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Thanks to Onisius and Mallory for all of your invaluable help. This has been a long time coming, glad to finally have the muse back, hopefully it decides to stay this time
All The King's Men...
It had been two days since Jarod had gone AWOL and there was still no word about Jarod, where he was or how he got out. Although this lack of information was actually good news, Miss Parker was still a walking disaster. She had been certain Jarod would have contacted them by now, even if it was just to rub their faces in it that he had managed to escape their escape-proof cell. Every time the phone rang she hoped it was him, or at least some news of him. Parker had no allusions that the chase would be different this time, it wasn't going to be a game of cat-and-mouse that Jarod would be interested in playing any more. She didn't need Freud to tell her that. The truth was, it was a game she had no interest in either, and hadn't for a long time. An uncharacteristic flash of regret crossed her mind at how blasé she had treated the last pursuit, never fully admitting to herself what it would mean if she had ever caught Jarod. By the time she did, of course it was far too late, and much worse than even her darkest thoughts would allow her to imagine. All of her life she had kept the worst of Jarod's reality from her conscious mind, and it had been so easy to do that. Now however, the reality was all too sharp and there was no turning away, not ever again.
Poor Broots was faring no better either. He had been constantly at his computer in his Tech Room since the Pretender had disappeared. To avoid the emotional turmoil in his heart, he threw himself into work and the safety his technological haven offered him, which also allowed him to monitor any progress and hopefully stay one step ahead of everyone else. He was so terribly glad Jarod was out and free and at the same time remained terrified that his role in the escape would be uncovered. Broots owed Jarod everything, he never would have gained custody of his daughter, who was his entire life, had Jarod not helped. Sometimes Broots felt shame that he hadn't done anything sooner, or done more, but he also knew that Jarod understood why he couldn't. He wasn't prepared to leave Debbie without a father and he knew he was going to have to be strong, stronger and smarter than he had ever been in his entire life. Gem was a genius and Broots trusted that they had been clever enough for this to never be traced back to him, or Sydney and Parker. Jarod deserved his freedom and they had done the right thing. He knew that in his heart, and he just had to have faith in himself and Gem that he had not sacrificed himself for the greater good.
There was an emergency meeting scheduled for this afternoon by the Tower and Miss Parker knew that the head-hunters had been brought in. There were whispers of a major shake up with everyone involved in the Jarod Project and there were whispers of ‘T-Board' everywhere, which was no big surprise and Parker was prepared. It was safe to say the Africans were not happy, but then again, when were they ever? All the money Jarod had made for them would never be enough, they had to be in control, and the idea of him ‘out there' was an affront to their sense of world order. Parker figured that she was would make it out relatively unscathed, thanks ironically to her idiot twin. Sydney however, had been walking around in an almost fugue state and Broots was a lot more than one sandwich short of a picnic at the moment. The techie seemed to be hovering on the edge of a complete paranoia-induced nervous breakdown, but that was his normal operating state and probably wouldn't raise any suspicions. The fact that they had him overseeing the mainframe was a silent vote of confidence that he was not involved. There was no way in hell she would ever admit it to Broots, but she was actually very proud of her little techie.
When the investigations began, Parker was going to have no trouble with the finger pointing, especially at the Unholy Trinity of Raines, Lyle and Cox. She had prepared a careful summary of just how quickly she, and her 'Scooby Gang' had been excluded from every aspect of the decision-making from the moment they had taken Jarod into custody. There was no dispute that she was the one that had put the dart in Jarod's back, and that her role had been instrumental in breaking him. Lyle had made sure of that, but then the bastard had made the fatal mistake of shutting her out. Now he would have his comeuppance and pay the price for lapse in judgement. At the same time, Parker mused, there was the benefit that he had insulated her from the worst of the fallout. Not that some of it wasn't going to land in her path, the Triumvirate would be looking at everyone after all, and it was clear they didn't like her from previous encounters. When this particular hammer fell, she would be safely on the sidelines, watching with enjoyment as Lyle finally got what he deserved.
Cox and Lyle were nowhere to be found and Raines had ensconced himself in his office and had not been seen since he had been informed of the Pretender's escape. Lyle and Cox had assured him that it was impossible for the Pretender to escape, which clearly was not the case. They had also claimed that if he did escape, he would be so conditioned and emotionally tied to Lyle, instead of Sydney, that he would not be able to go for very long without initiating contact. There was not so much as a single breadcrumb, the trail was non-existent and it put Raines in a very precarious position Time was not on their side now and every minute the Pretender was missing was a minute closer to the signing of all their death warrants, or even worse, some re-education if Africa. Raines was frantically trying to distance himself from the disaster and preparing to serve Cox up on a platter. He would give his son up too if he had to, but then there was that messy unpleasant business of appointing and grooming an appropriate heir, which was exhausting and terribly time consuming. If he did have to sacrifice Lyle, there always Baby Parker but Raines was worried that he would prove too weak, and that in the end he might grow up to serve Lyle's agenda instead of his own. Raines had serious doubts about the parentage of the child and Lyle was the most likely baby daddy. Despite his lungs being in good condition now, Raines had taken the health-scare as a bad omen, an inherent weakness that likely would carry over into his personality too. Weakness suffered by his half-sister, or perhaps it was Aunt, Miss Parker. That kind of weakness and sentimentality could not be tolerated. Lyle was still the first choice as his successor, assuming he survived this current debacle. He was ruthless enough and desperately wanted the power and authority the Chair would give him, sometimes too much. Still, if handing Lyle over had to be done, so be it. It wasn't that hard to acquire another child after all.
The continuing silence told Miss Parker that the damage she had inflicted was too extensive for there to be any hope of salvaging any sliver of her relationship with Jarod. The fact that he had not called indicated that he would not forgive her this time. All the things she had done in the past, the things they had done to each other, all the barbs and cheap shots, the mean tricks, had never been enough to destroy the undeniable ties that bound them together. With a pang of guilt, she remembered the look on his face as she had burnt his first link to his mother, and even from that distance, she could see the pain in his eyes, not just for the loss of the information, but that the deliberate cruelty. There had been a fierce delight she had taken in watching the envelop burn in that moment, and now it shamed her. She had known what it meant to him, how important it was. It had been nothing though to the pain she had seen him in that last time, as she watched him shatter, and it would haunt her for the rest of her life. That night she had burnt that shirt, drinking herself to oblivion as she watched it turn to ash in the fireplace. The bitter irony was that it was doubtful that Jarod would ever know that she had been instrumental in his rescue. She had no idea what Major Charles had told his son and wouldn't be surprised if he omitted more than a few facts, given his feelings about her and the Centre. Parker looked at the bottle of antacid and shook herself out of her reverie, taking a shot of the unpleasant liquid. What did it matter though what Rat Boy thought? She had got him out and now she owed him nothing. The past could not be undone and she had risked everything for him. What more could he possibly ask of her?
The hardest thing of all was seeing the effect on Sydney. The old psychiatrist had taken Jarod's capture hard, and what had followed had almost destroyed him.It had been heartbreaking for Parker to watch. It was clear that Sydney was relieved that Jarod was out and had his freedom, his family, but he was also devastated at the prospect of having lost the man that he thought of as his son, although he would never admit that. Over the years, Sydney had grown a little closer to Nicholas, but she knew that in his heart, he could never replace Jarod. Sydney had raised Jarod, taught him, watched him grow, nurtured him in his own way. Although it wasn't an ideal situation, and she knew how much more Jarod needed and wanted from Sydney, she also knew that Sydney and Jarod were closer than she would ever be to Daddy.
Miss Parker watched the evident disappointment grow across Sydney's distinguished features with every phone call and email that came in. None were from Jarod. Parker knew that Sydney no longer cared what happened to himself, but she hoped that he had enough wits about him not to bury them all. Parker was glad that the whole business was almost over and if they could only survive the next few days, then perhaps things would get back to normal, whatever that might be. Perhaps Jarod would ring and let Sydney know he was out and living the life he had always dreamed, or send him a postcard, anything to put the old man's mind at some ease. Deep down she knew that things would ever be the same again, and suspected Sydney knew the same. She knew how Lyle had orchestrated everything, forcing Sydney to betray Jarod, leaving Jarod with nobody else to turn to. It wasn't all Lyle though, it was very easy to blame him, but both Sydney and Parker had played their parts, the things they had said, out of anger and frustration, had been true, which is why they hurt so much. There was plenty of guilt to go around, and for Sydney, that went back nearly 40 years. Despite all his strength and intelligence, Jarod was a social creature and Lyle had ensured that the deep bond was broken between mentor and protégé with lethal efficiency. Jarod's silence to Sydney was disturbing and she wondered if in their attempts to save his life they might not have destroyed his soul. Perhaps it was too high a price to ask anybody to pay.
When Parker's summons finally arrived, she was only mildly nervous. Externally she had pulled herself together, the Ice Queen façade firmly in place, and as usual, it would serve her well. She still had not seen her brother anywhere and hoped that the Triumvirate would hold him accountable for their missing pretender. Lyle and Cox, the freak show masquerading as a doctor. Then there was Raines, the old wheezing bastard. Maybe she would get lucky and they would all be dealt with in one fell swoop. She had no desire to run this place and if they wiped out the Unholy Trinity, she just might be able to walk away with her skin intact. Parker would not be shedding so much as a single tear over the demise of any of her remaining family. As she entered Raines' office, a studied look of bored indifference plastered on her face, she stopped, taken momentarily by surprise to see a man she did not know sitting at his desk. Raines had not left his office, as far as anybody knew, and now there was this tall thin African sitting there with cool confidence giving her an arrogant look as his eyes raked up and down her body coldly, with clear disapproval. Recovering herself quickly, she practically stalked over to the desk and planted a hand down on it, staring at him coolly.
"Where is Mr Raines?" She demanded, with an arched eyebrow, appearing unperturbed by this unexpected change.
The Triumvirate representative watched as the woman practically stalked in knew that this move was meant to intimidate him. That was not the case. "That is none of your concern Miss Parker." He told her calmly, although there was a slightly patronising tone in his voice, and he saw the moment of uncertainty flicker in her eyes. Good. He was not used to answering to the likes of her, and he was not about to start now. These Americans were simply too brash and far too puffed up with their own importance, he despised them. "Mr Raines is no longer running the Centre, his whereabouts are not your concern. For now you report to me."
"And just who might you be?" She was not about to be bullied by this moron. He was tall, she could see that even though he was seated behind what used to be her Daddy's desk. His sense of style was immaculate, and the body under his ten thousand dollar suit was well muscled, although she guessed not overly so. His hair was so short it looked like he might shave his head and he had very full and sensual lips which belied the cool tone of his voice. Despite its lyrical quality, it was not welcoming. Then there were his eyes, jet black as if they were all pupil, and not one ounce of expression or personality in them. He could have easily stolen them from one of the Weasel-stuffing-freakshow's circus exhibits.
"The man who is going to re-educate you if you do not find Jarod quickly. You Parkers think that you run this place." He let his eyes roam over her lean figure leisurely, noticing the inappropriately short skirt, extremely unprofessional. "Let me remind you that the Centre belongs to us. We will no longer tolerate such gross mismanagement."
Her eyes opened wide and she straightened up and looked down at him. "Excuse me?" She asked in a chilling tone. She was working herself up now and any sane man would wither at this point in time. "The Parker's have been running the Centre..."
"Enough!" He snapped and stood himself, his tone cutting through her tirade completely, reverberating around the room. When he was satisfied at her surprised response and her silence, knowing that he really had her attention now, he sat back down, smoothing his suit as if nothing had happened at all, his tone returning to normal. "Your only concern and your only concern is the immediate return of the Pretender. See to it Miss Parker, or you can join Mr Raines with us in a trip back to Africa." When he saw she was about to respond, he put up his hand to halt her. "This is not a democracy, and this is NOT a discussion."
Parker was about to open her mouth and throw some sharp retort at him and then thought better of it. The very last thing she wanted was this asshole poking around in her recent activities any more than necessary. The threat of re-education was real, she had no doubt of that, and shuddered at the thought, deciding to quit while she was ahead. Let him think he had won, let him think she was the weak fool he thought she was, let him underestimate her as they all did. She stared into his dead black eyes and then turned around elegantly and walked out of the office, flipping her coat at him in dismissal as she left without another word.
At least that answered one question, what was happening with Mr Raines. That left just her demented twin and the freakshow he ran with these days. If she was really lucky, they had seats booked on that same flight next to old Wheezy.
Making her way down to check on the progress, or lack thereof in tracking Jarod, she found Broots hard at work on his computer. Strangely enough, Broots had found some suspect transactions that looked like Raines had been the inside contact that had helped Jarod in his escape. There was probably no logical reason for Raines to do this, it was suicide after all, but the one thing that could be said about the Zulu's was that they didn't care about little trivialities like that. Circumstantial evidence was plenty enough for them. She smiled coldly at the thought and imagined that Major Charles was most likely the one who had set that up. There would be no guilt over the demise of Mr Raines and it would take suspicion off of others, which suited her just fine.
As tempting as it was to terrorise Broots now, she didn't, knowing how fragile a state he was in. The last thing she needed was to upset him any further. Broots had surprised her throughout this whole ordeal, proving to be much stronger than she ever would have given him credit for. After watching him work silently for a few moments, very aware of the ubiquitous cameras that were very likely being monitored closely, she nodded in approval and left him be.
That left Sydney, and the state of mind that the shrink was in right now left them very all vulnerable, and that was without even factoring Broots screwing up into the equation. Sydney had always been clinical and unemotional, the balanced one in the team. Now, his distress was all too evident to her and he needed that clinical detachment more than ever. As Miss Parker made her way back to her own office to try and dig up some non-existent leads on Jarod, she wondered what he might be doing now, whether he was enjoying his time with his family. He better damn well be or all of this was for nothing, and it wasn't like her to place her head so close to the chopping block for someone else, most especially not Jarod, that was Sydney's job usually. She wondered if he would forgive her, whether he would call again and she found herself hoping that he would. No longer so sure about her feelings for him, the one thing she did know with certainty was that she didn't want him back here.
She missed Gem already, or perhaps it wasn't Gem at all that she missed, but that opportunity to do things over with Jarod. It was all so screwed up and she was tired of thinking about it. All that mattered now was that it not blow up in their faces, praying that it had all been worth it. She sat down and poured herself a scotch and offered a toast, or perhaps a prayer. "Here's to you Jarod, good luck." She said very quietly, staring out of the window and sipping on her drink, thinking that her mother would finally be proud of her, Jarod's words haunting her. Parker had finally accomplished what her mother had tried so long ago. There was just so much more wreckage than anybody could have ever predicted.