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Story Notes:


I know what you're all thinking: "Mirage, what the hell are you doing here again, you stupid girl? You're like a bad cough! Go away!" I'll forward that to the Lady Muse for ya.

I was working on the next installment of Circles (consumed by the hell) when the Muse mercifully tapped me on the shoulder. I earned myself a weekend reprieve from despair. But *sighs* not from Jarod.

It's not the Thomas-Parker saga (I'm still working on that one). No. Darn it. This is ANOTHER P/J fic. No sex.  No trauma. It is- - surprisingly- - NOT the worst thing I've ever read (yes, I actually read the darn thing).

Author's Chapter Notes:

It's Jarod's turn.

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It was nothing short of epiphanous.

Her face. In the clouds.

Twenty-two hundred feet above Istanbul, it occurred to Jarod that this 'different ending' business applied to him too; he was just as responsible for the outcome of their story as she, equally responsible for altering that outcome.

Something else occurred to him as well; something he felt an immediacy to rectify- and given their game of one-upmanship, he couldn't believe he hadn't thought of it before.

Her face evanesced away. And - as if to give chase- - Jarod diverted course.


"Only one thing missing:" Parker purred when she discovered the Pretender lounging on her sofa.

"What's that?" Jarod queried.

"Gift wrap." Returned with smug indifference.

"Hmm." Jarod hummed amiably. Gift wrap? Analogous retort? Subtlety in subtext? Thinly veiled insult? Gift wrap? What the hell does that mean?

She was unaware of his contextual analysis, unaware how easily her words could be misconstrued, bent.

However, the infamous devil-may-care smirk tugging at his lips certainly put her on guard; her brow furrowed as she took a defensive stance, folded her arms.

His continued silence prompted her to ask: "What do you want, Jarod?"

"You have to ask?"

Ah, but of course: freedom. Join the club, genius boy.

Parker could already see where this was going: around and around and nowhere. She was tetchy after another day of working with her twin, the stress and frustration- they were eating her alive from the inside out and would- - inevitably- - coalesce into a migraine.

Rather than engage in banter- - that would no doubt end with him walking away triumphantly anyway- - she quickly arrived at what she was certain would be the end of his invasion. An ounce of prevention...

The lines could not become blurred. He knows that. Doesn't he?

Parker had been certain that she had strategically micromanaged- - in a rather subdued, inconspicuous manner- - to avoid, or at least contain, any potential fall-out from that one slip in Carthis.


Jarod was finding it easier to believe in the curses, the supposed haunted Isle; his soul was certainly haunted- haunted by the memory of Parker pulling away, the expression of sheer mortification etched upon her face.

Had that been true revulsion? And if so, to whom had it been directed? Me? Or herself?

Parker resolved to leave no room for doubt; after all, it was one thing to be dropped onto a isle fraught with curses, homicidal monks and courtly ghosts - in the wake of a devil's storm- - and nearly kiss him. I was cold, confused, she consoled herself, and Jarod had been there with hot tea and a warm embrace- the very briefest of embraces when he'd stretched the quilt across her shoulders and their fingers had met with a spine-tingling spark.

Standing in her own living room, however, and as in control of her emotions as she'd ever be- that was an entirely different matter.

Parker had to adhere to the rules.

Back to normal.

Should anything happen that falls outside the scope of the ordinary run-chase rigamarole-

No. No, no, no. God, no. No. Way. In. Hell.

This is my fucking house and he has no right to torment me this way!

Shoulders back, her carriage regal, head held high, she didn't retreat from him- in fact, she mentally scoffed at the notion of doing so; Parker's don't retreat or, to quote Mr. Parker: "expose the soft underbelly" - those were rules numero uno and dos, respectively.

Instead, she took a pull from her scotch and then met his gaze. "I won't phone this in." She said softly, however the words were underscored by the metal-on-leather swish that accompanied the drawing of her ladysmith. "Goodnight."

Parker detected a half nod of acknowledgment; he agreed. He was going to bid her adieu now. Good. We're on the same page.

Upon rising, however, he didn't turn away. "I'm not here to ask you for freedom." He clarified softly.

Au contraire.

He never wanted to be free of her. He didn't want to be on the "same page"; in fact, it was time to toss the same old story right out the fucking window, begin again.

Jarod observed as her defenses spiked an all new high, and with an intensity and rapidity that was audible.

He thought of his childhood suddenly, of Sydney explaining a rattle snakes' warning: "they're more afraid of you, afraid of confrontation; the rattle snake doesn't want to strike you, Jarod. The snake would much rather you simply heed its warning and leave it be."

He studied the gun and then the tumbler.Recalled the icy tone, her vicious words, serrated steel edge.



Gift wrap, indeed.

Cloaked, protected, concealed. From him. He would slowly unravel, layer after layer, and stand in awe - - in guileless fascination - - as the entire shroud came to pieces in his hands.


He never quite knew which ones to cast away first.

Similarly, he often spent nights fretting over which memory to exhume from the recesses of her mind, and wondering why he even cared and why the hell he couldn't walk away from her, leave her and the past behind or at least stop thinking about her for a single night and fall asleep. The woman drove him positively mad.

But he couldn't leave it alone; he was poisoned with her.

"Why are you here?" Hissed with serrated edge and the necessary amount of hostility typically required to stop him in his steps and prevent him- - and every other creature on God's green earth- - from coming within five hundred feet of her.

Jarod noted the modulation in her voice- a wavering, liquid finish- - to what was, otherwise, yet another spectacular delivery- - that belied the rage in her narrowed eyes.Jarod didn't know if this game was played for his benefit, or for Mr. Parker's. Or her own.

Parker observed as he advanced and then removed the glass- - and not the gun- - from her hand and carelessly thrust it aside.

"Because", He answered softly as his smoldering gaze dropped to her lips; he inhaled deeply, recommitted to resolve, all the while aware of the gun in her hand, aware that she might very well issue yet another empty threat to kill him for what he was about to do.

And he could live with that.

He had thus far.

Jarod regarded her apparent confusion with a tender smile and then drew closer; he felt her shudder against him when his breath spilled across her neck and again when he whispered the secret he'd held on to since childhood.

Her secret.

The most beautiful name in the world. He'd given it to no one else and had only prayed and breathed her name over the years since.

They were thrust backwards through time, children denied a childhood, both lonely, and one apparently "more mature" than the other.Jarod recalled the curiosity in her eyes, that audible swallow of fear, and then that little girl's fear being overthrown by her steely determination as she moved closer.

He recalled her soft lips pressed to his, the first taste of her, her innocence.The kiss they'd shared as children might have been another of the Centre's orders, a simulation, but the pounding of his heart had been real, and the anticipation of an encore had been real.The hunger for another taste of her was still very real.



Parker's eyes widened when he leaned closer."Because", Jarod said again and then softly murmured upon her lips:

"I owe you one."

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Chapter End Notes:

I'm working on the typos.


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