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Alternate ending #1, Part 1

Pretend them

            “So you’re really starting up the Pretender Project again, Jarod?” Sydney asked quietly.

            “It’s time, don’t you think?” Jarod smiled his dark smile. His smiles had been dark for a very long time now. “I need a successor, one who has been trained in every way like I was.”

            “Let me be involved, Jarod. I want to lead the project.”

            “Oh, you will be involved. Your training turned out so well with me that I want you to train my successor, too. You and I together, Sydney, just like the old days.”

            Sydney restrained his wince. “The old days were…a very long time ago.”

            “They’ll come back to you.”

            “They have been coming back to me. I’ve been thinking about them a good deal recently. One of the first things you ever said to me was, ‘Where are my mom and dad?’ Do you remember that?”

            “No.” But he did. Sydney could tell by the way his mouth flattened in the old, painful line.

            “You used to ask me constantly where they were, who they were, who you were. It used to torment you that you didn’t know who you were.”

            “Well, I know now.” His lips smiled, though his eyes didn’t. “I’m Jarod.” He leaned forward and smiled a glare into Sydney’s eyes. “That’s all I need to be. Jarod. Me.”

            “Once upon a time you couldn’t conceive of yourself outside of a family. Your family was your identity, and until you found your family, you had no identity. Do you remember how lonely that was?”

            For the first time in a long time there was something of the old Jarod in his voice. “What are you trying to do to me?”

            “I’m trying to help you remember old times, Jarod. The fear, the pain of being a little boy alone, with no one to love you. Do you remember, Jarod?”

            “No, Sydney, I don’t!” And there was fear in his voice now.

            “You do, Jarod. You remember it very well. Mom and Dad are gone, unable to help you, died in a plane crash. You’re alone. You have nightmares. No one loves you. No one cares.”

            “Sydney, what are you doing?” The child was there in his eyes, asking Where are my mom and dad?

            “Do you remember making this, Jarod?” He dropped the card on the desk. “A Father’s Day card. For me. Do you remember how I told you I was not your father, how I dropped it into the trash can? Do you remember how it felt to have your heart torn out?”

            Jarod’s fingers trembled as they touched the card. They picked it up…and they crushed it, slowly and surely, dropped it into the trash beside the desk. Dark eyes narrowed to dark slits gazed into Sydney’s. “I do remember, and I know what you’re doing, Sydney. Playing on my emotions, trying to get me to feel what my new little protégés will feel when they are brought here. Well, it won’t work, Sydney. You killed that part of me long ago. Am I going to have to kill you now?”

            “No,” Sydney said. “You won’t. I can do that very well on my own. But first—” He raised the gun he had in his hands, aimed it at Jarod’s chest. Smith and Weston, 9mm. Miss Parker’s gun. She had given it to him.

            Jarod gave a short, incredulous laugh. “You won’t shoot me, Syd.”

            “You’re wrong, Jarod.”

            His lips curved. “You don’t have it in you. You wouldn’t be able to live with yourself, Sydney.”

            “Oh, don’t worry, Jarod. I won’t live with myself. There are two bullets in this gun, one for you and one for me. Once upon a time, Jarod, I failed to protect you and the other children. I’ve lived with that for forty years. I won’t fail to protect the children this time.”

            “You’re really going to do it,” Jarod whispered.

            “Yes.” Sydney pulled back the hammer.

            Jarod leaned back in his chair, the years suddenly falling from him, suddenly the boy he had once been. “Did you ever really love me, Sydney?”

            “Yes, I did, Jarod,” Sydney said and shot him.

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