Afternoon sunlight angled through the accounting firm's floor-to-ceiling windows and pooled at Parker's feet. She pushed herself off the wall she'd been leaning against and threw a withering glare at her mobile's ringtone. Chopin.
Nocturne No. 2 ended.
And began again.
Son of a bitch.
"What," Parker answered.
"How is your cervix?"
"Remind me to never put you on speaker phone."
"I wouldn't think that you'd be in the habit of using the speaker function at your office, after all, confidentiality is essential, and can make or break a business, but I probably don't have to tell you that. How are you?"
"What do you want, Jarod?"
"I simply called to see how you are. My penis, by the way, isn't fractured, thank you for asking. Your turn."
"Something is wrong with you, Jarod. I mean: seriously wrong with you."
"No, in fact, I feel twenty years younger. Or, at least I did before you began evading my questions."
"I suppose that is all the answer I need."
"I'm fine, Jarod," Parker murmured, exasperated, dropping her forehead into the palm of her hand.
"Have you always been this dishonest with me during telephone conversations? Considering the distance between us at times you must have been quite confident that I wouldn't know. Ah, well, you're probably going to want to rethink old strategies now that we live in the same city and I can confront you with your lies."
"What are you-" Parker stammered suspiciously, craning her neck to scrutinize the window behind her.
"No," Jarod cooed. "The other way. Ooh so close," he offered when she twisted around to the bank of windows on her left. "Ah, there, you go," Jarod softly lauded when she met his gaze through the wall of glass that separated her office from the corridor. He grinned broadly, waved.
"Bastard," Parker murmured.
"I heard that," Jarod said. "Permission to enter?"
"What," said Parker with a snort of incredulity. "You're asking my permission this time?"
"I am," Jarod answered softly. "Please?"
"It's open," Parker permitted dryly, and observed as he pocketed his mobile and entered her office. She studied the large paper bag that had been neatly folded and directed her question at it rather than Jarod. "What are you doing here?"
"You said you don't know me," Jarod answered rather jovially. "What better way to get to know me than-"
"We can't do this."
"Can't," Jarod repeated with some distaste, and sat across from Parker. "This isn't the Centre, we're committing no crimes. It's all right," he assured her. "I knew you'd uh— have concerns about entertaining a lover in your place of employment; I explained to Miranda that I thought you'd be more amenable to accepting a new client if I fed you the best food in town. These are my tax returns- six years' worth."
"Lover?" Parker hissed, dropping her voice to a low whisper and clarifying, after inhaling a sharp breath, "We had sex one time." Composing herself, she, cynically, asserted, "You can't possibly expect me to believe that you need an accountant."
"I'm going to preface this by suggesting we dispense with expectations. I think you'll agree that life is already complicated enough. I'm desperate, confused, a little terrified. I didn't know where else to go."
"So you came to me?"
"Yes, I did. Because when things don't add up who better to turn to than an accountant?"
"You're a genius incapable of solving basic mathematical equations. Mm?"
"Oh, no, it's not math that's pestering me. I want you to know that I wasn't planning to make love with you. I was planning to try to establish communication with you, reestablish our friendship, attempt to carve some common ground upon which we can co-parent Eli without any bloodshed— my blood, specifically."
"I'll reiterate," Parker said, sternly, "It was one time."
"Yes, I'm aware of that," Jarod agreed, unfolding the paper bag and removing its contents, unveiling a dozen beignets that were still rather warm and an enormous muffuletta. "You seemed to enjoy yourself, quite a bit actually, and I've never been more sexually gratified with a partner in my entire life, however-"
"Jarod," Parker exclaimed, jerking her head around to ensure there were no eavesdroppers.
"Sorry," Jarod sang, slicing the sandwich into quarters, and amending with a quiet whisper, "I've never been as sexually gratified with anyone else."
Parker pushed her hands over her eyes, murmured an obscenity.
"Look, I know it was--- different, new, probably a little disorienting," he said, ignoring Parker's scowl. "I'm as surprised as you are. I wanted a conversation with you, and, uh, in the interest of full disclosure, transparency, I confess: I've been sulking ever since that embrace, the one you believed you were initiating with Levi. I still envy him. I envy my dead brother."
"I suppose that's my fault?"
"No," Jarod answered softly. "No, of course it isn't."
Frowning deeply, Jarod rose, and filled a glass with water. "You look like you're either going to vomit, cry, or have an anxiety attack. Or punch me. Tiny sips," advised Jarod softly, offering Parker the glass.
"I don't need water."
Jarod grimaced, set the glass on her desk, and returned to his chair. "I was terrified when you left me earlier; I wasn't certain that you'd even accept my telephone calls again. No one has ever called me an asshole and then literally fled from me immediately after having sex. You're the first person who hasn't stayed for, at the very least, a post-coital conversation or a sip of water and a shower."
"You, apparently, don't know me—not any more than I know you—if you believe I'm anything like any other person you've ever met. I had to shoot my way out of the Centre. My life has been anything except normal."
"Oh, no, no. There is no absolutely no one that can compare to you, and I'd never insult you by accusing you of being normal," he added with a soft chortle. "It probably goes without saying that neither of us expected to have sex— not with each other. What you're feeling, what we're both feeling now, is normal."
"You're damned right my anger is normal," Parker hissed. "I mourned you for thirteen years."
"At the moment you're feeling a lot more than anger. You feel powerless, anxious, guilty, ashamed. We've triggered the Centre's fail-safe alarm."
Parker's face twisted in confusion. "We— what?"
"Something happened," Jarod answered with some solemnity, "something the Centre told you could never happen and you believe the only way to stop feeling wretched about it is to prevent it from happening again. That's why you can only focus on regret, why the positive is obscured by the negative; the Centre wanted to ensure your loyalty to them, even in the event that you strayed from their tenets."
"The Centre no longer even exists," rebutted Parker hotly, her face twisted in incredulity.
"And, yet, I still relive my abduction, wake in the middle of the night soaked in sweat, terrified. Buildings collapse, evil men die, but the damage they do is often enduring. Centre training is permanent. I told you already: I know how difficult this is for you; I've always known."
"Just what the hell is it that you think you know?"
"A lot less than I once believed I knew," Jarod confessed, somberly. "But you and I are both well aware that I designed the enhanced training measures at the behest of Centre scientists and the point of Raine's pistol, and I was specifically ordered not to install a kill-switch on--- oh," murmured Jarod when Parker's eyes widened. "You were SIS; I was certain that you knew."
Parker inhaled sharply, asked pointedly: "How long have you known?"
"You talked about being trained to hate and distrust me when we were in Scotland and I became curious, hopeful that if training were involved we could reverse it uh if you were amenable to reversing it, of course."
"And," demanded Parker fiercely.
"While it certainly explained your behavior over the years the discovery that you were a victim of those specific enhanced procedures made my decision to disappear feel not only appropriate but necessary as well and cemented my resolve. I'm sorry that another one of my projects is responsible for causing you pain."
Fucking Centre sadists.
They wanted a child with our combined genes.
And they wanted us to hate and distrust each other.
"Are you suggesting that the training is irreversible?"
Jarod murmured her name, said softly, "Do you have to ask? Do you?"
"I just did, didn't I?"
"You already know the answer. You can feel it. Can't you? The distrust and disdain that your father worked tirelessly to cultivate has resurfaced."
"Nothing is irreversible."
"Oh, no," Jarod challenged.
"No," Parker maintained brusquely.
"I wish that were true. The voice inside your head that is telling you not to trust me was awakened the moment you discovered I was alive— after thirteen years of quiet. I'm not certain you'll ever succeed in completely silencing it."
"If there is a voice I, evidently, don't listen to it."
"If," Jarod repeatedly blandly. "It's true that you ignored it, briefly, and made love with me," explained Jarod, noting Parker's grimace and accompanying recoil. "The Centre would have forgiven you a minor indiscretion."
"I'm sorry," Jarod said with an expression of sympathy. "That was a poor choice of words. I know it feels as if you'd committed an unforgivable transgression, and I'm not trying to be dismissive of your feelings."
"Stop doing that," Parker ordered, thrusting an index finger at Jarod.
"And stop apologizing," Parker snarled through clenched teeth. "You were saying?"
"I was saying that the Centre would have forgiven you this—having sex with me—if you repented, reaffirmed your loyalty to them. In fact, they might have even capitalized on-- on what you feel is a terrific blunder. Don't you find it odd that they weren't the least concerned that our childhood friendship might influence your ability to do your job, unbiased? Your father knew during the course of your team's pursuit that you and I would likely find ourselves alone and still he trusted you not to compromise the Centre. He knew you never would; the training guaranteed your allegiance to the Centre."
"You sound like a conspiracy theorist."
"Sandwich," offered Jarod sweetly.
"No," Parker declined softly, plucking a beignet from a ceramic dish.
"Where, exactly, in this town, were you able to find these?"
"My house," Jarod answered, and promptly continued his explanation. "It's not simply a theory. And there are complications within the complications: you, typically, distance yourself from unpleasant emotions and truths, and equate an absence of emotions with control of emotions. Those are characteristics the Centre exploited; it's all the more reason to focus only the negative just like they wanted you to. You don't need me to tell you that if you're afraid of what you're feeling you, clearly, are not in control; the fear is."
"God," Parker said with a expression of revulsion, "you're even more full of yourself than you were before you died."
"All of the beignets," Parker demanded, sharply.
Jarod grinned, observed her chew.
"You're not denying any of this," observed Jarod neutrally.
"No, I'm not arguing with a delusional man. Spin your theories until you collapse from a lack of oxygen, Jarod," added Parker with a shrug. "And while you do that I'm going to eat these."
"We should have dinner tonight, just the two of us, at my house. I'll make more of those for dessert, and maybe we can--- uh talk for a while."
The other—not nearly as fun—four letter word.
Blue eyes slowly filled with comprehension, and then horror. "Oh, my god, you're serious, aren't you?"
"About talking? Yes, I am. I don't regret making love with you, however, the fact that you're mortified by the notion of simply talking to me, of something approximating real intimacy, is a fairly strong indicator that we should have communicated more often prior to making-"
"Say that word one more time, Jarod, and I will punch you in the throat."
"Look, don't think of it as a date. It's two people eating and talking; that's all I'm asking for."
"At the moment," intoned Parker cynically. "I recall that one cup of coffee quickly escalated to an amended birth certificate and as much time with Eli as schedules allow."
"I wasn't aware that I was Eli's father when I asked for that cup of coffee. As difficult as that is for you to accept we both know how angry you'd be if I'd rejected him. I'm sorry that I don't know how to make this easier for you."
"You didn't ask for coffee, Jarod. You demanded it."
"Yes, I did. You weren't wrong when you said I come on strong with you. I was aggressive. I shouldn't have been. I should have been more aware of how easily, startlingly easy, it is to resume old conflicts, unhealthy patterns. I was trying to help--" Jarod fell silent, began again. "The reasons are irrelevant. I realize that before you can ever truly trust me I'll have to do more than simply aspire to be someone who is worthy of your trust. I'm painfully aware of the mistakes I've made with you."
Parker straightened, stared in disbelief at Jarod, asked softly: "Who the hell are you?"
"I'm someone who is taking responsibility for my mistakes, belatedly, and trying not to accumulate more of them, and I'm already failing, obviously, if you're this appalled by my apology."
"What exactly are you apologizing for?"
"I was hoping we could discuss that tonight."
"Discuss it now," insisted Parker with a frothy smile.
"As you probably gathered from the letters you took from my home," Jarod began with some hesitance, "I had a lot of time on my hands when my family went underground, time to think, overthink, enough time to question past actions, doubt my motives, regret things I'd done and said and the things I'd left undone, unsaid.
Introspection can be agonizing, sobering. You were right when you said I'm to blame for what happened to Thomas, and I am truly sorry that he was taken from you. He was a good friend, a truly good person, and I miss him."
Jarod drew a breath, expelled it slowly, continued with a frown of remorse. "I am not sorry that I bought a house near Blue Cove, and that I asked him to restore it."
Parker's eyes widened, filled with tears.
"I'm not sorry that you were truly happy again, that you called in a month of sick days to make time for what was important, that you were--- you," Jarod said, pausing briefly, and offering Parker a warm smile, "again," he continued.
"You'd isolated yourself, refused to allow anyone to get close to you. You-- you had put up walls, and Thomas— "
"Jarod," cautioned Parker, weakly. "No."
"Yes," countered Jarod softly. "Yes. Thomas knew all about walls, how to build and reinforce them, how to design and cut a door into an existing wall, which walls could be knocked down, coaxed down, without compromising the integrity of the entire structure. The truth," Jarod confessed, "the truth is that I sent Thomas to do something I couldn't do, something you wouldn't allow me to do."
Parker covered her lips with two trembling fingers, and turned unseeing eyes skyward, dislodging tears.
"You were miserable, and I wanted you to be happy again. I know what my selfishness cost both Thomas and you, and I know how you loathe toxic positivity and platitudes but I meant what I said: Thomas would have chosen you regardless of any risk to himself, and I know that because I would have done the same had you given me any indication that you reciprocated my feelings. You know exactly who I am," Jarod concluded, whispering her name. "I'm the same pain in your ass I've always been."
Parker exhaled a tremulous breath, met Jarod's sympathetic gaze.
"You want me to leave now, I'm sure; before I go-"
"No," Parker interrupted softly, deflated. Rage was exhausting, burdensome. "But I want you to know that I am going to have you audited. Does seven work for you?"
"Seven," Jarod stammered. "Tonight? You can have me audited that soon? I'll have to prepare my files, telephone the bank, but I suppose I can manage."
"No, Stupid," Parker corrected. "Tonight. Your house? Dinner?"
Jarod's expression morphed into one of disbelief. "You're accepting my dinner invitation?"
Parker revolved her eyes. "It's unbelievable, really, Jarod. Eighty percent of the time you read my mind, and the other twenty you are positively-"
"Stupid," Jarod concluded for her. "Yes?"
"I'll be damned," said Parker, tartly. "Common ground, at last."