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This fic was written for the 2013 HetBigBang on livejournal. As always it was fun and stressing, but fun! ;) This is also the sequel to the fic I had written for last year's HBB, Standing on the edge. Many thanks to my beta silecet and my artist, nickygabriel!
Miss Parker was the first to arrive at the rendezvous point or so she thought. When she heard movement in the vent, she understood that Angelo was already there. She sat down on the floor and smiled at the silhouette she saw behind the grate.
"Hello Angelo," she said.
She didn't receive any answer but she hadn't been expecting one. Through all the years they had known each other, she had barely heard him say a word. She had no idea why, and she knew better than to ask her father; she wasn't supposed to be there, after all.
But she didn't mind the silence; while it was pregnant at home, here, when she was with her friends, it was completely different. It was a comfortable silence and she liked sitting here with Jarod and Angelo.
Before long, she heard footsteps coming towards them. She tensed for a moment before relaxing when she saw Jarod rounding the corner. She didn't want to think what the sweepers would do if they found her here when she wasn't allowed to come in the sublevels. But she would defy her father to be with her friends.
Jarod sat down on the other side of the vent, but unlike the other times they were together, he didn't speak right away. Miss Parker could see that something was bothering him, but she didn't ask him what was on his mind. She would rather wait until he was ready.
It took him a few minutes to start talking, and Miss Parker wondered for a second whether he would avoid speaking about what had him so preoccupied. But he didn't; he dove straight in.
"Why do some people voluntarily leave the ones they love behind?" he asked.
She felt her heart constrict; he probably hadn't realised the impact those words would have on her, and she couldn't blame him for it. This was a question she had often asked herself in the past few months, ever since that fateful day of April. Her mother had chosen to commit suicide and leave her behind, and it was something she couldn't understand.
The day had started so well: Catherine had taught her to braid her hair, and Miss Parker had seen the gift waiting to be opened on the couch. Her mother had promised her that they would open it after school, but it had never happened. A few hours later, while they were at the Centre, her mother had killed herself, in an elevator of all places. And she still had no idea why.
Now, the gift sat unopened at the back of her closet, and it would remain there for a long time. She knew what was hidden beneath the paper, and it was something that she had wanted to share with her mother. Without her there anymore, there was no point in unwrapping it.
Miss Parker was brought back to present day by Jarod's hand on hers. She turned her head towards him, and she saw the concern written on his face. He had obviously realised what he had said and knew what she was thinking about. Looking at Angelo sitting behind the grate, she saw the same look on his face.
Her two friends knew that her mother's death had had a huge impact on her, even though she often did her best to hide it.
"I'm sorry, Miss Parker," Jarod said. "I didn't want to hurt you."
"I know. And to answer your question, I don't know. Maybe... Maybe they feel like they don't belong here anymore."
It was something that her father had told her once after her mother's death, but she hadn't believed his words at the time. Now that she had some time to think about them, she still didn't believe it. It was just an excuse he had used to make her stop asking questions he didn't want to answer.
"Do you think that, sometimes, they don't have a choice?" Jarod asked again.
"What do you mean?" she replied.
"Maybe they leave their loved ones to protect them, because if they stayed with them, they would be even more in danger."
"I guess it's possible," she said after a moment; it wasn't the case with her mother, but there might be other people who did this.
"Let's promise each other one thing," Jarod said, turning so that he was facing Miss Parker and could see Angelo too. "No matter what, we'll never leave each other behind."
He looked at his two friends in turn. Angelo was the first to nod. His fingers reached out of the grate and Jarod grabbed them. They both turned to look at Miss Parker who still hadn't said a thing.
Miss Parker had almost wanted to laugh at Jarod's words; he made it look so easy when it was anything but. The truth was that she wanted to make that promise and hold onto it. They were her best friends, and she didn't want to leave them behind any more than she wanted to be left behind.
And so, she found herself nodding, and she put her hand over Jarod's. The three of them looked at each other and smiled.
"Never," Miss Parker repeated to cement the promise they had just made.
"So, what do you want to do, today, Miss Parker?" Jarod asked.
Miss Parker smiled; now that he had been able to clear his mind from what was bothering him, he was eager to know what she had planned for them this time.
When she was walking down the stairs to join her friends here, she had decided on exploring the corridors of this sublevel. They would have to be careful of the security cameras, but she had no doubt they would have fun trying to avoid them.
But now, she was content to just sit there with Jarod and Angelo until it was time for her to go.
"Let's just stay here and talk," she finally said, much to their surprise.
"Alright," Jarod replied. "What do you want to talk about?"
"I really don't know," she said after a second.
She smiled, and Jarod rolled his eyes. She couldn't see Angelo's face, but maybe he was doing the same in the shadows.
It really didn't matter to Miss Parker what they were doing when they were together. What mattered the most was that they were together.
Miss Parker had tossed and turned all night long, unable to fall asleep. Her mind had provided her with images of the child, and when it wasn’t enough anymore, it had added images of what Raines and Lyle could do to him if he stayed in their hands.
She had left Jarod's room a few minutes after they had found out the truth; she couldn't stay in the same room as him for the time being. Despite what he was saying, she still didn't know where they stood, and now the Centre had added a child – their son – to the equation.
She had never thought she would be a mother one day. Even when she was with Thomas, it had barely crossed her mind; sure she had wanted to leave the Centre and be with him, but her plans hadn't really gone any further. And then his death had put a stop to all her thinking.
But, just like they always did, the Centre had made the choice for her. They didn't care about what she wanted or didn't want. The only thing that mattered to them was that it served them in the end. Her feelings weren't important. The baby was useful to them, so it was created.
She wondered why she hadn't realised sooner that something was going on around the baby. Mr. Parker hadn't even cared that Brigitte, his wife, was dead; his only concern had been for the newborn. The same newborn who had allowed him to return to the Centre as if nothing ever happened. Mr. Parker was back as the Chairman, and the contract on his head had been purely and simply cancelled. Even Raines had taken an interest in the baby's well being, something she hadn't been able to explain at the time.
But now, it all made sense.
If the baby had been Mr Parker and Brigitte's, none of this would have been possible. But now that she knew that the baby was hers and Jarod's, she had all the answers she needed. Mr. Parker had used this baby, her son, to get his job and life back. Brigitte had been nothing more than an incubator, and Parker wondered whether the Chairman would have let his wife live if she hadn't died in labour.
Probably not. The Centre tended to cut loose ends, and Brigitte was a liability. She had grown attached to the baby during her pregnancy, and this wasn't something they could allow. She was another victim of Mr. Parker's schemes, and even if she had murdered Thomas, Parker still felt sorry for her. She might have deserved to die, but not like this. She didn't have to bleed to death, in a cabin, in the middle of nowhere, with only the woman who had come to kill her as a witness and help.
Parker couldn't help but wonder whether Brigitte had known the truth about the baby's origins. If she had, she hadn't given anything away that day. But Parker was sure of one thing: Brigitte had loved this baby and, even though she had known she was going to die, her only concern had been for the baby boy she was bringing to life.
And Parker had helped her. She had been the first one to hold him in her arms. Even though at that time, he had been nothing more than a half-brother to her. She had instantly felt a connection with him, and she had thought it was because he was her baby brother.
But now, she wondered if the connection existed because he was hers. If, on some basic level, she had always known that they were more than siblings.
She shook her head, trying to dismiss that thought. She had never believed in that maternal instinct she had heard about, and anyway, if it was real, she would probably be the last person to experience it.
She turned on her side to face the window. Through the gaps in the drapes, she could see the first rays of sunshine. It was still early, but she had abandoned the idea of sleep a long time ago.
Sighing, she got up and put on her robe, before leaving her room. She had functioned on no sleep before – usually thanks to Jarod – but she would still need coffee to get through the day.
When she stepped into the kitchen, she noticed that Ben was already there, making breakfast. She stopped on the threshold, and took some time to observe him. She couldn't deny that when Sydney and Broots told her that Mr. Parker couldn't be her father, she had wished that Ben was.
If she was honest, that thought had never really left her since Jarod had implied that it was a possibility all those years ago. But she had never been lucky, and it turned out her biological father was none other than Raines. She didn't know how it had happened – and frankly, she didn't want to know – but she had checked again after she came back from Carthis, and the results had been the same.
"Did you sleep well?" Ben asked, surprising her.
His back was still to Parker and she was sure she hadn't made any noise when she arrived. She had thought he hadn't noticed that she was here, but she had obviously been mistaken.
"It could have been better," she admitted.
She didn't want to worry him by saying that she hadn't slept at all, but he would see that she was tired, so she settled for a half-truth. He didn't need to know what she and Jarod had found out the night before, nor did Ethan for the moment. They had to talk about it first before they could do anything else.
And talk they needed to, she knew that, even though it was the last thing she wanted to do at the moment. But as much as she would have liked to delay their talk, there was a child – their son – involved, and he had already spent enough time in Raines' hands.
Ben, oblivious to what was going on in her mind, smiled and handed her a cup of coffee.
"Thank you," she said before taking a sip.
"Breakfast is almost ready. I hope you're hungry."
She wasn't really. She rarely ate anything on any other day, and today, the mere thought of food was making her sick. She already had enough trouble keeping the coffee down as it was.
"I'm going to get ready for the day," she just said as an answer.
She could feel Ben's disapproving eyes on the back of her head. When she could try humouring him any other day, today, she just couldn't.
When she returned to her room after her shower, she found Jarod sitting on the edge of her bed. She was glad that she had the presence of mind to bring her clothes with her and change inside the bathroom.
She sighed; she had no doubt that he was here to continue their conversation from the night before. And while she agreed that they had to talk, it didn't mean that she wanted to do it right now. But he wouldn't leave her a choice, not this time.
Still, it didn't mean that she couldn't pretend to ignore what he was doing here. He wasn't the only Pretender in the room, after all.
"What do you want, Jarod?" she asked, putting her things away.
She studiously avoided glancing in his direction, but when he didn't answer her, she knew she would have no choice but to look at him. She pinched the bridge of her nose before turning towards him.
"You ran off pretty quickly, yesterday night," he just said. He didn't wait for her reply, but continued. "How do you feel about this?"
"Which 'this' are you referring to, Jarod? Are you talking about the Centre doing things behind my back again, or about the child, or about our... kiss?"
"Everything. It's all connected after all."
He was right, obviously, and it wasn't like she didn't know. It had all started that day when they had first met. And even before that, the Centre had always controlled their lives. They hadn't always noticed. For years, she had refused to see it.
And although Jarod loathed to admit it, even after he had escaped, the Centre still had had control over some parts of his life. They still had the answers he needed to find his family, and that was why he had never been able to disappear completely. That, and the fact that he couldn't sever all ties with Sydney and Parker. Not that he had ever really tried to.
"We'll take it one step at a time," he said, knowing that Parker must feel as overwhelmed as he did.
She nodded. And for the first time since the night before, she really looked at Jarod. He seemed to be as exhausted as she felt, and even though he was known to function on little to no sleep for days at a time. Everyone had a breaking point, and it looked like Jarod was reaching his. She wondered how much longer he would last.
"We can't stay here for too long," Jarod said, interrupting her thoughts.
She was glad that he had decided to tackle this subject first. This had been one of her main concerns, too. Not to mention that it was the safest subject of them all.
"I agree. If we did, we would just put Ben in harm's way, and I'm not letting that happen." Her mother had managed to keep Ben out of the Centre's reach, and she refused t be the one to reveal his existence. "Where will we go?" she asked, wanting to know if he already had a plan.
"My father's," he just said without elaborating.
She sighed; she could just see herself being welcomed by the people she had helped keep Jarod away.
It was a bad idea, and they both knew it. But it wasn't like they had much of a choice; they couldn't stay here forever, and his father's house was the next best thing. One of Jarod's safe house might have been good, too, but he doubted Parker would last more than a day there.
This would certainly be weird. Jarod had carefully kept these two parts of his life apart, so as not to endanger his family. And now, they were going to collide, and he wasn't sure what would happen when they did.
While he had no doubt his family would welcome Ethan with open arms, he couldn't say the same about Miss Parker. He might trust her with his life, his freedom, but he had no idea how his family would react to her presence. Nor to the fact that they had a son together.
It would certainly have been an interesting moment to witness if he had been an outsider to all this. But it was his life, not someone else's, and he wasn't sure he would appreciate it all that much.
Now that they had decided on their next location, Jarod knew they had to move onto the other subjects. He wasn't sure what to talk about next, but one look at Miss Parker told him that they should address the question of 'them' before anything else.
"What about... us?" he finally asked after some hesitation.
Instead of replying immediately, Parker turned her back to Jarod and looked out the window. She knew she was only buying herself some time, and that she would have to answer him soon, but she needed to collect her thoughts first.
She let her eyes wander outside. She would never tire of the view she had from her bedroom windows. Everything was so beautiful and quiet there; she had easily understood why her mother had felt the need to come here every year: it wasn't only to be with Ben – he did tell her that their relationship didn't start until a few years in – but it was also to find the peace she had been missing in Blue Cove.
Here, where no one knew that she was the Chairman of the Centre's wife, she could take off her mask and finally be herself all the time. In Blue Cove, the only times she could indulge herself had been when she was with her daughter, away from the Centre. This place had been her safe haven, and as much as Miss Parker wanted it to be hers too, she knew it wasn't possible: it would always be her mother's and her mother's only.
She wondered whether she would find her own one day, or if it was just too late for her.
For the moment, Jarod had asked her a question, and she couldn't delay answering him any longer. Just when she was about to turn, she felt his hands rest on her shoulders. She hadn't heard him approach, but it didn't surprise her; he had the nimbleness of a cat when he wanted to.
She wanted to protest, to push him away, but she did nothing. And for a moment, neither did he. But then, his hands started to trail down her arms. He was about to wrap his arms around her when she took a step forward. It was more instinctive than anything else.
He let his hands fall at his sides and sighed.
"So, last night was another one of your moments of weakness, I guess."
He didn't even bother hiding the hurt in his voice. And if he did, he liked to believe that she would have noticed it. He had thought that maybe this time, now that she was free from the Centre, she would want to acknowledge what was between them.
He had obviously been mistaken.
He took a step back, and he almost smiled at how it was also a metaphor about their relationship. The night before, it had felt like they were finally taking a step forward. But now, they were back right where they started.
Although he certainly hadn't expected Miss Parker's next words.
"It wasn't a moment of weakness."
She had said it so quietly that he almost hadn't heard her. She surprised him, to say the least. She seemed to have that if they were to be on the run together, she owed him the truth.
"Then what, Parker? What was last night?" he asked, when she didn't say anything else.
"It wasn't a mistake, Jarod. I can at least tell you that. But we aren't the priority anymore. The baby is."
He knew she was right. It didn't mean that he didn't want to try to change her mind. The only problem was that she would think that he was trying to manipulate her, just like Mr. Parker did, for so many years. And he couldn't break the fragile trust she had placed in him.
But he wanted – needed – to make sure that they were on the same page.
He placed his hands back on her shoulders and slowly turned her around. She didn't look at him straight away; she kept her eyes on the floor for a couple of seconds before looking up to meet his eyes.
"But then, we'll talk, alright?" he asked.
She nodded. She knew that it would be enough for Jarod, but she wanted to do something more. She surprised him by putting a hand on his chest and rising on her tiptoes.
He quickly recovered from his surprise, though, but he fought his instinct that told him to lean down and capture her lips. Instead, he let her initiate the kiss. It was slow and tentative, nothing like their kiss from the night before. Neither of them tried to deepen it: they knew it wasn't the time for that.
The kiss came to its natural end, and she pulled slightly away. She opened her eyes and found Jarod's.
"We will," she said to further assure him that it was only a question of time.
"Well, then, we should start working on freeing the baby. And we should stop calling him 'the baby'," he added as an afterthought. "Do you know his name?" he asked. "I looked at the files again after you left, and I haven't found any mention of it."
"He was only ever called young Mr. Parker in my presence," she replied. "I'm not even sure he was ever named properly."
"But you named him, didn't you?"
She wasn't surprised that he had guessed straight away.
"I named him Joshua," she admitted. "I had a dream about him once, and I was calling him Joshua," she said to explain her choice.
It had been a strange dream. It had felt more like the vision she once had of her mother saving her from the explosion. It had been easy for her to come to the conclusion that it had been her inner sense speaking to her.
And even though she didn't tell him that, she could see that Jarod had reached the same conclusion.
"It's a good name," Jarod reassured her. "Now, do you know where he is?"
"No. I wanted to go see him after we came back from Carthis, but he had been moved by that time. I asked Broots to look for him in the database, but there was absolutely nothing. And then, I wasn't looking where I should have. I didn't bother asking Raines and Lyle as they would have probably told me nothing."
Jarod nodded, agreeing with her. And anyway, Broots' research must have raised some flags, and he wouldn't have been surprised if they knew all about it.
He hadn't expected that it would be easy to find and free him from the Centre. Joshua was their main asset, and they were probably keeping him in a secure location. He doubted that he was anywhere close to the Centre.
"Jarod, they might already know that I asked Broots to look around for Project Renewal. But if they know that you broke into Raines' office and got the file..."
"They'll know for sure that we found out Joshua is ours."
"And they'll reinforce the security around him. It will be hard enough as it is to get him out."
"But we will get him out," he said, his mind already set on that goal.
It was the second time in five years that Broots found himself being thrown inside the room off the side of the T-Board table. But this time, no one else was here when the door closed behind him. He knew that the next time it opened, it wouldn't be to admit Miss Parker; by all means, her disappearance was the reason why he was here in the first place. But he guessed that Sydney would be brought here soon enough.
It was still the middle of the night when they had grabbed him from his bed. He had been expecting it to happen sometime soon – and he had sent Debbie to one of her friends for a few days just in case –, but it didn't mean that he wasn't as unsettled by all this as the last time.
He felt less confident than Sydney seemed to be about the T-Board. He wasn't sure Raines and Lyle wouldn't try to put the blame of Miss Parker's disappearance and the thumbless man's failure to capture Jarod on them. They would at least try, of that he was certain.
Or at least, he had been, until the door opened to let Lyle walk through. Broots thought at first that the man was there to talk to him, but then the door closed behind him and he hit it with the palm of his hand. Lyle would be facing the T-Board just like him. Now, that was a surprise.
"What are you looking at?" Lyle barked at Broots who slightly jumped.
"N-nothing," he stuttered.
Mr. Lyle's presence wasn't something that reassured Broots, even though he knew that they were on equal footing for once. He just wasn't sure the other man saw it the same way. And since it looked like the sweepers had left him time to change into a suit, they didn't either. Unless they had caught him when he was still out, and Broots shuddered to think what Lyle had been up to in the middle of the night.
At least, Broots thought, since the last time he was woken up by sweepers in the middle of the night, he had taken to wear a t-shirt and sweatpants instead of his pyjamas. He would have felt a bit self-conscious in them with Lyle in the same room.
They were soon joined by Sydney and then Cox. While Sydney had joined Broots at the back of the room, Cox stayed by Lyle's side. Even though the room was quite small, the two groups were keeping to their sides. It was an uncomfortable silence that filled the room. They all knew what they were doing here, and that the waiting until one of them was called would be a long one.
Neither of them doubted that Raines was the one who had called the T-Board, and that they would be facing him on the other side of the table. They could already guess the questions they would be asked, too; it wasn't that difficult to figure it out.
Lyle and Cox were feeling no more confident about this whole thing than Broots was. At the very least, the computer technician had an advantage on them as he had already been in that situation before. That probably wouldn't help him when he sat in the chair, answering Raines' questions, but that still made him feel a bit better.
They had no way to tell how much time had passed when the door finally opened again: the sweepers had taken their watches before locking them there as a way to destabilize them. But they still knew it had been hours.
Willie entered the room while two other sweepers stayed at the door to prevent the men from escaping. Not that they would ever try; that would just earn them a bullet in the head. He gestured for Cox to follow him out of the room. The other man knew better than to protest and did as he was told.
The door closed behind them, leaving the other three to wait for their turn.
"I wish I had gone first," Broots said quietly to Sydney, who patted him on the shoulder.
Lyle walked closer to the door and looked through the small window. He could see Cox sitting on one side of the table, and sure enough, Raines was at the other end. Other people were scattered around the room, mostly hidden in the shadows. Lyle might not be able to identify each of them, but he knew that they were all board members. It wouldn't be too difficult for him to find out who was in this room once he was done there.
But for now, he would have to wait. And if there was one thing he hated to do, it was waiting.
Raines hadn't started interrogating Cox yet. Lyle could see pieces of paper being passed from the board members to Raines. He didn't doubt that there were questions that they wanted answered on them.
Finally, after a few minutes, Raines finally started to talk. Lyle wished he could be listening to what what was being said, but it was impossible. The glass was soundproof.
Still, he too wanted to know what went wrong with his plan. It had been the perfect plan: he would have captured Jarod and got rid of his twin sister at the same time. But Miss Parker had never shown up, and Jarod – who had unexpectedly turned up – had managed to escape.
And now, they were both on the run.
Lyle had quickly found out that Angelo had been the one to contact Jarod. But as much as he wanted to hurt him, he knew that it would only earn him Raines' wrath: the sponge man was still his pet project.
At first, he had suspected Sydney and Broots to have helped Parker. He knew they had found out about his plan, and that their instinct would have been to warn her. But he had checked the logs for both their phones and then their e-mails, and he had seen that neither of them had tried contacting Miss Parker. They were, as surprising as it had been for him, innocent.
And that only left him with one possibility: Cox. And it was something that unsettled him. While he didn't really trust the man – you could trust no one at the Centre – they had come to an understanding. And really, he was the last person he could see helping Miss Parker. But it had to have been him, and the T-Board would soon come to this realisation if Lyle was right.
If he wasn't, well, they would all spend the day here, something that neither of them were looking forward to.
To be continued