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Disclaimer: “The Pretender” and all it’s characters don’t belong to me, but to some wonderful people. Please don’t sue me, I am making no money from this. I just really enjoy the show. Also, the songs are owned by their respective artists, I don’t take credit for them.

Note: this is a sequel to “After the Facts”. Read that first



“Life After Death”
By Dede







As Jarod stepped off the plane and back on land in the United States, a strange and wonderful sensation came over him. He was ‘home’. Be it ever so twisted, there’s no place quite like it.

“Well,” Jarod said to himself as he looked down at a red notebook containing old newspaper clippings from the subway bombing, “Every missing person must be found.” This thought in mind, he decided his first move would be to a car dealer with the money he had slipped out of Lyle’s bank account electronically from the plane.

An hour later, in a black convertible, Jarod began his journey into Washington DC. It was early May, nine months since he’d been there. He felt he was completing his recovery by returning to where his life had veered off course. Africa seemed more like a dream every minute.

He relaxed at the wheel to a CD Carol had given him. She said his bittersweet world naturally set itself to music. Jarod couldn’t think of the pain though, he had to laugh or he’d scream.

(“Take it easy” by the Eagles played)
“Well, I'm a runnin' down the road, tryin' to loosen my load,
I've got seven women on my mind.
Four that wanna own me, two that wanna stone me,
One says she's a friend of mine.
Take it easy, take it easy,

Don't let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy.
Lighten up while you still can, don't even try to understand,
Just find a place to make your stand and take it easy.

Well, I'm a standin' on a corner in Winslow, Arizona
And such a fine sight to see:
It's a girl, my Lord, in a flat bed Ford
Slowin' down to take a look at me.
Come on, baby, don't say maybe.

I gotta know if your sweet love is gonna save me.
We may lose and we may win though we will never be here again.
So open up, I'm climbin' in, so take it easy.

Well, I'm a runnin' down the road, tryin' to loosen my load,
Got a world of trouble on my mind.
Lookin' for a lover who won't blow my cover,
She's so hard to find.
Take it easy, take it easy...”

Jarod wished he could find a place to make his stand, but as with everything else in his life, he needed to start from the ruins.

--------

“I can’t believe this...” Lyle growled as he came down the hall, interrupting Miss Parker who was on her way back to the office.

“Good afternoon to you too, Lyle. Miss Emily again?” she retorted and resumed walking. She had apparently stopped him mid-rant because he followed her to the doorway.

“What....? Yes, but that’s not the point.” Parker sighed and decided to stay in the hall for this. She really didn’t want him in her office.

“And the point would be?” she pressed him to continue.

“$73,000 is missing from my Swiss bank account. No one had access except me,” Lyle explained. He was nervous and visibly jarred. Parker was mildly concerned because he had not been this shaken up since... well, since....... She shook her head to focus.

“Sure you didn’t whisper it to one of your concubines by accident?” Her defense mechanism took over and ran on autopilot.

“No.”

“Well, how much was in the account?”

“A few hundred thousand,” he whispered, suddenly suspicious of the walls. After all, this was the Centre.

“Then why didn’t they take the whole amount?” Parker mocked his whisper.

“How should I know?” he grumbled in frustration.

“Just something to ask yourself.”

Lyle was about to respond when the speakers in the halls fizzed with static and then began to play music.

“For so long my life's been sewn up tight inside your hold
And it leaves me there without a place to call my own
I know now what shadows can see
There's no point in running 'less you run with me
It's half the distance through the open door
Before you cut me down...
Again

LET ME INTRODUCE YOU TO END…”

The words were chilling, but what made Parker grow pale was the voice that sang ‘Let me introduce you to the END’ with the track. It was familiar. It was angry. It was Jarod.

“Where the hell...?” Lyle started, but Parker’s raised hand stopped him.

“And I feel the cold wind blowing beneath my wings
It always leads me back to suffering
But I will soar until the wind whips me down
Leaves me beaten on unholy ground again
So tired now of paying my dues
I start out strong but then I always lose
It's half the distance before you leave me behind
It's such a waste of time…”

“'Cause my shackles
You won't be
And my rapture
You won't believe
And deep inside you will bleed for me…”

Sydney had a report in one hand and his pen in the other; he was frozen, listening to lyrics that hit more than their musical cords.

“So here I slave inside of a broken dream
Forever holding on to splitting seams
So take your piece and LEAVE ME ALONE TO DIE! (Jarod growled the words with
the singer.)
I don't need you to keep my faith alive
I know now what trouble can be
And why it follows me so easily
It's half the distance through the open door
Before you shut me down...
Again

LET ME INTRODUCE YOU TO THE END…”

Jarod’s tone echoed the vengeance of a thousand wronged, uniting the Centre, prisoner and patron, in silence.

“'Cause my shackles
You won't be
And my rapture
You won't believe
And deep inside you will bleed for me...”

Parker’s mind kept telling her to move, to find Sydney, to shoot the speaker, to do something, but she couldn’t. The trance had swallowed her.

“Though you know you care…”

“'Cause my shackles
You won't be
And my rapture
You won't believe
And deep inside you will bleed for me…”

“AND MY LAUGHTER
YOU WON’T HEAR
THE FASTER
I DISAPPEAR
AND TIME WILL BURN YOUR EYES... TO TEARS...”
(“Shackled” by Vertical Horizon)

Jarod sounded so fierce and animalistic, fear shook through Broots’ body as he finally managed to get up from his chair in the Tech Room.

----------

“What is this?” Parker asked a few minutes later, stepping into Sydney’s office, followed by Lyle and Broots.

“I don’t know,” Sydney replied.

“Where did the music come from?” Parker barked at Broots as he slipped into the computer chair. Broots searched in the security database, but the results didn’t make sense.

“... according to this, it came from your father’s office.”

“The room’s been locked since Daddy left for the Tower meeting, this morning,” Parker announced. Lyle led the way to his father’s office and just as expected the door was locked; the lights were off. Parker displayed no hesitation opening the door and allowing Sydney, Lyle, and Broots to accompany her in.

“Anything Broots?” Sydney asked, as his friend scrutinized the computer. He was clicking keys, but nothing was happening.

“Just some type of basic computer interface... like a message board,” Broots explained.

“What’s the message?” Lyle inquired as he moved next to Sydney, to view things for himself.

“Well, there isn’t....”

‘WHO AM I, BROOTS?’ appeared on the screen.

“ ‘Who am I?’ Great, this guy likes guessing games.” Parker was annoyed.

“Well, maybe it’s like father, like son...” Broots suggested.

MAJOR CHARLES. He typed.

SORRY, WRONG....

-----WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?

-----BECAUSE I RESPECT YOU.

“I don’t get it,” Lyle said.

“I do,” Broots replied in a small voice, “That was part of a conversation Jarod and I had, when that psycho operative was trying to kill me.”

“Which one?” Parker commented, eyeing Lyle.

WHO AM I, LYLE?

“Looks, like I’m up to bat. Now, who do I think might want to get kicks playing with the Centre...”

ZOE.

I DON’T THINK SO....

-----YOU DIDN’T THINK I’D LET YOU SLEEP THROUGH ALL THE FUN NOW DID YOU?

-----GET THIS THING OFF MY HEAD!

-----OH, QUIT YOUR WHINING.

Lyle appeared nauseated.

“Lyle?” Parker inquired, almost concerned... almost.

“That was a conversation Jarod and I had when he.... kidnapped me. No one could have known what we said.”

WHO AM I, MISS PARKER? Parker sighed thoughtfully and typed in,

ETHAN.

SORRY, INCORRECT....

-----YOUR GUN WON’T WORK I TOOK THE FIRING PIN OUT LAST NIGHT.

-----I SLEEP WITH THIS UNDER MY PILLOW.

-----AND YOU DROOL OUT OF THE LEFT CORNER OF YOUR MOUTH.

“Parker.... is that something Jarod said to you?” Sydney asked.

“Um hm.”

WHO AM I, SYDNEY?

JAROD. There was a pause and then the words appeared clear on the screen.

HELLO, SYDNEY.

-----I DON’T KNOW WHO I AM. TELL ME WHO I AM.

-----I DON’T KNOW EITHER........

Then the screen faded and all the lights in the Centre flickered off.

No one said a word. Lyle just looked at Parker, who turned and glanced at Broots, who peered at Lyle and then at Sydney, who locked eyes with Parker and sighed, returning his gaze to the blank computer.

Somewhere safe, Jarod watched the camera footage from Mr. Parker’s office. He wasn’t really proud of himself, nor was he troubled by his deeds. Freezing the film a moment just before the darkness fell on the players, he ran his fingers across the picture and whispered,

“Let the games begin.”

---------------

Finally having restored the power, Lyle met back with Broots, Sydney, and Parker in Sydney’s office.

“This isn’t possible.” Lyle shook his head at the computer screen showing the diagnostic of the tampered systems.

“Well... Maybe we underestimated him again,” Broots suggested cautiously. He knew these tricks could only be engineered by someone of at least Jarod’s intellect. Secretly, Broots hoped it was Jarod, back in whatever form to take care of his unfinished business, but he refused to be very optimistic around an emotionally frayed Sydney.

“He’s dead, Broots. Declared... Bagged and tagged. Hell, they even performed the cremation on-site,” Lyle insisted, however, his tone didn’t hide the compulsive way he kept glancing over his shoulder every few moments.

“Thank you, Mr. Sensitive,” Miss Parker growled, placing a hand on Sydney’s arm. Lyle caught himself in the third round of pacing and peered over at them.

“Forgive me, but it makes no sense.”

“Jarod could pretend to be many things, but to physically pretend to die... ” Sydney finally spoke. He had been basically silent since the incident and no one quite knew what was going on inside of him.

“He was brilliant but not even I’m that good and I’ve faked my death twice,” Lyle asserted, once again, assuming that he was better than Jarod at something.

“Got another explanation for those conversation quotes?” Parker pressed her point, getting in Lyle’s face.

“Mass hallucination?” Lyle tilted his head and backed down. Broots watched the dynamic discussion. Since the accident, Lyle was a bit more careful of Parker and Sydney’s feelings.

“Maybe he kept a journal,” Sydney said. The master of the simple explanation, he was trying his best to stay objective. Jarod...... no, it was just impossible. He wasn’t alive.

“Even journals don’t have conversations verbatim.” Parker fought back. She felt something fierce in her chest. How could they doubt this? It was proof, proof that.... it had to be.

“Jarod’s might?” Lyle thought out loud. He liked this suggestion. It was safe.

“He always wrote in that code of his. Someone needed to break it.” Parker tried to add to her case.

“Ethan?”

“Maybe,” she conceded.

---------

Left alone in his office, Sydney retrieved a metal book from his desk drawer. He hadn’t opened it for a long time. Now he was compelled to feel Jarod’s presence again. Taking out one of the few pictures he had, Sydney stared sadly at Jarod’s smile. It was from a pretend when Jarod had been a pilot. He looked healthy and happy. Tears formed in Sydney’s eyes as he recalled the last time he had seen Jarod’s precious body and all the pain that had followed.........

“Parker?!” Sydney yelled as he reached the side of the stretcher. They were waiting for more medical personnel, since the first ambulance had taken Ethan to the hospital.

“Sydney... where’s Jarod?” she whispered with difficulty.

“I don’t know. They haven’t found him yet. Don’t worry, everything will be fine.” Just then Sam shouted over the radio and five sweepers unloaded a containment stretcher from one of the vehicles. It was metal on the bottom with a clear glass dome over the top. Tubes fed the inside with pure oxygen. Minutes later they came running out of the tunnel.

“What’s happening?” Sydney caught up to Sam.

“I’m sorry, Sydney. We’ve been ordered to move him as quickly as possible.”
Sam pushed past him. Sydney looked through the glass at the burnt and battered form.

“Jarod... oh, God....” He continued to stare at the young man’s face until they loaded him into a van. Then it was a matter of returning to Parker and hoping for the best.

The phone call came in from the African station three days later, Jarod had fallen into a coma during the journey and didn’t appear to be recovering. Everything to do with his project was ordered to be analyzed and the teams were redirected toward finding Ethan and Jarod’s clone.

Parker remained in the hospital for two months. She insisted on getting updates about Ethan’s supposed whereabouts and Jarod’s condition, but her questions grew fewer as she realized he may never call her with that annoying tone in his voice again.

Sydney remembered the night when they called, almost six months to the day of the bombing. A sweet woman, introducing herself as Dawn, the project leader taking care of Jarod, explained that he drifted away from them. The heart attack was only the last part of his body’s process of failing. Parker and Broots had been in the room.

It seemed to Sydney, Parker took the news hardest. He had always been there for Jarod and let him know he cared, maybe not the way he should have, but Sydney had tried. Broots showed his general concern for Jarod, when he could and wasn’t quite as attached as Parker or Sydney. Parker, on the other hand, had been cruel to him, even expressing hatred toward Jarod and now her mask was melting away to expose how much she really missed her childhood friend. He was something stable in her life, a dependable, good-hearted safety line, now permanently broken.

Four days later, the tombstone was placed on an empty grave. Sydney spoke briefly, although he wasn’t entirely sure what he had said. Everything was whirling around inside of him. Parker had given an eloquent speech in front of her two fellow hunters. She talked about his wonderful heart and gentle soul, about his humor and his caring, about how maybe he didn’t know who he was, but she knew and he was an extraordinary man. Broots said a few soft words including how much he respected Jarod and how the world needed more people like him.

Broots had just finished when a BMW pulled up not far from the funeral party. The figure at the wheel stepped out and approached them, strangely nervous.

“Lyle?” Sydney was astonished.

“Spit on that grave and we’ll have a body to put in it,” Parker barked in his face, not allowing him to get within seven feet of the tombstone.

“I would never be so callous. I came to pay my respects,” Lyle explained with a genuine solemn expression on his face.

“Your respects?” Parker questioned in disbelief.

“Honor the dead.” Lyle slid past her.

“Leave Lyle, NOW,” Sydney ordered. Lyle stopped before the grave.

“I understand. Just a moment....” he tried to reassure them. Then Lyle descended to his knees and signed a cross over his chest.

“Good-bye Jarod, it was a pleasure playing the game.” With these words, he reached under his jacket and retrieved a bouquet of flowers, placing them next to the others near the headstone. Despite all the anger that grew in Sydney to have Lyle there, his words were sincere and a touching farewell from an enemy. Maybe Lyle knew a part of Jarod, no one else did.

---------------

“Are you paying attention? I said you concluded that Jarod had become more detached from Sydney in the last year and yet emotionally your notes would indicate they became closer,” Mr. Parker woke his daughter from her memories.

“Daddy, I can’t listen to this. I can’t hear his name anymore,” Miss Parker responded, still not quite sure what he had been talking about. Mr. Parker leaned back in his office chair and sighed.

“Angel, I know things have been difficult since the bombing, but...”

“It isn’t that. You chase a guy for four years, you have to live inside his mind... then suddenly he’s dead and part of my brain still knows what he’d be saying right now and what he’d be doing. I need a break. I need to get some time for myself, so I can stop thinking about him,” she tried to explain. Although, Miss Parker knew Jarod would think it was a waste of time.

“Look, all we have to do is finish going through this and you can forget you ever heard of a pretender,” her father promised, gesturing to the remainder of her 2,000 page report resting on his desk.

“Don’t say things that are NOT true........ It’s been nine months.” Miss Parker stood up, she was sick of these meetings.

“Well, the train investigation took four of those months, it would have taken two, but you were in the hospital and what with the whole Ethan mess, the Triumvirate wanted answers, good ones.”

“And now we sit here rehashing the last four years of my life.... not just Jarod’s, Daddy..... MINE, and Sydney’s, and Broots’. Things have changed. I’ve changed.” She placed her hands on the desk and stared down at him. Mr. Parker retained his usual look of bafflement, when his daughter got emotional.

“I don’t understand. I know you’ve been through a lot...”

“NO, you don’t know.... This meeting is over. I’m going home to get some rest. We’ll continue this later...” Her father started to protest, however, Miss Parker was already halfway to the door.

“Later.”

-------------

Setting down her briefcase, now full of past pretends instead of possible leads, Parker stumbled into her living room. She wanted nothing more than to curl up in bed with soft music playing and forget the world. Getting a drink, she turned on a CD, Thomas had made of some of her favorite sleeping-in music. The kind one listens to while rolling lazily about the web of sheets.

“Lay a whisper on my pillow, leave the winter on the ground.
I wake up lonely, there's air of silence in the bedroom and all around.
Touch me now, I close my eyes and dream away...”

“You told me next time you came you’d be real,” Parker whispered as his familiar arms encompassed her resting form.

“Did I?” Jarod’s husky voice danced against her ear. Parker kept her eyes closed, snuggling into the covers.

“YES.” She felt like crying.

“I wish I could be real.”

“You said you weren’t dead... that you’d be here soon,” she argued, shifting as if to sit up.

“It must have been love but it's over now.
It must have been good but I lost it somehow.
It must have been love but it's over now.
>From the moment we touched 'til the time had run out...”

“I promise, I meant it at the time,” Jarod replied.

“Are you just part of my imagination?”

“Now, my darling, you know I can’t answer that, because I don’t know.” She felt his kisses on her shoulder.

“Make-believing we're together, that I'm sheltered by your heart.
But in and outside I've turned to water like a teardrop in your palm.
And it's a hard Christmas day, I dream away...”

“I need you, Jarod. I hated to admit it...” Parker began.

“You don’t have to admit anything to me. I just want to hold you and love you. Those are the only things I’ve ever wanted.”

“Or maybe I simply think that’s all you ever wanted.” She let her eyes flutter and open. The sharp rays of the sunset were a rude disruption.

“Shh, no more words, tonight. Relax and remember you’re safe while I’m here,” his tone assured. For a moment, she allowed herself to sink, staying wrapped up in his touch, in his soul, dreaming of the wishes he granted for her in this wondrous abyss of the mind. Then with a sigh, Parker rolled her body over and stared at the empty bed. The sheet were a little astray but only from her own movement. She reached out and ran her fingers over the unused pillow.

“It must have been love but it's over now,
it was all that I wanted, now I'm living without.
It must have been love but it's over now,
it's where the water flows, it's where the wind blows...”
(“It Must Have Been Love” by Roxette)

Moving onto her back, Parker settled in for another evening of nightmares and insomnia. These too were ‘gifts’ Jarod had left behind.

------------

Zoe stood on a wooden porch clad in black jeans and a denim vest over her satin green shirt. A touch of cold played in the night air, as she let her eyes dance past the bushes along the stockade fence and across the corn fields.

“I miss you, Jarod,” Zoe whispered to the wind. Ethan walked up behind her from his position in the doorway and slid his arm around her waist.

“We all miss you,” he said softly. She ran her fingers over his knuckles and leaned back against him, as they stared out at the spring eve before them.

Major Charles sat in his study reading files on the Mainframe. Perhaps he sensed the couple standing on the porch below his window, or maybe it was the hard work he had been at for three hours, which would have taken Jarod fifteen minutes, but Charles suddenly stopped typing. Like a switch turned on in his heart, he thought of Jarod and couldn’t look at the screen anymore.

At first, it had been a matter of getting Ethan and then finding safety; now it was keeping clear of Lyle and Cox, without losing anyone in the shuffle, but every so often the pain hit him like a wave engulfing and suffocating his heart. The Major was a man like any other; he had to do something about whatever situation he was in. He couldn’t bring Jarod back, but he had come to believe in his son, in his son’s spirit. Besides simply the loss, Charles thought on some level, he could have saved Jarod. If he had just gone to Africa, security be damned, maybe... maybe the right doctor could have prevented the heart attack.

He was woken from his troubles by the boy, J.C. calling for him.

---------------

Sydney sat down at his desk to read one of his books, as he did every night at 8PM, however, like so many nights in the last five years he couldn’t concentrate. His eyes drifted over the words, while his thoughts remained on Jarod. He found in his memories the evening his protégée called him remembering his teacher’s reading habits. Closing the book, Sydney held his breath and glanced at the phone praying for it to ring. After a few moments the silence in his office served as the answer.

“Jarod, I should have protected you. I should have told you so much. I didn’t think it was your time and I failed you when you needed me. I’m sorry,” he whispered and stood to leave, wishing he never had to return.

--------------

Broots was watching the news in his living room, while Debbie finished up a computer game, since her bed time was fast approaching. As he listened to the reports of a murderer in New York City, a kidnapping in Vermont, and a fire five blocks away, he found his mind on Jarod. Broots wondered if his friend could have prevented these news stories. Then his thoughts fell to Sydney and how much today’s events had bothered him. Was Jarod really back? How much pain everyone had gone through when the pretender died. Broots knew simply the toll at the Centre, he could only imagine with agony how Major Charles was faring and Emily, Ethan, Jarod’s young clone, even that girl Zoe must have been devastated.

“What’s wrong, Dad?” Debbie asked softly, having sensed her father’s mood.

“....Nothing, sweetheart... why don’t you get ready for bed?” he replied, regaining his reality.

“Ok, love you.” She kissed him on the cheek and walked toward the stairs.

“Love you too.”

---------------

The moon’s shadows comforted him as he stole into the library window. Standing in the quiet house, he scanned the room with its bookcases and burgundy chairs, the antique table and French paintings. Jarod loved Sydney’s house. It felt safe.

Jarod wandered aimlessly, running his fingers over the back of a chair, when he noticed a book on the arm rest. Lifting it up to his eyes, he read the title: Hamlet. Jarod remembered well Sydney’s affection for all of Shakespeare’s works, however, the story of Hamlet always started a fire in Jarod’s mind. He wondered why his teacher would be rereading a play, he must have memorized by now.

The clicking of keys, startled Jarod, who quickly replaced the book.

Sydney decided not to turn the lights on in the living room. He took his coat off to hang it up. Closing the closet, he gasped to see the figure in his library doorway.

“Jarod......?”

“It’s all right, Sydney,” Jarod said, moving toward his teacher. Sydney embraced him tightly and after a moment of hesitation, Jarod returned the hold. He leaned his head on Sydney’s shoulder and whispered softly,

“I’m sorry...” Sydney pulled back to look at Jarod’s face. They smiled at each other, both ecstatic to be together again.

“My God, I thought I’d lost you.”

“You nearly did.”

“I should have known better......” Sydney replied. As they sat on the couch, Jarod waited a minute, not sure how to begin.

“Before I tell you of my escape, I need to say this..... Sydney, a long time ago..... what truly feels like ages now, you asked me for something. It was the one thing you ever ask for that was personal, but it was the one thing, I couldn’t give you then. I was too angry, too confused, too lost in my own self torment... I’ve forgotten all the reasons that I had set in mind, but none of that matters.” He paused and looked directly at Sydney.

“I forgive you,” Jarod whispered.

“You.... are you sure?”

“Yes. I can’t say that what you did was right or that I was better off at the Centre. Still, if it weren’t for you, I would have lost much more than my sanity... they would have killed my spirit. You saved me, you taught me ethics and truth, right from wrong, and philosophy... even religion. If it had been any other doctor, I wouldn’t be the person I am and I NEVER would have escaped. For that, Sydney, I owe you my loyalty and after all you have done to protect me, I owe you my forgiveness.”

“Jarod, you owe me nothing...”

They stayed for a long time, explaining the events of the past few months to each other. Sydney was visibly sickened when he learned of the order to kill Jarod, however, his shock didn’t match Jarod’s as Sydney described Lyle’s strange behavior.

“I asked him after the funeral, why he even cared. Lyle’s reply was he thought your death was ‘a bad ending to a good book.’”

“Lyle wanted me to die in a battle with him,” Jarod shook his head, “And I thought all he picked up in the orient was a taste for Asian women.”

“He leaves flowers on the grave every two weeks, always the same arrangement,” Sydney added.

“So many changes in less than a year.” Jarod leaned back against the cushions and closed his eyes for a few moments.

“What will you do now?” The question was annoying to Jarod, and yet required an answer.

“Find my family and begin the project of taking down the Centre. It’s time,” he declared sitting up straight.

“Yes. It’s time,” Sydney agreed.

“I just wish I knew where my father was right now.” Sydney had a mysterious smirk on his face, as he retrieved the phone from his jacket pocket and handed it to Jarod.

“Speed Dial 3.” Jarod gazed astonished at Sydney.

“What?”

“Well, you never know, people come back.” Jarod’s heart felt lighter as hit the cell-phone buttons.

“Hello?” Major Charles answered. He sounded tired and cautious.

“Hi, Dad,” Jarod said and flashed a smile at Sydney.

“Jarod?!” The Major couldn’t believe it, the voice was Jarod’s, plain as day. But how was this possible?

“Yes, it’s me. I’m alive.”
------------

Parker opened her eyes wearily and slowly pulled herself out of the cooling waters of her bathtub. Briskly rubbing a towel over her body, she wrapped up in a black robe and blow-dried her hair. The quiet night served as little distraction from the noise in her head.

Sighing at the clock, which informed her it was after midnight, Parker walked through the bedroom and was dangerously close to untying her robe so she could slid under the covers, when she noticed him standing there. Since Jarod had left her all those months ago in the subway tunnel, she had heard his words and felt his presence, however, this was the first time she had seen him.

“Parker, I...” Jarod tried to talk. Throwing her arms around his neck, digging her fingernails into his jacket and pressing her lips tightly to his, Parker decided sanity was overrated. Jarod didn’t know what to do except return this most unexpected favor. The trouble was less than a minute later when Parker let go, easing away from him. Her eyes were on fire.

“You’re real...” she whispered, running two of her fingers over her mouth. Jarod’s reaction time had been affected so he could only reply with a weak,

“What?” Parker approached him again and touched his face gently.

“You’re alive,” she proclaimed and started to pace.

“Oh... yes.... Were you expecting someone else?” The question made Parker laugh, a bit crazily.

“No, I was expecting you... just not the real you.” She glanced at him.

“Come again?”

“Never mind.”

“Parker....” Jarod started, only to be stopped this time by a solid blow of her fist to his chest, however, before he could respond to the minor pain, she leaned against him.

“I’m sorry. I just.....” Parker whispered, failing to finish with ‘missed you.’ Jarod looked down at her.

“Maybe you should sit down,” Jarod suggested, motioning to the bed. He hoped she wouldn’t interpret it as an invitation to continue her fantastical actions.

“Yeah.” She was dizzy with lust and yet she knew he meant to sedate her shaking form. To that end, she took his hand and held it tight as they both seated themselves on the lower corner of her bed.

“I need to believe this isn’t a trick of my mind.” Parker reacted before Jarod could question her need to stay in contact with his skin.

“Your mind been playing games,” he asked a bit more mockingly then he wanted to.

“Guess it thought it should pick up where you left off,” she grumbled. The banter was reassuring to both of them.

“Hm...” Jarod glanced around.

“What?”

“I figured you’d pull a gun on me,” he explained.

“And yet you still came unarmed,” Parker observed. She remembered her 9mm was snuggly placed under her pillow.

“I was counting on shock.”

“In which you were greatly rewarded.”

“Are you all right?”

“Now.... I’m fine. However, you could tell me how you managed to walk away from a bombing, a coma, and a heart attack with barely a scratch. Unless you have hidden injuries?” Parker added the last part to keep him off balance.

“The bombing and coma are true enough and I survived those by sure will. As for the heart attack... that was their mistake. The drug actually pulled me out of the coma and I made my escape from the morgue.” Jarod decided to keep Dawn’s deception to himself for now.

“What do you mean the drug?”

“They considered me a lost cause after six months, so the ‘powers that be’ decided to have their unfaithful dog put down.” The same bitter tone, she had heard echoing down the halls of the Centre emphasized his point.

“I knew something was strange. The timing was too precise.”

“Meanwhile, I didn’t hear of you doing anything about it,” he questioned her outrage.

“I had my own problems. Ethan was god-knows-where with your father and Lyle was hot on their trail. I was taken off the case after I protested putting Ethan in the Centre. So suddenly, I was shut out and Cox was working on hunting down the boy. I’ve been trying to stay informed, but Sydney and Broots can only tell me so much without endangering their position in the pursuit,” she defended.

“Yeah. Sydney told me things have been tenuous. What’s so funny?” Jarod asked. Parker still had a dazzled expression on her face.

“You’re super boy, that’s what’s so funny. Does anything kill you?” she sneered.

“You and Ethan survived.”

“Yes, but we weren’t... you were behind us. And the last thing I remember is hearing you before the blast knocked me down.” Parker’s tone turned serious. She was caught in the memory.

“I was lucky, I admit, but....”

“God, it never ends, does it?” Parker interrupted him.

“No.” Jarod gazed into her eyes.

“What happens now?”

“That depends on you.” Parker sighed.

“I don’t want to run anymore, Jarod.”

“Neither do I,” he agreed, getting off the bed in a frustrated motion, tempted with a sudden desire to leave.

“Stay... For tonight, stay,” Parker whispered the one request he couldn’t deny. Standing there before her with the moonlight casting shadows over his form, Jarod reached out and pulled Parker to her feet, holding his friend... his love for the longest moment.

They hid for an eternal evening in the divine shelter of each other’s arm.





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