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Disclaimer: The characters from the Pretender don't belong to me (more's the pity) they belong to Steve and Craig, NBC, TNT, etc. I will receive no profit from this story but feedback would be appreciated.

Part 1

Metro
Washington D.C.


They raced for the back of the train. Minutes, maybe seconds, remained before the bomb was due to detonate. They jumped to the tracks and ran, trying to stay ahead of the explosion. They heard the blast and felt the heat as it began to roll towards them.

Miss Parker grabbed Ethan and pushed him into a small space in the subway wall, protecting him with her body, in her peripheral vision she saw the Pretender's body fly passed the niche that held her and Ethan safe. 'Jarod! Oh my God, Jarod.' Her heart pounded in fear as her head whipped around trying to follow where he'd gone. The initial blast burned itself out, the heat and flames withdrew like a snake that, after having struck, recoils to slither away.

She turned Ethan towards her and placed a hand on his cheek, "Are you alright?" she asked him gently.

He nodded slowly, looking into her eyes in wonder. "Sister?" he murmured.

Miss Parker's lips turned up slightly as she nodded. She glanced in the direction she'd seen Jarod vanish then turned back to the man before her. "Wait here, Ethan, I have to find Jarod. Do you understand?" She spoke softly, noting the frightened look in his eyes. "Promise me you won't move?"

Ethan nodded and slowly slid down the wall into a defensive crouch with his face in his hands. Miss Parker carefully picked her way down the tracks through the debris of the explosion until she found Jarod, unconscious and bleeding freely from a wound high on his forehead. She fell to her knees beside him covering the wound with her handkerchief, pressing it down to try and stem the flow of blood. She placed her arm behind his shoulders raising him slightly as she began to check for other damage he may have sustained.

"Come on Jarod, you're the doctor, not me." Her heart clamoured at the sight of his injury but she remained outwardly calm, as her hand reached his chest she heard his gasp. "Jarod?"

"Ethan?" he asked painfully, opening his eyes a fraction.

"Safe," she replied, "but we have to get out of here." She motioned to the rest of his body. "How bad?"

Jarod shifted slightly and groaned in pain. "A couple of ribs broken..." he paused, assessing the damage. "My left shoulder... dislocated, I think." Closing his eyes he sank back against her arm, grimly trying to breath through the pain.

"Can you walk?" she asked in concern, eyeing him carefully. "There'll be Police and God knows who else crawling all over this place soon. No doubt there'll be sweepers keeping an eye out for Ethan as well."

"I can try, feel lightheaded... probably have concussion." he replied.

Miss Parker slowly lifted his right arm placing it around her shoulders as she tightened the arm she had braced around his shoulders, attempting to get him to his feet without making him pass out, when Ethan appeared at her side.

"Jarod, she says they're coming. We have to go." Ethan said as he helped Miss Parker raise Jarod to his feet.

The Pretender opened his eyes and looked at the two of them. "I have a friend at the Washington Memorial Hospital."

"Yes, I remember." Miss Parker murmured, her memories of one of his earlier pretends clear in her mind. He gave her a pained smile and continued.

"We'll have to stay underground for a fair distance in case anyone's waiting upstairs, let's go." He motioned wearily away from the fire and they made stumbling progress down the tracks.

****************

Washington Memorial Hospital
Washington D.C.


Parker stood on the street near the entrance to the hospital waiting for the man Jarod had described; tall, dark hair, mid thirties, with weird taste in clothing. She knew what he meant when a man emerged wearing purple parachute pants, a yellow button down shirt and multi-coloured vest, God Jarod, this is a doctor? She approached him purposefully.

"Nick Parsons?"

"Yeah, Who wants to know?" he asked giving her the once over before breaking into a friendly grin.

"A friend needs your help," she replied, his grin disappeared.

"Lady, I don't know who you are, but I'm a pediatrician not Special Agent Mulder, and I just got off a 12 hour shift." She captured his arm as he started to move away.

"Jarod's hurt!"

He stopped and turned back to her, searching her eyes. "Where is he?"

"Come with me." Miss Parker led him to an alley down the block, making sure no one followed them as she rushed the doctor down the alley.

"Ethan, Jarod!" she called as she approached. Ethan appeared from behind a dumpster midway down the alley.

"Sis, here!" Ethan retreated as she and the doctor came towards him.

Nick finally caught sight of Jarod. "My God Jarodman! What the hell happened to you?" he exclaimed as he dropped to his knees to examine him. Jarod grimaced in pain then managed a pallid smile at his friend.

"Slight accident with a train."

With a pained smile for Jarod’s attempt at humour Nick gently examined the injured man.

"Jarod, I've got to get you to the hospital. You're gonna need that head stitched up, and I've gotta put your shoulder back in, buddy. Let's not even mention the ribs right now."

"No way 'Patch'," Miss Parker stated firmly, "Jarod's not going anywhere near the hospital." Nick looked at her in shock, about ready to argue his case when Jarod intervened.

"She's right, Nick." Jarod spoke at last to forestall the dispute he could see was about to occur. "There are people looking for me, for us, dangerous people." he paused. "What about the Clinic?" Nick looked from Miss Parker to Jarod and Ethan.

"Let me get my ride," he said as he stood.

"I'm coming with you, Parsons. Ethan, stay with Jarod, we'll be back soon."

"Miss Parker!" Jarod called, "Mellow out, he's a friend." She stopped but didn't turn.

"I don't have friends." She called back decisively. As she walked toward the doctor waiting at the entrance to the alley, she thought she heard his voice again, very softly.

"You have me."

************************

Southside Community Clinic
Washington D.C.


Miss Parker sat on a sofa in the employee common room of the Clinic, Ethan asleep beside her with his head on her lap when Nick Parsons walked through the door.

"He'll be fine. A bit sore for a while, but that's to be expected. Have you got somewhere to take him? He'll need some rest for a few days. No moving around, nothing energetic or too strenuous?"

Miss Parker smirked at Nick. "I have a plan, but it depends on Jarod. Does he have his cell phone on him?"

Jarod spoke from the door. "Yes, I do." He raised his eyebrow at her. "What do you have in mind?"

"I'll explain everything while your friend here, gives Ethan a check-up." Parker inspected Jarod with a considering gaze. "How's your acting skills, Wonderboy?"

************************

Nick entered the room after having finished Ethan's physical to find his friend and Miss Parker sitting on the sofa, a phone and equipment from what was once the electrical appliances of the common room on the table in front of them.

"Jarodman, are you sure this is going to work?" he asked his friend with a disbelieving look at the table. Miss Parker glared at the doctor as his friend answered.

"It should, only Sydney, maybe Broots could possibly catch on to the truth, but they won't let on, and we have to buy some time to get Ethan to my Father before they initiate a full search." Jarod turned to the woman next to him. "Ready, Parker?"

"As I'll ever be, Lab Rat. Let's do this."

Jarod grimaced but said nothing as he picked up the phone.

**********************

Mr. Parker sat at his desk glaring at the men standing before him. Sydney calmly returned his gaze while Broots stared at the floor in agitation.

"Where is my daughter? I know she used the Centre's jet this morning to get to Washington. Where is she now and what is she doing?" He began to raise himself from the chair when his question was met with silence but returned to his position as the phone rang.

"Parker." he snarled as he answered.

"Mr. Parker, bad telephone manner runs in the family I see." Jarod paused listening to the shocked stillness on the other end of the line as Miss Parker pulled back from her position on the sofa next to him so as to hear the conversation and glared at him.

"Jarod!" at this outcry she resumed her position. In her father's office, Sydney leaned across the desk and motioned to the speakerphone. Mr Parker nodded and replaced the handset.

"What do you want, Jarod?"

The pretender glanced at Miss Parker, he took a deep breath and became engrossed in her scent; he shook the sensation off as she returned the look.

"Don't worry about tracing this call, Mr. Parker. We won't be in Yugoslavia," Jarod smirked, "by the time you get here."

Sydney spoke up. "Who is we, Jarod?"

"Sydney, nice to hear your voice. Just a moment, I have someone here that wants to speak to all of you." He gestured to Miss Parker as he turned the phone slightly in her direction.

"Daddy, Jarod has Mirage! He..." Mr. Parker and Sydney looked at one another as her voice was abruptly cut off.

"Naughty, naughty, Miss Parker. Now that wasn't what you were supposed to say at all." Amusement coloured his tone and Jarod's voice became muffled when he continued as if speaking to someone in the background. "Take her to the other room while I finish here."

Over the phone they heard a scuffle and a door slam.

"Jarod, if you hurt my daughter..." Mr. Parker shouted, leaving the threat unvoiced.

Miss Parker gave Jarod a feral grin when she heard the anger and feigned concern in her father's voice.

"As long as you cooperate, you will see her again Mr. Parker, I assure you." The older man spluttered as he tried to contain his anger.

"Jarod, why have you taken Miss Parker?" Sydney injected while Mr. Parker fought to calm himself.

"Simple, my dear Sydney. I want all sweeper teams recalled for the next 24 hours, and I mean all. If they're not contacted within the next 3 hours, Miss Parker won't be very... happy." He smiled at her as he made the threat sound more dangerous than the truth it was. God, she smelled good, again he shook off the thought.

"You have 3 hours, Mr. Parker." he said significantly and disconnected the call.

Mr. Parked slumped back in his chair scowling at the phone as Sydney and Broots stared at him waiting for a reaction to the call. His expression turned thoughtful for a moment before he faced them.

"Call in all the sweeper teams, now. We know she went to Washington D.C., I want you two to find them."

"That may not be a wise decision, Mr. Parker." Sydney stated in an unruffled tone. "Jarod has become unpredictable lately, his state of mind may be considered perilous at best. If he becomes aware of us, Miss Parker may be in a vulnerable situation."

Mr. Parker glanced at Sydney, sizing up what he'd said, and nodded then he stared intently at the man in front of his desk.

"Call off the Sweeper teams. We'll give Jarod his 24 hours." His voice changed, deepening with a determination they had never heard from him before. "Then I want every resource we have at our disposal to find them. Bring my daughter back."

"And Jarod?" Sydney asked quietly.

"Dead, Sydney. I want him dead." His gaze returned to the phone. Mr. Parker turned his back towards them as he rotated his chair to the window of his office.

"Be reasonable Mr. Parker, don't you think this decision may be a little rash?" Sydney's question didn't receive a response, after a moment they made there way out. They walked down the hall a short distance before Broots grabbed Sydney's arm and pulled him to a halt. He cautiously checked the area before whispering to his co-worker and friend.

"What was that about Jarod's state of mind, Syd? We both know Jarod wouldn't hurt Miss Parker. What's going on?" Sydney too, glanced around to detect any unseen listener.

"Broots, I don't know what's going on any more than you do, but we must be discreet. I believe she will be safe with Jarod, let us wait and see what will occur, hmm?"

Broots nodded and nervously made his way to the Tech room, maybe there would be an Email from Jarod, it wouldn't be the first time. Sydney watched after him as he left then made his way to the communication room to recall the sweepers.

'Jarod, my friend, I hope you know what your're doing.'

*************************

'God I wish I had a cigarette!' Miss Parker moved away from the Pretender, being that close to the Lab Rat was doing strange things to her stomach not to mention the way he looked at her. 'Maybe my ulcer's playing up?' She paced back and forth in front of the table, her thoughts becoming more agitated by the moment, 'What the hell's wrong with me?'. She stopped and faced the weary man on the sofa.

"What now, genius?"

"We contact my father. Ethan will be safe with him and Jordan for a time, and they can get him some help."

"Jordan?"

"Yes, my..." Jarod paused looking at Nick and continued. "Son."

Miss Parked gave him a questioning look before her expression cleared as realisation dawned. 'Of course, Jarod's clone.'

"Ah, and then what? The team that has been assigned to find them have come close too often for me to feel confident that Ethan would remain safe for long."

"We'll have to get them out of the country for a while, at least until he gets some help and learns to control the voices."

"That could take a while, he's been in the Centre under Raines' control since his birth, remember?"

"How could I forget, Miss Parker?" Jarod replied angrily as he shoved himself upright, immediately gasping as his ribs protested the move.

"Enough!" Nick raised his voice and approached his friend. "I don't know the history here people, but this arguing isn't going to get you anywhere." He helped Jarod to lie back against the sofa and stood regarding them both. "Ethan needs psychiatric help I take it? He also needs to get as far away from these people as possible, right?" He continued as they both agreed. " I may be able to help you there."

"And how's that, Patch?" Miss Parker regarded the doctor with a scornful gaze. His eyes met hers and he smiled happily.

"You know Jarod, I like this woman, she's a consistent bitch." Jarod fought to keep the smile from him face as he watched Miss Parker's expression turn mean.

"Okay, Okay! Let's call a truce, how can you help, Nick?" Parson's sat next to his friend and continued.

"I have an old friend from Med School who's looking to go for a long term overseas jobs, wants to see the world. She's good, you get it set up and she'd be happy to take the job, um, she'd get paid, right?" he looked from one to the other questioningly.

"Yeah, Nick. That's not a problem. Would she be willing to leave now?"

"Let me just check on Ethan and I'll give her a call." Nick left the sofa and headed for the door, just before he exited he turned. "Now you two play nice, okay?" With that he disappeared.

Miss Parker stood with her arms crossed staring at the door the doctor had departed through, her gaze turned back to Jarod as he spoke.

"We will have to give them a distraction, they won't be able to use regular air travel. I don't know how long it will take Dad to get all of them out of the country with the contacts he has."

"We've bought some time..."

"24 hours at best, that's if your father bought our little charade and is unwilling to risk your safety." Miss Parker tensed as if she angrily wanted to dispute his comment then her shoulders dropped as she nodded at him to continue.

"We have time to get Ethan to my father but they'll need us to keep the Centre busy elsewhere while they make their travel arrangements to leave the country. I have some false leads already in place that may hold them for about a week, I hope."

"How long can we expect them to believe you have me as a hostage before my father becomes suspicious, Jarod? I can't leave the Centre now, I'm getting too close to the answers I need about my Mother. She had plans, Jarod, I can't just abandon the work she started..." She stopped and turned away from the look of shock the man on the sofa sent her. Her eyes filled with tears as he got up and approached her.

"You're trying to carry on where she left off?" His voice had a note of accusation; he gripped her shoulders fiercely. "When did you start this? Why were you still hunting me? Were you going to sacrifice me for your mother's plan?" Her head shot up as he questioned her reproachfully.

"NO!" She became stiff in his grasp, not yet willing to meet his gaze. 'Now or never,' she decided. "You would never have been caught. Months ago Sydney, Broots and I devised several plans to delay or misdirect anyone coming close to you." He released her shoulders and turned her to face him, gripping her arms as he did. She looked into his eyes as she repeated, softly. "You would never have been caught."

"Why?" his asked harshly, confusion and hope reflected in his eyes. "Why, after all this time...?"

"Someone once said to me..." she hesitated closing her eyes as the tears overflowed, taking a deep breath, she returned her gaze to his. "...that he still remembered the little girl that gave him his first kiss. I guess, I wanted to be the woman that little girl could have become." Jarod groaned and lowered his head to her shoulder as he gently drew her into his arms.

Miss Parker held him for a moment before pulling away, she needed to put some distance between them before she felt overwhelmed by his touch. "Outwardly, this changes nothing, Jarod. When Ethan is safe, I'll return to the Centre and to all appearances the situation will be exactly as it was before." She made her way behind the sofa needing some form of physical barrier between them.

"No! This changes everything!" The despair in his voice made her cringe. She fought to reinstate the persona she'd perfected over the years since she'd learned 'the facts of life' Centre style due to her mother's sham death in an elevator.

"Have you ever heard the saying, 'hostages to fortune'?" She faced him squarely, refusing the comfort his presence implied. "My mother! Thomas! I won't give up any more hostages, Jarod." her determination was evident. She made her way to the door feeling his eyes burning into her back. He spoke before she could leave.

"You believe you'll suffer the same fate as your mother, don't you?."

"Don't SIM me, Lab Rat, you won't like the results." With these parting words she left the room.


************************

She reentered the common room an hour or so later to find Jarod gazing out the window with his cell phone to his ear, Parsons and a small blonde woman sat on the sofa drinking coffee. Pouring herself a cup she approached the couple as she listened to the Pretender's side of the conversation.

"No, Dad, I'm fine. When will you arrive?" He paused to hear the reply from his Father.
"Yeah, see you soon." He hung up and stared out the window for a few moments before he turned to the people in the room behind him, he contemplated Miss Parker for a moment noticing the full armour in place before dropping his gaze to the floor.

"They'll be here in a couple of hours." Turning to the blonde he questioned. "Have you got everything you need, Jaime?" She gave him a reassuring smile with a nod towards the small duffle bag near the door.

"You said, travel light."

"Are you sure this won't be a problem? You won't be able to contact family or friends for a while, at least until we're sure the Centre isn't aware of your involvement."

"It's not a problem, Jarod, there's only my sister and myself. She's so involved in her career in the world of Finance at the moment it'll be weeks before she starts to wonder where I am. By then, Nick here will have delivered my letter explaining my extended working holiday overseas." He turned his gaze to Miss Parker, staring at her thoughtfully as she sipped her coffee.

"We have to get some reliable transportation, clothing and some other necessities. I have a feeling my car would have been found by now."

"The Haliburton?" she questioned raising her brow.

"Safe, for the moment."

"Do we get the things we need legally or... ?" Miss Parker let the query trail off.

"We can't afford to draw attention to ourselves." he said, retrieving his wallet he held out a credit card. "Nothing flashy, hmm?"

"Have you forgotten I was a Cleaner, Lab Rat? I know how to make things invisible." Miss Parker forced the sarcasm into her voice as she took the card. He lowered his eyes to hide the brief flare of pain at her words.

"My Dad and Jordan will be here soon, we only have until tomorrow afternoon to lead the Centre's people away from them."

"Jarodman," Nick Parsons stood and approached his friend. "You have to get some sleep, or at least take something for the pain. There's no way you're gonna make any serious miles the shape you're in now." Miss Parker noticed the gray tinge of his skin and the weary look the Pretender tried to disguise.

"Take a nap, Wonderboy, take some pills. I'll be back real soon."

"Be careful, Parker."

"Always." With this she left to get the things they needed.

*************************************

Having seen Major Charles and his party off, Jarod, Nick and Miss Parker returned to the Clinic.

"Nick, have you got the stuff I asked you for?" Miss Parker regarded the Pretender suspiciously as the Doctor gave her a sympathetic look.

"You know what these drugs will do when there mixed, don't you Jarodman?"

"Yes, its the only way."

"What's he talking about, Lab Rat?" She snapped dangerously.

"A way to throw suspicion off you and provide an airtight reason for your inability to escape for however long I have to hold you as a hostage." He refused to meet her eyes as he explained. "A very strong form of sedative and a few other chemicals that, when mixed, will produce a very deep sleep. If a tox-screen or blood work were to be taken of someone who was injected with these drugs, they would show that the patient had been subject to long term exposure and incapable of any independent action while under the influence due to the muscular absorption."

"For me, I suppose? Great, just perfect! And when exactly were you going to slip me this little piece of information, or the drug for that matter?" She glared at him, considering the package in his hands. " Forget it, I don't want to know. Side effects?" Jarod glanced at her quickly and again looked away.

"I won't give you the drug until we know their safe or unless we're caught." he closed his eyes in silent prayer against the second possibility. "The sedation will last approximately 18 hours and while your mental ability will be unclouded, you'll appear groggy and confused for around 6 to 8 hours after you wake up."

"Fabulous, so I won't blab about our road trip to all and sundry, what else?" Her tone was resigned but weary, she ran a hand through her hair looking at him expectantly.

"You'll be extremely weak until the drug is flushed from your system, that could take up to 3 days." He finally met her eyes, she saw the pain and misery he felt as he gazed at her. "If there was any other way...."

"Enough, would it feel any worst than a bout of the flu?" Her eyes glittered as she asked.

His face became flushed as he replied. "Well, no, not really."

"So this is just something else I have to pay you back for, isn't it?" His smile reflected her own as he remembered the time he'd infected her with the flu virus.

"I guess so, Miss Parker." As their gazes held, the exchange began to alter until Nick cleared his throat to get their attention.

"I'm sure there's a great story behind this but I don't think you guys have time for chit-chat. Jarodman, these are analgesics and some anti-inflammatory medication for the ribs and shoulder." The Doctor handed over the bottles containing the pills. "Let me at least change the dressing on your head, buddy."

"Nah, Nick, it's okay. Gotta go. Take care of yourself, I'll call you within the next few weeks or so, and don't worry."

"Cant' help it, it's a hobby. Don't forget, the stitches have to be removed a week from today."

"I'm sure I can handle that." Miss Parker purred with an foreboding smile in Jarod's direction, he gulped audibly and grabbed his friend's outstretched hand.

"Take care, Nick."

"You too, Jarod. Miss Parker, it's been a hoot." He gave her a laughing glance at the glare she threw him.

"Yeah, Patch, whatever."

Nick stood at the rear door to the Clinic as Miss Parker drove off after a brief argument that had won her the keys. He turned and locked up before making his way home. Now seems like a good time to take some of my unused leave, he thought. 'Yep, L.A. sounds good for a few weeks.'

*****************************

As she expertly manoeuvred her way through the late night traffic of Washington, Miss Parker glanced with concern at the Pretender in the passenger seat. Although he appeared to be resting, he was cradling his ribs with his arms, his posture stiff as he tried to minimise the pain he was experiencing.

"Where to, genius?" He opened his eyes and surveyed her as he considered his response.

"If we can make it to Richmond, I can get internet access on a secured computer terminal. I need to set up some false leads before they have a chance to get on our trail. I'll also be able to confirm whether or not the Centre has actually recalled the Sweepers."

"So, you do have a contact on the inside? Who?"

"Do you really expect me to reveal my sources, Parker?" He said wearily lowering his head back against the top of the seat, contemplating the passing vista as they made their way out of the city. After a time he drifted into an aching sleep.

Biting her lip she glanced at him again as she debated with herself. 'So much pain!'

'You can't let your defences fail again. You may be with him for a while until this blows over. This can't go anywhere, you have to return to the Centre eventually. You have a job to do, Parker, plans to see carried out.'

'I can show compassion, I can help him get well, take care of him as a friend, without his realising...'

'Realising what Parker? That you care, that he means more to you than a Lab Rat? That you have feelings for him, want him, maybe... love him.'
She inhaled sharply.

'No! I don't...!'

'Love him? At least be honest with yourself. While you were Chief of Security at the Centre you watched him on the cameras every night for nearly a year before he escaped.'

'I...'

'All those nights you watched him as he ate, as he slept, while he showered. He's a normal healthy, adult male, Parker. What did you expect, that he'd become a eunich, that he wouldn't have the same basic needs as other men?'

'Oh my God! I can't let this happen, I can't want him, love him."

'It's too late, Parker, way too late. All evidence to the contrary, you've loved him since you were children.'


Her breath expelled harshly, finally realising the truth, the level of her anger, the confusion and the pain over the last four years were undeniable given the revelation she at last faced.

'Ask yourself this, Parker, can you show him you love him. Can you let your guard down so far, then resume your unbreakable bitch identity that you've worn as armour all these years?'

'I don't know, I just don't know.'



***************************

Jarod continued to feign sleep after he heard her sharp inhalation, she had revealed more to him than she could possibly of imagined during their confrontation earlier at the Clinic.

'We've being playing a stupid, pointless game all these years! Doesn't she realise that I would have disappeared years ago if not for her.'

'How could she? Have you ever given her any idea what she meant to you? You've given her the flu, subjected her to the indignity of a strip search...'
he groaned silently as he remembered the scene on the video monitors, the probing she'd been put through had consumed his dreams for months, the one difference being he was the one doing the probing.

'I can't let her return to the Centre, I'd lose her for good.'

'You can't stop her, it's her decision to make.'

'I could make her change her mind.'

'Your arrogance is showing, Jarod.'

'I LOVE HER!'
Pain filled his thoughts. 'If she goes back she'll die, eventually she'll die'

'Unless the Centre is taken down completely there is no other way to make sure she'd be safe. Even then, someone would have to be on the inside to get the children out or they'd all be killed before help arrived.'

'We could disappear, the Centre would never find us.'

'You're so sure? How safe would you feel, knowing that the Centre was still operating? You've been digging into the Centre's activities for four years, Jarod, your participation has foiled more of their plans than they'd care to give you credit for. You haven't yet found a way to stop them, but you have given them some major setbacks.'

'I want so much more than this for us.'

'Now you sound like a child, raging against the world's injustice's.'
Jarod mused again, as he'd done many times in the past, how irritating it was that his own conscience sounded so much like Sydney. His thoughts returned to their earlier confrontation.

'If only for a short time, it felt so good just to hold her in my arms.' Warmth spread though his body as he remembered the sensation of her soft curves pressed against him. In the close confines of the car the fragrance that was uniquely Miss Parker tempted his senses, a blend of Mystery de Roche perfume and her own body chemistry tantalised him. He groaned aloud at his body's reaction to her closeness. 'God! Now on top of my other aches and pains, my jeans just became two sizes too small.'

***********************

"Are you okay?" She asked in concern.

"Yeah, I'll be fine."

"Did you take any pills earlier?"

"No, I... can't afford not to be clearheaded. We have little time to plan the actions we have to follow in order to prevent being caught." He shifted in his seat trying to find some relief for his increasing discomfort.

"Use your brain, genius," she replied scornfully. "If you don't take care of yourself we'll never get out of this. When we get to Trenton, I'll find a motel, we can get a few hours sleep and in the morning you can send electronic trails to the four corners of the world for the Centre to trace." Wondering if she was getting through to him Miss Parker returned her attention to the road. "Jarod, just take the damn pills." She saw him reach for the glove compartment where he'd placed the medication on entering the car.

"When you say my name so sweetly, Miss Parker, how can I refuse?"

******************************

Part 2

Jarod's Cabin
Northern Minnesota


Deep in thought, Miss Parker sat on the sofa of the latest in a long line of lairs she and Jarod had occupied over the past eighteen days. Although they'd had no initial problems after leaving Washington, the same could not be said for Major Charles and the others. Three days after separating from the Pretender and herself they had arrived at a small airfield on the outskirts of Concord in New Hampshire for the first leg of their journey to safety, only to find a sweeper team waiting for them. Their escape had only been successful thanks to Ethan's ability to hear his mother's voice warning him of the danger, and Major Charles' willingness to believe in a son he'd met merely a few short days before, even so, the escape had been a near thing. The near miss had prompted the Major to lay low for a time until alternate arrangements could be made for them to leave the country. She forced her mind to the present as she heard movement behind her, Jarod rose from the dining table, closing down the laptop computer he'd been using to check his Email's as he did so.

"Dad's made arrangements with a friend to fly out within the next couple of days. He's going to send word when as soon as they make it out."

"How do we know they won't be caught this time?" Her voice held a hint of fear. He approached her and calmly put his hands on her shoulders and, silently attempting to reassure her, he began to massage away the tension he could feel.

"Don't worry, Parker. Dad won't let anything happen to Ethan, they'll make it this time."

Desperately wanting to believe him, Miss Parker relaxed into his hands for a few moments, moaning softly as the strain started to melt away. His groin tightened at the sensual sound she'd made because of his touch. Unconsciously, his hands gentled even more, changing the massage into a caress. Rapidly coming to her senses, she tensed as she felt heat flow through her body from the hands softly caressing her shoulders. Sitting forward on the sofa she broke the contact between them that was slowly weakening the resolve she'd made to keep her distance from him, something that he'd seemed determined to accomplish since the encounter at the Clinic.

Jarod sighed as he dropped his hands to the back of the sofa, contemplating the beautiful woman before him. The silence stretching between them was becoming strained as he abruptly turned.

"I'm going for a shower, maybe you should get some sleep." With this he hastily made his way to the bathroom and closed the door.

Miss Parker's breath left in a rush as she relaxed back against the sofa and closed her eyes. 'Hell Jarod, I can't take much more of this.' Unhappily she thought back over what he'd told her. 'Only a couple of more days, I can do this, I can.' Then even deeper she thought. 'And then I don't know when, or if, I'll ever see him again.' Quickly she stood, making her way to her bedroom, firmly closing the door behind her, and she hoped, temptation with it.

************************

Jarod leaned back against the closed bathroom door, rubbing at the lingering ache of his healing ribs. 'Bad move, genius. What, did you expect her to do, throw herself into your arms?' Maybe it was time for a change in strategy. Okay, so the constant touching and other signs of affection weren't working, but at least she was letting each touch, caress last a little longer each time, the campaign he'd began against her defenses was showing some results. Taking off his clothes he stepped into the shower.

He thought fondly of the warehouse on the outskirts of Indianapolis two weeks prior. He'd decided on his current course of action after having almost been caught, luckily enough, they'd made preparations to move on when the sweepers had arrived. The small storage closet hidden behind the stockpile of goods waiting for shipment had been a convenient place to hide until the coast was clear. The closet had been snug, to say the least, his reaction to her had been obvious in the close confines they'd been forced to occupy, and just as apparent had been her response to his proximity. When they'd heard a noise just outside the closet, they had clutched at each other believing themselves about to be caught, when she'd felt his erection manifest itself against her abdomen her breathing had become short and he'd felt her nipples harden beneath her bra and the thin material of her shirt, he only wished there'd been some light in the damn closet so he could see her face. Upon leaving their hiding place a short while later both their faces had been flushed and her's had a slightly guilty look but neither had mentioned the situation.

One significant benefit, from his point of view, had been the increasing amount of tactile contact she indulged in since the incident, the brush of her hand on his face when he'd initially been in so much pain, the way she'd rested her hands on him to read over his shoulder when they'd received emails and investigated escape routes on the computer. Even better had been when they where sitting on the sofa together discussing Major Charles' plans for departure and she had unknowingly laid her hand on his leg, then she'd begun to stroke his upper thigh to calm him when he'd become agitated about the delay of his family's escape. He knew she'd been unaware of her actions by the look of shock that had crossed her face after he'd grabbed and held her hand to cease the caress and her expression had afforded him no small amount of amusement, 'Among other things'. If he hadn't stopped her there's no telling what he'd have done.

Exiting the shower he hastily dried himself, tying the towel around his waist he approached the vanity unit. Unable to find his razor next to the sink where he'd left it he opened the medicine chest above the sink then stilled when he realised it wouldn't be there. Slowly he closed the mirrored door and stared at his reflection a moment before turning to the bathtub.

'God, how does she expect me to use the damn thing on my face after she'd used it on those incredible legs of hers?' Thoughts of his stubbled face caressing the legs that had last been in contact with his razor shuddered through him.

'Okay, no shave tonight.' Breathing deeply he tried to reduce the swelling that had become an almost permanent condition since they'd left Washington together. Grabbing his clothes he quickly dressed before returning to the computer at the dining table to see if his contact from the Centre had sent any word.

****************************

Miss Parker stood at the window staring out at the blackness. Even though it had become increasingly cooler since the sun had set she remained, button front jeans and white 3/4 length shirt would do until she'd gotten her mind around the fact that she and Jarod would be separating within the next couple of days. Closing her eyes she groaned.

'No more 'hostage's to fortune', it can't happen again. I won't let it happen again.'

'He's capable of taking care of himself, Parker. Don't you think you deserve some reward, some joy in your life? Surely just to spend one night taking what you want couldn't be that bad?'

'It wouldn't be one night, you know that! When I return to The Centre, how do I live with the fact that he won't leave it alone? He puts himself in danger every time he comes to see me. If I start anything now, there's no way he'd stay away.'

'Like I said, he can take care of himself, he's not stupid.'
Dropping her face to her hands she groaned again as she realised that she was actually considering giving in to the desires she'd harboured for so long.

*************************

Sitting at the table, Jarod heard the sounds she made from her room. Rising he approached the bedroom door and stopped, listening, hearing a second groan he knocked lightly on the door. Thinking she may be having a nightmare he softly opened the door hoping to wake her and stop whatever may be causing such distress.

At the sight of her dejected figure standing before the window, he entered the room, closing the door behind him.

"Parker?" softly he called to her. When she didn't respond he drew nearer, realising that she was too wrapped up in her thoughts to be aware of his presence. Gently her placed his hands on her hips, wanting to draw her into his embrace but knowing she may not accept the comfort he needed to give. She tensed, and he knew that any minute now she'd pull away from him. "Parker? Talk to me, I can help if you'll let me."

"No, you can't, you're part of the problem." Wearily her hands dropped from her face, seeing their reflection together in the window she whimpered dropping her head back and closing her eyes. Now he was really getting worried, he tried to pull her closer, desperately wanting to hold her to take away her pain, even if he was the cause but he wasn't sure how. Moving one of his hands forward he placed it soothingly on her stomach hoping her ulcer wasn't going to be a problem but knowing it probably was with the amount of stress they'd been under. She placed her hand over his, not wanting his touch but needing it just the same.

"It's not my ulcer, Wonderboy, it's 'us'. I can't fight both of us." Realization struck, 'Smart one, genius. You've been trying to get her to admit to her feelings for weeks, and it's not that she isn't fully aware of her feelings, she's trying to deny them to keep herself and you safe.'

"Then don't." His breath whispered across her ear as he continued. "Parker, I can't play this little 'I run, you chase' game of ours any more. I want you too much, I've needed you too long." He felt her silent gasp before her breathing sped up. He gently caressed her stomach, inching his little finger below the waistband of her jeans and his thumb and forefinger under the hem of her shirt. Staring at their reflection in the night darkened window, he watched as her head came forward and she opened her eyes returning his gaze.

"Jarod. I couldn't live with your death." A shiver ran down his spine at the sound of his name on her lips, very rarely did she use his name unless she was yelling for him to stop or having a rousing attack of sarcasm. Remembering what she'd said in Washington he replied.

"I'm not a hostage for you Parker." He tightened his grip on her hip and stomach pulling her body flush against his chest. She felt his erection push into her lower back at the close contact. Lifting his hand from her hip he brushed the hair away from her neck and lowered his mouth to the lowest point he brushed teasing kisses along her neck to her hairline then nibbled at the tender flesh of her ear before soothing it with his tongue.

"Jarod?" Her voice was hoarse as he continued his ministrations.

"Mmm-mm?" The hum against her neck sent a shudder down her spine, but she fought the need to cave in. Hesitantly she continued, her curiosity had been maddening her for nearly five years, she had to know.

"Jarod, who is Missy?" She asked softly. Her face coloured as he stilled for a moment before raising his gaze to the window and capturing hers, a slow sensual smile appeared on his face as he stared at their reflections.

"Did you enjoy watching me?" He purred. She closed her eyes as warmth flooded her body. Before she could lower her head he raised a hand and placed it on her throat rubbing her jaw with his thumb. "No, don't look away." Opening her eyes, she allowed him to recapture her gaze. "I could feel someone watching me, in my room at night, in the shower. After I heard you'd become Head of Security, I just knew... 'Missy', is you Parker."

God, she'd known, she'd always known. The scene of his excitement and release in the shower of his apartment at the Centre had fueled her fantasies for months. Watching him touch himself so intimately, wishing it was her hands instead of his own had made her damp and flushed. It became an addiction she was helpless to break. Her breathing became laboured as she remembered.

"What did you feel, when you saw...?" His reaction to the confirmation of the fantasy he'd held for so long made his heart pound. "Tell me, Missy!"

"Oh God, Jarod! I couldn't breath, you looked so..., I went home each night and dreamed of touching you, being touching by you." Cautiously she admitted. "I almost came to your room once."

"When was that?" he prompted gently.

"About a month before you escaped."

"Why didn't you?" He murmured softly as he raised the hand on her stomach to caress the underside of her breasts with his thumb.

"My father telephoned, demanding I meet him at the house. I left immediately after the call. I was so afraid of what would happen if he ever found out, I didn't come back for a while and by the time I decided it was safe, you'd gone." Moving the thumb he'd been using to caress her jaw, he stroked her lower lip and she gently darted out her tongue and lapped at the digit lightly drawing it into her mouth before nipping it gently with her teeth.

"How long?" She caught and held the hand at her throat as she turned to face him, the hand under her breast slid away to find a new resting placed on the upper curve of her backside at her abrupt movement. Tugging his face down to hers she ran her lips and tongue across his jaw, delighted with the stubble on his chin.

"Ten months, I watched you for ten months." She confessed huskily. "I couldn't stand anyone else seeing you the way I had for so long." She pulled her face away gazing into his eyes. "That's one of the reasons you were able to escape. I stopped the nightly surveillance on you, citing that it was a waste of resources that could be put to better use elsewhere. That's also why I was chosen to recapture you..."

"Because your failure allowed me to escape?" He was floored to think how much she'd assisted him during his breakout and afterwards without his being aware of the whole story. Pulling his face back to her own she replied.

"I'd have called it my 'success', actually." Her breath caressed his face as her tongue stroked his lips demanding entry to his mouth. Groaning deeply, he surrendered, rubbing his tongue against hers as he fought for control, sharing the kiss both had desperately craved for years. Drawing apart they ended the kiss huddling together in comfort. Standing like this for a while, drowsily content to be in accordance at last, when Jarod cautiously began to softly stroke up and down her lower back, Parker nestled closer to him. When he tilted her chin up for a gentle kiss, it was a logical extension of the warm comfort they were both enjoying, she gladly met him half way.

A fire began to smolder between them. Fighting or loving, there seemed to be no room for half measures where they were concerned. Their second kiss began tentatively, deepening swiftly. Parker's arms went up to clasp around Jarod's neck. This was astonishing! Her mouth opened beneath the questing touch of his tongue and she felt rather than heard the wordless murmur of desire in his throat. Slowly she drew him towards the bed, and although it was what she had intended she was unaware how she and Jarod had stretched out full length on the bed together and she felt the arousing imprint of his long hard body along every inch of hers. He was so warm and vital, never in her previous experience had she felt so strongly affected by a man before.

'But this wasn't any man! This is the man you've wanted, loved, for years.' Parker released a contented murmur at the intimate contact with him.

"Purring, little cat?" Jarod whispered with the faintest hint of delighted amusement, and an answering smile appeared on her lips. They had wasted so much time, snarling and snipping, she thought incoherently, this was so much better.

"Missy, your're driving me crazy." Jarod groaned, rapidly losing what small amount of control still remained to him. He buried his face in her throat and began to lay a string of kisses down her chest, each kiss marking another button undone.

Parker was busy running her fingers through the brown silk of his hair, lightly dragging her fingertips on his scalp, she ran the fingers of one hand down the back of his muscular neck, delighted in the prickly feel of the short hairs at his nape. Her hand delved beneath the collar of his shirt, spreading over the flexing muscles of his back, tracing his spine as far as she could reach until his shirt stopped her.

She wanted to feel the warmth of his skin against her own. She was hazily aware that Jarod had just managed to undo the front clasp of her bra after, oh so efficiently undoing the buttons of her shirt while she'd been otherwise occupied. It seemed only fair that she return the favor. Planting one hand in the middle of his chest she shoved upwards.

He resisted the signal, too preoccupied paying homage to the curving swell at the inside of her partially exposed breast, but her persistence finally caught his attention and he lifted his head. It took a moment to make the muscles used for kissing to reshape themselves for a husky whisper.

"What...?"

Her feral smile caused the breath to catch in his throat.

"Don't you think you should join the party?" Her free hand came up and began to work at the buttons of his shirt, dexterously slipping them from the buttonholes. The blaze in Jarod's eyes could have lit up the darkness outside. He lifted and shifted slightly to assist her with her task, with one hand he pulled his shirt free of his jeans as she finished undoing his buttons, then he tore the shirt off throwing it to the floor beside the bed.

Jarod was leaning on his elbow, one leg pinning the lower half of Parker's body to the bed, it wasn't to keep her from escaping, that was the furthest thing from her mind, he was affecting her like no man ever had. His own shirt gone, he used his free hand to spread aside Parker's shirt and bra, with a shaky fingertip he traced a line from the hollow of her throat, down between her breasts, His hand surrounded a firm breast as though she'd been sized just for him, he drew his breath in sharply as he felt her nipple thrust into the palm of his hand.

"God, Parker," He groaned softly. "You're so beautiful!"

Shivers tingled down her spine as he moved his hand to cup her breast using his forefinger and thumb to gently pinch the erect nipple. He bent his head to taste the breast he'd been neglecting, making his way up the curving slope. At the warm, drawing pressure from his lips when he reached his target, Parker couldn't suppress the whimpering moan as she arched her back inviting him to take more.

Trailing kisses that felt to her like liquid fire on her skin he slowly made his way down her chest and stomach. Giving her a quick glance he raised up and sat back on his heels at her side, studying the picture she made.

"Jarod?" Giving him a sleepy eyed grin she studied him in return.

"I'm trying to decide what I want to do to you next." Releasing a husky chuckle she reached for the buttons on her jeans, slowly undoing them one at a time, his gaze was transfixed on her fingers as she carefully exposed her panties to his view.

"Let me help you decide." She murmured and he looked like a deer caught in a spotlight as she seductively ran a forefinger under the edge of her underwear, watching him as he ran his tongue fleetingly over his lips. He slowly reached out and drew her jeans and panties down her legs, his breathing became harsh. Dropping the clothing on top of the shirt at the side of the bed he couldn't take his eyes from the long shapely legs he'd loved for so long nor the nest of shiny curls that guarded the most intimate part of her.

"Jarod," She waited until he flicked his gaze up to meet hers. "Touch me." She parted her legs enticingly and he moved until he was kneeling between them. Lowering his head he gently rubbed his stubbled face against her inner thigh feeling her squirm as she leaned forward to grasp his shoulders.

"Ahhh!" A teasing smile crossed his face as he looked up at her.

"Parker, did you just say ahh?"

"I swear I'm going to shoot you." She panted as she threw herself back on the bed her arms thrown wide at her sides. Before she had a chance to catch her breath he gently nuzzled her core with his lips. Grasping the covers at her sides she tensed with a startled shriek at the unforeseen act.

Carefully nipping at her moist, sensitive bud then stroking it with his tongue he held her down with a gentle hand to her abdomen as she arched her hips against his mouth. He waited for her to lower her hips before deliberately slipping first one, then a second finger into her moist, warm depths, setting up a slow rhythm that her hips began to follow. Feeling her walls begin clench around his fingers he steadily increased the pressure with his tongue and lips, speeding the motion of his fingers.

Without warning her hips bucked up, almost dislodging his mouth as she screamed his name, her inner walls tightly clenched his fingers. Lifting his head he watched her face as she slowly drifted back to earth.

He quickly got off the bed and removed the rest of his clothing before settling himself full length between her silky thighs. Tenderly he brushed the hair from her face and lightly blew a cool breath across her forehead.

"Oh, God! Jarod, where did you learn to... Forget it, I don't want to know." He chuckled and placed tiny kisses along her jaw as she lazily opened her eyes.

"I read... a lot!" He smirked. "Let's call it research for the day I hoped you'd catch me alone." Smiling she stroked his face before she felt his erection prodding at the inside of her thigh. Reaching between them she carefully grasped his throbbing shaft, expertly stroking it's length, she paused at the top, catching the drop of moisture gathered there with her thumb before trailing her fingers back to the base.

"This must be painful." Groaning harshly he buried his face in her neck. "I've dreamed of touching you like this so often."

"If you dream much longer, Missy, I'm probably gonna die." He replied with a strangled gasp.

"Right, play later." With an evil grin she flipped him, reversing their positions on the bed.

"Slick move, Parker."

"I'll show you a slick move, Wonderboy." So saying she raised herself above him, straddling his hips and rubbing her soft moist core against his straining shaft. Growling deep in his throat he tightly grasped her hips with both hands desperately trying to draw her down.

"Did you just growl at me, Jarod?" She asked with teasing voice. Opening his eyes slightly he gave her a fair imitation of his 'gotcha grin'.

"Missy, if I'm not inside you very soon, I'm going to positively howl." Trembling at the husky voice that caused a quiver in her chest she locked her gaze on his as she grasped him and slowly lowering herself until he was fully embedded within her. The sensations this caused were amazing, she'd known all those years ago that he was remarkably well endowed, but the reality as he entered her was amazing. She felt so full, as if for the first time in her life she had truly been 'claimed'. Not releasing his gaze she whispered.

"God, Jarod! This feels so good." The tension seemed to drain from him momentarily at the sight of her above him, the feel of himself inside her where he'd longed to be for what seem like eternity gave him a sense of peace.

"I love you, Parker." She couldn't doubt his sincerity, but his declaration made her shiver in fear.

"Oh, Jarod!" A tear formed, he cupped her face and brushed it away before it could fall.

"We'll make it through this, I promise."

"I hope you're right." Her voice had become grim. Realising a distraction was in order she placed her hands on his chest, dragging her fingernails through the silky hair and across his nipples as she twitched her hips against him. The fleeting sense of peace he felt abruptly disappeared as if it had never been, he couldn't restrain himself from bucking up within her. His control snapped, pulling her down to his chest he rolled them until she was underneath him.

"I'm sorry, this is too new for me, I can't wait any longer." Although startled by his sudden aggression, arousal flooded her again at his words. His lack of control and desperate need, made her body hum.

He started to move, trying to pace himself and slow down. Her soft whimpers were making him feel savage. He thrust into to her harder, faster, until she cried out. The feel of her orgasm sent him over the edge, he shouted his release and collapsed. As his breathing slowed he pulled her close, never wanting to let go. He rolled to his side taking her with him before drifting into sleep.

**************************

Jarod woke early the next morning, the sunlight was shining brightly through the window and across the bed in which he lay. He couldn't remember a time he'd ever slept so long, nor so well. He knew he was alone even before he turned his head toward the pillow next to him. Lifting his head he detected faint sounds from the kitchen coming through the open bedroom door.

Leaning back into the pillow he stared at the ceiling, his mind flooded with uncertainty. Her reaction to him this morning after what they'd shared the night before was something he couldn't SIM, where the two of them were concerned his talents seemed to desert him. A situation that had been brought home to him forcefully given the amount of secrets she'd revealed here and in Washington. She hadn't returned his declaration when he'd told her he loved her, but he knew she must feel something. She couldn't have done all that she had without having some affection for him, could she?

'Well I'm never going to find out if I don't get up.' The idea appealed to him about as much as a return ticket to the Centre, remembering the previous night on the other hand seemed like a more productive way to occupy himself. He closed his eyes with a satisfied smile.

"Care to share your thoughts, Lover?"

Startled, his turned his head towards the door, the sight before him stole his breath.

"My shirt never looked that good on me." He stated in husky tones reminiscent of the night before. His shirt barely covered the legs he'd dreamed of for what seemed like an eternity, and the amount of buttons she'd done up left little to the imagination. Approaching the bed she placed the two cups of coffee that she'd been holding on the side table before making herself comfortable next to him with her head on his chest. He'd folded his arms around her, holding her close. His relief at her actions when he hadn't known what to expect kept him silence for a moment.

"I love you." He said quietly, almost a promise. She said nothing, simple turning her head to place a chaste kiss on his chest before resuming her position.

"Look at me, Parker." Slowly she raised her head, her reluctance obvious. "Tell me."

"I can't make any promises, Jarod. I have to go back to Hell, and I won't take you there with me."

The pain reflected in her eyes scorched him, the love, too, was so plain to see, he thought himself a fool for not seeing the depth of her feeling for him sooner. The warmth that he felt with the realisation that she returned his affection almost overpowered him. Unable to speak, he pulled her down to kiss her with all the passion and promise he wasn't at this point capable of saying aloud, then cuddling her to himself as if he never wanted to let her go. They remained this way for several minutes before he cleared his throat.

"I hope one of those cups are for me?" Smiling, she reached for the coffee as he settled back against the headboard, adjusting the covers around his waist more comfortably. He accepted the cup she handed him as she positioned herself beside him.

He'd thought of nothing but her plan to return to the Centre to save the children since the day she'd made her intentions clear in Washington. There was a possibility that he had a solution, something that would shut the Centre down for good, but without her full cooperation or willing participation, there was not a lot he could do. There was also the fact that she was bound and determined to not let him anywhere near 'Hell' again. He decided to lay his cards on the table and try to gain her assistance.

"Parker?" At the tone in his voice she turned, he watched her from the corner of his eye. She noticed at once his by now trademark 'gotcha grin'.

"What?"

"I have a plan."

***************************

Having spent most of the day outlining his plan for the Centre's destruction, and countering Miss Parker's vehement objections to his involvement with what she considered her mission in life, Jarod finally convinced her that his help was essential. Not only would his plan ensure the safety of the children they were both so concerned with but it would, if successful, garantee the complete destruction of the Centre as they'd known it. There was also a larger issue, this action would almost certainly lead to the eventual downfall of all branches of the Centre and it's affiliates worldwide. Having discovered the amount of evidence he'd amassed over the years both physically and by infiltrating many computer networks which would have remained unknown or unrelated to the Centre, she realised that without his help she would indeed have come to the same sad end as her mother.

This was not the way he'd envisioned they'd be spending the day, not by any means, but given that the possible outcome would pave the way to there being able to lead a normal life, together, he couldn't complain. Looking at her sitting next to him on the sofa he waited for her to assimilate all he'd told her.

"Jarod, if you had all this information, why haven't you carried out your plan before now? What stopped you?"

"Ah! The $64, 000 question, Missy." Shaking his head he stared at his hands. "Individuals!" With this mysterious utterance he stood up, fists clenched he paced in front of the fireplace. "I never realised until recently how encompassing and violent my desire for revenge against the Centre was. I wanted to hurt them as much as I and many others have been hurt. Fortunately, depending on how you look at it, my sense of justice has tempered all the decisions I've made."

He stopped and turned to watch her reaction to his explanation. He'd been shocked at himself when he'd ultimately faced his lust for revenge. His need to inflict physical and mental pain on some of his former jailers had been almost overwhelming. He knew that not only would she understand this aspect of his character in a way Sydney never could, she had the same capacity for vengence.

"There are many people working for the Centre who are as much victims as we are, I'm not saying they haven't been involved in some damn distasteful situations, but I don't believe someone like Broots, for instance, should be facing prosecution to the same extent as Raines or Lyle. The current system of American justice isn't capable of discerning the level of punishent that's appropriate in regard to the individuals involved."

"Yeah! Death by slow torture isn't a favourite, but Raines and Lyle deserve nothing less." Parker stated with an evil grin. He threw her an amused glance in agreement then became thoughtful as he explained his final reason.

"Also, if I'd handed over all I knew to the authorities, I'd have to live with the fact that I'd be the one responsible for putting people I care for and love, behind bars." She stared at him intently.

"That thought had occurred to me." Lowering her gaze shamefully she continued. "Jarod, I've been a Cleaner and I was Head of Security for three years. Sydney could be held accountable for the part he played in your situation for the last thirty-odd years, among other things, and Broots has done enough computer crimes to make sure that we'd all be spending time in Hotel Alcatraz. After all that's happened, Sydney would probably look on it as a way to relieve his guilt over you. Broots wouldn't be too happy, it would kill him to see Debbie go back to her mother."

"And you?" Jarod returned to the sofa, turning her to face him, he drew her into his embrace.

"Let's face it, Jarod. I deserve what I'd get." She leaned further into him, desperate for any comfort he could give her. "Nepotism may have played a part in the positions I held at the Centre, but I was good at my job, whatever it was."

"Call me selfish, Missy, but that's something I won't let happen. I've been working on a way to get amnesty..." Jarod was interrupted by a beeping from the computer as it signaled incoming mail. They pulled away from each other, eyes locking as they realised their time together was about to end.

*********************************

Part 3

Six weeks later.
The Centre


Miss Parker sat at the desk in her office, deep in thought, her exhaustion and stress clearly evident to the man before her. Sydney had been worried about her since he and Broot's had found her at the cabin in northern Minnesota, and was more than a little concerned that except for the interrogation/debriefing she'd been subject too on her return, she'd said nothing on the subject since. Her determination to catch Jarod had seemed to increase as well as take on a darker aspect.

His horror upon finding her, being fed intravenously and catheterized, as if she'd were a long term coma patient, had been immense. This had been compounded by the fact that they were unable to rouse her for nearly a full day after she'd been found and the tests that had been conducted had shown that she'd been drugged for a considerable length of time. He was also perplexed, Jarod hadn't made any personal contact with anyone at the Centre since the call he'd made to Mr Parker at the beginning of the whole affair, and Sydney needed to find out what had occurred. He still had trouble believing the Pretender had been responsible for the state in which Miss Parker had been found, but the evidence...

They were going over reports on the discoveries that had been made at Jarod's most recent lair when Broot's barged in the room. Miss Parker glared at him as he stumbled to a halt in front of the desk.

"Miss Parker, Miss Parker..." He shut up taking a step in reverse as he noticed the frown he was receiving from his boss. She studied his frozen figure for a moment before she spoke.

"Out with it, Broots. I'm sure you didn't burst in here just to add to the decor."

"We... we have... a hit on Jarod's location." He finished in a rush.

Looking up, fear momentarily showed on her face. 'I can't take much more of this, Wonderboy. Is this one of your setups or the real deal?' She quickly controlled herself and the 'Ice Queen' mask reappeared.

"Spit. It. Out. Broots."

"A sweeper team has spotted him in the warehouse district just outside of San Francisco. They think they've got him cornered in a furniture manufacturing factory." Her eyes narrowed at this information.

"Tell them no one is to enter until I get there, make sure there keep a close eye on the place and that they're not spotted. If he gets away this time there's going to be hell to pay, and get the jet ready to leave." She stood abruptly making her way to the door. Sydney intercepted her.

"Miss Parker, this drastic thirst for revenge you've begun to harbor against Jarod since your return is..."

"Save it, Sydney!" Snarling, she cut him off as she side-stepped him and continued. "Let's go get the Lab Rat."

The look of trepidation on the man's face confirmed that her performance over the last month and a half had worked like a charm, now she just had to get to Jarod before a trigger happy Sweeper saw him first.

********************************

When a full search of the warehouse showed no sign of the Pretender, Miss Parker tore into the Security people before turning her back on them and making her way to the office on the mezzanine floor. Broots and Sydney followed her as she approached a desk in the middle of the room and picked up the ever present red notebook. Flipping through the notebook she found a folded piece of white paper, which she took out and read. The older man noticed the small enigmatic smile on her face as she quickly refolded the paper and placed it in her jacket pocket. Her expression had become unreadable as she retraced her way to the door, handing Sydney the notebook as she passed him.

"Come on, we're heading back to the hotel. Wonderboy's long gone." He watched her for a moment, raising his eyebrow with suspicion.

"Miss Parker, the note?"

"Forget it, Syd. We're out of here." He and Broot's exchanged a glance before following. At the bottom of the stair's she gave final instructions to the Sweepers.

"I want this whole area searched, he can't have gotten too far away. Let's hope you can find some clues before he leaves the state. Contact me immediately at the hotel if anything turns up."

******************************

Miss Parker was silent as she drove, on reaching the hotel she poured herself a drink from the bar, as her companions settled on the sofa, she gazed out the window sipping her drink.

"Miss Parker, are we going to be privy to the note Jarod left you?" Turning, she came over and sat in the armchair across the coffee table from where they sat. Placing her drink on the table she reached into her pocket as she looked up. She became motionless as movement a short distance behind the sofa caught her eye. Then she was transformed as a warm, seductive smile crept across her face.

"Hello, lover."

Sydney watched in amazement as she got up from the chair and made her way around the sofa, dropping the note from her pocket next to him as she went. He turned and saw her stepping into the arms of the man who had exited the bathroom behind them without a sound.

"Hello, Missy." Jarod greeted her, pulling her close. The older man smiled as they kissed passionately. Broot's shook off his shock, for a moment he'd been sure she'd been speaking to him and his heart had nearly burst out of his chest believing all his dreams had come true until she'd walked past him.

Picking up the note, Sydney unfolded it to read;

Meet me back at your hotel.
~it's time!
J


Sydney returned his attention to them wondering when they'd come up for air, he at last fully comprehended the strange circumstances of the previous six weeks and he wanted some answers. Catching Broots' eye his amused grin changed to a sympathetic smile at the 'crushed school boy' look on the man's face.

The couple finally parted and he turned back to them expectantly.

"I've missed you, Parker."

"I've missed you too." Sydney cleared his throat and the couple faced the two men on the sofa, their arms wrapped around each other's waist.

"Jarod, it's good to see you."

"Good to see you too, Sydney, Mr Broot's."

"To what do we owe the pleasure?"

Jarod gave the woman in his arms a happy grin before replying.

"Oh! Miss Parker and I thought we might give you the 'heads up' about looking for another job." Broot's listened in confusion.

"You mean the Centre...?"

"Will officially be closed for business within the next week or so!" Jarod's voice became hard. Broot's shot to his feet.

"Debbie!" He cried in fear.

"Is fine, Mr Broot's. She's with some friend's of mine." The Pretender nodded at Sydney. "Also, Michelle and Nicholas have gone on a short vacation."

Sydney contemplated them for a moment, a look of concern crossing his face.

"Jarod, what about Angelo? And the children? The danger to them when this breaks..." He broke off, not willing to voice what could occur.

"It's alright, Sydney. Miss Parker and I have that covered. Federal agents have been strategically placed at the Centre for a few weeks now, and when the operation starts, my old escape route will be used to bring in more agent's to ensure the children's and Angelo's safety."

"Relax, Broot's! I couldn't let my bridesmaid get hurt, now could I?" Miss Parker assured him playfully. The man fell back to his seat in shock. Sydney's grinned at the news.

"Congratulations! I'm happy for both of you."

"Thank's, Syd." Miss Parker grinned. "For now, though, we have a plane to catch."
She huddled into her future husband as Syndey passed them with a warm clasp on their backs.

"But..." The man remaining on the sofa began. Miss Parker turned an icy gaze towards him, not moving from the comfort of Jarod's arms.

"Now, Broot's. We're leaving and you are coming with us. I want to be out of here before the Sweepers get back." Her frigid glare followed him as he jumped to his feet and all but ran past Sydney at the door. The older man smiled at her as he left, quickly closing the door behind him.

Jarod tightened his arms around her.

"Impressive, I can see you've trained him well over the years." He said with a smirk.

"90% intimidation, 9% perspiration, 1% kindness and a little slap now and then thrown in for good measure. Works every time." She grinned her reply.

"I'll have to watch for that, hmm?" He returned her grin before kissing her again.

Lack of oxygen eventually forced them to separate. Resting his forehead against hers, he stared into her smoldering eyes.

"As much as I want to forget the rest of the world, we have to leave, now."

"Where are we going?" She asked.

"Vancouver, to begin with, then..." He shrugged, pulling her towards the door. "We'll see. We can make plans for the rest of our lives from there."

"The rest of our lives... Sound's wonderful." Her expression became forbidding. "Before we get to that, there's a little matter of a catheter to discuss."

"I wondered when you were going to bring that up." He muttered under his breath. "Hey! I had to make it look convincing, didn't I? I must admit, it could have been a lot more fun if you were awake." He couldn't suppress a mischievous grin.

"Eeew! Jarod, we've got to talk!" She responded with a laugh.


THE END











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