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Sydney understood the implication of his own diagnosis better than most of those who received it from their doctors or specialists. He knew the stages through which this disease would take him, could already see how far along the road he had traveled.
And he knew the result.
Strangely, the knowledge of what he must do seemed perfectly natural, and he knew that it was something he had considered before he knew for sure what was wrong with him.
The medication would be easy to acquire for someone in his position, but he was not foolish enough to ask for it at the Centre. Forty years of experience had taught him all he needed to know about their methods, and in many cases, more than he wanted to learn. It was a relief to know that soon enough that knowledge would no longer be necessary.
His last day at work was like any other. He wrote letters to the two people who were closest to him and left them in the top drawer of his desk. Miss Parker would be the first person in his office, and his absence would make her go looking. Sydney located a particularly aggressive virus in the special vaults Broots had set up for just that purpose and loaded on onto his personal computer. By the time he reached home, it would already have done its work, and everything on the computer would be irrevocably destroyed. Even Broots himself would be unable to rescue the information, and that was just what Sydney wanted.
The only step that was different from any other day was that Sydney left work several hours earlier than usual. Nobody commented on the fact, and as Miss Parker and Lyle were away, following another lead on Jarod, Sydney knew that they would not know of his actions until it was too late. He had been supposed to accompany them, but had managed to excuse himself from the trip.
As he had guessed, Jarod appeared only an hour after the sun had set, slipping into the house via the back entrance, which Sydney had left open.
The Pretender halted in front of the sofa, on which the psychiatrist was sitting, and looked at him, his dark eyes sparkling, in the dim light. Sydney had not turned on any of the lamps or lights. He preferred there to be no witnesses to the forthcoming scene – argument would be a better word.
“Well?” Jarod demanded. “What is it, Sydney? Obviously you want me here for a reason.”
“Yes,” Sydney agreed quietly. “I do. Very good, Jarod.”
The younger man frowned slightly at the compliment, and Sydney guessed that the first hints of anxiety had just flowered in him as he sat in the armchair opposite.
“What is it? Tell me.”
The box lay on the coffee table. Sydney had gathered the paraphernalia on the way home from the pharmacy in the next street. Now he pushed the box across to his former pupil.
“I need your help, Jarod,” he admitted. “There’s no one else I trust with this.”
After a second of hesitation, Jarod tore off the lid of the box, staring down at the small glass phial and the syringe nestled inside it. In the half-darkness, Sydney could see his lips move, but without sound. Gently picking up the small bottle, Jarod held it up so that he could see the label in the light that shone in through the streetlight across the road. At the sight of the name, he almost dropped it, his gaze swinging back to Sydney’s face.
“I… I don’t understand,” he murmured brokenly, but Sydney knew that he understood the affects of the drug, just not its intended use. At least, he was fighting against his instinctive grasp of the latter.
“I can’t have this fail, Jarod,” Sydney said quietly. “I’ve never asked you for anything except your forgiveness. Now I’m asking you to do this for me. If I do it myself, I may not succeed, and if I survive…”
There was no need to go into detail, and Sydney had no chance, even if he had wanted one. Jarod slammed the box back onto the table and leapt to his feet.
“No!” he exclaimed, horror edging his tones. “No, Sydney! I can’t do that! I’ve killed countless people in my life – I’ve had nightmares about them, and I never even knew who they were! – and now you want me to kill you, too?! Dammit! No!”
Sydney let a moment of silence pass before he spoke. “Jarod, if you don’t do it, they will. Eventually.”
Another pause, and then, “Why?”
There was agony in the Pretender’s voice, and Sydney barely stifled a sigh. He had no wish to cause Jarod more pain, but there was no one else he knew strong enough to do this for him.
“I’m sick, Jarod,” he said quietly. “Very sick. Eventually, this will kill me. And if the Centre finds out I have it, they will kill me first.”
Jarod had moved in front of the fireplace, and standing there, Sydney could see his face. His dark eyes were already moist, and it was obvious that he was fighting back tears.
“I don’t want to lose you,” he whispered harshly.
“You’ve already begun to lose me,” Sydney replied quietly. He waited a moment, but there was no reply. “I have dementia, Jarod. The first stages of Alzheimer’s disease. In a few years – at the very most – I won’t even know who you are.”
The younger man made a protesting motion, and Sydney reached out, placing a hand on his wrist and gently drawing Jarod down onto the sofa beside himself.
“We both know,” he began softly, “that there’s nothing you or anyone else can do about this. When the Centre finds out, they will dispose of me. I’m not sure how, but it will happen – you know that as well as I do. The Centre has no use for people of no value to them.”
The silence following this was broken by a stifled sob, and Sydney could see that the tears had begun to trickle down Jarod’s cheeks.
“I… I can’t, Sydney,” he gasped out.
Reaching up, the psychiatrist gently wiped the tears away. “Jarod, I love you,” he told the younger man. “I always have. You’re the closest thing I have to a son. Nicholas may be my flesh and blood, but I have given you my conscience, my heart and my mind. I am as proud of you as any father of his son. I hate all the times I’ve hurt you and I’ve wished over and over that there was some way I could make up for them, but there’s nothing I can do to change what has happened.”
Jarod was sobbing convulsively now, and he turned away, as if trying not to hear what was being said, but Sydney placed a hand on his shoulder to keep him still.
“You know I wouldn’t ask you this if I didn’t mean it. I don’t want to go through all the stages of dementia, gradually forgetting everything important to me. I don’t want to forget you and all the time we spent together. I know, if I let things continue as they are, that I will lose all of that.”
“I can’t – manage – without – you,” Jarod choked.
“You can, Jarod,” Sydney urged. “You’re a strong, capable man. It’s one of the things I’m proudest of in you. I don’t want you to see what I would become if this disease was allowed to progress. I don’t want you to have to suffer, seeing that, as I know you would. That’s why I want this to happen now.”
“And – if I – refuse?”
Sydney reached up and once more brushed away the tears, knowing that the tide had turned in Jarod’s mind. Now, he was only stalling for time, in the hope that Sydney would change his mind. “I can’t live that way, Jarod,” he said. “I will do it myself, if I have to, but as I said to you before, if I survive, the Centre would keep me alive somehow, keep me working for them until they extracted every bit of knowledge from me, and then dispose of me, the way they do with other people.”
Jarod nodded, but Sydney suspected that the movement was involuntary, agreement with Sydney’s own assessment of the situation.
“Have you told – Parker?”
“Not directly. I wrote her a letter. She would stop me, Jarod, but she would only think of herself and her own feelings about the situation – her own loss. I trust you to think of me, as well as yourself. We both know this is the only way.”
Again, that involuntary agreement: a jerky nod. There was a long period of silence that followed it, and Jarod stood up. This time, Sydney let him go, knowing that the young man had to make up his own mind. He waited calmly, believing Jarod would eventually come to the right decision, watching him pace up and down in front of the fireplace.
Sydney felt he knew what would happen after he was gone. Jarod would use his skills to vanish. Perhaps he would occasionally send messages to Miss Parker, but he had been viciously rebuffed by her after their meeting on the island. Sydney knew how much that had hurt Jarod, and felt that perhaps Miss Parker had rejected him once too often. The psychiatrist wondered how she would feel when he no longer heard from her former friend. Would she regret her actions? Sydney wasn’t sure. It all depended whether Raines used the situation to his advantage, keeping Miss Parker’s loyalty by showing her the comatose body of the man she had believed for so many years was her father. Mr. Parker had been found on a small island some miles from Carthis, the scrolls washed up not far away, much to the relief of the Africans. The man’s body was located in one of a series of hidden rooms in SL-19, and Sydney only knew of it because Angelo had told him.
Angelo. The empath had avoided Sydney lately, perhaps aware of the difference in him. He may have even been frightened of it, being unable to fully comprehend what had taken place in the psychiatrist’s brain. Sydney was aware that the Centre prized the empath’s abilities, even if many within its walls mocked him. The only way to save him from that would have been to remove him from the Centre, but Angelo himself would have found the change almost impossible to bear. His value would keep him safe, but one day, Sydney suspected, people would forget Angelo even existed and he would be left to roam the vents alone, until he eventually passed away. Even Miss Parker’s interest in him had faded in recent years.
Finally, Jarod stopped, turning to face his mentor, and his expression was calm. He had made his decision. Crossing the room, he knelt on the carpet in front of the older man and looked up into his face.
“All right,” he said softly.
Sydney nodded, reaching out to gently stroke Jarod’s cheek, and smiled. “Thank you,” he murmured.
Turning away, Jarod seized the box and, with gentle hands, extracted the poison and the syringe. Without hesitation, he sank the metal fang into the bottle and filled the plastic tube. Professionally clearing it of air bubbles, he turned back, having replaced the phial on the table and leaving the box on the floor.
“Are you sure?” he asked one final time, although Sydney suspected that the words were automatic.
In response, Sydney offered his arm, the sleeve of which had already been bared. The tourniquet was also in place, and the veins stood out clearly as a result. Jarod felt for the vein with gentle hands, and then Sydney felt the cool metal slip into his skin. The slight sting was no more than he had prepared himself for.
Before beginning to depress the plunger, Jarod looked up into Sydney’s face for the last time.
“I love you as much as if you were my real father,” he whispered, and his dark eyes were full of emotion, though they remained dry. “I always have.”
“I know,” Sydney replied fondly. “Thank you, Jarod.”
Jarod lowered his eyes to the syringe once more, and then the first of the fluid trickled into Sydney’s arm. It was surprisingly cool, and then there was a release of pressure on Sydney’s bicep as Jarod released the tourniquet.
The poison was powerful, and Sydney’s vision blurred within a second or two. Sleep would come first, before the drug stopped his heart, but the whole process would take only a moment. Warmth seemed to fill him, as it had before the anesthetic he had been given for the operation that had been necessary following the car accident in which Jacob had been so severely injured. Sydney was thankful that the guilt he had always felt about the injuries his brother sustained that day would die at last.
Jarod looked up as Sydney’s head sank forward, seeing that his eyes were closed and his expression was peaceful. The syringe in Sydney’s arm was nearly empty, and any second now, sleep would give way to death. For the first time, Jarod realized which arm Sydney had prepared – it was the one on which was tattooed his concentration camp number. The Pretender wondered if there was something significant about that fact. Jarod reached up, his fingers finding the faint pulse in Sydney’s throat, and waited a moment before, with his other hand, pressing down the last half-inch of the plunger to release the final few drops of the poison into Sydney’s bloodstream. Before he could even remove the syringe, the blood itself had ceased to flow, Sydney’s heart seizing up. It would be only a few moments before his brain was irreversibly damaged, and Jarod, releasing his hold on the needle and leaving it in Sydney’s arm, rose from his knees, pushing himself away from the sofa, not wanting to be close, although there would be no outward sign of change when it occurred.
Tears once more blurred Jarod’s vision as he stood at the window, gazing out at the streetlight, dimmed by a heavy shower that had begun as Jarod entered the house, as if the world was weeping also.
The question rose in Jarod’s mind, and he considered it deeply, grateful for anything that gave him an excuse not to consider his actions. Nobody but Jarod himself would ever know what he had just done, but that was enough. The truth would send him to jail for murder, but Jarod had realized, as he paced while making his decision, that his actions would condemn him to lifetime of guilt anyway. That jail was no worse than a cell with steel bars at the windows and concrete walls and floor.
He would give himself time away, Jarod decided. There were any number of places to which he could retreat, where no one would find him, and right now, he had no wish to be found. He knew his actions would come back to haunt him, although the sense of peace within himself and the trust that had been on Sydney’s face told him that he had made the right decision. When he was safe, he would allow himself to mourn, but that could wait.
Nodding, glad to have made the decision, he turned back, seeing that nothing had changed, although he knew that Sydney, the man he had loved like a father, was now gone. Jarod could feel some of the relief such freedom would bring him, after so many decades of suffering, but Jarod also knew that such a death was not for him, at least not now.
His eye was caught by two packages on the clear mantel, and now, for the first time, Jarod realized what had caused his initial feeling of alarm upon entering the room. All the shelves had been cleared of the pictures and books that usually stood there. Jarod guessed that boxes filled with Sydney’s belongings were in some other part of the house, ready to be discarded.
Crossing the room, he seized the packages, seeing that one bore his name and the other the names of Michelle and Nicholas, as well as an address in New York. Jarod knew what these would contain – the first, for him, would include a letter, and perhaps a photo. Michelle’s would be similar, except that the photo would be of Sydney with the woman he had loved. Sydney was relying on Jarod to send them, and Jarod had no idea of breaking the trust that had been placed in him. It must not be sent from Blue Cove, but once he was on the road, Jarod would find a place that the Centre wouldn’t get it before Michelle did, even if he had to deliver it himself.
Slipping them into the pockets of his black leather jacket, Jarod moved to the sofa and placed a hand on that of Sydney, feeling that the skin under his fingers was now cold. Kneeling again and looking up into the man’s face, he could see that all color had faded from his lips. It had been more than a quarter of an hour since he had delivered the fatal dose, Jarod noticed to his surprise, but at least that meant there was no way now bring the psychiatrist back. The first stage of rigor mortis would be visible soon enough, but Jarod had time to gently remove the syringe, as gently as if Sydney would be hurt by rougher treatment, without leaving additional marks on the vein.
Capping the syringe, he pocketed both that and the phial, leaving no evidence of his involvement. He cast one glance at the man who had meant so much to him for so long, knowing that Sydney had been right and that Jarod would manage without him. Going to the back door, he found his bags on the floor inside it and picked up the DSA case. For the first time, he felt no emotion at seeing it, but knew that this was not due to shock or other emotions. Sydney had been his tie to the Centre, and now he was gone. The questions for which he had no answers would now remain unanswered, but Jarod was surprised to find that this caused him no pain.
Picking up the case, he carried it into the living room and placed it on the sofa beside Sydney’s body, feeling that they belonged together. When Sydney was found, Jarod had no doubt that someone would recognize the significance of the DSA case. But there was one more thing that would drive the point home, and returning once more to the back door, he pulled a handful of red notebooks out of his carryall and piled them neatly on top of the DSA case.
There was nothing more for him to do here, and resolutely he turned away, but halted and moved back to the sofa. Bending down, he lightly kissed Sydney’s forehead and then, without so much as backward glance, left the room. Collecting his things, he left the house, leaving the back door open, as he had found it.
His car was parked almost an hour’s walk away, in the same place he always left it when coming to Blue Cove, believing that he would be less noticeable on foot. The fact that he had never been caught in that place suggested that his assumption was correct.
Lights were on in Broots’ house when he passed, and Jarod guessed that Debbie was home, although probably her father was still at work. He smiled at the memory of all he had done for that man and his daughter, knowing that Broots was grateful, having had proof on the occasions when Broots could have found him easily enough, but didn’t do so.
Jarod deliberately avoided Miss Parker’s house, although he knew that she was, in all probability, not at home. Something had died within him when she pulled herself away from his grasp as they sat together in the car after their time on Carthis, and not even that final phone call had given him hope. He had no idea, now, if he would ever speak to her again, and he wondered how she would feel about that when she realized.
Reaching the car, he put his carryall onto the passenger seat and got in behind the wheel. After his self-imposed sabbatical, he decided, he would find his family again and try to find somewhere for them to live that would be free of the Centre forever. It would be a big challenge, but, as Jarod left Blue Cove for the last time, he knew, as Sydney had known, that he was up to it.