Rarely did Jarod feel nervous; in his defense, he'd never been a father. Mistakes and injuries were inevitable, often indelible. The world could be dark and people cruel and he enjoyed his career, freedom, the absent of inconveniences.
Jarod remained astonished that Parker had, somehow, raised two small humans with minimal scarring, few tears; concurrently, he wasn't surprised at all.
Parker had learned during early childhood to adapt promptly, as a matter of survival, and would continue to, in any given circumstance, regardless of her own unhappiness; that enduring resilience, however, was strained.
She'd made all of the correct parenting decisions, provided a home, love, stability, and protected her children from the Triumvirate. Despite years of caution and dedication, her work could be undone at once by a threat she could not have possibly foreseen.
Jarod couldn't blame her for being frustrated, apprehensive. These were humans— her humans and in several hours he was going to make them rather unhappy, devastate their lives at worst, confound them at best. This was precisely the sort of indelible injury that had once brought a grimace to his face when conversations turned to potential offspring.
He hadn't been aware how simple his life was, how complicated it would become.
Eli was, indisputably, his son and Eli's mother empathically refused to evaluate status quo, confer with Jarod regarding the decidedly real child they shared.
Frustrated with circumstances, Jarod gulped coffee, telephoned Parker twice, leaving messages with her assistant and voice mail respectively. He returned missed calls from both his attorney and the local police chief. The former was perturbed and eager to convey to Jarod the enormity of the legal blunder he'd made in not petitioning the court immediately for full custody.
The latter, however, informed Jarod cheerfully that the missing child had been found unharmed. "She tottered outside while her mother napped and got lost. Kids do that, just take off."
Jarod knew; he'd recovered both toddlers and angst-riddled teenagers and, in fact, would be encountering yet another runaway four hours later, three cities to the west of his home, immediately after a follow-up with another would-be doping victim.
Stopped at a traffic light, he didn't immediately recognize the rucksack; he, however, would have known the face anywhere. Abruptly, Jarod swung the automobile into an adjacent parking lot and drew to a halt, blocking egress from the bus station.
Swiftly, Jarod exited the car and boarded the bus. He scrutinized the faces, and, at last, met Eli's timorous gaze over the top of a seat.
"Is there a problem, Detective" the driver asked Jarod, deducing, correctly, that he was affiliated with law enforcement. Jarod didn't correct him; instead, he lifted a hand, signaled for Eli to join him.
Eli grunted his irritation, collected his belongings, and grudgingly advanced. Father and son disembarked silently and walked to Jarod's car.
"Don't tell Mom," Eli pleaded with Jarod, slamming the door and throwing himself into the passenger seat. "Please. She'll cry."
"If you're concerned about her feelings, if you know she loves you so much that she'll cry about this, why did you run away?"
"She has been lying to me all of my life, keeping secrets, and I'm pissed at her."
"Lying," repeated Jarod dubiously. "Did it occur to you to confront your mother?"
"Yeah," said Eli incredulously. "If the migraine ever goes away I will. You don't have to act confused or surprised. I know why you came over for dinner; I'm pissed at you, too," he shouted, rattling the door, growing more enraged when it didn't open.
Jarod narrowed his eyes.
Soap. Water. Mouth.
After a moment, Jarod averted his gaze, composed an understanding smile, said, gently, "The door won't open from the inside, Eli, and just so we're on the same page here, why exactly, are you pissed at me?"
"You had sex with Mom," Eli answered angrily. "An affair. That's why Greg cheated."
Jarod frowned, shook his head, said somberly, "Eli, your mother and I have never--- been intimate; she had no affair."
"Then," Eli stammered, "you're not my father?"
"No, I am," insisted Jarod hastily. "What I mean is what the hell do you mean, Jarod? perhaps we should include your mother in this conservation?"
"Where were you damn it," Eli shouted, punctuating his interrogation with an angry kick, viciously assaulting the sedan's glove compartment. "Where have you been?"
"I didn't know about you, Eli. I would have been here had I known. Nothing, no one, would have stopped me."
"No, I'm not lying," asserted Jarod. "I came here the second I discovered the truth and I told your mother what I had discovered about you, that I'm your father and---she's going to be terribly angry with me when she learns that we excluded her from this conversation. She was intending to tell you tonight."
"She really didn't know I had a father? She didn't know that you are my-- my dad?"
"You know the answer, Eli. Greg's been having an affair for months. When did your mother's migraines begin?"
"Not months. And it's not just the migraines. She's been freaked out. I felt just like that at my last chess tournament. I stayed up the night before playing Assassin's Creed and was tired and my mind went completely blank. I kinda freaked out. I could have totally bombed in front of everyone. My life sucked in that second." Eli turned his gaze to the window. "This morning was the worst. She kept apologizing, pacing. I get it now. Mom thinks she completely nuked parenting. Probably thinks I'll have to see a shrink again. This isn't fair to her. Or to Av."
"Av," repeated Jarod curiously.
"Avery told me a long time ago that her bio parents are dead. Why do I get a real mom and a real dad and she doesn't?"
"Your mother is Avery's real mother."
"You know what I mean."
"I know your sister is loved by her brother and mom."
"Open the door. I want to walk home," Eli said.
"Walk thirty-three miles," Jarod said distastefully. "Your mother will-"
"Freak. Yeah, I know but she's already going to do that and she'll be so pissed when you tell her you caught me running away."
"Ah, I see. You want to divert her wrath in my direction."
Eli murmured with a head-shake of disgust, "This sucks."
"I know," Jarod said, sympathetically.
"No, you don't know," rebutted Eli testily, his voice thick with emotion. "You don't know anything. I hate this. Let me out. Please? I-I have a skateboard," proposed Eli desperately.
"On which you intend to skitch home," surmised Jarod cynically. "That's dangerous not to mention stupid."
"Dude, you suck too much," maintained Eli, roughly fingering one of his earbuds and presumably resuming the tune he'd been listening to prior to the interruption. "You can drive me home," he informed Jarod in a voice that was brittle with anger, tears, "but you can't make me talk."
Jarod concurred with a curt nod of head, hesitant to disagree, exacerbate Eli's apparent anxieties. Or his own. The kid's right; she's going to freak.
He was considering telephoning Stella, the Miss Parker whisperer, when beside him Eli exclaimed, "Crap."
"Pardon," said Jarod, parallel parking on the street.
"This is going to be fun," remarked Eli sardonically, propelling himself onto the steering wheel and violently pressing the sedan's horn.
"Fun," repeatedly Jarod loudly, competing with the sustained blare.
"That's Greg's SUV," Eli clarified, relinquishing the steering wheel to Jarod and leaping from the automobile and lowering his palm to the hood of the offending vehicle. "Engine's still extremely hot thank Christ!"
"Sarcasm," murmured Jarod quietly, walking briskly up the drive. I wonder who he learned that from.
He frowned at Eli's enraged, "...and don't come back, asshole," directed at a sheepish Greg who hastily departed the home he'd shared, for years, with Parker.
Jarod drew to a halt when the disheveled man, noticing his misbuttoned shirt, began the process of unbuttoning.
Greg started at Jarod's presence and greeted him stiffly. "Good afternoon, Agent."
Jarod acknowledged Parker's ex-husband with a nod and false smile.
At the open door, Jarod knocked softly and cautiously approached the sitting room.
"In the kitchen," Eli called, adding amiably, "Why are you walking so slowly? Mom doesn't bite."
Jarod arched a dark eyebrow. Wanna bet, Kid?
"Eli," announced Parker, entering the kitchen with a bright smile. "You're home earl--" she faltered when her gaze met Jarod's and hesitantly said, "I didn't realize we had company."
Eli, foraging in the refrigerator, chose an apple and murmured, "Well this is awkward."
"What brings you by, Jarod?" Asked Parker, coolly.
"I figured it out, Mom," answered Eli. "Except I got it wrong."
Parker shook her head, frowned. "Eli, what are you talking about?"
"I got some of it wrong, specifically the part where I thought you and Jarod hooked up."
"Hooked up,"Parker repeated dully.
"Sex, Mom," clarified Eli indignantly. "I thought you cheated on Greg with Jarod but you didn't."
Parker swung her gaze at Jarod, inquired sharply. "What have you done?"
"Mom, he didn't do anything," Eli stammered. "I did it all and I'm so enormously sorry and I'll never do it ever again and you can ground me until I'm forty and take all of my video games away."
"Why would I do that," Parker said softly.
"I'm sorry, Mom. I was mad at everyone and I know I was supposed to tell you how I was feeling or call Dr. McEwan and tell him but I was so mad and you were being so weird and--- just sad and stuff so I ran away."
"You--- what?" Parker, briefly, met Jarod's gaze, said, "Excuse us."
"No," Eli shouted when Jarod answered with a nod; he thought it odd that this man, his father, would nod or gesture in anyway, when, clearly, his mother wasn't even looking in his direction. "Please, Mom. Jarod caught me in Aston and brought me back. He wouldn't let me skitch home and he doesn't completely suck, you know, considering he's an adult and everything."
"Sit," Parker ordered unceremoniously and both Eli and Jarod immediately obeyed.
"I told him that I know he's my bio dad. I accused him of having- well, you know, sex with you and I said some things I shouldn't have. He was trying to calm me down."
"Calm you down? Eli, were you violent?"
"I don't need to see Dr. McEwan again, Mom. I'm okay now. I promise."
"Was he?" Parker asked Jarod.
"He didn't attack me," Jarod assured softly. "The interior of my car, however-"
"You're a genius, Jarod, a psychiatrist, and this is our son and I want the truth."
Eli interjected in disgust, "A shrink? Seriously? Jeez. I was thoroughly mistaken when I thought this couldn't get worse. I was angry and I became violent, okay, but I didn't hurt anyone, Mom. And I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'll see Dr. McEwan again everyday just don't be upset."
"I'm already upset."
"I'd rather you be angry."
"Neither of us can control what we're feeling right now, Eli. We both have to control what we do with these feelings. You're entitled to your anger; you are not entitled to hurt anyone or their possessions or yourself because of a feeling. We're going to have to think about potential solutions and I expect you to contribute to those solutions."
"He's your father," answered Parker brusquely. "I suppose we should welcome his suggestions. How do you feel about that?"
"Yeah it's fine. It's not like any of this is his fault."
"True. It's not your fault either. He already knows I'm not comfortable making decisions about your life without talking to you first."
"He's right here," sang Jarod lightly, prompting Parker to abruptly meet his gaze. "I can come back later if you'd like."
"No, you're okay," Eli assured. "You were that boy, weren't you? The one Mom grew up with."
Jarod swung his gaze at Parker, said incredulously, "You told him about the Centre."
"He needed to know the truth."
"Hello, he's right here," interjected Eli jovially. "It's not like she wanted to tell us that we were conceived via nontraditional methods and that we have to be careful for the rest of our lives; by comparison, that whole 'body autonomy and consent' convo was actually really cheerful stuff if you know what I mean?"
"Ah, I- uh do know what you mean," Jarod said, returning Eli's smile, finding the child's instinct to defend his mother both endearing and troubling. Simultaneously, peripherally, Jarod noted Parker's increasing discomposure, anger.
"We can talk about all of that later," suggested Parker.
"Right," Eli said thoughtfully. "Solutions."
"That can wait, too," Parker said. "Don't you agree?"
"Given the circumstances, yeah. I have some questions," Eli confessed. "If you don't mind," he asked Jarod. "Just Jarod," Eli stammered hastily to his mother. "Man to man. In my room? If that's cool?"
This will never be cool.
"Is at six-thirty. I know. We'll be down before then."
"I'll be up in three minutes, Eli," Jarod said, steadily looking at Parker. Hearing his son's retreating steps, he rose slowly, said to Parker, "I know you're in pain-"
"Mm brilliant deduction, Sherlock."
"In light of Eli's attempt to run away, I gather you're intending to find a way to slow the legal-"
"No," interrupted Parker sharply. "I should fight you; I know I should fight you. I should never have allowed you into my home."
"Haven't you've fought me enough?" Asked Jarod with a headshake of negation.
"No, I haven't. If I'd ever truly fought you, Jarod, you'd be rotting inside a 5X5 cage in Ubundu."
"You're awfully confident of that," said Jarod, smugly. "It's doubtful."
"I knew you'd return to Scotland; it was the best lead you'd ever had on your mother," Parker returned resolutely and observed the challenging smile slip from Jarod's face.
"How did you know," murmured Jarod, numbly. "Your inner sense?"
Parker smiled shrewdly, corrected loftily, "Common sense, Jarod."
"I'm not here to hurt anyone. I want to know our son."
"He's upstairs," Parker said.
"Look, you and I are going to have to talk-"
"I can't talk to you," interrupted Parker with renewed ferocity.
"You could always talk to me-- even when your father called me a monster."
"Yes," Parker agreed with a snort of derision, opening the back door and walking through it, her words trailing behind her, cold and incisive, penetrating their target, detonating, splintering inside Jarod.
"But back then I didn't believe Daddy."