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*Disclaimer: I don't own "The Pretender" or any of its characters. Thanx for not suing! ~Oriana


To Dance In An English Garden
Part II
by Orinana

An exhausted Parker nodded off around 5:30, after fighting off sleep for hours. She woke up less than two hours later, her head snapping up. After a split moment to realize where she was, she looked up. Jarod wasn't in his bed. A thought came to her, and with sudden concern she looked over to the dresser, but the gun remained in the same spot it had been last she'd looked at it. It was only as she finally noticed a small breeze on her neck that Parker turned, finding Jarod back at the balcony, only this time he was actually standing out on it, looking down into the garden, again lost in his thoughts.

She noted, with great relief, that he was shaven, freshly dressed, and though still pale, looked a degree less dead. As she got up from the chair, Jarod turned and looked at her. She smiled a greeting, but froze as she saw his face. Cold, stony, a grin showing more malice than gentleness.

"So the great huntress awakes," he said in a mocking tone.

"J-Jarod, you're looking better."

A shadow passed over his face momentarily, and when he replied, his voice held a grim note. "What? Well enough to drag me back to the Centre."

Parker couldn't think of an answer to that, so simply ignored the statement. "Since you're clearly more coherent today, mind telling me just what the hell's going on?"

"And what makes you think I owe you any answers?" he snapped, grabbing his jacket and heading towards the door.

"Where are you going?" she asked worriedly. He was nowhere near strong enough to go off on his own.

He didn't reply, just slammed the door shut behind him. With an angry huff, and realizing that she almost preferred his earlier behavior, Parker reached for her own coat and cell phone, throwing the gun in a drawer as a second thought, and raced out after him. As she headed down the stairs, she could hear Jarod snap, "Watch where you're going!" then a door banging shut.

Throwing her jacket on, she reached the entrance and swung it open, then ran outside. After wincing for a moment in the sudden brightness of the early morning sun, she looked about her expectantly, but couldn't spot Jarod anywhere in the crowds of people heading about.

Heading back inside, she spotted Mary and cornered her. "Jarod just ran out of here. Do you know where he could've gone?"

"N-no, ma'am," she stuttered, wide-eyed. "Oh, wait! We have connections with the local gym. I told him when he arrived that our guests can work out there free of charge."

"Where is this place?" Parker demanded urgently.

"Just two blocks down, O'Malley's. You can't miss it."

"Thanks," she managed over her shoulder as she hurried outside. Pushing impatiently through chattering groups of early risers, ignoring their indignant calls, she reached O'Malley's Gym. Moving inside, she headed straight to the information desk.

"Good morning, ma'am," smiled the petite blonde behind the desk. "And how may I help you today?"

"There was a man, he would've come in here just a few minutes ago--Jarod?"

The clerk stared blankly at her for a moment, then her eyes brightened with recognition. "Oh, you must mean the dark-haired man. Yes, he flashed me his Swan Inn user's pass, then moved on to the locker room."

"And where would that be?"

She gave an uncomfortable laugh. "I'm afraid you can't go in there. It's the men's locker room."

"Watch me." Parker brushed impatiently past the blonde, spotted a sign announcing the appropriate locker room, and walked in without a second thought. The clerk did not pursue her.

Inside, a few surprised men gave yelps of surprise, some quickly reached for towels. She ignored them, looking down every row of lockers expectantly. Not spotting Jarod, she stopped in front of a sign-up clipboard, then ruffled through the sheets. A speedy and half-unclear signature was placed in the punching bags column. With a smile of satisfaction, she walked out, calling back, "As you were, boys."

The boxing room was the farthest area of the gym. Parker pushed open the heavy wooden door, and entered. She was greeted by the dull thuds of fists against pads. Sure enough, in the far left corner stood Jarod, black jacket on the floor, dark pants and t-shirt still on. She was surprised to see that he was taking on the large punching bag with bare hands, undoubtedly a painful choice. Also, it was rather dim in the room, the only light filtering in through a few windows near the top of one wall. She took one step inside, and led the door slowly slide shut behind her.

Jarod didn't once look up. Parker stood, near the door, for 20 minutes, watching him. There was a strength, a determined swiftness, in how his fists made continual contact with the bag, that reminded Parker of herself, whenever she headed to the shooting range to work through her demons.

She noted with concern that he was beginning to sweat. Deciding that enough was enough, she reached over and flicked up the ceiling light switches, then walked across the room to him.

"Imagine meeting you here," he muttered, giving the boxing bag another whack.

"Don't you think it's time you took a break?"

"No." Thud. Thud-thud.

"Jarod, I don't care how well you slept. Yesterday you were an absolute mess, and I'm willing to be you didn't even eat this morning. This isn't healthy."

A final punch at the bag, and he turned to look at her. Dark circles under his eyes only highlighted the grim, angry look in his eyes. "What? It'll be more impressive to daddy dearest and the others if you bring back a pretender who could put up more of a fight?"

"What the hell is wrong with you?"

"Now there is the real question."

She ignored his sarcastic tone, and pushed on. "Did something go wrong? Has something happened?"

Every muscle visibly tightened. Clenched fists at his side, he stalked past Parker, towards the door.

"Where are you going?" she demanded, hurrying to catch up.

"None of your damn business!"

"If you would just tell me where you're going--"

"Look!" he shouted, spinning around to face her. "I don't want you here! Why can't you get that?! Go away, Parker!" She stood, dumbfounded, as he slammed the door shut behind him.

After a moment, she picked up his jacket with a sigh, and walked resignedly back to the inn. An inquiry with Mary confirmed that Jarod had not returned.

Going upstairs, she went into his room, hoping to be there when he returned. After calling downstairs to order some room service, Parker walked out onto the balcony, and looked down into the garden. In one corner, on a marble bench, sat on older man, probably in his mid-40s, reading a book. The sight reminded her of someone, and she reached in her pocket for her cell phone.

When Sydney answered, she skipped the usual greetings. "Any news yet?"

"None yet, I'm afraid. If Jarod had any intention of sending us the usual package, he apparently never got around to it. And you and I both know that without those little clues, it's very near impossible to trace his steps."

"I know," she sighed. "Just hoping, I guess."

"So, are things any better on your side?" he asked hopefully.

"Better and worse, depending. Physically, he appears better, and sure as hell has built back up some of his strength. But psychologically..." she trailed off. "Who knows. Yesterday he was unimaginably depressed, and now he seems extremely angry at the world in general. But I can tell you this—one way or another, when he comes back, I'm getting some answers."

"It may be best not to provoke him," Sydney warned.

"Something bad's going on, Syd. If it's eating away at him this badly, it can't be healthy to hold it in."

"Jarod has always been one to handle things by himself."

"Yeah, but not by choice," she pointed out. "We had him locked up in a cement cell a good part of his life. You'd be a little self-reliant too. But this is different. I mean, clearly he isn't handling it well--last night, I had to keep calming him again and again, his nightmares were so bad."

"Really." There was a half-hidden tone of surprise in his voice.

"What is it?"

"I just find it interesting to learn that tactic still works."


Sydney gave a reluctant sigh. "Nothing. I'll call if anything changes. And Parker, do keep in touch. Broots and I are both very concerned.

"Will do." She hung up, closed the balcony doors, and retreated to the bed. She was exhausted, but no way was she leaving this room until he came back. Using his bed, she'd be able to rest, and still know when he came back in.


Across the Atlantic Ocean, back in Blue Cove, Delaware, Sydney put down his own phone, and let his eyes wander to Jarod's Lego Empire State Building. From many years ago, a memory came back to him of one late night...

Young Jarod lie, trembling, in his bed. The security guards had called him in, the third time this week, because the small pretender's screaming had gotten so bad. Sydney entered Jarod's room -if it really could be called such- concerned, ready to help the child as before. The nightmares got worse every week, it seemed.

Try as he might, though, for the next 10 minutes, nothing he did could calm Jarod. Slowly, the boy started to wake up, whimpering, edging away from him.

"No, no! Stay away!" Jarod suddenly shrieked. He was still dreaming, the man realized. And seeing someone who had been there for most of the tests was not likely to calm the child.

An idea hit him; he leaned closer, and said softly, "Jarod, it's all right. Miss Parker is on her way down." The shrieking stopped, but Jarod was still shaking. "She's on her way," he assured. "Everything will be fine then." Eyes drooping, the child gave a small nod. "Miss Parker will be here soon." He laid back down, slowly, the hesitation easing out of his body. His muscles relaxed, his breathing slowly evened out. Within a few moments, young Jarod was in a peaceful slumber...

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