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Author's Chapter Notes:

Maybe you didn’t particularly like the sappy turn of events of the last chapter.

But things won't get easier for the 'Three Stooges', from now on. 


Three days later

When Sydney was discharged, he moved in at Broots's along with Angelo. 

Michelle and Nicholas were still staying in a hotel, and they often met with the psychiatrist. The matter of a hypothetical relocation hadn’t been properly discussed, yet. But Sydney thought about it almost every waking hour. 

He was glad of having a chance to spend some time with Michelle and his biological son; but knowing that Phillip and Margaret’s house was in Florida, he was sure that Jarod would decide to stay close to his family in Jacksonville.

He hadn’t found the courage to ask the pretender and Parker what they would do. And if he listened to his heart, he knew that he wanted to be with his them, too. He couldn’t leave Angelo behind. And he couldn’t imagine his life without Jarod or Miss Parker in it. 



Jarod was recovering fast, and everyone was very grateful to see him regaining his usual carefree attitude. 

His relatives visited in little groups not to drive the hospital personnel crazy.

In the meantime, Zane was sorting out the paperwork about The Centre case. The interrogations of the people directly involved had unraveled years of crimes. Not having the opportunity to prosecute Mr. Parker, Raines and Lyle had left the smart agent with the feeling she had achieved a bitter victory. 

The department wanted a scapegoat, they needed someone to pay, a culprit to splash on the front pages. 

The blitz at the Centre had been covered by the media, with the result that people all around America were wondering what had really happened.

Conspiracy theories were already circulating on the internet, and they couldn’t do anything about it.



Jarod had been expecting Andrea’s visit, so he wasn’t surprised when he saw the NSA operative knocking at his door.

Parker sat next to him, holding Michael. Jarod was entertaining the kid by moving a toy car on the bed, and Michael laughed at every single funny face or noise made by his father. Even Parker chuckled at Jarod’s absurd expressions, at times.

“I’ve always thought you have peculiar aesthetics, Jarod” she mocked him, kissing Michael’s head. 

Jarod took his son's hand, staring at him with a content smile plastered on his face.

Andrea Zane coughed to clear her throat and let them notice her presence.

Jarod and Parker looked up.

“Agent Zane.” Miss Parker greeted her.

Andrea made a little smile, and she approached the patient; Jarod was visibly getting better by the day.

“I guess this ain’t no social call, Zane.” Jarod stated.

“Not really.” she confirmed. “First of all, I’ve been sent to inform you that as soon as you fully recover there’s a job waiting for you at NSA.” 

Jarod and Parker exchanged a questioning look. 

“The department wants to hire you, for real.” Zane said.

Parker knew that something like this would happen. Of course, the NSA didn’t want to lose someone like Jarod.

“The agency never had an operative with your skills; they are ready to do literally anything to have you. Money won’t be an issue.”

Jarod was speechless. It was the first time that someone wanted to give him a job for showing his true self.

“It’s a big opportunity, Jarod.” Parker softened. 

But the pretender didn’t seem convinced, “I’ll think about it, Andrea. I can’t take such a decision light-heartedly. I must talk about it with my family.”

“Take all the time you need.” Zane nodded.

After a few moments spent in silence, Jarod spoke again, “I think you didn’t come all this way just to offer me a job, uh?”

Zane smiled, appreciating the pretender’s typical intuition.

“My superiors are pushing me. I’ve tried to hide the names of those who were directly involved with the Centre, but it’s no longer possible.”

Parker’s attention was diverted from Michael. She knew that Zane was talking about something that interested her personally. 

Jarod’s expression darkened. He was deep in thought.

“We tried to keep the intel as confidential, but you know how these things work. The names came up, that’s all the tabloid and the tv news talk about. Everyone in this damned country is wondering what happened to the team in charge of your pursuit.”

Jarod glanced at Parker with worry in his eyes.

“With all due respect, I think they’ve got a point.” Zane admitted.

Parker chuckled, “I bet you do.” 

“Parker, please.” Jarod stopped her while Zane rolled her eyes in astonishment. This woman really was something.  

“We’ve been over this, Zane. They’re not guilty.” Jarod explained for the umpteenth time. “I’m going to testify on their behalf, my word should be enough to vouch for their innocence.”

“It’s not that simple, Jarod.” Zane shook her head. “My superiors need someone to put on the prosecution table. The three main suspects are dead, so the case falls on the three of them.”

Jarod fidgeted in his bed, “I won’t allow you to charge them with crimes they never committed!”

Parker was anguished, but she didn’t want to show. She knew that her team would bear the consequences of their actions. 

Sydney would certainly pay more than everyone else, given that his main job at the Centre could be considered child endangerment and exploitation.   

Zane took a file from her bag and opened it, starting to read.

“Doctor Sydney Mertens –” noticing Jarod and Parker’s looks of surprise, she challenged them, ironically. “Oh, yeah, we know his family name.” 

“The psychiatrist is charged with child endangerment and exploitation in scientific experimentation. We’re talking about years of prison, Jarod.”

“I was raise by Sydney, he never – ”

Zane interrupted the pretender, reading from another file, “John Broots committed every possible cyber-crime in the attempt to keep up with your movements.” 

Parker’s annoyance was growing by the second, she felt her cranky attitude coming to the surface, “What’s written in your files about me, uh?”

“Parker.” Jarod tried to stop her again, sighing in exasperation when he recognized her you-run-I-chase tone.

“Don’t hush me Jarod, I want to know!”

Zane couldn’t help herself, “Charlotte Catherine Parker, your name conveniently disappeared from the archives of the Centre main computer.”

Jarod looked at the woman he loved with the huge smirk ever on his face.

Payback felt – oh, so good. 

Miss Parker was astonished, how could Jarod possibly have deleted information about her, the chairman’s daughter?

Jarod had revealed this detail to Zane a few hours before the blitz, when he had called to confess that his brother had selected for deletion all the files about Miss Parker, the woman helping them from the inside. He’d mentioned Operation Reset would have never worked, without her.

“When, I mean – how –” she stuttered, too surprise to put together a coherent thought.

“Ethan was amazing. He filtered all the data to delete every hint of your job as leader of the team that was hunting me. Reports, contacts, checks, receipts, everything. In this new version of the Centre, you are Lyle’s twin sister; you were sent away to Europe to complete your studies and you found yourself involved in the blitz just because you were coming home to visit your family.”

“And what about the hole in Lyle’s skull?” she challenged him, almost angry for the fact that she’d been lifted from the responsibility of killing her brother.

“My agents were well cooked. To them, Mr. Lyle died during the gunshot. There is no mention of the threats to you and Jesse Charles in our records. Lyle shot Jarod, and then one of the Africans shot him, end of story.”

Parker was confused.

“I told Jarod that the role of the martyr wouldn’t suit.” Zane smiled, causing a little smirk on Miss Parker’s face, too.

“We’ve thought this through, Parker. We’ll teach you well before your deposition. I didn’t want you to be exposed to the fatigue of a trial during the pregnancy.”

“Since when you worry about your huntress, boy genius?” she asked.

“I’ve always made this mistake, Miss Parker.” He quipped.

Zane didn’t completely understand that banter, but when she saw them smiling at each other and sharing an affection look, she realized they were joking.

“And what about Sydney and Broots?” Miss Parker asked, staring at the agent.

Zane sighed, glancing at Jarod; he was betraying his uneasiness with his typical lost-puppy-look.

“We could pretend that Mr. Broots's was an undercover agent working with us during the last four years.” Zane exhaled, knowing that she would get in trouble for this.

“Sounds good!” Jarod exclaimed. “And what about Sydney?”

“Sydney will take responsibility.” a voice at their backs suddenly declared. 

The psychiatrist was entering the room with his crutches. He reached for Jarod’s bed and looked at him with a soft smile on his lips.

Parker approached the old man and kissed his cheek; she hadn’t seen Sydney for two days.

“Are you feeling better?” she asked, checking his leg.

“Yeah. It’s not the physical pain I’m worried about.”

“Syd” Jarod spoke. “I don’t want you to spend the rest of your life in prison. My deposition will maybe reduce your punishment, but it will never save you, you know that.”

“Let’s face it, Syd. The fact that Jarod grew up under your scrutiny will make the jury think that you probably manipulated his mind so that he saw you like a father figure. Well, like mother hen, too.” Parker stated sarcastically. 

“There’s nothing to joke about, Parker. This is a serious matter.”

Zane interrupted them, she couldn’t stand a second more of their banter. 

“We may have a plan. It could work pretty well, but it would definitely raise some ethical issues.”

We?” Parker demanded, curious.

“This was Jesse Charles’s idea.” She told them.

Jarod and Parker exchanged another questioning look. 

What had Jesse really been up to during the hours spent in a room at the NSA?

Jarod grimaced, “Ethics was never contemplated at the Centre, Zane. Go on and tell us.”

Parker placed a sound asleep Michael in Jarod’s arms, making attention not to wake him up.

“The boy knows how much you care for Sydney, so he suggested that – uhm – that we could fake his own death.”

Jarod’s face took on a worried expression as he gazed at his mentor.

Sydney looked as much astonished as the pretender was, “Meaning?” he asked.

“Jesse also mentioned that you had a twin brother.”

“Yeah, Jacob.” Sydney replied, with a nod, still not understanding where the NSA operative was getting with this.

Parker, instead, understood everything at once. “God, that boy is smarter than you, Jarod!”

Zane couldn’t help but agree with her: Jesse Charles was brilliant. 

“That’s why it could work: Dr. Mertens commits suicide in a crisis of conscience. A gas leak triggers an explosion in his own house. We find his corpse disfigured by the fire.”

Parker closed her eyes, not willing to picture the scene in her mind. 

Sydney was shocked. 

For years, Jacob had been the only family he had. 

Knowing that he could rest in peace was the only thing that alleviated his guilt for his death.

The psychiatrist opened his eyes wide, “You want to use my brother’s remains – to save me?”

“There’s no other choice.” Zane stated.

Sydney yelled, “Jarod, this is insane!”

“Syd, please –”

“No!” Jarod was interrupted. “I’m not listening to this! I won’t exhume my brother to save my neck!”

In spite of the chaos, Michael didn’t move. Sleeping in Jarod’s arms had become his favorite hobby.

Sydney walked towards the exit, the noise made by the crutches on the floor only remarked his disappointment.

Zane stared at Jarod, almost looking for advice. 

The pretender looked at Miss Parker, who immediately caught on his intention.

“And what about us?” she screamed.

The psychiatrist stopped, avoiding turning around not to face her stare.

Parker was searching for the right words to say. 

She had never told Sydney how much she cared for him, but she knew the time had come to put aside the past and do it.

“Jarod needs you. Angelo needs you!”

Sydney listened, without uttering a word. 

Parker approached the man, making him turn around so that he could look straight into her eyes and feel her emotions.

I need you.”

Miss Parker’s wonderful eyes were filled with tears, “You’ve been the only father I ever had, Sydney. You were there during the special occasions, and you supported me at difficult times. You remember what my father told me at my graduation?”

“No.” he answered honestly.

Jarod hung on her words.

“Nothing, because he wasn’t there.” Miss Parker talked on, revealing the umpteenth bad memory she had about Mr. Parker, “But you were there, Sydney. And I will never forget what you said to me.”

Sydney smiled sadly, “I told you that I was very proud of my Little Miss Parker.”

She was crying and smiling at the same time. 

For Jarod, that was something new about her past. He suddenly realized he would love discovering all these little things, once they started living together.

“In my life, I always had two constants. The first one was a naïve kid that wetted his pants whenever we ended up in a Centre corridor we hadn’t explored before.”

“Hey!” Jarod complained, faking disappointment. 

Parker ignored him, she could make fun of him later.

“You were my second rock. Remember what I told you the day you found Dr. Krieg?” Sydney nodded. “I really felt like that.”

Sydney shook his head slowly, still not convinced.

“Please, don’t leave me now that I need you the most. Jacob would have done the same thing to save the kids. He died because he wanted to subvert the order of The Centre; he wanted to unveil the truth behind the lies. Please, don’t let his sacrifice go to waste.”

Sydney didn’t know what to say, at that moment. 

For years, he’d hoped to hear such words from Miss Parker.

He also thought fleetly of Michelle and Nicholas. Now that they were finally free from The Centre, they could spend time together as a family. 

Who was he to deny them this happiness? 

Parker was right: Jacob would have done the same thing. 

The psychiatrist sighed and smiled, leaning to hug Miss Parker, who couldn’t help but crying silently. Enveloped in his chest. 

Zane was really touched, but she tried not to show. She was finally beginning to understand the twisted, intimate relationship that these three people had. 

“So, I must assume that we have a deal?” she asked.

Sydney nodded, ruefully. But he’d made up his mind. 

He approached the bed, looking at his enfant prodige and the boy who would probably call him grandpa, from then on. 

Jarod took his mentor’s hand and squeezed it, making him realize how glad his was that he had made the right decision.

Chapter End Notes:

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