Falling off the edge by Vicky
Summary:

Miss Parker and Jarod have uncovered the truth behind Project Renewal. Now on the run from the Centre, they must stop its wrongdoings once and for all and free its prisoners. Sequel to Standing off the edge


Categories: Post IOTH Characters: Angelo, Broots, Cox, Ethan, Jarod, Jarod's Family, Lyle, Miss Parker, Mr Raines, Sydney
Genres: Angst, Romance
Warnings: Warning: Language
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 6 Completed: Yes Word count: 37800 Read: 8782 Published: 02/09/13 Updated: 12/09/13
Story Notes:

This fic was written for the 2013 HetBigBang on livejournal. As always it was fun and stressing, but fun! ;) This is also the sequel to the fic I had written for last year's HBB, Standing on the edge. Many thanks to my beta silecet and my artist, nickygabriel!

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

6. Chapter 6 by Vicky

Chapter 1 by Vicky

Chapter One

 

       Miss Parker was the first to arrive at the rendezvous point or so she thought. When she heard movement in the vent, she understood that Angelo was already there. She sat down on the floor and smiled at the silhouette she saw behind the grate.

 

"Hello Angelo," she said.

 

            She didn't receive any answer but she hadn't been expecting one.  Through all the years they had known each other, she had barely heard him say a word. She had no idea why, and she knew better than to ask her father; she wasn't supposed to be there, after all.

 

            But she didn't mind the silence; while it was pregnant at home, here, when she was with her friends, it was completely different. It was a comfortable silence and she liked sitting here with Jarod and Angelo.

 

            Before long, she heard footsteps coming towards them. She tensed for a moment before relaxing when she saw Jarod rounding the corner. She didn't want to think what the sweepers would do if they found her here when she wasn't allowed to come in the sublevels. But she would defy her father to be with her friends.

 

            Jarod sat down on the other side of the vent, but unlike the other times they were together, he didn't speak right away. Miss Parker could see that something was bothering him, but she didn't ask him what was on his mind. She would rather wait until he was ready.

 

            It took him a few minutes to start talking, and Miss Parker wondered for a second whether he would avoid speaking about what had him so preoccupied. But he didn't; he dove straight in.

 

"Why do some people voluntarily leave the ones they love behind?" he asked.

 

            She felt her heart constrict; he probably hadn't realised the impact those words would have on her, and she couldn't blame him for it. This was a question she had often asked herself in the past few months, ever since that fateful day of April. Her mother had chosen to commit suicide and leave her behind, and it was something she couldn't understand.

 

            The day had started so well: Catherine had taught her to braid her hair, and Miss Parker had seen the gift waiting to be opened on the couch. Her mother had promised her that they would open it after school, but it had never happened. A few hours later, while they were at the Centre, her mother had killed herself, in an elevator of all places. And she still had no idea why.

 

            Now, the gift sat unopened at the back of her closet, and it would remain there for a long time. She knew what was hidden beneath the paper, and it was something that she had wanted to share with her mother. Without her there anymore, there was no point in unwrapping it.

 

            Miss Parker was brought back to present day by Jarod's hand on hers. She turned her head towards him, and she saw the concern written on his face. He had obviously realised what he had said and knew what she was thinking about. Looking at Angelo sitting behind the grate, she saw the same look on his face.

 

            Her two friends knew that her mother's death had had a huge impact on her, even though she often did her best to hide it.

 

"I'm sorry, Miss Parker," Jarod said. "I didn't want to hurt you."

 

"I know. And to answer your question, I don't know. Maybe... Maybe they feel like they don't belong here anymore."

 

            It was something that her father had told her once after her mother's death, but she hadn't believed his words at the time. Now that she had some time to think about them, she still didn't believe it. It was just an excuse he had used to make her stop asking questions he didn't want to answer.

 

"Do you think that, sometimes, they don't have a choice?" Jarod asked again.

 

"What do you mean?" she replied.

 

"Maybe they leave their loved ones to protect them, because if they stayed with them, they would be even more in danger."

 

"I guess it's possible," she said after a moment; it wasn't the case with her mother, but there might be other people who did this.

 

"Let's promise each other one thing," Jarod said, turning so that he was facing Miss Parker and could see Angelo too. "No matter what, we'll never leave each other behind."

 

            He looked at his two friends in turn. Angelo was the first to nod. His fingers reached out of the grate and Jarod grabbed them. They both turned to look at Miss Parker who still hadn't said a thing.

 

            Miss Parker had almost wanted to laugh at Jarod's words; he made it look so easy when it was anything but. The truth was that she wanted to make that promise and hold onto it. They were her best friends, and she didn't want to leave them behind any more than she wanted to be left behind.

 

            And so, she found herself nodding, and she put her hand over Jarod's. The three of them looked at each other and smiled.

 

"Never," Miss Parker repeated to cement the promise they had just made.

 

"So, what do you want to do, today, Miss Parker?" Jarod asked.

 

            Miss Parker smiled; now that he had been able to clear his mind from what was bothering him, he was eager to know what she had planned for them this time.

 

            When she was walking down the stairs to join her friends here, she had decided on exploring the corridors of this sublevel. They would have to be careful of the security cameras, but she had no doubt they would have fun trying to avoid them.

 

            But now, she was content to just sit there with Jarod and Angelo until it was time for her to go.

 

"Let's just stay here and talk," she finally said, much to their surprise.

 

"Alright," Jarod replied. "What do you want to talk about?"

 

"I really don't know," she said after a second.

 

            She smiled, and Jarod rolled his eyes. She couldn't see Angelo's face, but maybe he was doing the same in the shadows.

 

            It really didn't matter to Miss Parker what they were doing when they were together. What mattered the most was that they were together.

 

 

 

###

 

 

 

            Miss Parker had tossed and turned all night long, unable to fall asleep. Her mind had provided her with images of the child, and when it wasn’t enough anymore, it had added images of what Raines and Lyle could do to him if he stayed in their hands.

 

            She had left Jarod's room a few minutes after they had found out the truth; she couldn't stay in the same room as him for the time being. Despite what he was saying, she still didn't know where they stood, and now the Centre had added a child – their son – to the equation.

 

            She had never thought she would be a mother one day. Even when she was with Thomas, it had barely crossed her mind; sure she had wanted to leave the Centre and be with him, but her plans hadn't really gone any further. And then his death had put a stop to all her thinking.

 

            But, just like they always did, the Centre had made the choice for her. They didn't care about what she wanted or didn't want. The only thing that mattered to them was that it served them in the end. Her feelings weren't important. The baby was useful to them, so it was created.

 

            She wondered why she hadn't realised sooner that something was going on around the baby. Mr. Parker hadn't even cared that Brigitte, his wife, was dead; his only concern had been for the newborn. The same newborn who had allowed him to return to the Centre as if nothing ever happened. Mr. Parker was back as the Chairman, and the contract on his head had been purely and simply cancelled. Even Raines had taken an interest in the baby's well being, something she hadn't been able to explain at the time.

 

            But now, it all made sense.

 

            If the baby had been Mr Parker and Brigitte's, none of this would have been possible. But now that she knew that the baby was hers and Jarod's, she had all the answers she needed. Mr. Parker had used this baby, her son, to get his job and life back. Brigitte had been nothing more than an incubator, and Parker wondered whether the Chairman would have let his wife live if she hadn't died in labour.

 

            Probably not. The Centre tended to cut loose ends, and Brigitte was a liability. She had grown attached to the baby during her pregnancy, and this wasn't something they could allow. She was another victim of Mr. Parker's schemes, and even if she had murdered Thomas, Parker still felt sorry for her. She might have deserved to die, but not like this. She didn't have to bleed to death, in a cabin, in the middle of nowhere, with only the woman who had come to kill her as a witness and help.

 

            Parker couldn't help but wonder whether Brigitte had known the truth about the baby's origins. If she had, she hadn't given anything away that day. But Parker was sure of one thing: Brigitte had loved this baby and, even though she had known she was going to die, her only concern had been for the baby boy she was bringing to life.

 

            And Parker had helped her. She had been the first one to hold him in her arms. Even though at that time, he had been nothing more than a half-brother to her. She had instantly felt a connection with him, and she had thought it was because he was her baby brother.

 

            But now, she wondered if the connection existed because he was hers. If, on some basic level, she had always known that they were more than siblings.

 

            She shook her head, trying to dismiss that thought. She had never believed in that maternal instinct she had heard about, and anyway, if it was real, she would probably be the last person to experience it.

 

            She turned on her side to face the window. Through the gaps in the drapes, she could see the first rays of sunshine. It was still early, but she had abandoned the idea of sleep a long time ago.

 

            Sighing, she got up and put on her robe, before leaving her room. She had functioned on no sleep before – usually thanks to Jarod – but she would still need coffee to get through the day.

 

            When she stepped into the kitchen, she noticed that Ben was already there, making breakfast. She stopped on the threshold, and took some time to observe him. She couldn't deny that when Sydney and Broots told her that Mr. Parker couldn't be her father, she had wished that Ben was.

 

            If she was honest, that thought had never really left her since Jarod had implied that it was a possibility all those years ago. But she had never been lucky, and it turned out her biological father was none other than Raines. She didn't know how it had happened – and frankly, she didn't want to know – but she had checked again after she came back from Carthis, and the results had been the same.

 

"Did you sleep well?" Ben asked, surprising her.

 

            His back was still to Parker and she was sure she hadn't made any noise when she arrived. She had thought he hadn't noticed that she was here, but she had obviously been mistaken.

 

"It could have been better," she admitted.

 

            She didn't want to worry him by saying that she hadn't slept at all, but he would see that she was tired, so she settled for a half-truth. He didn't need to know what she and Jarod had found out the night before, nor did Ethan for the moment. They had to talk about it first before they could do anything else.

 

            And talk they needed to, she knew that, even though it was the last thing she wanted to do at the moment. But as much as she would have liked to delay their talk, there was a child – their son – involved, and he had already spent enough time in Raines' hands.

 

            Ben, oblivious to what was going on in her mind, smiled and handed her a cup of coffee.

 

"Thank you," she said before taking a sip.

 

"Breakfast is almost ready. I hope you're hungry."

 

            She wasn't really. She rarely ate anything on any other day, and today, the mere thought of food was making her sick. She already had enough trouble keeping the coffee down as it was.

 

"I'm going to get ready for the day," she just said as an answer.

 

            She could feel Ben's disapproving eyes on the back of her head. When she could try humouring him any other day, today, she just couldn't.

 

###

 

            When she returned to her room after her shower, she found Jarod sitting on the edge of her bed. She was glad that she had the presence of mind to bring her clothes with her and change inside the bathroom.

 

            She sighed; she had no doubt that he was here to continue their conversation from the night before. And while she agreed that they had to talk, it didn't mean that she wanted to do it right now. But he wouldn't leave her a choice, not this time.

 

            Still, it didn't mean that she couldn't pretend to ignore what he was doing here. He wasn't the only Pretender in the room, after all.

 

"What do you want, Jarod?" she asked, putting her things away.

 

            She studiously avoided glancing in his direction, but when he didn't answer her, she knew she would have no choice but to look at him. She pinched the bridge of her nose before turning towards him.

 

"You ran off pretty quickly, yesterday night," he just said. He didn't wait for her reply, but continued. "How do you feel about this?"

 

"Which 'this' are you referring to, Jarod? Are you talking about the Centre doing things behind my back again, or about the child, or about our... kiss?"

 

"Everything. It's all connected after all."

 

            He was right, obviously, and it wasn't like she didn't know. It had all started that day when they had first met. And even before that, the Centre had always controlled their lives. They hadn't always noticed. For years, she had refused to see it.

 

            And although Jarod loathed to admit it, even after he had escaped, the Centre still had had control over some parts of his life. They still had the answers he needed to find his family, and that was why he had never been able to disappear completely. That, and the fact that he couldn't sever all ties with Sydney and Parker. Not that he had ever really tried to.

 

"We'll take it one step at a time," he said, knowing that Parker must feel as overwhelmed as he did.

 

            She nodded. And for the first time since the night before, she really looked at Jarod. He seemed to be as exhausted as she felt, and even though he was known to function on little to no sleep for days at a time. Everyone had a breaking point, and it looked like Jarod was reaching his. She wondered how much longer he would last.

 

"We can't stay here for too long," Jarod said, interrupting her thoughts.

 

            She was glad that he had decided to tackle this subject first. This had been one of her main concerns, too. Not to mention that it was the safest subject of them all.

 

"I agree. If we did, we would just put Ben in harm's way, and I'm not letting that happen." Her mother had managed to keep Ben out of the Centre's reach, and she refused t be the one to reveal his existence. "Where will we go?" she asked, wanting to know if he already had a plan.

 

"My father's," he just said without elaborating.

 

            She sighed; she could just see herself being welcomed by the people she had helped keep Jarod away.

 

            It was a bad idea, and they both knew it. But it wasn't like they had much of a choice; they couldn't stay here forever, and his father's house was the next best thing. One of Jarod's safe house might have been good, too, but he doubted Parker would last more than a day there.

 

            This would certainly be weird. Jarod had carefully kept these two parts of his life apart, so as not to endanger his family. And now, they were going to collide, and he wasn't sure what would happen when they did.

 

            While he had no doubt his family would welcome Ethan with open arms, he couldn't say the same about Miss Parker. He might trust her with his life, his freedom, but he had no idea how his family would react to her presence. Nor to the fact that they had a son together.

 

            It would certainly have been an interesting moment to witness if he had been an outsider to all this. But it was his life, not someone else's, and he wasn't sure he would appreciate it all that much.

 

            Now that they had decided on their next location, Jarod knew they had to move onto the other subjects. He wasn't sure what to talk about next, but one look at Miss Parker told him that they should address the question of 'them' before anything else.

 

"What about... us?" he finally asked after some hesitation.

 

            Instead of replying immediately, Parker turned her back to Jarod and looked out the window. She knew she was only buying herself some time, and that she would have to answer him soon, but she needed to collect her thoughts first.

 

            She let her eyes wander outside. She would never tire of the view she had from her bedroom windows. Everything was so beautiful and quiet there; she had easily understood why her mother had felt the need to come here every year: it wasn't only to be with Ben – he did tell her that their relationship didn't start until a few years in – but it was also to find the peace she had been missing in Blue Cove.

 

            Here, where no one knew that she was the Chairman of the Centre's wife, she could take off her mask and finally be herself all the time. In Blue Cove, the only times she could indulge herself had been when she was with her daughter, away from the Centre. This place had been her safe haven, and as much as Miss Parker wanted it to be hers too, she knew it wasn't possible: it would always be her mother's and her mother's only.

 

            She wondered whether she would find her own one day, or if it was just too late for her.

 

            For the moment, Jarod had asked her a question, and she couldn't delay answering him any longer. Just when she was about to turn, she felt his hands rest on her shoulders. She hadn't heard him approach, but it didn't surprise her; he had the nimbleness of a cat when he wanted to.

 

            She wanted to protest, to push him away, but she did nothing. And for a moment, neither did he. But then, his hands started to trail down her arms. He was about to wrap his arms around her when she took a step forward. It was more instinctive than anything else.

 

            He let his hands fall at his sides and sighed.

 

"So, last night was another one of your moments of weakness, I guess."

 

            He didn't even bother hiding the hurt in his voice. And if he did, he liked to believe that she would have noticed it. He had thought that maybe this time, now that she was free from the Centre, she would want to acknowledge what was between them.

 

            He had obviously been mistaken.

 

            He took a step back, and he almost smiled at how it was also a metaphor about their relationship. The night before, it had felt like they were finally taking a step forward. But now, they were back right where they started.

 

            Although he certainly hadn't expected Miss Parker's next words.

 

"It wasn't a moment of weakness."

 

            She had said it so quietly that he almost hadn't heard her. She surprised him, to say the least. She seemed to have that if they were to be on the run together, she owed him the truth.

 

"Then what, Parker? What was last night?" he asked, when she didn't say anything else.

 

"It wasn't a mistake, Jarod. I can at least tell you that. But we aren't the priority anymore. The baby is."

 

            He knew she was right. It didn't mean that he didn't want to try to change her mind. The only problem was that she would think that he was trying to manipulate her, just like Mr. Parker did, for so many years. And he couldn't break the fragile trust she had placed in him.

 

            But he wanted – needed – to make sure that they were on the same page.

 

            He placed his hands back on her shoulders and slowly turned her around. She didn't look at him straight away; she kept her eyes on the floor for a couple of seconds before looking up to meet his eyes.

 

"But then, we'll talk, alright?" he asked.

 

            She nodded. She knew that it would be enough for Jarod, but she wanted to do something more. She surprised him by putting a hand on his chest and rising on her tiptoes.

 

            He quickly recovered from his surprise, though, but he fought his instinct that told him to lean down and capture her lips. Instead, he let her initiate the kiss. It was slow and tentative, nothing like their kiss from the night before. Neither of them tried to deepen it: they knew it wasn't the time for that.

 

            The kiss came to its natural end, and she pulled slightly away. She opened her eyes and found Jarod's.

 

"We will," she said to further assure him that it was only a question of time.

 

"Well, then, we should start working on freeing the baby. And we should stop calling him 'the baby'," he added as an afterthought. "Do you know his name?" he asked. "I looked at the files again after you left, and I haven't found any mention of it."

 

"He was only ever called young Mr. Parker in my presence," she replied. "I'm not even sure he was ever named properly."

 

"But you named him, didn't you?"

 

            She wasn't surprised that he had guessed straight away.

 

"I named him Joshua," she admitted. "I had a dream about him once, and I was calling him Joshua," she said to explain her choice.

 

            It had been a strange dream. It had felt more like the vision she once had of her mother saving her from the explosion. It had been easy for her to come to the conclusion that it had been her inner sense speaking to her.

 

            And even though she didn't tell him that, she could see that Jarod had reached the same conclusion.

 

"It's a good name," Jarod reassured her. "Now, do you know where he is?"

 

"No. I wanted to go see him after we came back from Carthis, but he had been moved by that time. I asked Broots to look for him in the database, but there was absolutely nothing. And then, I wasn't looking where I should have. I didn't bother asking Raines and Lyle as they would have probably told me nothing."

 

            Jarod nodded, agreeing with her. And anyway, Broots' research must have raised some flags, and he wouldn't have been surprised if they knew all about it.

 

            He hadn't expected that it would be easy to find and free him from the Centre. Joshua was their main asset, and they were probably keeping him in a secure location. He doubted that he was anywhere close to the Centre.

 

"Jarod, they might already know that I asked Broots to look around for Project Renewal. But if they know that you broke into Raines' office and got the file..."

 

"They'll know for sure that we found out Joshua is ours."

 

"And they'll reinforce the security around him. It will be hard enough as it is to get him out."

 

"But we will get him out," he said, his mind already set on that goal.

 

 

###

 

 

            It was the second time in five years that Broots found himself being thrown inside the room off the side of the T-Board table. But this time, no one else was here when the door closed behind him. He knew that the next time it opened, it wouldn't be to admit Miss Parker; by all means, her disappearance was the reason why he was here in the first place. But he guessed that Sydney would be brought here soon enough.

 

            It was still the middle of the night when they had grabbed him from his bed. He had been expecting it to happen sometime soon – and he had sent Debbie to one of her friends for a few days just in case –, but it didn't mean that he wasn't as unsettled by all this as the last time.

 

            He felt less confident than Sydney seemed to be about the T-Board. He wasn't sure Raines and Lyle wouldn't try to put the blame of Miss Parker's disappearance and the thumbless man's failure to capture Jarod on them. They would at least try, of that he was certain.

 

            Or at least, he had been, until the door opened to let Lyle walk through. Broots thought at first that the man was there to talk to him, but then the door closed behind him and he hit it with the palm of his hand. Lyle would be facing the T-Board just like him. Now, that was a surprise.

 

"What are you looking at?" Lyle barked at Broots who slightly jumped.

 

"N-nothing," he stuttered.

 

            Mr. Lyle's presence wasn't something that reassured Broots, even though he knew that they were on equal footing for once. He just wasn't sure the other man saw it the same way. And since it looked like the sweepers had left him time to change into a suit, they didn't either. Unless they had caught him when he was still out, and Broots shuddered to think what Lyle had been up to in the middle of the night.

 

            At least, Broots thought, since the last time he was woken up by sweepers in the middle of the night, he had taken to wear a t-shirt and sweatpants instead of his pyjamas. He would have felt a bit self-conscious in them with Lyle in the same room.

 

            They were soon joined by Sydney and then Cox. While Sydney had joined Broots at the back of the room, Cox stayed by Lyle's side. Even though the room was quite small, the two groups were keeping to their sides. It was an uncomfortable silence that filled the room. They all knew what they were doing here, and that the waiting until one of them was called would be a long one.

 

            Neither of them doubted that Raines was the one who had called the T-Board, and that they would be facing him on the other side of the table.  They could already guess the questions they would be asked, too; it wasn't that difficult to figure it out.

 

            Lyle and Cox were feeling no more confident about this whole thing than Broots was. At the very least, the computer technician had an advantage on them as he had already been in that situation before. That probably wouldn't help him when he sat in the chair, answering Raines' questions, but that still made him feel a bit better.

 

            They had no way to tell how much time had passed when the door finally opened again: the sweepers had taken their watches before locking them there as a way to destabilize them. But they still knew it had been hours.

 

            Willie entered the room while two other sweepers stayed at the door to prevent the men from escaping. Not that they would ever try; that would just earn them a bullet in the head. He gestured for Cox to follow him out of the room. The other man knew better than to protest and did as he was told.

 

            The door closed behind them, leaving the other three to wait for their turn.

 

"I wish I had gone first," Broots said quietly to Sydney, who patted him on the shoulder.

 

            Lyle walked closer to the door and looked through the small window. He could see Cox sitting on one side of the table, and sure enough, Raines was at the other end. Other people were scattered around the room, mostly hidden in the shadows. Lyle might not be able to identify each of them, but he knew that they were all board members. It wouldn't be too difficult for him to find out who was in this room once he was done there.

 

            But for now, he would have to wait. And if there was one thing he hated to do, it was waiting.

 

            Raines hadn't started interrogating Cox yet. Lyle could see pieces of paper being passed from the board members to Raines. He didn't doubt that there were questions that they wanted answered on them.

 

            Finally, after a few minutes, Raines finally started to talk. Lyle wished he could be listening to what what was being said, but it was impossible. The glass was soundproof.

 

            Still, he too wanted to know what went wrong with his plan. It had been the perfect plan: he would have captured Jarod and got rid of his twin sister at the same time. But Miss Parker had never shown up, and Jarod – who had unexpectedly turned up – had managed to escape.

 

            And now, they were both on the run.

 

            Lyle had quickly found out that Angelo had been the one to contact Jarod. But as much as he wanted to hurt him, he knew that it would only earn him Raines' wrath: the sponge man was still his pet project.

 

            At first, he had suspected Sydney and Broots to have helped Parker. He knew they had found out about his plan, and that their instinct would have been to warn her. But he had checked the logs for both their phones and then their e-mails, and he had seen that neither of them had tried contacting Miss Parker. They were, as surprising as it had been for him, innocent.

 

            And that only left him with one possibility: Cox. And it was something that unsettled him. While he didn't really trust the man – you could trust no one at the Centre – they had come to an understanding. And really, he was the last person he could see helping Miss Parker. But it had to have been him, and the T-Board would soon come to this realisation if Lyle was right.

 

            If he wasn't, well, they would all spend the day here, something that neither of them were looking forward to.

 

To be continued

Chapter 2 by Vicky

Chapter Two

 

 

            The first time Miss Parker asked about having a sibling, she was about six. Most of the other children at school had one or more siblings, and she didn't really understand why she didn't.  To her, it seemed normal to not be an only child. And she liked the idea of having someone else at home to play with.

 

            She felt alone most of the time. She loved it when her mother took the time to play with her whenever she asked her to. Her father, on the other hand, was always too busy with his work, and there were even days when she barely saw him at all.

 

            But even though spending time with her mother was great, it wasn't the same as having someone close to her age to play with. And so, one day, she finally asked her mother.

 

"Why don't I have a brother or a sister?"

 

            Being this young, Miss Parker missed the shadow that crossed her mother's face when she spoke. Instead, she waited patiently for her to answer her question. When she finally did, it was with a question of her own.

 

"Why do you want a sibling?"

 

"I want someone to play with," Miss Parker admitted.

 

"I'm not enough anymore?"

 

            As she said this, Catherine leaned over her daughter, and started tickling her. Soon, Miss Parker was rolling on the floor, laughing so much that she could barely breathe.

 

"Stop it, Mama," she managed to say between two giggles.

 

            Catherine Parker finally took pity of her daughter and stopped tickling her. She gathered her in her arms, and held her tight as the little girl was trying to catch her breath. Miss Parker, all too happy to be in her mother's arms, didn't question the sudden hug. She let herself be held, and she closed her eyes.

 

            Despite it being the middle of the afternoon, she was slowly drifting off to sleep. Her mother was rubbing soft circles on her back and was humming one of their favourite songs. She placed kisses on the top of Miss Parker's head who yawned.

 

"Are you falling asleep on me?" Catherine asked in a whisper.

 

            Miss Parker shook her head against her mother's chest, but she didn't open her eyes. She felt more than heard the giggles that escaped her mother's lips. She was feeling content here, in the arms of the person who mattered the most to her. She didn't want to be anywhere else at the moment.

 

            Her mind drifted back to what prompted all this, her question about having a sibling. She remembered what the other children at school said about siblings and how they requested their parents' attention. This was something that Miss Parker wouldn't like.

 

            She was used to being the centre of her mother's world. She wasn't ready to share that with another child. She didn't want to share her mother with anyone else. Maybe she didn't want a sibling as much as she thought she did after all.

 

            She liked playing with her mother. And if she wanted to play with kids her age, there was recess at school for that. She didn't need someone else at home to claim her mother from her, or to catch the little attention she had from her father.

 

"I don't want a sibling," she murmured, her face still buried in her mother's chest.

 

"It's alright," Catherine replied, a small smile on her lips. "It'll be just you, me and your father."

 

"I love you, Mama."

 

"I love you too, baby. And nothing will ever change that."

 

            Miss Parker smiled, and cuddled closer to her mother. She was happy here, and she knew she always would be. As much as she was the centre of her mother's world, her mother was the most important person in her eyes too.

 

            She loved her father too, but that was different. Her mother would always hug her tight when she needed it. Her mother was always there for her when she needed her to be.

 

            She wanted her father to be there, too. She wanted him to take her in his arms and to whisper words of love in her ear. But he almost never did, even when she requested it. Her mother would comfort her by holding her in her arms. She would reassure her that her father loved her, even though he didn't always show it.

 

            Sometimes, though, Miss Parker wanted more than just reassurances from her mother. She wanted to feel like she was more important to him than his work. She was just a little girl, and it hurt her to think that her father would rather spend his time at work instead of with his daughter.

 

            Maybe that would change over time, but she needed her father now, not when she was all grown-up. She wondered sometimes whether her father was proud of her; he never said it to her. And she wanted to make him proud. She didn't yet know what it would take, but whatever it was she would do it one day.

 

"I don't want you to go, tomorrow, Mama," Miss Parker suddenly said, remembering that her mother was set to leave in the morning.

 

            Catherine tightened her hold on her daughter, and dropped another series of kisses on the top her head.

 

"I don't want to go either, but I promised your aunt Dorothy."

 

"Can I go with you?"

 

"You can't miss school, baby. And Daddy will be very sad if we both leave."

 

"Won't you miss me?" Miss Parker asked again.

 

"Of course, I will. I'll miss you so much, but I really have to go. Will you miss me, too?"

 

"Very much, Mama," Miss Parker assured her, wrapping her arms around her mother's neck. "Can I come with you next time?"

 

"Maybe not next time, but one day, you will. I promise."

 

            Miss Parker looked up to her mother's face. She was smiling down at her, a bright smile that she had once said was only for her daughter. Catherine dropped a kiss on the button cute nose and tucked back a stray lock of dark hair behind Miss Parker's ear.

 

"Why don't you make me a drawing that I can take with me tomorrow?" Catherine suggested and Miss Parker nodded with enthusiasm.

 

            She placed a kiss on her mother's cheek and left her lap. She almost ran out of the room in her urge to go get her drawing material. If she had looked back just one second, she would have seen the sad look that replaced the smile on Catherine Parker's face. And when Miss Parker came back in the room, there was no trace of it.

 

 

###

 

 

            They had spent more than an hour trying to figure out where the Centre would have been likely to hide Joshua, but there was nothing in the files Jarod had gotten from Raines' computer. However, as much as they were talking about finding the child, Jarod realised that they had yet to have really talked about him. And he wanted to get to know his son.

 

            He knew Parker cared a lot about the little boy, and that she was the best person to turn to. But the part of him that always cringed when he 'tortured' her about her past, as she usually put it, didn't want to make her suffer anymore than she already did.  Nevertheless Joshua was his son too, and he already felt like he had lost too much time with him.

 

"Can you tell me about Joshua?" he asked, having finally made up his mind.

 

            Miss Parker wasn't surprised by this question. She was only surprised it hadn't come sooner. She easily understood where it was coming from, though. While she had had the chance to hold Joshua in her arms, to whisper loving words to him, he hadn't even get to see him once.

 

            They might not have known that he was theirs before last night, but they still had been deprived of his presence in their lives. Jarod, even more so than herself. She knew that. For a man who had spent most of his time since he had escaped the Centre trying to find his family, it must be even harder to know that one more person had been added to the list.

 

            But she could, if not give him back what he had missed – this was something that no one could ever do –, offer him the chance to know Joshua as well as she did. It might not be a lot, but for now, it would have to be enough. They would have plenty of time to know him more once they would have freed him from the Centre.

 

            She walked towards the package she had sent herself, and looked inside for the picture she knew was there. She was glad that she had thought about packing it, even though it had meant nothing at the time to even pack this box.

 

            When she found it, she looked at it for a moment, before handing it to Jarod.

 

            His eyes first found Miss Parker's face. She was happy, smiling like he had so rarely seen her smile since her mother's death. It was a smile that he wished he could witness more often, now that she wasn't working at the Centre anymore. And, to be honest, more than anything else, it was a smile that he wished to see directed at him one day.

 

            He knew he couldn't stare at her face on the picture any longer without her asking questions about the look on his face. His eyes finally left her face to follow hers, and he was looking at the baby in her arms. Joshua, his son, their son, was cradled in her mother's arms, and neither of them knew it at the time.

 

"When was it taken?"

 

"I went to see him two days after he was born. Broots found me, and he took this photo. He was in a room, alone. A nurse came to see him every couple of hours to feed and change him, but apart from that, he was all alone."

 

"And you often went to see him," Jarod stated, more than asked, his eyes still on the picture.

 

"As much as I could, yes."

 

            She didn't tell him of the time she had found Raines with the baby. Even though he helped him in the end, she still refused to think about that day. And even less now that she knew he was hers. Jarod didn't need to know about that, he didn't need to live with the image of Raines and his son. God knew what they would find once they locate Joshua. There was no need to add to that right now.

 

            Jarod's eyes hadn't left the picture from the moment Parker handed it to him. The look that he saw on her face wasn't one he had ever seen before: it was a look of pure love. Sure, it had been the love of a sister for her baby brother at the time, but now, he could only see the love of a mother for her son.

 

"What colour are his eyes?" he asked.

 

            His question surprised her, but then, as her eyes fell on the picture, she understood: the baby had his eyes closed. She guessed it was the kind of curiosity all father had for their child, and it was an answer she could give him.

 

"When he was born, they were blue. But then, they became brown. Just like yours," she added.

 

            And when she said this, she wondered why she hadn't realised it sooner. Joshua's eyes were exactly like Jarod's. But she had never noticed it before.           They had spent more than an hour trying to figure out where the Centre would have been likely to hide Joshua, but there was nothing in the files Jarod had gotten from Raines' computer. However, as much as they were talking about finding the child, Jarod realised that they had yet to have really talked about him. And he wanted to get to know his son.

 

            He knew Parker cared a lot about the little boy, and that she was the best person to turn to. But the part of him that always cringed when he 'tortured' her about her past, as she usually put it, didn't want to make her suffer anymore than she already did.  Nevertheless Joshua was his son too, and he already felt like he had lost too much time with him.

 

"Can you tell me about Joshua?" he asked, having finally made up his mind.

 

            Miss Parker wasn't surprised by this question. She was only surprised it hadn't come sooner. She easily understood where it was coming from, though. While she had had the chance to hold Joshua in her arms, to whisper loving words to him, he hadn't even get to see him once.

 

            They might not have known that he was theirs before last night, but they still had been deprived of his presence in their lives. Jarod, even more so than herself. She knew that. For a man who had spent most of his time since he had escaped the Centre trying to find his family, it must be even harder to know that one more person had been added to the list.

 

            But she could, if not give him back what he had missed – this was something that no one could ever do –, offer him the chance to know Joshua as well as she did. It might not be a lot, but for now, it would have to be enough. They would have plenty of time to know him more once they would have freed him from the Centre.

 

            With her mask firmly in place, Jarod couldn't see the turmoil that was eating at her insides. His eyes hadn't left the picture of his son. Even though he liked that Joshua had something from him, Jarod was still a bit disappointed. He would have loved for their son to have Parker's eye colour.

 

"He has your nose," he said, as he looked more closely at the baby's features.

 

            Parker went to stand beside him, and her hand rested on his arm when she looked down at the picture. She hadn't noticed it before, but Jarod was right: Joshua did have her nose.

 

"He also seems to have my temper," she said; it was a trait that he couldn't see on the picture but that she wanted to share. "Poor him."

 

"I don’t think it will be a problem. If I can keep up with you, I'll be able to keep up with him."

 

"We'll see if you still say the same when he wakes you with his cries in the middle of the night."

 

            Her words slowly sank in both of them. It might just be hypothetical for the moment, but very soon hopefully, they would have their son with them. They were already parents, even though neither of them felt like one just yet. When they found their son and freed him from the Centre, it would all be real.

 

            And right now, for Miss Parker, it already felt too real. She stepped away from Jarod and went to sit on the bed, her eyes on the floor. When she raised them, she saw that he was looking at her with worried eyes.

 

"My God, Jarod… We have a son!"

 

"Yes. And he's beautiful."

 

            He sat on the bed beside her, not touching her, but closer than he would have dared only weeks before. Their fingers brushed when he handed her back the picture.

 

            She let her eyes fell on the picture and she could only agree with Jarod. Their son was beautiful, and she wished she had a more recent picture to show him. But they were already lucky as it was to have this one.

 

"Do you think we should tell them?" Jarod asked, nodding towards the door.

 

            If she was honest, she had almost forgotten that they weren't alone. But they weren't, and they knew that there would be questions as to why they had shut themselves in her room for a couple of hours.

 

            But then, she thought about telling Ethan, and she started to laugh.

 

            Hearing Miss Parker laugh was even rarer than seeing a smile on her face. She hadn't had a lot to laugh about after her mother's death. He had still managed to make her laugh a couple of times, when they were children. But as the years had passed, her mood had become darker, and her laughter a distant memory.

 

            And now, here she was, laughing, and he didn't have a single clue why. He wondered if she was laughing at him – a distinct possibility – but it didn't really matter to him right now. Seeing her like this just brought a smile to his face.

 

"What's so funny?" he still asked when she finally calmed down.

 

"Ethan… How are we going to tell him that his brother and sister have a son?"

 

"Well, just like you said it. We have a son, and he has a nephew."

 

"If you think it's that simple, then, you should be the one to break the news to him."

 

            Jarod just shrugged. He wasn't really seeing the problem here. He agreed that their family situation wasn't a normal one, but he doubted that they were unique. Surely, the world was big enough for a family such as theirs to exist.

 

            If she didn't want to be the one to tell their brother about Joshua, then, he would. Ethan would understand, he had no doubt about that.

 

"We should probably go see them now," he said, and she nodded.

 

            He stood up from the bed, and held open the door for her. When she walked past him and out of the room, he briefly took her hand in his and squeezed it.

 

            The kitchen was empty as were the other main rooms. It was only when they stepped outside that they found the other two men. They were sitting on the porch, and Ben was telling Ethan about the Catherine he knew.

 

            It was a story that Miss Parker knew well, but she didn't mind hearing it again. When Ben stopped talking as he noticed them, she gestured for him to continue, and went to sit on the steps beside Ethan. The older man resumed talking as Jarod stayed standing against the wall.

 

            It was a story that the Pretender had heard too, the first time he had come here. It was what had decided him to lead Miss Parker here. He wanted to show her a part of her mother that had been hidden from her.

 

            But what he had never told her was that Catherine had planned to take her daughter here one day, after they would have ran away from the Centre. Maybe it was time he told her, and maybe it was time he finally gave her her mother's diary. She would probably slap him for having kept it away from her all this time, and she would be right to do so. But if they were to stay together, he had to give the diary to her.

 

            He could only hope that she wouldn't shoot him when he did.

 

 

###

 

 

Lyle was the last one left to face Raines. After Cox’s had come Broots' turn, and now, Sydney was sitting at the table. He wasn't surprised that Raines wanted to interrogate him last; he was holding him responsible for what had happened in Sherwood.

 

            But he wasn't, and he would make sure that Raines knew that from the moment he sat down on that chair.

 

            For the moment, though, he was still stuck in this room. From the small window, he could see Sydney being interrogated. Even though several hours had passed, he still felt frustrated not to be able to hear what was being said. He didn't think Sydney would say something of importance; the old man didn't know a thing about Miss Parker's escape. But it didn't mean that he didn't want to listen to the conversation.

 

            More than anything else, he wanted to know whether Raines had something up his sleeve. Anything was possible with this man, and no one really knew what he was capable of. He might be his father – and it was something he still hadn't come to terms with – but that didn't mean that he trusted him. To save himself, Raines would put him in the line of fire, there was no doubt.

 

            Lyle could feel Cox's eyes on his back. He hadn't talked to him since he had come back into the room. And until he was certain that Cox wasn't the one that had warned Miss Parker of his plan, he didn't intend to even look at him.

 

            For the moment, he kept his eyes on Raines. If the older man knew that he was being watched, he wasn't showing any signs of it. And usually, when you worked at the Centre, you knew when someone was watching you; it helped you stay alive.

 

            Raines' face was unreadable. He hadn't shown a single emotion at what he was being told, as if he wasn't the least bit interested. But Lyle knew that it was just a mask, one that he had perfected through the years. He wouldn't be able to read anything on his face today.

 

            Lyle finally saw Sydney getting up from his chair and being led back towards the room they were locked in. He mentally steeled himself for what he knew was to come. He did as he was told when Willie gestured for him to come out of the room; protesting now would be useless.

 

            He didn't wait for the sweepers to indicate the chair to him: he walked straight towards it, and sat sideway, his right arm resting against the back of the chair. He wanted – needed – to show Raines that he couldn't intimidate him like he had the others. It might be useless, but he still hoped that it would unsettle Raines. The Chairman of the Centre was so used to have him at his beck and call that he had to make a statement straight away.

 

            Again, nothing showed on Raines' face, but Lyle noticed that something had changed in his eyes. It wasn't a lot, but it was enough for him to feel more confident than he had been only a few minutes ago.

 

            He wasn't surprised when Raines didn't start talking after a couple of minutes, like he did with the others; it was a way to unsettle him. But it wouldn't work. Lyle might not have the upper hand here, but that didn't mean he would let the bald man control him.

 

            Slips of paper with questions and notes on them were passed from the people in the shadows to Raines. He didn't know what was on them, but he could guess that most of them were pertaining to the reason they were here in the first place. That was why Raines' first words, after long minutes of silence, surprised him.

 

"Tell me about Jimmy Radloff."

 

            Lyle's back stiffened at the sound of this name. This question was just made to destabilize him. He had no doubt that every single person in the room knew about Jimmy Radloff. It had been Raines' idea at the time, and now, he was almost certain that the Tower had been behind it.

 

            He considered not answering the question and waiting for the next. But as he saw the ghost of a smile on Raines' face, he realised that this was a test. And if he were to ignore the question, he would fail. He didn't want to think about what that would tell them.

 

            If he had to talk about a life he had left behind years ago to keep his head on his shoulders, then he would.

 

"I murdered him."

 

            He didn't stop here. He described exactly what he did, and how he framed his father for his faked death. He knew that was what they had expected, and he was giving it up to them. He would show them that you don't unsettle Mr. Lyle that easily. That was a lesson he planned to teach them.

 

            Once he was out of here, though, he would find that security footage, and destroy it. This tape could easily be used against him at a later point. If he knew one thing, it was that the Centre would resort to all length to get rid of one of its employees. And he had proved in the past that he wasn't an easy man to kill.

 

 

###

 

 

            Ethan and Ben had taken the news more easily than Miss Parker had anticipated. As Jarod had thought, Ethan had been mostly unfazed by the fact that they had a child. His only questions had been about how to get him back. Ben had also offered to help them in any way he could, but they had declined, neither of them wanting to put him in danger.

 

            Soon after, Jarod and Ethan had left to start making lunch, and Parker was left alone with Ben. He sat down next to her on the stairs, and gently bumped his shoulder against hers.

 

"You haven't said much," he remarked. "How are you feeling about all this?"

 

"I wish I could say I was completely floored by what they did, but honestly, I just don't know why I hadn't figured it out sooner."

 

"You had no way of knowing that they would do something like that."

 

            Miss Parker scoffed. If there was someone who should have noticed that something was going on, it was her. Not only was it about her, but she probably knew better than anyone else what the Centre was capable of. She should have known, that was as simple as that.

 

            But Ben couldn't understand that. He didn't know everything about the Centre; there were just some things that neither she nor Jarod could bring themselves to tell him about. And because he didn't know the Centre as well as she and Jarod did, he couldn't understand why she was berating herself for not having noticed it sooner.

 

"The Centre is capable of anything," she finally said. "They do whatever they want. They take from you whatever they want. They use you. You're nothing to them."

 

"It's all over now, isn't it? You ran away."

 

"It'll be really over the day the Centre is taken down. Until then, we don't live, we merely survive."

 

            Maybe she was telling him too much. He didn't need to know all this, but he had to understand that as long as the Centre was still in the picture, they would keep hunting her and Jarod.

 

"Alright. Then, you'll take it down. I know, I know," he said putting his hands up at the look Miss Parker was giving him, "it won't be easy, but it's something that has to be done. And you can do it, together."

 

            She nodded, agreeing with his assessment. It certainly couldn't be done overnight, but they would take the Centre down. Together. If there was one thing she had understood in the past few years, it was that when they were working side by side, they were stronger. The only mistake the Centre had ever made was to allowing them to meet. Sure, they had never condoned them being friends, but it was that first meeting that had started it all.

 

           The thing was, the Centre had always underestimated her. They had mostly seen her as an asset to get Jarod back, and their latest plan had just been another evidence of that. And that might just help her and Jarod in the long run.

 

"Yes, we will," she said, as much for herself as for Ben.

 

"You will," Ben repeated. "You know, that wasn't what I wanted to know when I asked how you were feeling. I meant how are you feeling about all this? About Joshua being your son."

 

"I'm feeling… lost. I never envisioned being a mother. I don't know how to be a mother."

 

            She hadn't told Jarod this; she had figured that there would be time for it later, and that, for the moment, they needed to concentrate on getting Joshua back. But it was nothing more than the truth. Being responsible for a little child who couldn't defend himself was something she wasn't sure she could do. Sometimes she wasn't even sure she knew how to take care of herself.

 

"I'm sure that, had Catherine been there, she would have told you that no woman is born a mother, and that it's alright to feel scared. But I'm sure you'll do great, just like your mom did with you."

 

"I'm not my mother," she said, though it lost the venom it usually had.

 

"No, you're not. You're your own person," he said. "And yes, you'll make mistakes, but that's how you learn how to be a parent." He paused, waiting for his words to sink in, before he resumed talking. "Don't you think your mother was afraid of the same thing?"

 

"My mother was perfect," she replied, a sad smile on her face as she thought of the parent she had lost so many years ago.

 

"She really wasn't. She was your mother, so in your eyes, she was perfect, but no one really is. She had the same doubts as you do. And from what she told me, they never really go away, even when your child is older. I don't have children, but I imagine every parent feels the same."

 

"I doubt that Jarod will. He'll be the perfect father, or as close to perfect as he can. He's going to research how to be a father, because that's what he had been taught to do at the Centre. He can be whoever he wants to be."

 

            Ben saw that Miss Parker was really worried about the kind of mother she would be for Joshua. Whatever he could say wouldn't help her because he wasn't the one she should be hearing them from.

 

            He squeezed her shoulder as he got up from where he was sitting on the steps. Just before he entered the house, he looked at Parker over his shoulder. She was looking straight ahead, but he knew she wasn't really seeing anything; she was lost in her thoughts about how to be a mother.

 

            He let out a sigh, and walked inside and to the kitchen. Jarod was telling Ethan about the time he had been a chef in a small restaurant in San Francisco and the recipes he had learnt there, including the one he was making for lunch.

 

"Hey Ben," Jarod said as he spotted the older man coming into the kitchen.

 

"Why don't you go outside, Jarod," Ben replied, cutting to the chase. "I'm sure Ethan and I can manage for a while."

 

"Is it Miss Parker?" the Pretender asked, instantly worried that something had happened.

 

"Just... go outside."

 

            Jarod nodded, untying the apron he had been wearing and handing it to Ben. He didn't stop when he heard Ethan asked Ben what was going on, he just quickened his pace.

 

            She didn't turn around when he stepped onto the porch. He wondered whether she hadn't heard him or if she was just ignoring him. He sat down beside her, close but not touching her.

 

            He turned his head to look at her; her face was shielded by her hair. He wanted to brush it away, but he had no idea how she could react. The last thing he wanted after the progress they had made this morning was to make her run away by doing something she didn't approve of.

 

"Are you alright?" he asked.

 

"What did Ben tell you?"

 

"Nothing. He just told me to come outside. Did something happen?"

 

            She shook her head. She had no doubt what Ben was trying to do here: he hadn't been able to reassure her so he had sent the Pretender to her hoping he would. And maybe he was right and she needed to talk to Jarod. It didn't mean that it was easy.

 

            She was still learning to treat him as an ally and not an enemy anymore, just as much as she was learning to let go. It was easier said than done; she knew she wasn't at the Centre anymore and that she didn't have to pretend to be strong all the time, but she was still figuring out how to do this.

 

            But maybe it came with telling him what was on her mind.

 

"I was just telling him that I don't know how to be a mother. I never thought I would be a mother one day."

 

"I never thought I would be a father one day, either," he admitted. "And, unlike other parents, we don't exactly have nine months to prepare ourselves to this big change in our life."

 

"And I'm still dealing with a huge change," she added, and he nodded. "But you don't have to worry. You'll read all the books that have ever been written on parenting, and you'll know everything you have to."

 

            Jarod was surprised by the bitterness of her words. He had always known that she didn't like him showing off; it irritated her more often than not when he knew something that she didn't. Granted, most of the time, it was something about her past, but at times, mostly when they were children at the Centre, it was something that he had learnt during a pretend.

 

            He couldn't help it, though, he was a Pretender, and he was trained to be whoever he wanted to be, to do whatever he wanted to do, after having read only one book on the subject. That was what Sydney had taught him as a child, and it was a habit that was hard to shake off.

 

            And Parker was right; he would most certainly read every book available on the subject to try and be the best father possible. He would treat this new part of his life as a SIM. And just when that thought crossed his mind, he knew he was in the wrong: this wasn't just a SIM, this would be his life from now on, his son. And neither Parker nor he could see Joshua as just another pretend. If they did, they would only prove that the Centre still had influence on both of them, and Jarod was afraid to know where that would lead them.

 

"What if I decided not to read a single book on this topic?" he asked, and she scoffed at the idea.

 

"You wouldn't be able to help yourself. It's who you are."

 

"Maybe it's time I change."

 

"Anyway, you can't," she said, not even addressing him wanting to change his ways. "At least one of us will need to know what we're fucking doing."

 

"Well, I don't know about you, but I don't need to read a book to know that you shouldn't swear in front of a child."

 

            She let out a half-hearted laugh at that, and he counted it as a small victory. He decided that from now on, he should always make a mental note of all these small victories; it might not be much, but it would have to do for the moment.

 

"We'll learn together," he continued. "As long as Joshua doesn't have high hopes about us as his parents, we should be fine."

 

"One step at a time?" she asked and he nodded.

 

"One step at a time," he repeated.

 

"Alright, so what now?"

 

"Now, we're going to have lunch with Ben and Ethan, and then we're going to rest." As he saw she was about to protest, he continued. "If we want to be on the road tomorrow at dawn, it's better that we rest. It's going to be a long trip."

 

            He stood up, and held his hand out to Parker to help her up. But, in true Parker fashion, she swatted his hand away and got up on her own. He wasn't surprised by that; she would need time before she was truly ready to accept his help.

 

            But for the moment, he was focusing on the small smile she had on her lips as she was looking at him. Another small victory.

 

 

 To be continued

Chapter 3 by Vicky

Chapter Three

 

 

            The sun was barely rising at the horizon when Catherine Parker woke her daughter up. She didn't enjoy doing it, but today, there was no choice; there was still so much to do before it was time for them to leave the house.

 

            Miss Parker groaned as her mother roused her from her sleep. She buried her head against her mother's chest, hoping to be granted a few more minutes. Catherine laughed at her daughter's attitude, something that the little girl felt more than heard.

 

"I'm sleepy, mama," the girl said, her voice rough from sleep.

 

"I know, baby. But it's time to wake up. We have a big day ahead of us."

 

            Miss Parker's only answer was to tighten her hold on her mother's shirt.

 

            Catherine smiled and rubbed circles against her daughter's back. She understood her reluctance to open her eyes, and if she could, she would let her sleep. But it wasn't possible. She still allowed her to rest a few more minutes; if they had to rush because they were late, then they would. What mattered was that her daughter was fine.

 

            She kept her eyes on the clock on Miss Parker's bedside table, and she kept rocking in her arms until she couldn't delay it any longer. She tucked a strand of hair behind Miss Parker's ear, and stroked her cheek with her thumb.

 

"Come on, baby," she whispered. "You really have to wake up now."

 

            Catherine got up from the bed, forcing her daughter off her lap. When Miss Parker's feet hit the floor, her eyes opened and she yawned. She knew she couldn't buy any more time than she already had, and so she followed her mother into the kitchen. She sat on her chair and held her head in her hands while her mother prepared her chocolate milk.

 

"Don't put your elbows on the table," Catherine reminded her as she placed the bowl on the table.

 

"Where is Daddy?" Miss Parker asked as she obeyed her mother.

 

"Daddy is already at work."

 

            Miss Parker was disappointed, it was easy to see; she had already been in bed when he came home last night and this morning, he was already gone despite the early hour. She was barely seeing her father these days, and she wished that would change.

 

"But we'll go see him after school," Catherine added.

 

"Really?" Miss Parker asked, her face lighting up at the thought.

 

"Yes. But first, school, ok?"

 

            Miss Parker nodded, as she started eating her breakfast.

 

            Catherine shook her head, smiling at her. She sometimes wished she could convince her husband to spend more time with their daughter, but his mind was on his work. She had learnt to live with it, but she knew the little girl still hurt that her father didn't want to spend more time with her. At least, the thought of seeing her father after school cheered her up.

 

            But that wasn't the only reason they were going to the Centre. Her daughter was going to meet one of the children there, Jarod, and participate in a SIM. She wasn't particularly happy about the last part; even though her husband had promised her that this would be only this one time, she didn't want to see Miss Parker taking part in SIMs. But Jarod was one of the few children that she hadn't managed to meet before, and if she was going to rescue him one day, sooner rather than later, she needed him to trust her.

 

            She was glad that the hypnotism lessons she had taken with Jacob all those years ago hadn't been for nothing. While she wasn't proud that she had to hypnotize her husband to get what she wanted, she also knew that she didn't have a choice. She couldn't go as far as to tell her husband that she needed to meet Jarod – that would have been suspicious to the Tower – so she had to resort to having her daughter meet the Pretender.

 

            She knew it meant that the day she decided it was time to rescue Jarod from the Centre, she and Miss Parker would have to leave too. The boy was too smart to trust her alone, but if he created a friendship with her daughter first, she believed he would be less reluctant to follow them.

 

            She would also have to tell Fenigor that her plans for Jarod were slightly different than for the other children. While she couldn't find the other children's parents, she knew exactly where Jarod's were, and she planned on taking him there as soon as possible. She had yet to locate Kyle – she wasn't even sure he was at the Centre – but she was hoping she could do so soon. Margaret and Charles needed to be reunited with their youngest son, too. At least, for the time being, she would be able to reassure them on Jarod's well-being, thanks to her daughter.

 

            When she saw that her daughter was done with her breakfast, Catherine urged her to the bathroom to wash her face and get changed. She still had to tell her about the plan for the afternoon before they left for school. That was the reason why she had woken her up earlier than usual in the first place; she didn't want to take her to the Centre without her knowing what would happen, that would only upset the little girl.

 

            She had no doubt that the setting would frighten Miss Parker if she hadn't been prepared in advance, and she didn't want that to happen. She knew other people would think that she was using her daughter for her own purpose, and they would be right to think so, but she didn't know how to act otherwise. She could only wish that if her daughter ever figured it out, she would understand and forgive her.

 

            When Miss Parker came into the living room, ready for school, Catherine asked her to come sit on the couch beside her. She took a deep breath before she started talking.

 

"You know I told you we were going to go see Daddy at the Centre after school," she said, and Miss Parker quickly nodded. "That's not all that we'll be doing when we are at the Centre. You're also going to meet a boy about your age."

 

"Who is he?"

 

"His name is Jarod. He lives there, and we think it's time the two of you meet."

 

"Is he nice?"

 

"Yes, he is," Catherine replied with a chuckle. "But you know, when you meet him, it's going to be different than when you met your other friends. There's going to be a glass between the two of you, and people are going to observe," she explained as best as she could to the little girl what her husband had told her.

 

"Why will there be other people?"

 

"See, Jarod is a special child who works with Sydney. They just want to see whether you two could be friends," she just said; she didn't think her daughter was ready to hear the truth. "We can stop any time you want. And you won't have to go there if you're too afraid," she added, to reassure her that it was her choice in the end.

 

"Will Daddy be there?"

 

"Yes. Yes, he will."

 

"Then, I'll do it," Miss Parker said; she wanted her father to be proud of her, and if it was what it took, then she would do it.

 

"Alright. Now let's go or you'll be late for school."

 

            As she watched her daughter run to the door to put her shoes on, Catherine wiped a tear that had escaped from her eye. She was proud of her little girl; she just hoped that she had made the right choice in the end.

 

 

###

 

 

            Broots followed Sydney into the older man's office. It was late afternoon, and they had spent most of the day locked in a small room. That might not have been the first T-Board they had faced, but they were still exhausted by the day's events. From what they had gathered, Raines hadn't found the person who had warned Miss Parker, not that Sydney had expected him to.

 

            He hadn't shared his thoughts with Broots, but he knew that they were both thinking the same: it could only have been the voices that had stopped their friend from falling into Lyle and Cox's hands. But as no one at the Centre but the two of them knew about her inner sense, they would probably never figure it out. And this was all for the better.

 

"What do you think will happen now?" Broots asked. "I mean, what will happen to us?"

 

"I don't know. I believe we go back to our respective works, now that Miss Parker isn't coming back."

 

"So, it’s over? We're not looking for Jarod anymore?"

 

"We'll still keep an eye out for him, but I doubt we'll hear from him any time soon."

 

"Why do you think that, Sydney?"

 

"Yes, why do you think that, Sydney?" Lyle said from the threshold.

 

            Broots started at the sound of his voice; neither man had heard him approach. The thumbless man smirked at the computer technician's reaction, before turning his head towards the psychiatrist.

 

"Do you have information that I don't?" Lyle asked again.

 

"No. But I know Jarod enough to know that he'll lie low for a while, especially if Miss Parker is now with him as you suspect. Playing with the Centre was fun for him when he was the only one who could get hurt. But now that there is someone else in the equation, he’ll stop taking so many risks."

 

"Well, let's hope that you're wrong," Lyle replied. "Because my head won't be the only one on the line if you're not."

 

"And why is that?" the older man asked, even though he had already figured it out.

 

"It means that you two work for me now, and you're going to help me track Jarod and my sister."

 

            They knew better than to object. They didn't really want to work for Lyle, but they knew they didn't have a choice; if they refused, they might end up dead somewhere. So they just said nothing, and waited for Miss Parker's twin to leave the office.

 

"It is sometimes hard to remember that he is Catherine Parker's son," Sydney said, when they were finally alone. "He is nothing like her, or Miss Parker."

 

"It's like he has only taken after Mr. Raines," Broots added, even though he still find it hard to believe that the bald man was Miss Parker's biological father.

 

"Yes, but then, we know that Mr. Raines has manipulated him when he was still with the Bowmans. He made him who he is now. I wonder if he knows what it really means."

 

"Are you saying...?"

 

"I'm saying that Raines shouldn’t trust him. I don't know how much longer Lyle will agree to stay an underling."

 

"Sydney, if Lyle ever managed to catch Jarod and Miss Parker..."

 

"I know, Broots, I know. We just have to make sure we're here if that happens. We have to work with him, even though neither of us wants to."

 

"But we can't help them," Broots said, looking at the security camera above their heads. "If we do, they'll kill us. I don't know about you, but I have Debbie to think about, and I can't leave her alone."

 

"We won't help them," Sydney reassured his friend. "We'll just make sure that they stay alive if they come back to the Centre, even if we have to make a pact with the devil to do so.

 

"I think we have already made a pact with the devil the day we signed our contracts to work here."

 

            Sydney nodded, agreeing with Broots. He wished he could spare his friend, but it just wasn't possible. Neither of them could leave the Centre, not if they wanted to stay alive, and the least they could do for now, was to try and protect the two people he still considered as his children from Lyle's madness.

 

            They heard a rattling sound in the vent above their heads, and raised their eyes to the grate just in time to see a shadow passing by. They wouldn't be the only ones trying to help Miss Parker and Jarod at the Centre. Angelo, they were certain, would do more than just make sure that the two escapees stay alive; he would do his best to keep them away from Blue Cove.

 

            Somewhere, down in the bowels of the Centre, hidden from the sweepers, Angelo sat in front of a laptop, a file open at his side. Barely anyone was paying attention to him these days, unless they needed his help, and that allowed him to move almost freely around the Centre. Not even Jarod had noticed him lurking in the shadows the night he had been here.

 

            At any other time, he would have shown himself, but he had felt that the Pretender was so focused on his task that he wouldn't want to be interrupted. So he had just observed him, unseen, and followed at a distance to make sure that he would get out of the Centre without being noticed by one of the employees.

 

            He had waited until his childhood friend had left before crawling through the vents and towards one of his hiding places. There, he had opened a box, and it hadn't taken him long to find the file he had been looking for.

 

            Now, with the file beside him, he was looking through the Centre database. A grin stretched his lips as he finally found the information he was looking for.

 

 

###

 

 

            They had decided to stop at one of Jarod's safe house in Indiana for the night. They could easily have made the trip in one day if they had taking turns behind the wheel, but Jarod had insisted on stopping there to rest for a little while. Miss Parker didn't mind; she still felt unsure about going to Jarod's family home.

 

            She had come to terms with being on the run with the Pretender she had tried to catch, but it didn't mean that she wanted to see the whole family. She wasn't even certain she would be welcome there; after all, she had kept their family apart for years, and she was still doing it in some ways. They had every reason to resent her, and she couldn't blame them.

 

            But she was doing it for Ethan; they were his family, too. He had never met his father before, and she knew that Emily had been searching for him long before she and Jarod even knew he existed. He needed them in his life, but he would never have agreed to go if she hadn't. And truth be told, she was a little bit curious as to how Michael was doing.

 

            She hadn't been surprised when Jarod had told her that his clone had chosen himself a new name. It wasn't anything remotely close to the ones he had grown up with, and she easily understood why: he was trying to be distinct from the man he was a clone of. She thought it was sane for him to do so and from what Jarod had told her, it was working: Major Charles wasn't seeing him as a copy of the son he had lost such a long time ago, but as his youngest son.

 

            At least, she thought as she looked at the Pretender taking their bags out of the trunk, the Centre hadn't have time to completely screw with Michael's mind the way they had with Jarod's and hers. Even though she had never told anyone, she wouldn't have let them have their way anyway. That they had managed to do it in the past was enough.

 

            She followed Jarod and Ethan through the door and groaned. As she had suspected when they had stopped the car in front of the building, Jarod's safe house was nothing more than an abandoned warehouse. He seemed to have a predilection for those, but she had hoped for something better.

 

            The ground floor was nothing but an empty open space. There weren't even chairs or anything to sit on. She was about to ask Jarod whether he had the intention to make her sleep on the floor when he asked her and Ethan to follow him.

 

            They walked up the stairs and through the door Jarod was holding open for them. Much to the siblings’ surprise, what was behind that door didn't look like the rest of the warehouse. While the first floor was another open space, there was some furniture there, including two single beds and a couch.

 

"You're not afraid someone decides to demolish it one day?" Miss Parker asked Jarod.

 

"They can't. I've bought it."

 

"Of course, you did."

 

            It didn't surprise her at all. He had probably bought several places like this one around the country with the money he had taken from the Centre. She guessed it must have represented a big step for someone who had spent most of his life as a prisoner. Although it wasn't quite a home, it was a safe place for him to stay in between pretends.

 

"You can take the beds and I'll take the couch," Jarod said.

 

"I should take the couch," Ethan replied. "You're taller than me, it would be uncomfortable for you to lie on the couch."

 

"Alright," the Pretender conceded. "Now that this is settled, I'm going to get us some food."

 

"None of your junk food, Jarod," Miss Parker said as he opened the door. "I'm serious."

 

"Are you afraid that now you're not chasing me around anymore, you won't get enough exercise?" he teased her.

 

            The door had closed behind him before Miss Parker could say anything in return. She shook her head, before turning towards Ethan who was looking confused. It was easy to understand why: he had mostly seen them cooperating, and while he knew they hadn't been on the same side until very recently, he hadn't witnessed it. And they had never really explained it. Maybe it was time to tell him about them.

 

            She spotted the silver case sitting on the table, and she decided that they should start from the beginning.

 

"Come with me," she said, grabbing the silver case and going to sit on the couch. "You know that Jarod and I grew up together at the Centre, but did he tell you about the first time we met?"

 

            When Ethan shook his head negatively, she smiled and turned towards the DSA player. It didn't took long to locate the right DSA; she remembered the date quite clearly even though it had happened about three decades ago. She put the DSA in the player and pressed play.

 

            It wasn't only the date that Miss Parker remembered, but the day in itself. She remembered her mother taking her to the Centre that day, after school. Everything had been clearly explained to her that morning, but her father repeated her mother's words anyway. She didn't interrupt him, she just listened to him talk more than she really heard the words.

 

            She nodded when he asked her if she was ready and he took her hand to lead her towards a door at the far end of the corridor. He had told her to wait there, before leaving. She had watched his retreating back, hoping that he would look back, but he never did. And then, the door had opened, and she had seen Jarod for the first time.

 

            She had often wondered what would have happened if they hadn't wanted her to participate in this SIM. But she now knew that while it hadn't been in their plans for her and their Pretender to be friends, she had never been only the Chairman's daughter. They had always envisioned her as nothing more than an asset to achieve their goal.

 

            She had been in their plans all along, even though she hadn't known at the time. She wished, not for the first time, that her mother was still alive. There was so much she wanted to ask her; she wanted to ask her if she had known about Mr. Parker's plans, or if she had been left in the dark, too. She couldn't see her mother agreeing to her husband using their little girl, but she had been surprised so many times in the past that she just wanted to be reassured on this point.

 

            More than that, right now, she wanted her mother to be there and reassure her that everything would be fine with Joshua. She wanted to ask her some advice about how to be a good mother.

 

            But she couldn't do any of that because Raines had killed her mother.

 

As her eyes fell on Ethan watching the video, she realised that she wasn't the only one who had lost her mother. At least, she had had the chance to spend the first ten years of her life with her, but her brother couldn't because she had been taken away from him the day he was born. At the very least, she could tell him about the mother she knew; it wasn't much, but he had assured her before that it would be enough.

 

            She wondered once, after Carthis, what would have happened if Raines hadn't killed her mother. On the DSA, right after Ethan's birth, Miss Parker had heard her say that she would have wanted to raised the three siblings together. Their lives would have been so different had Catherine been able to do as she wanted. But she hadn't been allowed to, and she and Jarod had remained Centre's prisoners, unaware of Ethan's existence until recently.

 

"Do you have any more videos of Jarod and you as children?" Ethan's question interrupted her line of thoughts.

 

"I really don't know," she admitted. "Your brother and I were always very careful not to be caught on security cameras. We weren't supposed to be friends."

 

"Why is that?"

 

"I never really got an answer for that one when I asked. I was just told that I shouldn't question it. I can only guess that they thought I would distract Jarod from the SIMs, or that I would put ideas in his head."

 

"Ideas about running from the Centre?" he asked, and she nodded. "But that didn't stop you from seeing each other."

 

"Nothing could stop us," she said with a smile. "We didn't care about being punished, really. Jarod and Angelo were my only friends when I grew up, and after our mother died, I actively sought them out. I was left alone most of the time. The only times I wasn't alone were when I was with them."

 

"What changed?"

 

"I was sent away to boarding school and Jarod was left behind. Time eventually pulled us apart."

 

            Time hadn't been the only factor; her father had done everything he could to separate them, and that included hiding the letters they had sent each other. But neither of them had known at the time, and Jarod still didn't know. He still probably thought that she had forgotten about him the moment she had left Blue Cove, just like she had for so many years. Maybe it was time to finally give him the letters.

 

"What are you doing?" Jarod asked as he entered the room to find the silver case open before them.

 

"Miss Parker was showing me the video of your first meeting," Ethan answered before she could. "Do you have other DSA showing the two of you as children?"

 

"No. And I'm pretty sure they don't exist either."

 

"That's what I told him too," Miss Parker said, getting up from the couch. "So, what did you bring for dinner?"

 

"I thought Chinese would be the safest choice," he replied, taking the food containers out of the plastic bag.

 

            Miss Parker nodded, agreeing with his choice. She looked around, but there didn't seem to be any plates around; they would have to eat directly out of the containers. At least, he hadn't forgotten the chopsticks.

 

"Come eat, Ethan," she said as she heard him play the DSA from the start again. "You'll have time to watch it later."

 

            Already knowing better than to cross his sister, Ethan closed the lid of the silver case and walked over to the table. As he sat, Jarod pointed to each container, explaining what was in them. They ate in relative silence, the only sound outside of the chopsticks being Jarod tapping his foot against the floor.

 

"Stop it," Miss Parker said, annoyed that the Pretender just couldn't sit still.

 

"Sorry," he replied. There was a beat, and then, he continued. "So why were you showing Ethan this DSA?" he asked.

 

            She had wondered how long it would take him to finally ask this question. She had known he had wanted to since he came back, but he had held himself back. Until now. It was a question quite easy to answer, but she still struggled to find the words.

 

"I wanted to explain to our brother how we went from friends to... whatever we were these past few years."

 

            She hadn't wanted to say 'enemy' because, even though she had tried to convince herself in the past that it was all they were for each other, it couldn't have been farther away from the truth. Yes, they had been on opposite sides and she had chased him all over the country, but enemies they were not.

 

"I understand," he said.

 

            And he did. He understood that Ethan wanted to know what happened between his brother and his sister. It was only natural for him given that they had been reunited only recently, and that a couple of years ago, he hadn't even known they existed. They didn't have a conventional family, and he needed to understand why.

 

            They finished eating in silence, each of them lost in their thoughts. Ethan looked at his sister and his brother in turn. He was glad that he had found them again, even though he still had a bruise on his arm where Parker had punched him. But they appeased him, and the voices, while they were still present, were nothing more than a buzz in the back of his mind. It had only happened with one other person before, just a few days ago.

 

            His mind went back to Mia, and how she had made him feel. It had been the first time he had felt that way, and he still wasn't sure what it meant. He guessed he could ask Miss Parker and Jarod, but he didn't really know how he could explain it. Even when he was thinking about it, he had trouble putting words on what he was feeling. It just didn't make any sense to him. And he wondered if there was any reason for him to try to figure it out if he was never going to see her again.

 

"Can I talk to you?" Miss Parker asked Jarod when they finished putting away the leftovers.

 

            He nodded, and followed her to where he had put their bags when they had arrived. Ethan watched them go, the voices quietly telling him that everything would be fine. It wasn't made to reassure him.

 

            Parker opened her bag and took out one of the stacks of letters that she had put inside before leaving Ben's. She had her back to Jarod, and so he couldn't see what she was holding for the moment. She traced her handwriting with her fingers, and her lips stretched into a small smile.

 

            She turned around to face Jarod and handed him the stack of letters. He took them, confusion written in her face, and she knew she had to explain herself.

 

"These are all the letters I’ve written to you when I was in boarding school. Mr. Parker must have intercepted them before they got to you. And he did the same with yours. I found them all in a safe at his house. They're yours to have."

 

"So you hadn't forgotten me right after you left?" Jarod asked, still confused.

 

"No. And neither had you, despite what I thought for years."

 

            His hold on the letters tightened, and she could almost read his thoughts; he was wondering how different things would have been if they had received these letters. They would never know, though. They had been stolen from them like so many other things in their lives.

 

"I have something you should have, too," he said, surprising her.

 

            He went to his bag and put the letters down to unzip it. He reached for the small box hidden inside. He hesitated for a brief instant, worried about what she might do, but he knew he had already waited too long. He took it out of the bag and handed it to Miss Parker. Her confusion mirrored his from a few minutes before, but it didn't last long. As soon as she opened the box and peeled away the tissue paper, she read the words and her facial expression changed.

 

            He had expected hot blooded anger from her. He had expected her to lash out. He had expected her to punch him. He had expected anything but this. Her face closed down, her mask firmly put in place. She didn't look at him, she didn't say anything to him. She just turned away, the box clutched in her hands. Before he could react she had grabbed her coat and was out of the room and running down the stairs. He heard the door open and close behind her.

 

            He was about to follow her outside when a hand against his chest stopped him. He looked up to see Ethan slowly shaking his head.

 

"I think it's best if you leave her alone."

 

"Ethan..."

 

"Look, I don't know what happened just now, what you gave her to make her react that way, but she didn't seem to want to see you right now. Or even be in the same place as you. Give her time."

 

            Jarod wanted to protest, to tell his brother to mind his own business, but he knew he was right. His shoulders slumped in defeat and he took a step back. He knew it was his own fault she reacted this way, and he hoped that she would let him fix it.

 

            He turned away, and his eyes fell on the letters she had just given him. He walked towards his bag, took the stack of letters, and went to sit against the wall, in the far side of the room.

 

 

###

 

 

            She ran, unaware of where she was, of where she was going. She ran until her lungs burned and she could barely breathe anymore. And then, she stopped running and looked around. It was dark and she was alone in a city she didn't know. Maybe it had been stupid of her to run away, but she just couldn't have stayed in the warehouse anymore.

 

            She hadn't been able           to think clearly after she opened the box to find her mother's diary inside. She had just known that she needed to be as far away from Jarod as it was possible at the moment.

 

            She noticed a diner that would stay open all night on the other side of the street, and she walked there. She pushed the door opened, nodded at the waitress on the other side of the counter, and sat at a table at the far end of the room. She allowed herself to look around as the waitress filled her cup with coffee; there were only a couple of other people there, and no one would come to bother her.

 

            She opened the box again, and finally took the diary out. She didn't want to know for how long Jarod had kept it away from her. She didn't want to know his reasons. She was just trying not to think that he had read her mother's diary, her most intimate thoughts.

 

            She ran her hand over the red cover; it was soft beneath her hand. She traced the gold lettering with a finger, wondering what to do. The diary was locked, but she spotted the key in the box. She could keep it locked, put it back in the box and never read it. Or she could open it and read it, page after page, and learn more about her mother. Both options were tempting, but it was the voice in her head that finally told which way to go.

 

            Her fingers picked up the key, and she unlocked the diary easily. She took a sip of coffee and wished she had something stronger to drink; she doubted that they had anything stronger than beer here. She opened the diary and her breath caught when she saw her mother's handwriting.

 

            Tears filled up her eyes, blurring her vision, and she wiped angrily at them. She wouldn't cry, especially here, in front of strangers. She took a deep breath and blinked a couple of times, willing the tears away. She looked outside for a moment, watching cars and passersby, and when she finally focused on the diary again, she had steeled herself for what she was about to read.

 

            It was time to know her mother's inner thoughts.

 

 

To be continued

Chapter 4 by Vicky

Chapter Four

 

 

            Jarod missed his parents. Whenever he tried asking Sydney about them, the man said that it wasn't the time. It was never the time, as far as Sydney was concerned. But still, the little boy didn't stop asking.

 

            Sydney was nice and he was taking good care of him. But this place frightened Jarod and he wished his parents would come to take him home soon. He just wanted to see his room again, and play with his toys; he didn't want to be here anymore. Sydney was playing with him, but it wasn't the same kind of games he used to play with his parents. He didn't like the games he was playing since he had arrived here.

 

            But what upset him the most was that he felt like he was being constantly watched. Sydney had tried to reassure him that he wasn't, but Jarod didn't trust him. He could feel eyes on him all the time, even when he was lying in bed, about to go to sleep.

 

            In spite of all of this, he still felt alone. While he had mostly kept to himself and barely played with other children his age, he had never been alone. Not until he came here. Outside of Sydney, and a couple of other men in dark suits who scared him, he hadn't seen anyone else in this place.

 

            Sometimes, at night, he dreamt of these long corridors. They just never ended, there was no door; he had no way to escape. He would wake up from his nightmares sweating and crying for his mother. But she never came, and he was alone, crying in the dark.

 

"I miss my Mom and Dad," he told Sydney after they finished one of their games. "Can I go home, now?"

 

            Sydney sighed. It had been a month since Jarod had arrived at the Centre, and not a day had gone by without him asking about his parents. He could understand him – he had been a child missing his own parents too years ago – but he couldn't give the boy the answers he wanted to hear. He couldn't bring himself to give him false hope, because he knew that hurt more than the truth in the end.

 

            He had dared asking Jacob about what happened to Jarod's parents once, but his twin brother hadn't answered him. It wasn't the first time since they started working at the Centre that his brother had stonewalled him, so he had expected this answer, but he was still disappointed.

 

"You know I can't tell you that, Sydney," Jacob had said at the time, before turning away from his brother and leaving the office.

 

            Even if he wanted, Sydney couldn't tell Jarod the truth, because he didn't know it. But when the little boy looked at him with sad eyes, he wished he could, even though it would be against the rules.

 

"Remember Jarod," he said, kneeling down before the boy. "I told you that I would be taking care of you now."

 

            Jarod nodded; he did remember, but he had hoped for a different answer this time. He just didn't understand why his parents would make him stay here, when he was unhappy. He didn't know why they didn't even come to see him. Had he done something for them not to want to see him again?

 

            Sydney saw confusion and hurt on Jarod's face. He wanted nothing more than to be able to hug the little boy, but the security cameras prevented him from doing so. He wasn't allowed to get too close to Jarod, and if they thought that he was, they would take Jarod away from him. And he didn't want that to happen.

 

"Come on, Jarod, it's late," Sydney said. "It's time you go back to your room. Your supper will be ready."

 

            Jarod nodded and took the hand Sydney was offering him. When the psychiatrist opened the door, he felt Jarod hiding behind his legs as the two sweepers moved in front of them. He wished he could tell them to leave them alone, but he just couldn't. It was easy to understand why the two men in black would be scary in the eyes of a little boy: they never smiled and they cast a hard look on Jarod whenever they saw him. Sydney wanted to tell them that there was no risk he would run away, that he was just four, but he knew it would be to no avail. They had their orders, and it meant to stay around Jarod at all times.

 

            When they entered Jarod's room, Sydney led him to the table. He could see that he wasn't hungry, but he needed to eat. He wouldn't usually stay once Jarod was safely back in his room, but he made an exception this time. He sat in the chair beside the little boy's and coaxed him to eat at least a little.

 

            Jarod eventually did eat everything that was on his tray. He turned hopeful eyes on Sydney, and the man knew that he would have to crush his hopes.

 

"Will you read me a story?" Jarod asked in a little voice that made Sydney's heart tighten.

 

"No, Jarod," Sydney answered, forcing his face to remain impassable and his voice cold. "Now, go to bed."

 

            He got up from his chair and walked towards the door; he couldn't stay a minute longer. He shot one last look at Jarod, still sitting at the table, his head hung low, before closing the door behind him. He didn't like making the little boy sadder than he already was, but he didn't have a choice if he wanted to continue working with him.

 

            As he walked down the corridor, Sydney knew that Jarod wouldn't be able to understand why he had acted that way with him, when all he had only asked for a bedtime story. But there was nothing to understand; the psychiatrist was only doing his job, he couldn't be a parent for the little boy.

 

            Jarod lied in bed, tears streaming down his face. The lights had been turned off; only a night light remained beside the door so that the room wasn't completely in the dark. He didn't want to close his eyes, he didn't want to go to sleep.

 

            He just wanted to go home to his mom and dad.

 

 

###

 

 

            The sky was lightening outside when Miss Parker finally closed her mother's diary. She had read it in one go; she wasn't sure she would have been able to stop even if she had wanted to.

 

            Focused on her reading as she was, she had been unaware of her surroundings during the night. It could have cost her a lot, if a Centre's operative had been around, but she had known that she would be safe sitting here all night.

 

            As she took a sip of hot coffee – and she realised that the waitress must have come to fill her cup all night long without her even noticing – she took a look around the diner. Despite the early hour, there were more people around than there had been the night before. People were sitting at tables or at the counter, eating their breakfast and reading the newspaper.

 

            At the sight of food, her stomach emitted a growl, and she knew that coffee wouldn't be enough. She gestured at the waitress who, instead of coming over to take her order, just smiled, nodded and turned away.

 

            She let her eyes fall on the diary once more. She had learnt so much about her mother during these past few hours. There were things that she already knew, but these were few. And there were still some things that remained a mystery for her, and maybe it was better that way; she wasn't supposed to know everything about her mother after all.

 

            She locked the diary and placed it back inside its box, closing the lid. It would remain there, safely hidden from everyone else. The only other person she would show it to was Ethan, because he deserved to read it just as much as she did.

 

            She heard footsteps coming towards her and she raised her eyes, expecting to face the waitress. But it wasn't the young woman; it was Jarod. The Pretender stopped a couple of feet away from her and waited to see what she would do.

 

            He had a sheepish look on his face. He just hoped that she would be able to forgive him, even though he knew she would be in his right not to. And he couldn't help but wonder what it meant for them.

 

            Not wanting to attract any more attention that she already had, Parker knew she only had two options: either she told him to leave her alone or she told him to sit down. She wasn't even considering leaving herself; she was hungry and wanted to eat some breakfast.

 

"Sit down," she ordered, and he did. "You know, Jarod," she continued before he could start talking, "you hurt me a lot in the past few years with the little games you played. But I don't think anything you did ever hurt me more than you hiding my mother's diary from me."

 

"I'm sorry..."

 

"I don't need or want your apologies. Save them for someone else. Just tell me one thing: when and where did you find it?"

 

"It was in one of your mother's safe deposit box. The same one where I found the copy of the security tape with the footage of your mother talking to Fenigor," he added, knowing that she would be able to put two and two together from there.

 

"You had it for four years?" she asked her voice slightly rising."Why did you keep it from me all this time? And what made you decide to finally give it to me?"

 

            He didn't talk straight away as the waitress was coming their way with Miss Parker's breakfast. He waited until they were alone once more before speaking.

 

"At first, I kept it because I just wanted answers to my own questions. Trust me, I know I should have given it to you sooner."

 

"But you didn't. If we weren't on the run together and you weren't facing the risk of me finding it on my own, would you ever have given it to me?"

 

"It wasn't mine to keep," he said, not really answering her question.

 

"And yet you did, for four years." She paused, taking a bite of her breakfast. "Did you read it?" she asked

 

            He didn't need to answer that one out loud; she saw the answer written on his face. She wasn't surprised; she had even been expecting it, and the opposite would have really surprised her. She knew that he had probably just been trying to find answers about his own past in her mother's diary, but it didn't mean that she could accept it easily.

 

            She felt betrayed on behalf of her mother. It was one thing that she, her daughter, had read it, but it was completely different when it was a total stranger. She knew she was exaggerating – Jarod was no stranger – but she couldn't stop herself from feeling this way.

 

            But she also knew that she needed to let go. They were on the run together, spending their days and nights together. And more than that, they had a son now, and for Joshua's sake, they had to keep working together.

 

"Never do this again," she said forcefully.

 

"I won't. Does that mean that you forgive me?" he asked, wanting to make sure they were on the same page.

 

"There's nothing to forgive, Jarod. This is just who you are."

 

            These words hurt him more than anything else, and she saw the effect they had on him. She was just telling the truth, and they both knew it. He had been that way since he ran away from the Centre, always torturing her with secrets about her past, and what happened the night before had just been him doing it again.

 

            But it would be the last time it happened. He didn't want to drive her away, and he knew that if he kept doing that, he would do just that. He didn't have any more of her mother's belongings, but there were still a couple of safety deposit boxes he had recently found out about and hadn't been able to hit yet.

 

"We can go look at them, if you want," he offered.

 

"We will, but not now. Our priority is Joshua. The past can wait for the time being."

 

            He agreed. He had come to this conclusion before. He knew that they might never find the answer to all their questions after the Centre fell. But it was something that needed to happen if they wanted to protect Joshua. He also knew that he might never find his mother. The little boy in him who cried for her when he was alone at the Centre thought it was unfair that he had to give up one to protect the other. But the man that he was now knew that it was time for him to let go of the past and look into the future.

 

            His mother would understand his choice, he was sure of that.

 

"What took you so long to find me?" she asked as she pushed her empty plate away.

 

"Actually, it only took me five minutes to find you."

 

"Unless one or both of us fell through a crack in time, I'm pretty sure I left more than a few minutes ago."

 

"Don't worry, you did. What I meant was that Ethan stopped me from running after you last night. He said that you needed time, and he was right. He only agreed to let me go this morning because you had yet to come back. The voices told him that you were safe, but he still worried."

 

"Then, we should probably go find him," she said.

 

"Let me take care of the check for you."

 

"I can pay for my own breakfast, Jarod," she replied, a bit offended that he thought he had to pay for her.

 

"I have no doubt that you can. But I think that you'll find out you don't have your wallet with you."

 

            She didn't need to check her pockets to know that he was right. In her haste to get away from him the night before, she had barely taken the time to grab her coat, and had forgotten about everything else. If Jarod hadn't showed up, she wouldn't have been able to pay for what she had eaten. That would have been a first.

 

            Jarod hadn't waited; he had already put enough money on the table to cover her breakfast and some more, and stood up. He was just waiting for her. She took the box holding her mother's diary and followed him.

 

 

###

 

 

            The voices might have told him that his sister wasn't in any danger, and he trusted them, but Ethan was still anxiously waiting for his siblings to come back. He didn't think that the Centre could find them here; he was just worried what they could do to each other.

 

            When they were waiting for Miss Parker to come back, Jarod had told him not only what had happened to make her run away, but everything that had ever happened between them. He hadn't thought that his brother and sister could act like that with one another. He had only seen them work side by side before, to save him or to find out the truth. To know that they had been deliberately cruel towards each other had unsettled him.

 

            He had made Jarod understand that he didn't approve of him taunting Miss Parker with secrets about her family. He had told him to stop, and the Pretender had agreed that, now that they were on the same side, he shouldn't keep things from her anymore.

 

            Ethan just hoped that it wasn't coming too late.

 

            He finally heard the door open on the ground floor. Miss Parker and Jarod were bickering as they walked up the stairs. Ethan was worried that they hadn't been able to make up, but as they entered the room, he saw a smile on their faces. It made him feel better to see them like that.

 

"I'm sorry to have run away," Miss Parker told Ethan, squeezing his hand.

 

"You had every right to," he told her with a small smile. "I'm glad you two are fine, now. Because you are, aren't you?" he asked her as much as Jarod.

 

"We are," Jarod reassured him. "I'm going to take the bags to the car, and then we can go."

 

            They weren't in any hurry, but he wanted to give the two some time alone together. It was the least he could do.

 

            Miss Parker nodded at Jarod's retreating back before turning back towards her brother. She could see that, despite what the voices had told him, he had still worried about her. Running away from Jarod was one thing, but she hadn't had any intention to run away from Ethan, too. She knew all too well how it felt.

 

"Did Jarod tell you what's in this box?"

 

"He did. It's our mother's diary."

 

"Yeah... You can read it if you want," she offered, holding the box out to him.

 

"Thank you. But I don't want to. It's not my place to read it."

 

"It wasn't my place or Jarod's to read it either. Are you sure you don't want to read it?"

 

"I am."

 

"Well, if you change your mind, just tell me."

 

            He wouldn't change his mind, he was certain of that. It wasn't that he didn't want to know his mother more, but he wanted to see her through his sister's eyes. He didn't need to read her diary, read about her thoughts and feelings for that.

 

            He understood why Jarod and Miss Parker had read it. One had hoped to find answers to his questions, while the other wanted to understand her mother better. They had something in common: they both knew her. And Ethan didn't, and he would feel like intruding in her life if he were to read her diary. It might be stupid, and Parker would probably say so if he was to tell her that, but that was how he felt, and nothing could change that.

 

"I'd rather you continue telling me about her, if you don't mind."

 

"I don't, and I will," she replied. "You can ask whatever you want about her, and I'll answer the best I can."

 

            Jarod came back into the room before either of the siblings could say anything else, not that there was much to add. He took a second to look at them; they were still holding hands, as if neither of them could even think of letting go. Miss Parker was still carrying the box tightly against her chest. He had no doubt that they had been talking about it; it was a piece of the mother they had lost too early.

 

            Knowing that things would start being awkward if he didn't speak soon, he cleared his throat.

 

"Well, the bags are loaded in the car. We can go whenever you are ready."

 

"Give me a minute," Parker said.

 

"Sure. Take your time."

 

            She put the box on the table, and retreated to the small bathroom. Jarod watched her go before turning towards Ethan. Last night, his brother had showed him a side of his personality he hadn't before; he hadn't been exactly angry at him, but it had been close enough. Jarod knew he had disappointed him, which was one of the last things he wanted to do. Now that he knew that he and Parker would be fine, he needed to know where he and Ethan were standing.

 

"Are we fine?" he asked.

 

"Yes, we are. Just stop hurting her, Jarod," he said, falling easily into the protective brother job.

 

"I promise."

 

            Miss Parker came back in the room at that time and she looked at the two brothers in turn, an eyebrow raised. She felt that something had shifted when she was in the bathroom, but she couldn't say what it was exactly. But from what she could pick up, everything seemed to be fine between Jarod and Ethan.

 

"Shall we go?" Parker asked them, and they nodded. "How much longer will it take until we arrive at your family's house? And there's no more stopping for the night," she added. "We can take turns behind the wheel."

 

"Well, in that case, we should be there by tomorrow late afternoon, I think," Jarod replied after making quick calculations in his head.

 

"Great. And I suppose you still haven't called them."

 

            He didn't answer, but she didn't need him to. They had already had that conversation before leaving Ben's the day before; the Pretender wasn't seeing the need of calling his family to tell them about their arrival. They had briefly argued – well, she had talked and he had listened mostly – but there was no changing his mind.

 

            If she could, she would have contacted them herself. They needed some warning if not about Ethan's arrival, at least about hers. She was sure she wouldn't be welcomed with open arms after her years spent chasing Jarod around the country.

 

            But despite all her reasoning, he still refused to listen to her; Jarod could be stubborn when he wanted to.

 

            She sighed, and walked out of the room and down the stairs.

 

 

###

 

 

            Margaret was about to admit defeat once more. She thought she had been following Jarod's trail, but she had showed his picture around and no one recognized him. She was nowhere closer to find her son than she had been when he first went missing.

 

            She had had so much hope the day Harriet Tashman had contacted her to tell her she had unexpectedly run into him. She and Emily didn't have to think twice before setting up a date to finally be reunited with him. But the Centre had ruined it, just like they always did. And since then, she hadn't as much as caught a glimpse of him.

 

            She had stopped wondering whether he had been on Carthis when she was. It hurt too much to think about that. The Centre, in Catherine's daughter, had been present, and her heart broke at the thought that she might have missed her son again. She didn't know what had happened on the island after she left, and she might never find out unless she went back there. And that was something she refused to consider; the Isle of Carthis was cursed, of that much she was certain.

 

            Getting her hands on the scrolls would have meant so much; she would have been able to protect her family against the Centre and the Triumvirat. Her family would have been reunited. But she hadn't been able to find them, even with the doll she had taken from the pub. She could only wish that Catherine's daughter hadn't been able to find them either. She didn't want to think about what could happen if the Centre managed to get them.

 

            She wouldn't allow herself to lose hope, though. She had to keep searching for Jarod, and for ways to make the Centre fall. But she was always a step behind, or this time a few hundred miles off course, it seemed. She had been so certain that Jarod had been there just a few days before, but she had been mistaken.

 

            The cold November wind picked up, and she buried her face in her scarf and her free hand in her pocket, her other gloved hand tightening its hold on her bag. It was almost lunchtime and she was cold and hungry. Her bus wouldn't come in a couple more hours, plenty of time for her to sit in a warm place and have something to eat.

 

            She entered the diner and sat in an empty booth. A young waitress, that she hadn't seen when she came here earlier this morning, came to fill her coffee cup and placed a menu in front of her. She moved on to other customers before Margaret could react and took the picture of Jarod out of her pocket. She didn't have much hope that the waitress' answer would be different than the ones she had been getting all morning, but she still had to try.

 

            She raised the cup of hot coffee to her lips as she looked at the menu. She already felt warmer after just one sip. The waitress came back soon after, a genuine smile firmly in place on her lips.

 

"Have you decided on what you want to eat?"

 

"I'll take the club sandwich with French fries. And more hot coffee, please," she added.

 

"With this weather, I hear you," the waitress said as she looked outside at the clouds darkening the sky. "I'll bring it to you right away."

 

"May I ask you a question?" Margaret stopped her before she could walk away.

 

"Sure."

 

"Have you seen this man? His name is Jarod, and he's my son."

 

            When the waitress took the picture in her hands to look closer at it, Margaret felt her hopes rise in spite of her common sense. But all her hopes crushed when the young woman handed it back to her with a shake of her head.

 

"I'm sorry, I haven't."

 

"Thank you anyway."

 

            The waitress had represented her last chance to find a lead on Jarod. She knew it had been a long shot as no one else in the town had recognized Jarod, but she was a mother and she couldn't stop hoping. She would have had more regrets not asking her.

 

            Now, she would leave town knowing that she did everything she could to find her son. It wouldn't make her feel any better in the end, it never did.

 

            Ever since she had left Emily behind, wanting her to have a life, she had done everything she could to find Jarod. Harriet had told her that he had the habit of helping people around the country. Since then, she had started reading the newspapers, looking for clues about Jarod's presence. She knew that if she kept doing that, she would always be behind him, but she hoped that one day, he would still be around when she arrived.

 

            But this day wouldn't be today.

 

            She wasn't as hungry as she had been before coming in, but she still forced some food down her throat, knowing that she had to eat. She had thought about staying there until it was almost time for her bus, but now, she'd rather be out in the bitter cold than in the same room as people who had no idea who her son was.

 

            Drinking the last of her coffee, she put a couple of bills down on the table and smiled at the waitress. She put her coat and scarf back on and left the diner before she could change her mind.

 

            One day, things would be different, she knew that. One day, she would be face to face with her son and she would hug him for the first time in over three decades. She didn't know when it would happen – in a week, a month, a year, ten years – but she would be reunited with Jarod. And together, they would find the rest of their family. She would never allow herself to lose hope about this, because if she did, she might as well sit down and wait for the Centre to find her.

 

            And that was just something that she refused to consider.

 

 

###

 

 

            After the tension-filled episode of the T-Board, the rest of the day had been surprisingly calm for Sydney and Broots. It rarely happened at the Centre, and they had both been able to concentrate on their respective works. They had barely seen each other that day, and when they did, they carefully avoided talking about the T-Board or Miss Parker's disappearance. Everything had been said before on both subjects and they felt no need to revisit them.

 

            The next day, Broots was making his way to the psychiatrist's office when he came face to face with Angelo in one of the corridors. The man appeared seemingly out of nowhere, making the computer technician jump back in surprise.

 

"Angelo," Broots said, slightly out of breath. "What are you doing here?"

 

"Answers."

 

            Angelo placed a small vial in Broots' hand and left before the man could react to it.

 

            Broots knew better than to try and call back the strange man; he wouldn't come back anyway, and that would attract unnecessary attention. He let his eyes drop on his hand, curious to know what Angelo had given him.

 

"Oh god...," he whispered.

 

            He put the vial into his pocket and looked around, hoping that no one had seen what had just taken place. He resumed his walk towards Sydney's office, knowing that the older man would be interested in what had happened.

 

            It hadn't taken Broots long to recognize the vial; he had seen it once in the Bodily Fluid Storage on Sublevel 15, and he had hoped never to see it again. But there it was in his pocket. He wondered what Angelo wanted him to do with it, but Sydney might have an answer to that. And whatever he had to do with it, Broots was already certain he wouldn't like it. Nothing good ever came from something that was found at the Centre.

 

            Through the glass walls, Broots could see that Sydney was in his office, and he quickened his pace. The older man was surprised when the computer technician burst into his office, but he said nothing. Something had obviously happened, that much he could tell, and he dreaded to know what.

 

"Broots, what is it?" Sydney asked when it was obvious that the younger man was struggling to find his words.

 

"I ran into Angelo. Almost literally. He gave me this," he said as he took the small vial out of his pocket.

 

            Sydney took it from his hands and read what was written on it. His mouth opened in surprise, and he returned his eyes on Broots.

 

"Did he say anything when he gave you this?"

 

"He just said 'answers'. Sydney, why would he give me this? This is Baby Parker's cord blood sample. Which answers can it give us?"

 

"Answers on who his father is, Broots. Mr Parker was sterile. He couldn't have been the baby's father."

 

"Then, it has to be Mr. Lyle," Broots said, shuddering as he remembered what he had witnessed.

 

"I think if the answer was that simple, Angelo wouldn't have given you this. I'm afraid that neither of us will like the answer we will find here. We have to have it analysed, Broots."

 

            The computer technician was about to reply when Sydney held a hand up to stop him. They heard footsteps approaching, and the older man put the vial in his pocket. It had been just in time as they saw Lyle coming into the office.

 

"Just the two men I was looking for," he said. "We have a lead on Jarod, wheels up in half an hour."

 

            He left without before they had time to say something in reply. He had just given them an order, and one that he expected them to follow with no discussion.

 

"Why is he keeping us in the loop?" Broots asked, surprised. "I thought he would have gone without even telling us. He doesn't trust us."

 

"It's true that he doesn't trust us, but I believe that these days, he trusts Mr. Cox even less. And he'd rather we come than be alone with him. Didn't you notice that he hadn't even looked at him when we were waiting to face the T-Board?"

 

"Mr. Lyle thinks Mr. Cox has warned Miss Parker about the trap?" Broots asked, not quite believing it.

 

"Yes, and even though the T-Board hasn't proved him guilty, he doesn't seem to be able to shake this feeling off. We'd better hurry, my dear friend if we want to make the flight."

 

"What about...?" he didn't finish his question, but Sydney didn't need him to.

 

"I'll put it in a safe place for the time being."

 

"Does such a place even exist at the Centre?" Broots replied. "Do you think it's really Jarod?"

 

"I don't know, Broots. But if it's him, I think the trail will be long gone cold. He won't leave us any more breadcrumbs to find him."

 

            The computer technician nodded before leaving to go get what he would need to track the Pretender once there. Sydney eyed the security camera above his head before leaving his office too. Despite what Broots might think, there were still some safe places at the Centre, and he knew the perfect one for the vial. He knew that if Raines watched the security footage, he would want to get the vial back, but he doubted that the bald man would be able to find it. Not where he planned to hide it.

 

            Once that was done, he went to find the other three men. It still wouldn't be this time they would bring his protégée back, Sydney was certain of that.

 

 

###

 

 

            Jarod woke up with a start. The nightmare he had been having was slowly fading away, allowing him to come back to the real world. A look at the clock on the dashboard told him that it was past midday; he had been sleeping for the past three hours, a feat where he was concerned. A look towards the backseat told him that Miss Parker was still out cold. It didn't surprise him; neither of them had slept the night before they left due to her running away. She had insisted on taking the first turn at the wheel, but Jarod hadn't slept anyway, and she hadn't either when he was the one driving. Only Ethan had managed to catch up on sleep during this time.

 

"Good afternoon, Jarod," the man in question said, his voice barely above a whisper not to wake Parker up.

 

"Good afternoon. You should have woken me up," Jarod said.

 

"You needed to sleep, and I slept enough when you two were driving."

 

"Alright, fair enough. Now, where are we?"

 

            He had asked the question more to himself as to Ethan. He saw a sign coming up, but when he read it, it wasn't what he had expected.

 

"Tennessee?" he exclaimed. "Ethan, we're way off course!"

 

            In the backseat, Miss Parker woke up with a start at Jarod's exclamation. She was a bit confused about her surroundings at first, until the events of the past few days came back to the front of her mind.

 

"What the hell is going on?" she demanded to know, but the two brothers ignored her.

 

"Why did you take us off course?" Jarod asked.

 

"I... I don't know."

 

            And he really didn't. He hadn't been really paying attention to the road, something he wasn't willing to admit to Miss Parker and Jarod. He just drove in the direction he was supposed to, or at least, he thought. But now, that he was looking at his surroundings and recognizing them, he wondered what had happened. That was when he noticed that the voices, who had been nothing but a buzz at the back of his mind up until now, were speaking to him.

 

"We have to stop here," he said, parking the car in front of the diner he knew well.

 

"Why do we have to?" Jarod asked, but before Ethan could answer, Miss Parker did it for him.

 

"The voices want us to be here, am I right?" she said, and her brother nodded.

 

"Do you hear them too?"

 

"No, but that's not surprising. Ethan's had always been stronger than mine."

 

            Jarod nodded, before looking at the front window of the diner.

 

"Do you know what we're doing here, Ethan?"

 

"I'm not sure, Jarod. But I've been here before, right before the voices told me that you were in danger."

 

"Then, let's go inside," Jarod said. "We should have something to eat anyway. And maybe we'll be able to figure out what we're doing here."

 

            The Pretender was the first one out of the car, quickly followed by Parker. Ethan hesitated just a second before exiting the car too.

 

"Is something wrong?" Parker asked, worried that the voices were warning him about some danger.

 

"No, nothing's wrong. Let's go," Ethan said.

 

            They entered the diner and were spotted right away by the waitress.  With a bright smile on her lips, she quickly closed the distance between them.

 

"Ethan," she said. "I didn't think you were coming back."

 

"I didn't think I was either," he replied. "Our coming here was rather... unexpected."

 

"Well, I'm glad to see you, again."

 

"So am I. Is everything alright?"

 

"Yes, as you can see, they all came back. My uncle and I can't thank you enough for what you did."

 

            Jarod and Parker watched the exchange and shared a look, wondering what was happening. This young woman certainly seemed to know their brother, and they were curious to know the whole story.

 

            Miss Parker was amused by the fact that they had both seemed to forget about Jarod and herself. But she was growing impatient, and she cleared her throat to remind them of their presence.

 

"Oh, I'm sorry," Ethan said, as he turned to look towards his sister. "This is Mia. Mia, this is Miss Parker, my sister, and Jarod, my brother."

 

"It's nice to meet you," she said, looking at each of them in turn. She stopped when her eyes fell on Jarod. "Well, this is weird."

 

"What is?" Jarod asked.

 

"Well, a woman showed me a picture of you, earlier. You certainly looked younger on the picture, but it's you."

 

"A woman?" Jarod asked, his heart already beating faster. "What did she look like? When was it?"

 

            He had grabbed her hands when he was talking, so that she would focus all her attention on him. He knew he was causing quite a scene in the diner, but he didn't care. This was more important than anything else.

 

"It was a bit more than an hour ago," she replied. "She's a redhead. She said that you were her son."

 

"Jarod...," Parker gasped.

 

"Where... Where is she now?" he asked, ignoring Parker.

 

"I don't know. She just left."

 

"Did she have a car?"

 

"No, I don't think so. She went in that direction," Mia said, indicating the direction with her finger. "There's a bus stop there."

 

"Take me there, please," Jarod urged her.

 

            She didn't need to be asked twice. She could read on his face that it was important for him. And she remembered the look on his mother's face when she told her that she hadn't seen him. She knew what she had to do.

 

            Her hand still in Jarod's, she let herself be led towards the door, before taking the lead and running with him towards the bus stop. Ethan and Parker followed them without thinking twice. Their lungs burnt with the cold air, but neither of them stopped.

 

            Jarod's heart missed a beat when he saw a bus stopped just a few yards ahead of them.

 

"Mom!" he shouted, hoping that she would hear him and not get on the bus.

 

 To be continued...

Chapter 5 by Vicky

Chapter Five

 

 

            Jarod was running around the garden as his mother hung out the laundry. He was almost four and wished he could fly high into the sky with the birds. His mother had once told him that little boys just couldn't fly and that she would be so sad if he ever left her.

 

"I'll never leave you, Mommy," he had promised her, wrapping his arms around her neck.

 

            She had held him tight, only letting go when his baby brother started crying in the next room.

 

            Today, Jarod was alone with his mother. His father had taken Kyle out, and he had offered Jarod to come, but the little boy had asked to stay with his mother. Margaret didn't mind; she liked spending time with her little man. She knew that soon enough, he would be all grown-up and refusing to be seen with his parents.

 

            With her husband, they just felt so lucky to have their sons. It hadn't been an easy path they had followed to have them, but she would do it all over again. Her sons were her whole life, and they made her feel complete. The thought of not having them in her life was unbearable for her.

 

"Mommy!" Jarod exclaimed behind her.

 

            She turned and crouched just in time to receive him in her arms. His little arms wrapped around her neck and he buried his face in her shoulder, breathing her in.

 

"You smell good, Mommy," he said, and she chuckled.

 

"Thank you," she replied. "You smell good, too, my little man."

 

            They stayed like this for a moment, and Margaret wondered if Jarod was falling asleep on her. But she knew it was unlikely; as much as he was a little ball of energy, he also had moments when he needed to be calm. This was just one of these moments. If anything, he was likely to jump from her lap and start running around the garden again in the next couple of seconds.

 

"Play with me, Mommy?" he asked, rising his face to meet her eyes.

 

            She had yet to learn to resist those eyes, and she knew it would get her in real trouble one day. She pressed a kiss to his forehead, before rising to her feet. He stood before her, the same hopeful look still on his face.

 

"I'll play with you, but I need to finish this first," she said, gesturing to the laundry basket.

 

"I'll help you."

 

            She knew that despite all of his goodwill, he was still a little boy, and he couldn't hang out the laundry. But he wanted to help and be with her, and she couldn't deny him that. She hand him a smaller basket.

 

"Why don't you hand me the clothespins?" she offered, and he eagerly nodded. "What do you want to play when we're done with this?"

 

"Can we play hide and seek?"

 

"We can. But you remember the rules?"

 

"I can't hide in the kitchen cabinets, because it can be dangerous. And I can't go hide outside because I'm not allowed out of the house without you or Daddy."

 

"That's good, Jarod."

 

            She knew that her son was smart, probably smarter than other kids his age; but even now, months after she had first noticed it, it still surprised her. He had always seemed to do things earlier than the other children. And it looked like Kyle was just the same. Her little boys were specials, although she might just think that because they were hers.

 

            She smiled as her son was softly humming the nursery rhyme she sang for him at night while handing her the clothespins. She soon found herself singing along with his humming.

 

"Cree craw toad's foot, geese walk barefoot..."

 

 

###

 

 

            To Jarod's horror, the bus was pulling from the curb before he could reach it. He stopped running and dropped Mia's hand. He couldn't stop looking at the bus that was taking his mother away from him once more. She had been so close, and yet, he had been unable to get to her in time. He had to let her go, once more.

 

            But this time, he realised, it was different. This time, he had a car, and he could follow the bus until its next stop and then he'll finally be reunited with his mother. He couldn't even think that she might not be in that bus.

 

            He was about to turn away and run back towards the car, when he felt Miss Parker's hands stop him. He tried to push her away, but she wouldn't let go.

 

"Look," she just said.

 

            He followed her sightline and his breath caught in his chest. There, on the other side of the street, still at the bus stop, was the woman he had been looking for since he ran away from the Centre.

 

            She noticed him at the same time he did and brought her hands to her face, covering her mouth. He could see her trying to hold back her tears, but it was a lost fight. His own tears were already running down his face.

 

"Mom," he whispered.

 

            He made his way through the light traffic to the other side of the street, and finally embraced his mother for the first time in more than thirty years. Her arms wrapped around him, holding him tight, and her face buried in his shoulder, breathing in him.

 

            From where they were still standing on their side of the street, Parker, Ethan and Mia looked at the scene. The young woman felt like she was intruding on this moment, but she couldn't look away. She had seen the desperate looks on both mother and son's face, and she was happy about this outcome.

 

            A lone tear was making its way down Miss Parker's cheek as she wrapped her arm around her brother's waist.

 

"You did it, Ethan," she said.

 

"What do you mean?"

 

"Our mother told Jarod once that you would help him find his mother. And you did."

 

            Ethan was surprised; neither his brother nor his sister had ever told him this before. He didn't know why they would keep something like this from him.  But before he could ask her, Jarod and Margaret, arms in arms, were already making their way towards them. His question could wait.

 

            Margaret was eyeing the three strangers warily. She had recognized Miss Parker; she looked so much like her mother than it would have been impossible not to. She wanted to ask Jarod what the Centre operative was doing here, but before she could, they were already standing before them.

 

"I think you remember Miss Parker," Jarod said and Margaret nodded. "This is Ethan, our... brother," he said, looking at her as he did.

 

"What did they do?" she asked, knowing without a doubt that the Centre was behind this, whatever it was.

 

"I'll explain everything later," he promised her. "And this is Mia, a friend of Ethan's, but I believe you two have met."

 

            Margaret nodded, and suddenly understood the waitress' presence. She must have recognized Jarod from the picture she had shown her earlier, and taken them here. If she hadn't decided to show it to her, she and Jarod might have missed each other again.

 

"Thank you," she told Mia. "How did you find me?" she asked her son.

 

"I didn't. I had no idea you would be here. Ethan found you, just like Catherine Parker said he would," he said, remembering her words as well as Parker did.

 

"Why didn't you tell me about that?" he asked, looking at his brother and sister in turn.

 

"Because that would have been a burden too heavy to carry," Miss Parker replied.

 

"When did our mother told you this?"

 

"She didn't. She told Jarod when she was pregnant with you."

 

            They answered Margaret's earlier question without even realising it. She hid her reaction from them; even though she had surmised that something like this had taken place, it still hurt. But then, she looked at Ethan, an innocent victim there, and realised that maybe, something good came out of it.

 

"We should go now," Jarod said. "Thank you Mia."

 

"I was glad to help. But why don't you come back with me to the diner. I believe you first came inside to eat and you didn't have time to. Lunch is on the house," she added, knowing that her uncle would agree.

 

"Alright," Jarod said after having looked at the others.

 

"And you should do something else before we leave, too," Parker told Jarod.

 

"I don't think I should," he replied, knowing what she was talking about.

 

"Listen, Lab Rat," she said, pushing him against the nearby wall. "That you decide to take me and Ethan to your family's house without giving them some warning is one thing. But you have to tell them you have found your mother. Don't let them find out only when we arrive there. They'll be mad at you, if you do, and they'll have every right to."

 

"Alright, I'll call them after lunch," he said; the last thing he wanted to do was disappoint his family and he would do just that if he didn’t call.

 

            Margaret had listened to Miss Parker's talk, but the only thing she had committed to memory was that her family was together, and that they had just been waiting for her.

 

"You've found them, Jarod?"

 

"Yes, Mom. And we've never stopped looking for you."

 

            He decided not to tell her about Kyle just yet, knowing that she would have to be prepared before she could hear that her other son was dead. And that she had another son, he added in his mind, thinking about Michael.

 

"Let's go eat something," Jarod said, offering his mother his arm.

 

            They all nodded, and walked towards the diner. They were almost there when they heard Ethan cry out.

 

"Ethan!" Mia said, holding onto his arm as he doubled over and held his head in his hands. "It happened the other day too," she added for the others. "I don't know what's happening."

 

"We do," Jarod replied, letting go of Margaret's arm to come to his brother's side. "Breathe deep, Ethan, and concentrate on one voice only."

 

"Easier said than done," Parker replied with a strained voice, her eyes tightly shut as the voices became louder and louder.

 

"What's happening, Jarod?" Margaret asked, as she saw Catherine's children in pain.

 

"The Centre," Ethan said, before his brother had the time to speak.

 

"They're close," Miss Parker continued. "It must be Lyle. We need to go," she said, as the voices calmed down now that they got their message.

 

            Jarod agreed, and with Mia's help, walked Ethan to the car. The voices had returned to just a buzz at the back of his mind, but he still needed their help to stay upright. Miss Parker felt sorry for her brother; she was lucky that her inner sense wasn't as strong as his, even though at that moment, she would have given anything to relieve him of his pain.

 

"I'll drive," she told Jarod. "I'm a better driver than you are if it comes to a car chase."

 

"Let's hope it won't come to that," he replied, looking sideways at his mother. "Listen, Mia, if people come looking for us..."

 

"I'll just say that I never saw you."

 

"No, don't lie about having seen Miss Parker and I. Just don't tell them about Ethan or my mother."

 

"Got it. And I'll brief the people at the diner, too."

 

            Jarod nodded at her and opened the back door for Ethan, but before he could push him inside, his brother pulled away from him. Once he was certain that Ethan would be fine, Jarod walked to the other side of the car. He still kept his eyes on him, and he noticed that both Parker and his mother did as well.

 

            Ethan turned towards Mia. He wanted to talk to her, to explain what had happened, but he was struggling to find the right words. He must have frightened her again, not to mention that she was probably thinking he was crazy when it was mentioned he was hearing voices. But he saw none of that on her face. He just saw understanding, and that surprised him. It wasn't what he had expected to see, and he didn't know why she didn't seem to be afraid of him when she had every right to be.

 

            Before he could try talking – to say what, he didn't really know – she was leaning towards him. His eyes closed as her lips pressed against his, just like they had a few days before. She pulled away and he opened her eyes to see her biting her lower lip.

 

"I knew you were special, Ethan. Take care."

 

            She was gone before he could say anything. He watched her back until she was safely inside the diner. He then got into the car. Parker turned on the ignition and they drove away, hopefully in the opposite direction to the one Lyle and the sweepers were coming from.

 

            They stayed silent until they left the town limits, each of them worried about driving past the Centre's cars. Parker stayed within the speed limit, but she did her best to get away as fast as possible. Once she was certain that they hadn't been seen, she glanced at her brother in the rear view mirror.

 

"So, should we be worried about you sneaking out in the middle of night to go and find Mia?" she teased him, lightening the mood in the car.

 

 

###

 

 

"We missed them," Lyle announced as he came out of the diner, Cox in tow. "Jarod and Parker had been here earlier."

 

            No one was surprised to hear that the two were on the run together; they had all suspected it since Miss Parker's disappearance. The waitress had only confirmed what they all knew.

 

"Did she say which way they had gone?" Sydney asked.

 

"She said she didn't pay attention. And according to her, they had just been passing through. There's even not a single security camera in this backwater town," he added, looking around.

 

"Backwater town is too strong a word for...," Broots started but at Lyle's glare, he trailed off.

 

"Let's go back to the Centre," the thumbless man said. "There's nothing left to do here."

 

            Lyle walked back to his car with Cox, Willie and another sweeper. Sydney followed Broots and Sam to theirs. Just before he climbed inside, Sydney caught the waitress' gaze behind the front window of the diner. She was watching them as if she was making sure that they would really leave and not come back later.

 

            As her eyes met his, she didn't turn away; she just held his gaze, almost defiantly. The psychiatrist nodded imperceptibly at her; he was certain that she knew more than what she had told Lyle. And anyone able to hold their ground against the man earned his respect. He trusted that with friends like her, Miss Parker and Jarod were safe.

 

            He climbed into the car and closed the door, allowing Sam to finally drive away.

 

"Is something wrong, Sydney?" Broots asked from the backseat.

 

"Nothing. Nothing's wrong."

 

            He wouldn't give anything away in the car. Even though he believed that Sam was more loyal to Miss Parker than to the Centre, Sydney was wary of hidden surveillance equipment. But maybe he wouldn't tell Broots what he had just deduced; after all, it was nothing more than a hypothesis.

 

            And hypothesis needed to be proven true before they were shared.

 

 

###

 

 

            Jarod was back behind the wheel for the last part of their journey. They only had a few miles left to go, and the anxiety grew in the car. Their anxieties had different origins, obviously, but it all came down to the same thing: they wanted to be there already.

 

            Jarod had trouble believing that his family was finally reunited. He had found them all, even though it had taken more time than he had thought it would at first. Only one member of his family would be missing: Kyle. His mother had taken his death better than he had expected her to; he wondered if she did realise that Kyle would never be with them again, or if it would take seeing the rest of her family to come to this realisation. Whatever it was, he would keep his eyes on her and be there for her if need be.

 

            Miss Parker's worries about Jarod's family's reaction to her presence hadn't lessened after he finally made the call. If anything, they had skyrocketed. She didn't know what to expect; they hadn't reacted badly to Jarod's announcement during the phone call, but that was understandable given the other bombshell he had dropped on them. She still wasn't sure she would be welcomed there. Margaret's attitude with her – she didn't seem to resent her for having kept Jarod away from her, but then Parker didn't know how much she knew – gave her some hope that the rest of the family would act the same way. But whenever her hopes rose too high, she reminded herself that she was a Parker, and that nothing was that easy.

 

            On the backseat, Margaret wondered whether her husband and daughter would think she changed too much. She knew she was nothing like the woman who had left them; her running around the country, looking for Jarod on her own, had changed her for good. It would take time, but she hoped they would accept her the way she was now. She couldn't go back to the woman they had known. A part of her was also curious about Michael. Jarod had told her his story, and how she couldn't see the boy as a replacement for her oldest son. She wouldn't: how could she see her little boy in the teenager that Michael was? She had Jarod back; Michael was just an added bonus.

 

            Ethan, for his part, was nervous about meeting his family. Jarod had told him so much about their father, sister and younger brother that he felt like he already knew them. It didn't really make any sense, but it was the way he felt. But now that he felt like this, he wondered what they would think of him. With Miss Parker and Jarod there had been nothing but acceptance. Things seemed to be fine with Margaret, and that reassured him just a bit; if she could accept him, maybe there wouldn't be any problem with the others. He would soon find out.

 

"We're almost there," Jarod said, as he left the main road for a dirt road. "The house is just at the end of the road."

 

"There are no security measures?" Miss Parker asked, surprised.

 

"Actually, they are. We just drove past a sensor that alerted Dad and the others that people are on the way to the house. I've also hidden cameras in the trees. If they see that it was unwanted visitors, they can hide in the basement. Which is more a bunker than a real basement," he added as an afterthought.

 

"You've thought of everything," Margaret said.

 

"I'm sure I haven't. There is still room for improvement. But, until now, it has been enough."

 

"It certainly helps that no one at the Centre knows about this house," Miss Parker added, and Jarod nodded.

 

"It does. But it's hard to find. I bought it under another name."

 

"Of course, you did."

 

            Jarod knew that Miss Parker was trying to start a fight with him because she was feeling nervous. She had tried to ever since he had been behind the wheel, but he had dodged every attempt so far. He wouldn't please her by taking the bait now that they were there.

 

            They rounded a bend and saw the house for the first time. It was a typical house for this part of the country, but they knew better than to think there wasn't more to it. Jarod had already told them about the bunker in the basement, and neither of them would be surprised if the Pretender had made other improvements in the house.

 

            But Margaret's eyes soon diverted from the house in itself to rest on her family who was waiting for them on the porch. Her breath caught in her throat as she saw them for the first time in years.

 

            Jarod stopped the car, but it took her a couple of seconds to push the car door open. As soon as she was out, she was in her daughter's arms. She looked up and gestured for her husband to join them when she saw him standing there, waiting. When he did, he wrapped his arms around the both of them and placed a kiss on Margaret's lips.

 

            The Pretender joined his family, but Miss Parker and Ethan stayed a couple of feet behind, just like Michael did, the former huntress noticed. He caught her looking at him, and he shrugged, before coming towards them.

 

"Hello Miss Parker," he said. "It's nice to see you again."

 

"You too, Michael. This is Ethan," she said, introducing their brother to him. "Why won't you join them?" she asked, nodding towards the recently reunited family.

 

"I don't want to intrude."

 

"You wouldn't. They're your family, too."

 

            Michael shrugged again. It was strange to see him so insecure after Jarod told her that he was doing well. She guessed that it could be overwhelming to see your mother for the first time when you're a teenager. But she had no doubt that Margaret would instantly love him as the son he already was.

 

            And she wasn't mistaken. When Margaret left Emily's arms, she immediately noticed Michael standing to the side. She walked towards him and stood before him.

 

"Hi. You must be Michael," she said, and he nodded. "Do you know who I am?" she asked, even though she already knew the answer.

 

"Yeah. You're my mother."

 

"That's right. Can I hug you?" she asked, not wanting to make him uncomfortable.

 

            He nodded, and she smiled before putting her arms around him. It took him a couple of seconds before his own arms wrapped around her.

 

            Leaving mother and son to their reunion, Miss Parker turned towards Ethan. He was looking towards Major Charles and Emily, unsure of what to do. She put a hand on his arm, making him look towards her.

 

"Go see them," she said.

 

"But what about..."

 

"Go," she repeated, giving him a little push.

 

            She knew he was worried of leaving her alone, but she didn't want him to delay meeting his family for a second longer because of her. She could stay alone for a few minutes; she wouldn't break because no one was standing at her side.

 

            She watched as Major Charles and then Emily hugged Ethan, welcoming him into their family. From the corner of her eyes, she could see Jarod walking towards her. Before she could gesture for him to stay where he was, he was already standing before her.

 

"I'm happy for you, Jarod," she said, with a genuine smile. "You have finally found your family."

 

"Yeah..." He paused for a beat, unsure of how she would react to his next words. "You know you're my family, too, right? You have been, since we were children at the Centre, you and Angelo. And even more, now," he added as he took her hand in his.

 

"Jarod..."

 

"I know, not now. But at least come and meet my sister."

 

            She nodded, knowing that it was important to him. Still holding onto her hand, he led her towards where Major Charles and Emily were standing.

 

"It's nice to see you again under better circumstances, Miss Parker."

 

"You too, Major."

 

"Emily, this is Miss Parker. Parker, Emily, my sister."

 

"It's nice to meet you," Parker said, and Emily just nodded.

 

            Parker wasn't surprised that the young woman was wary of her; to be honest, the opposite would have been strange to her. She knew she might never earn her trust, and she was asking for it. She just hoped that things wouldn't be too strained between them, if only for Jarod's sake. The Pretender adored his family, and it would be hard for him to see the two of them at odds.

 

"It's freezing out here," Major Charles said, breaking the uncomfortable silence. "Why don't we go inside and have something hot to drink?"

 

            They all nodded and followed him inside the house.

 

 

###

 

 

            It was snowed the night after their arrival. In the morning, the land surrounding the house was covered in a white blanket of snow. It was like the whole landscape was in black and white; it felt completely surreal. Miss Parker was standing by the window, looking on the outside. The rest of the house was still quiet and she wasn't surprised; they had gone to bed late last night, neither willing to part ways just yet. She had planned to retire sooner, but she had started talking with Michael and she hadn't seen the time go by.

 

            Even though she was already ready for the day, she was reluctant to wander in a house she didn't know when no one else was up. Leaving her post by the window, she sat at the dressing table and picked up her brush. It was different than being at home, sitting before the same mirror her mother had, but she guessed she should get used to it. She doubted she would be able to go back there any time soon anyway. She didn't even want to think what the Centre had done to her place; they had never taken kindly someone changing sides.

 

            There was a soft knock on the door and she called for the person to come in. She had expected it to be Jarod and was surprised when it was Margaret who opened the door. Miss Parker made a move to get up from her chair, but she stopped when Jarod's mother held a hand up.

 

"Please. I don't want to interrupt you."

 

"You're not," Parker assured her, as she put her brush down. "I didn't think anyone else was already up."

 

"I believe we're the only two at the moment."

 

"I'm surprised that Jarod is still asleep. From what I know, he had never been able to sleep much. But I guess he feels safe, here, and that must help."

 

"I hope it does," Margaret replied, a bit worried about her eldest.

 

            She came to stand behind Miss Parker's chair, who had to turn to look at the other woman in the mirror. To Parker's surprise, Margaret picked up her brush and started to brush her hair. She was reminded of another house, another dressing table, another time, when her mother would do the same for her.

 

"Your mother had beautiful hair, too," Margaret remembered fondly. "I envied her, most of the time."

 

"Would you tell me about her?" Parker asked, almost shyly.

 

"Of course. What do you want to know?"

 

"Anything. Everything. How did you two meet?"

 

"We met at a clinic called NuGenesis. By the look on your face, I assume that you have heard about it."

 

"Yeah... I know you and your husband went there, but I didn't know my parents...," Parker trailed off.

 

"I never saw your father there, only your mother. She said once that his work was taking a lot of his time," Margaret added. "Just like us, they had trouble conceiving."

 

"Yeah, you can say that," Parker replied, scoffing. At the older woman's look, she continued. "Mr. Parker was sterile. He's not my father, but his brother, Mr. Raines, is. Because yes, to add to that, they're brothers, too."

 

"Mr. Raines is your father?"Margaret replied, not quite believing it.

 

"At least, it stayed in the family. Do you think my mother knew about all this?"

 

"No, I can assure you that she didn't. You have to believe me when I say that she had no doubt that Mr. Parker was your father. She had never given me thoughts to believe that he wasn't."

 

"Ok, enough about that. It doesn't matter. Just tell me about her, please," Parker asked, and Margaret nodded, as she continued brushing the brunette's hair.

 

"We kept in touch after NuGenesis, mostly by letters. We barely saw each other. We were too busy with our families for that. But she came to see us once when Mr. Parker was abroad, I believe in Africa. You were about six months old at the time, and Jarod was just over a year old."

 

"Jarod and I met when we were babies?"

 

"Yes. Well, when I say meet, it was more like we put you in the same playpen, and he seemed to annoy you more than anything else."

 

"It still hasn't changed," Miss Parker said with a soft chuckle.

 

"I had a picture of the two of you, but I lost it at some point. Anyway, that was the only time I saw you, and she saw Jarod. Like I said, we would write to each other, there were also the occasional phone calls, but it stopped there. And, Kyle first and then Jarod were stolen from us. We didn't know that the Centre was behind this, at first. And neither did your mother, you have to know that."

 

"When did you find out?"

 

"It was Catherine who did. It was a few years later. Jarod would have been about ten and Kyle six. She just ran across Jarod at the Centre. She didn't know what they were doing before she saw Jarod there. She thought that it was just a research centre, she had no idea... I was pregnant with Emily when she told us about it. The Centre had somehow found out that we knew, and they sent sweepers to our house. We had to run away."

 

"They would have killed you, if you hadn't. Or worse," Miss Parker added as an afterthought, knowing that they would have been able to keep Margaret alive until she gave birth so that they would have another Pretender.

 

"We met Harriet Tashman through Catherine. We still trusted her, of course. She had started rescuing children from the Centre. But Jarod and Kyle were always out of reach. She hadn't even managed to find out whether Kyle was at the Centre or not. She had just hoped he wasn't taken somewhere else. I don't know how she did it, exactly, but she finally managed to convince Mr. Parker that you should meet Jarod during a SIM."

 

"Why would she...?" Parker asked, her breath catching in her throat at the thought that her mother would use her.

 

"She knew they would never let her come close to Jarod. But through you, Jarod would have learnt to trust her and she would have been able to rescue him, just like the other children. And she was able to tell us that Jarod was fine. But it didn't go as planned, as you know."

 

            Miss Parker nodded, tears welling up in her eyes. Margaret was also holding back her tears. But they wouldn't cry, not now. The brunette took a deep breath before returning her eyes to Margaret's in the mirror.

 

"Speaking of plans, my mother once asked Jarod to tell me to complete her plan. She said the same thing to Ethan just after he was born and before... Raines told me that there was a DSA, that it contained incriminating evidences about the Centre. But I don't know where it is, or even what her plan was.

 

"The DSA never existed," Margaret revealed, surprising Parker. "She made them believe that it did so that she could have some leverage over them. But it didn't work, in the end. As for her plan, she told me what it was once: she wanted the Centre to become the safe haven it was always meant to be in her eyes. A place where people who are different, special, don't have to hide who they really are. That was Catherine's plan. I have no idea how she intended to do that, but it looks like she trusted you to know."

 

"Maybe she overestimated me."

 

"I'm sure she hasn't. Catherine was a good judge of character."

 

            Before Parker could say anything else, someone knocked on her door.

 

"Come in," she said for the second time that day.

 

            The door opened to let Jarod through this time. He stopped on the threshold, surprised at finding his mother and his childhood friend together.

 

"I'll leave you two alone," Margaret said.

 

            She walked past Jarod, kissing his cheek, and out of the room, closing the door behind her.

 

 

###

 

 

"I feel like I just fell into a parallel universe or something close," Jarod said once he was alone with Parker.

 

"Your mother and I can't appreciate each other's company?" she replied, raising an eyebrow.

 

"Don't misunderstand me. I'm glad you are getting along well. I was surprised that's all."

 

"Yeah, it was quite obvious."

 

"So, what did you two talk about?" he asked, quite curious.

 

"She was telling me about my mother. It was an instructive story. You should ask her to tell you, one day."

 

"Maybe I will."

 

"So, did you need anything?"

 

"I receive an e-mail from Angelo," he said.

 

"Since when does Angelo know how to send e-mails?" she asked, but then she continued before he had a chance to reply. "Never mind. I think I already know the answer to this question. I guess he was your secret informant about the Centre..."

 

"Most of the time, yes."

 

She chose not to dwell on that; she really didn't need to know who else was keeping Jarod informed of her whereabouts. And she wasn't sure she would like the answer.

 

"So, what did he tell you?"

 

"I know where Joshua is."

 

She pinched the bridge of her nose between two fingers, trying not to yell at Jarod for not having said so the moment he entered her room. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, willing herself to calm down before she resumed talking with him.

 

When she felt like she had herself in check, she reopened her eyes and looked at the Pretender. He had been waiting to have her attention before telling her about the rest of the e-mail.

 

"He's at Donoterase," he finally said.

 

"I thought they wouldn't use it anymore after you and your dad found out about it."

 

"I thought so too, but we were both mistaken. I don't know what else they are doing down there, but this is where they're keeping our son. I couldn't have found it in the files I took from Raines' computer, because he kept it on paper only."

 

"You can easily hack into the Centre's mainframe, but he doesn't expect you to willingly come back," she said, a bit more forcefully that she probably should have; she needed him to understand that she still hadn't forgiven him for this little stunt he pulled. "So what now?" she asked.

 

"We go rescue him, right now. He has spent enough time at the Centre as it is. But I don't want to leave without telling my family. I don't want them to think I ran away from them."

 

"Then, we're going to tell them, now. And then, we'll leave. But alone, Jarod. I don't want anyone to come with us."

 

"I refuse to put them in danger," he agreed.

 

"And what about taking the Centre down?" she asked, wondering if he had given up on this part.

 

"I have a plan. I'll tell you all about it on our way there," he said. "But for the moment, let's go tell my parents that they are grandparents."

 

"Maybe it's better if you don't put it that way."

 

"Why?"

 

"You'll understand one day, Jarod."

 

She left her room without waiting for him, knowing that he would follow. His family was in the kitchen, making breakfast.

 

"I was about to call you," Margaret said. "Breakfast is almost ready."

 

"Is there something wrong, son?" Major Charles asked, when he saw that his son hadn't really paid attention to what his mother had just said.

 

"No, nothing's wrong. It's just..." he trailed off. "Why don't we sit down?"

 

"You're worrying us, Jarod," Emily said, taking the seat beside him.

 

The Pretender knew he was even though he was trying not to. Now that he was facing his family, he was unsure of how to tell them the news. His eyes fell on Ethan, and he could see a reassuring smile on his brother's face; thanks to the voices, he probably already knew what was going on.

 

Finally, he took a breath and started talking. He wasn't forgetting any detail as he told them about Joshua; he wanted to make sure that they knew how the little boy had come to exist. When it came to talking about the day he was born, he turned towards Parker.

 

She didn't mention Thomas or going to the cabin to kill Brigitte. She only talked about their son. She told them about the consecutive days at the Centre, but left out the part about Raines, just like she had when she had told Jarod.

 

            Then, Jarod resumed speaking to tell his family about the latest developments. They listened without interrupting them, but not without reaction. Margaret was crying, Emily's face was showing anger and Michael felt uncomfortable as it reminded him of his own existence. Major Charles, for his part, had a determined look on his face, and neither Parker nor Jarod were surprised by his next words.

 

"What can we do to help?" he said when Jarod finished talking.

 

"Just stay here, safe, and be there when we come back with Joshua."

 

"You can't expect us to just do nothing," Margaret replied.

 

"I want you to stay safe."

 

"And in the meantime, you're running into danger," Emily said, before getting up and leaving the room.

 

            Margaret made a move to follow her, but Parker stopped her.

 

"I'll go."

 

It didn't take her long for her to find Emily. She was sitting on the porch, bundled up in her coat. Parker put hers on before going to sit beside her.

 

"I know I'm probably the last person you want to see and speak to, right now. I worked at the Centre, and I helped them keep Jarod away from you. But you need to listen to me anyway. Jarod cares a lot about you and the rest of your family. He would do anything for you, to keep you happy and safe. If you’d come with us, he wouldn't stop worrying about you, and yes, he'll focus on rescuing Joshua too, but he might not be able to protect himself at the same time."

 

"So you're saying that if we come, we might put him in danger."

 

"That's what I'm saying yes. I know it won't matter to you, but I promise that I won't let any harm come to him."

 

"And I'm supposed to just trust you?"

 

"Don't trust the words, believe in the actions," she just said, before getting up. "You'll freeze out there, come back inside. And while Jarod makes arrangements for our trip to Blue Cove, maybe I can tell you about the time when he was a sex therapist."

 

            Miss Parker knew she had piqued Emily's interest when the younger woman raised her head.

 

"Believe me, it's as silly as it sounds."

 

To be continued...

Chapter 6 by Vicky

Chapter 6

 

 

            Miss Parker didn't know where Jarod was. He wasn't in the Sim Lab, and Sydney wasn't in his office either. If he was in his room, she wouldn't be able to go see him. She sighed, sitting down in the middle of an empty corridor. She was confident that the sweepers wouldn't find her here. And even if they did, she was alone, and she would be the only one in trouble.

 

            She was used to being alone, but it next to never happened when she was at the Centre. Jarod and Angelo were usually with her. However this time, they were nowhere to be found. She missed them. Her father hadn't allowed her to come to the Centre for a week after sweepers had found the three of them huddled in a corridor on SL-21. Today, though, he had had no choice; it was faculty day at her school, and she couldn't stay at home alone.

 

            She had tried not to show her happiness the evening before when her father had told her that she would have to come to the Centre with him. If she had, he would have probably found another solution for her. She had hoped to quickly be able to find Jarod and Angelo, but she had had no such luck. She didn't know what had happened to them after the sweepers had taken her away, and she could only hope that they hadn't been punished too severely. She had told her father repeatedly that she was the only one who should be punished, but she didn't think he had listened to her even once.

 

            He rarely listened to her these days, and she wondered why this time would have been any different. He pretended to, but more times than not, she realised that he hadn't been paying attention to what she had to say. It was like she didn't matter for him anymore. And yet, she needed him even more than before. He was the only parent she had left and she didn't want to lose him too, even if it was just to his work.

 

            She tried her best to make him proud. She always worked well in class and brought back perfect report cards. And at home, she was doing everything she could to please him. But he barely noticed her trying. It seemed like the only times he noticed her these days was when she did something wrong at the Centre.

 

            In the past, she had tried to explain why she would seek Jarod and Angelo's company when she was here. They were her friends, her only friends, and she only wanted to spend time with them. It was what you were supposed to do with friends. But he refused to listen to her.

 

            She tried so hard with her father, but he didn't want to understand. She would keep trying, though, if only because she wasn't one to give up. And one day, he would finally say that he was proud of her. One day, he would look at her and really see her. One day, all her efforts would pay.

 

            One day.

 

 

###

 

 

            Andrea entered her empty, dark apartment and sighed. It was late and she had only been able to leave work half an hour before, after a long day. It was on days such as this one that she wished someone was waiting for her at home. She just wished for a presence, someone who could take her mind off of what happened at work. But she didn't have anyone, not even a pet, to provide that kind of comfort.

 

            Unclipping the holster that held her weapon from her waist, she opened the small safe box hidden in the closet and placed it inside. Even though there was no one but her in the apartment, she felt safer knowing that her firearm was locked away; she had read too many newspaper articles about accidents happening when a weapon was left lying around.

 

            She had just changed out of her work clothes when she heard someone knocking at her door. She was almost tempted to get her weapon from the safe box before going to open. She might live in a relatively safe neighbourhood, but at this hour of the night, you couldn't be careful enough. But it might be a neighbour and she didn't want to scare them. And after all, she didn't know a lot of criminals who knocked on their victim's door first.

 

            The person on the other side of the door knocked again as she reached it. She finally opened it to find a tall man in a dark suit standing on the other side. He looked up and down at her, and she saw him sneaking a look inside her apartment too. She was about to ask who he was and why has was here when he raised his badge.

 

"Special Agent Bailey Malone, Ma'am," he said. "Can I come in?"

 

            A bit surprised to have an FBI agent at her door, she nodded and stepped aside. She wondered what prompted him to show up at her place instead of at the office.

 

"What can I do for you, Agent Malone?"

 

"I believe we have a friend in common, Agent Zane," he replied, acknowledging her by her title this time.

 

"And who would that be?"

 

"Me," answered a voice from behind her.

 

            Andrea spun around in time to see two people coming out of her bedroom. If she recognized the man at first glance, she had never seen the woman before.

 

"Jarod?" she said. "What are you doing here?"

 

            She hadn't seen the man since she had agreed to let him run after the Chameleon alone. It might not have been her smartest idea, far from it, but she had known that short of having Jarod arrested, she couldn't have stopped him. And even then, she hadn't been sure handcuffs would have done more than slow him down.

 

            But after that day, she had never seen or heard of the two men. Until she found one of them standing in the middle of her apartment.

 

"We need your help," Jarod replied, looking at the two people who had crossed his life in the past.

 

"You need to answer my questions, first," Andrea said, the federal agent in her taking control of the situation.

 

"Fair enough," Jarod conceded, knowing that the NSA agent wouldn't back down.

 

"Alright. Who is she?" she asked, pointing at Jarod's companion.

 

"This is Miss Parker," Jarod answered. "Parker, NSA agent Andrea Zane. And this is Special Agent Bailey Malone of the FBI."

 

            Parker nodded at them both; she still wasn't sure Jarod made the right decision in coming here. Involving strangers in Centre's matter had never been proved to be a good idea. They usually ended up dead or worse.

 

"Where is the Chameleon?" was Andrea's second question.

 

            Jarod and Parker had expected this question. Andrea had worked on this case and she wanted – needed – closure. That was something they could both understand. Alex's fate would have had to come up anyway as it was part of their story. Answering her question now would at least put this matter to rest.

 

"Alex fell into water for a high distance. We think he died."

 

"But his body was never found," Parker added to Jarod's explanation.

 

"How did this happen?" Andrea asked as they knew she would. But before they could answer, she added. "And why do you call him Alex?"

 

"I ran after him at the south shore shipyard," Jarod started answering her first question, ignoring the second for the moment. "We went up on a shipping crane. His feet caught in a chain lying on the floor, and he fell. I managed to catch him, but he chose to let go, saying that, this way, only I would lose."

 

"Why did he say that?"

 

"Because Jarod here always wants to save everyone. Even those who don't want to be saved," Miss Parker answered Andrea, but the venom that Jarod was used to hear in her voice when she talked about his actions was gone.

 

"Why did you disappear so suddenly?" the NSA agent asked again, but before Jarod had time to even open his mouth, Bailey was already answering.

 

"Jarod isn't a NSA agent any more than he is a FBI agent, that's why. And you don't work for an oversight committee either."

 

"When did you understand?" Jarod replied not bothering to deny it.

 

"When Rachel mentioned that you came back and helped with Marks. You seemed more like a do-gooder than a federal agent."

 

"That he is, you got him right," Parker said with one of her smiles.

 

"Why did you confirm my story when Robert Collins called you, then?" Jarod said, ignoring Parker's quip.

 

"I figured that if you sent him my way, it was because he refused to believe you. And although I don't exactly know who you are, you seem to want to help people. Someone like that can't be that bad."

 

"Thank you. I see that I was right to trust you and have you here tonight."

 

"I didn't understand a word of what you've been talking about, gentlemen," Andrea intervened. "Care to explain?"

 

"As Agent Malone said, I'm not a NSA agent, I've never been. I'm a Pretender, a human chameleon if you'd rather. I can become anyone that I want to be."

 

"Like the Chameleon we tracked?"

 

"Yes. Actually, Alex and I were trained in the same facility," he said, before pausing. His next words would surprise her, no doubt. "And Eddy too."

 

"Eddy?" Andrea exclaimed, her throat closing up at the mention of her dead partner. "But… how?"

 

"It's a long story. It all starts in 1963, when I was kidnapped from my parents."

 

            As Jarod told his story, Parker observed the two federal agents standing before them. On their way here, Jarod had told her about them. She had been especially curious to know the woman who had been after Alex. She was petite, something that Parker hadn't expected, given how the Pretender had talked about her. She had no doubt that Andrea was strong; you would have to be in her line of work.

 

            Her eyes then turned towards Bailey. He was tall, taller than her, even though she wore high heels. Jarod had described him as being more observant than talkative, and she could easily believe that. He hadn't talked much since they arrived, choosing to let the NSA agent ask the questions.

 

            You probably couldn't find two people more different than the two federal agents. Parker had another proof before her eyes of the diversity of the people Jarod met while on his pretends. Now, she just needed to wait and see if they agreed to help them. And she really didn't like waiting.

 

            As she let her eyes roam around the room, she noticed that the NSA agent's apartment wasn't that different from her house in Blue Cove. Aside from a couple of family pictures, it looked like Andrea spent as much time here as Parker used to in her house. Their work was their life.

 

            She looked towards Bailey next and caught him looking at her. She resisted the urge to glare at him; Jarod wouldn't appreciate her antagonize people who might help them. Instead, she held his gaze until he nodded imperceptibly at her and returned his eyes on Jarod.

 

            Finally, after what had felt like hours to Parker – but had only really been twenty minutes – Jarod was done telling them his story. Even though he could hide it from anyone else, she could see the raw emotions written on his face. Ever since they were children, he had never really been able to hide things from her, unless he was torturing her. And tonight, she could see that he had relived every single moment in his mind as he was talking.

 

"Where do you fit in?" Andrea asked Miss Parker, breaking the pregnant silence that had fallen on them. "Are you a Pretender too?"

 

"No," she replied; they didn't need to know that, with the proper training, she could have been. "I was the Chairman's daughter, but I was really nothing more than another prisoner. Jarod and I grew up together."

 

            There was much more to be said, but nothing they really needed to know to decide whether or not to help them. They seemed to understand that it wasn't the whole story but neither Andrea nor Bailey said a word. There were some things that would be revealed in due time – and that included Raines murdering Catherine Parker and Lyle's taste for Asian women – but right now, they needed to focus on something else.

 

"What do you need our help with?" Bailey was the one to ask.

 

"We want to bring down the Centre." He paused, letting this settle before continuing. "I have all the evidence you would need against them."

 

"Why come to us, then?" Andrea asked. "Why not ask the police?"

 

"The Centre has ties everywhere," Miss Parker replied. "They would hear all about this before the cops even leave the precinct."

 

"But they don’t have ties in federal agencies," Andrea surmised from what the other woman said.

 

"I said everywhere, and if you think the government is immune…"

 

"The thing is we can't take the information I have to anyone, and we can't act on our own. But I trust the two of you and I know for sure that you're not connected to the Centre in any way."

 

"What would we need to do?" Bailey asked, making his decision known to them.

 

"You will need to choose your best men for this, those you trust the most. Once this is done, I'll run a check on them to make sure they aren't affiliated with the Centre one way or another."

 

            He already knew that this search would turn up empty; he had worked with their teams in the past, and if anyone was working for the Centre, he would have already been back in his cell, locked away from the world once more. But he would still better be safe than sorry. It wasn't just about him anymore: there was Parker too.

 

"You can't tell them what we have just told you. This must stay between the four of us. I don't dare th what the government would do if they knew that people like me existed."

 

"But still, you told us," Andrea said. "You do know that neither of us will be able to keep this under wraps once we moved."

 

"I know, but I'll try protecting the children of the Centre anyway."

 

            Until now, Parker had let Jarod explain his plan to Andrea and Bailey the same way he explained it to her earlier. But now that she listened to it again, she knew it wouldn't work the way he wanted it to. He wouldn't be able to protect them all as if they followed his plan.

 

            But if they were to follow hers...

 

"The thing is, we don't have to take it all down," Parker intervened. "What we really need is to make the board of directors fall, and to sever all ties with the Triumvirat in Africa and have them arrested too. And we have enough evidence to do that without revealing what is really going on inside the Centre."

 

            Jarod looked at Parker in surprise; this wasn't at all what they had agreed upon the previous day. Their plan had been to take down the Centre once and for all, and what Parker had just exposed would just weaken it.

 

            But everything she had just said was proof enough that she had thought this through. He was confused, wondering why she hadn't told him before if that was what she had in mind. He wondered why she had agreed with him the day before if it was to suggest another plan now. But more than that, he was hurt that she didn't want to take down the place that had made both their lives a living hell for so many years.

 

            Parker could read him as clearly as a book, and she knew he needed an explanation. She would give him one, but it shouldn't have been hard for his genius mind to figure everything out.

 

"You don't want Sydney and Broots to end up in prison, do you?" she asked, looking his way. "And I don't think you'd want Angelo and the others to be sent in a mental facility that wouldn't be any better for them than the Centre." When he shook his head no, she continued. "The new Parker legacy starts with me."

 

            With her words, he was immediately brought back to the plane, moments before Mr. Parker had jumped. This was what the man she had thought was her father had told her. From what they knew, this was what he had read in the scrolls. Maybe he had really jumped with them to protect Parker, because god knew what Raines and Lyle would have done to her if they had had this information. Maybe he had really given her the gift she had been waiting for since she was a child.

 

            Seeing that she was waiting for him to say something, anything, he concentrated on the plan she had suggested. It could work; they had enough evidence to have Raines sentenced for life or worse. He also had evidence against the other board members that they could use; the Tower would easily fall.

 

They would only have to deal with the sweepers. Then again, he had evidences against Willie and some others linking them to kidnappings and murders all over the country. As for the others, he had no doubt Parker already knew what to do with them.

 

"Alright, we'll do it your way," he finally said, agreeing to her plan, and she felt relieved. "But we can't get them at the Centre as I first thought if we want to keep it away from attention. You'll have to arrest them all at their homes, at the exact same time so they don't warn each other."

 

"What makes you think that they won't talk about the Centre later, and let the media know exactly what happened there?" Andrea asked.

 

"Because they will have even more to lose if they do, like their lives," Parker replied. "The Centre has ties with mobsters, and I doubt they want to risk someone testifying against them. Not to mention that government officials who know about the Centre's dealings wouldn't like their involvement to be exposed in the media."

 

"And we'll use the same argument with the Triumvirat after we have their leaders arrested," Jarod added and Parker nodded. "I don't think keeping the Centre and getting me back will weight much in the balance against risking their own lives."

 

"Sounds like a plan," Bailey said.

 

"I'll write everything down and you and your teams will have to follow it to the letter. It's imperative if we wanted it to work."

 

"And where will you be?" Andrea asked, already certain that the two people standing before her wouldn't be anywhere close.

 

"There's something we need to do at the exact same time," Jarod replied. "If we don't, we can lose everything. Here's my e-mail address, it's secure," he continued, handing each of them a piece of paper. "I want your list of names by tomorrow evening. We're moving in three days."

 

            Before either of them could say anything else, Jarod and Parker had already retreated to the shadows of Andrea's apartment. She turned towards Bailey, a man she didn't know an hour before, and with whom she now shared a huge burden. He might not look as lost as she felt, but she was sure that the same thoughts were running inside their minds.

 

"We'd better start now," Bailey said, and she could only nod.

 

 

###

 

 

            Sydney was sitting in his chair, reading a book by the light of the lamp beside him when he saw a shadow moving in the corner of his eyes. He turned his head in this direction, and wasn't surprised when he saw the two people who emerged from the shadows.

 

"Jarod! Parker!" he said.

 

            He got up from his chair and walked over the two children of the Centre. He embraced the man he considered a son, before turning towards his former colleague, smiling at her.

 

"I'm glad to see that you are fine, Miss Parker. Angelo told me that you were in danger, and we had no idea where you were. What happened? Did you get to her in time?" he directed his question to Jarod.

 

"Actually, she had escaped them on her own."

 

"I trusted my inner sense," Parker explained with a small smile.

 

"Then, how did you two find each other?"

 

"It was thanks to Ethan, actually. Genius here was about to fall into the trap meant for me when our brother stopped him. The voices told him where to find me after that. And more," she added, looking at Jarod.

 

"More? What do you mean?"

 

"He helped me find my mother."

 

"Oh Jarod," the older man breathed, once more wrapping his arms around the Pretender. "I'm happy for you."

 

"Thank you, Sydney."

 

"I guess that means you're disappearing for good," he said, looking at the two people facing him.

 

"It's more complicated than that," Jarod replied. "We can't say much more for the moment, but you'll know soon."

 

"I trust you. But there's something you both need to know." He paused, unsure on how to break this news to them. "Angelo gave Broots a vial of Baby Parker's cord blood. He said that it contained answers. We had it analysed and..."

 

"We know," Parker said, putting him out of his misery.

 

            It wasn't something they had planned to tell him just yet, but he already knew. The news must have shocked him as much as it had shocked them, and they wished they could have told him and Broots themselves. But Angelo had beaten them to it, which didn't surprise them at all.

 

            Sydney didn't say anything out loud, but his eyes were telling them everything that they needed to know; he was sorry for them, and wished that it hadn't happened. But he was also resigned, because it was what the Centre had always done: manipulate them to the extreme.

 

"What happened after I disappeared?" Miss Parker asked, feeling that it was time for a change of topic.

 

"There was a T-Board," he said, and neither Jarod nor Parker could say that they were surprised. "I, Broots, Cox and Lyle had to face Raines."

 

"It looks like Raines thought my brother really messed up this time."

 

"He did. He knew he didn't have anything on me and Broots, but he probably hoped that we knew your whereabouts anyway. The T-Board hadn't been able to prove any of us guilty."

 

"That would have been surprising if they had," Parker replied.

 

"Yes, but Lyle still seem to think that Cox has warned you in some way."

 

"Like that would be possible with that guy. I thought Lyle knew his minions better than that."

 

"Parker?" Jarod said, after he checked his watch.

 

"It's getting late," she told Sydney. "You should get some sleep. Even though I think you'll have a light day tomorrow."

 

            That was cryptic at best, but before he could ask what she meant, they were already gone.

 

            A couple of minutes later, just as he was about to turn off the light in the living-room, there was a loud knock on his front door.

 

"Open up, Sydney!" Lyle shouted through the door.

 

            He opened it and watched as sweepers entered his house, followed by the thumbless man. While his men were looking through the house, Lyle stopped before him.

 

"Where are they, Sydney?" he asked. "And no need to hide that they were here. They have been seen in the neighbourhood."

 

"They just left."

 

"Why didn't you call the Centre?"

 

"Sir, the phone doesn't work," Sam intervened before Sydney could reply.

 

"It's not a coincidence, I suppose. Search the neighbourhood," he ordered the sweepers. "They can't be far."

 

            Lyle left without saying another word to Sydney. The psychiatrist locked the door behind him, hoping that Jarod and Parker were already out of reach of the sweepers.

 

 

###

 

 

            Jarod stopped their car a couple of miles away from the barn; they would have to cover the rest of the way by foot if they didn't want to be seen on security cameras earlier than planned. He was about to leave the car when Parker stopped him with a hand on his arm. He turned towards her and saw her holding out a gun to him.

 

"Parker," he said, shaking his head no.

 

"This is our son, Jarod. If you don't want to kill them, that's fine by me. I know that's not who you are," she added, and he heard what she wasn't saying out loud; it was who she was. "But wound them, at least. They'll be less likely to run after us if you do."

 

            He reluctantly took the gun, knowing that she was right. He would try not to use it, but he knew the sweepers down there wouldn't hesitate if given the occasion.

 

            They left the car, and it didn't take them long to cover the miles left to the barn. Soon, they were crouched beside the trap door hidden in the floor. Jarod looked at his watch; only a minute to go. He looked at Parker, who answered his silent question with a nod: she was ready. The unfamiliar weight of the gun in his hand reminded him, if need be, that they wouldn't have a second chance; either they got out of here with Joshua or they lost him forever.

 

            His watch emitted a beep and he opened the trap door. Parker was the first one to climb down the ladder; he had wanted to go first, but he knew that she was a better shooter than he was. And he trusted the voices to lead her to their son.

 

            They had agreed to avoid the scientists as much as possible. They weren't the ones who would pose the biggest risk. As they had hoped, there didn't seem to be a lot of sweepers around; their little diversion of the night before seemed to have worked.

 

            Parker couldn't say that she had completely agreed with Jarod's part of the plan that had consisted of breaking into the Centre, taking as little precaution as possible doing so, before going to Sydney's. It had been risky, to say the least. But they had left enough clues to let them know that they would come back and they seemed to have taken the bait. She had to admit that she liked that little twist.

 

            They rounded a corner and were spotted by a sweeper. Parker shot him before he had time to sound the alarm. She had only injured him, and as she stopped next to him, and knocked him out with the butt of her gun. As she rose, she noticed the door at the end of the corridor, and the voices told her that this was it; behind it was Joshua.

 

            She looked at Jarod and pointed towards the door, enjoining him to follow. They only encountered one more sweeper who had the bad idea of coming their way just as they arrived at the door. Jarod punched him in the face and he was out cold.

 

"Go," he told her, as he opened the door for her. "I'll keep an eye out."

 

            She nodded and entered the room. She quickly looked around and saw that there was no one there. She allowed herself to let her hands fall to her side, not quite relaxing, but knowing that for the moment, they were safe; the door she had just come through was the only way in and out the room.

 

            And then, she looked at the middle of the room where a playpen stood and was met by big brown eyes. She let out the breath she didn't know she was holding and stepped closer, careful not to frighten the little boy, her little boy.

 

"Hi," she said, as stopped just outside the playpen, facing him. "You remember me?"

 

"Mama," Joshua said to her surprise, holding his arms out to her, but she quickly recovered; she would have time to think about that later.

 

"Yes, it's Mama," she repeated, picking him up. "What do you say we get out of here," she said, kissing his cheek.

 

            He nodded. She scanned the room one more time to see if there was anything he would need, but there were barely any toys. All she could see where blocks; he wouldn't need those.

 

            She walked outside the room and noticed that Jarod's eyes barely fell on their son before he started leading the way back to the ladder. She quickly understood why he acted this way; right now, with Joshua in her arms, she couldn't protect them, and he had to step up. He would only allow himself to properly meet his son once they were safe.

 

            They nearly ran into a couple of scientists, but they managed to hide just in time. They waited as long as they could before they resumed walking.

 

            Finally, they arrived at the ladder. Knowing that she couldn't climb up and hold Joshua at the same time, she handed him over to Jarod, and if he held him tighter than he would have usually done with another child, she didn't say anything. She took point once more, and soon, they were back in the barn.

 

            It had been easy, almost too easy, which made them worry about what was happening back in Blue Cove. It wouldn't be long until they knew, and until then, they allowed themselves not to think too much about it. They had made the choice to make Raines and Lyle think they would hit the Centre, and whatever happened, neither of them would be able to go back on it.

 

            The walk back to their car took longer with Joshua. He was a quiet kid, though, and he hadn't said a word since Miss Parker had picked him up. That was something they were grateful for, as that had allowed them to move with as little noise as possible. They didn't doubt that he had inherited his mother's gift, and that it was helping him understand that they didn't want to hurt him.

 

            When they arrived at the car, Jarod finally allowed himself to hug his son, and a tear fell down his cheek as Joshua called him Daddy for the first time. Before too long, he sat him in the car seat they had bought just the day before, before going to the passenger side; Parker would drive as they had already established that she had the most experience in this area.

 

            Less than ten minutes later, Jarod's phone rang. He pressed the button and put the cell phone to his ear. He listened for a few seconds before hanging up without saying a word, just as they drove past a couple of FBI cars.

 

"It's over," he just told her.

 

 

###

 

 

            The road trip back was quite uneventful. Joshua seemed to be an easy child, much to his parents' relief. They didn't want to think about how difficult the journey would have gone if he hadn't been. But they wondered whether it would last or it would change when he settled in his new life. Not that it really mattered to them right now.

 

            Jarod had called his father as soon as they had left Delaware to let his family know that everything had gone as planned. He let out the part where they hadn't really taken the Centre down; he thought it would be easier to explain that fact face to face. He hadn't been sure it had been the right choice until Parker had stood in the atrium and let everyone know, without uttering a single word, that she was in charge now. And if that hadn't been clear enough, she had already fired all the sweepers and made no promise to keep the other employees.

 

            She wanted to start anew as soon as she came back.

 

            When the house was finally in sight, they weren't surprised to see that the family was waiting for them outside. It had snowed again since they had left, and Parker could already see her son playing in the snow with his father.

 

            They exited the car, and Jarod took Joshua in his arms to introduce him to the rest of his family. The little boy seemed to enjoy the attention he was getting, and it was easy to see that he had his grandparents and his aunt already wrapped around his little finger. Parker wondered how long it would take his two uncles to get there too. Probably not too long; if he had managed to melt her with just one word – granted that it was a special one – he would easily conquer their resistances.

 

            Margaret ushered them inside after the initial greetings, not wanting them to catch a cold. They took off their thick coats and boots in the hallway, before Margaret led them to a door on the first floor.

 

"We may have gone a little over the top," she said as she opened the door.

 

            What Parker and Jarod saw inside was a little boy's room complete with a crib, other furniture, toys, and – they were almost certain – clothes in the drawers.

 

"'May have'? 'A little'?" Parker repeated, looking towards Margaret.

 

"He's our only grandson at the moment, so please, allow us to spoil him for the moment," Major Charles said.

 

"And we know that you won't stay here forever," Margaret continued. "But he needs a room for when you come visit."

 

            Miss Parker and Jarod looked at each other. They didn't even need to talk for his parents to know that they wouldn't stay here forever. But they still had no idea they were going back to Blue Cove.

 

            Communicating with their eyes, they knew that it was time to tell them everything. Jarod turned towards his parents and thanked them for what they had done. That was the least they could do before dropping yet another bombshell on them.

 

 

###

 

 

            She closed the door of Joshua's room after one last look at the sleeping boy. He was so exhausted that he had fallen asleep the moment Jarod had laid him down in his crib. They had no doubt that it wouldn't be this easy every night, but for their first night here, it was a real blessing.

 

            She turned back towards Jarod and they shared a smile. His family had taken the news about the Centre better than they had thought. Margaret had assured her that Catherine would be proud of her. Parker suspected that she had known what she had wanted to do before she even did.

 

"Do you think he's going to stay asleep all night?" she asked him as they walked toward her room.

 

"Let's hope so."

 

            He paused, looking at her but not knowing exactly what to say. He wanted to ask her about them, now that they had Joshua with them, but he struggled to find the right words.

 

            Seeing this, she decided to take the matter in her own hands, literally. She smiled at him and took his hand, leading him inside her bedroom.

 

 

Fin.

End Notes:

And we have reached the end of our journey. Many, many thanks to those who reviewed this fic. It means a lot to me. Before you ask, there likely won't be another sequel. I feel like I've reached the end of my own journey with this particular storyline. But there will be other fics, of course. And in the meantime, we have Rebirth to look forward to! Again, thank you so much!

This story archived at http://www.pretendercentre.com/missingpieces/viewstory.php?sid=5618