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Disclaimer: Pretender characters are property of MTM, TNT, NBC, WB, Steve, Craig and all the others.

Far Away Castle

“Are you alright?”

It was becoming his starter question. After every revelation or lie disproved, he would call at some point of the night to ask it. But by now it had become so used, she had to question whether or not he was asking for the normalcy, or because he really cared.

If she had been listening to his voice, she wouldn’t have needed to ask.

“I’m fine,” was the automatic response. It was always the same, and he’d begun to wonder if maybe she really was. But the pain in her voice betrayed her.

“We have to be.”

She didn’t answer him, staring into the eyes of her father in the framed picture of them together, her only one.

“How did Lyle take it?”

“Like the grieving son,” she answered with distain. She paused, then added like she wanted to believe it, “He almost cried.”

“It isn’t real,” he told her gently.

“I know.”

Her answer was too harsh; they both knew it wasn’t real. Neither needed reminding.

“And Raines?”

She sighed. “He was too torn to go look.”

“So you identified the body.”


He sighed, and she could tell by the way he did that he wanted to apologize, for something, but couldn’t. She would refute it anyway.

It was the way they played.

“Was it really him?” he opted for instead.

“Yes,” was her curt reply. She set the picture face down on the table.

“Miss Parker-”

“Doesn’t matter.” She waved him off with her hand on her voice, rising and circling the large room slowly.

It had never felt like home.

“I’ll be fine.”

“How can you be so sure?” he whispered, the words not really meant for her ears, but she heard them anyway.

“Because I’ve been through this before. It was the same feeling every time.”


“Like maybe… maybe that tragedy would be the last. Maybe it would be over.”

“Was?” Her past tense hadn’t slipped by him like she’d intended it too.

She stopped pacing and leaned against the window frame, staring out the large glass into the night, wondering on some level if he was out there, somewhere doing just the same.

“I’ve gone numb, Jarod,” she answered him, for once, with honesty.

And for once, he didn’t know what to say.

He stayed on the line nearly an hour after the conversation had died, just listening to her breathe; she did the same until they were both sure there was nothing left to say, and suddenly although not suddenly to their frame of mind, hung up.

Placing the phone back in the cradle, she moved into the kitchen and instinctively reached for the scotch. With the bottle and a glass she moved back into the living room and hid herself in the corner of the couch, placing the bottle on top of the overturned photograph.

She fell asleep after several glasses, head against the arm, wondering but not allowing herself to think,

is this all there is?

+ + +

She woke up slowly, normally, not jarred by any sudden thoughts or movements, not slow as though drugged. She sat up, blinking the dust from her eyes and brushed her hair from her face.

The papers she’d been working on sat crumpled below her and her pencil had rolled to the ground.

There was a soft stir in the background and she stood up slowly, eyes adjusting to the dimness. Someone had turned the lights down while she’d been asleep.

Frowning, she blinked and noted the cold sterility of the Centre’s sublevels.

Her confusion must have attracted the attention of several workers, because one man came and gently touched her shoulder, inquiring if she was ok.

“Fine, sir,” she replied with the grace her father had taught her. “Just… just an odd dream.”

Her smile won his trust and he nodded, asked if there was anything he could do, and after she politely told him no, left with a returned gesture.

Flattening her wrinkled clothes with her palms, she shook her head, and laughed uneasily.

“Just a dream,” she told herself. “Just an odd dream.”

Gathering her things, she placed them neatly in a stack on the desk next to the present she’d been keeping guard over all morning. With a small smile, she fingered the pink bow and perfect wrapping.

“When I can open it, Momma?”

“You’ll know,” she promised, a tortured pain in her eyes. It went unnoticed by the joyous child, who clutched the package in one arm, her mother in the other.

“I love you, Momma.”

“I love you, too Baby.”

She let her fingers slip from the package, and turned toward the door. A louder commotion had started outside and she moved toward it curiously. More and more people were gathered, and voices were being raised.

As she turned the corner, a familiar voice rang louder than the rest, and was immediately followed by the sound of a gun being fired and a dull thud.

She ran, closing the distance between herself and the elevator doors where the people had gathered, ducking through the arms of strangers who tried to stop her.

She grasped the door for support as her eyes fell on the sprawled figure on the floor.


Hands grabbed her from behind and began pulling her away. For a moment, she was too numb to do anything but stare at the retreating scene.


The spell broke quickly and she ran back, struggling through the branch-like arms. She knelt at the floor, fumbling for her mother’s hand.

“Momma,” she whispered, blinded by tears. “Momma, no. Don’t leave me, please don’t leave me. Don’t leave me…”

The hands were back, lifting her easily off the floor, dragging her away. This time there was nothing she could do but struggle, uselessly and cry.


Even after all the years, despite their reoccurrence, the sound of that gunshot and her own screams filtering through her dreams jolted her awake with tears in her eyes.

It wasn’t every night, not anymore, but often enough to hurt, and more than often enough to be a reminder.

She brushed through her hair with her fingers and sat up, glancing at the clock.

Only five minutes before the alarm went off to start another day.

+ + +

“Jarod, freeze!”

But he never did, just kept running and running.

“Jarod, please stop!”

It would never stop.

She pushed past Lyle, even in heels running faster than he did. Lyle, stopping and lining the barrel of his weapon with the back of the pretender, fired.

“Lyle, no!” Sydney reached for the gun, knocking him momentarily off balance, just enough for his finger to slip and the trigger to be pulled again.

Jarod dove and missed the first bullet, and when the second was fired, turned while fleeing to see where it hit. His eyes locked with hers, and held them long enough to see her slow, the gun slip from her hands and her body crumple.

“No!” The least expected man darted from behind Sydney and ran for her. “No, Miss Parker. Miss Parker!” There was so much blood. Two hands grasped and pulled him from her side. He struggled. “No! No! Miss Parker!”

“Daddy, wake up! Daddy!” She dumped the glass of cold water on his face and he sat up, nearly hitting foreheads.

“Miss Parker!”

“It was a dream, Daddy,” Debbie said quickly, wrapping her arms around him. “You were just dreaming. Just dreaming…”

+ + +

“What’s the hubbub, bub?”

Broots jumped and his coffee spilled; another typical day, but never really. No such thing here, unless abnormality could be considered. When he looked up she was smiling with mocking malevolence, and he sighed and stabbed at his pants with a napkin at the knee, attempting to disguise the brown stain with an even larger water one and to cool the burning that stung his knee like a slammed funny bone.

“Good morning, Miss Parker,” he replied, only half in salutation. She tilted her head just slightly to the side and paced the room, watching him with amusement. She studied but never spoke of his daughter’s artwork on the walls, and acted disinterested when he explained the back-stories to her. He watched her consider the room, waiting impatiently for her to speak. When that limited patience ran out, he questioned her motives.

“Mr. Lyle has scheduled a one thirty meeting with you for this afternoon to discuss the… holes… in your latest update. “

Broots pallor dropped three shades and he looked slightly grey. “M-Mr. Lyle?”

He looked up, startled as he appeared in the doorway, flanked by sweepers.

“Miss Parker?” he questioned softly.

She looked away. “I’m sorry, Broots.”

Before he could blink, they had him by the arms, dragging him down the hall. Before he could scream, they’d locked him in a room, filled with nothing but him, alone in the dark.

“Miss Parker! Sydney!” he cried, and fumbled until he found the nearest wall, banging on it with bloody fists. “Lyle!” He started to cry. “Debbie… Debbie! What are you going to do to her? Lyle! Lyle!

“Debbie… Debbie!”


She blinked suddenly and started, distracted by the brown eyes of her English teacher.

“Sorry, Mr. Allen,” she apologized.

He smiled warmly. “No problem. I see nothing wrong with a little daydreaming. In fact, I think Deborah’s got the right idea. I want complete silence for twenty minutes. Let your mind wander, don’t think.”

“Don’t think?” one student asked. “How do we do that, Mr. Allen?”

“Just try. And please, call me Jarod.”

The students exchanged wary glances, but did as he said and lapsed into silence. And in doing so, made the sound of the door crashing against the wall even louder.

Four men in black suits charged forward, and before their teacher could speak, were dragging him away. The children all jumped from their seats and ran to the door, just as it shut in their face and locked by the last man leaving.

They drug him through the halls, unbothered by the stares and gasps they received, down the steps and out to a long black Lincoln.

“Miss Parker, please, don’t do this,” Sydney begged.

“It’s over, Sydney,” she said, turning away and placing her sunglasses over her eyes. “It’s out of my hands.” With that, she walked away, and didn’t once look back.

“Sydney,” he begged. “Sydney, please... help me. Don’t let them do this. Sydney…”

“There’s nothing I can do Jarod!” he cried as they pushed the distraught pretender into the back of the car.

“Sydney! Sydney help me, please! Sydney! Sydney!”

“Hey, Freud!” She snapped her fingers in front of his face. “No sleeping on the job. That’s Scooby’s job,” she kicked the chair the daydreaming tech sat in. He jumped, mumbling apologies; she rolled her eyes.

“I’m sorry, Miss Parker,” he offered distractedly. “I just…”

“Odd dream?”

He looked up in surprise, receiving nothing more than a shrug. Brushing his eyes with the back of his hand, he looked at the computer screen again, and clicked send.

“Goodbye, Jarod,” he said with a small smile.

+ + +

“You have mail,” his computer told him.

Crossing the room, he clicked on the small icon, his eyes widening as he read the message.

I’m giving you back what I stole from you so long ago. Here is your refuge, Jarod.

Beneath it was an address and he knew without asking that it was the first clue to finding his family.

“Thank you, Sydney,” he told the screen.

+ + +

When he pulled up, the house was on fire. The grass, the trees around it, everything had gone up in gray smoke and orange flames.

He pulled his family from the house, and held their hands, burnt black from the blast. “Mom,” he begged. “Mom, please.” He tried his father and his sister, but received no reply.

“What have I ever done to you?” he cried into the night, tears in his words. “What have I ever done to you!”

He cried himself awake, the pillow soaked to the feathers. “Mom!” he called, holding tightly to his cowboy lunchbox at the foot of the bed. “Mom!”

But silence was his only answer.

+ + +

“Are you alright?”

She sighed and lifted the glass to her lips, not bothering to look behind her, her silence invitation. He moved closer, around and sat in the chair opposite her.

“Miss Parker?” he questioned, head slightly inclined.

“I’m numb, Jarod. I feel like I’ve been living my whole life in a nightmare and that one of these days I’m just going to wake up and it’ll all be over.” She laughed bitterly. “That won’t happen will it?”

He sighed, and she could tell by the way he did that he wanted to apologize, for something, but couldn’t. She would refute it anyway.

It was the way they played.

“I just…” She paused, and took another drink, as if it would give her courage. “I just want to wake up.

He nodded in understanding, but said nothing.

He stayed, seated across from her nearly an hour after the conversation had died, just listening to her breathe; she did the same until they were both sure there was nothing left to say.

Reaching over, she moved the bottle of scotch off the photograph and picked it up, brushing her fingers across the wearied faces.

He watched her and saw himself, wondering but not allowing themselves to think,

is this really all there is?

+ + +


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