath, but when she finally got out, the water had almost gone cold. Taking her bathrobe, she put it on and tied the sash. In an instant, she was reminded of another moment, a moment that happened no so long but so far away from Blue Cove and the Centre. She still remembered the look on Jarod's face when she left the privacy of the folding screen. As it turned out, though, it hadn't screened much from his view. Even in the dim light, she had seen the blush on his face, something she had never thought she would see on his face.

    Thinking about this moment pushed another one to the front of her mind, but she didn't let it linger. It was something she shouldn't think about, a moment of weakness that shouldn't have happened.

    She went back into her bedroom, and closed the drapes, noticing that dark clouds had made their appearance over the city. She took off her bathrobe and lay down in her bed, hoping that sleep would come soon, and that she wouldn't spend half her night tossing and turning.






    As soon as he hung up with Parker, Jarod turned to his laptop and started to search information on Matt Anderson. Using a program of his design, he accessed every database he could at once, and started gathering everything there was on the man. Some of it would no doubt be useless, but he had learned over time that any piece of information, no matter how small it was, could end up being important.

    Even though he could easily do both at the same time, he knew that he should be focusing on his current pretend. A little girl had lost both of her parents, and he had promised he would find the person who was responsible for this. But something told him that this Matt Anderson, this Project Renewal were important. And he usually trusted his gut instinct.

    As the search continued on his laptop, he took his Pez dispenser and popped one into his mouth. He didn't have anything to do but wait for the results. But he wasn't one to stay idle while he waited. Grabbing the file on the Schaeffer's case he had brought back from the office with him, he read one more time what they had, which wasn't much to say the least. They had nothing interesting, no evidence to lead them to the killer and eventually to the one who ordered the hit.

    He knew what he had to do, though: he had to keep looking into Julia's past. He knew that the key to solve this double murder case was there. But he didn't know where to look for it. The only little clue he had was when the then Julia Miller first appeared. It wasn't much; well, it was nothing actually, seeing as how it was a fake name. Jarod wasn't one to be stopped by one little bump in the road, though.

    His laptop beeped, jolting him out of his thoughts, and signalling that the search on Matt Anderson was complete. As he had suspected, there wasn't much to work with; it tended to be this way with anyone linked with the Centre. Him working at NuGenesis meant that Jarod couldn't access files that might have told him what he was working on. The clinic was the one place with the Centre that he would rather not set foot in; one time was enough. And while he knew the Centre's hallways and security system, it wasn't the same with NuGenesis. He had to find another way to find more information.

    Sighing, he saved the results of his search before starting a new one, this time on Julia. He set his program to start searching through the newspapers published some time before she arrived in Boston. He had no doubt that her having to change her identity was because she had to hide. Something must have happened to her or to someone close. Or at the very least, she had witnessed a crime. He was certain that whatever it had been, he would find an answer in the newspapers.

    He stood up from the chair, and took the silver case before going to sit on the bed. Opening it, he looked through the DSA, before finding the one he needed and placed it into the player. The black and white video started playing, and he saw his younger self and Sydney appear on the screen. The DSA had started in the middle of the scene, but he didn't need to rewind to know what it had been about; he remembered all too well.

    The younger Jarod was looking at the picture of a young woman. She had been nineteen at the time, and even now, through the grainy video, he could see the fear in her eyes. Her name was Clara Siler, and she was dating the son of a Mafioso, although she hadn't known about it at first. She had made the mistake to overhear a conversation and make a recording of it.

"She was afraid for her life. This is why she ran away," the Jarod in the video said. "But she knew that it didn't matter where she went, he would always be able to find her."

"So what did she do, Jarod?"

"She blackmailed him. She recorded him talking about the murders he committed and threatened to send it to the police if he came after her."

"What happened then?" Sydney asked when Jarod paused for a second too long.

"He couldn't let her go. He found her, and he had her killed. But she got him in the end," the younger Jarod added with a smile.

"Why is that?"

"He didn't find the recording because she hid it. And I know where," he concluded, turning towards Sydney.

    Jarod paused the DSA. From what his mentor had told him, they had found the recording exactly where he had told them it would be. But he had learned years later, after he escaped from the Centre that the recording hadn't been given to the police, as he had thought at the time, but to the Mafia. Her murderer, a contract killer from what little information he had found, had never been found.

    After having watched this DSA, Jarod was now surer than ever that Clara and Julia had a similar past. He didn't know if the Mafia was involved this time, and for everyone's sake, he hoped it wasn't the case, but Julia had definitely run away from her previous life, just like Clara did some thirty years before. Now, they only needed to find out the reason why.

    From where he was sitting against the headboard of the bed, he took a look at his laptop and saw that the search was still ongoing. There wasn't much for him to do for now, except getting some sleep to be well rested to continue the investigation the next day. Closing the silver case, he put it on the floor, and lied down on his back.

    Sleep was about to claim him when he had a sudden thought that made him sat up in bed. Taking his cell phone from the bedside table, he quickly dialled Sheriff Brody.

"Yes?"

    It was only when he heard Brody's sleepy voice on the other side of the line that he looked at the hour. It was late, already past midnight, and he had probably woken him up. He should have waited until the morning, but this might be important.

"This is Jarod," he replied. "I'm sorry, I hadn't realised it was this late."

"It's ok. Is there a problem?"

"No. I just had a thought. Have you checked Julia's fingerprints?" he asked, and he could hear the other man sitting up in his bed.

"We didn't have any reason to," Brody replied confirming Jarod's intuition. "Do you think she might have a record?"

"I don't know, but we'll have to check. But that can wait until tomorrow morning," Jarod reassured the Sheriff.

"I'll call the ME first thing tomorrow morning to have him take her prints."

    They said their goodnights, and Jarod hang up. He didn't know what he hadn't thought about it before when it was so obvious. But it was because it was that obvious that it hadn't come to his mind. Now, he just had to hope that they could find her real name with her fingerprints, and finally understand why she was hiding.






    She couldn't sleep. A storm was raging outside, but it wasn't what was keeping her awake. No, what was keeping her awake was the constant buzzing in her mind. She knew where it was coming from; her inner sense was trying to tell her something, but she couldn't make out the words. She tried to ignore them, but it didn't work. She sighed and sat up in bed, knowing that she wouldn't be able to sleep until she listened to what they had to say.

    She closed her eyes and tried to focus on only one voice: her mother's. It slowly became clearer and clearer, until she finally heard it, her mother's voice, repeating the same thing over and over again.

"Hide them, hide everything. Protect yourself."

    She opened her eyes, confused about her mother's words. She didn't know what she meant; she wondered why her inner sense couldn't be any clearer just this once. A lightning bolt illuminated the room, and her eyes fell upon her closet.

    As the thunder rolled outside, she realised with sudden clarity the meaning of the words. The letters she had written to Jarod when she was at boarding school, the ones he had written to her and she had never received, everything he had ever sent directly for her and she kept in the back of her closet: this was what she had to hide.

    The voices died down as she finally understood them. She would do that first thing tomorrow, she decided as she lied back down in bed. But as soon as she thought that, the buzzing became louder. She didn't have to concentrate on only one voice to know what they wanted: she had to sacrifice the few hours of sleep she could have had to deal with it now. She didn't know why it was so important, but as she finally made it out of bed, the voices calmed down once more.

    She was almost tempted to roll her eyes as she opened the door of her closet. She grabbed the box containing the letters she had Jarod had written to each other, and grabbed the other, larger, box that was sitting beside it. This one was filled with everything he had sent to her home, including her mother's diary. She wondered for a moment where she could hide them before the answer came to her.

    Going down the stairs to the ground floor, she opened the door to her mother's study. She remembered she had stashed the cardboard boxes Thomas had brought after she had decided to move to Oregon with him. As strange as it was, she had never been able to throw them away. She paused for a moment, memories of him coming back to the front of her mind; the day he died was still the worst day of her life, but since she had found out that Brigitte had killed him, she found some kind of appeasement and happy memories were supplanting sad ones.

    Finally locating them in a corner, she brought one back with her upstairs. She quickly transferred the contents of the other two boxes to the larger one. She wasn't sure what prompted her to add some clothes and a couple of other things inside before she closed it but she trusted her instinct. She wrote an address on it, the one place she was sure it wouldn't be found, nor opened as she added a little sign in one corner. Actually sending it to the recipient would have to wait until the morning, but at least, when she went back to bed, the voices stopped nagging her. She had done what they wanted her to do.

    She couldn't find sleep right away, though. Her mind couldn't shut down, wondering why it became too dangerous to keep these things in her house, now. There had to be a reason, and whatever this reason was, she was sure she wouldn't like it.

    The truth was, even though she had never admitted, not even to herself, she wasn't feeling safe since she came back from Carthis. The dynamics had changed, and Mr Parker's death wasn't the only reason why. Raines and Lyle had never trusted her, and they never hid it. She knew that if they had the opportunity, they would get rid of her. Only one little mistake on her part, and she would end up dead in the Centre's morgue.

    And they was no doubt they would see the contents of the boxes as a mistake. The voices, by telling her to hide everything, were trying to keep her safe; she was sure of that now. She realised that she might have to make a decision, sooner than she had expected.






    Even though Jarod wasn't one to sleep much, the perspective of finally finding a lead in the case made him wake up even earlier than usual. He took the time to check the search he had started the night before, but without a name or a place to start with, he was left to go through the articles one by one, in the hope that there was a photo on which he could identify Julia. After having copied everything onto a USB flash drive, he left for the Sheriff's Office.

    He was the first one to arrive, but Peter arrived soon after with coffee. He handed a cup to Jarod, before opening the doors. Jarod immediately went to the desk he was assigned and turned on his computer. While he waited, Jarod informed Peter of the thought he had the night before and of the search he had run on his own time.

"Let's split it between the two of us. We'll go through them faster this way."

    Jarod nodded in agreement, and handed the USB flash drive to Peter. When the deputy saw the number of articles the search had found, he whistled in surprise; he certainly hadn't expected this, and the Pretender wondered for a second if he regretted offering his help. But Peter said nothing and handed him back the USB flash drive.

    They started working in silence, slowly going through each article and checking the photos some contained against Julia's. By the time Brody arrived, they had gone through a quarter of the files between the two of them, and nothing matched for the moment.

"Sorry for arriving only now, but I stopped by the coroner's office to get Julia's prints," he explained, showing them the card. "Let's scan it and see if we can get some answers."

    Trusting the Sheriff with this search, Jarod resumed his work on the articles. The one he was currently reading had probably nothing to do with Julia, but it reminded him of one of his SIM. And the more he read, the more he was sure that he had run a SIM along the same lines. He had run it a few years before he escaped. From what he had known at the time, they had needed him to make sure a lab would be well protected; from what he was reading now, it had been used to infiltrate this lab and steal the research, with a scientist being killed as collateral damage.

    He wanted to call his old mentor; he wanted to cry his rage at being responsible for yet another death. But as quickly as anger rose up in him, it faded away. He didn't have time for any of that now, and a phone call wouldn't change anything. What was done was done. Once the Schaeffer's case was closed, he would make sure that the people who infiltrated the lab and killed this scientist were behind bars. And if they weren't, he would find the necessary evidence to put them away. But for now, he needed to bring answers to a little girl.

"I got it," Brody said, and Jarod and Peter went to join him at his desk. "Looks like Julia had a criminal record. Her real name was Anna Carver and she was from Chicago. There are a bunch of arrests for some minor thefts, but nothing of importance. Wait, there is warrant for her: she was involved in an armed bank robbery."

    To say that none of them had been expecting this would be an understatement. Ever since Jarod had found that she had been living under a false identity, they had thought that she had been in hiding. And they hadn't been wrong; she was just hiding from the authorities instead of a bad guy. She hadn't been witness to a crime; she had committed one along with two accomplices. Julia Schaeffer, previously known as Anna Carver, had been a fugitive.

"How could we have not known this?" Brody asked out loud.

"You never had to take her prints, otherwise you probably would have found out earlier," Jarod said, trying to reassure him. "She never did anything that could have led you to suspect anything."

"He's right, John. We couldn't have done anything different."

"I guess," Brody had to admit. "Now, we just need to find more about this bank robbery."

"I think that I stumbled upon an article about it," Peter said, going back to his desk and looking for it on his computer. "Here it is. They were three and managed to escape with half a million dollars, but the other two got arrested a couple of hours later when they wanted to pawn the jewels they stole from the employees and the clients. Julia, Anna," he corrected himself, "got away and the money was never found."

"What do we know about her two accomplices?" Jarod asked.

"Let's see," Peter said, entering their names on the database. "There were two of them, Paul McCauley and Frank Rivers; from what I'm reading here, this isn't the first bank robbery they did, but it was only the second time the three of them worked together. McCauley and Anna Carver were romantically involved from what I'm reading here. I guess they met Rivers and decided to work with him."

"How many years did they get?" Brody asked wanting to cut to the chase.

"Paul McCauley was sentenced to ten years of prison while Frank Rivers died in prison a month after he was arrested, killed by a fellow prisoner during a fight. Paul McCauley was paroled for being an 'exemplary prisoner' and released two weeks ago. Oh, and it gets better and better, his parole officer has no idea where he is, he missed his last appointment and he is nowhere to be found in Chicago."

"It looks like we have a winner," Brody said.

    Jarod nodded absent-mindedly; he was deep in thought. Now that he had this new information, he was almost certain he knew what happened. It was time to share it with Brody and Peter.

"If it is indeed Paul McCauley who entered the Schaeffer's house and killed them, I can think of only one thing he could look for: the money. If it had never been found, I guess that McCauley and Rivers left it with Anna when they went to pawn the jewels."

"And she took it with her when she ran away," Brody finished for him.

"That's what I'm thinking."

"Yes, but, even though they never had any money problem, Julia and Don weren't rich," Peter countered.

"It would have been too risky to use this money" Brody replied. "She had no way of knowing if this money was marked, and she couldn't justify having this much cash. She has just probably hidden it somewhere."

"In the house?"

"I don't think so," Jarod answered Peter's question. "If it was in the house, Don or even Lucy could have stumbled upon it. And McCauley would have found it too."

"What makes you think he didn't?"

"My instincts," Jarod replied simply. "But the only way to confirm it would be to find where McCauley is."

"Do you think he is still around?" Brody asked.

"Yes. And in spite of the murders, or maybe because of them, seeing as he has nothing to lose, I think he will stick around until he has found the money. This is important to him. This is about settling the score." Jarod paused, thinking about what he had just said. "I wonder... Peter, can you tell me how the cops located McCauley and Rivers?"

"Anonymous tip," he replied, after a few clicks on the computer. "Someone called to tell where the bank robbers could be found if they wanted to make an arrest."

"I see. If only the three of them knew where McCauley and Rivers would be at this moment, I wonder who called the police and left this anonymous tip."

    It wasn't exactly a question though, and Brody and Peter immediately understood. But the young deputy was the first to talk.

"Well, the answer is easy: it was Anna Carver. Wasn't it?" he asked, when he saw the sceptical looks the other two men were giving him.

"Like you said, it would be easy to think it was her," Brody said. "But why would she have done it?"

"Maybe she wanted to keep the money all to herself; it wouldn't be the first time. Or maybe something happened with the other two and she just wanted out."

    Peter's explanations were all right, but to Jarod they didn't sound right. She definitely got away with the money in the end, but if it was what she wanted from the beginning, she would have found a way to use it. Instead, she had kept it hidden all this time. Brody could be right in saying that it would have been risky to use it, but something didn't fit.

"Peter, can you find me anything there is on Frank Rivers?"

"I'm on it."

"You think Rivers might have been the one to call the police, too?"

"Yeah, but I can't figure out what he got out of it. Certainly not a reduced prison sentence, as they both got ten years. But what then?"

"Uh, I think we have a problem. I tried to access Rivers' record and got this," Peter said, pointing at the screen where they could see 'restricted access' in bright red letters.

"Do you think you can access it with your FBI credentials? Jarod?" Brody prompted when he didn't reply right away.

"Yes, I might if my level of clearance is high enough," he lied, knowing full well that to have access to this file, he would have to hack into the database. "Is there anything else beside this? What about his social security number?" he asked, following the thought he had.

"Let's see... It doesn't exist!" he exclaimed when his search came back empty.

"What does it mean?" Brody asked, turning towards Jarod.

"You said that he was killed in prison a month after he was arrested, before the trial even started, right?" When Peter nodded, he continued. "Can you find me his death certificate?"

"Easy," Peter replied, as he typed on his keyboard. "There isn't one," he continued, without real surprise in his voice. "But you already knew that, didn't you?"

    It was a statement more than a question, and Jarod didn't say anything. He hadn't been surprised by what Peter hadn't found, because that was what he had been expecting. Ever since he understood that Anna Carver hadn't been the one to tip the police about McCauley and Rivers' whereabouts, his mind had been focused on the latter.

"I'll have to check later, but unless I'm mistaken, I wouldn't be surprised if Rivers turns out to be a cop."


To be continued...

Chapter 3 by Vicky

Chapter 3


    He looked at the picture Miss Parker was showing him. On it, she was just a toddler, but he had no trouble recognizing her: she still had the same smile. Her parents were on either side of her. He remembered seeing them a couple of times. Her father had always been just a voice; his face had always been hidden in the shadows.

    But her mother had come and see him, she had talked to him, asked him questions. She had smiled at him, just like Miss Parker always did. She seemed to genuinely be interested in him, and not because of what he could do.

    Looking at the picture of the happy family, he wished he had one with his parents. But he had nothing; he couldn't even remember their faces or their voices. It was like he never had parents. He had tried asking Sydney about them before, but he had never answered his questions. Speaking about his parents seemed to be a taboo.

    He wanted to believe that his parents loved him, and that they didn't just abandon him, but it was difficult. If his parents loved him, why did they never come to see him? If they loved him, why had they decided to send him away? Sydney wouldn't answer these questions, and Jarod thought he knew why: it was because the truth was just too hard for him to hear. The truth was that his parents had abandoned him and that he had to stay here forever now.

"Why do you look so sad, Jarod?" Miss Parker's voice jolted him out of his thoughts.

"I don't have a picture of myself with my parents," he told her a half-truth. "I don't remember what they look like."

"Did you ask Sydney about it? I'm sure he has one."

"He doesn't. And he doesn't want to talk about them."

"Maybe I could ask Mama or Daddy?"

"No, don't," he replied. "It's ok."

"No, it's not, Jarod. And you're sad about it."

"Yes, I am, but I'll be fine. Now, what do you want to do, today?" he asked, plastering a smile on his face; he didn't want or need her to worry about him.

    It turned out that all Miss Parker wanted to do was to teach him to play a game she had learned in school the day before.

"You see, it's easy. I wrote down a sentence," she said, demonstrating at the same time. "Then I fold the paper over it, and write the first word of the next sentence and you do the same. The goal of this game is to write a story and read it out loud in the end."

"But, if I don't know what you've written, and you don't know what I've written, the story won't make any sense!" Jarod exclaimed, not understanding the rules.

"That's why it is funny. Come on, Jarod, play with me," she begged, making those puppy-dog eyes he couldn't resist.

    Sighing, he took the sheet of paper and the pen she was holding out to him, and looked at word she had left uncovered: "stars".

"Don't think too hard about it, just write the first thing which comes into your head," she told him after he spent a couple of minutes looking at the paper.

    In the end, they played the game three times, and none of their stories made sense. Once he got the hang out of this game, he understood why Miss Parker wanted to play it: it was fun, and for once, he didn't have to think. Most of the time, he just wrote down what came into his mind when he saw the word she left him.

"We should play this game again. You were right, it was funny."

"You should know that I'm always right, Jarod," she said on such a serious tone that they both had to laugh at that.

    She picked up the picture of her parents and herself she had put on the table when they started playing, but instead of pocketing it, she handed it to him.

"Here. I want you to have it."

"It's yours, Miss Parker. I can't take it."

"You need it more than I do. Until you get a picture of you with your family, we can be your family. Take it, please."

    She didn't break out the puppy-dog eyes this time, but he could see from the determined look she was giving him that she wasn't about to back down. Reluctantly, but still touched by the gesture, he accepted the picture and looked at it.

"I'll take good care of it."

"I know you will."

    They smiled at each other, and she left the room as Sydney came in; it was time for him to run another SIM.







    His head hurt; he wanted to make it stop but he couldn't.

    It was far from the first time it happened, but for the past few weeks, it had become more and more intense, as if something had changed. He had no way of knowing what though, not without exposing himself, and he knew it wasn't the right time for that.

    It was still early, way too early to be outside but he couldn't stay in this room any longer. Bundled up in his coat to ward off the cold November wind, he stepped onto the sidewalk and started walking with no destination in mind. Dark clouds were obscuring the sky; it would rain later, probably a storm judging by how the wind was slowly picking up in intensity. It was doing nothing to relieve his headache, quite the contrary actually, but he still felt better to not be cooped up in the room anymore.

    He didn't really know how much time had passed since he had first stepped off the bus into this town, but he knew he would have to move on, and soon. He couldn't risk being found, not now, not ever. He had no idea where he would go, but it didn't stop him before. He would stop whenever he would feel it was right to.

    He was running, he knew that. He was running from his family, he was running from the only people who could ever understand him, but he had no choice; if he had stayed, they would have been in danger. His stops in different towns were only pauses; he needed these pauses to go on, to remember that he wasn't truly alone.

    His feet brought him to the same diner over and over again, and when he pushed open the door, the waitress smiled at him. He smiled back, politely, before taking a seat at his usual table. There was only one other customer this morning, a patron who always seemed to be the first here. Once, he even wondered if the patron just didn't sleep in the diner at night.

    He hadn't ordered yet, but the waitress was already coming towards him with a cup in her hands.

"Hello Stranger. Here's your hot chocolate," she said, placing the cup in front of him.

"I didn't order anything," he protested, but she just continued smiling.

"I know, but you always order hot chocolate anyway. I thought I would save you some time."

"And if I wanted something else?"

"Do you want something else?" she countered, but he shook his head no. "Do you mind if I sit here for a bit?" she asked, already sliding into the seat on the other side of the table. She waved at the patron, before turning back to him. "Bill here is really nice, but he doesn't have much conversation, and as you noticed, it's quite dead here in the morning. Or all day long for that matter."

"Why is that?"

    He couldn't stop himself, he had to know. Even though his headache was still present, his curiosity got the better of him. And somehow, her voice was soothing him. She couldn't make his head stop hurting, but he was calmer than he was before he entered.

"Another diner opened just on the other side of the street from us," she answered, nodding towards the outside. "I don't know how they do it, but their prices are half ours. One by one, our customers left to go there. We can't compete with them. My uncle is thinking of closing down, but I know it would kill him. He worked hard all his life to be able to buy this place. I don't want to see him give up on his dream. Only Bill stayed out of loyalty for my uncle."

    For a moment, she looked like she was about to cry, and he didn't know what to do. He had never been confronted with a woman crying, and he didn't want to start now, with someone he didn't know. But thankfully for him, she composed herself and willed her tears away.

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have told you all this. You're not even from here, and I don't even know your name. I'm Mia by the way," she said, holding out her hand. When he didn't reply anything, she resumed talking. "This is usually the point where you shake my hand and tell me your name, Stranger."

    He wasn't willing to give her his real name. He didn't think he could be found with just his name, but he would rather not risk it. He might not know anyone in this small town, but it didn't mean that no one could end up being a danger to him.

"You can keep calling me 'Stranger'," he just replied, shaking her hand.

"'Stranger', eh? You're not one to trust people easily, right?"

"Trusting someone could be dangerous."

"I know what you mean. The man who opened up the diner across the street? He was my uncle's best friend. He trusted him with everything, including the money. I'm not even sure he didn't steal some from my uncle. Anyway, you're not interested in any of that, I'm sure."

"Maybe there's something I can do to help you."

    He didn't know where that was coming from. Not even one hour before, he had decided that it was time to leave this town, and here he was, offering his help. He had never done that before, but hearing Mia talk, he had wanted to help her. He hoped that it was the right choice, that it wouldn't come to bite him in the butt in the end.

"I couldn't possibly... And there's nothing we can do."

"I'm offering. I'm not saying that we can save the diner, but we can try, can't we?"

"Yeah. Just stay right here. I know you don't usually eat anything when you come, but let me fix you a plate of pancakes."

    Seeing her bright smile as she got up from her seat, he had no regrets about having offered his help. For a moment, he was worried that he only got Mia's hopes up, and that he wouldn't be able to save the diner. He would try his best, at the very least.

    A man he had seen only once before was coming towards him, a plate of pancakes in his hand. He guessed that was Mia's uncle, and that she had talked to him about his offer.

"I'm Martin, Mia's uncle," the man said, confirming his thoughts. "She said that you wanted to help us... Stranger."

    He could see that Martin thought that the situation was hopeless and that he didn't trust him. He couldn't blame Martin, really; he didn't know him, and truthfully, who would trust someone who didn't want to reveal his real name. He needed to gain his trust if he wanted to help him.

"Mia told me a bit about what is happening to you," he said, and watched as Martin lowered his eyes, as if in shame; he wondered why.

"Before we talk about that," Martin replied, sitting across from him, "let's talk about you. Why do you want to help us? You're not from around here. You don't know us. What do you get out of this?"

"Nothing. I was just told once that when you can, you have to help people. Like I told your niece, I'm not promising anything, but I'll try."

    It seemed to satisfy Martin for the moment as he nodded and started to tell him the whole story.

    When he left the diner, he realised that his headache was gone, as if his decision to help Martin and Mia appeased the voices for the time being. For the first time in a long while, Ethan felt lighter.







    Miss Parker had barely slept the night before, even after she had packed everything that could be seen as suspicious to the Centre's eyes. The voices had left her alone after that, but her mind just wouldn't shut down. She had kept waiting to hear sweepers entering her house all night long. Even though the rational part of her knew that they wouldn't try anything while she was in the house – she was still a Parker after all, no matter who her biological father was – she couldn't do more than doze off for more than a few minutes at a time.

    Going to work at the Centre in this state wasn't ideal, but not going in at all was not an option for her. Still, when she saw Lyle and Cox waiting for her when she entered her office, she wished she had called in sick.

"You're not looking so cute, here, Sis. You have trouble sleeping?"

    For a second, Miss Parker wondered if he had cameras hidden in her house, but she didn't let it show on her face. She knew it wasn't the case anyway; while she wouldn't put it past him and Raines to place her under surveillance to keep eyes on her at all times, she trusted the voices to warn her if they were to do something like that. And she did a sweep of her entire house every two days, just to be sure. Still, she felt a wave of relief course through her at having stopped by the post office before coming in.

    She didn't answer Lyle's question, but he wasn't expecting her to.

"Any news of the lab rat?" Lyle asked.

    They were watching her face carefully, and she knew they were waiting for her to lie to them. But she had nothing to lie about and even then, they wouldn't know: she had quite the poker face. It was even a requirement when you work at the Centre.

"You know that even if I did, I wouldn't tell you," she still said. "After all, aren't we rivals now?" she replied with a feral smile.

    Cox didn't seem fazed, but she could see a small flicker of fear pass on Lyle's face. She had always taken great pleasure in making her twin brother sweat.

"I believe you are right, Miss Parker," Cox replied. "I guess Mr. Lyle and I shouldn't bother you any longer."

    And on those words, they left her alone.

    It unsettled Miss Parker to see them leaving so soon after she arrived. It was making her feel like they weren't even here to talk to her in the first place. She started to wonder if she hadn't interrupted them when she entered her own office. Going to her desk, she picked up the phone and pushed the button for Broots' extension.

"Hello?"

"My office, now," she said, hanging up before he could reply.

    She waited for him to arrive, feeling uncomfortable. She looked around, but everything was where she had left it the night before. Nothing appeared to have been disturbed, but she felt like something was missing. If she could only know what.

"Miss Parker?" Broots entered, looking nervous; he had lost no time in coming. "You asked me to come?"

"Lyle and Cox were here when I arrived. I want to be sure they haven't left behind an Easter Egg."

"I'm on it," he assured her, before leaving her office to go get what he would need to do a sweep of the room.

    She waited for him to return, still standing before her desk. She didn't want to sit down, to try to get comfortable in her chair until she was certain her office was safe. Or really, as safe as it would be considering that it was the Centre.

    Broots was quick to return, with Sydney in tow. He must have encountered the psychiatrist in the corridors and told him of the situation in a few words. They didn't speak as the technician was working; if there was a mic in the room, they didn't want Lyle and Cox to hear anything that would be said.

    She knew that Sydney was taking advantage of that time to observe her. She had no doubt that he noticed the dark circles under her eyes even through her make-up. He would probably remark on it as soon as Broots declared the room clear. And she was right.

"You had trouble sleeping last night, Miss Parker?"

"I have trouble sleeping ever since I first stepped foot in this House of Horrors."

    It wasn't entirely true; it wasn't until after her mother's death that nightmares started to plague her nights. Sydney knew that of course, and he didn't say anything. She was grateful for that because the last thing she needed was to lie down on a couch and talk, thank you very much. She knew she could use the same excuse she did for years, that it didn't do her mother any good; Catherine Parker hadn't committed suicide but had been murdered by Raines. And someday, she would make him pay.

"Miss Parker?" Broots' voice jolted her out of her thoughts. "What were you thinking about?" he asked, before he could stop himself.

"An eye for an eye," she simply replied. "What have you found?"

"Nothing. There are no microphones, no cameras, and no system of surveillance of any kind in your office. Whatever Mr. Lyle and Mr. Cox were here for, it wasn't to spy on you."

    She wanted to feel reassured by his words, but she wasn't. She couldn't pinpoint what exactly yet, but she was sure they were missing something important. If she didn't trust Lyle and Cox on their own, she trusted them even less when they were together.

"Broots, find me what Lyle and Cox are up to, these days."

"Do you think they are on Jarod's trail?"

"I don't know. But something tells me that they're up to something, and whatever it is, it's not good for us."

"You mean that I have to break into Mr. Lyle's office again?" Broots asked, already feeling sick at this idea.

"If you don't find answers anywhere else, yes," she replied, before turning towards Sydney. "Let's go ask Angelo if he knows anything."

    She wished she still had the picture Jarod had sent them but she had packed it too, and it was well on its way to safety. But at the very least, she could show him a picture of Anderson alone that Broots had found in his file; it might prompt a reaction from her old friend. Taking the picture out of her purse, she left her office. She trusted Sydney to follow her to where she knew they would find Angelo.

    When the elevator reached sub-level 5, she turned right before entering a small room. Angelo was sitting on the floor, in the middle of the room; he didn't look up when they entered but neither of them was expecting him to. Sydney closed the door behind them, and watched as she crouched before the man, the picture clutched tightly in her hand.

"Hello Angelo," she said, but he still didn't raise his head. "I need your help. What can you tell me about this man?" she asked, showing him the picture of Matt Anderson.

    Angelo took the picture in his hands and looked at it for a couple of seconds before crumpling it and throwing it away. It fell at Sydney's feet, who picked it up so that it wouldn't fall in the wrong hands. Angelo hugged his knees to his chest and started rocking back and forth.

"Secrets. Big secrets. Bad Secrets. Renewal. Renewal."

    He repeated the same words over and over again. They knew that he would say nothing else for the time being. But when Miss Parker tried to get up, he grabbed her arm and pulled her closer to him.

"Danger," he whispered so only she could hear. "Daughter careful."

    His words should have surprised her, but they didn't. She had already understood it when the voices kept her awake the night before. Her time at the Centre would soon come to an end, she was sure of it now. But the way she was going to leave this place was still up to her, and she would be damned if she didn't take Lyle down with her in some way.

"It's ok, Angelo. It's ok," she reassured him, prying his hand from her arm.

    She schooled her features before getting up and turning back towards Sydney. He didn't need to speak for her to understand that he wanted to know what Angelo had just whispered to her. But she wouldn't share it; he didn't need to know this. It would only end up with him worrying about her and she didn't want that, she didn't need that.

"This was a waste of time," Parker said as she walked past Sydney and out of the room.

"It was worth a try. Angelo has often been helpful in the past."

    She didn't reply that most times, it had been related to Jarod. And it seemed to her like this time, it wasn't the case. Somehow, it reassured her, and she wished she wouldn't be proved wrong in the near future. Still, just like Sydney, she had hoped that Angelo would give them some answers.

She was feeling tired of always asking questions and having them answered only sporadically. She could count on the fingers of one hand the numbers of answers she got since Jarod ran away from the Centre. And they all came through him.

    But still, her most important questions never got answered. Maybe the scrolls could have helped. But they were lost, somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea, along with the man she had thought to be her father. Talk about irony; they were supposed to give them the answers they were looking for, but instead, their disappearance only raised more questions.

    When they entered the elevator to go back to the upper levels, she caught Sydney looking at her. He had that look on his face that told her he was analysing her without her knowing. And if there was one thing she didn't need these days, it was this.

"What?" she said, exasperated.

"It's just… You just seem to get lost in your thoughts quite often since you came back from Carthis. Is there something on your mind, Miss Parker?"

"Nothing that concerns you," she replied, more harshly than she had intended at first.

"You know I'm here if you want to talk. I just want to help you."

"I'm fine, Sydney," she said, putting a stop to his questioning.

    When the elevator doors opened, she was the first one out. She hoped that the psychiatrist wouldn't follow her back to her office; she just wanted to be left alone right now. Closing the door behind her, she went to sit on the couch, sighing. Her eyes fell on the clock on her desk: it wasn't even noon and she already felt like this day was lasting longer than any other.






    When Sydney entered his office, Broots was already there, sitting on a chair. The younger man seemed preoccupied, but for once, it didn't look like it had anything to do with his daughter, Debbie.

"Is everything alright, Broots?" he asked, sitting on the chair opposite him.

    Sydney felt like he had asked this same question about a thousand times before, and he wouldn't be surprised if he had. He was a psychiatrist, and usually, this line would come up at least once per session. But the thing was that lately, he hadn't been asking this to his patients, but to his friends; it was true that maybe they were a bit of both sometimes, even though one of them would never see it like this.

"Have you noticed something off with Miss Parker?" Broots replied to his question with one of his own.

"Yes. I asked her about it, of course, but you know her, she didn't want to give me a straight answer."

"Or an answer at all, I guess," Broots said, and Sydney smiled. "Do you think we should insist? I mean, even though she doesn't think the same, she is our friend."

"She sees us as friends too. She just doesn't always show it."

"It's more like she never does. But I know we're her friends, and this is why I want to try and help her. This is what friends are for, right?"

"Right, but I don't think she's ready to be helped when it comes to her. And I don't know if she ever will be," Sydney added, pre-empting his next question. "The best we can do for her at the moment is to find what Lyle and Cox are working on. I have to say that I don't like it either that she found them in her office when she arrived."

"But I've checked twice and there's absolutely nothing there. Whatever they were doing there, I guess the only way to find answers to our questions is for me to do as Miss Parker told me. There was nothing on the database."

"I know you don't like this idea, but we have no other choice, Broots. Try to think of it as a way to protect her."

"I already do, and it was why I always agree to what she asks me to do. I'll have to wait for both of them and Mr. Raines to leave, though. Any luck with Angelo?" he asked, remembering where Sydney and Miss Parker had just been.

"No, nothing but what we already knew. He did say something about secrets, bad secrets that were going to be revealed."

"Remind me when a 'good' secret had ever been revealed when it came to the Centre and its doings? Every secret we uncovered had always been worse than the previous one. If we think it can't be any worse, it probably will be."

    Sydney nodded, agreeing with Broots' assessment. The last secret that had come to their attention had really been the worst so far and one they hadn't expected. The revelation that Mr. Parker wasn't Miss Parker's biological father – not to mention that Mr. Raines was his brother and her father – had come as a surprise to everyone. But there was no question the Centre could do worse if given the opportunity. And they would.

    He had also been the bearer of some secrets Miss Parker had found out about in the past few years. He wasn't proud of this, and he would not use the excuse of not having been given a choice in the matter, but he wasn't sorry he ever kept them from her. He was just sorry she had ever found out, especially when it came to her mother. But she had needed that closure, they both had, and she gained a brother in the process. At the very least, he had never completely lost her trust, and she understood he did it for Catherine and Catherine alone.

"I just hope that whatever this new secret is about, it won't be one that manages to destroy Miss Parker."

"I hope so too, Broots, I hope so too."






"What is it?" Raines said as Lyle and Cox came into his office unannounced.

    The younger men winced at the sight of him lying on a massage table, a towel thankfully draped over the lower half of his body. This was a vision they could have done without, and they hoped that it wouldn't be burnt into their memories forever. They almost wanted to turn away from him, but he wouldn't appreciate it.

"It looks like we have removed the hidden cameras in Parker's office just in time," Lyle said, looking anywhere but at the older man. "Willie saw Broots going into her office with everything he would need to do a sweep."

"Good, good. They had been useful, too, even though we have to do without them from now on. At least, we know they have found out about Anderson and Project Renewal. It's a real shame your office wasn't more secure, Lyle."

    Lyle didn't reply anything to that; he knew that whatever he could say wouldn't help his cause. Even though he was working closely with Raines since it had been decided he would be the new chairman, he knew that he couldn't risk getting on his bad side.

"The good news is that they don't know anything about Project Renewal," Cox intervened. "There was nothing on Mr. Lyle's computer about the nature of the project."

"This would be a disaster if they were to ever find out," Raines replied. "And if it were to happen, I don't think your heads would remain on your necks for much longer after that."

    They didn't react. They didn't want nor need Raines to know that he had managed to destabilize them with his words, so Lyle bit back the retort that their heads probably wouldn't be the only ones on the line if something happened to the Project.

"Now get out of here and keep an eye on Miss Parker and her team. It will soon be time to act."

    Lyle and Cox left the office, the former scowling, but both glad to not be subjected to this view any longer.

They went back to Lyle's office and closed the door behind them before disconnecting the security cameras; no one needed to know what they were going to talk about, and certainly not Raines or any of his minions. Cox poured them each a drink; they would need it to erase the image of Raines on the massage table from their mind.

"Once we get rid of Parker," Lyle started, after having taking a sip of his scotch, "we'll take care of the ghoul. It's time for him to leave the Centre for good. The new generation has to rise after all."

    They shared a feral grin, before clinking their glasses together. It was almost time for a New Order to rise, with them as the rightful leaders.






    Jarod had explained to them why he thought Rivers was a cop. It wasn't easy to convince them, because he didn't have any evidence to corroborate what he was putting forward. But in the end, they believed him. Their main goal for the time being, though, was to find McCauley, the man they thought to be Don and Julia's murderer.

    Jarod, Brody and Peter met dead end after dead end as they tried to find the whereabouts of Paul McCauley. As they had expected, he was staying underneath the radar. While they were certain that McCauley was somewhere in town, they had nothing to confirm that he even crossed the Massachusetts state line.

    The Pretender was used to laying low, to not be picked up by the Centre's watchful eyes, and while it had often been helpful, this time, he had met his match.

"So how do we find him?" Brody asked, pushing his chair away from his desk, exasperated by the unsuccessful search.

"I may have an idea, but you might not like it."

"At this point, I'm willing to do anything as long as it stays in the limits of the law." At Jarod's sorry look, he sighed. "But I guess I could at least hear your idea, so shoot."

"I think that we need to find someone who knows McCauley enough to know how to find him."

"That's a good idea," Peter said. "But he only had two known associates, Julia… I mean Anna, and Rivers. And Anna is dead."

"But Rivers, or whatever his real name is, isn't."

"It's impossible to access the file," Peter reminded him. "You tried it yourself, and you don't have a high enough clearance."

"Within the limits of the law, no, like you said, I can't access the file. But given that it could be the only solution to find McCauley…"

"How do you plan to access it?" Brody asked, though he was pretty sure he already knew the answer.

"I'm going to hack it. There are no doubts that once I start trying, they're going to know and they will try to locate us. So what do you think, John? Should I try?"

    The sheriff didn't answer straight away. Jarod and Peter could see that he was thinking about it, weighing all the pros and cons; he needed to know if the risk they would take was worth it. They could easily lose their jobs, maybe even go to prison, but then, his eyes fell on the photo of his children and Lucy that was sitting on his desk. He couldn't stop looking at the little girl's smiling face, and all he wanted was to see her smile once more.

    In the end, he came to the conclusion that Jarod was right and it might be the only way for them to find McCauley; Rivers was their only chance. With a nod, he notified the Pretender that he agreed with him, and the latter immediately started typing on his computer.

    It would have been easier to go to his current place and run the search on his laptop; he had all the programs he would need on it. Working from this computer would take him longer, but his aim wasn't to find Rivers' real identity as fast as possible. By using his laptop, the search would be untraceable, and it wasn't what they wanted; they wanted to be found. And the cops, or whoever Rivers was really working for, would have no problem following the trail he was going to leave behind him.

    A bit more than an hour later, Jarod sat back in his chair: mission accomplished; he was able to crack the file.

"I have Frank Rivers', or should I say Robert Collins' file."

    Brody and Peter went to join Jarod at his desk, and started to read the file. It was almost complete; only the photo of the man was missing, probably for the cop's safety in case something like that happened. At the very least, they knew he was working for the Andover PD, Massachusetts. He had been lent for a few years as an undercover cop for the Boston PD. There, he had met Paul McCauley and his then girlfriend Anna, and had gained their trust enough to start working with the two of them on a couple of jobs, until the bank robbery.

"Should we contact the Andover PD and ask for this Collins guy?" Peter asked.

"No. I think they will be here soon enough, probably by tomorrow morning. I have left enough breadcrumbs for them to follow."

"Who will be there?"

"Collins and the other cops who worked the case at the time," Brody replied, following Jarod's thoughts.

"I bet they won't be too happy to have their hands forced."

"No, they won't," Jarod said. "But where would be the fun if we asked politely?"

"Do you think they will cooperate with us?"

    Jarod could hear the worry in Peter's voice. He knew the young cop wondered if their ruse wouldn't end up hurting his young career. It wouldn't if Jarod was right, and even though it could inflate his own ego, the Pretender had to admit that he was very rarely wrong.

    As for Rivers and whoever ends up coming with him cooperating, well, it was another matter entirely. But Jarod was almost certain that they would do anything to find McCauley and the money. Now, they just had to wait and see.







    Ethan had gone back to his hotel room after he left the diner. He needed some time to think on the best way to help Martin and Mia. There were a couple of options for him, and he wished he had more experience with running a pretend, or that Jarod was there to help him. But he had no way to contact his half-brother; he was alone, save for the voices who hadn't been of any help for the moment.

    He ran a search on his computer, wanting to know more about this Lionel Sloan, Martin's so-called best friend. He had seemed clean, at first, until Ethan had been able to access his diner's finances; there was definitely something going on there. As Mia had said, given the prices he charged and how much he was paying his employees and the food he received, he should be bankrupted by now. But he was still making money and quite a lot at that.

    He had to know what Sloan was hiding. Whatever it was, Ethan was sure that it would help Martin and Mia in the end. But first, he had some shopping to do; he needed to collect evidence, and he had nothing to do it with. Looking into a hidden pocket of his jacket, he noticed that he just had enough money to buy everything he would need.

    He would soon have to go get some more cash. Being on the run and laying low meant that he didn't have access to a bank account, so to be more practical, soon after he had run away from Miss Parker's house, he had withdrawn all the money Jarod had set aside in an account for him. He hadn't used much of it, but at least, he knew that he wouldn't run out of it soon.

    Ethan had noticed a small electronic store in the Main street, where he should find the equipment he needed. He soon left with a camera and some recording equipment and went back to the diner; he had to tell them of his findings before proceeding.

    Bill had left sometime during his absence, and they were able to talk about Lionel Sloan's diner without worrying about being overheard. Somehow, neither Martin nor Mia seemed surprised by what he was telling them, or they both had pretty good poker faces.

"So Mia was right to think that it wasn’t quite as clear as it seemed," Martin said, when Ethan had finished telling them of the situation.

"I don't understand how he can do it, yet, but I'll find out, I promise you. Mia mentioned that it was possible he stole some money from you."

"I looked into my finances and I don't see how he could have done it. But I'm no expert, and right now, I don't have the money to hire an accountant to look into it."

"Can I see them?"

"Are you an accountant, too?" Martin asked, the tone of his voice implying that he still didn't know what to make of him.

"No. But I'm good with numbers."

    It wasn't the truth, but he couldn't really tell them that he had gone to the library and read a book on the subject before coming back. If there was one thing he had learned from Jarod, it was to keep the secret about their abilities; aside from the Centre, there were probably other people out there who would like to use them for their own benefit.

"Mia, can you go get him the books from when Sloan was here?"

"Of course, Uncle Martin."

    Once she left them, Ethan could see on Martin's face that it was time for some serious talk. He had thought that it was what they had spent the last half an hour doing, but he was obviously wrong.

"I appreciate what you're doing for us, trust me on that, but Sloan can be a dangerous man. I didn't want to say this in front of Mia because she doesn't need to know, but I went to confront him once. I wanted to know why he was doing this when we were friends. He pointed a gun at me, and said that if I didn't mind my own business, he wouldn't hesitate to pull the trigger next time."

"Did you talk to the police about it?"

"No. There was nothing they could have done. There was no witness; it was my word against his. And for all I know, he could have gotten rid of the gun before the cops went to interrogate him, or it could have been a fake one." He paused, making sure that Mia still wasn't back before resuming. "I guess that what I want to say is that I would understand if you decide to go back on your word, now that you know this. You don't have to risk your life for this," he concluded, gesturing to the diner.

"To be honest, this makes my resolve to help you even stronger."

    Ethan could see that Martin wanted to say something else, but Mia's return prevented him from doing that. She put the books on the table before Ethan, smiling and looking happier than he had seen her since he first stepped into the diner a few days before.

"Should I fix you a plate? It's almost lunchtime, and I don't think it's a good idea to work on an empty stomach."

    He wanted to say no, but the look on her face was so hopeful he didn't want to disappoint her. He nodded and watched as her smile widened. He didn't understand the warm feeling that spread in his chest at the sight.






    Jarod had left the Sheriff's office early, but aside from waiting for Collins to arrive and reviewing the Schaeffer's case yet another time, they had nothing to do. And he needed to get ready for the next day; if there was one thing he was sure of, it was that Collins wouldn't trust him easily. He had been an undercover cop, and Jarod wouldn't be surprised if Collins understood that he wasn't who he pretended to be upon first seeing him.

    He knew that if Collins was to call the FBI in Jefferson City and ask for information about a Jarod Baker, he would find out that this person didn't exist. Jarod had to pre-empt any attempt at checking his identity, but it wouldn't be easy. There was another solution, one he would use as his last resort, because he didn't know what would come out of it; it could blow up his entire cover or secure it. Whatever it would end up doing, he had no way of finding out in advance, not unless he wanted to hear questions he wasn't ready to answer just yet.

    Once Jarod was certain that his cover would hold as long as Collins didn't make the call, he took his cell phone and dialled a familiar number. He had some questions of his own that he needed to be answered, and there was only one person who could. It rang twice before being picked up on the other end of the line.

"This is Sydney."

"How can someone deprive a child of growing up with their parents?" he asked without preamble; this is something he failed to understand, even with his own experience.

"Jarod! It's difficult to understand what is going on in a person's head when they have to make this choice."

"What made you do it?" Jarod asked, even thought he knew it wasn't the same.

"I wish I could say that I didn't have a choice and you would accept it, but I know better than that. I had a choice, Jarod, and with time, I understood that I made the wrong one."

"I don't think he would see it as a wrong decision on his part."

"Did this person know he would leave a child orphan?"

"I don't know, but I'm sure he wouldn't have cared any way."

"No matter what happened, this child needs closure to be able to go on. And I know that you will make sure that it will happen."

"When will the feeling of abandonment stop?"

"When did it for you?" Sydney asked, although he already knew the answer.

"It's still there."

    Jarod hang up before his old mentor could add anything else. He could hear the guilt in Sydney's voice as he talked about having made the wrong choice. A part of him still held him responsible for having held him captive all these years, but another part hoped that there would come a day when the guilt would ease for his sake.

    Their situations might be different, but, like he implied, he knew what Lucy was feeling. For years, he had thought his parents to be dead; he had thought that he was an orphan. Lucy was an orphan, and out of anybody else here, he was probably the only one who could understand her.

    He had lied to Sydney when he told him that the feeling of abandonment was still there; it probably wouldn't leave him until he found his mother and his family was finally reunited. He knew that he had been kidnapped, and that his parents hadn't abandoned him, that it was irrational to even feel like this, but he couldn't help it. It was there, and it wouldn't leave him. And because of that, he knew that Lucy would feel it too, even though her parents hadn't left her of their own will.

    Knowing that there wasn't more he could do about the Schaeffer's case until tomorrow, he was about to go back to searching information about Matt Anderson and Project Renewal when his computer beeped; someone was on the videophone, waiting to talk to him, and he had no doubt who it would be.

"Hey, Dad!" he greeted as his face appeared on the screen.

"How are you, son?"

"I'm fine Dad. Why are you calling me? Is there a problem?"

"Why do you assume there's a problem when Dad calls you?" Emily asked, as their father moved to his right to leave her some space.

"Emily! It's so good to see you."

"It's good to see you too. I see you've finally cut your hair. Good, it wasn't all that attractive."

"Emily!" Major Charles chimed in, a reproachful look on his face. "There's no problem, Jarod. We just wanted to see how you were doing. You have only talked to us once since you came back from Carthis."

    Jarod should feel guilty about it; after all, in this same period of time, he had talked to Sydney and Parker more often than to his own family. But he wasn't feeling the slightest remorse as he convinced himself that it was for their safety; the less contact he would have with them, the less easy it would be for the Centre to find them and use them against him.

"I'm fine. I'm working on a pretend at the moment. You know how it is. I never really stop."

"Why don't you stop once and for all and join us?" Emily asked.

    Their father would never have asked that, because he knew why Jarod was doing this; he had understood since the moment Jarod stayed behind when Miss Parker had been shot. But Emily had no way of knowing, and even if she did, she probably wouldn't understand it. So he settled for a half-truth.

"It's easier for me to track our mother, that way. If I stopped, we might never find her."

"Yes, but every day, you risk being captured by the Centre. Carthis wasn't a close enough call for you?"

"Your brother knows what he is doing, Emily," Major Charles tried to reassure her.

    Jarod could understand her concern. He didn't want to go back being a prisoner of the Centre either, but he wasn't ready to just disappear. And if he was honest with himself, he wasn't sure he would ever be ready.

"Speaking of Mom," Emily resumed, having understood that she wouldn't be able to convince her brother that she was right, "do you have any leads?"

"No. She must be laying low after what happened on Carthis. The Centre had come close to her, if I were her, I would stay in hiding for a while before trying anything else."

"But you'll find her one day, right?" Emily asked, and Jarod nodded. "I still feel guilty to have left her when I found out about Ethan's existence. She agreed with my decision, but I thought that we would soon be reunited. All of us."

"I'm sure that if she were here, your mother would say that she doesn't blame you and that it was for the best."

    Jarod wanted to be as sure about it as his father seemed to be, but he didn't know his mother. He only knew her face; he didn't know the sound of her voice, or what she would be thinking right now.

    He shouldn't be jealous that the two people of the other side of the screen knew her while he didn't, but he was. Once again, what he was feeling was irrational, but he couldn't help it. Major Charles had lived with his wife for years before they had been forced to separate, and Emily had grown up loved by their mother; it was something he would never know even when he finally found her. Nothing he could do or say could bring back these lost years.

"What about Ethan?" Emily asked. "Do you know where he is?"

"No. Neither Miss Parker nor I have any idea where he could be."

"Well, for one, I'm glad she doesn't know where he is, either. I don't want him near anyone associated with the Centre."

"He's her brother too, Emily," Jarod replied, through gritted teeth. "I'm sorry, but I have to go. I'm currently on a pretend and I need to work on it."

"We understand, Jarod. Be careful," his father said with a smile.

"Don't be a stranger, big brother. Talk to you soon."

    Jarod said his goodbyes and closed the program. He couldn't help but be angry at his sister. She didn't know Miss Parker, and she had no right to say that Ethan shouldn't be anywhere near her. Emily thought she knew her because Parker was working at the Centre, and they had kept her family apart and they still did, but if she had met Parker... Well, she would probably still be thinking the same; to say that Parker was an acquired taste was an understatement.

    But Ethan was as much her half-brother as he was theirs, and Jarod would never stop him from seeing his sister whenever he wanted to. After everything he had been through, the younger man needed his family, his whole family. Just maybe not Lyle and Raines, no one needed them in their lives.

    He might have lied to his father about having to work on his pretend to cut the conversation short, but he wasn't lying about working. It was time to see if he could find out more than the little he already had on Matt Anderson and Project Renewal.



To be continued...

Chapter 4 by Vicky

Chapter 4


    Miss Parker came into her mother's study to find her sitting on the large window seat, reading a book. A soft light coming from a lamp sitting on the desk was lighting the room. Her mother was reading; she didn't have to ask to know that her father wasn't back from work yet.

    For the past years, he seemed to spend more time there and less time with the two of them. Once, she had even asked her mother if she had done something, and she had immediately reassured her that it had nothing to do with either of them.

    She loved spending time with her mother alone, but she also loved spending time with both of her parents. She remembered Sunday afternoons spent playing Monopoly. But now, it was gone; her father was even going to his work on Sundays now. Work became more important than she and her mother, and she didn't know what to do to change that.

    But at the very least, she had her mother, and it was her she needed tonight.

"Mama?" she called, still standing on the threshold.

"What are you doing here, darling?" Catherine Parker replied, closing the book and resting it on her lap.

"I can't sleep."

"Do you want to stay with me for a moment?"

    Miss Parker nodded, happy that her mother seemed to have picked up on her thoughts without her having to voice them. Catherine gestured for her daughter to come and sit beside her on the window seat, and she didn't waste any more time.

    She curled up against her mother's side, and closed her eyes for a moment. She had always loved her mother's perfume. It meant that she was home and safe whenever she was close enough to smell it.

    When she opened them again, her eyes fell on the book her mother was reading:
Little Women, the title said. She remembered seeing her with it a few times over the years; her mother seemed to enjoy this particular book quite a lot.

"Will you read it to me?"

    Miss Parker had asked that without really thinking about it; she just wanted to share this with her mother if she agreed to it.

"Of course. You're going to love this story, I'm sure of it."

    Instead of picking the story up where she left it, Catherine Parker opened it to the first page and started reading it out loud.

"
'Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents,' grumbled Jo, lying on the rug."

    Miss Parker listened to her mother's voice more than to the words. Still, with each passing page, she could see why her mother would read it again and again: the story of the March sisters was beautiful and sad.

    From now on, they would share this story, and even though she was only nine, Miss Parker knew that in the years to come, they would end up sharing a lot.







    Her mother's study was bathed in the soft moonlight. She hadn't bothered turning on the lights; she was just there to rest and think. While she could have done it in any other room of her house, being here brought her a sense of peace the rest of the house didn't have.

    She was grateful for everything Thomas had brought into her life. Even though their relationship hadn't lasted as long as she had hoped, she had learnt a lot from him. But the one thing she was the most grateful for was this study. If he hadn't pushed her by opening this door again, by making her understand that it was all right to be there, this room would never have become her refuge. She hadn't even understood the importance of having a refuge before.

    She wished she still had her mother's favourite book with her, but on a whim, she had packed it with the rest of the things the voices had told her to send away. But she felt the urge to read it as being in his room brought out memories. She remembered the first time her mother had read it to her, late one night. They had been alone in the house, and to Miss Parker, it had felt like they had been alone in the world, too, and that nothing could get at them.

    But instead of reading a book with her mother, she was sitting alone on the window seat, looking out into the night sky. Although he annoyed her, she hoped that Jarod would call so that she wouldn't be left alone with her thoughts. But she knew it was just wishful thinking. And even if he did call, they would probably end up talking about the one subject she refused to think about.

    No, she was better alone. She had known that for a long time. Being alone meant that the Centre had no one they could hurt to ensure that she was still under their control. They had done that too often in the past to let them do it again.

    But of course, it was when she wished to be alone, that her doorbell rang. She was almost tempted to ignore it, but the person on the other side was insisting and rang a second time. With a sigh, she got up from her seat, and left the room, closing the door behind her.

    She opened her front door but there was no one on the other side. She was about to close the door, when her eyes fell on a small package on the floor.

"Jarod," she let out in a breath.

    She picked it up, and locked the door behind her, before going to sit on the couch. She had no doubt that it would contain yet another little surprise from the Pretender, but she wasn't sure she wanted to know what it was.

    But when she opened it, she was surprised to see that it was empty, except for a note resting in the bottom of the box. She unfolded it to find a few words written on it:

"Found something. Public library, Sherwood, Arkansas. 10pm tomorrow," she read out loud. "You couldn't be more cryptic, could you?"

    She had of course noted the fact that the meeting was in Sherwood of all places. It seemed convenient than someone who defended the little people would be in a place named like the forest made famous by Robin Hood.

    She wondered for a moment why he hadn't called her instead of sending her this little package, but she guessed that her phone lines could be tapped, and it was the safest way. One of the many people he had helped through the years must have delivered it to her door as per his instructions, but didn't stay to see that she and not someone else would pick it up.

    She memorised the location and time, before taking a lighter and burning the note. She didn't need anyone, and certainly not Lyle or Cox to find this. She went back to her room and packed a bag; she would leave right now. Going there by car would take time, but it would be the safest way: she just needed to sweep her car for bugs and GPS trackers so that the Centre couldn't follow her.

    Once that was done – and yes, there had been a GPS tracker under her car – she put her bag in the trunk and sat behind the wheel. She debated for a moment about calling Sydney or Broots to let them know she wasn't going to be there the next day, but they would be safer if they just didn't know anything.

    She didn't know the exact location of Sherwood, Arkansas, least of all of its public library, but she would have time to stop somewhere along the way to check that out. For the moment, she just needed to leave. She turned the key in the ignition and drove off into the night.

    Inside her house, her cell phone started ringing but no one was there to pick it up.






    Ethan had waited until it was past midnight before leaving his motel room with the equipment he had purchased. No one was up and about at this hour, and he would be left alone while he infiltrated Lionel Sloan's diner. Once there, he hoped he could find all the evidence he would need to help Mia and Martin.

    It should be easy, but when he turned the corner that would lead him to the back door, he saw that he wasn't alone. There was a truck parked a few meters from him, and he could see Sloan talking with two men. He couldn't hear what was being said, but he couldn't risk coming any closer and being seen. Not if he wanted to help his new friends.

    He took his camera from the bag, and was glad he had bought the camera lens the vendor showed him; at this distance, he would need it. He snapped pictures after pictures of the men talking, but he didn't know if this would be interesting, up until Sloan handed them a wad of cash. Whatever was going on there, it was definitely dirty.

    They opened the truck doors, and started unloading boxes. Ethan zoomed in until he could take clear pictures of them. From what he could read, it contained food and came from overseas. He couldn't see any indication that they had been seen by the customs office as should have been the case.

    This was the reason why Sloan's prices were so low compared the Martin's; he was using merchandise that was coming into the country illegally. Ethan could certainly see the police not only closing the place but also arresting Sloan. This would mean the end of Martin and Mia's troubles. Their customers would come back.

    Not wanting to be seen, and to ruin everything, he decided to stay put until the others were all gone. Jarod would have probably confronted Sloan himself before sending the cops on him, but Ethan wasn't sure he could do it. No, he would send the photos to the cops, and give copies to Martin and Mia just in case.

    Ethan made sure to stay in the shadows during his walk back to his motel room. Once there, he transferred the pictures to his new laptop and printed them. He placed each set of photos into envelopes. Everything was ready for the next day.

    He lied down on the bed, needing to get a few hours of sleep. But after they had been calm all day long, the voices were slowly getting louder and louder. He tried to concentrate on them to decipher their message, but it was still too confused and he couldn't make out the words. He hoped that they would become clearer with time.







    Just like the previous day, Jarod arrived early at the office, but this time, Brody and Peter were already there, the former looking like he hadn't got any sleep.

"Lucy had a nightmare and couldn't go back to sleep after that," he explained when he saw Jarod looking at him.

"I thought her grandparents were supposed to be there yesterday?"

"Their plane had been cancelled due to a storm in Ottawa."

"Ottawa? I thought they were coming from Europe," Peter said.

"They couldn't find a direct flight, even under these circumstances. Anyway, they should be there by noon."

"It will do Lucy some good to see her grandparents," Jarod said. "They're going to take her with them?"

"Yes. It won't be easy for them, but Lucy needs to be with them."

"Good. She has to stay with her family. There will come a moment when she wants to hear about her parents, and no one can tell her better than her grandparents."

    Jarod could see on Brody and Peter's faces that they were wondering about him; he almost wanted to tell them the truth, that he hadn't grown up with his family, but he wasn't one to share about his own life during a pretend. People needed to know that he could help them, not about him.

"Are you going to tell them about Julia's past?" Jarod asked, having already decided to call her by the name she had chosen.

"I should, but I don't know how to tell them. How can I tell them that the woman their son married was a bank robber, and that her past cost her and her husband their lives?"

"Trust me, they will want to hear it. And Lucy will need to know the whole truth one day."

    Brody wasn't convinced but Jarod was sure that he would make the right choice in the end, for Lucy. He just needed to find the right words to not make Julia look responsible for what happened. There was only one person responsible for this whole mess, and it was McCauley.

    Jarod went to sit at his desk, and was about to turn on his computer, when the front door opened. Two men and a woman, all dressed in dark suits, entered. There was no doubt for Jarod as to who was the one in the middle. He looked at him straight in his eyes, smirking.

"Robert Collins, I presume."

"Well done. I guess you're the one who cracked my file."

"Touché."

"Sheriff John Brody," he introduced him, extending his hand to the men. "This is my Deputy, Peter Drumond, and here is Special Agent Jarod Baker from the FBI."

"As you already know I'm Robert Collins, and my colleagues from the Boston PD, Will Tanner and Rebecca Bancroft. I think that if you cracked the Rivers' file, you wanted to see them too." When none of them answered, he started to get annoyed. "Won't you tell me why you needed to know my real identity?"

    One look towards Brody told Jarod that he wanted the Pretender to take the lead in questioning Collins.

"Do you know this woman?" Jarod asked, showing a picture of the Schaeffers.

"You know I do or you wouldn't have made me come. This is Anna Carver. What has she done now?"

"She was killed, along with her husband, Don Schaeffer. We know you had McCauley arrested along with you. What happened to Anna?"

"Tanner and I went to the apartment they were hiding in but she wasn't there anymore," Bancroft replied.

"No need to add that the money was gone too," Collins said. "Now, can you tell us what happened?"

    Brody and Jarod took turn in explaining what happened after she had changed her identity. Jarod could read on Collins' face that he didn't believe for one second that Julia had changed. He didn't think there was anything he could do to convince him so he didn't even try.

"We think that McCauley found her and killed them because he wanted the money back," Brody finished.

"If he has it, you can bet we won't ever see him again."

"I don't think he does," Jarod intervened.

"What makes you say this?" Collins asked.

"Let's call it a gut instinct. I think that McCauley is still around, too. This is why we needed you to come. You're the one who knows him the best. You know how to find him."

"If we were in Boston, I'd say you were right, but I don't know this town."

"No matter where he is, he would always hide in the same kind of places. This is where he feels safe no matter where he is in the world. Where did he hide when you were with him in Boston?"

"Most of the time, he would squat an apartment in an empty building."

"There's a building that would match this description," Peter said. "You know, the one just on the outskirts of the town."

"Well, then let's go," Tanner said. "He spent enough time on the outside."

    The others nodded, and followed him out of the office. Jarod was about to walk through the door when Collins stopped him with a hand on his chest.

"I don't know who you are, but you're not FBI. Call that a gut instinct," he said, repeating Jarod's previous words. "I've spent enough time undercover to recognize someone like me."

"I'm not like you. I haven't lost my faith in people being able to change, like you did. If you don't trust me, call this number," Jarod said, scribbling it down on a paper and handing it to him. "Ask to talk to Special Agent Bailey Malone and ask him about me. My name is Jarod in case you need a reminder. Now, if you don't mind, we have a killer to arrest."

    He went to join Brody and Peter at the Sheriff's car, and shook his head to indicate he didn't want to talk about what had just happened. Collins, Tanner and Bancroft followed them in their own car. They could have taken an unmarked car to be more discreet, but they didn't have time for that.

    Being in the back of the car gave Jarod some time to think. Usually, he would have gone to confront McCauley on his own, but this time, it wasn't possible. Still, he would have liked to make him sweat for what he had done to the Schaeffers and Lucy. But he would take great pleasure in seeing him behind bars.

    The cars soon stopped in front of the abandoned building, and they all got out. There were only the six of them; they knew that McCauley was dangerous, but they couldn't lose any more time by waiting for reinforcements. They split into teams of two, and to Collins' great displeasure, Jarod was paired up with him.

    They didn't talk while they proceeded through the empty corridors. The weight of the gun was unfamiliar in Jarod's hand. He wasn't one to carry one very often, unless it was part of his current pretend, and he could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times he fired one.

    Jarod and Collins heard a sound at the end of the corridor they were currently walking down, and nodded at each other. They radioed the others to tell them they might have found McCauley before looking at each other; neither of them had any intention to wait for the rest of the group. He was theirs. The cop took point, with Jarod covering him.

    They stopped just to the side of the opened doorway, and took a quick look inside; McCauley had his back to them, which meant he couldn't see them, but they didn't know if he had something in his hands. Still, they stopped to reconsider their decision to go in there alone.

"Turn around slowly, McCauley," Collins said from the threshold, Jarod just behind him.

"Rivers...," McCauley said, turning around and holding a gun loosely in his right hand. "I always thought that Anna was the one who gave us to the cops. It turns out I was mistaken and it was you. So you're a cop. Good job on pretending to be a bad guy."

"Drop the gun. It's over."

"It will be over when I say it is over. And right now, I still have a score to settle."

    Everything was happening as if in slow motion. McCauley was raising the hand holding the gun, but before he had time to complete his movement, two gunshots were fired. Jarod and Collins each shot him in the arm, their bullets close to each other.

    McCauley fell to the floor, and they ran towards him, pushing the gun away from his hand.

"Now, where's the money?" Collins asked, his gun trained on him.

"I don't know. The bitch wouldn't tell me. But at least, she got what she deserved."

    At these words, Jarod lost his calm, grabbed McCauley by the collar and hauled him up. He held him close to his face and whispered

"You killed a little girl's parents. She didn’t deserve this, they didn't deserve this either. But trust me, I will make sure you get what you deserve."






    When Ethan arrived in the street where the two diners were, he could already see police cars surrounding Sloan's. He wasn't close enough to see what was happening, but he could guess that the man was being interrogated. At the very least, his insomnia was useful this time; he had been able to deliver the photos right before the morning shift arrived, and they hadn't lost any time in coming.

    Smiling to himself, he turned towards Martin's diner to find his two friends watching what was going on from the threshold.

"Did you do this?" Martin asked, when he came closer.

"Let's go inside. I'll explain what I have found."

    The diner was empty; he remembered seeing Bill and several other people watching the scene on the other side of the street from the sidewalk. The three of them sat at a table, and Ethan started telling them about his night, and what Sloan was hiding.

    In the end, he slid an envelope across the table.

"In there, there are copies of all the photos I gave the police, just in case. I don't think you will ever need it, but keep it in a safe place."

"I will. This is just the beginning though. All of this would have been for nothing if the customers don't come back."

"They will, Uncle Martin. Bill is going to convince them," Mia said, pointing to the man talking on the sidewalk. "I can't hear what he's saying, but I'm sure he has already started."

"Bill is a good man. Just like you, Stranger. I'm sorry I was suspicious at first. It's just that I'm not used to asking for help."

"Aren't you glad I talk too much, now?" Mia asked, earning herself a smile from both men.

"Yes. May I offer you something to eat or drink?"

"I'm all right, but these people might want something," he said, gesturing to the people entering the diner.

    One look outside told Ethan that the show on the other side of the street was over. Bill seemed to have had no problems in convincing people to come back to Martin's. He left the table, intent to help Martin and Mia with the influx of people.

"You're a sweetheart, Stranger, but we can manage," Mia replied, before kissing his cheek. "Why don't you sit at the counter and just watch?"

    He didn't really hear anything after she kissed his cheek, but he still sat on the bar stool she indicated. It was just a kiss on the cheek, but it felt like it meant more. He looked at Mia as she was taking an order, and when he caught her eyes, she winked at him.

    He couldn't help but blush. He didn't know how she was doing it, but she confused him. He couldn't say he had any experience with women – they had always thought he was weird and the voices had always prevented him from ever being interested before – but he still thought he could understand what she wanted. And speaking of the voices, they had once more calmed down since he had come into the diner. He started to wonder if Mia's presence had something to do with that.

    He followed her with his eyes as she waltzed from table to table, taking orders and bringing plates and drinks. She gave each customer a sincere smile, but whenever she caught him looking at her, it became brighter. She was a beautiful woman, he had noticed it when he first stepped into the diner, but he hadn't really seen her before. Now, he was really watching her, and he wondered how he hadn't noticed the little details before, like the mole just below her right ear.

"She's a handful, but she's worth it."

    Bill's voice jolted Ethan out of his thoughts, and he turned towards him. The older man had a smile on his face as if he knew something Ethan didn't; and he probably did.

"I know you had something to do with what happened, and I'm happy you managed to help them. They didn't deserve what was happening."

    Ethan didn't say anything in reply, but only nodded and Bill returned to his plate. He was happy he had been able to help, too. He now understood better why Jarod kept doing it. They had a gift, and helping people was the best way for them to use it.

    He still wasn't sure he completely understood what the man had implied at first, or even if he wanted to understand. He would have to leave soon, and he wouldn't come back, but Mia didn't know that, yet. All this flirting was innocent until it wouldn't be anymore, and he knew that for her sake, he couldn't let it go so far. She didn't know him; she didn't even know his real name. He should leave before it was too late.

    Without looking for her, he stood up, and walked to the door. People didn't notice that he was leaving, and that was for the best. He had made it all the way down the street and around the corner when he heard her voice calling the name he had given her. He stopped but didn't turn around.

    Her footsteps came closer until she stopped right behind him. With her hands on his shoulders, she made him face her and his eyes fell upon hers; she knew.

"You're leaving," she stated.

"I wasn't supposed to stay that long."

"But you did, to help us."

"Yes. I have to go now."

"Who are you running away from?" she asked, but he didn't answer; she smiled and he understood that she hadn't expected him to. "I won't see you again, right?"

    He didn't have to answer that question either; she already knew before she asked.

    He was about to turn away from her when she took his face in her hands and leaned in. She kissed him on the lips this time, long and slow. His hands came to rest at her waist as he started to respond. She was conveying a lot of feelings into this one kiss, and he hoped she understood that it wasn't completely one-sided.

    The kiss came to a natural end, and he was about to say something when a headache seized him. The voices suddenly became louder, and he bent over in pain, pressing the palms of his hands to the sides of his head. He knew that Mia was talking to him; he could feel her hand pressed against his back, but he couldn't make out the words.

    But now, he could finally hear what the voices had been trying to tell him since the night before: someone was in danger, and he had to go. He didn't know who it was, but he knew that he had to go help them. Once he understood this, the voices calmed down, until they returned to being the constant buzz at the back of his mind.

"Are you ok?" he finally heard Mia saying, concern in her voice. "I'm going to go get the doctor. He is at the diner."

"No. I'm all right. It happens, but I'm fine now."

"You don't look like you're fine," she replied, as she took in his pale face. "What happened?"

    He almost wanted to tell her, but he knew he couldn't; she wouldn't understand. She would try to, but in the end, she would just think he was a freak, just like other people did in the past. No one could understand him except for Jarod and Miss Parker; they knew how it felt to be different.

"Headache," he just said; it was only part of the truth, but at least, he wasn't really lying to her. "I have to leave now. It's important."

    She nodded, but he could still see worry in her eyes. She was worried for him, for his well being. He tried to swallow, but there was a lump in his throat. He was more touched than he thought he would be by all the emotions he could read on her face. But now wasn't the time for this. The voices went out of their way to make him understand that he had to go.

    He turned away, and started to walk towards his motel, but before he could get too far, he turned back towards Mia. She hadn't moved one inch from where she had been standing, and he smiled at her before deciding that there was at least one thing she should know about him.

"My name is Ethan. I am very pleased to have met you."

"Ethan," he saw more than heard her whisper. "The pleasure is all mine. Take care of yourself, Ethan."

    He nodded, before turning away from her once more. This time, he didn't look back, he couldn't look back. The voices needed him to be somewhere else, and he couldn't lose any more time.






    To say that Sydney was worried would be an understatement. Miss Parker hadn't come into work this morning, and hadn't told anybody about it. Raines and Lyle had already come to see him to ask about her whereabouts, but he didn't know anything. He and Broots had tried calling her cell phone but it kept ringing without anyone picking it up. He had sent the technician back to his station a couple of hours ago; Miss Parker would have wanted him to resume his work on the encrypted video files he had found in Lyle's computer the evening before.

    He wanted to believe that if she hadn't come, it was because she had a lead on Jarod's current whereabouts, but he knew better than that. She would have called him and Broots if that was the case, and she wouldn't have left alone.

    On his way back to his place, he would stop by her house to see if there was any clue as to where she was. He already knew that she wasn't home sick; one of the first things he had done upon noticing that Miss Parker didn't come to the Centre was to send Sam. No one had come to answer the door, and her car was gone.

    What surprised him though was that neither Raines nor Lyle had done anything to find Miss Parker aside from asking him and Broots a couple of questions. He was starting to think that, whatever happened, they knew more than they let on. And it didn't sound good for his friend. He hoped that he was mistaken but he doubted it.

    Leaving his office, he went to see the one person who could give him some answers:  Angelo. He found him hidden in one of the vents on SL-10, eating a box of Cracker Jacks. Sydney crouched before him and waited until he had his attention to start talking.

"I need your help, Angelo. Do you know where Miss Parker is?"

"Danger. Daughter in danger. Not Jarod, trap."

"Oh god..." Sydney let out in a sigh. "Where is she, Angelo?" he tried again, hoping that he and Broots could arrive just in time.

"Bait. Bait for Jarod. Jarod in danger."

    Sydney had no doubt now that the Centre was behind this. They were using her to capture Jarod, and he was sure no one would mind if she ended up being a casualty in the process. He had to find a way to let Jarod know about this, otherwise, he would lose both of them.

    He was about to ask Angelo again if he knew where Parker was, but he had already crawled further back into the vent, and wouldn't come back. He wouldn't find out anything more from him, but maybe there was another way.

    Sydney hurried back to the elevators, and ran into Broots as he was going to his work station.

"I've decrypted the video files. You're never going to believe what I found, Sydney."

"They're going to use Miss Parker as bait to capture Jarod," he replied.

"What? How?"

"Not here. Let's go to my office."

    Broots followed him silently back to his office, and it wasn't until the door was closed behind them that he started talking again.

"How are they going to use her as bait?"

"I don't know, but this is what Angelo thinks is going to happen. And he's rarely wrong. What have you found? Maybe there's something on the video files that is going to explain all this."

"I don't think so. The encrypted video files were of Miss Parker's office. She was right when she said that there were cameras in there. Mr. Lyle and Mr. Cox must have been there yesterday morning to get them back. The oldest file is dated from the day she returned from Carthis."

"They must have installed the cameras when she was away, then. Do you know on whose order it was?"

"No. I haven't found any document to go with them. Just the video files. There's one you might find interesting. It happened after we left her office on that day."

    Broots put the disk he was holding in Sydney's computer and pressed play. The screen was dark for a moment before they saw Miss Parker, sitting on the couch and talking to someone on the phone.

"I wouldn't be surprised if it was Jarod on the other side of the line," Broots said, but Sydney shushed him.

    There was no sound, but the psychiatrist had learnt to read lips when he was a kid, and he still remembered enough to understand Parker's side of the conversation. She was talking about Carthis and the scrolls; nothing surprising here given what had happened a few hours before this had been recorded.

    He stopped reading her lips when he saw a tear roll briefly down her cheek before she dried it with her finger. Second later, she closed her cell phone and rested her hand against her lips, smiling softly.

"If Raines or Lyle have seen this, it's no surprise they're using her as bait to capture Jarod, Broots. From this day on, I have no doubt that they saw her as a liability."

"You're probably right. There's only one other interesting video, it's of the morning she received the picture of Matt Anderson. They know we have found out about him and Project Renewal."

"We really need to find where Miss Parker went, Broots. It's a matter of hours before they get to both she and Jarod."

    Broots was about to reply when there was a knock on the door.

"Come in," Sydney called and they were surprised to see Sam on the other side.

"Mr. Lyle and Mr. Cox boarded a Centre jet half an hour ago," he said without preamble. "I thought you would like to know."

"Thank you, Sam. Do you know where they are headed?"

"No. They haven't left a flight plan. Do you think they know where Miss Parker is?"

"I think they always knew."

    Sydney knew that he had contact to Jarod and to tell him everything they had found out, but he was worried that it would only lead to his capture. No matter what the psychiatrist could say, Jarod would risk his own freedom for Miss Parker; he already did once in the past, and he would do it again.






    McCauley was locked away at the Sheriff's office, under the watchful eyes of Peter, Tanner and Bancroft. Brody had already called a local judge about having him officially charged with the murders of Don and Julia Schaeffer. All that was left to do was to tell Lucy that it was over.

    Jarod stopped his car behind Brody's. Collins was in the passenger seat, looking outside at the house. He hadn't wanted to come at first but Jarod had insisted; he had to see that Julia wasn't the same woman anymore, that she had left Anna behind the moment she had run away.

"I've called Malone," Collins said as Jarod was about to open the door. "He said that you're a good man and that I should trust you because he does. He said 'good man' not 'good agent'. I know the difference. I don't know who you are, but Malone was right."

    Jarod knew that the conversation was over when Collins reached for the door handle.

    They followed Brody to the front door and through the house to the backyard. Lucy was sitting on the same chair Jarod had seen her when he met her. In her arms, she still had her teddy bear. But instead of Cynthia sitting beside her, an older couple was sitting on either side of her; Don's parents, Jarod quickly guessed.

    Jarod walked towards them, and crouched down before Lucy. Her grandparents looked at him, expecting him to introduce himself, but they had time for that. First, he had to talk to Lucy.

"Hello Lucy. You remember me?" he asked, as the little girl raised her eyes to him. "You remember the promise I made to you the other day? The man who hurt your parents won't ever come to hurt you because he has been arrested. And he will go to prison for a very long time. John will make sure of it. It's over, Lucy."

"Oh thank God," he heard the grandmother say, but he stayed focused on the little girl.

    He could see the moment she accepted that he was saying the truth. She didn't smile, she wasn't ready for that yet, but some of the life that had been missing from her eyes returned. It would still take time, but she would be fine.

    With one hand still holding onto her teddy bear, she extended her arms towards Jarod, and he took her in his arms before standing up. Her arms wrapped around his neck as she rested her head against his shoulder.

"Thank you," she whispered against his ear.

"You're very welcome," he replied, tightening his arms around her.

    Lucy didn't leave his arms for a while but once she agreed to be put down, Cynthia introduced Jarod and Collins to Don's parents. They thanked them too for having put the murderer of their son and daughter-in-law behind bars. When they were sure that Lucy was out of earshot, Brody, with the other two men's help, told them the whole story.

"Now, it's all over though," Brody concluded. "McCauley will spend the rest of his life behind bars. You have nothing to be afraid of."

"It's not completely over. We still haven't found the money," Collins reminded them and Brody and Jarod glared at him.

"Maybe she got rid of it before she came to live here with Don," Don's father suggested.

    As the others kept talking, Jarod looked at Lucy, playing with John and Cynthia's children. She still had her teddy bear clutched tightly in her hand, and as she was running, with the bear trailing behind her, he saw something glint in the sun.

"Is there a zipper on Lucy's teddy bear?" he suddenly asked, interrupting the conversation.

"Yes," her grandmother replied. "Julia bought it because she liked the idea that it would keep Lucy's secrets. I thought it was silly, but she loved it."

"Keeping secrets?" Jarod repeated, turning towards Brody and Collins.

"You think...?"

    The Pretender shrugged at the Sheriff's question, before going to Lucy. He called her and she stopped before him. Once more, he crouched down to be at her level and smiled to reassure her that everything was fine.

"Your Grandma told me that your bear was keeping secrets for you," he said and she nodded. "Do you think I can hold it for a moment?"

    As he had expected, Lucy held the teddy bear tight against her chest and took a step back from him. He hated to push her, but he had to check if he was right.

    He heard the other adults stop a few steps behind him. All eyes were turned onto the two of them, and Lucy was beginning to be worried, he could see it.

"I promise I won't take it away from you. I just... Do you think your Mommy hid one of her secrets inside?" To his big surprise, she nodded, her eyes wide. "I just need to see it. Maybe you can give it to me yourself."

    Lucy loosened her hold onto the teddy bear, and he thought for a moment that she was going to give it to him, but she just unzipped it, and got something out from inside of it and zipped it back up. When she opened her hand, Jarod saw that it was a key. He took it from her, before standing back up and showing it to the others.

"Now, we just need to find which door it unlocks."

"Oh, I think I know," Collins replied. "But it's not a door. It's the key from a baggage locker at South Station in Boston. We would often use them to hide our equipment."

"Well then, I guess it's really over, now," Jarod said. "Well done, Lucy," he added, turning towards her, and he could see the hint of a smile on her lips.

"I'm sure you have time for some drinks, then," Cynthia offered. "No alcohol," she added as her husband was opening his mouth.

    The three men looked at each other before nodding their agreement; the others could manage McCauley for a little while longer.

"If you don't mind, I'll run and get something from my car."

"Of course. Would some coffee do or do you want something else?"

"Coffee will be great."

    The night before, he had walked past a bookstore, and had wandered inside without a real purpose. This was when he saw Curious George on one of the shelves. He didn't know if Lucy already had a copy, but when he bought it, it was with her in mind.

    He grabbed his backpack from the trunk of his car, and went back to the backyard. Once there, he stopped beside Lucy's chair and got the book out of his bag.

"This is for you," he said, handing her the book.

"You're too kind," her grandmother replied with a smile.

"It's nothing. I really enjoyed this book when I read it, and I thought Lucy might too."

"I'm sure she will. Won't you, Lucy?"

    The little girl nodded at her grandfather's question, before looking up at Jarod with a small smile.

    Cynthia returned with the drinks, and she gestured for Jarod to sit on one of the chairs before handing him his cup of coffee.

    They talked about what would happen then, and both Collins and Brody reassured Lucy's grandparents that she wouldn't have to be there for the trial as she had been hiding in the car the whole time and hadn't seen anything.

    Once the little girl was done looking at her book, she put it on her chair and went to sit at Jarod's feet. She started to rummage through his backpack, and her grandmother was about to stop her when he reassured her with a look that it was ok.

    After a moment, she took his laptop out and handed it over to him with an expectant look on her face.

"Her parents would sometimes let her play a game on their laptop," Cynthia explained.

"Ok then, let's play," he replied, sitting down on the floor next to Lucy.

    He turned on his laptop and while he waited for it to boot he took time to look at Lucy. She already seemed to be more open than she was when she first saw him. She still had a long road to go, but he was glad that she was already a bit better.

"Oh, it looks like I have a message. Do you mind if I check that first, Lucy?" he asked, and she shook her head no.

    He opened it and what he read made his blood run cold.

Miss Parker in danger
Public Library, Sherwood, Arkansas.
10pm

CJ



    Jarod got up so fast he startled everyone but he didn't even notice. He dialled Sydney's number on his cell phone and started speaking before his old mentor had even time to open his mouth.

"Where is Miss Parker?"

"We don't know. She didn't come into work this morning."

"I think I have an idea where she might be."

"Don't go, Jarod. This is a trap. They're using her as bait to capture you. Cox and Lyle are there, too."

"You know as well as I do that if I don't go, they're going to kill her. Lyle won't hesitate pulling the trigger. And I won't let that happen."

    He hung up then, knowing that Sydney would continue trying to stop him from going. But it would have been to no avail; he had made up his mind the moment he saw his friend's message. He had only called to check if, for once, it was a mistake. But it hadn't been; it never was.

"What's happening Jarod?" Brody asked, coming to stand before him.

"I have to go," he replied, pushing past him to go get his laptop and backpack.

"Wait," Brody stopped him again before he could take another step. "It sounded like a friend of yours is in danger, and you're running straight into it, too. Let us help you."

"You can't help me. Nobody can."

"Why don't you call your colleagues from the bureau in Little Rock, then? Nothing is beyond help."

"I'm not FBI," Jarod just said, stunning everyone listening.

    He took this opportunity to run past him and towards his car without anybody coming after him. He turned the key in the ignition and drove off.

    He had no plan, but he had a few hours before him to think about one that wouldn't get one or both of them killed.





To be continued...

Chapter 5 by Vicky

Chapter 5


    For the first time in his short life, Jarod felt free. He knew his little escapade outside wouldn't last, but at least for a while, he could pretend he wasn't at the Centre anymore.

    He raised his head to the sky and watched as snowflakes were falling, white against the dark night sky. Some fell on his face, cold against his skin. He had never seen anything like this before.

    Of course, he knew the science behind it, how drops of water transformed into snowflakes if the temperature was low enough, but tonight, it didn't matter. For him, it was like magic.

    He spread his arms wide and started to turn on the spot, laughing. Some snowflakes found their way into his mouth, and he was surprised at first, but then he tried to catch some more. It was fun; he was having fun and it was a rare enough occurrence that he knew he would remember those few moments forever.

    His head started to spin, making it very difficult to stay upright. He lied down in the fresh snow, letting the cold surround him. He could very well get sick, but he didn't care; he was free and he was breathing fresh air instead of the one from the air conditioner.

    He heard the door from the roof open and footsteps running his way. The sweepers had found him, but it took them longer than he had expected. Hands grabbed at his arms, hauling him up and away back into the Centre.

    He didn't try to resist; he knew it would be futile: he was a child and they were men. He let himself be brought back to his room. His cell would be a more appropriate word for it, but by thinking about it as just a room, he could think he wasn't a prisoner.

    They locked the door behind him and his eyes fell on the security camera in the corner. He smiled genuinely, his heart and mind still full of the joy that had spread inside of him at being outside. He changed his clothes to ones that weren't wet from the snow and went to lie down on his bed.

    He couldn't wait for the next morning. Of course, Sydney would be here and he would probably berate him for going outside, but he didn't care. Miss Parker had promised him she would come as soon as he was done with his work, and he was impatient to tell her all about his little escapade.

    He was tired, and it wasn't long before he fell asleep. His dreams were full of him running into the snow with Miss Parker and Angelo at his sides, the three of them free to do as they pleased.







    Miss Parker had driven for hours, only stopping twice to rest and get some food. Taking a plane would have been easier – not to mention she would have got there sooner – but the Centre could have tracked her and she didn't need that. She certainly hoped that what Jarod had found was worth all of this.

    She would soon arrive in Sherwood. She didn't know what would happen once she got there. She hoped that she would get the answers she was looking for, and not find out that the Centre had created another horror.

    She had wished that Jarod just told her what he had found instead of making her come all the way to here. Now, she also had to find a believable reason for her to have disappeared for two full days.

    She guessed she could say she was following a lead she had on Jarod, and maybe he could give her one of his red notebook as evidence. When she was alone at least she didn't have to convince anyone that she would bring the Pretender back. Well not this time.

    It was 9.30pm when she finally reached the sign telling her that she was just two miles away from Sherwood. She had half an hour before her meeting with Jarod, but if she knew him, he was already there. She was about to pass the sign when the voices suddenly became louder. She braked, stopping in the middle of the road.

    She breathed heavily; the voices were repeating the same words over and over again, and this time, she didn't need to focus on them to make out the words. They were telling her that she was about to fall into a trap. She took a second to think about the note she had received the night before; she had immediately thought that it was from Jarod, but now, she wasn't so sure.

    She hit the wheel hard with her hand; the Centre had had her. They had wanted to bring her here, and if she didn't know why, she had no doubt that it didn't mean anything good for her. She couldn't go any farther.

    She made a U-turn and sped away from there. She had to get as far away as possible from here before whoever was waiting for her realised that she wouldn't come. She didn't yet know where she was going; the only thing she knew was that she couldn't go back to Blue Cove.

    She was now a fugitive, just like Jarod. He had been right when they were in Carthis; they were more alike than she had wanted to admit at the time. But now, she saw it quite clearly. The Centre had used her all these years, and she was sure that tonight, they would have found yet another way to use her. And probably for the last time.

    She didn't stop, didn't look back until she reached Memphis, Tennessee a bit more than two hours later. As far as she knew, she hadn't been followed. She started to feel tired, exhausted even. She found a motel on the outskirts of Memphis and took a room. The receptionist was a bit creepy, but at the very least, she still had her gun if he were to try anything.

    She had noticed a car dealership close by; she needed to change cars first thing in the morning. She couldn't risk getting found because of it. But first, she would get a few hours of sleep; wherever she ended up going, the surest thing for her would be to do the journey in one go, and for that she had to get well rested.

    She lied on the bed, her Smith and Wesson under her pillow, and was asleep as soon as she closed her eyes.






    Jarod stepped on the gas, willing the car to go faster. He still had a lot of miles to cover, and he knew he didn't have much time. He couldn't let himself think that he would arrive too late to save her. She was in this situation because of him.

    Like he told Sydney, he had no doubt that it was a trap, but he had to go there and save her. He had no choice. He had come to realise a long time ago that if he had to choose between his freedom and Parker, she would come first. And he could always escape again later. The security around him would be reinforced since the last time he escaped the Centre, but he would do it.

    He wished he wasn't alone, that he had time to call his father and ask for his help, but he couldn't lose another minute. He couldn't let himself think about what Lyle and Cox would do to her if she stayed in their hands for too long. He didn't have a plan, but he didn't need one. He knew what he had to do: enter the town, find the public library, save Parker, and leave with her safe and sound.

    He couldn't thank Angelo enough for the message he sent. His childhood friend had once again found out about the Centre's plans, no doubt by lurking in the vents, and this time, it would save Parker's life.

    Parker. Alex had been right, even though he had refused to see it at the time. She was the most important person for him; she had always been since their childhood. And this time, if he didn't hurry, he could really lose her. He had arrived just in time when Alex had her and Mr. Parker; when he heard the gunshot after he hit him and saw her fall, he thought she had been hurt, but she got back on her feet and fought back.

    But Lyle and Cox, they would take great pleasure in killing her if he arrived just one minute too late. She wasn't of use to the Centre anymore; if Mr Parker was still there, things might have been different, but with Raines, he should have guessed they would try and eliminate her as soon as possible.

    His mind conjured the image of her lifeless body lying on the ground at Cox and Lyle's feet. He tried to push it away, but he couldn't. This image wouldn't leave him until he saw her alive and well with his own eyes.

    He finally drove by the sign telling him he would soon reach Sherwood. He still didn't slow down though; it was almost 10pm and he couldn't risk being late. He had no idea where the public library was, but he trusted his instinct to show him the way.

    His cell phone rang, but he didn't take it out of his pocket to check the caller. Whoever it was could wait. Parker came first tonight. The ringing stopped, but a few seconds later, it started again. He still didn't pick up. He was on a mission, he didn't have time for a phone call.

    Jarod slowed the car down and turned off the headlights when he entered the town; it was a useless precaution as the sweepers knew he was coming, but he'd rather take it anyway. He saw a sign, showing him that he had to turn right if he wanted to go to the library. As he rounded the corner, a figure appeared just in front of his car, and he had to brake in order to not run the person over.

    The figure put their hands on the hood of the car to steady themselves, before making their way to the passenger's window. The face Jarod saw was one he hadn't expected to see tonight.

"Ethan?"

"It's a trap, Jarod! Miss Parker isn't here, she had never been. You have to go, now!"

    Just as he said that, two figures, which the Pretender quickly identified as sweepers, started to run towards the car, firing their guns at them.

"Jump in, Ethan," Jarod shouted, before putting the car into reverse.

    His half-brother barely had time to close the door before he sped off, trying to take them away from the sweepers as fast as possible. More were coming their way, having heard their colleagues shoot at them, including two town cars. He had no doubt that Lyle and Cox were in one of them. They had to lose them, and fast.

    It was late and there was no traffic to get lost into. They would never be able to reach the interstate before the Centre cars closed in on them. He had to find a way to lose their tail.

    He turned a corner, and then another to hide in a dark alley. The cars drove past them, without seeing them. Jarod waited a few minutes, until he was sure that they wouldn't come back before putting his car back into motion.

    The Centre cars were going North, he would go South to take the I-40. From there, they would go back East until they figured out where they were headed.

"How did you know?" Jarod asked, as they finally left town

"The voices told me. I came here as fast as I could."

"Where is she?"

"She's safe. I don't know where yet, but the voices will soon tell me."

"Are you sure? Angelo sent me a message to tell me that she was in danger. And when I called Sydney, he told me that Lyle and Cox were there."

"She probably would have been in their hands, but the voices must have warned her. She never entered the town." Ethan paused, letting his brother concentrate on his driving, and resumed talking once they were on the interstate. "Where are we going?"

"I don't know yet," Jarod replied, still keeping an eye on the rear view mirror to make sure that the Centre cars hadn't found them. "Away from here. We'll figure the rest out on the way."

    Ethan could see that something was eating at Jarod from the way his jaw was clenched. He wanted to say something, but was stopping himself, and Ethan didn't have to guess to know what it would be about.

"Speak your mind, brother," he urged him. "I know there are things you want to tell me."

"Where the hell have you been, Ethan?" Jarod asked; neither expected the swearing, but given Jarod's level of anger, it was understandable. "You left an unfinished note at Parker's. We were worried about you. We didn't know if you were taken or left on your own."

"I am sorry. The voices told me to leave and I did. I didn’t think..."

"That's the problem, Ethan, you didn't think," Jarod interrupted him. "You have a family who cares about you. You can't just leave like that."

"This is what you're doing, though."

"My situation is different. The Centre wants me back, and I have to keep moving to avoid being captured. If I don't let my family know where I am, it's because it's the only way I can protect them."

"I know. And I was doing the same. I knew I couldn't stay with Miss Parker because that would have placed her in danger. And I thought it would be easier for you to run if you were alone."

    Jarod could see the logic behind his half-brother's words, but that still didn't excuse his disappearance act.

"Where have you been all this time?"

"Everywhere. Anywhere. I didn't stay in the same place for more than a couple of days. I have you to thank for not having had any money problems."

"You can thank the Centre, too. And you were quick to empty the account after you disappeared."

"I thought that if the Centre ever found out about the account, it would be easy for them to track me down."

"To find out that account, they would have been extremely lucky. But I understand. You don't have it all with you, right?" he asked, thinking about the bag Ethan had thrown on the back seat.

"No. Most of it is hidden in a safe place I have in New York."

"Good."

    Jarod didn't ask any more questions after that. He seemed to be satisfied with the answers Ethan had given him for the time being.

    Silence fell in the car, and Ethan turned on the radio to fill it. He turned his look to the outside, pressing his forehead against the window. He could barely distinguish anything in the dark of the night, but it didn't matter; he wasn't trying to look at the landscape they were passing by anyway.

    It was late, but in spite of not having had any sleep the night before, he couldn't fall asleep. Something – the voices – was keeping him awake. They weren't talking to him, they were just keeping him alert, and he knew it was because something would soon happen. He hoped it meant that they would tell him where Miss Parker was, and not that the Centre had found them.

    It wasn't until a couple of hours later, that he got his answer.

"I know where my sister is," he told Jarod.

"Where is she?"

"Right there," Ethan answered, showing him the motel sign they could see from the road.

    Jarod nodded and took the next exit. They soon arrived on the parking lot and got out of the car with their bags.

"This is her car," Jarod said, pointing to the one at the back of the parking lot. "Now, which room is she in?"

"The voices weren't that precise."

"Then, we have to go ask."

    Jarod walked towards the reception area with Ethan in tow. There was no one at the desk, but he rang the bell, hoping that someone would soon be over to answer it. A few seconds later, the door behind the desk opened, and a man appeared. The brothers couldn't say that he made a good first impression.

"You want a room?" he asked apparently annoyed at having been woken up.

"We're actually looking for a friend of ours. You might have seen her; brunette, long-legged, eyes that could kill."

"It's possible..."

"Maybe Benjamin can help you remember," Jarod replied, handing him a one hundred-dollar bill.

"Room 6," he said, taking the bill and giving a key.

"Thank you."





    Miss Parker had been a heavy sleeper until Thomas was murdered in her own house and she hadn't heard anything. Since then, as if her mind was compensating, she woke up at the softest sound. It was even truer when she wasn't home.

    Tonight was no exception; she was woken up by footsteps outside. She sat up in bed, one hand underneath her pillow, and pricked up her ears. They were getting closer and stopped before her door. Through the window, she could see two shadows, but couldn't make out who they were. The rational part of her mind told her that they couldn't be sweepers; they knew her enough not to come at her with such a small number. She could easily take them out before they could fire even one shot.

There was no mistaking the sound of a key turning in the lock, and she had her gun out and raised at them when the door opened.

"Don't shoot, Parker. It's only us."

"Jarod?" she said, lowering the gun slightly. "And who is with you?" she asked, reaching for the lamp on the table and switching it on.

    She gasped as she saw Ethan standing just behind the Pretender. She got up from the bed and walked towards him. Jarod was smart enough to get out of her way, and when she stopped before her brother, she punched his arm.

"Where the hell have you been?"

    If he hadn't expected Jarod swearing, Ethan did expect it from his sister. But he really could have done without her hitting him; he was sure he would have a large bruise in the morning but he knew better than to complain.

    Jarod closed and locked the door, and he knew that there was no way he could escape his sister's wrath now; it looked like his brother had chosen sides.

"It has been months, Ethan! Months!" she continued, when he didn't reply.

"I already told Jarod that I was sorry."

"I'm sure you have already told him everything," she said, turning to glare at the Pretender who raised his hand in defence. "But now you're going to tell me."

    Ethan could see that she wouldn't back down until she heard the whole story, so he started telling her.

    Miss Parker slowly calmed down as Ethan explained what happened after he left her house in an apparent hurry – and she still wasn't ready to forgive him for that – up until he met up with Jarod a couple of hours before. Both of them had come to her rescue, and if she knew how Ethan had known, it was more mysterious for Jarod, so she asked him.

"I got a message from an old friend," he just said, but it was enough for her to understand who it was.

"So now what?" she asked.

"Well, you can't go back to the Centre for one."

"I already came to that conclusion, but thank you for reminding me, Jarod."

"We should stick together," Ethan suggested. "I know that's probably what they all expect, but it's the best solution."

"Ethan is right. We'll do this for at least the first few weeks. We will decide where to go from there."

    Knowing that she wouldn't be able to change their minds – she was really starting to think that Ethan inherited all of his brother's irritating traits – Miss Parker sighed in resignation. She didn't like being attached at the hip to the Pretender, but at the same time, she knew that it was for the best. She knew nothing about being on the run, she didn't have his capacities as a Pretender, and she needed to learn a few things if she wanted to stay away from the Centre's clutches.

"Where are we going to then?" Ethan asked, looking from his sister to his brother to see if one of them had an idea.

"Ben's," Parker replied looking towards Jarod who nodded in agreement.

"Now that this has been decided, we should get some sleep. Parker, you can keep the bed. Ethan, you take the couch, and I'll sleep on the floor, if your sister will be so kind as to give me one of her pillows."

    She answered him by throwing said pillow straight at his face.

"Since when were you put in charge?" she asked, but he didn't reply just raised an eyebrow at her. "Fine. But if either one of you snore, I'll shoot him."

    She put her gun back underneath her pillow, before lying down. Ethan was already settled on the couch, his eyes closed, but she doubted he was already asleep. She noticed that Jarod put himself between the door and her bed, and she wanted to call him on it, saying that she didn't need protection, and certainly not his, but she just rolled her eyes and switched off the light.






    When she woke up the next morning, the first thing Miss Parker noticed was that she was alone in the room. At the very least, she hadn't dreamed last night; she could see a leather jacket thrown over the chair and two bags on the floor beside hers.

    The shower was running in the adjoining bathroom, and before she had time to wonder who it was, the door opened and Jarod got out, towelling his hair dry. His pants hung low on his hips, and he didn't wear a shirt. As if they had a mind of their own, her eyes followed a drop of water that ran from his collarbone down to his navel.

    Her eyes went up his torso and to his face. He was looking at her, a smile on his lips and a playful look in his eyes.

"Enjoying the view?" he asked, but she didn't reply.

"Where's Ethan?"

"He went to get us some breakfast, or what could pass for it."

"As long as it's not any of the junk food you seem to enjoy. I'm going to take a shower. I hope for your sake that there's still some hot water left."

    She got up from bed and grabbed her bag. She was about to walk past Jarod to go to the bathroom when he grabbed her arm to stop her. She looked up at his face, about to ask what he was doing but the way he was looking at her stopped her.

"Good morning to you too," he just said, before releasing her arm.

    Finally free, she went into the bathroom and locked the door behind her before resting her forehead against it. Forget the hot water, she needed a cold shower.

    She had been so sure he was going to kiss her, and she knew she wouldn't have stopped him. The look he was giving her had left her no doubt of what was about to happen, but as she had been about to lean in, he spoke, confusing her. He had done it on purpose, she was sure of that.

    Little did she know that on the other side of the door, Jarod was just as confused as she was.

    He didn't know what possessed him to grab Parker's arm as she walked past him, but there had been just one thing in his mind: he wanted to kiss her. He had wanted to be able to feel her lips moving underneath his. Since Carthis and their interrupted moment, he had often thought about it, and even her rejection in the car hadn't changed anything.

    He knew that if he had just waited a second more, she would have kissed him. He had noticed her slowly leaning towards him, and this was what prompted his mind to take charge. Now wasn't the time for this; she had just been forced to take the turning point he had offered her all those months ago, and she needed time, not him pushing himself on her at the first opportunity.

    Dropping the towel on the bed, he was rummaging through his bag for a clean shirt when Ethan opened the door, a paper bag in one hand and three cups of fresh coffee in the other. He took one and watched as Ethan emptied the bag on the bed. Miss Parker wouldn't like this; there was only junk food in it.

"This is all I could find," Ethan justified himself at Jarod's look.

"That's fine by me, although your sister will probably not be happy."

    If Ethan didn't believe his brother's words, he was completely convinced when Parker left the bathroom to find all this on the bed. He was on the receiving end of her glare and he could swear he heard a growl coming from her.

    She accepted the cup of coffee he offered her and took a cereal bar from the pile, the healthiest thing she could find and could pass for breakfast.

"Pack this all up," she told the two brothers. "We're leaving in five."

"We're taking my car," Jarod said.

"I don't have any objection. I had no intention to continue in my car, they know it."

    The Pretender nodded and five minutes later, as Parker all but ordered, they were on the road, with her behind the wheel. They probably wouldn't arrive at Ben's before the next evening, especially since Jarod would make sure that they stopped and rested.

    He knew that it was just the beginning of a long journey and they couldn't tire themselves out right away.






    It had been two days since Miss Parker's disappearance and Sydney and Broots still didn't have any news from their friends. At the very least, they saw Lyle and Cox coming back empty handed the day before. From what one of Broots' friends – and Sydney just couldn't remember which one it was – told him, the following meeting in Mr. Raines' office had been heated.

    When Sydney got out of his car in front of Miss Parker's house, he saw Broots coming his way, having just arrived himself.

"I was wondering, Sydney. Do you think we're going to have to face the T-Board? They're going to think that someone warned Miss Parker, and it's a certainty they're going to think it's us."

"Calm down, Broots. If there's going to be T-Board, we can't do anything about it. We haven't done anything that goes against their rules where Miss Parker is concerned. We haven't told Miss Parker that she was in danger for the very good reason that we haven't been able to reach her since she left."

"Yes, you're right but..."

"No buts, Broots. We'll worry about it if we get there. And to be honest, my friend, I think there are two other people who should be more concerned about facing the T-Board."

    Lyle and Cox were certainly in more trouble than they were. From what Sydney and Broots had gathered, their plan had been bulletproof, but Jarod and Miss Parker had still managed to escape them. They would probably never get the details of what happened, but it didn't sound good for the two men.

"I'm still not sure we should be here," Broots said, as Sydney was picking the lock. "What if someone at the Centre finds out we were here and they think that we were trying to destroy evidence of our help?"

"I don't think that will be a problem," the psychiatrist said as he finally got the door open.

    They stayed on the threshold, stunned by what they were seeing. The house had been searched; chairs and tables were overturned, magazines and books sprayed on the floor. Lyle and Cox had already sent sweepers in here and had probably come along to find evidence that Miss Parker had help.

    Sydney and Broots walked farther into the house, but it was the same sight in every room. The door to Catherine Parker's study was ajar and it hadn't been spared either. They had even torn apart the pillows to be sure nothing was hidden inside.

"If we hadn't known already, this shows us that Miss Parker isn't part of the Centre anymore, my dear Broots."

"How could they have done that, Sydney?"

"She isn't an employee of the Centre anymore. She is an enemy, just like Jarod is. And this is what they do to their enemies."

"We will never see her again, right?"

"I don't think so, Broots. And I'd be surprised if we heard from Jarod again either. There's nothing tethering him to the Centre anymore."

"But he has you. And Angelo, too."

"It had never been the same, and you know that. But I'm fine with it. I knew the day would come when he severed all ties he had with us. It was just a question of when not if."

    Sydney was resigned, but Broots had trouble accepting that it was all over. That after more than five years, it ended just like that. He didn't know how he was going to tell Debbie that she wouldn't see Miss Parker again; his daughter had grown attached to her over the years, and she probably wouldn't understand why she had left without saying goodbye.

    He also wondered what was going to happen to him and Sydney, now. If Sydney was right and Jarod stopped leaving breadcrumbs for them to follow, the Centre might get rid of them altogether. Or worse, they could join Lyle and Cox's team. He wasn't sure which option he hated the most, really.

    They left the house, making sure to lock the door behind them even though they weren't sure something worse could happen. They each took their cars and drove towards the Centre; after these early morning findings, they still had to face a day working there.

    Once they arrived, Broots followed Sydney to his office. He had to ask his advice as to the best way to tell Debbie about Miss Parker. They spent half an hour talking about it, with the technician worried that Debbie would end up hating him for giving her the bad news.

"Look Broots, Debbie loves you. She's a smart girl, and I'm sure she will understand that Miss Parker had no choice and if it had been up to her, she would have stayed."

"I hope you're right. I should go, now. Oh wait, didn't I leave my notepad here the other day?"

"Yes," Sydney replied, opening a drawer. "I put it in..."

    He stopped and Broots wondered what was happening when he saw Sydney taking a small sheet of paper out of the drawer instead of his notepad. The older man read it before handing it to him.

    There were only two words written on it, but they didn't need more.


We're fine.








    As Jarod had expected, they arrived at Ben's late afternoon, the day after they left the motel. The Bed and Breakfast Inn seemed closed and they wondered if Ben was there when they saw the man appear on the porch.

"Miss Parker, Jarod! I hadn't expected to see you. And certainly not together."

"There have been some recent changes, Ben," Parker said.

"Come inside, you'll explain everything to me over dinner. And who's your friend?" he asked, when he saw Ethan.

"Ethan, this is Ben Miller. Ben, this is Ethan, our brother."

    Ben raised his eyebrows at the trio; there was indeed a lot of explaining to do. But he still held out his hand for Ethan to shake.

"Pleased to meet you," Ben said.

"The pleasure is mine. I have already heard a lot about you."

"All good, I hope," the older man joked. "I trust you remember where your room is, Miss Parker," he said and she nodded, before he turned to the two men. "Follow me, boys. I'll show you to yours."

    After a shower and a moment to reflect on the past few days, Miss Parker went to the kitchen. She could hear some laughing inside coming from Ben and Jarod, and most surprising from Ethan; it was the first time she was hearing her brother laugh and it made her happy that he seemed to be free of his own demons.

"What's so funny?" she asked as she entered the room.

"Jarod was just telling us of the time you freed all those rabbits when you were kids," Ben replied.

"That was funny," she said with a smile, remembering this moment. "I still remember the sweepers running around, trying to get them all back into their cages."

"I would love to hear more about your time together as kids," Ethan said; he didn't have the chance to grow up with them, but he had the chance to get to know them now.

"You mean when Parker would come and convince me to help her raise hell in the Centre?"

"You make it sound like you had no choice in the matter."

"Because I hadn't! If I had the guts to refuse, you would make those puppy-dog eyes and I had no choice but to agree."

"So, she was manipulating you," Ben summed it up.

"Yes."

"Well, I remember you having fun," Miss Parker replied, narrowing her eyes at him.

"I never said I didn't," he said, walking past her and touching a fingertip to her nose.

    She was surprised by this gesture and she wasn't the only one; Ben and Ethan were looking at her, wondering what was happening. She just shrugged before offering her help to make dinner. Her offer was turned down; apparently, ordering take-out on a regular basis meant that she couldn't cook. Not that she could, but she just hated staying idle. It gave her too much time to think.

    More stories about Parker and Jarod's childhood were shared at Ethan's insistence. Even though the years following her mother's death had been the saddest for Miss Parker, she still made happy memories with Jarod and Angelo, and for a few days Faith, even inside the Centre's walls. Everything would have been different if they hadn't known each other, if the Tower hadn't decided that Jarod had to meet a little girl to observe his reactions.

    Over dessert though, Ben had asked to finally know why the three of them were here, and together. From what Parker could gather, Jarod had already explained how Ethan could be their brother when she was up in her room. She was glad about that; she hadn't wanted to see Ben's face when he found out that Catherine Parker had to fake her death only to be murdered a few months later.

    Jarod, Parker and Ethan took turns explaining the situation to Ben, who assured them that they could stay as long as they wanted. The Inn was closed for the season, and no one would think about looking for them here. Neither of them wanted to abuse his hospitality, but they agreed that for the time being, they were safe here.

"I almost forgot," Ben said, getting up from the table and coming back holding a box he put at Parker's feet. "This package has arrived this morning. I forgot to bring it up to your room."

"This is your writing, Parker," Jarod said, reading the address. "You knew what would happen?"

"No. But a couple of nights ago, the voices made me understand that I might not be safe in my own house anymore."

"What's inside?"

"A few things the voices told me to send away and some more. I knew they would be safe here," she said, smiling at Ben who returned it.

    She opened the box, knowing that Jarod and Ethan would probably keep nagging at her until she revealed its contents.

"This is everything I ever sent directly to you!" the Pretender exclaimed.

"You understand now why all this would have been harmful for me if the Centre found it. I'm glad I've saved a few other things too," she said, taking a book out of the box and handing it to Ethan. "This was our mother's favourite book. You should read it."

    Ethan nodded, visibly moved by her gesture. She added that there were other things that had belonged to their mother if he wanted to see them later. By the look she was sending Jarod, he understood that most had been found by him and he had returned to their rightful owner.

    Dinner was over and Jarod offered to help Ben with the washing, pre-empting Parker's own offer. Once he was sure they were alone, Ben turned toward the Pretender.

"If you don't mind me asking, what is going on with Miss Parker?"

    To say that this question surprised Jarod was an understatement. He had of course noticed that Ben had been watching them during dinner, but he hadn't expected him to ask about this.

    And the truth was, he wasn't sure he was able to answer this question. He didn't know what he and Parker were to each other. If he had made it clear in the past not only that he still saw her as a friend, but also that he had feelings for her, she had always pushed him away. And he wasn't sure her new situation towards the Centre would change anything.

"I don't know," he finally replied with a sigh.

"Well, you need to figure it out before one or both of you end up being hurt.

    Jarod couldn't agree more with Ben. But defusing a bomb would probably be easier than trying to talk about this with Miss Parker.






    Miss Parker was lying down on her bed, looking at the ceiling but not really seeing it. In her head, she kept replaying what had happened in the kitchen. The touch had felt so intimate, and yet, he had just touched his fingertip to her nose.

    Of course, she was also thinking about the moment they had shared in the motel room, and her mind conjured up images of what could have happened if Jarod hadn't spoken. She was starting to get frustrated by him; it was like he couldn't make up his mind. Not that she could, but if at least one of them was able to see things clearly, it might be easier.

    But nothing was easy in their lives, and this, whatever this was, certainly wouldn't be.

    Still, if they ended up spending the next few weeks side by side, she needed to know. Getting up from the bed, she walked out of the room and entered Jarod's without knocking. She closed the door behind her, taking in his surprised look at her sudden appearance.

"I think we need to talk."

"I think so too," he nodded, sitting in the chair.

"What are we doing, Jarod? What are we? Enemies? Friends? Something more? I don't know..."

"You know what I want. I've told you before."

"Jarod..."

"You said we needed to talk, so hear me out," he interrupted her. "I know you haven't taken that turning point willingly, that you had no choice, but what I said before still holds. I'm here. You can turn to me."

"Do you think it is that easy?"

"I never said it was easy. I just said that it was possible. I know that there's something between us, and you know that too even though you don't want to acknowledge it."

"That's the thing, Jarod. I don't know."

"Yes, you do."

"Don't you dare tell me what I do or do not know!" she shouted, starting to get angry at him. "I have had enough people thinking and making decisions for me over the years, and I certainly don't need you to do it too!"

"Then, just open your eyes, Parker!" He was getting frustrated with her; she was unable to let herself go, to feel instead of think. "Because I see it. It is there," he said, gesturing to the space between them as he stood. "And I'm not the only one who can see it. Actually, you're probably the only one who can't."

"Do you think it's easy for me? I did it once, and you know how it ended. Or maybe you forgot."

    He hadn't forgotten; he never could. Thomas was his friend, the man she loved and for whom she would have left the Centre behind if they had allowed it. He remembered clearly how she was after his murder. He certainly didn't want her to go back to that state, but he couldn't give up either.

    He had to make her understand this, that he wouldn't leave her if the choice was up to him. She had to understand that he would never let the Centre come in between this, in between them. And there was only one way.

    He strode through the room, grabbed her face in his hands and took her lips in a hard, bruising kiss. She tried to push him away at first, but then, she finally let herself go, and he saw it as a small victory.

    When the kiss ended, he took a step away from her and held her gaze.

"Look at me in the eyes and tell me you don't feel anything. Tell me this isn't worth it."

    She wanted to, but she couldn't. She just smiled, and he smiled in return, his face already leaning down to meet her.

    A beeping sounded, making them separate with a jump.

"What is it?" she asked, before finding the source of the noise: his laptop.

"I got it."

"Got what?"

"Project Renewal. The file was encrypted on Raines' computer."

"Wait a minute... How did you get it?" she asked, and he had the grace to look sheepish. "Last night. I woke up and you weren't there," she remembered. "And we conveniently stopped a couple of hours away from the Centre."

"It was the only way for us to know what this Project is about," he tried to justify himself, but it was to no avail.

"So what? You broke into the Centre, then into Raines' office, risking not only your own freedom but mine and Ethan's?"

"I would have never told them where you were."

"But what if they had seen you and instead of capturing you right away, they let you leave to see if you would bring them to us?"

"What's done is done, Parker. Not to mention that I did it before."

"And it's a wonder they still haven't caught you."

    "They", not "we"; after only a couple of days on the run, she had already stopped thinking of herself as part of the Centre.

"I haven't for a long time, if you want to know the truth," she replied as if she had read his thoughts. "Now that we have settled that you're an idiot, what's Project Renewal?"

"Let's find out." He opened the file and started to read out loud. "The project was started by Mr. Parker. Two test subjects, both marked as Xs. I have a completion date here."

"This is the day Brigitte died giving birth to my baby brother," Parker gasped.

"So either Brigitte was one of the test subjects or Project Renewal was about the baby. But I really think it's about the baby." He opened another page, and found more information on the test subjects. "Each test subject is identified with a code. These are Red Files codes."

"Do you know whose Red Files they are?" she asked him, and he nodded. "Tell me," she continued, even though she was sure she already knew the answer.

"Test subject #1 is... That's the code for your Red File," he said, his eyes fixed on the screen before him.

"And whose Red File is Test Subject #2?"

"Mine," he said in a breath.

    He was turning to look at her, but she closed her eyes, not ready to face him. She was thinking about what they had found, about the man who had initiated the project and whom she had thought was her father. They had opened a can of worms when they decrypted these files. Or was it when they had met at that motel? Or before that in Carthis or when they had first met when they were children?

    It didn't matter when it started really; they had to deal with it now. She opened her eyes and they locked with his.

"Jarod?" she questioned, needing to be sure.

"I don't know, Parker. I really don't know"

"But this is us. The test subjects are us!"

"Yes."

"Then the baby Brigitte gave birth to is ours."

    Silence fell upon them as they both took in what it meant. They had a son together, a son the Centre had created for its own benefit. A son that Miss Parker was the first to hold in her arms, even though she didn't know exactly who he was to her. A part of both of them.

    Miss Parker felt the bile rising in her throat, the tears pooling in her eyes but she willed them back. Now wasn't the time for that. She would have plenty of time to break down later. Her resolve grew with each passing second, and she could see in Jarod's eyes it was the same for him. She didn't need to ask, because they both knew the answers to her questions, but she needed to voice it and she was sure he did too.

"What are we going to do, now?"

"Find him. I'm not letting him grow up in the Centre and be their prisoner like I was."

"Like we both were," she reminded him; she might have been able to go outside, see the world, but she had been a prisoner just like him, as he told her back on Carthis. "So we take him away from the Centre. And then what?"

"It will be time to take down the Centre itself."



Fin.

This story archived at http://www.pretendercentre.com/missingpieces/viewstory.php?sid=5585