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This is a one-shot, people.
Her father was gone.
Her brother had stopped plotting to usurp Raines long enough to join him in making her life Hell.
Her mother had been dead for years.
Her half-brother was missing and had been for months.
Her last lover had been killed almost two years ago.
It was shaping up to be a bad Christmas, all around. The first one in years where Parker couldn't even pretend that the situation that was her life would get better. There was no father waiting in the wings to sweep in and make her realize he'd loved her all along.There wasn't even a father off somewhere waiting for the right moment to disappoint her once again.
All she wanted on this depressing Christmas was a bottle of really good scotch and some peace and quiet.
Imagine her surprise when at precisely six o'clock in the evening, right in the middle of her third glass of wine, her doorbell rang.
Expecting carolers, and fully intending to send them on their way with a snarky greeting and her 9 mm, Miss Parker was pleasantly surprised to open the door and find her half-brother on her steps.
She was more shocked to find Jarod standing bare inches behind him.
Miss Parker stood in her doorway, her face the very picture of shock as she stared at the duo before her. "What-"
"Hello, Miss Parker!" Jarod boomed over his brother's shoulder as he pushed past Ethan and Parker, heading straight for the ebbing fire across the room. Ethan shrugged apologetically before doing the same, brushing a kiss across his sister's cheek as he did so.
She shut the door with a bone-jarring slam and turned around ready to spew fire all over the two of them. Then she noticed that both of them were shivering. Snow covered their coats and hair and they stared at her through lashes made wet by the melted snow.She clucked her tongue and closed her eyes as she counted to ten.
Parker barely believed it when she heard herself speaking. "Take off those jackets; you're getting snow all over my floor.” Parker ordered in clear disapproval, “I'll get some towels."
By the time she reached the linen closet Miss Parker realized that she must be completely off her rocker. The second she'd seen Jarod, she should have been calling the Centre, calling a sweeper team to come get him.
She could have hidden Ethan until they'd left, kept him safe while Centre goons carted off his half-brother to do the diabolical work of her family.
Parker paused as she pulled down some of her towels, towels bought by her mother and barely used because for years this house had been unoccupied until she'd returned and taken it over.
Miss Parker still could call the Centre; all she had to do was slip into her bedroom to her cell phone. Sam's number was preprogrammed and she knew without a doubt that he'd brave the storm if she called.
Ethan would hate her, but he'd be safer with Jarod back in the Centre. The hunt for Ethan would subside with their number one Pretender back in possession.
Sydney would hate her too, but he'd get over it. Jarod was and always would be like a son to him. Sydney was happy just to have him near and safe.
She could still have Jarod taken in and get her own freedom from the Centre, even at the cost of her own self-respect.
She could do a lot of things.
For the first time ever, Parker decided to do nothing.
She wasn't smiling when she brought them the towels, but she'd resigned herself to them being here. Ethan reached for a towel and Miss Parker's eyes automatically sought out Jarod's tall form. He was kneeling before her fireplace, stoking up the fire and dripping all over her expensive rug. With a grin she threw one of the towels and it landed with perfect accuracy on his head.
She turned before he could see her amusement. Miss Parker took the last of the towels and threw it on the floor, trying to soak up some of the melted snow pooling there. She was only wearing socks and it was very cold water.
"What are you two doing here?" She asked with a scratchy voice, a voice that had not spoken to anyone all day. She'd ignored Broots and Sydney's calls and had resolutely refused to give in and call anyone. It'd just been her and the house all day.
She'd bought a Christmas tree though. It'd been her only company all day, a brightly colored, twinkling lighted tree. It'd been a tradition she hadn't been able to give up. She'd even decorated it. It'd been the only thing able to make her smile these past few days. Ornaments her mother had chosen, ornaments she'd made in her young years, and ornaments passed down through the generations decorated that tree.
For years this house had been without Christmas, her mother's favorite holiday. No matter what, her mother's house would have its Christmas.
Ethan grinned and rubbed his hair vigorously with the towel. Miss Parker noticed that he'd begun to let it grow, not unlike Jarod's. "We knew you'd be alone this Christmas and figured since we're alone too we'd keep each other company."
If there'd been a single note of sympathy in his voice, Miss Parker would have slugged him.
There wasn't, however, any tone to his voice at all. He was just stating a fact.
She wondered if Jarod had wanted to come or if Ethan had forced him.
Truthfully, if Jarod hadn't joined Ethan then she wouldn't have blamed him. Her actions on the Island of Carthis and just after hadn't been her best. They'd actually been her worst, the ultimate betrayal of the friendship she and Jarod had once had. She still hadn't forgiven herself, let alone expected that he'd forgive her.
Parker had her back to him and the fireplace, but still she felt it when he stood and moved to stand just behind her. "You decided that in the middle of the worst snowstorm Delaware has seen in over fifty years you were going to come visit me?" She asked, pretending the husky overtone of her voice was from disuse and not from his nearness.
"Even Centre goons can't go out in this weather," Jarod said, "What better time is it to visit the woman who almost let me be locked up as a Triumvirate toy for the rest of my life?"
Miss Parker licked her lips unconsciously, turning her head just enough to stare at him from the corner of her eye. "Almost doesn't count."
They both knew very well just how much almost didn't count. Their eyes connected and sparks almost visibly exploded between them, their minds simultaneously flying into their memories back to the Island where only a few short months ago they almost kissed, almost resolved the sexual tension that always lingered between them.
"I'm hungry," Ethan said suddenly as he felt the tension rising quickly. He grabbed Parker's hand and began to drag her to the kitchen.
"Well, that's all well and good, Ethan, but I don't really have the supplies to feed two more people," Parker explained in a frustrated tone. She stood just inside the doorway and watched as her half-brother ransacked her kitchen in search of supplies.
"Geez, Parker, it looks like you don't have the supplies to feed even yourself," Ethan said finally, putting his hands on his hips in disapproval.
Jarod laughed from somewhere behind her, and Parker's jaw clenched so she wouldn't smile at the delicious sound. "I told you, Ethan," Jarod said smugly from out of sight.
"Told him what?" Parker asked in curiosity as she turned to watch Jarod walk by with six bags in both his hands. His arms were tight with the effort of holding so many bags, his muscles standing out clearly.
"That you wouldn't have any food in the house," Jarod said matter-of-factly as he set the bags on the counter. "I left these on the porch until Ethan could check."
"You just love being right, don't you, Jarod?" Parker asked, trying to remain nonchalant but knowing a note of bitterness had rung through.
He grinned and shrugged before popping open a jar of Pringles to munch on while he put groceries away. He moved as if he knew just where everything went, which he probably did. He'd broken into the house enough times to have plenty of knowledge as to what went where. Parker smirked at him, but could feel irritation just under her skin.
Parker let her curiosity get the better of her and peeked in the bags now covering her island countertop. There were the essentials, bread and milk, eggs and cheese, and then there were snacks, brownies and cakes, chips and dip. Jarod's hands flew in and out of the bags quickly, putting things away with ease. Every time he returned to the counter to get more things, Parker refused to budge from the spot and his arm brushed hers. They both ignored the way she shivered at the contact.
Ethan saw everything, however, and was amused at the amount of concentration his siblings put into ignoring their own reactions to each other.
"How you been, Parker?" Ethan asked, his eyes entirely too brightened by what he saw before.
Parker eyed the tube of Pringles Jarod was munching from and contemplated snatching them away. She answered Ethan without really paying attention to his question. "Fine."
Ethan rolled his eyes as the conversation dead-ended and moved to stand beside her. "We’ve been worried, what with the Centre shake-ups and all."
"We?" She refused to look at Jarod as she questioned the use of that particular pronoun, her attention now firmly focused on Ethan.
"Yes, we," Jarod answered, finally stopping his whirlwind of activity as he grabbed all the empty plastic bags and condensed them into one before putting them under the kitchen sink.
Parker ignored him. "Don't worry about me, Ethan. I can take care of myself. I have been for many years."
She also ignored the scoff of skepticism that Jarod released as he moved to stand beside her.
"If you could take care of yourself, you'd have food in the house and in your stomach, instead of wine on your breath and crackers in the cupboard." Jarod was forcing his voice to remain even and firm, his emotions hidden behind the intensity of his stare.
Parker turned and glared daggers at Jarod and neither of them noticed when Ethan slowly backed away from the counter and out of the room.
"I'm being chastised by a man who lives off of Pez and soda?"
"No, you're being chastised by a man who enjoys Pez and soda but still makes sure he gets all the proper nutrients."
"Not all of us have time to eat three meals a day, Jarod. For instance, I spend a good deal of my time driving in my car or in a plane chasing after a certain pain-in-my-ass!"
"You need to make time, Parker. You have an ulcer, for God's sake, you can't afford to not eat healthy, let alone not eat at all."
"Don't give me orders, Jarod, you are not my father!" Parker barked out angrily.
Just like that the tension between them, the one that had slowly been drawing their resisting bodies closer together until only inches remained between their angry faces, snapped and they each stumbled back as if struck physically.
Parker turned from him, pressing her cool and trembling hand to her feverish cheek. Jarod stared down at the floor, until he was unable to resist his instincts anymore. He pressed his hand against the small of her back, stepping close so that the heat of his body was solid against her back even though the only way he touched her was through his hand. "Parker..."
"Don't, Jarod. Just... just don't." Her voice was shaky as she spoke.
It was the only reason he didn't press on.
Ethan appeared in the doorway, finally deducing that he'd let them try and sort this out themselves for long enough and that as usual they'd made a mess of things. "So... dinner anyone?"
Ethan's voice broke Parker from the dark melancholy turn her thoughts had taken and she smiled slightly at him as she moved to go to the fridge, instantly missing the heat of Jarod's body behind her.
She looked at everything Jarod had put away and shrugged. "You two did the shopping, you tell me."
"I'm thinking..." Ethan cupped his chin in an exaggerated mimic of deep thinking, "...spaghetti."
Jarod instantly replied, "No."
Parker's eyebrows shot up and she stared at them over her shoulder. "Why not?"
"We've had spaghetti five times this week already."
"I can't help it if I like spaghetti, Jarod."
"I guess Ethan gets his OCD from his father's side of the family," Parker murmured playfully as she continued to gaze at the oddness of the full fridge before her. She couldn't recall it ever being this full. "I'm rather fond of spaghetti."
"Jarod..." Ethan did his best imitation of puppy dog eyes.
"No." Jarod said once again.
Parker let their playful bickering wash over her and she felt her lips quirk in amusement. She bit her lower lip and turned to gaze at Jarod over her shoulder. "Please?"
Jarod froze when Parker turned those gorgeous eyes on him, blue as the deep, unending ocean overlaid with grey that seemed to move like a storm over her eyes when she was upset. He couldn't deny her anything when she looked at him like that.
"Okay. Fine. Spaghetti it is."
Parker grinned and shut the fridge, sliding onto a stool at the counter to watch Jarod move around the kitchen. Ethan slid onto a seat beside her and watched his brother as well. He was pretty sure he wasn't seeing the same thing she was.
"Parker, is it cool if I take a shower?"
Parker blinked herself out of the trance she'd fallen into; her thoughts had been taking a decidedly happier and lustier veneer as she'd watched Jarod move. "Yes, that's fine. I'll show you where."
Ethan and Parker left Jarod doing his thing in the kitchen and moved through the house. Parker pointed out some of their mother's things as she did so, sharing childhood memories with him. They paused to look at the photos of Catherine when she was younger, and Ethan, just like everyone else in her life, had to comment on how alike they looked.
"Yeah, it's uncanny," Parker replied sarcastically, desperately wishing people would stop telling her that. It was enough to live with her memory; did she have to live in her mother's shadow as well?
"So," Ethan asked as they finally reached the upstairs bathroom, "where will Jarod and I be sleeping?"
Parker hadn't thought of that. "Well, one of you can have the guest bedroom, and then there's the couch downstairs. You'll have to argue that point with your brother when it comes to it."
Parker handed him some clean towels from the closet in the hall and smiled as she moved to rejoin Jarod in the kitchen. Ethan watched her go, her dark hair swaying gently as she moved.
She paused when he called, turned at the top of the stairs to gaze at him in question.
She smiles and nods slightly before continuing downstairs.
Maybe it wasn't so bad having them here.
It was much later that night, after a delicious dinner and several hours of talking, that Parker realized that at some point she'd become comfortable with Jarod. She'd become comfortable with the idea of him in her house, sleeping on her couch. That knowledge was no longer gnawing at the lining of her stomach and stressing her body and mind to the point of breaking.
The clock in the hall chimed twelve times, signaling another hour had passed since she'd retired to bed and had yet to fall to sleep. Her thoughts spun in her mind and she didn't want to think about morning.
Sure, there were several feet of snow outside and little chance that someone would discover Jarod and Ethan here, but the worry was still there. She hadn't been in contact with anyone all day, and the phones were now out. There was a chance, very slight, that Sydney or Broots, or maybe even Lyle, might decide to come check on her.
Parker sighed and tried to push thoughts like that out of her head but resigned herself to a sleepless night. She twisted in her bed, the sound of her coverlet sliding over her sheets harsh in the utter silence of the house. The snow was muffling noise from outside and made the house seem cavernous, with every noise echoing.
A small creak just outside her door had Parker's hand sliding under her pillow towards her gun. Since Thomas's death she'd started sleeping with it there, needing the feeling of safety it brought her.
Or perhaps it was the feeling of power?
Her finger slid around the trigger and her eyes slid open to slits as she waited for whoever was outside the door to make their move.
"Miss Parker?" Jarod's voice was quiet as it slid through her door, and Parker instinctively clenched her fingers around the gun before forcing herself to release it. She removed her hand from beneath her pillow and turned to the door, sitting up as she did so.
He pushed the door open but remained barely visible in the inky darkness of her room. He shut the door behind him and stood against it as if frozen. "I thought you might be awake."
"I couldn't sleep."
She felt rather than saw him move through the room. Her head instinctively followed his progress and was facing him when he sat beside her on the bed, his weight dipping the mattress beside her and unsettling her enough to have her side flush against his.
She didn't move away.
Jarod sighed and slowly turned his head to stare her in the eyes. "This isn't working."
"What isn't working?"
"Don't play dumb, Parker. I run, you chase. It's not working, and hasn't been since Carthis."
Parker grimaced and wished for an aspirin as she felt a headache stir just behind her eyes. "What do you want me to do, Jarod? Run like you? Let them kill me? Kill Broots and Sydney?"
Jarod shook his head, the movement sending the air between them stirring. "Not run like me, Parker. Run with me."
"I don't want to spend my life running, Jarod," Parker said quietly.
"Neither did I. You get used to it."
"I don't want to get used to it."
Jarod nodded, his hand sliding along the coverlet until it covered her hand where it rested beside her. "I guess I'll just have to take the Centre down then."
"Like you haven't been trying for the last four years?" "Not really," he replied with a smile, though she couldn't see it she heard it in his voice.
Parker scoffed, but didn't move her hand from where he held it. "I'm starting to think that place will live forever."
"If destroying it is what it takes to have you with me, Parker, then I'll do it."
Parker shook her head, realizing it for the foolish dream it was. "Jarod..."
He leaned close, his breath on her cheek. "Parker, trust me. If anyone can do it..."
She finished the sentence for him, "...then you can."
They were silent for several minutes, both of them unsure what to say next. Jarod's mouth opened and shut several times before finally staying shut. The mood between them, for once, was tranquil. None of their usual issues were rearing their ugly heads right now and he was reluctant to say anything lest he provoke them.
Miss Parker wasn't afraid to say anything, never had been. Her silence right now was mostly because she was reflecting on whether what she wanted to say was a good idea. She was Miss Parker, however, and she inevitably dived in headfirst.
"Merry Christmas, Jarod," she said softly. He looked up, his dark hair shielding his face but the intenseness of his stare radiated through anyways. Parker brushed her fingertips down his cheek, before leaning in and brushing her lips across his.
The kiss was not their first, but the most anticipated. An event that had simmered between them these past four years, always just on the edge of every confrontation but never coming to fruition. Passion restrained and violently churning within them for so long only to come to a head in such a simply gentle way.
Jarod kissed her back, nipping at her bottom lip until she opened to him. Their kiss became an embrace, arms sliding around each other sinuously and tightly. Skin became flushed with heat as the sexual tension between slowly erupted into almost visible sparks of sensation between them.
Jarod slowly pressed Parker backwards until they lay together in her bed.
Neither of them got much rest.
When Ethan woke the next morning, the sight that greeted him was most unexpected.
Yawning widely as he made his way to the kitchen, following the sounds of... laughter?
Just as he reached the doorway, he froze, unsure whether to interrupt the scene before him.
Parker stood before the stove, effortlessly poring batter into a skillet for pancakes. She was smiling at something Jarod had said, her lips curving in a sweet way that was as far removed from her Miss Parker smile, that cold and bitter sneer that was edged with bitterness, as one could get.
Jarod was looking at her with eyes that were lit up from within and Ethan watched with fascination as his brother leaned over and brushed a kiss against the corner of Parker's lips.
He was astonished to see Jarod actually get away with it.
In fact, all Parker did was continue to make pancakes.
Ethan grinned and moved to take a seat at the island. "I'm starving."
"I figured you would be," Parker said smartly, looking over her should to smile at her brother, not showing the least bit of embarrassment over getting caught being kissed by her former prey. "You eat enough in one sitting to feed me for a week."
Jarod opened his mouth to say something; doubtless to scold her for her eating habits but her stern look had him not saying anything. He shrugged and smiled briefly before turning to Ethan, who had just begun to dig into his batch of pancakes, hot and fresh, on his plate. "So, Ethan, you in any hurry to get out of Blue Cove?"
Ethan shrugged and shook his head. "Not particularly. Why?"
Jarod grinned. "I was thinking we'd stick around for a while."
"Well... honestly? I'm thinking forever."
Parker rolled her eyes at his silliness and pushed a plate of pancakes in front of him. "He's convinced that he's going to take down the Centre."
"Once and for all," Jarod added as he poured an obscene amount of syrup on his stack.
Ethan concentrated deeply, struggling to make out what the voices in his head were telling him. "They say..." Parker and Jarod looked from their food to Ethan, realizing that he was listening to his Inner Sense again. "They say...you'll succeed. That you can do it, but..."
"But?" Parker intoned, putting down her fork to reach for Ethan's hand.
"But... he has to marry you first. And provide Mom with grandkids." Ethan looked serious, but there was a glint of amusement in his eyes that Parker didn't trust.
Parker snatched her hand back and glared at Ethan. "Stop giving him ideas."
Jarod could only grin. "When have the voices ever been wrong?"
"Don't you start, either!" Parker threatened him with her fork.
"Come on, sis, it won't be that bad. I can tell you Jarod's only cranky some mornings."
Parker rolled her eyes and cut into her pancakes viciously. "Do you realize that if Jarod and I got married, which I'm not agreeing to, based on the voices in your head telling you so, if we did get married I'd be both your half-sister and your sister-in-law... and the same goes for Jarod?"
Ethan shrugged. "That's going to be a lot of fun to explain to Dad."
Jarod grimaced. "Let's just leave some of this out of the next phone call to Dad, okay?"
Parker grinned and patted Jarod on the shoulder. "If you're going to propose, I expect you to do it properly. So I can tell you no, properly."
"You assume you'll tell me no."
"I know I will." She replied with a sharp grin, her amusement laced with a thread of unease.
"You assume I'll give you the chance to tell me no. I'm a Pretender, I can forge the documents and no one will ever know."
"Oh, I so would. Especially if you intend to tell me no."
Parker grimaced and glared at Jarod and Ethan, both wearing matching smirks. "What did I get myself into?”