Actions

Work Header

Unexpected Changes

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: I do not own Pretender. I just borrow the characters. I make no profit off of this fiction.

 

“Daughter. Confused.”

Miss Parker stopped as she saw Angelo.  “What, Angelo?”

“Angelo. Confused,” he said bowing his head downward. “Angelo. Sorry.”

Life was never fair. Miss Parker looked toward Sydney. “What’s he talking about now, Sydney? Why’s he down here?”

“We were going to use him to try and help us find Jarod,” Sydney said. “But, what he said. Parker, is there anything you haven’t been telling us?”

No. She wasn’t hiding anything.

Angelo held his hands closer towards her, then pulled them away. Good. It was never a good idea to try and touch her. She went back to watching Sydney and Broots when the phone rang.

“Uh.” Sydney stumbled just a second as he answered it and heard the request. More like command. “Broots. Miss Parker. You have been invited to South Africa to talk to the Triumvirate.”

“W-what?” Broots stumbled slightly. “Me? But, I’m just a desk jockey, what would they want me in Africa for?”

“Don’t wet your big boy diapers,” Miss Parker said to Broots. She looked back toward Sydney. “Tell them we’ll be on the next flight out.” She wasn’t scared. The big boys wanted to talk to her? Let them talk. If they were going to rattle her cage about not catching Jarod, then she’d just have to show them how tough she’d become. Besides, if she made a good impression, maybe they would pull Lyle or Raines down from their high perch.

Then she could drop them and squash them with her nicest pair of stiletto heels. The thought made her slightly smile a moment with a raised eyebrow.

“B-but why me? Why do I have to come?” Broots asked again. “I’m not a Parker.”

“Mm, maybe the Centre thinks you need a little promotion?” Miss Parker teased him. Honestly, she had no idea why Broots was being sent. Maybe it was good news. Maybe it was bad news.

But it was the Centre. Whether good or bad, the Centre ate people alive who showed weakness. Acting like it was no big deal and keeping their heads straight would work out better than getting panicked.

“But why not you, Sydney?” Broots asked, looking toward Sydney. “If this is about Jarod, then why aren’t you coming with us?”

“Because,” Sydney said, “I was not invited.”

Broots was doing it again. Becoming a target. “You have something to do this week, Syd?” She asked him, hoping he took up the slack.

“Busy week. They might know I don’t have time for much,” Sydney said, thankfully following her lead. “Good luck, Broots. South Africa will be an exciting new experience for you.”

“But what about Debbie?”

“Oh, hire a babysitter. She doesn’t need a sweeper team. This is just a little trip.” Broots. Why? Sydney was more relaxed in his manner, but Broots? He just couldn’t seem to learn. You couldn’t show softness. You couldn’t show weakness. That is what got people into trouble there.

She wasn’t romantically involved with Broots or Sydney, but they were as close as family. They were with each other nearly every day, chasing down Jarod on the computer, talking about Jarod, or chasing Jarod down physically. She had known Sydney since she was a child, but she came to care for Broots too.

And she wasn’t mean to be mean to Broots, which for some reason he seemed to never get. He just couldn’t . . . do what he needed to. He needed to get tough. Not body builder tough, but when someone scared you, you kept your eyes on them and you let them know that you weren’t scared of them.

That was the only way to survive in the Centre. After all those years, Broots still didn’t seem to get it. When things came up that you couldn’t handle, you’d either relax and act like you could handle them, or you would get mean and make everyone believe that you absolutely could handle it. There was no inbetween. There was no place for ‘buts’. Get tough. Survive.

------------              

South Africa

Miss Parker walked up to Mutumbo in a strange room. There was glass around it that cells could be seen. No one was in the cells. As she expected, the room unsettled Broots. Before he could say anything she whispered, “Keep it together, Broots. This place won’t have nannies to take care of you.” She quickly looked straight and kept her courage up. She strolled up to Mutumbo like he was important, but no more important than her. “As requested, we’re here.”

“Uh, y-yeah, what she said,” Broots said following her lead, but still not standing right next to her. Slightly behind. She wanted to scream at him how bad that made him look, how weak, and how exposed his whole self had become. This was not the time to act like that.

“Change. Change is good,” Mutumbo said to her. “Is it time for a change in the Centre, Miss Parker?”

She kept her same expression on, indicating neither whether she was happy or not about his words. “In my opinion? Maybe. Mister Raines health decreases every year. Not to mention Mister Lyle just came into the Centre. He was not raised there. He treats it more like his possession than the company it could be.”

“Mm.” Mutumbo looked behind her as Lyle walked in. “Is the Centre your possession, Mister Lyle?”

“No.” Lyle came up from behind Broots, and Broots cringed back. “I think I do a great job there. What say you, Broots?” Before he could answer, Lyle swerved around him. “I agree about Mister Raines though. He’s in bad shape, and it would be much more beneficial to let him slide on into retirement.”

Miss Parker didn’t smile nor act surprised. She made no apology with her mouth or eyes about what she said to her brother. She didn’t even bother looking at him, preferring to keep her eyes on Mutumbo. He was the important one in the room. In fact, Mutumbo never talked to her one on one. Even her father, who had ran the Centre, barely spoke to Mutumbo. And now, today for some reason, she was the center of attention.

“The Centre is a serious business, it is not a plaything,” Mutumbo said to both of them. “Mister Lyle has brought me proof that Raines has shown signs that he might not be around much longer. I want a replacement ready.”

What, the sucking on the oxygen tank daily? There was no proof. Lyle’s gunning for the Centre. He just put her into a position to be tested.

She could be good, go along with his little game, and either win or lose. Or, she could blow the whistle on him. Raines would kill him. She, Broots, and Sydney win their lives forever whether they caught Jarod or not.

Then again, tattling to that old freak never was her style. “I’m the oldest,” Miss Parker said.

“I’m the son,” Lyle came back on her. “I’ve taken over the Centre more than once in my father’s absence. Meanwhile, my sister can’t even seem to catch Jarod. How could she run the Centre?”

“I don’t see you spouting off your catching rewards,” Miss Parker hissed toward him. Lyle always knew where to hit it so it would hurt. That little hiss was the closest he’d get to rattling her. If Mutumbo was ready to choose someone, Lyle would take the Centre as it had been, and it would never change.

If she received the Centre . . .

“Talk is just talk. Talk means very little in showing leadership. In showing confidence. Skill.” Mutumbo approached Lyle. “Are you willing to do anything to run the Centre, permanently?”

“Anything at all.” Lyle’s eyes glistened, he couldn’t contain his excitement. “I wouldn’t let anyone down, no matter what was asked of me.”

“And you?” Mutumbo shot his eyes her way. “Would you do what it takes to run the Centre?”

“Absolutely,” Miss Parker said with confidence. “I was raised in the Centre. It’s my home. I would choose to do what was best for it.”

“Then Mister Broots?” Mutumbo looked toward Broots, who jumped slightly at being called.

“Uh?” Broots blinked twice as fast and shuffled his feet. “Uh, yes?”

“Go.” Mutumbo’s guards came and fetched Broots. Miss Parker didn’t make a move. Doing anything stupid could get Broots killed. She watched out of the corner of her eye as he was placed in one of the glass cells.

“Now, we will see who should run the Centre,” Mutumbo said. He looked toward each of them. “Have you both felt tired? A little more drowsy? Aggravated?”

“Should we be?” Lyle spoke for them. “I am willing to put my life on the line to get the Centre. I just want to know if that’s what is now on the line.”

Damn. Miss Parker had been feeling tired and her aggression was higher. She watched as more guards came out and carried a table their way. The large table was placed in front of them. On it, were two sets of syringes.

“Mutumbo gestured toward Broots in the cell. A guard came in and held a gun to Broots’ head. “What is in those needles may kill you. We have given you some of it already, so you know the effects. Too much, and you could die.”

Broots. Miss Parker watched Broots. Trembling. He couldn’t even try to be brave. They are gunning him down for a stupid test? Cruel. Vindictive. Just like the Centre and Triumvirate.

“Mister Broots’ life, or one of you will take the shot,” Mutumbo said. “Two minutes. If you don’t decide, he dies.”

Broots made a slight sound of worry. “M-Miss Parker?” He looked toward the gun man. “I-I didn’t volunteer for this! I just know computers. I’ve got a little girl at home, please!”

Poor Broots. These thugs didn’t care about him or his little girl. Miss Parker looked at the needle filled with who knows what lying in front of her. Of course, Lyle didn’t care whether Broots lived or died. It was written on his face, plain as day. She looked around, trying to get a feel for the chances to get him out.

More guards had came in. The gun was right next to his temple, in a completely other room. There was only one way to save him. A test. Maybe. It’s my only chance.

“Will you save him that way?”

That way. Miss Parker caught that. She looked toward Mutumbo then at Lyle. “What do you mean, that way? What other way is there?”

“I promised Mutumbo here something in turn for making me the winner,” Lyle said. “Follow through it, and you are a free bird. Of the Centre. Without death or the Centre following you. Unless you want to keep in touch with your brother,” he smiled.

A promise. Freedom. “What kind of promise?”

“That he would catch Jarod within one year from now,” Mutumbo said clearly. “Seeing as how long it has been since his capture. With this, I agree.”

“And if he doesn’t?” Miss Parker watched him squirm lightly.

“His head on a platter. With festive vegetables. For our most exotic patients in the Triumvirate,” Mutumbo said, “and you would get the Centre instead.”

The Centre. Hers. “Lyle dies and I get the Centre, or I’m freed with no burden.” She won either way, and she didn’t have to take an insane shot for it. Saddle me up. What’s this bronco want?

“It’s just the itsy bitsiest of favors,” Lyle said. “You are going to contact us, and give Jarod up.”

“That’s a great plan, only I don’t know where he is,” Miss Parker teased him.

“But you will,” Lyle said. “Because Jarod is going to take you with him, on his pretends. He would never leave family behind.”

Family? “What are you getting at?”

“The Centre is capable of so many things,” Lyle said. “So, we are going to tell him that we basically turned you into Catherine Parker. Taking a note out of the old family book. Try and make a new generation of Pretenders with Parker blood. We’ll make it so convincing, he’ll come for you.”

“You’re going to try and convince Jarod I’m carrying his kid?” She scoffed with a laugh. But Mutumbo nor Lyle was laughing. “You’re kidding, right?” He was too smart for a stupid trick like that.

“You won’t call right away, after you’ve been taken,” Mutumbo said. “When he is at a trusting point, a weak point in his pretending games, you will make contact and we will get him.”

“Catching him securely in the middle of a pretend.” Miss Parker looked toward the needle. That was cold. Too cold for her to ever try.

“It’s not a joke,” Lyle said, gesturing back to Broots. “We’ll kill him. You either agree to this, or you take your chances in whatever is in that syringe in front of you, or Broots is dead.”

“Devilish,” she criticized Lyle. That wasn’t the way to catch Jarod, but the Centre never had a problem with ethics or morals. Broots wouldn’t die though, and if this was the real deal they wanted, saying no and taking that syringe was probably the end of her life. Once Lyle’s dead, I get the Centre. That’s an even better deal than freedom. What’s stopping me from completing my side so that he’ll just die? She looked toward him. He seemed confident. Foolish mistake.  “Fine. Deal.”

“Good, but there’s one thing more.” Lyle looked down at his watch strangely then back at her, like he was trying to keep track of time. Then, he grabbed the syringe in front of him. “Bring her out.”

No. Oh no. “Debbie!” Broots yelled, getting rewarded with the gun being pushed even closer into his temple.

“Dad?” Debbie asked timidly. She looked at Miss Parker? “Miss Parker?”

“We already had a deal, Lyle!” Miss Parker said with heated anger. “What are you doing?”

“Nothing. Already did it.” Lyle showed them Debbie’s arm. It had a small bandage on the back of it. “Extra insurance, Parker. I want to make sure you don’t go back and tell Raines about this, or that you don’t help out an old friend, just to stab your poor brother in the back.”

“You twisted son of a bitch,” she answered back. “What did you do to that little girl?”

“Let’s just say her life ends, in one year, just like mine if I don’t complete this,” Lyle said. “But worry not. She won’t even get sick as long as she takes the medication we give Broots each week. As long as Broots doesn’t tell Jarod what we’re up to. Or Sydney. Or anyone.”

“You see? That is the initiative and risk it takes to run the Centre!” Mutumbo said.

“You bastard! That’s my daughter,” Broots panicked.

“Calm down. She won’t die for a whole year,” Lyle said. “Besides, we’re giving you vitamin pills, nothing else. Eventually because of Sydney’s ‘concern’ though, Jarod has to investigate it, he’ll see its only vitamin pills, and think it was just a small time scare. You’ll tell him about Miss Parker, he’ll play hero, and we are rolling.” Guards came to drag Debbie back away. He looked at his watch again for the second time.

“If Mister Lyle doesn’t complete his task of bringing Jarod back, he will die,” Mutumbo said. “Leaving you, Miss Parker, as the sole heir.”

“While a little girl dies.” Miss Parker conceded. That’s how Lyle would make sure she followed the plan. If she tattled to Raines what he did, Lyle would surely be killed. She doubted this little test was determining the future in the next few years. As soon as Lyle got his verdict, Raines would have an accident. “This is too genius for you, Lyle.” Cruel but genius. “Where’d it come from?”

The guard inside the cell left Broots inside of it, closing the door. Now what were they up to? They already had her full cooperation.

“Oh, it took work. It took a lot of work,” Lyle admitted as he adjusted his tie. “There’s more than one genius at the Centre, but they all know or have heard of Jarod. No one wanted to catch him, hell, they were rooting for him, so getting them as a team to come up with something against him. Let’s say freedom bells had to ring for all of them. They each contributed their part, and they were released officially from the Centre.” He smiled. “A small price to pay for the whole Centre.”

“I knew it.” Playing dirty. That was so Lyle. There was no choice though. Dirty or not, Debbie wasn’t going to be another victim of Lyle’s.  “Fine, I’ll do it. I’ll go with your little game as long as she is safe and sound.”

“Good,” Lyle said. “Then there’s only one thing more.”

Guards surrounded her. She drooped her head to her neck as they held her tight. Oh great, now what?

Lyle once again looked down at his watch. The third time. “To make sure this works in just the right way, you are getting an improved mindwipe,” Lyle said. “New and improved now. Emphasis on improved. I’ve been watching the time, and we are cutting out those teeny tiny chunks of minutes we don’t want you to remember. Yet. Broots, you, and that little girl are all getting it. No, this time, Jarod won’t even know what hit him, because you won’t know. Not until it’s time to know.”

Mutumbo snapped his fingers. “Fetch Mister Broots from the cell and have him ready when we come back, then do the same for the little girl.”

“I am going to get you for this, Lyle,” Miss Parker warned him.

Lyle just shrugged. “I don’t see why you’re so upset. That’s not even the best part yet. See, in the whole thing I just set up, I only lied about one thing.”

“And what’s that?” she seethed.

“This, sis. The pregnancy isn’t just going to be convincing, it’s going to be real. How else are you going to trick Jarod? Not that you need to remember.”

She watched as he looked at his watch for the fourth time before she was dragged away.

 

------------------------

 

Miss Parker couldn’t see anything but an array of colors. She could hear, but even that was starting to come in and out.

“Miss Parker? Tell them she’s employed? Here?”

“Well, that or death, Broots. And, you don’t want death. What was the name of your babysitter, Broots? Off the top of my head, Crystal? Off the top of her shoulders, her head?”

“I-I don’t want . . .”

“ . . . she’ll be okay . . .”

“ . . . I’ll figure out a way . . .”

 

“ . . . easy with her now . . .”

Chapter Text

I do not own Pretender. I make no profit off of this fanfiction.

 

 

Sydney watched Broots come back to the office. He immediately sat down and started to work. He didn’t even greet him yet. “Good morning, Boots.”

“Mm. Mm-hmm.”

That wasn’t like Broots. Sydney examined him lightly, not being able to let go of what he saw. Broots was scared. Weary. Something was wrong. “Broots. Did you have a good trip to South Africa?”

“Uh. Uh huh,” Broots said, not giving anything else away again.

“And Miss Parker?” Sydney continued to pry. “Did she have a nice trip?”

“Yuh. Yuh huh. She’s, um, there now,” Broots said, ultra focused on the computer. “Promoted.”

“Promoted.”

“Uh. Uh huh.”

“Miss Parker was promoted to work in South Africa.”

“Uh huh. Yeah, Sydney,” Broots said as he typed furiously away on the computer.

“Broots.”

“I need to work, Sydney.”

“Broots.”

“Yeah?”

“Is she still alive?” The direct question made him stop typing a moment to look at him. Please. Please let Miss Parker still be alive. It would hurt so many people, in and out of the Centre, if she were gone for good.  “Broots?”

“A year,” Broots said, going back to her typing. “I-I can tell you after a year.”

“Broots.”

“Jarod’s tricky. He never gets any easier to catch,” Broots said, ignoring Sydney’s request. “But we’ll get him, we will. We are a good team, you and me, and we’ve been so close so many times. We are bound to get him real soon with all the headway we’ve made. Other people, others would be starting from square one, learning his pattern and everything. It wasn’t easy, it took time. No, I bet we are probably the best people in the whole Centre who could ever catch Jarod.”

Bugged. Sydney looked around the room. Someone must have been listening in on them. Sydney wrote down on a piece of paper. “I want you to check this location for Jarod. This was the last place I heard from him.” He ripped out the paper and gave it to Broots. He had to know.

Broots looked at the paper quickly, crumpled it up, typed in his computer, knocked twice on the desk and picked up a pop to drink out of it.

Thank goodness. Sydney had asked him to knock once if she was dead, twice if she wasn’t. She isn’t dead. At least the worst had not happened. But whatever happened, it was more than just bugs in the room. Broots never suggested that Sydney come out on a break with him, or leave the room.

Remembering how odd Angelo had been before she left, Sydney went to see him briefly, but was stopped by Raines.

“Where do you think you’re going?” he questioned Sydney.

“To see Angelo,” Sydney said. “I have a project I want to start him on. It will help us find Jarod.”

“Are you sure you’re not looking for Miss Parker?” Raines wheezed. “If you are, you should give up. I know everything there is to know about the Centre.” He started to wheel his oxygen away. “I don’t know about her.”

Huh? Sydney looked back toward him as the squeaking wheels of his oxygen tank made their presence known down the hall. Raines enjoyed watching him squirm. Knowing things he didn’t. So, why did he say that?

When he reached Angelo, he was sitting in a chair. “Angelo.” Sydney moved toward him. “Miss Parker. Before she left, you said some things to her. Can you remember that?” He bent down toward him, trying to bring himself to a comfortable eye level.

Angelo nodded. “Confused. Act tough.”

“Yes, Miss Parker acts very tough,” Sydney encouraged him. “But why did you say that to her?”

“Uh, S-Sydney? You need to get out of here,” Broots said gesturing to the door. “Raines won’t want us in here. We need to go.”

Sydney watched him take off. A warning, but no involvement. Broots cared, but something very big was being held over him. He looked back toward Angelo. There was nothing he could give him to hold except something of Miss Parker’s. Nothing from the event though after Africa. “Can you tell me anything, Angelo?”

“Angelo heard. Test,” he said. “Test for Centre. Centre.” He started to move away. “Centre. Tests not good. Tests not good.”

A test for the Centre? Sydney stood up but watched Lyle and Raines come through the door.

“Yes, a preparation exam for the Centre, nosy ,” Lyle said to Sydney as he straightened his cuffs. “Making sure we’re on target, we both took an exam over the Centre, and I won. Fair and square.” His eyes lit up. “The loser is in South Africa, learning more, and maybe getting measured up to see if the triumvirate is for her instead. Brother and sister, still working together. In the future. That would be nice.” He clapped his hands and spread them out toward Sydney and Broots. “You are my Jarod crack team now.” Did he honestly believe that Sydney would buy that? “Go ahead, here.” Lyle pulled out his phone and said off a number. “That’s her number. Call it if you want. See for yourself.”

“I’ll do that,” Sydney said as he watched him leave. As he left, Raines seemed odd. He followed the two of them slightly before deciding to call the number.

“You,” Raines wheezed to Lyle. “Angelo said test, not exam. You better not be doing anything behind my back.”

“Exam, Raines. That meatball doesn’t know the difference, just word association. I had the higher score,” Lyle said. “It’s natural, father. Look at your age. The Triumvirate just want to be careful. Secure the future.”

“I’m. Fine. I’m not pushing up daisies anytime soon.” Raines took a deep breath and groaned. “In a test, Miss Parker would be dead. The losers die. As does everyone else except the winner.”

“A test? A one-off ultimatum test?” Lyle chuckled. “Come on, dad, hardly any Centre leaders ever used that. It was just a typical exam. If she were dead, you couldn’t talk to her. So how would I have a willing phone number? I seem perfect for the Centre, and maybe she’ll get on the Triumvirate. Fair is fair. She can’t handle the dark secrets of the Centre anyway. The Triumvirate will be more fitting.”

“An exam.” Raines still didn’t seem pleased. “Even an exam was not needed.”

 “Yeah, well, what can you do?” Lyle insisted to him with a happy, chipper look on his face.

Sydney stayed back enough to hear them but not be seen. He headed back toward Broots. An exam. A test. Raines thinks Miss Parker is dead? Broots said he couldn’t tell him what happened for a whole year. Was that a standard exam thing for the loser who didn’t win? Or did Miss Parker take a test and lose? He dialed the number Lyle gave him.

“What?!”

That sharp voice. Yes, that was her. “Miss Parker?” Sydney asked. “I was worried. I hear you are employed in South Africa?”

“Good guess, moron.”

Hm. Edgy, but not quite right. Miss Parker usually reserved that word for something else. If she did use it, it wouldn’t be so carefree in conversation so quickly. “When are you coming back?”

“A year,” she said. “I have a ton of stuff to do. I can’t just move to South Africa overnight.”

“But why South Africa?”

“Because I don’t feel like dying. So keep your corpse out of my business. I’m done with Jarod. Leave me alone. I lost the exam, okay? I’m doing what it takes to survive, and then I’m coming back to bite Lyle in the ass.” More aggressive than usual. He was worried, and she was treating him too rudely. And corpse? This isn’t her. He ran a small test. “But what about Max?”

“What about him?”

“Not him, her.”

“Well, she’s just going to have to live on without me, Syd.”

“Are you sure?” Sydney asked. “Did you talk to her about this? You two were quite close together. Weren’t you supposed to get married? Is she moving to Africa with you?”

“Uh.” A slip up. “I can’t hear you. Listen, I have a ton of stuff to do. Getting on payroll, the work visa, I don’t have time to babysit you and that sniveling Broots.”

“Of course.” Was it her? “Sorry, Miss Parker. Good luck to you, and I hope you work out what happens between you and Max.” He hung up the phone.

It sounded like the same kind of voice, but it couldn’t be. Someone could have strictly been employed to impersonate Miss Parker. That was very high paranoia though. A job just to do that? Sydney headed past her office and watched as it was being cleaned out. “Sending her stuff to Africa?” Sydney didn’t need to turn around as he heard the wheezing.

“You don’t need to visit here anymore,” Raines said. “Her stuff is being sent there until she comes back.”

“A year?” Sydney asked Raines. “Broots said something about not being able to discuss it for a year. Must be very hush hush stuff.”

“Yes.” Raines groaned. “Exams. Certain requirements.” He wrinkled his nose lightly. “It is. I don’t like it any better than you.”

He didn’t know what was happening to her either. Something at the Centre going on without Raines’ involvement? It must be infuriating him considering he ran the Centre. Sydney would have smiled at the opportunity, if it didn’t make him more worried about Miss Parker.

 

--------------------

 

“It’s going to be okay. I know we’ll see each other again soon,” Jarod said to Emily on the phone. His family. It was strange, it was special, and it was so hard to keep everyone together. He ran into them on more than one occasion, but they kept having to split up. They tried hard not to, but destiny seemed to be against them. And his mother? Sometimes it felt more like a dream, like it would take an incredible miracle to see her.

Jarod heard a small beep, indicating he got email. He opened it, still chatting with his sister. He wouldn’t have her number for long. He wouldn’t be able to hold on for much longer, she was already on the move. He couldn’t go though. The only negative thing about helping those his sims hurt was that he couldn’t move when he really wanted to. When he was there, he had to stay there until his justice was done.

All his talking stopped though as he saw the email was from Sydney. He wanted him to call him right away. “Emily,-“

“I-I gotta get going, Jarod, sorry!”

At least he didn’t have to be the one to hang up.

---------------

Sydney picked up his phone late that night. “This is Sydney.”

“Sydney.” The familiar voice of Jarod was heard across the line. “Is everything okay at the Centre?”

“It depends on how you define okay,” Sydney answered back. “Miss Parker moved to South Africa to work there, along with her life partner, Max.”

“Sydney. I think I may have missed some memos.”

“I as well,” Sydney answered back. “Since no one named Max exists, but she could not deny it.” He leaned against his desk more. “Broots and Miss Parker left for South Africa not too long ago. Broots came back and he is not saying anything. Not even meeting me outside the Centre to talk.”

“Someone threaten his daughter?”

“I don’t know, but I do know that Miss Parker never made it back.” He heard the phone go silent, and knew what Jarod was thinking. “I overheard Raines and Lyle. Lyle said they took an exam and because of the results, he is back and she has to be there for a year.”

“Miss Parker’s alive.”

“Yes, but unless Miss Parker knows someone close named Max that I don’t know anything about, I think it’s safe to say that there is something going on,” Sydney said. “I don’t see Miss Parker deciding to stay in South Africa, her career or not. If she didn’t get the Centre, I don’t see her going for the Triumvirate.”

“No. I don’t either.” The phone went silent longer. “I’ll run my own little ‘test’. Can I have that number?”

-------------------------------

Jarod dialed the number and heard her usual greeting.

“What.”

“Miss Parker, how are you? Did you miss me?” Jarod asked.

“I can’t talk right now. I’m busy getting ready for something.”

“New job in Africa?” Jarod questioned her. “Didn’t picture you going all the way there. Are you coming back later?”

“A year, maybe,” she answered. “Listen you moron, I don’t have time for old friendly phone calls. I’m beginning a new life. Leave me alone.”

“Moron? That’s a little harsh,” Jarod said. “You never call me a moron.”

“Look. The reception is bad here. I need to be out here though.” She sighed. “It’s about my mother.”

Mother? “How bad’s the reception?” It wasn’t exactly the best on his end either. He sat up.

“Honestly, I can barely hear you.  I can’t even tell who someone is when I pick up the phone until they talk enough. This place is a hell hole but I should get a better phone later so tell Syd not to worry. I have to do this. For my mother.”

Reception? Not knowing his voice if she couldn’t hear it. Did she have a boyfriend she thought he’d been? The Max question Sydney posed, she may not have heard it clearly at all.

“I’ll be fine. I’ll be back within the year. I already told Broots that, I’m not staying here forever. Just don’t let anyone else know that’s why I’m here. I just, I can’t let this go. I’m going to find out about my mother if it kills me. Even if the answer lies way out here.”

“Hm. Okay,” Jarod agreed. “Bye.”  He hung up the phone. Tough call. Everything fit that she could be faking, but if it was something about her mother? Miss Parker would do anything to find out about her mother. He wasn’t exactly aware of a boyfriend, but he didn’t look into every aspect of the Centre all the time. As time went by, he really tried to focus more on his own life. His own family.

Recently he found traces of his own mother, but nowhere near Africa, and nothing with Catherine Parker. Could Catherine Parker have gone to South Africa at some point? They were all the way in Carthis once. That makes sense. The exam might be real, but she might be using that as an excuse to find something about her mother. He called Sydney back.

“This is Sydney.”

“Sydney.”

“Jarod? What do you think about the situation?”

“Could be, could not be,” Jarod admitted. “She says she has real bad reception there.  It could be the case, depending on her phone, or how far away she is. Even my phone held a lot of static,” he stated. “Does Miss Parker have a boyfriend?”

“I don’t really know, Jarod. She hasn’t mentioned anyone.”

“Yeah.” He thought so. He should have tried opening with a different way in. “Call her again and make your own decisions,” Jarod said. “It could just be a bad connection. She seemed a little off, but she opened up about finding her mother.”

“So you don’t really know?”

“Sydney, I don’t have time for second guessing. If you really think its fake, I need more than just a little hunch,” Jarod said flat out. “I’m on a strict time limit of my own.” He did. Messing up now to take off, it could get someone killed. “I’m sorry, I can’t help.”

“No, Jarod, I understand. Some things are time sensitive. Thank you, Jarod, for checking it out. I’m sorry I wasted your time. It was so unlike her, but if it has to do with her mother, she would go and probably be more stressed. I will check more into it later. Good luck.”

“Uh huh. You too, Sydney.” Jarod hung up the phone. If he didn’t have his own thing going on, he would look in on it. It was a big change and Sydney sounded worried. Not to mention if it was about her mother, then it might involve his mother too.

But, he couldn’t put himself first above someone who got hurt by one of his old sims. It wasn’t right. If Sydney called back with more proof about Miss Parker then he’d do something. Until then, if it was something big, it sounded like something top secret Broots couldn’t reveal about Miss Parker’s mother while Miss Parker was looking around for more information herself.

-------------

South Africa

Miss Parker groaned from inside of her glass cell. Her body was still horrible. Her hair was a mess. She was laying down on a hard bed with no headboard, looking over at someone. “If you don’t get me out of here, I’ll show you where to shove that phone of yours.”

Lily put her phone away. “Where to shove that phone of yours,” she repeated after her in a voice like her. She cleared her throat. “Yeah, I’ll show you where to shove that phone of yours you bitch.”

“Trying to learn from me?” Miss Parker slurred. “They’ll figure it out. Nobody does me but me.”

“Nobody does me but me,” Lily said harder. “But me. I say what goes around here, and anyone who doesn’t agree is going to get themselves a one way trip to my foot town.” She stopped and talked in her regular voice. “No, wait.” She spoke like Miss Parker again. “A one way trip from my ass to their foot town.” She smiled. “That’s better,” she said in her regular voice. “You are a tough voice to pull off. I can handle the tempo, it’s just knowing when to be aggressive, playfully aggressive, and pure on hell bitch that’s hard.” She shrugged. “At least I seemed to have found an excuse that’s working. That whole mother complex of yours. It seems to be making people back off more.”

“You’re using my mother as an excuse that I’d stay here.” Miss Parker was livid. “You better pray I never get out of this cage or you’re going to get it.”

“You better pray,” Lily said again in Miss Parker’s voice. “You better pray I never get out of this cage or you’re going to get it.” She laughed and talked in her regular voice. “The more you talk, the better I get. Too bad that won’t continue much longer.” She talked in Miss Parker’s voice again. “Now, I have to be off. I have to go, I heard something about my mother. She’s here, somewhere. Someone here knows something and I won’t rest until I find my answers.”

That was a bad move. If they were trying to convince them that she was Miss Parker, then maybe they could for short conversations. But pulling out the mother card? You’re all digging your own graves. My mother. Jarod’s mother. They are connected. Once he comes digging around, this little game of yours is over, Lyle. However, just as her confidence was regained, she saw a guard come by her cell. “What do you want?”

“That. Is enough. Of that,” he declared. He gestured for more guards to take her out of the cell. Still feeling too wheezy, Miss Parker couldn’t do much yet.

“That’s enough of what?” she asked as she was taken down the hall.

 

“Your bravado.”

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: I do not own Pretender. This fiction is just for fun and no profit.

Five Weeks Later . . .

“Honestly, Syd, stop playing my daddy.” Lily said on the phone with Miss Parker’s voice. “I’ll be fine. I’m getting closer to a lead on my mother. I don’t think she was in South Africa anymore, but I know I can find where she’s at soon. Don’t worry about me.”

“Okay,” Sydney said over the intercom. “Everything is okay? What is that clanking?”

Lily groaned and spoke in Miss Parker’s voice again while Miss Parker was clinking the side of her bed frame. “Almost my head hitting my desk. This is far from the Ritz Carlton, closer to the Stanley Hotel.  I better check out that noise.” She hung the phone back up and strolled over to Miss Parker. “Well, I’m going to leave now. I’ll be in a different part of Africa for awhile, but I will still take your calls. I think I’ve learned enough from watching you and watching all those surveillance videos of yours. Even your friends. Mention your mother and saying don’t worry. A little rough, but not too rough. Distant, yet a little close. You care, but don’t show you care enough. I think I’m starting to nail it.” She bent closer to her cell. “What do you have to say about that?”

Miss Parker glared at her.

“It burns you, doesn’t it? All you can do is give mean looks because Mister Lyle said you can only talk back to certain people at certain times.”

Miss Parker continued to glare.

“Goodbye, Miss Parker,” Lily said. “Hopefully I’ll never see you again. You don’t exactly have a shining personality. And don’t worry, I don’t mind talking to your friends for a few minutes a week if it makes them feel better. I am getting better and better at this. Things like ‘what happened in Sl-27’ seem to contribute too,” she laughed. “Heh, and momma always said voice acting would never pay anything.”

Miss Parker watched as her voice double left. She got up and headed toward the glass, feeling around it. There was no way out. She wasn’t allowed to talk back. She wasn’t allowed to leave.

“Miss Parker,” Lyle said with a smile while he came over towards her cell. “You have an actual phone call you can take.” He opened the cell door, tossed it in, and stepped back.

“Why is she getting a phone call?” One of the guards quipped.

“Someone who already knows she’s here, so relax,” Lyle answered. “Besides, it’s been cleared with the Triumvirate.”

Miss Parker picked up the phone. There was only one person it could be. “Broots?”

“Miss Parker,” Broots said calmly. “Hello. I wanted to hear from you and not someone faking you. So. Tell me something the other Miss Parker wouldn’t know.”

“The first time you met Jarod, I know that you grabbed a spoon in defense,” she said. “It’s me. Why are these cretins letting you call? How’s Debbie?”

“If I don’t give her the pills they gave me, she gets really sick,” Broots said. “When she takes them, she does okay. She can go to school and live normally.”

“That’s good.” She wanted to know that.

“But, I got scared and I stopped it, and she got violently sick. If they stop it, they said she’ll . . . I can’t see a doctor. I don’t know what they did. I don’t know what to do!”

“Nothing, Broots. The Centre has Debbie in their grasp. You can’t risk her life for anything.”

“I’ve thought so many times about Sydney. Sydney, he could reach Jarod. Jarod’s pretended to be a doctor, a good one, and I know he could help.”

“Yes, I’m sure he could,” Miss Parker admitted. “Jarod’s thing is defending anyone who can’t defend themselves. He’d be there as soon as he could, but this isn’t a perfect world,” she said. “One wrong move. I don’t know how important I am right now,” she confessed. “I don’t know what they are doing to me.”

“Are they hurting you?”

“No. They adjust the heat and air whenever I knock on the glass for it to be changed,” she said. “They give me pills each day. I have nausea, sometimes severe, but I’ve been fine lately. They improved my food. They.” She chuckled. “They ask me if I want chicken, beef, or a special order from their own cafeteria menu.”

“Oh. Really?”

“I don’t get it.” She looked down toward her sheets. “I used to have a regular thin sheet to sleep in, and now I’ve got a full comforter set, Broots.”

“Oh. That’s unusual.”

“Lyle is bringing up another bed for me later,” Miss Parker said. “I don’t feel lucid at all, Broots. Do you know what this could be?”

“You’re locked up, but they are treating you like a princess?”

“Yeah. One that can’t leave the castle, and who has an ugly looking dragon guarding it,” she said as she looked toward Lyle. “I feel . . . even more uneasy with these changes.”

“Well. At least you’re okay.”

“Am I?” She asked. “We’ve got no idea what they want me for. No one tells me anything. I have no idea if I’m just in this place as a joke for Lyle for him winning, or if they have real plans for me.” She tapped her foot.  “And if it is just a Lyle gloating thing, then why am I not in the Centre for everyone to point and laugh at? Why am I all the way out here in South Africa?”

“I don’t know, Miss Parker.”

“Well, you weren’t a lot of help into this,” she said to him. “Don’t put Debbie at risk. If you tell Sydney and decide to do something, you make damn well sure she’s going to be okay. Or I’ll kill you, Broots. I will escape, find my way to you, and I’ll kill you.”

Broots chuckled nervously. “Yeah, you would.” He quickly straightened up though. “I won’t put her at risk, but it’s been five weeks. What if he keeps you in there for months? Years?”

Miss Parker shrugged. “I don’t know, Broots. I can’t do anything from this cell. If you want to figure out how to help, and make sure Debbie is safe in the process, it’s up to you.”

“I’m afraid. I’m afraid I’ll try and call and you won’t be there. Just the fake you. I’m afraid they’re going to take away the medication that keeps the sickness at bay. I’m afraid that if I don’t do something, you’ll wind up dead.”

“Me or Debbie, Broots,” she said softly. “Your daughter deserves to keep living. Even if something does happen to me, don’t give up on her. One day you need to find a way to help her though. If I’m gone, the Centre will have no need to bother with the pills anymore. You can’t wait ‘til it’s too late.”

“But then I have to tell Sydney somehow about you.”

“You’ll find a way to do what needs to be done, or you won’t,” Miss Parker said. “It isn’t my life on the line, Broots. But, just know. So far, as kooky as it seems, I’m fine. I’m better than I was when they locked me in here. I even get daily massages.”

“Um, huh?”

“To prevent stress. They are always assuring me that everything’s fine and I should just relax. At first, I kept trying to get away during that time, but they have so many guards around now.” She shrugged her shoulders. “I just enjoy the massages. Katrina is fantastic with her hands.”

“Massages?”

“Mm. Pictures becoming even stranger, isn’t it?” Miss Parker asked him. “I feel like I live in a Five Star hotel but I can’t ever leave the room.”

“Like Hotel California,” Broots tried to joke. “Oh. I wish I could figure this out, Miss Parker. Massages. Pills. Nausea. Some nausea but a good bed. A choice in dinner.”

“Mm. Actually, about the strangest thing of all. Everyday around this time, I turn into an animal at the zoo.” Miss Parker watched as several people who had bright animal skin colors in their clothes, including Mutumbo, came down towards her cell. They just stared at her. “They just stare at me. Sometimes they smile, creepily.” She turned her back on them.

“How are you today?” Mutumbo asked her. The one who visited the Centre the most in the past, and wouldn’t listen to a word she said, now hung onto her every word.

“Fine,” she answered back. She focused back on the phone. “I better talk to you later, Broots. Be careful.”

 

Lyle looked toward the whole triumvirate team and back at her. “Phone call finished? Good. I have been so busy at the Centre. You know, it’s only natural now that I’ll be running it soon,” he boasted. “I can’t get a moment to rest for anything, but I had to come here. Ooh, I love that look too. Real becoming.”

Miss Parker’s eyes followed him as he moved inside and retrieved the phone. The rest of her gawking crowd left, as always. He moved back out of her cell and secured it behind him before he talked some more. “Mm. I really like this new you too. Not a word spoken without permission or the end of Broots’ daughter. Funny. Guess you should have had her guarded by sweepers.” Lyle shook his head and pressed against the glass, knowing full well he just exposed that he bugged their work area before they came to South Africa. It didn’t matter anymore though now, it just seemed humorous to him. “You hide behind that façade of not caring for anyone, only letting it drop minutely. But then you made the mistake of showing it to the wrong people.” He shrugged. “Not that you could help yourself, Broots was about to die. For some reason, you just couldn’t let that happen.”

She continued to eye him. Without being able to speak and cut with her words, she still had a look that could almost kill. Even in that cell, she wouldn’t back down.

“Of course, your weakness of caring has been shown for some time,” Lyle said, “but I couldn’t really use it to my advantage. Your sharp tongue even kept me guessing for the longest time which side you were really on.” He moved back toward the other side. “Now I don’t think you should really blame me for everything, Miss Parker,” he insisted. “I mean, without me, you’d be dead. Losers don’t go on at the Centre. However, I don’t think I’m going to get a thank you, so I won’t hold my breath.”

He should hold his breath. Underwater, when he’s being drowned because it’d be awhile before I let him come up for air.

Lyle just smiled and knocked on the glass playfully. I got some news, Sis.” He moved against the glass. “I’ve never looked at the scrolls. Hardly anyone knows what was really on them, but what we do know? Well, there was a reason for Gemini.”

Just get to the point. What have you been doing?

“The clone of Jarod. Jarod, he was a special one,” Lyle said. “I think it was his genes, and apparently Mutumbo agreed. After all, they created another Jarod. Remember him? The little Gemini though, he’s long gone. Oh, and don’t forget our half-brother, Ethan.” He chuckled. “That was brilliant. But, he’s gone too now. All grown up. The Pretenders. Of the Parkers, there’s only one baby.”

Which could not have been my father’s, just like I couldn’t be.

“It may . . . or may not be Parker,” Lyle admitted. “Brigitte back then.” He wiggled his fingers. “I prefer Asian but she was already there. She was kind of loose though.”

Is he really going in that direction with me? Just get to the point, Lyle!

“Sorry. I’m taking a little extra time. I just want to enjoy the moment,” Lyle said. “The thrill of it. This is the only time I’ll ever get to experience it firsthand. I call it, the kill moment.”

Lyle came as close as he could to the front, right where she had been standing on the other side. “You know how the Centre always keeps bodily fluids? I’m sure you do considering that’s how you tested Mr. Parker. Well, we can’t keep a whole lot. A real good reason for the cloning, certain DNA lasts a lot longer. Only so much of a certain thing. Gotta be careful with it.”

What is the point you little weasel? What are you trying to do to me?

“If we can’t clone another Jarod, and we can’t get Mirage back,” Lyle said pausing slightly. “ . . . well, then we just need to bring some more into the kiddie pool.” He watched her extra close, making her uneasy. He was finally getting around the bullshit to tell her what he needed to. “Limited, but as the new one coming to be in charge of the Centre after good ol’ dad passes away? Soon? I’m already making plans for my time at the Centre.  Oh, but don’t worry.” Lyle knocked on the glass. “You have a part too. By the way, you feel better, don’t you? Haven’t messed with you for awhile.”

Which is what she didn’t like. None of that was normal for her position, and it only made her more anxious.

“Haven’t given you any shots in some time, just minor pills with no side effects. Even your tummy, it always gets plenty of food, doesn’t it? No starvation issues here. Why, you have your own little paradise in there. Not too hot. Not too cold. Even your bedding went from almost nothing to full-fledged covers. Today, I am even bringing in a brand new bed with back support, remember?” he chuckled.  “So. Have you wondered at all why this has been happening?”

He was still watching her, his eyes darting across her face like he was waiting for something. She didn’t change her expression until he did it. He dropped the news. “We tried a clone. We tried a brother. Now, the Triumvirate . . . will create a son. And we want mommy, to be healthy and comfortable. Thought it was time you should know since you might be noticing some changes soon.”

It fell. The bravado. The glaring accusational look. The stare that could almost strike fear into anyone’s heart. It slid completely off her face. She didn’t move. Her breathing stiff and even, aware of every breath her body was emitting.

“There it is,” Lyle said devilishly as he bit his lip. “No words. No ferocious look. Do you know what you look like right now? Like Broots,” he said rubbing it in. He laughed. “Now, making Broots look like that, putting a scare into the weak? It’s no fun. No, but getting someone like you to finally drop that mask you always put up. I will remember this face for the rest of my life.”

In. Out. In. Out. Her belly moved inward and outward as she breathed. She felt her throat getting so dry. Even if she felt safe to talk, her throat wouldn’t have been able to utter words.

All. Those. Years. Doing everything they wanted. Being strong. Staying strong. Working for them. Her whole life revolving around them. And in the end? They . . . they turned me into . . . her own mother. They somehow impregnated her without any asking. Without any remorse. And even though she wanted so hard to keep up the charade for Lyle, she couldn’t. Her whole face seemed paralyzed, unable to make any action to stand up for herself. Not a crinkle of an eyebrow, not any kind of glare from her eyes. Nothing.

All that time. All that dedication. Only to be betrayed.

“Okay. Enough of that,” Lyle said as he backed away some. “Be proud, no one else has been deemed good enough to try this with because we’ve got a real limited amount. The Centre doesn’t even know the Triumvirate has this. This isn’t just DNA. This isn’t cloning, it’s Jarod’s frozen sperm,” Lyle chuckled. “Wonder how your old boy wonder had fun with those sims, huh? Miss Parker. You are one in a million. No, one in a billion. You have the honor of bringing the best kind of Parker blood back into the Centre. Pretender blood.”

Miss Parker snapped out of her daze and wailed and smacked the glass walls as hard as she could. Those bastards! They didn’t have the right! She kept hitting the glass cell walls as hard as she could, over and over.

“Easy, momma,” Lyle said to her. “Don’t worry. As soon as it’s born, we’ll take care of the rest. Then you’ll get a few months rest.” He shrugged. “Then go again. Especially if it’s a girl. Really want a boy for my new Centre. If the first one was a boy, then we’ll probably try some . . . Angelo? Well, he’d be a little lacking in the father department too, even if your ‘mushhead’ figured it out. Or maybe even Kyle. Never have to worry about him showing up to complicate things anymore.”

“I’m gonna kill you, Lyle!” Miss Parker screamed. “I might be here right now, but soon I’ll be on the other side and I’m going to pack you so full of lead, Bobby, they won’t be able to identify your body!”

“Too late,” Lyle said. “You can’t put up a front to me anymore. I’ve seen your true self. You’re as weak as our mom was. It’s fitting that you end up here the same way.” He saluted her. “Mr. Parker was right. It will all change with you. A new generation is just around the corner for my Centre. Hey, maybe I’ll give Jarod’s kid his old man’s room for kicks? I’ll see you later, Sis.” He turned back around. “Oh, and uh, no more long phone calls with Broots now that you know. Mister Scaredy Cat already has a conscious. We don’t need him making the situation worse.”

 

-------------

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: I do not own Pretender. I make no profit off of this, it is just for fun.

-------------------

Three months later in South Africa. . .

Being trapped in here four months. Pregnant. No TV, no radio, no nothing. No wonder I’m starting to do this. Miss Parker hadn’t acknowledged the figure sitting on her bed yet. She couldn’t. It wasn’t real.

Because it was her, when she was just a kid. She didn’t say anything so far, and she knew that figment of her wasn’t going to as long as she didn’t speak to it. However, it didn’t go away. “Sydney would have a field day with me.”

“But Jarod wouldn’t,” Little Miss Parker said from the bed. “You know, you’re a horrible friend. You hardly had any growing up, and the one you really did? You ended up chasing.”

She wasn’t going to go away. “Daddy wanted him.”

“I know. I loved my daddy, and I wanted him to love me too. Anything that could bring us closer together would be great,” Little Miss Parker said. “Except, I should have wrote something in my journal about an exception. Ruining my friend’s life.”

Did she really have to deal with this kind of guilt? “I’ve been alone too long.”

“Nothing compared to Jarod,” Little Miss Parker quipped back. “He was alone nearly all his life. Then, when he was finally free to live how he wanted, you had to start chasing him. Like I said, Miss Parker. You’re a horrible friend.”

“Friends was a long time ago,” Miss Parker said to her smaller self. “I had a job to do.”

“Yeah. And look where it landed you.” She stood up from the bed and pointed at her belly. “You’re going to be a mommy, but you’ll be nothing as wonderful as our mother, Miss Parker.”

“No one could be as wonderful as her,” Miss Parker said.

“But you hunted the ‘daddy’ for years, who used to be your friend. That will make you a horrible mother.” She walked around. “Look at you. Secretly hoping someone is clever enough to get you out. And you know there’s only one person clever enough. So, you need your old friend to be a real friend, when you’ve been the worst friend in the world to him. Keeping him from his mommy. His daddy. His family.” She looked back toward Miss Parker. “And now, you have to pay the price and do the right thing, Miss Parker.” She gestured toward her stomach again. “That’s Jarod’s family.”

“I know,” Miss Parker groaned.

“You didn’t deserve this.”

Finally, her younger self says something nice. “No one did.”

“No. I mean being a mother. You’re too mean. And definitely, not the mother of Jarod’s kid.” Little Miss Parker shook her head. “It must be so horrible for him. Having the closest thing to a friend be you.”

“Stop it,” Miss Parker insisted. “I can’t do anything.”

“Yes, you can,” her younger self said. “You can stop being such a horrible friend.”

“Well, I clearly don’t work for the Centre anymore, so you can rest easy knowing I won’t be chasing him,” Miss Parker said to her younger self.

“You started chasing him for daddy. Daddy’s gone, and Raines, our real biological father? I don’t think your wanting his affection. All you had left for a reason was learning secrets, but it’s just an excuse. You fear change.”

“I fear nothing.”

“You fear everything, Miss Parker,” her younger self said. “You fear me most of all. But you shouldn’t. I’m you. Don’t be horrible anymore. It’s not about you anymore.” She pointed to her belly again. “It’s about that.”

Miss Parker looked down at her own stomach.

“I’ll be here. Once you stop denying the truth to yourself.”

-------------------

“You can fill up on food, but it won’t help your soul.”

Miss Parker looked at her little self showing up in the corner again as she worked on eating her food.

“You’re still horrible. You need to become unhorrible. Have you made any progress?”

Miss Parker touched her head. As time passed by the little unknown intruder on her body was affecting more than just her body. Her mind too. “If nothing saves me. If there is no safety net, I’ll lose it. It’ll never know me.”

“Yeah,” Little Miss Parker said. “So, who does that make you like?”

“Mother,” she said. “Losing Lyle.”

“Wrong,” Little Miss Parker said. “That was sad, but she didn’t know he was out there. You will. So, who does that make you like?”

“Momma with Ethan,” Miss Parker guessed again. “She never saw him grow up, just that-“

“No,” Little Miss Parker corrected her again. “Mom didn’t have to live knowing what happened. So, who does that make you like?”

“To live knowing what happened,” Miss Parker said, “and knowing my child was still out there.” She stared at her little self. Was she hinting at that? “ . . . Jarod’s mother?”

“Yes.” Her little self smiled. “And the little one, deep inside you that’s just a little ball right now,” Little Miss Parker pointed out. “You know it’s going to grow up at the Centre. Lyle even said he’d give it Jarod’s old room just to rub it in. So, it’ll never know you. But, it’ll probably want to know you. As it grows up, it’s going to want to find you. It’ll be contained though, unable to do what it wants. So, that might never happen. It’ll probably even be convinced that you’re dead for years.” She shrugged. “Who does that remind you of?”

Miss Parker didn’t want to say it. She put her food down and grabbed at her stomach.

“Who does that remind you of?” Little Miss Parker asked again. “Miss Parker?”

She finally looked toward her other self. “Jarod.”

“Yeah. But, it’ll be fine. It’ll be fed daily. It’ll do simulations that might be good or bad,” Little Miss Parker said, “but they do get a friend. Not a parent. Not someone they can get super attached to, but a friend. Probably a psychologist.”

“Sydney.”

“Something like a Sydney, but it’ll never be a real dad because-“

“Stop it!” Miss Parker threw her food down and covered her ears.

“Open your eyes to the truth,” Little Miss Parker warned her. “Or you’ll be a horrible mother and friend.”

Miss Parker closed her eyes. All that time alone, and she just couldn’t shut it out anymore.

Her inner sense.

Chapter Text

Two Months Later . . .

“Broots?” Sydney watched him show up for work again. Every day he looked more horrible. “Are you sleeping enough?”

“You ask that every day, Sydney,” Broots said. “Like I say, every day, yes.”

“Have you been checked out by a doctor recently?” Sydney asked him. “Perhaps I could squeeze in a quick session with you?” It was what he said every day, but Sydney was becoming concerned. The first thing he looked into was Debbie, but her health stayed on track and he couldn’t find any sign that anyone was trailing her. It couldn’t be his daughter. There was something bothering Broots, something he refused to share with Sydney. “There is an interception today with email. Do you want to write another email to see if Jarod falls for it?” He wouldn’t, Jarod was too smart, but Sydney had to always donate something in the pursuit of catching Jarod or he wouldn’t be a part of it anymore.

“Yeah.” Broots scratched his unkempt hair. It was clear he hadn’t done anything with it. He had changed his shirt, but not his pants, and that was only because he was grilled for looking unkempt.

“You haven’t taken care of yourself,” Sydney warned him. “Hygienically.”

“Oh. Yeah. I will.”

“You know, not taking care of yourself can usually be attributed to-“

“Fine, Sydney, just busy, just busy.”

“Is The Centre becoming too much for you, Broots?”

“No!” Broots declared. “No, I-I love The Centre. I’ll never stop working here if I can help it. No I eat, live, and dream to catch Jarod. It gives me purpose.” He stood out of his chair. “I’ll um, go and take care of myself. I’ll be right back.”

The nervous state he was in. Constant. Sydney was becoming quite worried. He discussed him with Jarod a time or two over the months, but nothing came of it. Sydney couldn’t find anything out of the ordinary. Jarod wasn’t going to come back so close to The Centre just to investigate ‘nervousness’. He had much more important things to do out there and Sydney understood that.

Before Jarod, Sydney tried to talk to Miss Parker, but he never managed to keep her on for more than a few minutes. She was always working or close to a clue about her mother. When he tried to ask her about something, she seemed to fall into a daydream like state and talk about her mother or something that happened in the past. He had warned her several times that too much nostalgia was a dangerous thing, yet she did it anyway.

Normally, Sydney stayed out of affairs, or at least didn’t explore them widely, but this had gone on too far. Broots’ mental health was at risk. He went over toward Broots’ computer.

Broots had been coming in with a small yellow package. Nothing big, normally something no one would notice. But Sydney did as he saw it repeatedly. It was every Monday morning, and the package had the same kind of bulge every time with no label.

Today Broots was so off, that he forgot his package. Sydney reached for it, knowing what he would do was wrong, but not seeing another option, proceeded. He opened it.

There was no paper inside. A simple bottle of pills, and no doctor’s instructions labeled on them. It didn’t even say what they were. Broots is taking drugs? Was his paranoia and nervousness because he was taking something he shouldn’t be?

“No, don’t!” Broots ran back toward his computer and grabbed the pills. “Don’t mess with that.”

“Broots,” Sydney said seriously. “My friend, you have a problem. You should not be taking those. Personal problems solved with drugs do not go away.”

 “What, you mean like, a junkie?” Broots said. “No. No, it’s not like that.”

As Lyle started to come into the room, Broots ran over to him, almost like for a cover. “Lyle, Sydney found those pills we discussed about?”

“Oh.” Lyle just chuckled at Sydney, like he knew the real reason, but planned on talking down to him. “Those are Centre issued drugs, don’t worry about them. It’s no big deal.”

“No big deal?” Sydney asked. “Since when is giving non-labeled drugs to employees no big deal?” He was sure of it. That was what was wrong with Broots.

“Since I said it’s no big deal,” Lyle said with a warning tone. “Don’t bother Broots about it. It enhances his performance.”

“I have seen nothing enhanced in his performance, I have only seen it weakened more every day.”

“Well, I say that it enhances it, and Broots will continue having the pills. So back off, Sydney. They are . . . vitamin pills,” he smiled. “The Centre picks up the tab.”

Liar. He wasn’t even trying for a better excuse. “Why does the Centre want Broots hooked on something?” He looked toward Broots, but he wasn’t meeting his eyes at all. Drugs were addictive. Was the Centre trying to make him do something he didn’t want to, so they got him hooked so he couldn’t refuse?

Well. Now Sydney had something new to add to his next conversation with Jarod.

--------------

South Africa

Miss Parker rolled her eyes as she continued to hear the bickering outside of her cell.

“We need the mother to be on wheatgrass. It will be better and an easier transition for it.”

“There is no need for a transition. It feeds through the umbilical cord. There is no taste differentiation.”

“At The Centre in America, they have wheatgrass for their pregnant subjects.”

“The mother is not raised on wheatgrass. To completely change her diet will stress her out. We are not The Centre. Our priority is to keep her unstressed. An ulcer almost killed her once, we should not risk it.”

Her diet. Great. Miss Parker stood up. Hey, let’s not ask the monkey what it wants. She still couldn’t talk unless spoken to by the Triumvirate or by Lyle. Special cases. She wouldn’t want them to see how much she raged on the inside anyhow. They’d probably do even more things to her.

“We could get her a psychiatrist? Someone to talk to about her problems?”

Someone say Sydney, I dare someone to say Sydney. It’d be funny if someone said it. He was one of the top psychiatrists in The Centre, not to mention the one who raised Jarod. How they would keep her from being able to spill important information would be some kind of magic trick she’d pay for tickets to see.

“I think a local psychiatrist that understands the meaning to her being in there would work.”

Sure because she was going to pour her heart into someone like that? She just crawled on her bed again.

Poof. That little poofy belly whenever she looked down at herself. I can’t believe I’m still in here. A part of her was sure that something would have happened. Something always happens with Jarod, he always figured out any secret someone was hiding from him. Then again, it was only when he was outside the Centre that he made any progress. In The Centre itself, he had access to nothing.

He was still out there though. Why isn’t that Houdini doing something? Because Broots was protecting Debbie. She didn’t expect Broots to let it go, but come on, Sydney hadn’t seen anything so far? Broots with this on his conscious? Even if he doesn’t know I’m pregnant in here, the fact he knows I’m in here, it’s gotta be weighing down on him. Sydney should know this. Surely even if Sydney couldn’t hear him, he’d investigate Debbie, find the pills, and then get that Genius ass on the phone to spy or something! Although. Sydney’s too damn respectful to snoop that much. He’ll have to be at wit’s end before he might go far enough to find the truth. Damn that personality, I’d have butted my rear end into everything, and found all of this out by now.

She was beyond the point of her pride caring whether she found a way to bust out or Jarod swung to her rescue. She’d been in there six months and a week already. Of that, she’d been pregnant somewhere in the vicinity of five months. About four more months, she’d pop, and her baby would be taken away. She stood up again, slower. She wasn’t used to slow. She hated slow. Her life was fast and so was her movement. It should have been that way.

Instead, she was watching as they discussed whether she could have wheatgrass, real food, or a psychiatrist. And it was far because they cared, it was about her health. To make sure she had the perfect, healthy baby. Then she heard the name again they used to address the baby.

Baby Jarod. Why were they so hell-bent on having it named after Jarod? Like there aren’t enough reminders. She isn’t even a boy. The doctors already told her that. She wasn’t going to have a girl named Jarod. Maybe it was a girl’s name too, but she couldn’t picture it. Then again, what would she name her? A little her. Family tradition said that everyone would call her Miss Parker. But, damned if she wasn’t a little tired of the whole family thing. Maybe I should name her after mother instead. Her name was so much prettier. The best mother in the world, no one could ever convince Miss Parker differently about that.

But now, Miss Parker was the mother. While she thought about that, she heard something else. Something new. Something she probably wasn’t supposed to hear.

“When Baby Jarod is born, we will start him on wheatgrass as soon as we can. The girl, we can-“

Miss Parker watched as one of them smacked the one talking. Twins? That’s why they were calling it Baby Jarod. They were talking about a boy. “I’m having twins?” She moved toward the glass. “Why have you been keeping that from me?” No one answered. “Let me guess. Let me, let me just guess,” she seethed. “I seem to remember that when I was born I had a stillborn brother. You are going to send them in different directions.”

“One. Will be The Centre property in the new Pretender Program, or as an experiment if he doesn’t inherit the abilities of his father. You will not know of him. The other. Will take its future place at the Centre,” one of them revealed. “You will have healthier children outside of this cell. You will still do your job, but raise your girl the way you were raised, and continue the treatments. We will make sure you have a wonderful boyfriend so you will not suspect a thing for round two.” He stopped to look at his paper. “For . . . the subject Angelo’s children.”

“Ooh. Future Centre approved? Lyle’s Centre approved?” She hissed. “You were going to make me forget about one, and raise the other, in the Centre, like nothing ever happened?!”

“Not were. We are. Our mind memory techniques have been improved over the years. We just didn’t want this knowledge to stress you out.”

“Should we take her in then?”

“No, we shouldn’t do that with her pregnant. We will upgrade her comforts and hope it evens out the stress we just caused.”

Two. Two?! Just like mom. Again. She was raised in the Centre. Lyle was raised . . . to become the thing he was. She looked toward her stomach again. I knew this poof was bigger than it should be. My Parker baby bump. She spoke to herself sadly. Please. Sydney. Jarod. Someone. Anyone. She tried to concentrate on the good again.

She saw her little self right next to her on the bed, gently kicking her feet back and forth.

“Your little boy is going into the Centre, taking the place of Jarod,” she said, “and your little girl will be raised in the Centre, to be the next generation to keep the Parker family curse going.” She gazed over at Miss Parker. “If your son escapes, your own daughter will be chasing him down.”

“I know!” She covered her eyes. No one’s coming. It’s been this long, no one is coming. “I’m horrible. Stuck in a cell, twins, taken to the . . .” She took a deep breath. “History. Repeating. Never ending sorrow. How . . .”

“Now you’re not.”

“What?” Miss Parker looked at her younger self.

“Now you’re not horrible because you understand it now. You had to understand it, in the most wicked of ways,” her little self said softly. “Even if they get more than wheatgrass to eat. Your boy or your girl. The one thing neither of them will ever be is-“

“Free,” she finished. “What do I do?”

“You can’t do anything,” Little Miss Parker said. “You’re stuck in a cell. But, if Jarod does know, and he’s got the unending kind heart you know that he has? Then he’ll rescue you and your kids will be safe. But you are going to have to do something for him.”

“He’ll want to see them.”

“Duh, he’ll want them, Silly. So you’ll have to stay with him too. Willingly. It isn’t his fault this happened.”

“I know that,” Miss Parker said. “It’s Lyle’s.”

“Well, if you had gone with Jarod back when he wanted you too-“

“He just wanted me to help him escape.”

“Maybe. Maybe not,” her younger self said. “If he doesn’t come soon, I’ll never know.”

I’ll?

“Of course,” Little Miss Parker said. “I mean, come on. Do you think your cute little kid self knows about all this stuff I’ve been discussing? I’m you,” she said. “I’m just the visual part of you that you think is still good. And for some reason, you think the good you apparently had ended after childhood.”

“That’s because I had to get strong. Stay strong to survive,” Miss Parker said. “I changed for The Centre. I changed for it all.”

“Well. I’ll tell you a little secret Miss Parker. A little secret that you never wanted anyone else to know. That only we know, but after growing up, you might have forgotten.” She crept up closer to her older self and whispered in her ear. “I’m an excellent pretender too because . . . I never changed.”

Then, Little Miss Parker was gone.

-------------------

Jarod stretched and reached for his phone. He just finished helping someone and now he was in a transition stage, learning the techniques and studies needed to help the next one he wanted to help.

He didn’t unpack any of his simple belongings yet. He never kept much, but anything that he got from his family that he could keep hold of, he kept with him. He should rest up early for tomorrow, but he would check in and talk to Sydney. He tried not to do it that often. One of the most difficult things from leaving the Centre, actually about the only hard thing about leaving the Centre, was getting used to not talking to Sydney every day. But, it was good for him. Sydney wasn’t his father after all. Just the one watching him, and taking care of him. Sydney only contacted him for emergencies and he would only call when he either needed something, or wanted to check how things were going in the Centre.

Sydney though, sent him an email asking him to call him. Which meant it was something he shouldn’t put on hold.

“This is Sydney.”

“Sydney.”

“Jarod. I have something odd to tell you. Broots has been taking unmarked pills, and getting them from The Centre every Monday.”

“Unmarked from The Centre?” Jarod asked. “Why? Are they making him a junkie for some reason? Are they making him do something he doesn’t want?” Making Broots a junkie. Never knew what to expect from the Centre. “Hook someone and they’ll do anything for a fix.” What were they demanding of him?

“I looked into it because I thought that at first. I tried to call Miss Parker about it. I know she has been hell-bent on her mother and barely answers the phone, but this was Broots’ health. A friend. She turned me away, saying Lyle knew what was best.”

Jarod’s eyes grew wider. “Okay, that is a new one. Miss Parker didn’t care?” He thought back to when Sydney asked him about checking on Miss Parker, believing her to be a possible fake. “That is Miss Parker? Are you sure?”

“Oh, yes. No one quite has that attitude she does,” Sydney said. “That day I warned you was just a bad connection. Her phone is much better, but she still refuses to talk long. I dread what they are making her do up there sometimes.” He sighed. “Anyhow, today while Broots was out, I called his daughter Debbie after school. I’ve checked into everything else so I wanted to ask his daughter about it. She has been trained to talk to me or Miss Parker in an emergency.”

“Okay. What did you find out?”

“That the medication wasn’t for Broots, he was giving it to Debbie.”

Jarod sat up. This just took a turn he couldn’t ignore. Broots being hooked on drugs from the Centre was bad, but the lives of children involved? “The Centre is getting that to his daughter through Broots? Why?”

“I don’t know, but when he saw I had them, I swore a junkie was the first thing I thought. His eyes, they were scared I’d take them away.”

“He can’t just give her something from The Centre,” Jarod said firmly. “He should know better!”

“Broots won’t talk to me about it, Jarod. Lyle forbids me for messing around with it. I don’t know what else to do.”

“I know what to do,” Jarod said. He’d put his own plan on hold for now. The Centre and kids. The life of a child. They weren’t going to be giving something to help her. “I’ll check it out, Sydney. I’ll call you when I’m ready.”

-----------

Chapter Text

I do not own Pretender and I do not make any profit off of this, it is simply for entertainment

------------------

Sydney waited for Jarod’s call again as he called Broots’ home phone. And, even though Debbie probably knew not to answer the phone, once the caller ID showed her who it was, she should break the old rule before the babysitter answered. If not, then hopefully Broots’ babysitter was well informed of who he’d been. After being ghosted by The Centre, and seeing how dangerous The Centre had become year after year, Broots confided and trusted in Miss Parkey and Sydney, just in case something happened to him. Debbie would always be taken care of.

Sydney was now hoping that trust paid off. What he was asking for, was not an easy thing by any stretch.

 “Mister Sydney?” Debbie’s delicate voice filled the phone line to his ear. “Is this about my medication again?”

“Yes, Debbie, I believe it is.” Jarod couldn’t just show up at Broots’ front door as a supposed doctor. Debbie was taught well by Broots now, and she could try running away. “There is someone heading to your home. It is of utmost importance that you break your daddy’s rule about answering the door for someone you don’t know. You must tell your babysitter that your emergency doctor is stopping by.”

“My emergency doctor?”

“Yes, and you must lie. I know lying isn’t good, but it needs to be done.”

“Dad won’t like this.”

“But your daddy hasn’t been himself though, has he?” Sydney asked her.

“No. He isn’t. Not for some time. He always seems like he’s kind of sick. He never gets better.”

“I know. If you want to make your daddy better again, then you need to trust me. The man coming has the name Jarod. Just tell her he’s Doctor Jarod and that you know him.”

“But? Are you sure, Sydney?”

“Your dad will get better sooner if you do what I say. I assure you, Debbie, it’s no trick.” Sydney said. “Everything is alright. This is why your dad made special rules.”

“Um. Okay. Doctor Jarod. Okay. I’ll let her know.”

“Your doctor will come in from the back. He is . . .” What could Sydney say?

“Someone that can’t be seen out the front,” Debbie said. “I understand perfectly, Mister Sydney. Dad taught me a lot. Thank you.”

---------------------

Jarod approached the back of the door. The last thing he wanted to do was scare a child. The world was scary enough for them, but if the Centre was getting her sick, then he needed to examine both the medication she’d been taking and her. There were already some ideas in his head about what they could be using. None of them were designed for a child’s system to take. But why would Broots keep giving it to her in the first place?

He knocked on the back door and pulled out a sucker from his jacket pocket. He watched as a strange woman answered the door. “You must be Debbie’s babysitter. My name is Jarod Spock.” He pointed to the badge on his coat. “I’m Debbie’s doctor.” He looked beside the babysitter and held out the sucker toward Debbie.

-----------

“Are you sure there are no other symptoms?” Jarod asked Debbie as he held the bottle of pills being given to her. Vicious stomach ache and intense fever. It only went down when she took the medication he was holding.

He looked at the medication, and as it scattered out onto Debbie’s nightstand, he knew what it was. Jarod just smiled at her as if nothing was wrong. “I think I know what’s wrong with you, Debbie,” Jarod said, scooping up every pill and sliding it into his pocket. “You have been taking the wrong kind of get well pills. I’m going to tell your dad about this.”

Debbie leaned her head slightly to the right. “But dad said I had to keep taking those. When I don’t, I get really sick, Doctor Jarod.”

Ah, now it makes sense. The Centre was playing some kind of trick on Broots, making him think she was getting better because of the pills. “I know, Debbie. I’m your doctor, so trust me,” Jarod said. “Come with me and I’ll get you something better.”

“Come with you?” Debbie wasn’t so sure of that. Jarod wasn’t surprised. That’s why Sydney didn’t tell her that possibility. The Centre clearly wanted something, and Jarod wouldn’t give them the privilege of using Debbie against Broots.

 Even if Mister Broots didn’t like it.

“You trust Sydney, right? Well, Sydney trusts me,” Jarod said. He dialed up Sydney and gave her the phone. “Tell him what I said, and what I want to do.” She’d have to come with him until he could get the truth out of Mister Broots. Hopefully, it only took a small drive and some minimal pretending to crack the already nervous man.

------------------

 Jarod smiled across at Debbie as he picked up his phone. He already had a discussion about how he’d have to play hardball with her dad, but that she’d be there back with him soon. She just needed to stay quiet and ignore everything. “Sydney.”

“He’s ready to talk.”

“I want my little girl!” Broots yelled over the phone. “How could you just take her from me?”

Good, just a small drive it sounded like. “How could I take her from you? How could you slowly be poisoning your own daughter?”

“I would never slowly poison my daughter!”

“That’s not what Doctor Jarod says,” Jarod said. “If you think I can just leave Debbie with a father who is poisoning his daughter for The Centre? Then you don’t know me that well. By the way, your daughter likes the bright lights of Vegas. They’re pretty in the sky.”

“What?!”

“Well, I still have to atone for all the things the Centre did,” Jarod said, knowing this would probably nail the rest. “I’ll just take her with me on my pretends. They are usually pretty safe. Usually.”

“No, Jarod! You, no!”

“Then give me a reason why a caring dad would be poisoning his daughter from something as evil as The Centre or you’re going to have to catch me to get her back!”

“They shouldn’t be, they are supposed to be keeping her alive!”

“Alive? Not with what they were giving her. Without me intervening, your daughter would be gone in another week.”

“No. I.”

“She’ll be fine now. She’ll be with me. Always. Until you manage to catch me. If you ever catch me.”

“No, Jarod, I didn’t want to. I thought, it was supposed to be helping her! I don’t want to help The Centre, it’s the last thing I want! I just want her not to die! They said they gave her something, and then the pills are what are making her live!”

Bingo. He had him. “Why would they do that, Mister Broots? What do you know that is so valuable the Centre would even bother with it?”

“Because. I.”

“The landing strip is getting closer, Mister Broots.”

“I know where Miss Parker is.”

So. It was about Miss Parker. Sydney was right. “Isn’t she in South Africa?”

“Yes, but not willingly. She’s been imprisoned in a cell, but if I squealed-!”

“Debbie died.” He got it. Loud and clear. Miss Parker was getting a taste of his medicine. “Don’t worry, Mister Broots. This conversation is safe and I’m nowhere near Vegas. Actually just driving around in the next town over,” he confessed. “So, now that you’re finally spilling the truth. What all do you know about what happened to Miss Parker?”

--------------------------

“It was all a joke. I’ve been . . . bamboozled for a joke,” Broots said over again as he stood next to Sydney’s car.

“The Centre is tricky,” Jarod said. “It wasn’t anything dangerous, Mister Broots, it was vitamins. When you didn’t collect them, they probably secretly slipped her something at her local school to make her a little sick,” he said. “Pulling out poison for a child could be inconvenient if it killed her, so this was probably easier for them.”

“What are we going to do about Miss Parker?” Sydney asked Jarod. “According to what Broots told us, it didn’t sound like she was in terrible danger.”

“Massages, bedding, and nice service from a cell?” Jarod said. “Sounds like a dream come true. Only thing is the only dreams the Centre’s ever been involved with are nightmares.”

“Yeah. There must have been a reason. I thought that maybe they wanted to get away with something, but Lyle didn’t want to kill his sister in the process,” Broots said. “But, Lyle wouldn’t have just given her all of that if it wasn’t necessary.”

“To unstress her,” Sydney said. “You said it was all to unstress her? Why would they want her unstressed?”

“Figure that out, and you’ll know what they are doing.” In the meantime. “If this is a simple trick by Lyle to keep her out of the way, I doubt it would have gone on for six months.”

“Yeah. I-I know,” Broots said. “I know. Th-that’s why . . . it just, it wore down heavier on me.”

“Well, we need to get her out of there, Broots.” Sydney said.  “She’s been locked up for six months! Good treatment or not, that’s not good for her.”

“If only you had that point of view when I was a child.” Sure, it hurt. Sure, it wasn’t the time but Jarod couldn’t help it. For years Sydney kept him in that same kind of condition but he only cared now about it. And not for him, but for Miss Parker.

“I’m sorry, Jarod. I am simply concerned because I am not there.”

“I know.” He couldn’t dwell on it. His chaser or not, she was in trouble somehow. And locked up for six months? She needed out. His plans for justice for his sims were going to have to be on hold for a bit longer. “I fancy a trip to South Africa. How about you, Sydney?”

“I should go,” Broots said softly. “They’ll know about this soon.”

“It depends on how big this was. The biggest joke of all time from Lyle, or something more sinister,” Sydney said. “You should probably take Debbie and get out for now, Broots. I’ll let you know what’s going on.”

“You don’t get it. It’s going to be big. Jarod is going to have to slip around undetected. In the Triumvirate’s main domain. He’s going to need all the help he can get.”

Broots’ skill was the reason he was even employed by the Centre, and he might be right. Jarod could pull it off by himself, but it would take longer. Miss Parker had waited long enough already. “Pay overtime to your babysitter, Broots,” Jarod said. “We’re off to South Africa.”

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: I do not own Pretender. I make no money off of this fiction. It's just for fun.


 

 “You stay here, Sydney. I’ll get her,” Jarod insisted. “Just keep one of the camera feeds on her.”

“Is that all I can do?” Sydney asked.

“For now. Depending on what they did to her, she’s going to want you nearby. I have a feeling it’s not as rosy as Mister Broots said it was supposed to be.” Otherwise, he wouldn’t be there. He slid on a pair of glasses to go with a white lab coat and tucked another pair on the inside pocket. He wasn’t going to be able to fake being part of the Triumvirate’s area easily, so an imported visiting scientist would be his best bet to get easy access through the front door.

After that, he’d get away and blend his way backward to the area Broots remembered.

“It’s a lot like The Centre’s security,” Broots said from his laptop in the car. “I thought so. It’s almost identical.”

“Be careful, Jarod,” Sydney warned him. “There is no telling what happened to her. I don’t mean just isolation.”

“I know.” Sydney was being more careful with his words this time. He must have sensed he made Jarod angry the last time he spoke of Miss Parker’s incarceration.

“There may even be no chance of survival.” It was difficult for him to say, but he said it.

Jarod didn’t want to hear that, but there were many things he never wanted to know as facts in life. From the tragic sims he always performed. From the real world experiences of grief, heartbreak and sorrow that he discovered. Watching his brother die, what felt like twice. Losing his family.

Losing an old friend to some experimental drug or treatment would be another new thing he’d have to come with terms with, if it happened. “Even if it’s that bad, I’ll still bring her back.” He heard Broots make a sound inside the car. It wasn’t easy to consider the possibility, but she was in there for some time.

It wasn’t the greatest possibility. Hiring a voice actor and threatening Mister Broots led a lot more credence to her being okay. “I’ll be back with her. I promise.” He headed toward the main doors. He could have tried to take extra days to becoming one of the staff, except that this wasn’t a pretend far away from home. Recognition through application would be fairly high since the Triumvirate and The Centre were so close together. He had better chances just going in, and hoping the local staff didn’t recognize him as the one they wanted a whole continent away. If he was recognized, he’d find his way out, and have to come up with an ulterior plan using someone unrecognizable.

Otherwise. Depending on what they were doing, and the shape she was in.

He just wanted her out.

----------------------

“S . . . S-s.”

Sydney watched as Jarod took off to the main hub of The Triumvirate. There were still more places for the Triumvirate, but this was their star area which Broots and Miss Parker had came to.

“S-sydney! Sydney!”

Sydney came over to Broots in the car who was taking off his headphones. His colleague was stark white and sweating. Scared. It was not a good sign. He had taken his moan earlier before Jarod left as a sign of his worry for Miss Parker when he mentioned possibility of imminent death.

It may not have been that.  “Something to do with Miss Parker?” He still didn’t look good. “What happened?”

Broots gulped and leaned his laptop toward Sydney. Miss Parker was lying on top of some covers in a gown like before, but she had changed position. She was more compact in her sleep position this time, holding the gown closer to her stomach. “Sydney? Tell me there’s a-another reason her belly’s . . . bigger?”

Oh no. “Pregnancy, Broots.” They were experimenting on her like they had Catherine. A quiet rage burned inside of him. Just like Catherine Parker! Sydney looked toward Broots who was starting to panic and blame himself. Jarod didn’t know, but over reacting wasn’t going to help.

“Well, who’s the father?” Broots asked. “Sydney?”

“It depends on why Lyle wanted her pregnant,” Sydney answered. “Be quiet, Broots. Jarod will find the answer. Don’t tell him, he’s Pretending. He will be better off with the added stimuli if it naturally comes during the pretending.” He looked toward Broots again. “If the answer is one that will devastate him though, you must give me your headphones. Understand?”

 

-------------------------

A few minutes earlier . . .

 

“Hello. Hi, I’m-“ Jarod’s pen stumbled out of his hands. “Sorry.” He picked it back up. “Do you got it? I mean, do you know who I am? They said you’d know who I am.” Jarod knew exactly who the person was who was watching him. Someone was supposed to come down from the Centre for a learning experience. In fact, this learning experience would probably end in re-education the way he was described to act. Broots said the report for the guy was to get Lyle more information about what was there. But because of the riskiness of the area, Lyle wanted to send someone that was ‘expendable’.

But the guy himself just saw it as a step up, so Jarod pretended to be excited but watchful at the same time. “I’m here for the notes and everything.”

The man in front of him looked like he got dealt a bad hand. “Yes. I heard of you. Mister Lyle wants to see what you think of some things. Follow me.”

Jarod! The small earpiece was being screamed into by Mister Broots. He was expecting to get directions and video feed help, not his ear injured.  Jarod, oh no. Jarod I, I. Oh. Oh!

“I’m interested in everything,” Jarod said as he came up extremely close to the man. He couldn’t dwell on what Broots saw on the cameras ahead. “Where are we? Second floor.” He wrote down second floor. “What’s done on the second floor?”

“Walking,” he said.

“Walking. You’re funny, man! Wow. South Africa. The Tri-ummmm-virate! Really cool,” Jarod said as he wrote down cool on his paper.

I’m so sorry, Miss Parker. Stupid, stupid, stupid! Broots spoke again. Jarod couldn’t answer or ask him anything. He would just have to wait, but hearing the uneasiness wasn’t making his pretending any easier.

“You can learn some things, just some,” the man said. “Do not wander off.”

“You bet.” The person Jarod was pretending to be had a habit of doing just that. “Hey, what’s that?”

“It is someone with Progeria. We are working on developing a cure for it.”

“Whoah, really neat,” Jarod said. “What’s up further?”

“More working on cures,” the man said disinterested. “Correction and repair is our area. Our more bolder projects are shared with The Centre.”

“Hm.” Jarod kept walking. “And the ones ahead? Is everything just cures? South Africa is really interesting. Is everything just cures? Sir? Is everything just- oh.” Jarod dropped his papers again. “Could you hang on? I want to write all this stuff down.” He looked to the poor souls trapped in the cells. He tried to keep his personal feeling off his face as he started to write down information.

“Are you really writing all this down?” his guide asked. “There is tons of information on the front of their cells.”

“Yeah. In a second. Where’s your bathroom?” Jarod asked. “Do you need to come with me in South Africa?” The guide just blinked at Jarod. “Is that a no? Will it be written in English or one of the other languages? What’ll it say? Does it have the little figure with the pants on the front? Do you have spray for the bathroom?”

“That way. End of the hall.” He pointed his finger to the left. “And no, I don’t need to go to the bathroom with you.” That definitely irritated him. “Be right back.”

“I will.” Jarod went passed the area, and passed the bathroom. Tossing the board away into a garbage can, he took off the glasses to change for a different more expensive pair and changed his walk. He no longer looked like he was an amateur but a professional scientist. He held himself up higher, changing his whole stance and personality. He spoke to no one as he passed until they spoke to him.

He looked at the identification on each cells. So far, he saw nothing like what Broots described. They were regular looking cells, no glass, no amenities. Just small windows behind steel.

“Excuse me?” A woman tapped on his shoulder. “Should you be in this section?”

“No, actually, I’m taking care of the woman in the glass cell,” he said. “I just thought I’d explore around a little. I never come over here.”

“You take care of Miss Parker? Are you the expected psychiatrist?”

Psychiatrist? Things, when they fell together, those were Jarod’s specialty. “Yes. Have you seen her?”

“Oh no, but I’ve heard of her. We’ve all heard of her. I’m denied access there.”

“Well, come on. I have clearance and I’ll show you the subject,” Jarod said, hoping he intrigued the woman. “Lead the way.”

“Really? Oh, this is exciting.” She followed side by side with Jarod straight. “The Triumvirate and the Centre, working closer together, like the older days. Mister Lyle’s plans, all through one woman. He’s brilliant.”

All through Miss Parker. Broots voice came through again.

“We used to work much better with the Centre, but then they kept holding the scrolls over us and secrets from us about the Parkers,” she said. “This though, it will improve our relations. Mister Lyle even comes to Africa more than once a month, to ensure everything is going according to plan. He hides nothing from us, unlike his father or uncle.”

“He sounds like he’ll be a great leader,” Jarod said. He moved back a little ways, but still walked like he was confident he knew the way if she wasn’t walking in front of him.

“It is night. She should be sleeping,” she said as she stopped at a door. “Are you sure I am allowed in with you?”

“I don’t think it’ll be a problem,” Jarod said, knowing Broots should already have the doors opened. He was following his pace and movements via security system cameras. Opening every door would look suspicious, so he was opening and closing along the way when it was called for. Jarod slipped in an official looking card key that was anything but official. “I’ll ask real quick.” He went in, and closed the door. Around him were finally glass cages.

Getting closer. Jarod, please get her out of there! Broots’ voice came again.

How bad was this? Why was Broots so incredibly worried now?

All Jarod could do for now was keep going. He walked through each glass cage, looking in each one. They were empty.

“What are you doing here?” A woman said that passed him.

“Oh. I’m Miss Parker’s expected psychiatrist,” Jarod said. “I was just hired and I’m trying to find my way around.”

“Oh. She will be trick to get to. Follow me.” She followed him side by side. “Do you believe you can really reduce the stress in her life?”

“I am here to try and do that,” Jarod said. “The patient has a high history of high stress, smoking, and a perforated ulcer. Talking out her problems will help.”

“I don’t think so,” she said casually. “I believe there is so much a person can do when you are trying to lessen the stress on a patient in such a position.”

“Every position is difficult,” Jarod said. “If it was easy to do, anyone could do my job.”

“I suppose. But, I . . .”

Jarod watched her. Compassion? If she worked there, and up high enough to know what was going on with Miss Parker, why did she have compassion? “Do you feel sorry about her position?”

“My profession says no, but the other side of me. It is not easy to watch this.”

Jarod kept his outer feelings blank, but his insides were bubbling, wanting to know more. What is it that Broots saw? What is it that she knew? “Is there anything you can add that would help me reach her easier?”

“No,” she said. “I know nothing but the facts. She is carrying twins, and they will be separated at birth.”

He. He bent his head down. Just like her mother. Keep it together, he had to keep it together. “That must be tough on her.”

“Yes. Her position. Her future,” she said. “No woman would want her position.” She brought him right in front of the glass cell where Miss Parker was sleeping. She slept without any blankets, instead just a long white gown tucked against her. “She may be the connection between the Parker and the Pretender Program, but my ethics feel shaky. Perhaps I should have a session with you too.”

The Pretender Program. “She is carrying a Pretender Program’s . . . offspring.”

“Yes. The first is Jarod, the one they want the most. I do not know the order after that.” She placed her hands on the glass. “Did they tell you baby Jarod would be a subject with The Centre in America, and the other would be raised to take over it?” She looked toward Jarod. “You are unbiased in all things?”

“They . . .” His. Because she slept so tight in there, he could see her stomach clearly. A baby bump. She looked otherwise healthy.

“I asked if you are unbiased in all things. If you are not, you shouldn’t take this position,” she warned him. “We must separate personal from business here. Would you like me to escort you to your office?”

“Yes.” He couldn’t mess up. “Soon. I’d like to study the subject a few minutes longer,” Jarod said, using all the pretender skills he could to keep from cracking his identity. He watched her move slightly. The shifting. She might be feeling them move.

Jarod. He had seen many things in his lifetime. Witnessed horrible atrocities brought on by The Centre or the Triumvirate. Lies about his family being dead. Gunning for his family when he found them. All the cruelty they used his sims for. Even watching a clone of himself. But. This one.

Watching his future kids, already inside of some experimental cell with him in a lab coat looking in, just like those of The Centre, and not being able to show one shred of his real emotion that was raging inside, or he risked someone finding out about him.

“Are you done yet?”

“Almost,” Jarod insisted. “You go on ahead. I’ll be right there.”

“What are you doing?” she asked, looking toward Miss Parker. “She is sleeping. There is nothing you can do.”

“Getting a feel of the patient. It’s a habit.” His voice broke slightly out of character. He had to keep it together.

Jarod. Sydney’s voice. Concentrate on what you are doing. Keep all sensatory processes out of your mind that aren’t needed. Think about who you are and your position. Feel your lab coat against you. The glasses on the rim of your nose. The bright lights in the room.

Unlike Broots’ voice, Sydney knew what he was doing. Jarod closed his eyes just a bit, concentrating as Sydney gave him guidance like he used to in The Centre. Once he felt more in control, he opened his eyes again. “It is bright in here with no sense of time. Her circadian rhythm may be off.”

“We give her dark periods. She does not always sleep well at night.”

“I’ll watch her half an hour and see if I can catch her for a session. The way she moves, she may be waking up soon.”

“Yes, sir. Here then.” She gave him a key card. “Please do not lose that. The Triumvirate doesn’t like replacing cards. Please note all rules, especially about any medication, it is not allowed. ” She pointed to the right. “Your office room is that way. It should have your name on it, but we were not expecting you until morning. If you see a room with no label two doors down in there, it is yours. Welcome to our organization.” She said it briefly, politely before she walked off.

Jarod listened closely to the sounds of the steps, making sure they were getting lighter until he couldn’t hear them anymore. Now. Jarod just needed to hear one thing from Broots. He didn’t care about the excuses or condolences, he just wanted one thing.

I don’t know if running to the nearest emergency door is an option. She looks bigger on the monitor, Jarod. I don’t know how much activity she’s had. What they’ve fed her, or-

“Lab.” No more. “Lab, Broots. Now.”

Definitely. The lab, yes, so this can’t happen again. Uuuhhh. It’s next door, B8. Looks like they wanted to keep her close to it. Poor Miss Parker.

Jarod didn’t want to leave, but he couldn’t risk anything else happening to anyone else. Finding the lab, he looked around it and found it. There wasn’t much, but leave it to The Centre to have everything. After he gathered all of his bodily fluids, along with his brother Kyle’s, and Angelo’s, and others he didn’t know but were labeled with ‘Pretender Program’ on them, he shoved them in the lab microwave and dialed settings for high then 9-0-0-0 start. It would all be made useless, and depending on the composition of the chemistry tubes, they might even explode.

He couldn’t stop all the DNA they had for cloning, but he’d be damned if he would be treated this way too, and let Lyle’s new plans for his Centre go off without a hitch. After taking care of the samples, he went back toward Miss Parker’s cell.

Broots spoke again. Okay, the quickest path is straight down. I’ll cover the video footage for you, and I’ll open all the doors on the way out, there’s only two, but if someone comes, I can’t really do anything. I don’t think I have much more time before someone discovers me in the system.

Jarod knew the gist. He looked around the glass cell, making sure no one was coming or going. It was a quieter, more restrictive area. He moved toward her glass door and opened it with the key card. He went toward her side, concentrating on his task.

He didn’t quite know what to expect when she awoke, being trapped in there for so many months, knowing her twisted fate. He would have to be prepared for anything. He gently nudged her shoulder. “Miss Parker. It’s me. Wake up.”

“Hm?”

“It’s me. Jarod.”

Her eyes almost instantly awoke like someone poured freshly made coffee all over her soul. She quickly scrambled to her feet. Now wasn’t the time for explanations. As Jarod opened the door, he held her hand, making sure she didn’t fall, as they both ran as quickly as they could. He kept her close as they moved down a pair of stairs onto the first floor, the exit wasn’t far now.

Then, he felt her hand break away.


 

As much as she appreciated the jail break, Miss Parker wanted her best chance at freedom. If it were on another day, she would have gone with Jarod. No doubt Sydney and Broots were probably there with him, keeping watch.

If The Centre were shown video with her leaving willingly with Jarod, Miss Parker wouldn’t be able to repair the damage done. The Triumvirate would spin the story that she was escaping and running with Jarod. And, if it were a weekend, she would do it. No choice.

But it wasn’t the weekend, and she had enough information to pull herself into a better situation. The first time she visited as a little girl, she found out where the Delegates offices were. Just like in America. It was the most important thing to know visiting right next to the location of the bathrooms. During the weekdays, Centre personnel of high order visited for continued good relations. Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays would have a high chance of someone being there. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, it was guaranteed someone would be there.

That day was Tuesday. At least two people would be there.

Depending on relations and situations, it could be five or more. During less happy relations, the partnership still included at least one. She had an even better upperhand on the situation because Jarod wouldn’t expect during a getaway shewould be trying to get away from him too.

Go back. Those are Jarod’s too. You have to go with him!

Her annoying inner voice wasn’t going to make her stop running. She made a decision and there was no going back. Going back to him meant getting caught, silenced, and hidden away again.

Lyle was the one making this secret deal. She knew it. She knew The Centre wasn’t a part of it. The Delegate doors were getting closer as emergency lights started to sound.

Like sliding into home, she grabbed the handle on the Delegates door and started banging on it. “Open up, it’s Miss Parker! I’ve been prisoner in here! Open up!”

The door opened to three Delegates. She moved inside and watched as they cocked their pistols. One of them pulled out the phone and got Raines on it for her, tossing it to her.

Never in her life was she more happy to hear that wheezing. Ever. Ever, ever. Probably never would be again, but that wheezing meant she was connected.

Once she told him everything, Lyle’s ass was grass. In a few years, she’d have a hold of The Centre. She could play along with the uncomfortable things it did while she learned about it. She did it as a child, improving her gut for it as she grew older. She’d be the perfect little candidate. Letting them think they were molding her and sculpting her.

Then, when it was within her reach, she’d send everything crashing down to hell, burning it into an oblivion that no one would be able to touch. The children would be freed, and her mother’s wish would be granted.

At least, that’s what she planned on doing until the asshole she’d been trying to catch over six years broke through the window.

--------------------------------

 

Jarod considered all things. All options. From getting smacked in the face, hugged for his presence, seeing her dead, comatose, or traumatically injured. He did not however see her actually breaking away from a chance at freedom, after six months, no matter who was rescuing her.

At first, he’d been caught clueless. Something he hated. He needed to know each and every thing going around him all the time in order to prevent capture. As she started running away at an even faster pace than she pretended she could go at first, he knew she already had a different plan.

He ran out the exit himself. If he chased her, The Triumvirate would chase him. He headed around on the outside of the building.

She must be going to the Delegates office. It’s in the front, can’t be missed.

Delegates office. She was actually making a break for getting help from The Centre. Not anymore. There were windows on the outside of it, but considering they said their more ambitious projects were ‘somewhere else’, then he had to ask. “Broots. Bullet proof windows?”

“Oh. No, I don’t think so. The Triumvirate doesn’t really-“

Jarod tuned him out, getting what he wanted. The Triumvirate in South Africa was a beautiful place, covered in an assortment of plants and flowers. So right before reaching his destination, the window outside the simple Delegates office, he had already been watching for a good target to throw.

The abandoned shovel on the ground won.

Surveying the inside briefly, making sure he didn’t hit her, he figured out his best trajectory and busted the window. Miss Parker was well trained in all emergencies, so she bent down and missed most of the glass. Giving him the time he needed to perform his next action.

Abduct her right back. Grabbing her safely in a position that wouldn't hurt her, he took off out of the office. The Delegates wouldn’t be allowed to open fire on him, they could hit Miss Parker, and that could have cost them their lives. It was the same reason they were risking their lives to protect her.

But that wasn’t their job anymore. It was his.

 “Miss Parker?” Broots called to her from the window. “Are you-“

“Now isn’t the time,” Jarod said interrupting him as he slipped into the back seat with her. “Sydney, move it!”

Sydney hustled out of there as quickly as possible.

That place was far behind them now.

 

Now it was time to deal with something else.

Chapter Text

-----------------                                                                   

South Africa

 

Jarod tried to remain level as he looked at Miss Parker in the getaway car. “So? Anything you want to tell us?”

She just closed her eyes. “You just ruined everything you ass.”

 “Those are mine.” Jarod wasn’t going to dance around the subject.

“Jarod.” Her voice was softer. Gentler. “I . . .” She wanted to say something. “I have to tell you something. One, there’s no way to confirm that, two, thanks for getting me out of the cell because I was handling it from there, and three, I hate you with every fiber of my being right now.”

Broots tried to comfort her. He lightly patted her shoulder but she didn’t accept it and shrugged it off.

“I see being imprisoned for six months didn’t change you for the better at all,” Jarod accused her. “Maybe if you tried years. Like The Centre did to me.”

“Like The Centre will do to you,” she corrected him. She looked toward Broots. “I can see you and Sydney helping him, Broots. I can. I can even see Sydney wussing out on dealing with Jarod now.” Her expression turned deadly. “Why isn’t your gun cocked?”

“I-I” Broots didn’t know how to respond to her.

“You had access to security, I know you did, and I know that’s why you’re here,” she said, coming down on him. “You knew I was going to the Delegates, so why? Why didn’t you at least try something?!”

“Well, uh.” Broots stammered. “Th-they’re his kids too, Miss Parker. And, The Centre, isn’t something you should be trusting right now. You know?”

“Why do I even bother arming you with a gun,” Miss Parker complained.

 “I’m going to chalk this all up to pent up anger from being locked up and your hormones changing,” Jarod said, “but get it out of your system.” He leaned closer to her. “They told me everything. Even the name of the boy, who they were sending to The Centre.”

 “Well, at least we’re here now,” Broots said to her, grabbing her hand. “Debbie’s safe too. We’re all safe.”

“I was fine,” she said grittily to him. “I was at the Delegates office, trying to call Raines.”

“Well we might as well cancel that plan,” Jarod said. “There’s no way you’re taking them back to The Centre. They’re mine, Miss Parker.”

Miss Parker didn’t say anything right away. “You’re right. I’ll set up visitation hours for you each day at The Centre.”

“Parker. That’s not an option,” Jarod warned her.

“It’s always an option. It’s the only option,” she warned him just as hard back. “You want your family so bad? Then go where it is.”

 Damn. Jarod thought that her being prisoner would be the hardest thing to deal with tonight. Any psychological trauma, she would get help from Sydney for. Maybe a word or two to him, hopefully a kind word. Then he would leave and go on with his own life again. Like always.

But that wasn’t going to happen this time. There was so much more to this now. Twice as much. He watched as she caressed her own stomach unconsciously.

“Well. Anyhow. I’m sorry we took so long, Miss Parker,” Broots said to her. “I really thought Debbie was in trouble.”

“I know, Broots. I know,” she said. “I need a phone.”

A phone? “For what?” Jarod asked.

“Raines,” she groaned. “Phone. Someone.”

Raines? “No way,” Jarod said once again.

“What are you wetting yourself for? The Centre’s not here to catch you yet,” she said. “There was a test for control of The Centre brought on by Lyle. Raines didn’t know about it. Once he knows, Lyle is out of my hair for good.”

Out of?- “No!” It was a strong declaration. “This has gone too far. This isn’t some game. You’re carrying my future kids, Parker.”

“As soon as Lyle is gone, Jarod, I just have to wait until Raines is dead and The Centre is mine,” she hissed back. “And then, I can make sure nobody chases you anymore and you’ll be out of the picture forever. Just like you always wanted.”

“Uh huh, and the new little lives growing in your tummy?” He kept his eyes focused on hers.

She looked face forward. “The Centre will be off of you forever, Jarod. Your mom, your dad, you can be with any of them. Any secrets about them in there, it’s yours. I don’t care. It’s a dream come true. Have a paper  and DSA parade. So, someone, give me a phone.”

“I’d be free,” Jarod said through gritted teeth. “My whole family would be free, except the two imprisoned into The Centre.”

“Casualties.”

No way. “Parker.”

“They are my children, Jarod, I’m the one having them, don’t you dare try and . . .” She forced her gaze to match his, as if she was trying to read him “Steal them.”

“It’s not stealing.” Jarod couldn’t deny she was wrong. “When they are part of my family.”

Broots shot a desperate looked toward Sydney, like he would be able to diffuse the situation.

“Cool heads work things out,” Sydney said. “These twins, they are both of yours, together. Figuring out the solution should be together. Miss Parker, they are inside you for another four months, so you don’t need to worry about losing them. And Jarod, this isn’t like rescuing your father from a Centre prison. Miss Parker is their mother, and she has every right to remain with them too.”

Okay. Sydney was right. Stealing children from a mother was definitely something Jarod despised. He even stopped pretending for his own sims, just to pretend to get into positions to help out mothers who were separated from their kids. He couldn’t stand the thought. Being separated.

But, he refused to just leave them to be raised in The Centre. “Everyone was taken from me. I don’t even get to have memories of my family when I had them. I’m not losing them.”

“Well, I’m not losing them,” Miss Parker said, her vicious bite in her voice still very much alive.

“Calm,” Sydney said from the front again.

“You can’t anyhow, Jarod,” Miss Parker added. “You’re out gallivanting in the world, saving all the little guys from harm by being some justice vigilante. Where in that equation can raising twins safely fit?”

 “The only harm comes from The Centre when they chase me down,” Jarod said.

“Sure, says the guy who apparently forgot hurricane season.”

Jarod knew she was referencing when Jarod and her got tied up together because the man he sought revenge on chewed through rope. “A small oversight. It doesn’t happen much.”

“It only takes once, Jarod.”

“Well, she is a little right,” Mister Broots interrupted. “You’re not exactly in the right place in life where you can take care of two innocent little babies. You know, you holding a gun on someone is kind of hard with two baby carriers. Only you watching out for them, just one mishap and-“

“Their chances are better with me than being kept at The Centre.” Jarod eyed Miss Parker again. “Secrets and lies are all over in there. How is it that daddy ran The Centre so well, yet he almost lost his life in a helicopter crash? And how did you find out? Not through The Centre.”

Miss Parker looked away. “I could eventually get it closed down.”

“Not when there’s the long arm of the Triumvirate involved too. If they don’t like what you are doing, they’ll just get rid of you. They already have new Parker blood obviously. Then they’ll raise them and mold them into what they want. Which was supposed to happen in the first place, before I got you out.” Jarod wasn’t lightening his earful of common sense on her. The Centre was no place for them.

Broots leaned back in the car more. “Wow. These kids are leading dangerous lives either way. Running from the Centre, or destined to get involved in it. And geez. They’re not even born yet.”

Miss Parker grabbed her neck and started to massage it.

Sydney looked back toward them through the front view mirror once more. “Miss Parker. You know the Centre is dangerous.”

“Which is why you don’t mess around with it,” she said to Sydney. “Stay the course.”

“Staying the course didn’t save your mom,” Jarod pointed out. “Before she even did anything, they were already stealing away her second child.”

“Well then, what, Genius?!” Miss Parker yelled at him. “You either stay on the good side of the Centre and live a life, or you go out and rebel, get nowhere and get killed or re-educated! No one makes it far.”

“Except me,” Jarod added.

“Miss Parker, please.” Broots tried to touch her hand. “This stress, it’s not good for you.”

Broots was right. Jarod knew that. Stress wasn’t good for Miss Parker during pregnancy considering her history. It was why the number one thing out there was to stress her as little as possible. He could not just . . . leave family in The Centre’s grip though.

“Jarod. Miss Parker.” Sydney looked back into the front view mirror again. “You both agree that The Centre is dangerous. For goodness sakes, the Triumvirate already know what they want to do with the children! There is no telling what will happen, even if you do ‘stay the course’. But, Jarod’s life is not exactly . . . childsafe. Being on his own has left him open a time or two.” Sydney sighed. “The Centre cannot be changed, but the way Jarod handles himself can.”

Jarod looked toward Sydney. Sydney was doing something he used to do in the past. Trying to share information with him. Can. The way I handle myself can. Then he looked toward Miss Parker. A new thought. A strange thought popped into his head.

Atoning for his sims was dangerous, but Miss Parker wasn’t unused to danger either. During the hurricane when he got caught, he was working out his own way to get out, but Miss Parker had made a move before him.

She was. Backup. He couldn't hold a gun with two baby carriers. But they could both hold guns and carry one a piece.

If she came. Willingly. He looked back at Sydney who was smiling at him in the mirror.

“You got it, Jarod.”

“Got what?” Miss Parked asked Sydney. “What did you two just bond your brains and decide?”

“You’re coming with me, Miss Parker,” Jarod said to her.

“I told you, Jarod, you can’t have them.”

“Nope. I need you too,” Jarod said. “With you as backup, we’ll be fine.”

“Backup?” she asked confused. “What do you mean?”

“You’re not going to chase me anymore. You are going to run with me. Willingly. And the little ones in you right now?” He looked toward her stomach then back up. “When they get older, they’ll learn the family trade until its safe, or my work is done.”

“Family trade?” Miss Parker groaned. “What?”

“Oh. A family of little pretenders?” Broots said, getting the picture himself. “Huh. Cute.”

“Cute?” Miss Parker covered her face as she picked up what he was saying. “ . . . gotta be kidding me.”

“Running is better than being there. By a longshot.” Jarod smiled, pulling her hands from her face. “Nothing to worry about. On my own, you know I was hard to catch. But now?” He leaned closer. “I got myself a Mrs. Or should I say . . . Miss.”

 

Miss Parker blinked at Jarod. She looked toward Sydney, then back at him. “You seriously think I will go willingly?”

“There is no choice,” Jarod warned her. “This ends one of two ways. Either you come with me, and we learn how to become a happy family. Or.”

“Or?” She asked.

“I will eventually find my way back to The Centre, steal them after they are born, and take them with me instead,” Jarod challenged her. “While you will hunt to get them back, experience shows it won’t be that easy. Getting me will be harder, I’ll make it tougher, and no one’s going to open fire with the possibility of hitting one of the twins. And then, after all that, if you get them back? I’ll just get them out again.”

Stop being a horrible friend. That inner sense again. They aren’t safe at the Centre. Even if I could run it, nothing’s a hundred percent safe. But. To live her life, always looking behind her. Never being herself, but someone else. Not the hunter, but the hunted. But. Their lives. Her mother wanted to get all the kids out of the Centre. Even her own. Miss Parker couldn’t . . . bring her own into that place. But outrunning it wasn’t an option, no one outran it forever.

Except Jarod.

The Centre wasn’t involved in what the Triumvirate did. She was sure of that. Lyle wanted The Centre from Raines. Then again, who knew what Raines would do if he found out they were Jarod’s. More like when he found out. Then, night after night. The high security, wanting to watch them constantly, and knowing that Jarod always got what he wanted in the end.

Uncertainties. “For now,” she settled on.

“What?” Jarod asked clearer.

“For now.” She raised her eyebrow at him. “That’s the best you’re getting from me. And that’s only if you call Raines. Lyle deserves to pay for what he did. And.” She pointed at him rudely. “Raines isn’t going to think I’m going willingly. You trap me and sound like I’m off with you of free will and you’ll regret it. After the phone call, then I want to know what you think. Not what you want to think, but what you think. If The Centre is involved with what happened, or not.”

“Drive a hard bargain,” Jarod said. “I won’t be perfect at reading if Raines is honest just through a phone call.”

“Well, try, Boy Wonder. What else are your skills good for?”

 

-----------------------------

America

 

Raines was resting in his bed comfortably when he kept having his phone ring. He woke up quickly when a Delegate said Miss Parker was just with them in South Africa, saying she was prisoner, and then just taken away. Now he was at The Centre, trying to put things together, when his personal phone rang.

No one would have this number, and if they did it was someone’s number the Centre would recognize. It didn’t recognize it. He answered it. “Raines.”

“Mister Raines, how are you today?”

Ooh. He knew that voice. It was the voice that the Centre had been chasing for over six years. “Jarod.”

“Nice to see you remember, but that’s not going to help you. You have got a lot of explaining to do to me.”

Raines wheezed. “For what?”

“Miss Parker? Getting her pregnant with my kids? I can’t believe The Centre would stoop so low. And for what? Just a little blood to run in the family again. A little below the belt, isn’t it?”

“Miss Parker?” He tried to breath. “Is pregnant with your kid? That’s impossible.” He started to move slowly around the room. “Everything was burned and destroyed when the Pretender Program was pulled.”

“Don’t lie to me, Mister Raines. You, Lyle, and the whole Triumvirate down here in South Africa? You think you can trick me? I destroyed every single sample I found, of mine, of my brothers, and all of the others too!”

“There’s no such thing. We even had to prove to the Triumvirate . . .” Mmm. The Triumvirate. Maybe they had different plans.  “Did you say Mister Lyle was involved?” Was he working with the Triumvirate to boot him out? “Miss Parker. Where is she?”

“Not able to come to the phone. She’s a little tied up at the moment.”

The Triumvirate. The Triumvirate was daring to use the Parker blood with a pretender project? True Parker blood?! “I want her back. Now.”

“No amount of please is going to make me give her back. She’s carrying my kids.”

“I don’t care!” He felt himself start to overdo it as he paced the floor. “We should be able . . . to work something out.”

“My mom?”

Damn. Jarod had been looking for her for years, but so had they. “We don’t know right now.”

“Well, when you do, maybe we can talk more.”

“She isn’t often in America. I can send you more surveillance photos of her.” That probably wouldn’t be enough. Damn it, he had nothing else to add. Heirs. He had the only one he wanted to run The Centre after he left, now out there and trapped by The Centre’s most brilliant Pretender. Without an of age Parker to run the Centre . . .

But there’s no way he’d let Lyle have it now.

“That’s not nearly enough and you know it.”

Jarod wasn’t budging. Raines needed to get his answer before the pretender hung up. “Miss Parker,” Raines wheezed again. “Did she say anything about a test?”

“Maybe she did, maybe she didn’t, but you can forget about seeing her again for a while. If I have to keep her bound in chains and rope to keep her from leaving, you can bet I’ll do it. I’ll never let my family be a part of The Centre again.”

Damn. He heard the dial tone. He redialed another number.  “Escort Mister Lyle out of bed, and to the Centre, now. Daddy needs to have a word with him.”

 

------------------

South Africa

 

Miss Parker was watching him, waiting for him. “Well?”

Well. Jarod didn’t get the results he wanted, but he did promise her he’d be honest. And, he did get a ‘for now’ to do that. “It sounds like Raines isn’t happy with the Triumvirate.”

“He wants his new heirs, I knew it,” Miss Parker said. “He’s crossing Lyle off his list, he’s going to need me. It’d be safe.”

“It’d be stupid,” Jarod said. “You can’t trust it. Even a temporary ‘safe’ may not be for long. And the Triumvirate is still out there.”

“I know. It’s not completely safe yet,” Miss Parker said. “Like I said, Jarod, I’ll go with you, for now.”

“Then, ‘for now’, will work,” Jarod said. ”For now.”

“Then what about Sydney and Broots?” Miss Parker asked Jarod. “They’re all messed up in this too.”

“I’ll get it fixed,” Jarod said. He smiled at Mister Broots and then Sydney, relaxing his body backward. “They’ll be back to the Centre and hunting us in no time flat.”

“Hunting you?” Broots looked toward Miss Parker. “We’re going to keep hunting you? And your little babies too? Oh.” He shook his head. “Why? Why didn’t I just stick to a central computer company? When opportunity knocked I should have bolted the door.”

“Relax. I’m sure they’ll bring in someone to replace Miss Parker in the little chase,” Jarod said, his tempo much more upbeat again.

“We’re going to be chasing you down,” Broots said, not understanding it. “It was bad enough chasing you. Well, I mean it was fun, but it was bad.”

Jarod smiled. He knew what he meant. Broots’ mind wasn’t the same as his, but it still needed extra stimulation. Trying to catch him? Gave it a lot of stimulation.

“But catching Miss Parker?” Broots continued to whine. “And-and-and well, babies? Innocent kids?”

“Broots,” Sydney warned him. “It is our job.”

“Yeah, but-“

“If you are ready to pull out of the Centre, I can do it,” Jarod said. “I can free you and your daughter. But you’ll have to lose all your possessions, everyone you know and love, and never speak or look at any of your friends and family again. Except your daughter. Plus, it would be the same with her. For the rest of her life.”

“Oh. Yeah.”  Broots got quiet. “I know that.” He looked toward Miss Parker. “I don’t know.”

“Fine, I’ll keep it in mind.” There was a good chance when the babies were born, Broots would be ready to move. He’d have to keep his eye on that.

He looked back toward Parker. ‘For now’ wasn’t a definite yes. He would have to move with her, but he’d have to make sure she didn’t see anything about his future destinations. If she did, then she could get him caught if her ‘for now’ changed. If it did, knowing her, she would make sure he would be staying at The Centre. Permanently. He would have to read her actions clearly, to make sure she stayed loyal.

But he had to risk it. It was better than taking a mother from her own children. Whether it was better for them or not, it wouldn’t hurt any less.

 

 

---------------------------

America

 

“She isn’t in Africa on a wild goose chase for her mother,” Raines told Lyle. “You told me you set her up to keep her out of your way.” He wheezed. “I applauded the tenacity for getting rid of your enemy.” He took a deep breath. “I do not applaud the tenacity to create children from Jarod underneath my own nose, with my own family blood.”

Lyle was trapped, on the T-Board, in blue flannel pajamas. “Okay. This looks bad,” he said, “but let me explain, dad.”

“Don’t give me that dad crap,” Raines warned him. “I’m not as easy to fool. If we had Jarod’s frozen sperm, they should have gone to an easier candidate. Any one of the women we used in our attempts of cloning. Not a Parker.”

“Well, my mother was treated the same way,” Lyle said. “By you. What’s the difference?”

“She was married into the Parker blood. Miss Parker is true Parker blood.”

“Which is why it was so perfect,” Lyle insisted. “She’ll have wonderful little potential pretenders, and with that kind of skill, the Centre will only thrive because it’ll be in the Parker blood.”

“You don’t turn one of your best hunters into a pretender factory!” Raines still criticized him. “I didn’t make her what she is, just to have someone undo it all.”

“Make her what she is?” Lyle questioned. “What do you mean, is she like a clone?”

“No. I ‘raised’ my daughter to be a certain way.”

“But you didn’t raise . . .” Lyle was confused. Of course he was.

“And I know you went behind my back with Mutumbo because I didn’t even know we had that,” Raines continued. “You are allying with them, completely, aren’t you?” Several people approached and pushed their guns straight at Lyle, with the three closest actually touching his head. “Give me one good reason not to kill you.”

“If you do, Miss Parker wins,” Lyle said quickly. “After you’re gone, everything that was perfect about The Centre will be gone. She’ll dismantle it piece by piece.”

“And I should what? Leave it to the one who already screwed everythingup?” Raines wheezed. “I am out not only Jarod, but my best Centre hunter, and more heirs. Goodbye, Mister-“

“I messed with Miss Parker’s memories!” Lyle shouted, hoping that would stop the barrage of bullets coming his way.

It did. For now. “Miss Parker’s memories?”

“Because I got so close to the Triumvirate,” Lyle said, “I know they’ve gone farther in mind manipulation than us and didn’t share it. The truth is, I injected Broots’ daughter with an experimental drug. It could potentially kill her. Miss Parker loves that little girl. She tries to hide it, but she loves children, just like Catherine Parker did.”

“Keep talking,” Raines said granting a little more permission.

“She knows the babies are Jarod’s. That’s a fact. She knows that I did something to the little girl. That’s a fact. What she doesn’t know is that Broots’ little girl dies in about six more months, if she doesn’t give up Jarod. See, there’s no way he can leave his kids behind, he’ll have to take her with him. So, while they start running together and trusting each other? Right toward the end of the pregnancy, it’ll go off in her head like a bomb. She’ll remember seeing Broots’ daughter in South Africa with the shot, but it’ll be too late to do anything.” Lyle smiled. “You’ll have Jarod practically at the front Centre door for the only cure available. From me. And Miss Parker and the tikes, they won’t last out there long without Jarod’s skill.”

“Mmm.” Raines seemed to be thinking. “And Mister Broots?”

“Oh no doubt that’s how Jarod knew,” Lyle said. “It was planned that way. A giant hoax that doesn’t look like a hoax at all because it took six months to accomplish. Best genius minds had to put it together. He’ll never know. Even if Broots runs away, he’ll come crawling back when she gets sick.”

“What does he remember?” Raines said.

“Broots? He doesn’t remember seeing his daughter in South Africa. He believed his daughter would die, but only because we told him that. Not how or why. We were even giving his daughter vitamin pills each week to lure in Sydney,” Lyle said. “Sydney no doubt called Jarod, Jarod no doubt figured it out. Her still dying is probably far off of everyone’s minds now since it seemed like it was just a little ‘scare’ to keep daddy quiet. Role over. Problem solved. Jarod’s got bigger things to worry about.”

Raines stroked his chin, back and forth, contemplating. “Jarod said there was more than just his frozen sperm, Mister Lyle. You were planning on making more. A whole new generation of pretenders.”

“Potential,” Lyle said. “Potential.”

“You were setting up house, ready to take over and kill me soon. You made a deal with Mutumbo, it’s written all over your face.” He wheeled his oxygen tank toward him even closer. “I may appear homely and sick, but I have proven to everyone that I have what it takes to run The Centre. Give me one good reason to let you live.”

“Is your memory going bad?” Lyle asked. “I just gave you it. Miss Parker is bringing Jarod and the rest in. Freedom for a life. Six months. Just a call.”

“Yes, and I can take that call,” Raines said. “Give me one good reason to let you live.”

“Uh.” Lyle looked all around him. “Look, you tried to assassinate your own brother once. Sort of a family thing, right?”

“I am not my brother,” Raines said.

“But, dad, I mean come on. Everyone makes mistakes?” Lyle said.

“You depended on geniuses to make your plan. Smart,” Raines wheezed, “but not smart enough. Geniuses still don’t know me, they don’t know our blood history, and they don’t know Miss Parker.” He took a deep breath. “Miss Parker grew up here.  She knows which edge to stand on to not fall in. She would never run off with Jarod, even after six months of prison.” He groaned. “And if somehow I still found out, you were going to give me all the information and plead for your life.” He took a deep breath. “That would have worked with my brother. I’m not my brother,” he wheezed. “And now? I only have a daughter and some grandchildren to send Christmas cards to this year.”

“What? Wait, but you won’t even have the cure if you off me! Dad?”

“I just need them. I don’t need a cure.”

“Come on? Come on, come on, come on, there’s always something.”

“Does the Triumvirate know where Jarod’s mother is located at?”

“I don’t think so. Maybe. I could find out, if you let me live? They trust me.”

Raines moved away slowly with his oxygen tank, letting the rest of the sweepers take care of the mess. Lyle wasn’t trustworthy. He would do something to blow that chance, and he wasn’t going to let him do it. His brother was forgiving. He forgave Lyle for his crimes. He forgave him too.

But he was not his brother. Good information didn’t mean you got to live.

 

It just meant good information.

 

“Going bad. Going bad,” Angelo said as he moved down the tunnels as far away as possible. He witnessed everything. “Girl die. Family caught.” Broots’ daughter was in trouble. Raines didn’t even have the cure. And Jarod had family now with Miss Parker. “Going bad. Jarod. Trouble.”

“Find Angelo,” he heard Raines from his tunnel. “Check the tunnels. We need to keep him put away. I don’t want Sydney or Broots messing with him. Put 24 hour surveillance on him, just in case they do.”

“Yes, Sir, Mr. Raines.” He heard one of the sweepers. “Is there anything else?”

 “Prepare Jarod’s work, in a new part in The Centre. Get him new things that look like his old things. We can’t be too cautious.”

“And your daughter?”

“Miss Parker will be going away to be made ready to accept The Centre again.” The familiar wheezing was heard. “It will only be a few months, but the future will be brighter for it. The children will too, when they turn 8. Just to ensure The Centre stays intact.”

“Eight years old, Sir? Isn’t it usually older?”

“Yes, but we waited too long for Miss Parker. The teenage years don’t work as well.” Raines wheezed. “There’s no way Mutumbo is getting its claws on anymore true Parker blood. Not a word to the Triumvirate.”

“Yes, sir. Anything else?”

“Start searching for someone with Mister Broots’ level of skill for computer programs. When his daughter dies, I’m certain he will no longer be a good fit for a Centre paycheck. Offer him a bonus for any programs he’s in the middle of now to be finished ahead of schedule.”

“Yes, sir.”

“One last thing. Make the relocation of Jarod’s mom higher. Higher than even Jarod. If the thought of a little girl dying isn’t enticing enough to come back, we can end this with Jarod getting his family and freedom, and my family safely back in the saddle still.”

“Give the pretender back his family?”

“Last resort. He stays away from mine, I’ll stay away from his. Fair trade.”

“But isn’t he top priority over everything, sir?”

“He is, but I’ve never even seen the scrolls, and I barely know rumors. Until we find the scrolls, we wouldn’t even know his purpose. And without at least Miss Parker back, if something happens to me . . .”

“There you are. He’s been located Mister Raines!”

Angelo knew he was caught.

 

Not good. Not good.

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: I do not own Pretender. This is not for profit and just for fun.


Inner sense is in bold.


From The Centre. To South Africa. To . . . there. Miss Parker just stared ahead of her at the endless nothingness. She was thinking of the positives. Her children were safe. She got some new dresses. (Well, it was a given by Jarod and not her style) And . . . and that was about it. At least Jarod wasn't trying to make small conversation yet. He was clearly used to being on his own, so he was probably tuning her out as much as she wanted to tune him out.

Although, she caught him every once in awhile. His annoying little habit. Trying to read her movements, so she wouldn't deceive him. He read people well, and she wasn't dumb about that. That was part of his gift.

The heat of the summer was at least over out there, making taking Jarod's car a little easier. It was red with no top. A bright, stupid, shiny red little car. Outside of the car was . . . well, nothingness. Dust and dirt. Miles and miles of driving in nothingness but the plains of Nebraska. Or Kansas. Or somewhere.

She thought back to all the different places they had caught Jarod in. He ended up in cities, in towns, and in the smallest little back shanties that she could have gone her whole life never knowing about and been just fine.

"Miss Parker."

Oh no. Boy Genius wanted to talk now. "What."

"We need to talk about where we're going," Jarod said. "You know, it's customary to look at the person trying to talk to you?"

Don't even. She turned her head slightly. "What." She could tell from his sigh he was getting exasperated with her. Good. She was only there because she didn't want his Pretender ass coming and stealing her children from their cribs later on. It was hard to catch Jarod, and she knew she would watch her children grow up only in the glimpses she caught of him.

So, she was there. No, she couldn't ruin his vigilante approach. No, she couldn't mess up one of his Pretends. But? If he was expecting much else, he was wishing too hard.

"You haven't said two words to me since we came back to America," Jarod said.

"Well, you haven't asked anything," she responded. "Conversation is a two way street, but it's on a one way road with me." She looked out the window space. "Besides, if I wasn't here you wouldn't be talking to anyone, so I'm just giving you your space. You know, so I don't mess up whatever little Pretend you want to do."

"Well, contrary to your belief, I don't mind conversation. Social interaction. It's one of the reasons I left The Centre in the first place for," Jarod reminded her. She didn't answer back. "I've had some time to think about the five month fetuses resting inside you that were put there for negative reasons."

He was obviously feeling uncomfortable about something. "Great. I've had five months. Thanks for catching up." It didn't mean she was making it any easier.

"With other members of my family, there wasn't an issue. I'd find them and meet them. Spend time, but I always got separated. Went back to my regular Pretending."

"If we are in the way," Miss Parker said, "then just drop me off. We'll stay out of it."

Jarod was quiet a moment. He wasn't actually considering that, she knew he wasn't. What was he going quiet for? He was looking straight forward again. "This shouldn't have happened. At least not right now. I mean. When your family is older, it can take care of itself. I've taken care of a baby boy before. Michael. Found him in a dumpster." There was a slight smile on his face. "He was good."

Well. Being a sweet babysitter and daddy dearest keeping their ass from getting caught were two separate things. He better know the difference.

"I'm sorry, about the way I came off at first, with you, about them," Jarod apologized. "It's just, more family manipulated by The Centre. I thought a mom, dad, brother and sister were all of them. Then came my own clone, and Ethan. Now, even more."

"Stop whining already," Miss Parker interrupted him with a yawn. "If you have a point, get to it."

"You need to get more rest during the day, you're not sleeping as well at night," Jarod said. "All the hormonal changes inside of you are affecting you. As the fetuses grow more, when your body is at rest, they'll be more prone to moving because during the day while you move, you're vibrations are rocking them to sleep. No matter what part of the pregnancy, you need to get more rest." He looked down toward her belly and then straight.

Don't be a horrible friend.

Screw her inner sense. This was . . . this was more annoying than someone staring at her rack. When she rested at night, she tugged her clothes inward against her stomach. In loose clothing, she only looked a little different. Many would mistake her for not looking pregnant, just a little belly fat. That would change soon. But Jarod's reaction wouldn't.

He'd been a doctor, a surgeon, and just about everything in-between medically. He'd probably touched several pregnant bellies, determining things. But. Jarod had one of those annoyingly romantic type of souls. She knew full well what he wanted to do. He wanted to touch her belly. Because of the bittersweet way they were paired together, he wasn't pushing the issue. He would soon, or he'd find some kind of medical excuse to give her a look over.

And she'd think of that later once she stopped feeling so hungry. She tried not to look at Jarod as her stomach growled loud enough for him to hear. It was annoyingly use to a certain time to eat, but it was past that. Damn it. She looked at the fast food burger he had stopped for earlier, being presented right in front of her. Like an offering. "No."

"You're hungry."

"No."

"Parker, I can hear your stomach. It's not fine dining, but you're going to have to get used to anything, anywhere. Eat."

"I don't want it." Her stomach growled again. Shit. She saw the burger wiggle in front of her. He really shouldn't do that. If he was a doctor, then he was doing a pitiful job right now. He should know all kinds of facts and studies about pregnancy. The hormonal imbalances. "Jarod, move it away." Its smell hit her nose just right too. Ugh! "Damn it Pretender, move it or I'm getting sick all over your stupid car!"

He seemed to get the hint. Miss Parker gripped her stomach. She was used to the cafeteria food and choice she had each day. Since she was pregnant she hadn't seen a fast food burger.

"Olfactory senses a bit overwhelmed?" Jarod asked.

Not now. Not his big word genius ass phrasing now.

"Right." He tucked the burger far away again. "I can hear your stomach growling. You haven't eaten for hours. Your nutrition balance is falling off." He looked around at the nothingness. "We should be hitting a small town about ten miles up. We'll get some better food. Okay?"

Be nice. He's trying He could be way meaner but he's trying.

He almost made me lose what little I have in my stomach.

He's trying. Be nice. Try to be nice. Without him, you'd be stuck in that cell still.

"Fine." There. That was nice. It wasn't the grandest of phrases, but at least she didn't fly off the handle. She heard Jarod turn the music back on. Most likely he knew it probably wasn't time to push her for social interaction right now. A lot of the way there he tended to listen to music.

Not just any music. Nope, he listened to all forms of music. He had the basic categories of music from blues to rock, along with nature soundtracks. She almost fell asleep with the sound of rain droning on. The whole time though no matter what he was listening to, he was wide awake, appreciating it all.

Not a surprise. It was who he was. She stared out the window. The Centre felt a thousand miles away. Almost a different life away. Although the journey wasn't her slice of pie, she had to admit. Besides the little sickness from the greasy burger. She didn't feel that bad.


If he was in a hospital he was working in as a doctor, he could have given Miss Parker something to make it easier. But, there was something he could get. He stopped and got out of the car leaving her in there. He'd tell her what he was getting, but he didn't need her thinking he was telling her everything. Not yet. He was still reading her. Watching her. Getting her to talk would be more informative. So far, it didn't look like crossing him was on her mind. But, he would wait to the last possible second before he revealed his Pretend to her.

He watched out the gas station window. There was no way The Centre would find him yet. He left nothing so far. No hint at all where they were at. But with Miss Parker carrying two potential pretenders that The Centre would crave, he didn't want to take many chances.

"Hey, can I get some candy, dad?"

"Sure, son. One thing and we'll go."

He rounded the father and son, getting to the place he needed to be. He looked back out the windows. Nobody important out the window. There were a few locals trying to talk to Miss Parker as she got out and stretched her legs, but otherwise, nothing Centre related. He went toward the most likely aisle and checked out the selection. He didn't have time to analyze them, he just needed one pack. He grabbed the saltines and moved back towards the counter.

"Sit up straight," a different dad said to his son in front of Jarod. "Stop goofing around, you're embarrassing me."

There were a few people in front of him, but that was okay as he watched her start to come in. Not for him though. She went right past him toward the back, and then came back behind him. She needed a key so she had to wait in line.

"Uterus pushing down on the bladder?" he asked her.

"Nope, just pushing local assholes."

Not this. "I know you don't like to be the friendliest person in the . . ." World. Country. State. County. Town. "It would be good practice to be a little nicer."

"It'd be good practice for this line to hurry up," Miss Parker said, ignoring the advice altogether.

Then, the locals that she so lovingly called assholes came in. Jarod hoped she didn't do anything to make them mad. Deciding to diffuse any situation she might have started he gave his best friendly smile. "Hello."

But, he was finally up to the register. He paid for the crackers and looked back in disappointment as he heard one of the men yell. A man was grabbing his finger in pain and Miss Parker didn't say anything as she waited for Jarod to move. "I hope you didn't bust it."

"Who said it was me?" She gave him a light smile than quickly turned itself back down. "Move already."

Jarod didn't really know what to do. Should he pay for the guy's groceries? Or . . . oh. No, no, he shouldn't pay for anything at all. As Miss Parker got the key, she passed another woman Jarod hadn't seen behind her.

That woman, her eyes were practically sparkling at Miss Parker. It was a look he often saw in people he helped who had no words for him. The thankless kind of thanks. She then looked at the man and his misfortune. Considering the amount of damage he was suffering, the distance of the woman growing, and the tugged up half smile on her face before she left, Jarod figured it out.

It took a few seconds to put it together, but he got it. The guy must have harassed either the woman behind her, and Parker took action against him. Or he grabbed at Parker's butt, and while Parker took action, he had been repeatedly harassing the other woman. Either way, the woman looked like he deserved his come uppence, and like Parker practically saved her.

Jarod took the saltines and passed the small scene. Crackers didn't work with all women's nausea, but it was worth a try. He'd wait right by the car for her. The Centre was nowhere near there. As he waited, he started to think of medical things in his head. He didn't doubt the Triumvirate took care of Miss Parker's health, but he still wanted to check her himself.

He already knew the medical ins and outs, there wouldn't be any learning time, he just needed some basic equipment. It wasn't from around there though. He kept things he wanted to have for the future in storages that the Centre didn't know about. Having medical equipment on hand would be necessary, but Miss Parker would see it. If she changed her mind about 'for now', it could be rough. Everything's risky. I need to make sure the pregnancy is okay, and I'm going to be delivering them anyway. I want this to be as smooth as it can be. Yes, he needed a couple things, and he'd need more in the future.

However, he wasn't prepared for the familiar little car kicking up dust right in front of him. Before he knew what was happening, he felt himself getting dunked headfirst into the passenger seat.

"Jarod, are you okay?!"

Jarod knew that voice. He quickly tried to right himself up, but the car was going extra fast. "Zoe, stop the car!" he demanded. He had no idea why she was that desperate to get away. Whether she saw The Centre's black cars or Miss Parker inside the gas station, the car had to stop. He couldn't leave Miss Parker back there.

He grabbed the wheel. "What are you doing?! Stop the car!"

"I can't, Jarod, The Centre is like right behind you!" She shouted to him.

"Zoe, stop the car, please!"

"Are you kidding? That one woman you showed me a picture of from The Centre, she's in that station! I'm serious, I'm not confused!"

"Which is kind of a big coincidence, don't you think?! Stop!"

Finally, Zoe stopped. Her bouncy red curls kicked forward and then back, looking toward Jarod. "You knew she was there?"

"Yeah." Oh no. Zoe and him both liked to explore America, as well as have a spontaneous relationship. They were both on the move, but they joined up with each other a few times a year, finding their own meeting grounds. They weren't exactly . . . steady. But, neither one could live the lives they wanted and have someone that would always be there. Jarod had girlfriends between. Zoe had boyfriends between. At least, he assumed. But.

Her wild spirit. Ever since their first meeting they were instantly attracted to each other. That passion was incredible. Awesome. She was probably on her way to see him and spotted the gas station. "Zoe. I have some stuff to tell you, but first we have to get back to that gas station. Please?"

"Why were you with her?" Zoe asked. "She's one of the people chasing you, right?"

"I'll answer your questions, I promise, but I have to get back," Jarod insisted. "She's running from The Centre too, and she's pregnant with twins, so I have to get back there."

"What? Crazy, Jarod." But, she got the car turned around and headed back.

Jarod jumped out of the car, seeing the face on Miss Parker. He knew whatever she was going to say, wouldn't be good. In front of Zoe too, damn, he didn't even get a chance to explain yet. "Sorry. Caught a ride and forgot the luggage."

"Luggage?" Oh, her voice was deep. Too deep. Bottom of the well deep. "Well. There's no magic to why you have trouble keeping track of your family. Here's a hint. You might find it easier, if you don't leave them stranded at a gas station." She glanced at Zoe.

"Family?" Zoe asked her. "Oh no, don't tell me." She held her finger out toward Miss Parker. "Yeah, the way things work with Jarod and The Centre. You found out you were Jarod's sister, right?"

No.

"You nailed it," Miss Parker lied with a smirk.

"Cool. The Centre, never know what to expect." Zoe shook her hand. "I'm Zoe. So, you're having twins?" She smiled toward Jarod. "You're going to be an uncle. That's ultra-cool, I'll bet you're so excited, Jarod! No wonder you were busting out of your gut to get back." She looked at Miss Parker. "You can kind of tell." She pushed the dress against her belly. Miss Parker assisted her, tugging it closer. "Oh, look at that. You can see it. How far along are you?"

"Five months or so," Miss Parker said.

"Neat," Zoe said. "Who's the dad?"

"Oh." She took a long drag of a breath, in a similar slowness she would use when she were a exhaling a cigarette a long time ago. "Sydney."

"Syd-?" Jarod stopped himself. "Miss Parker. I think we need to talk."

"Don't mind him," Miss Parker told Zoe. "He's upset. Sydney's a little older than me."

"Sydney?" Zoe had a funny look on her face. "The guy that raised Jarod? But, that's much older."

"Yeah, but." Miss Parker gave a small smile. "Things kind of happen when you're always out on the open road. Hotel to hotel. One night, the smell of his cologne he's worn on special occasions since at least the 1960's, held my attention and the brusque sound of his psychiatry voice-"

"Parker."

"Mm, that was my favorite phrase in his voice, with just a small raise in the 'Par'. Mixed with his accent and the sounds of his feet walking toward me and the clank of my stilettos coming toward him he became friendly with my favorite black suit and red satin blouse top and he took me harder than a man his age should against the blank white starkness of a room of the Centre. "

"Parker." Jarod was a Pretender. He could place himself into situations and feelings of people with just a little stimuli, and she knew damn well what she was doing!

"Oh. Sorry." Miss Parker stopped. "I'm afraid I'm affecting my brother."

"Oh, yeah," Zoe said. "The visualization and details probably aren't helping. Him being a Pretender and all."

"Hm? Oh no, Jarod physically caught us together once."

"Stop."

"His own room, using his round capsule that he uses to block outside sensory-"

"Parker!" Jarod demanded. "We need to talk."

"Is this about how you forbid me to go back to The Centre to see Sydney anymore again?" Miss Parker asked. "My kids own father?"

"Miss. Parker."

"Ooh." Miss Parker rubbed at her bottom lip. "Brother. You got a little something right there."

"Zoe. I need to talk to my sis a second, privately," Jarod insisted. "Please?"

"You bet." She winked at him. "I'll be right outside."

Once she was gone, the gloves were off. "What do you think you're doing?"

"Saving your ass while giving you nightmares in the process to not go insane for a good deed," she answered.

"Saving me? Zoe knows about The Centre."

"Yes, but she doesn't know that the two buns baking inside of me came from your bakery," she said. "And I don't want to get blamed for messing around with your weird relationships." She looked forward. "If you tell her, you could lose her."

"I'm not gonna lie to her," Jarod said. "She is one of the few people I can speak honestly to. She has a good heart."

"Don't listen to me then," Miss Parker said. Nothing else. "Don't blame me either. I get enough of that."

The time they spent together in Carthis was some time ago. They almost . . . kissed. Miss Parker may never admit it, but there was something there. Small or big, it was a connection. Could it be a feeling of jealousy that made her believe Zoe wouldn't understand then? No, he wasn't really seeing a sign of jealousy, just a bunch of signals she was still mad at his little disappearance. And something else, but he couldn't place it.

Well, jealousy or not. He cared for Zoe. He knew Zoe.

It'd be fine, once Zoe got the facts. This was just one more thing in his crazy life and Zoe understood it all. Jarod was more disturbed by the slight visions and thoughts that just the familiar broad settings he knew well and had seen in his life from her story- stop it. His room. How many hours had he been in that- stop it.That cologne, probably mixed with-

Knowing action would work better, Jarod left the gas station. He saw Zoe standing, smiling like there was no such thing as a bad day to her. "Hey. Miss Parker . . . was a bit rambunctious in there."

"How so?" Zoe asked. "You mean the details she gave? They really weren't that much-"

"-not about that." Jarod didn't need that again. "About her being my sister. Zoe, I have more stuff to tell you."

"Really? Story time." She leaned more against his car with him leaning on the other side of her. "The last one was the clone. No. No, the last one was Ethan. Right? I think there were scrolls in their somewhere? Your life is confusing, Jarod. So, what new adventures do you have this week?"

"Six months ago, Miss Parker visited South Africa with one of the other chasers following me. Mister Broots. Miss Parker stayed in South Africa though, to try and find things about her past." Zoe knew all the basics on them, but he never felt right revealing a whole lot about Catherine Parker. It wasn't his place. "Not very long ago, Sydney made a discovery that Mister Broots was giving some kind of Centre medication to his daughter."

"Oh no," Zoe said in concern. "Is she okay now?"

"Yes, it was just vitamins. It was a scare," Jarod said. "To keep Mister Broots quiet about Miss Parker not being in South Africa willingly. She was stuck in a cell for six months."

"Oh." Zoe didn't seem to know how to react. "I can't say . . . good, right?"

Jarod knew what she meant. After all, Miss Parker had been chasing him for years. He gave her just the smallest of smiles. "No."

"Okay, I thought so," she said. "So, then what? You go to South Africa on a little adventure?"

"Yes. I took Mister Broots and Sydney with me," Jarod said. "They helped me sneak in and get out with her."

"Mm." Zoe nodded. "That's terrible, Jarod. I get it. So, the babies in her stomach weren't Sydney's?"

"Not by a longshot," Jarod said. "Ever."

"So you're helping her escape The Centre then?" She asked.

See? She understood. "Yes and no," Jarod said. "I'm not leaving anymore family behind. I'm afraid we are on even worse terms because I . . . I had to threaten to take them after they were born. I don't want to take kids from their mother. I don't know if I could, but I won't let them be raised in The Centre."

Zoe's look back toward him changed. "Wait. What do you mean? You mean, what?"

What? "She was being used for the Triumvirate to make new pretenders," he said. "I destroyed everything I could after that. There's nothing of my brothers, or anyone else's in there."

"Whoah, whoah, hold up." Zoe's personality was completely different. Her moves were becoming unexpected. "What are you saying Jarod? Are those . . . yours?"

Hmm. Sometimes he went a little too over her head. He tried not to do that. He kept it fairly simple. "In the cell prison they kept her in, they impregnated her with frozen sperm." There. That should be better.

That wasn't better. "The hunter. The hunter that hunted you, is bearing your twins? Your twins?"

Why was she so flummoxed? "Yes, but I didn't do it. She didn't do it. It was the Triumvirate."

"Okay." Zoe propped herself up. "So, she's having twins. Wants to go back to The Centre for some stupidly hellish reason, and you threatened to take her kids away from her, and then take them with you, if she didn't come? Jarod! You were taken from your own mother!"

"They are my family too," Jarod said. "And The Centre, they can't be raised in The Centre. You know how evil it is. The plans they already had for those kids." Did she think he was bad now? "Zoe. They can't be raised there. Good mother or not. Something would happen." Did she think he was wrong? "What would you do?"

"I?! I-I don't know!" She threw her hands up in frustration.

"I had a clone." Jarod didn't understand. "That's a weird DNA thing too, but you said you understood that. You've understood everything." He tried to reach for her hand, but she pulled away. "What's wrong?" And how could he fix it?

"A clone is different, okay, then this." Zoe touched her hand to her forehead and her hand moved to her side. Her emotions were all over the place, Jarod could tell.

"I had no control," he said again. He made it clear. He made that part very clear.

"I know," Zoe said. She shrugged. "Of course you didn't. You never have control."

Then she understood. But, her movements still weren't exhibiting that at all?

"Man." Then, her body suddenly seemed to relax. "This wasn't fair. This was so much fun."

This was? "Zoe. I don't understand. You aren't taking this even half as well as a clone of me. A clone. I would think that would be much harder to understand."

"Scientifically? Yeah," Zoe admitted. "Emotionally? Physically? No. Jarod, no. This is, sorry. This is too much."

Too much? "People actually have kids in this world like this all the time."

"Yeah, but kids don't make for a fun life, dude." Zoe sighed. "Jarod? You are the greatest guy in the world. And you? You have one of the most unique things going on in the world. Getting chased by people, and helping others at the same time. That's great. But how do you plan on keeping it all up with a pair of kids?"

Oh. Maybe. Her movements and actions still didn't spell out it was only this, but he had to try. "You're concerned about their welfare? It's okay. Miss Parker is well trained. Factor in mother's intuition and a strong bond, it should make the percentage quite low anything would happen." Jarod could tell she still wasn't satisfied. What else did she want?

No, it wasn't quite concern. The way she was fidgeting. It was an excuse.

"This was a blast, Jarod," she said. "Meeting up with you a few times a year here and there, having wild and passionate nights, it was great." She took a step away. "But, you can't run away for passionate nights when two kiddos are calling your name."

"You aren't comfortable with this." Zoe was wonderful. She accepted more about him than anyone else. But . . . it looked like she reached her toleration limit.

"It's okay, Jarod," Zoe said holding his shoulder. "It was only a few times a year. I mean, neither of us completely gave it our all for this to bloom. It's been . . . kind of, just a nice thing. You know? Someone to come back and stay with, no matter how much time passed. But? I've never even gone with you on a single realpretend. I mean, we talked about it once, and nothing ever came of it."

"Well, it was." If he said dangerous he was doomed. But by her movements, her looks, all the attempts he tried, there was no way to win already. It was over. Failure. Even his advanced mind couldn't save this one. All he could do now, was stitch up the ending.

That smile. That was a bittersweet goodbye smile. He saw that smile once, the first time he left her and they didn't know if they'd ever see each other again.

He didn't want to see it again. "Isn't there anything at all I can do?"

"Yeah. Don't take this as rough," Zoe said. "Jarod, we even agreed that we wouldn't like hold each other to some ridiculous standard of only each other when we saw each other maybe five times a year? Sometimes less? You can't tell me you haven't had other girlfriends between. I don't buy it."

Damn. "Sorry."

"Why be sorry? The thing is, you have to keep going, making new lives elsewhere, never staying still, and those others you like can't eventually tag along with you like I could." She gave him one more kiss. He had been unprepared for it, and it had been so quick, that he wanted to ask for a longer one so that he could try and capture every sensory detail and sensation of her one more time. "One more thing? That, moment between Miss Parker and Sydney?" She said. "You know, the whole in your Centre white room and some round ball and stilletos with psychiatry talk?" Jarod unconsciously winced and she gave him a shrug. "I can kind of read actions too, Jarod. It looked to me like it wasn't disgust for who she picked. You didn't want to imagine her with anyone else." She wiggled her fingers goodbye, and started to walk away.

Chapter Text

I do not own Pretender. This was written strictly for entertainment and makes no profit.


Inner Voice is bold.


You better not say it.Her inner sense was warning her. Be a good friend. Don't say it.

Miss Parker knew it would take awhile, and how it would probably end, so she sat down in a seat. She wasn't watching whatever they were doing. If that woman Zoe actually stayed with Jarod after hearing Miss Parker was carrying his twins, and staying beside him? He better just marry her because a lot wouldn't stay to salvage whatever on/off thing they had.

It couldn't be super often, The Centre would find any girlfriend and use her against him. Miss Parker was already taking mental notes in her head of everything about Zoe. If anything big changed, you never know what came in handy.

You better not say it to him. Her inner sense. Why was it always so against her? You better not say it. He's going to be hurt. Your friend is going to be hurting, so you better be nice!

Still. I told him so. He could have salvaged it with a lie. She would have gone along with it. Having someone else there for Jarod, she would have felt less trapped and more inclined to do her own surveying. And, having Zoe over his head, she could have used it as a form of blackmail too to get a few night freedoms. It probably wouldn't work for ensuring he couldn't take her children, but in worst case scenarios, at least she would have had something.

She watched his sagging body almost lifting itself to come her way. Aw, no late night snookie.

Be nice. He knows he's alone again. He was nice with you with Thomas.

There is a huge difference between my Tommy and little red curls 'let's-meet-up'! To even say that? I know another word for inner sense. A hemorrhoid.

He lost the only person in the outside world that he loved and trusted.

I know. Yes, he'd be hurting. But if he just let me have the kids and not come after them, little red curls wouldn't mosey away.

Don't even! You know Jarod would choose them. Their family. Now say something nice!

Miss Parker watched him sit down across from her.

Say something nice to your friend.

"Calcium is important for bone growth, you should get something with calcium," Jarod said.

Say something nice to your friend, Miss Parker.

"There's a two for one sale on grilled cheese sandwiches," Miss Parker said. "That's a nice deal."

That's not what I meant!

With tomato in the middle. The grilled cheese were plain and they didn't have tomato in the middle. Did that place have tomatoes? "Are there tomatoes?" She moved up and looked around. Expecting to find tomatoes down in there wouldn't be easy. It was a gas station with only a little bit of 'stop to eat' prepared food.

"Were almost to our destination," Jarod said from behind her, spooking her a second. Ugh! She hated when he did that. "I grabbed a couple grilled cheese. Let's go."

Needs tomato. There was no tomato. The closest she found was some cheap boxes of quick nuke pasta in the microwave with sauce. Tomato sauce. That would work. "Here, this too." She grabbed a couple of boxes.

Jarod just gave her an odd look as he looked down at the 3 minute pastas. It looked like he was debating something, but she didn't know what was in his head half the time. All she knew was that the grilled cheese with the pasta sauce would work. "This'll need water and heat, Miss Parker. I don't carry that in my car."

"I just want the sauce," she insisted. "For the middle of a grilled cheese. Do I really have to justify my need for you to do that?" she asked him gravely. "You know my money's locked up in my account, and you aren't making gobs of money being out here working, you steal funds from the Centre. Speaking of which, how you can't seem to be genius enough to get my own money-"

"I have a system." Jarod didn't say anything else. "No, you don't have to justify anything. Just curious, Miss Parker. One of those social interaction things, remember? Curiosity."

"Way too curious. That's always the big problem with you." She would social interact with the side of his head if he kept talking to her about this. She wanted to get out of there and just eat already. "The Centre didn't know about her, did they?" Brief. Just a check.

"No one tagged her. I . . . taught her how to make sure it was always safe. To meet." He sounded a little sad, but seemed to slightly bounce back. "Off we go again?"

"Whoopee."

Something nice. Think of something nice to say to your friend.

Ethan was lucky. He had a bunch of nice inner sense to choose from. Hers? Was the annoying kid version just after her mother died. And that was it. And if it got too mad, it would reveal itself, making her feel like she was going crazy. Screw inner sense. Screw it. She was much better off without it. "You know, we're having twins, Jarod. Why don't you pick a name for the boy. Anything but Jarod." He didn't respond. Fine, whatever.

Then he did. "Hundreds upon thousands of millions of names. From simple to advanced, named after loved ones or by meanings. I once named a little girl after a flower, it fit her perfectly, but she was right there. It made sense too, I felt it. The name my family will be known for the rest of his life. Yes. I'll think about a name," he finally said.

Great. Oh great, she probably started up his brain.


The cravings of pregnancy, if they could be fulfilled, couldn't be denied. Jarod watched as Miss Parker opened the grilled cheese in the car down the center, tore open the microwave quick pasta, taking out the pasta sauce, opening the packet with her teeth, draining it in the middle of the grilled cheese, so much so, that the cheese was almost not showing.

Then she flipped it back into one, bit into it, and her expression signaled her craving desire was being fulfilled.

Jarod looked back ahead. Although the Sydney stimuli with her was a low blow, she could have definitely teased him about Zoe. He expected it. He was even trying to arm himself for the barrage of 'I told you so's' that she should have had. He was ready to defend his position. Instead, she hardly mentioned her, only once to make sure they weren't followed. Satisfying her own curiosity.

Then her interest lied more in her cravings. He figured after that, then maybe Miss Parker would say something about it. Hitting people when they were down, that was her style. Maybe she just didn't know how much Zoe meant to him, so she wasn't on a tier above her own food?

That thought hurt too, but once again, it didn't come. Instead.

She wanted him to name the boy.

From the way she looked around, and the simple mutterings here and there, he was reminded of Ethan. It was subtle, and not many people would have caught it. But it had to be it. "So?" Jarod asked. "Hearing your inner sense better?"

She stopped eating a second as she looked toward Jarod. It was almost like he said something wrong to her. It was pure curiosity, he wasn't making fun of her to start a fight. She went back to eating.

Her actions told him he nailed it on the head, and whatever it was saying to her, was pure annoyance. She clearly didn't get something that sounded like her mother's voice like Ethan did. Jarod didn't push that subject, he had his answer. Instead, he started thinking of names.

Naming someone. Once named, it wouldn't be undone. That was a different kind of pressure than Jarod was used to. He was the decider. Not to save a life like he had several times in the past, but to raise a life. While he had done many things in the outside world, and he analyzed a ton of last names to decipher which one would be the best to go with under each identity? Naming something that didn't exist yet wasn't one of them.

When he found baby Michael in the dumpster, he was told to give it a name, and he refused. He had his own name, and he found it. Violet, the poor girl left nameless and abandoned. He had to give her something, and he felt out that name for her. But? This one felt different. It wasn't there to show itself, to give him an idea whether George or Henry or any name would fit. He was deciding it for it. He would be doing a lot of that, for it. Choosing it's clothes. Choosing it's food. Choosing where it slept and when. All responsibility fell on him this time, and not just temporarily. For the rest of his life. Him and the girl.

And it all started with the name that he would be deciding.

Casual? Named after someone he admired? Popular? While he was thinking how to approach it though, his phone rang.

Sydney or family. No one else would have the number. Jarod pulled over to the side and answered the phone. Seeing the number, he could tell which one it was. "Sydney. It's a pleasure. Are you back to your old hunting routine yet?"

"Not yet. The usual running of The Centre today seems slightly slower. I just wanted to see how you were doing."

"Fine."

"And Miss Parker?"

Mm, that was my favorite phrase in his voice, with just a small raise in the 'Par'. Mixed with his accent and the sounds of his feet-Jarod banged the phone on his head, trying to stop that thought again. "She's fine, what is it?"

"Well, this is quite a change from the usual. I just wanted to make sure you both are fine. Are you alright, Jarod?"

"Yes, fine, Sydney."

"A little hot and sticky," Miss Parker said on the other side of him. She was commenting on the grilled cheese, but Jarod's head was anything but normal right now.

"I can't right now, Sydney, here, want to know how she's been, talk to her." He handed the phone to Miss Parker.

She just looked at him oddly as she was cleaning her hands. She set the napkin to the side and took the phone. "What, Syd." She just looked out the window space. "No, it's fantastic, I love riding in barren wastelands and relying on Jarod of all people because I have no money because for some reason his genius ass is incompetent in figuring out how to get into my account. How are you?" There was a pause again. "Really, Syd? I thought Raines would really be riding your ass by now."

Jarod immediately took the phone from her. "I'm sure things'll be back to normal soon. We'll talk to you later." He hung up the phone. Soon, he'd be in his new place of residence. A new place to call home for awhile to learn new experiences. That would do him a lot of good.

He looked back toward Miss Parker. Well.

It was time. "My Pretendings. You won't need to know everything by heart, just enough that when others meet you, they are bound to believe you. Your role, Miss Parker, is pregnant girlfriend. Nice and simple. Don't get fancy. The name of the college or school we met may have to change, some things will need to change in different places. I'll make a pack up for you, so you can easily carry it and memorize it." The less she actually had to pretend, the better. Being only a pregnant girlfriend, they would be able to dodge questions about remembering marriage dates. It would make it a little bit of a hassle, and might have to change in some areas to actually married considering his actions of having kids and not being married might be off-putting on some pretendings that would need people to see him a certain way.

Otherwise, it would be easier. Her made up maiden name could remain the same since it wasn't something they would be spouting off for every pretend. Unless someone asked her for a last name specifically, she wouldn't have to do that. He made up a whole family history for her, something akin to her own, with some slight changes.

There was only one thing left. He kept his first name the same. Jarod was what he had of himself, always. It was always the same. "Miss Parker. You need to go by a first name only." He tried it out. "Miss."

She wasn't happy. "Not everyone gets to call me that, Jar. If I have to go by anything, Miss P."

"That name will be the first thing The Centre looks for."

"They look for Jarod."

"Which is easier than people going by Miss P or Miss Parker," Jarod said. "Missy?"

"Don't call me that." She wouldn't let that go. It made sense. That was what Thomas Gates had called her. The love of her life. That he found for her.

He found him for her. Zoe was wrong, whatever she thought in the end. It was the unsettling thought of Sydney and Miss Parker with the added stimuli, even if it was just through voice, that was harder to bear. He wanted her to have a chance at being happy.

But. That was before . . . Carthis. No, that wasn't helping. Right now he was on her want to burn alive list because of the fate of the unborns they shared. Although, as much as she despised him, she was oddly also . . . relaxed.

Her mouth could say what it wanted, but her neck was loose, her legs weren't folded, her hands weren't pressing on anything. Her breathing was fine. Her body was like jello, like she'd been resting on the beach all day.

Maybe it was knowing that Jarod had always been uncatchable. Maybe she secretly liked the long drive of nothingness she just complained about.

Maybe it was just the pregnancy making her more tired than anything, he realized as she was falling asleep slowly in her seat. Getting to America from South Africa was no fun trip, it took nearly a day. After a simple meal and a quick shop and grab of simple garments (that said local, not fashion approved) so she could stay cool and loose on the long drives, he headed out with her and didn't say much. She did need extra rest. She needed something better in her stomach that it wouldn't reject.

And he lost the crackers for her nausea when Zoe had found him. The whole reason he stopped there in the first place. And he just now realized that? My head is somewhere else, I need to concentrate better. If Sydney knew how bad I was doing. It didn't matter. He wasn't in The Centre. He could take it easy and not analyze every single thing. He had to learn how to take it easier when he first escaped. Too much stimuli otherwise.

The factors that he was used to changed as well. He wasn't alone, driving, thinking of his next move and Pretend. He was thinking about the person right next to him, carrying his unborn future family members, and wondering how different it would be when they were born. He couldn't just pretend himself into it.

He'd tried it many times already. Watching. Waiting. Learning. Seeing things from a different point of view, crawling into someone else's skin, he did that. More than once. But they were all different. Every experience.

Like love. He knew all the signals and outward stimuli, but until he experienced it for the first time, he couldn't truly grasp it.

Being a father, seemed to be the same thing. Some people wanted nothing but to have their children before they were born, eager and willing. Some people fell into it, like it was a part of life, and went with it. Others seemed repelled, like they were stuck somewhere they shouldn't be, or never wanted to be.

Getting a child candy to see them happy. Yelling at them for nothing but not standing in line straight. Even out there, far away from the multitudes of people living in a city, he had seen examples. And he would see even more.

"They might think it's Misspy, all one word," Miss Parker said, the tired sound in her voice echoed in the car, bringing Jarod back around to the present again. Her eyes were drooping, but she was fighting it of course. And fighting to have her name.

Fighting to keep some form of her identity. Unlike Jarod, she had that. A lot of it. A whole family heritage dating all the way back to Carthis. Even if it was cursed, it was still hers. "Miss," Jarod said. "There's nothing wrong with just a first name. You used to accept it a little better. Just embrace it."

"The Centre is going to start looking for a connection between those names right away," she said. "I don't go by a single name."

Fighting tooth and nail. No matter how much her body was overworked, Miss Parker would fight for what she still wanted. There was another choice that would definitely stimulate a reaction from her. Whether it was good or bad, he wouldn't know until he tried it. "How about Angel then?"

"No, that'd be confusing," Miss Parker said. He was surprised he didn't get a bigger reaction in some way for trying that name. "It's already her name."

Her name? "Whose?"

"Your daughters."

What? That's what she picked? Her pet name her 'daddy' called her? The name the crypt creeper called his daughter a hundred years ago? "Why?"

"What do you mean why?" There was that glare he was waiting for. "What's wrong with Angel?"

"Oh, I don't know," Jarod said, his voice showing his irritation, almost guttural. "Calling my own daughter the same thing as the man who stole my parents and life away called his? It just doesn't sit that well with me." Absolutely not. "No."


"You are having your daughter, with the daughter of that man," she said dangerously. "Don't complain."

Well, that wasn't nice. I loved the name Angel. It made me feel special. I wanted her to feel special too.

Finally, her inner sense was agreeing with her. "You're naming my son. I named my daughter."

"Well, nice to see I need to get your permission to name one of our kids, but I don't get any say so for the other one," Jarod said sarcastically. "Use Angel as your first name out here if you don't want Miss, and we'll name the girl something else."

"No." She wasn't backing down on that. "I already named my daughter. I'm not switching it." She had dwelled on Catherine a time, but when she thought of her dad and how the name Angel made her feel, it only seemed right. She didn't care if it felt creepy to him, it was a wonderful name. And, even if it was a tie to the crypt keeper who burned his family in their home . . . it was probably something he'd called her before the tragedy, not after.

"Not happening, Parker. Someone in my family isn't going by that."

Someone in his family. "It's. Mine. Too."

"It's ours," Jarod said. "I don't agree with that name." He seemed to be thinking. "You like Angel. You can use that out here in the real world. We can find something that fits her better."

What a jerk!

Agreed.

I hate when Jarod does things against me like that. I am Miss Parker. No one pushes me around.

Completely.

I loved that name. If I want to name my daughter that, I will!

Damn right.


They were almost there. Not very long now, but he wasn't getting Miss Parker to accept anything yet. Dilemma. One he didn't see coming. Miss Parker never changed her mind. Getting her to name it something different would be next to impossible.

And eventually, with a name like Miss someone was going to tease it. Miss Miss. Mrs Miss.

In the Centre, names had a certain meaning.

First name only. It meant beneath them, lower in importance. Mister Raines. Mister Lyle. Mister Parker. Miss Parker. Even Miss P. It was one of the reasons he took to calling Broots, Mister Broots. Enough people put him down in The Centre. His reasons for being there, valid or not, he deserved a degree of respect.

Sydney saw it differently. He wasn't using a first and last name to loiter over others. He simply went with what his gut believed.

Last names had power there though. Parker holding the most. Even worse, someone might try calling her Missy and get a busted finger. There's no time left. She isn't backing down. She felt strongly about the first name only, except for what her father called her. His special little name, for her and her alone.

Angel.

Despite where it came from, angels were good creatures. He loved angels, the thought of beings watching over humanity. A symbol of good. Could he see it in that light, instead of hearing Mister Parker's voice within it?"Compromise."

"Compromise?" Miss Parker looked toward him. "What kind of compromise we talking about?"

"Take just your first name out here," Jarod said, "and if anyone teases it, or accidently calls you Missy, you don't hurt them."

"Physically?"

"Physically or with your words," Jarod said. "And unless you strongly feel you need to harm, you have to be nice."

"Nice?"

"Yes, that thing you do once in a great while when you don't hurt anybody," Jarod said. "Most people out here, they should be nice to you, if you're nice to them. Do that and . . . officially we'll make it her name. But I don't have to call her that."


Jarod didn't want to call her that? That was fine, as long as she got the official ruling. But. People just calling her Miss. The thought was annoying her, greatly. Hardly anyone did that. If they did, they didn't do it for long.

But her little girl was getting the name she deserved. She would be someone special. Know she was special, no matter what happened in the future. And that name. "Fine."

"Good. Miss. Because we're less than an hour from home."

Chapter Text

I do not own Pretender. This was made strictly for entertainment. No profit is made from this.


 

Well, at least this isn’t so bad. Better than The Centre.

At least the town they were in had a count of around 40,000 according to the Welcome sign. Not the best but much more livable than some of the places Jarod had been found in.

Not that it mattered. Jarod would just pack up and go somewhere else later.

“Jarod Ivory,” Jarod spoke to her.  He finally revealed his Pretend name. “Remember the deal.”

“If I mess up, you’ll steal my children away. How can I forget?” She looked toward him. “How many mothers did you help reunite, and what would they think of your actions?” She hung her eyebrow high toward him.

“Big difference. They weren’t putting their kids in The Centre,” Jarod said. She heard a long, heavy sigh. “We really shouldn’t start this again.”

“You brought it up.”

“I just said remember the deal,” Jarod said to her as he parked the car. “As in don’t blow my cover so the Centre can try and catch me.”

“Right.” She got out first. “Because pregnant moms look so good in chains and rope.” She looked straight. “What the hell is that?”

“Work.” He gestured to it.

A Space Museum. Fantastic. Great, why not? “What, are you pretending to be an astronaut?”

“Nope, guide,” Jarod said. “And you are Miss Pickman. I’ll get the details to you tomorrow if you want them.”

“I don’t want anything.” Just out of there. “Except you’re going to have a hard time getting me to pretend to be a pregnant girlfriend,” she said. “You’d have better luck with Ex.”

“You’re pregnant though.”

“Ex with a daddy who diddled too much and wants to try and be responsible.” She looked ahead of her. “It’s more real. Real life, Jarod, it’s not perfect.”

“Nope. That’s what’s perfect about it,” Jarod said. “It’s unscripted.”

“You like things unscripted?” she asked. “Funny, I haven’t seen you enjoying your fun discoveries into life in South Africa.”

He sighed again, this time with a slight nostril flair. “I’m . . . trying. Can you meet me halfway here?”

Halfway? “I have been,” she said coldly. “You’re not dead yet, are you?” Great, he was staring at her again. “I hate it when you do that, stop that. I’m not some thing for you to just start analyzing. You want to analyze, go back to The Centre. You can have a lifetime of that.”

Stop being mean.

Well he’s doing the thing. He’s been doing the thing. He won’t stop doing the thing!

He can’t help it. It’s who he is. Remember? Now say you’re sorry.

“Like hell,” Miss Parker muttered right before her belly growled.

“Get pissy on an empty stomach, don’t you, Miss?” Jarod asked. “Food. Rest. Bed. Fair?”

Fair my ass. None of this is fair. I am supposed to be hunting him, not stuck with him. “Every single piece of atom inside of me is telling me that I’m the mouse chasing the cat.” And it wasn’t going to end well.

“A mouse chasing a cat? That would be interesting to see. I should look that up later.” He pulled the car out of the park. “What do you want to eat?”

“I’m stuck with nothing but humble pie.” She looked out the window space again. “For now.”

Those were all mean things to say! You need to be nicer. I mean it. I’m not going away.

“Guessing you aren’t friendly enough for a diner,” Jarod said out loud. “Are you? Better food there.”

“Long day. I don’t care.” She crossed her arms, feeling her belly sticking out beneath them. And, of course, Jarod doing his analyzing staring. “Will you stop doing that already? If I was going to leave this miserable hellhole and rat you out, I would have done it when you left me for red curls.”

“I already asserted that.”

“Then what?!”

“It’s . . . “ He looked away. “Nevermind. We’ll just pick up something quick and get you to bed.”

“Fine by me.”

-------------------

 

She slammed the car door harder than she should have.

Be nice. You are both stuck in the same situation, be nice.

“Shut up.” She didn’t even care if Jarod heard her as he got out. He already knew her inner sense was annoying her.  Is this really my life? Tagging along with Jarod? There has to be a way out of this. A way out and to snag Jarod.

So far, she didn’t even know the name of the town. The sign said welcome but no name. There was a space center though, somewhere out in the plains of nowhere. Even though she knew his plan, there were a ton of little discovery space areas in the world. Which one was she in?

“Stop that.”

Oh, great. He was reading her. “Can’t stop the brain from what it’s wanted to do for so long.”

“And what’s that?” he asked. “Nab me and take me back to The Centre, to be the little ragdoll of that place again?”

“Oh, knock it off, Jarod.” She rolled her eyes. “I want to get you. It doesn’t mean I can right now.” But it didn’t mean she wasn’t keeping up with the details either. If the winds of change could blow in her favor.

Then, the fun. A woman came out of the place they were standing in front of. Jarod came over by her side. “Remember. Miss Pinkman. Jarod Ivory. I’ll handle the talking.”

Like she would forget? She was cementing everything into her memory. At least until his next Pretend.

A space museum. Guide. Plains. Jarod Ivory. Living in a rental. Probably Kansas. Maybe Nebraska. Soon she would have the name of that town too, he couldn’t stop that. He couldn’t keep her in the dark forever, when she had to play the same games.

 

-------------------------

 

The man is fine, but those are eyes of fire in the woman. Petunia stared at her new renters. She was waiting for them, hoping they’d arrive before her bedtime. She walked toward them. “I’m your landlord, Petunia.”

“Good to meet you, Petunia.” The man had a firm grip and a warm smile. “This is my girlfriend, Miss.”

“Hello, Miss.” She stretched out her hand. It took a few seconds before Miss shook it. “Uh, Mister Ivory?” she asked. “I thought you’d be staying alone.”

“Different plans fell through,” Jarod said to her. “My girlfriend is going to be staying with me now.”

But there really wasn’t much room. “You should have told me this sooner.”

“Unexpected changes,” Jarod said. “Sorry. Is that fine?”

“It’s a double bed, so no problem,” Petunia said, but noticed the distinct distance between them. Jarod moved closer to Miss. What was wrong with this picture?

Jarod looked toward his girlfriend, then her. “Sounds great.” He tried to hold Miss’ hand. “Don’t you think, Miss?” She didn’t hold it back.

There was definitely something wrong with this picture. “Are you sure you’re a couple?”

“Of course.” The man said it with almost gritted teeth. “Right, honey?”

“Uh?” Miss looked at him. “You said I shouldn’t talk.”

“Shouldn’t talk?” Now something strange was going on here. Did she really want to rent to them?

The man’s eyes reacted to his girlfriend. She couldn’t quite tell if it seemed amused or offended. “I just didn’t want you to feel on the spot. Sure you can talk, hon’.”

“Oh.” Miss nodded her head. Then, it was like all the tension and fire in her eyes melted away leaving nothing but a lovely expression. “Hello.”

Oh. She was sweet as a muffin. Petunia felt a smile spread across her own face. “Hello there. So you’re Miss Pinkman, the girlfriend, right?”

“Hm. Well. I suppose if that’s what you want to call it,” Miss said oddly.

“Miss,” Jarod said. “That’s what it’s called.”

“Okay then.” Miss continued to smile. “Where is our room at? Or, are we renting a whole house? I don’t really know.”

Jarod Ivory didn’t even tell her? “The house next door.” She gestured to it. “Why don’t you know, Miss Pickman?”

“Oh, Jarod tends to sweep me up into things I don’t understand much.” She shrugged just a bit. “He just got so nervous when he found out he was a father, it’s almost like he snagged me from my whole life and just dropped me straight down into this situation.”

“Oh.” A bit strange, but well, she seemed fine. “You’re pregnant?”

“Twins,” Jarod said, like he was trying to regain a foothold in the conversation. “Do you have the keys? It’s been a long ride, and Miss needs to lie down.”

“That’s true,” Miss said. “Angel needs some rest, and so does our boy.”

 “Angel?” Was that the name of the baby? “That’s pretty.”

“Oh, it is,” Miss answered. “Jarod hasn’t known long, but as soon as he knew we were having a little girl, he couldn’t wait to name her Angel. Right, hon’?

The bemused look on Jarod Ivory’s face turned almost sour.

“We still don’t have a name for the boy,” Miss said. “What do you think’s a good name? Parker? Parker Pinkman. Ooh, that name might get him teased at school,” she chuckled softly looking toward Petunia. “Must be careful with first and last names.”

“I don’t know, honey,” Jarod said. His voice seemed as thick as molasses. “I was honestly thinking of renaming our daughter, Brigitte.”

“No offense, honey, but it’s a little crude to name it after your old steady girlfriend before me,” Miss said.

What? “Um.” No, he had good credentials and she needed to rent the house. They already came all that way, and Miss Pickman was pregnant. Although they might not be the best match to each other, it shouldn’t matter. Only the way they treated the rental property.

“Oh, but it’s not after her,” Jarod Ivory said to his girlfriend, “it’s after a close family member. Remember, family? It’s kind of important to me. It’d be great if I could have more.”

Miss Pinkman blinked. “Geez, Jarod, we’re already having twins. I’m not a baby factory.”

“Keys?” Jarod asked again. Oh yes, she forgot that. She handed them to Mister Ivory. “Come on, hon. Let’s go to our new place.”

----------------------

 

 

He doesn’t want to lose them.

“Not again,” Miss Parker groaned.

Make him feel better. Tell him something.

I don’t have to say anything. He always reads people like they’re supposed to be some book. She stomped her foot on the ground and gave him a side glare before looking straight ahead. When the message was so clear that even the most ignorant person could pick it up, to Jarod?

Well. It was just a nice clear way of saying fuck you.

And. He. Smiled. That jerk smiled? “Same sentiment, Parker.”

He came for you in South Africa after you chased him for six years. He is taking care of you now. Make him feel better.

 Miss Parker stared at the lovely house that was so small, it was clearly for one person.

“A little tight squeeze, but we can make it work,” Jarod encouraged her.

Hate him. So hate him. 

She closed her eyes, muttered ‘For a mother’s love’ under her breath and approached. At least when they found where he’d been staying and his weird fascinations in the past, it was just a look over. Here, she’d have to live with the oddities of whatever he was doing inside. She watched him go ahead of her and open the door.

When she walked in there were no oddities. Yet. Yeah. She would be there while he made his whatever’s.

“Not easy to make you happy, is it?” he questioned.

“Guess I’m just more of a material girl.” She kicked her neck up, feeling it ache again.

“Is that material worth really worth it?”

“How many years have you been waiting to crack that one out?” she teased him. “Worth what?”

“Worth chasing down the only friend you had in childhood.”

“I had other friends in childhood.” She yawned.

“Not real friends. Not honest friends,” Jarod said. “It was once all for daddy. You’d do anything to please him, but he’s not here anymore.”

“You have to ask?” Parker looked at him like he was a pure idiot. “You’re threatening to take my children. As soon as I can trust The Centre again, and I find a way to put a leash safely on you, I can go back home to my life.”

“Before that,” Jarod said. “Your dad disappeared, and you kept hunting me.” He wanted to know. “Are you afraid of The Centre yourself now, Miss Parker?”

“I am not afraid of anything. Least of all Raines,” she muttered.

“You had more than enough material wealth, you weren’t afraid to leave The Centre, so why did you keep hunting me?”

“Don’t start.”

Jarod sighed. “You look like you need rest. That journey couldn’t have been easy on them. I’ll be in bed shortly.”

“No rush.” She headed to the only bedroom and closed the door. Finally, she was freed of him. I can’t stand this kind of life being right next to him. Being hunted down. Nobody hunts me down.

It wasn’t always that way.

“Just leave me alone,” she groaned. “I don’t care. I need rest.”

Oh great. She pissed her inner sense off. Little Miss Parker was crossing her arms, sitting on the edge of the bed. “Say something nice to him!”

“No,” she shook her head. “Leave me alone.”

“He did you a load of favors, and he shouldn’t because you’re a terrible friend now. Stop being terrible.”

“Just leave me alone,” Parker insisted. “I just want to go to bed.”

“Then what? Is it really so bad being away from the Centre?”

Miss Parker questioned her. I’m out of that cell. Why do I still here you? Sometimes, see you?

“Because you still don’t get it.”

“Get what? That I’m who knows where, stuck in the worst situation of my life?” Miss Parker groaned. Fine, I’ll say something nice tomorrow. I’m tired. I’m exhausted.

“You can cry.”

I don’t cry.

 “You can absolutely cry.”

I don’t cry. Miss Parker just laid down on the right side of the bed. She didn’t care anything about the condition of it. It looked clean enough to sleep on, and she was exhausted. “Why am I so exhausted? This exhausted? I’ve never felt this exhausted . . .”

 

-------------------------

Finally. Miss Parker was definitely asleep. It was early, still 5 pm and he was free to start digging up stuff to learn. He sat in the small chair in the house and studied the old article a little longer. There wasn’t much to gather or study, so a small place seemed like a good idea. He knew plenty to be a good guide, but his goal was to be good enough, and friendly enough, to get noticed by the visitor who arrived every day to learn everything he could about space.

He didn’t come out of his house much since his daughter died five years ago. Her dream was to make it to outer space. Her father lived with his father, and didn’t do much with his life, except visit the space museum.

It was a simple plan. He just wanted to help someone who lost a loved one, to live again. No sims. No grand adventure. This was what most of his days were like. He probably would study him for everything he couldn’t find in the little article. How he dressed, how he acted, what he ate, and any other details that could help him.

The Centre sometimes snuck up behind him, but most of the time it’s because he misjudged the trail he left. This time, he’d be extra careful how he set it up, and it would be an extra-long trail. It wouldn’t just be him running if he messed up.

He set it up years ago. He had a setup of everything he wanted to do, right down to the most important dates. He even left enough room if something important fell in his lap, he could handle it too.

After detailing out what he could plan for now, and what he could manage to do with a pregnant Miss Parker if things went wrong, then he went ahead and looked at his actual long-term schedule.

 I could move that around with that, since I’ve got two months between that, so I can . . . He worked hard on it. He didn’t want to let anyone down. Any set dates that something had to occur by, he couldn’t risk moving. But.

Got it. He picked up his phone and dialed away. . .

He held up the phone in triumph. He could get Miss Parker checked out without having to go into his personal immediate storage.

Right after he helped a man learn to live again. Although, as he was looking at his plans, he saw how much he still had to do. How many changes he had to make.

So many people. So many Sims that hurt others. Someone was always out there, needing help. The world was tough and cruel, and he wanted to make a difference to those he could help.

But he already ran into an unknown. Zoe. He didn’t imagine she’d be the happiest when she found out he had a clone but all he got in return was a ‘cool, Jarod!’. She was always laid back and happy. Anyone could get along with her. She could understand anything.

But ‘father’ was clearly different. Even though it wasn’t his fault, and she didn’t walk away mad, it was still upsetting. He couldn’t change the genes. He couldn’t change what happened. Just one more thing The Centre stole from me.

Well. It wasn’t going to get anything else.

-----------------------------

Later that Night . . .

 

Sydney stirred in his sleep as he answered his phone.

“Wake up, Syd, dreamland is over.”

Ah, Miss Parker’s cheery voice. “You shouldn’t be calling,” Sydney said. “Jarod will suspect you are trying to get him caught.”

“Suspect nothing, I know the way his mind works. After this call, I’ll whack him in his sleep and tell him about it. Now, did you find out anything good from Raines that will get me out of this hellhole?”

Sydney sighed. He could not hide it. “Some.”

“Spill it, Syd.”

“Mister Raines has a message for you he gave to us,” Sydney answered. “It is basically that everyone in the Centre is aware that you have twins, so no cover up is possible, and if that one or none does not survive, you can personally identify it, have a wake, and a funeral  for it.”

“Sounds cushy,” she said, “but I could still get pricked. I want overseers of this contract, and I want backup overseers of it as well. It should be you and Broots.”

“Miss Parker,” Sydney said softly. “I don’t . . . I don’t believe Raines . . . wants the same thing as he did with Catherine. As far as I can tell, he seems quite fine with the children being potential pretenders.”

“Hmm. Sydney? My daddy wasn’t my dad, and Lyle may or may not be the father of my baby brother,” Miss Parker said. “Could it be that I’m the only one holding the true Parker legacies?”

“Perhaps,” Sydney said. “Raines is getting older, like me. He might be thinking more about the future than what he can make off of the present.”

“Maybe,” she agreed. “Or maybe he wants to trap me in The Centre to force Jarod into coming.”

“Would that bother you?” Sydney asked.

“Not at all, Syd. If he can find a way to keep my children from being taken away by Jarod, I don’t care. Until that magical day, I am riding around in his clown red car, being forced to be a nice ‘pregnant girlfriend’.”

“Jarod is the father too.” Sydney tried again. “For both of you, the best place is where you both agree to be.”

“I want Angel.”

“Hm?”

“That name. I loved that name. I miss hearing it, Syd. It made me feel . . .” She stopped. “I want my daughter to have that name.”

“Well, naming a child after something that has an emotional attachment is quite normal.” Sydney smiled. “Healthy, really.”

“Yeah but Boy Genius that I am sharing a bed with, gah, is making me work hard for it. Hard for my own daughter’s name.”

“That is also natural,” Sydney said. “Your father had no affection for Jarod, so it may not feel comfortable to him. He blames your father for stealing him from his family, so something affectionate . . . it may not be as wonderful to him as to you.”

“Long ass way around saying ‘your daddy did it, so I don’t want to’, Syd.” She chuckled. “You know. I don’t know if dad knew about Jarod. I don’t know what Raines did that he didn’t know, and that he did know. I . . . “ She gulped. “I’ll probably never know, but I know what I feel.”

Sydney sighed. “This is just the beginning, Miss Parker. I’m sure you two will work it out.”

“Sydney. I. Chased. Him.” She said it real slow. “For. Six. Years.”

“And . . . you feel bad about that?”

“No way, his ass needs to be in The Centre.”

“Why do you think that still? He has done incredible things. Helping people. Helping Broots. Helping you. He couldn’t do any of that in The Centre.”

Pause. “Daddy wanted him.”

“But Mister Parker has been gone, and I don’t see you being scared of Raines.”

“Look, it doesn’t matter what the inbetween time reasoning was,” she said. “Maybe after five years of chasing him and not catching him, I didn’t feel like throwing my hands up and giving up. It would be like a waste of five years.”

“You were going to for Thomas Gates.”

“Just-!” She held her face. “I am getting The Centre, if I do this right. But, Jarod-“

“Is not going to want his children there, Miss Parker.”

“And I don’t want to be playing Miss Prissy Pants Girlfriend either!” she whispered sharply. “This isn’t me, Sydney. It’s like . . . like . . . setting you down in the middle of Antarctica.”

“As long as I survived, and had adequate materials for survival, I believe that could be quite an enjoyable experience,” Sydney said.

“Are you just trying to piss me off?”

“No, I understand,” Sydney said. “You want to have your life.”

“Damn right I do.”

“I’m sure Jarod wants his life too, and I am quite positive that some things . . . are going to change on him as well.”

“Yep. Already lost his red curls. Not my fault, I tried to act like his sister.”

“Jarod wasn’t going to lie to her.”

“And how did I not know you knew her? Damn, Syd, did you keep everything away from us so we could never nab him?”

Sydney sat back in his chair. “A day at a time, it’s all you can give to him, and he can give to you. I know what you want and-“

“I want a better deal. I need a better deal. I am not going back home until I get one, but I am getting one. This is not over. Jarod contained equals happy me. He’s not stealing them.”

Sydney groaned. “He is still the father, and deserves to see them. No matter what you do, you cannot deny that.”

“I know he is, Sydney, and I’m not gonna keep them from him. But, I amnot going to risk him keeping them from me.”

The signal died. She hung up. Sydney sighed and sat his cell phone down. The situation would get worse before it got better.

 

-------------------

Miss Parker took her side of the bed again and whacked Jarod awake on his arm.

You’re being mean again.

I have to keep my promise. I promised I’d whack him and tell him.

That’s tricky. That’s kind of okay.

Thank you. “Hey.” She was staring right at a rightly annoyed but freshly woken up Jarod. “I called Sydney. Raines plan is still bupkiss. He guarantees a funeral if one doesn’t survive, and I can identify the body. That’s about it.”

“Well.” Jarod sighed. “You know you’re not supposed to do that. Thanks for telling me, I guess?”

“Like I could hide it from you?” she questioned him. “I learned a long time ago how hard that was to do. I still have nightmares.”

Jarod chuckled, knowing what she was referring to now. “Well, I . . . it was out of my simulation parameters. I was curious, Miss Parker.”

//////////

Young Jarod watched as Young Miss Parker came sort of close to him. He was confused. Her movements were odd. She seemed out of focus. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” she said. “Why wouldn’t I be?” She sat down in front of him. Stiffly.

“No, something’s wrong,” he continued. “I can tell that something is wrong.”

“It’s nothing, Jarod.”

“But I want to help.”

“You can’t help.”

“But I can try.”

“You can’t help, Jarod. Drop it.” She crossed her arms. “What are you doing today with Sydney? Anything fun?”

“Not really.” He shrugged. “You’re trying to change the subject. You seem different. The way you’re standing. Your addressal.”

“It’s nothing, Jarod, that I want to talk about.”

“But talking is good for you.”

“Jarod, stop.” She wiggled around in her seat.

“I just want to-“

“I got my period!” She shouted at him. “Okay? Now stop it, that’s it!”

Oh. “Your period?”

“Yes.”

Oh. “Is that why you didn’t come last week?”

She shrugged her shoulders.

Oh. “You were concerned about a certain period?”

She sighed and started to blush.

Oh. “You’re blushing. So it’s an embarrassing thing? This period in time? When was it?”

“You don’t get it, it’s not time.” Her blushing became harder. “I’m turning into a woman, Jarod.”

“Well, yes, growth always happens,” Jarod said. “There’s no stopping that.” He paused. “This isn’t time. Growth. That was slang. You are having puberty issues?”

Young Miss Parker covered her face. “Jarod, I swear. I won’t visit down here again for like a month if you don’t drop this.”

Oh. Then, he snapped his fingers, like something occurred to him. “Okay, Miss Parker. I’m sorry. I really want to continue being friends and just because you are shedding the lining of your uterus-“

Huh? She got right up and took off without even saying goodbye.  //////////////

 

“That day was just the beginning of your soon-to-be 24 hour PMSing,” Jarod said. “If you didn’t know the rules, here’s one. Try not calling on my phone? At least, not asking about escape plans?”

“Well, The Centre is the one who pays the tab on your phone,” she reminded him, yet again. “Besides, it doesn’t matter. Until I get wind of a better deal somehow, I’m stuck here for now.”

 

Jarod looked over at her as she closed her eyes again. Her body once again found sleep.

“If you don’t stop staring at me, I’ll find a way to shoot you,” she warned him with her eyes still closed.

Okay. It didn’t quite find sleep.

“Stay on your side.”

“I am,” Jarod said. “You’re the one who scooted over.” He attempted to try and push her, but she moved over instead. “I wasn’t going to hurt your stomach. You know I’m a pretty good doctor.”

“Hip hip hooray. Go to sleep.”

Jarod stayed safely tucked on his side, but he looked to her again. “Can I measure your approximate fundal height?”

“My funda-wha?”

“The approximate size of the babies. With only the Triumvirates word that it’s twins, I think it would be -“

“Stop. Shut up. Go to sleep.”

Jarod let out a sigh before lying back down. “You’re five months and you’ve only been examined by the Triumvirate. You’re going to have to have an exam sooner or later.”

“Sure. In a real hospital, later.”

Jarod didn’t respond to that one. “Goodnight, Miss Parker.”

 

She sighed. “Goodnight, Jarod.”

Chapter Text

I do not own Pretender. No profit is made off of this, it’s strictly for entertainment.

Two weeks Later . . .

 

Some pretends worked out so well, and some only minorly. Jarod did his best though, explaining and sharing several details daily at his job. He made new friends there, as always. He loved making new friends, and the possibilities they always brought.

But, Mister Lumber. Reaching him wasn’t easy. It took two weeks before he finally got an extra word out of him. He had been cozying up as much as possible. A similar background.

“Whoah, that’s incredible. You’re more knowledgeable than the other guides by far,” he finally said to Jarod, showing a true break into the shell that was him. “If you don’t mind me asking. Why work way out here?”

“Oh, I’ve been to other places,” Jarod settled on. “But, I’m happiest in smaller, warm towns with friends and family to share things with more than major cities. A bigger paycheck and view isn’t everything.”

“Yeah. Family. You have family around here?” he asked Jarod.

“No. I have friends, but they are like my family,” Jarod went with. “There are a lot of good people to be friends with in this town. Aren’t you friends with any of them?”

“No. Not looking for that,” he muttered.

Jarod tried to hold back his sigh. Getting him to open up was going to take a month or more.

“Sydney still ain’t got shit.”

No. Jarod turned around and faced Miss Parker. She was becoming ever oh so welcoming over the past week. Her friendship arrow was at nil. All she was striving for was to not break anyone’s arm. “Miss. I’m working.”

“Don’t give me that crap.” She shoved a lunch sack at him. “Making it and leaving it at home? You’re either preoccupied or planned this little shindig meeting.”

Shoot. “You brought my lunch?” He did forget it. He was planning on going back for his lunch. “Thank you.”

“Oh don’t thank me. That’s worse.”

Jarod looked into it. “You smushed my pudding.” It was a lunch sack. How hard was it to be gentle with a lunch sack? But when he looked up, he noticed something different about Mister Lumber and Miss Parker.

Then. He realized there was something else he wasn’t accounting for. That Mister Lumber may not have needed just any old friendship.

“Marty,” Mister Lumber said, tipping his hat to Miss Parker.  “Marty Lumber, ma’am. Are you the guide’s sister?”

She held back her feelings about the word ma’am as she tried to smile. “Jarod is-“

“Her brother,” Jarod lied to him. “She is my caring sister.” There. Now, at least his feelings wouldn’t be deflated so fast. He needed to start coming up with a new plan with new options. Wrong type of friend. It was hard to see, there was no interest, no purpose or glance that would show it to Jarod.

Until Miss Parker came.

So far, Marty hadn’t found anyone there that he could associate romantically with. He would need someone patient, and someone who enjoyed space as much as he did.

“Do you come here often?” Marty asked her.

“Not really,” Miss Parker admitted. “Not really into the wonders of space right now. Or, well, ever.”

“Don’t look like you’re too happy to be here,” Marty said.

“Honestly? I’m not. Your town is sh . . . shuch ummm . . .”

“It’s a shitty place,” Marty joked with her. “It is. There isn’t much to do here. The most fascinating thing is here. There’s really nowhere else to go though.”

“Why not? Get up, get out. What’s so hard about that?”

“I just . . .”

Jarod watched the conversation between Marty and Miss Parker. Been working here two weeks, not more than ‘guide’, and she’s already earned his first name. He watched Marty approach her closer.

“It just, I just . . .” Marty looked toward Miss Parker. “You’ve got an excitement in your eyes I haven’t seen anyone else have around here before.”

“Yeah?” She pursed her lips. “That’s ‘cause I’m from nowhere near this little lemonade stand. I’m not from a place that smiles down brightly while pigs dance in the sky. If I didn’t have to be here, there’s no way I would be.”

“Miss.” Hitting the line. “This town is full of nice people. Why not tell him about some of the good people you’ve met so far?” She just stared at Jarod for awhile. “Please?”

“Oh god. Am I helping you?” Of course, that annoyed her. She looked back to Marty. “Piggly Wiggly down on aisle three of the store asked if I was having a loving morning and I said ‘fine’.”

“Miss,” Jarod warned her again.

“What? He wants to really hear how everyone is oh so nice all the time?” She looked toward him. “Everyone is oh so nice all the time.”

“Yeah. Everyone’s fake, it’s all so fake. But you’re real.”

“Not Snow White with seven dwarfs. At best two medium sized nerds and one tall idiot-savant.”

Marty laughed.

Jarod was thinking as hard as he could. Real. Gritty. Obviously, female. Now that he could see. Marty Lumber didn’t need a friend to cozy up to in that town to express his feelings about his daughter. He needed someone to drag him away, and show him a new way to live again. Glockland. He met someone four months ago who was obviously yearning for something different too.

This wasn’t going to be solved by Jarod, but he knew how to lead the two to each other. He would have to contact Judy Glockland and see for sure whether they were a good match. Either way, Glockland was wanting something different. That little town might solve both their problems.

It looked like Jarod Ivory was almost done. When it came to love, he couldn’t Pretend to solve it. He could just give it the best chance to bloom. As Marty finally walked away, he took a moment to steal Miss Parker. “Pack up for tonight.”

She turned to look toward him. “Tell me it’s something better.”

“Inseminating pigs.”

“ . . . you’re inseminating . . .” she accused him. “Should I say it?”

“The tone, Miss Parker. It’s not like you’re doing it,” Jarod smiled at her. “Thank you.”

“Don’t. Start. I’m not helping, and I’m definitely not screwing pigs. Why do you end up in these places?”

“It’s just, where people need help,” Jarod said as he shrugged. “You inadvertently helped, but I can tell it wasn’t on purpose, if that makes you feel better?”

---------------------

One week later . . .

 

Well. It may be donuts he’ll be making, but at least it was a decent sized city. Of course, when it came to a car rental, they ended up getting clown red again. Still, small miracles. Much better house than last time.

She breathed the air. So much better than where she’d been. His inseminating pig gig. What didn’t he do? “So who the hell am I here?”

“Pinkman’s still fine, The Centre didn’t bother us at all in the last two places,” Jarod said. “I’ve just got one stop before work.”

The hospital? Miss Parker looked toward him. “You never let me go to the hospital in the other towns.”

“I got connections in this one. We have to be careful, a paper trail with no friends to help can get into sticky situations,” Jarod said as he pulled in. They both got out of the car.

Miss Parker got out, like always, but she could tell she was getting bigger. Now only the ignorant assumed she was fat and not pregnant. “Okay, let’s get this over with.”

“Then, donuts,” Jarod smiled as he walked a little too close to her. “Sprinkles. Fudge. Different colors, all kinds of colors. Classic. Glaze. Little containers of chocolate milk right on the side.” He held his hands out. “You can see it all inside of a glass casing, to make sure you pick just the right one you want.”

“Am I going to start seeing weird donut things in our place?” Miss Parker asked him. “Are you working your way up to a pastry chef?”

“Oh, why, Miss Parker. Good guess,” He said. “But, no.” He walked into the office with her.

“Are we going to go educate ourselves by visiting a hundred donut shops around here?” Because she sure could use one now. Damn. I used to be a lot better. Pregnancy cravings.

“In just a little while. You go ahead and get your appointment. You’ll be sticking around for awhile anyhow, you have to give a urine sample.”

“Whoo-pee.” The pun in her statement wasn’t lost to him, but she avoided the smile as they were finding a place to sit down. “Not that. We should sit anywhere ‘cept there.”

Of course, Jarod chose the spot with the most kids. The mommies who kept getting pregnant like it was a competition. He was in the play area, watching a two and three year old color and play with blocks and small toys.

Miss Parker sat down. When she looked back toward the kids, Jarod was gone. Great. I’m gonna go back and get stuck with 500 pictures of donuts strewn around the place. She tried not to make eye contact. She went for her urine sample when asked, and sat back down again.

“Miss Pinkman?” The nurse called out to her. “The doctor will see you now.” Miss Parker went through the hallway and doors, got herself measured, made polite ‘small talk’ as best she could take it, and then the nurse got all her vitals.

“Alright, Miss Pinkman, the doctor will be in here soon.”

Miss Parker lied down on the hospital bed. Hospitals. I hate hospitals.

“Alright Nurse, thank you. I’ll take that.”

Huh? Miss Parker pulled herself up. Jarod was dressed in a white coat. A doctor’s white coat. Oh hell no. She started to get up, but he easily blocked her.

“Relax, everything’s fine,” Jarod insisted. He pointed to his nametag that said Jarod Hopkins. “The doctor will see you now.”

“Jarod, this isn’t funny,” she growled, “what are you doing?”

“Doctor Hopkins,” Jarod corrected her. “Nurse, I want you to schedule her for a blood exam after this to the lab. I want the results sent back to me as soon as possible.”

“Yes, Doctor Hopkins.”

“Jarod!”

“Easy,” he warned her. “Stress isn’t good. I hear you think you’re having twins. We should probably get that confirmed. Almost six months without an exam is no good,” he said as he took a chart back from the nurse and signed it. While he signed, Miss Parker tried to get up again. “Miss Pinkman, you really ought to sit down. Analysis?”

“Negative for any bladder infections in the urine sample, Doctor Hopkins.”

“Great to hear.”

Oh no. “Jarod, I’m warning you-“

“Pregnancy is a difficult time, but let’s not threaten the doctor, shall we? Lie back down.”

“Couldn’t you just ask to feel the baby instead of all of this?” That would have been easier. And possible.

“Don’t worry. If you’re that adamant, I can have another doctor take over later,” Jarod stressed to her. “Now, lie back.”

She sighed, letting him know her discontent of his little trick. Yet. He was about the best doctor in the world, if he’d been a doctor. He knew more than any real doctor. “Fine, just get it over with.” She felt Jarod touch her belly. Of course he’d get to touch her belly, she knew that had been coming in some way.

“A little higher. Suspicions may be right. We’ll know for sure with an ultrasound here soon.” He went ahead and grabbed some kind of microphone looking thing. And gel.

“The hell is that?”

“Don’t worry, this’ll just be a little cold.”

He smeared it on her belly! He better have a damn good reason for putting clear jelly all over her belly.

“Calm down. Stress is not good for you,” Jarod reminded her once again. He moved the microphone along her belly.

Okay. Touching the belly was one thing, what the heck was he doing?

“There.” He had a light smile, almost a surprise. “There it is.”

There what is? What was that look? She watched him move the same thing he had been listening to towards her. And she heard it. A heartbeat. He had found one of the babies’ heartbeats. It could be her baby girl or boy, but it was alive and beating. Inside of her.

“Have you felt any movement?” Jarod continued as he grabbed a chart.

“No,” Miss Parker said. “Should I?” She knew Jarod was one of the best fake doctors out there. Better than real doctors. But, it didn’t kick in that his expertise really meant anything to her until now.

“Not a problem. You should be soon though.” He got up. “Nurse, if you could get her some water, get another physician in here to finish up, and then point out the way to the ultrasound room to her, that’d be great. I’m going on a break for about two hours.”

“Yes, Doctor Hopkins.”

 

--------------------

He didn’t plan on it. Probably shouldn’t, but his mind didn’t care right now. Jarod dialed Sydney’s number. He just had to.

“This is Sydney.”

“I heard it,” Jarod said, not able to hold back the joy in him. “I’ve seen it just light up the expressions on parents faces before. You can see the shape of the tummy, but that first sound. I never got to experience it for myself.” He laughed. “It’s exciting, Sydney!”

“You heard something? From your future children?”

“A heartbeat, yes.”

“Ah. Are you the doctor, Jarod?”

“Partly. I gave her over to another physician for the rest.”

“I imagine that would be less stressful. It is a very-.”

“Yeah, hands on. But I wasn’t missing the opportunity. In about another hour, she’ll be in for the ultrasound.” He’d done it all more than once. Twice. Ten times. But his own. It was. “My family, Sydney. I’m going to see them. Not a picture of what they used to look like. A picture of them, now.”

“I know. It must be an incredible feeling,” Sydney agreed. “I’m glad you and Miss Parker can share these moments as mother and father.”

“I’m holding onto her as hard as I can. It doesn’t help that she won’t agree to anything more than ‘for now’, or that she still calls you asking for any news about Raines and The Centre.”

“It is her life. Was her life. She can’t turn it off like a faucet.”

“I know. At least she tells me. In the middle of the night, whacking me awake.  Gentle and Miss Parker never did mix though.” He hit end on his cell phone. He should have plenty of time for the ultrasound, dropping her off, and getting back to work.

 

-------------------

 

Miss Parker had no problem with the drawing of her blood. It was the other stuff that made it tough. It felt funny walking after the prodding she had to endure. It didn’t hurt, per say. It was just.

“Feeling weird? Little lost? Or both?”

Smart ass. She looked back at Jarod. Smiling son of a bitch. “Some things you just can’t Pretend to understand.” She looked toward the signs.

“This way. It’ll get easier as time goes by.”

“Shut up.”

“You really should visit hospitals more for those kinds of-“

“Shut up.” She was finally awarded with his sigh.

“A couple doors more. How are you doing?”

“I’m a waterfall waiting to happen!”  What kind of sicko would make her drink all that water and tell her she couldn’t use the bathroom until after the ultrasound? “Jarod, can you stop tormenting my life? At least for one day.”

“It was necessary,” Jarod said. “For the ultrasound. It’ll be worth it.”

 

More damn cold jelly! Miss Parker watched the monitor she was told to watch. As a ‘picture’ of shadows and circles and blurriness appeared, the ultrasound woman tried to move another little microphone weird thing around again. Jarod probably knew all the terms though.

Although the Pretender could get on her nerves, Miss Parker couldn’t help a small smirk when Jarod grabbed the instrument, almost in frustration, and pulled it all into focus in a matter of a few seconds, showing the ultrasound ‘expert’ up.

He was clearly reading the screen, his eyes focused on the image, probably seeing everything crystal clear with all his experience. All she could see was shadow and blue.

For once, she wished she could see what he saw. She was trying to make sense out of the whole thing.

“Arm.” Jarod gestured around the ultrasound trying to determine everything himself. “Definitely twins. Boy and girl.”

“How do you know all that?” The ultrasound lady was not looking too happy.

“I’m Jarod Hopkins. New doctor.” He gestured to Miss Parker. “New father to be too.” He gestured in the middle where there was a constantly beating circle over and over again. “A heart.”

There. She could finally make out something. “That beating shadow?”

“Yes.” He was trying to indicate more, but Miss Parker focused on what she could.

The heart. A heart from one of the two.

Angel or the Boy.

The boy that Jarod still didn’t have the name for yet. But ‘when he did, he’ll know’.

 

 

 

-----------------------

 

Jarod came home, a little later than usual. That was the usual when he had to Pretend to be a medical professional. Still, it was worth it. He got to see for himself how they were doing. Even the first snapshot of them, before they were even born.

To make up for his deceit a little though, he went ahead and stopped for donuts. He saw her expression as he talked about them before. He could tell she wanted some. But it wasn’t too deceitful, it would be his next Pretend.

 When he first came in, he didn’t notice anything wrong. She might be resting again. He went ahead and softly knocked. If she were deep asleep, it wouldn’t wake her. If she was getting dressed, she’d make her presence known with a ‘you better not open that door’.

When he looked in, she wasn’t laying down though. “Parker?”

No. No, she couldn’t have. Calm down. I didn’t sense anything wrong. None of her movements, she didn’t do anything else. He took off to check other parts. The bathroom. The kitchen. The upstairs that they had no need for, but looked good if others wanted to check the ‘doctor’ out for themselves.

He went to the table, looking around it. If she left the house, he had insisted on a note from the first time he went bonkers when she took off. No note.

Okay. He had no choice. He rushed back to the bedroom and picked up the phone to dial Sydney. Did Raines give her a deal she couldn’t pass up after all?

“This is-“

“Sydney, where is she?!” Jarod shouted.

“Outside. Fresh air.”

He never thought he’d be so happy to hear that annoyed voice. “False alarm, Sydney. Sorry.” He hung up.

“Do I really have to leave a note if I’m wandering out-what’s that?”

“Donuts.” He wiggled the paper bag.

“ . . . what are those doing here?”

“For eating. You should know that one. Even I know that one.” He reached in and grabbed one for her. “I can tell you want one?”

“ . . . I haven’t had one of those since I began training,” she said.

“Then you are really due for one.” He pushed it to her closer. “Eat. I bought them for you.”

Her eyes. Something was different with her eyes. Her stance that had always been so confident had slowly been drooping, but it was like she was trying to pry herself up.

Had he done it? Was he finally busting through her hard exterior? “One donut can’t hurt, Miss.” She walked off past him, back outside. Okay, maybe bust wasn’t the word. Still, he wasn’t one to give up.

She was standing in front of a garden of flowers. That’s why she was outside. She must have been thinking about her mom. The place he rented out this time was a beautiful home, complete with a garden.

“Jarod. I’m supposed to be hunting you, to bring you back to The Centre,” she said, her back still turned, staring at the garden. “I am here, because if I’m not, you’re going to use your intellect through all The Centre’s defenses, and steal my children away. So, why the hell are you buying me donuts?”

Nope. Not a bust. Not even a dent. He didn’t expect it to happen overnight after all. “I tricked you a little to get you in my hospital. I thought donuts would help?”

When she turned, she just looked . . . confused. Unfocused. “You don’t make sense. None of this makes sense.” She looked toward her belly. “This doesn’t make sense. No sense.” She turned back around.

“No, it doesn’t,” Jarod agree, “but I’m trying to make the best of it.”

“I am your enemy,” she said dangerously. “Trusting me simply because I can’t fight to bring you in right now is a stupid thing to do.”

Damn it. “Why do we have to keep being enemies? Why do you have to keep trying to bring me into The Centre?” Why couldn’t she just be the little girl, with a good heart, like she used to be? Even half. Even a tenth of her. He’d forget and forgive the whole six years of hunting him then and there, if she just said ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘I was wrong’ or ‘I did it all for daddy, but I got too wound up in it all’.

But for once. For the first time. He got an answer. He didn’t understand it, but she answered it. It wasn’t ‘because it’s my job’, or because ‘your games and tricks pushed me overboard’, or even because ‘I started this game and I have to finish it.’

No. She didn’t say any of that. Instead, she said:

 

“Pretenders are dangerous and can’t belong in society. I must bring you in, one way or another.”

Chapter Text

I do not own Pretender. No profit is made off of this, it’s strictly for entertainment.


 

He didn’t hear that. She is serious? He couldn’t believe after six years out there, she even said it. Fine, if she said it in his first coming year, at least it was an unknown variable, how he would handle extra stimulation in his environment.

But. Six. Years. That wasn’t even a viable excuse! But the way she said it. “Well. I think that I’m more dangerous inside The Centre, being used, against my own will, for Sims that go out and hurt people. Kill people. So, the logic is a little lost on me since I’ve been out here for six years helping society. Helping others.” He dropped the donut bag on the ground. “I’ve helped anyone I could out here! I’ve helped atone what I could for my Sims. I helped dads keep kids. Moms keep kids. Men and women, find their way back to a happy life. Avenging deaths of hate. Showing others how to live when they felt lost and alone. I did everything I could, more than anyone else with my abilities would bother doing! I did it, by using my pretending skills. So, if you could explain that ridiculous phrase you just spouted out at me, then do it!”

Done. He felt so done. He never gave up. On anyone. On anything. How? How was he supposed to be able to raise his kids, his family, with her? She was their mom, it was true. She deserved to be there, it was true, but-! “How are you gonna put our kids to bed each night, telling them you think I’m dangerous, and that I’m going to go crazy on them one day?”

It wasn’t going to work.

It just wasn’t going to work. “You know I’m not dangerous. Parker, I even saved your father once! The man who locked me away from my family, I saved him for you!” And his family. “I was fine as a kid, out here, in society. I wasn’t dangerous to it. The Centre stole me, stole me from my family and locked me away into that environment!” How? How?

She would never change. She was so psychologically damaged over the years, she would never come back. And he knew it. He knew it. He just let himself, just for a little while, pretend that she could.

That somehow, they could work this all out. But if his family stayed with her, she could turn the children against him. Eventually get him caught. Convince them he was ‘dangerous’.

To pull them away from her though . . . it would break her heart, and it would be the end of his atonement.

“Pretenders are dangerous and don’t belong in society. You’re slow with the change, and I don’t know why, Jarod!”

Hm? He watched her turn around.

“Pretenders have thrived at The Centre since it began, and the ones that did escape, every single one of them, their minds shattered, Jarod.” She rolled her eyes. “In The Centre, with limited stimuli, with focus and control, you aren’t  dangerous. When a Pretender makes it out here too long, their minds unravel and they Pretend themselves into something so deep that they can’t make it back out.”

 “I know, but after six years you still thought that?” It was insane for her to think that.

“Not thought, think. No Pretender. Stays out here. Sane. Forever.”

Wait? “I’m not slowly changing. I’m not going to go crazy, period.”

She turned back to look at the garden. “We have access to the older generations of Pretenders, and how they acted. That’s why The Centre is so difficult to escape. That’s why even a man as soft as  Broots was okay at trying to find you and putting you back in. That’s why Sydney was torn between letting you go and bringing you back. Everyone thought that you would curb your ‘saving people’ to ‘making them pay’.”

Crazy. Even Sydney? No, he knows better. And Mister Broots? Well . . . he did grab a spoon . . . he said ‘don’t kill me’. That. Could it?

“Of course, things were ran different back then. It wasn’t plexiglass and good teachers, it was guards and metal and darkness. More like a dark fortress ran by an evil wizard.” She just sighed. “Then you just had to pull out the secrets of my mother. Red Files. Gemini. Even Ethan. I couldn’t walk away, none of us could.”

“You’re expecting me to go insane, still?” Jarod asked. “Well, I’m not, and I’ll tell you why.” This time, he tried to say it with a smile. Work with it, no matter how simple the concept was to see. Act like she’s a child, learning her ABC’s. He picked his bag of donuts off the ground. None of them had fallen out or got dirty.  “The ones who escaped, their minds were overwhelmed by all of the increased stimulation at once, and they didn’t know how to get away,” Jarod said. “I don’t have that problem. I isolate myself. When I give myself time, and let my mind wander specifically into one direction, I’m fine.”

“What? You mean, all the nutty things you’re doing between places that make it look like you’ve gone nuts . . . actually keep you sane?” She was starting to put it together. “It’s not all just to play with us? I don’t buy it.”

 

How could she not buy it? “Sometimes, sometimes not,” he admitted. “Besides, I like that time,” he still smiled. “Isolating myself into my own conscience, not by physical walls of The Centre, and going my own way, not the way anyone wanted to make me go. Six years later, I’m still here. Still happy.”  He held out the donuts, wiggling the bag, one more time. One more shot. “Still offering donuts?”

Miss Parker’s stance was still hard, but finally her body relaxed as she walked over to him. “Fine. Maybe you’re not going crazy . . . but I feel like I might be.” She took a donut out of the bag and walked away. “I’m still here. For now.”

How many times had she seen my isolation afterwards? Even Sydney understood. How could she not?

Miss Parker wasn’t stupid, but how did she believe that statement after six years? “Wait. Speaking of isolation.” He walked toward her and gave her the bag. “Stay on the ground floor a couple of days, and don’t bother me upstairs for anything unless it’s important. And I don’t mean a crashing personal problem, I’m talking lives on the line.”

She looked up to the whole second floor from the outside.“You’re going to get all funkadelic up there, aren’t you?” She looked toward the bag. “Don’t you usually do that while you’re learning skills?” She raised an eyebrow. She huffed. “You were only here to check me out, weren’t you?”

Intelligent. Yes, he was there just to check her out. And yes, he did get all ‘funkadelic’ when he was learning his skills. So how did she know all that, and still believe the excuse she just gave him?   “I’ll see you Thursday.”

“You gone and undisturbed, I could slip away right underneath your nose,” she said curiously.

“You might.” But, he didn’t see or sense anything that told him she would. And, it was necessary. He needed time away, time to let his mind work and all social sensory to stop. He loved the world, and all the interaction, but his mind also needed a sense of peace.

He needed that time. Even if I did have to take them away, I couldn’t watch them. Without isolation time . . .

He gestured toward the donut bag. “There’s a little money in there too. You can go grocery shopping, or just go out. Don’t go nuts though, that’s all you’re getting.”

“I’ll try and contain myself.” She looked inside. “Ooh, a whole hundred. I’m ready for multiple shopping sprees,” she said sarcastically.

He reached in his pocket and put in another hundred. “Different area, different clothes too.”

“I am still the girlfriend who’s pregnant?” She looked in the bag one more time. “Ooh, a manila envelope. Nevermind.”

“I’ll see you Thursday morning,” he said chipperly as he went off.

And then the phone rang. Sydney. The one call a month was getting to be more frequent. He understood it, of course, Miss Parker was in a new and fragile situation. Still. “What.”

“Jarod? Is Miss Parker rubbing off on you that much?”

Oh. His annoyance peeked through there. “I can’t talk for a few days, Sydney. Remember? I have to go be by myself. It keeps me from going crazy.”

“I know that, Jarod.”

Then why didn’t she?

“Jarod, it’s important that someone speaks to Miss Parker.”

What a surprise. “The more you use something, the more chance it’ll be found out. Then, I’ll have to work extra hard to find a way to set this back up.” But, he stopped talking as he heard a light cough behind him. It was female. Young girl. “Who needs to speak to her?”

“Debbie. And, Miss Parker is going to be furious at you if you turn her away right now.”

Great. Broots’ daughter now wanted to talk to Miss Parker. “How many people know about this phone?”

“Jarod.”

“This is putting me more behind, Sydney,” Jarod complained.

“A lot of things are bound to change in your life, Jarod. It’s inevitable. If you have to go, then you should let Miss Parker hold the phone. She still needs to stay in communication with her old life. Completely cutting it off will only make her grow further apart.”

Jarod took a deep breath and handed the phone to Miss Parker. If it was life or death, Sydney would have explained it. What a little girl wanted to say to Miss Parker, he had no clue. But, he couldn’t ignore Sydney’s advice. “For you.”

“For me? You mean I don’t have to steal it away when you’re not looking?” She took the phone. “What.”

Then, he saw it. What he dreamed of seeing. Ungarnished by a disguise or just a need to act. The edges of her mouth curled ever so gently and her eyes lit up.

“Debbie,” she said. “How are you?” He watched her expression fall into something else. Surprise? Nostalgia? “Ah. Yes.” She pulled the phone from her mouth and waved Jarod away. “Go do your anti-nuts thing that makes you look even nuttier already. Girl talk.” She focused back on the phone. “Well, it won’t be the easiest thing in the world to tell Broots, but you’re going to have to.” She waved him away again, and then rolled her eyes. “Don’t. Don’t be scared. Broots is going to pace up and down and go a little nuts when he found out you had your period, but it won’t be that bad.”

Oh. Guess there was a reason for calling. Sydney’s right. If she needs it, she’d either come up and steal it or leave the house for a phone. “Keep the phone with you,” he decided as he started to walk away. Less of a chance of him being disturbed by it anyway.

“Me? Oh no, my momma already passed when I had mine. No, it wasn’t easy. Sydney and Mister Raines were both called down there, and daddy demanded blood tests to make sure everything was on the up and up before ‘the situation was resolved to the best of his abilities’,” she laughed on the phone. “Funny now. Mortifying back then.”

Jarod couldn’t help a small smile as he walked away. Small things in everyday life. She was almost completely out of ear shot, but he looked back one more time. He just wanted to see her with that smile again. He had no idea that a phone call was going to let him see that. It was the first time he’d seen it since he watched her with Thomas Gates.

Debbie apparently meant as much, if not more, than Thomas had meant to her.

 

----------------------

 

Broots’ Home

 

“Thank you, Sydney,” Debbie said to him. She curled her fingers on top of each other. “I think I can do this now.”

“Hm. I will leave your home soon then,” Sydney said with a smile. “You are an incredibly wonderful girl, and you can do this. It’s just another step in life.” As she left the room though, Sydney thought back to that day Miss Parker started her period. It was not something that he wanted to leave on a Saturday night to discuss with Mister Parker.

It was more than nerves though, Mister Parker was thorough. Although he was nervous about how much his ‘Angel’ was growing up, in fact the next day visiting even Jarod . . . it was more than that.

Sydney rubbed his bottom lip. Debbie was certainly at an age when she could start, and she did complain about cramps and what to do with Miss Parker on the phone. But.

Mister Parker was cautious.

Sydney leaned back in his seat, thinking. They were only making things up about Debbie to keep Broots quiet. She’s been fine. Hasn’t she? He looked toward her one more time.

He dismissed the thought away. It took them six months for Jarod to discover it was a trick. They were only giving her vitamins, she’d been fine. Even Jarod never thought twice about it, and Jarod never let anything stay unturned.

No. It was just a natural part of a growing young ladies’ life. Best not to get anyone antsy. But, still. A little precaution went a long way. “Do you mind coming with me for a little while, Debbie? When bodies change, sometimes other things happen to.”

She looked surprised. “You mean something could be wrong with me?”

“Not likely, but your whole body is changing, and sometimes there are unexpected side effects.” He smiled. “If I can take a simple blood test, I promise I will make it back up to you. Besides,” he said. “Your father is at work, and he’s going to question where I am at anyhow. Meet life head on, dear.”

She took a deep breath. “Okay, Sydney. I can do this.”

 

----------------------------

Centre Leader’s Room

 

“Sir. We have some news about Mister Broots.”

“What,” Raines said. “It better be important.”

“His daughter started her menstrual cycle, sir.”

“Oh?”

“And Sydney is insisting on a blood analysis.”

“Oh.” That was important. While Jarod had future children on his mind, and the hell of having Miss Parker tag along, he was too busy to see it.

But Sydney wasn’t. “He must be being extra cautious because of what happened to Miss Parker.” If Sydney found something, he didn’t have six months. “This is troubling news.”

“It could be, sir.”

Raines got up and wheeled his oxygen tank to the office room’s secret safe, for the leader of The Centre only. Inside was a DSA case. “A child’s body, so unpredictable.” He sighed. “I have no choice. We are turning the heat up to smoke out Miss Parker.”

“What about the Pretender, Sir?”

“With Lyle’s scheduling, and whatever Triumvirate drug they concocted, there isn’t time to play ‘get Jarod to trust’.” He wheezed as he brought the DSA case out. “I didn’t want to use this. It’s a one-time card.”

“Oh.” The guard looked toward him. “Is that her mother, Sir?”

“No,” Raines said. “She wished. Set up an appointment with Sydney and Broots. I have to start this fire.” He breathed harder. “Give Jarod back his old room when he gets here. Be ready to quickly stock it with every drug the Triumvirate’s worked on. Give him any kind of ingredient he wants that is medicinal. Nothing else. Have all security ready on his room again, including standing guards.”

“But, sir? You wanted a new room, with everything that looked the same?”

“When he’s done, he’ll be moved. Until then, he’s not going anywhere.”

“Sir?”

“Not unless he wants to lose the chance the ‘young lady’ is going to die. All the potions, test tubes, and everything else will be distributed at 8 AM and be picked up at 11:59 PM. If there’s a way to find the cure, he will.” He wheezed. “If not, oh well.”

“Oh. Then, Broots, sir?”

“If Jarod saves his daughter, his death would be a waste considering his skills. Perhaps, Broots would become even more loyal to The Centre.” Yes, he might. If The Centre discovered the problem so early . . . hmm.

-------------------------

 

Chapter Text

I do not own Pretender.


 

The Centre Leader’s Room

 

Sydney observed Raines as he rolled his gas tank around and stared at him and Broots.

 “Miss Parker has been a prisoner for six months, by Lyle,” Raines said. “She could have psychological trauma after that time. And now, almost four weeks later, she is still Jarod’s prisoner as well. Although, I suspect she isn’t in chains. I don’t think Jarod,” he wheezed, “would do that to a pregnant woman. She feels unsafe with the history of The Centre, and she isn’t budging.” He breathed in deeper. “When Jarod makes contact, I want you to concentrate on her. I want to know every detail you see, every word you hear, and every glance she may give you.”

“You are . . . very concerned,” Sydney noted. “Jarod is our prime target, and he has no history of violence that would lead me to believe he’d hurt Miss Parker. He simply wants his family, as in every other case that concerns him.”

“I don’t want to play guessing games,” Raines warned him. “I want Miss Parker back, here at The Centre. Immediately.”

“Um.” Broots finally spoke up. “Catching Jarod isn’t easy. It’s been six years and he’s still out there. I don’t think we can do ‘immediately’ with someone he’s protecting.” Oops. “I mean, he’s protecting his future family. He does wild stuff when it comes to them, even walked in The Centre to cut a deal.”

Raines slowly wheeled his oxygen tank from his desk to the front of Broots. “I want Jarod back in The Centre, but I want the welfare of my daughter to come first.”

“Well, um, in the meantime a-at least Jarod is the best Pretend doctor out there.” The close proximity was disturbing Broots. “Several times better than a real doctor.” Raines still wasn’t moving away. “Our target is Miss Parker. Okay.”

Over Jarod?” Sydney questioned him. “Jarod is the highest priority of The Centre. Is something wrong, Raines?” Raines wasn’t in the best of health, but as far as Sydney knew there were no complications.

“Stresses are high between The Centre and the Triumvirate right now,” Raines simply answered.

“Stealing Miss Parker and impregnating her with Jarod’s child,” Sydney said. “I imagine that put a small dent in it, as did the fact they were planning to assassinate you soon and let Lyle run everything.”

“Who?” Raines said.

“Lyle.”

“Never heard of him,” he commented back. “I am sending in more help to bring her back safely.”

“Well, we are short one person,” Broots said.

“You are getting a new three person assembly, one of which will accompany you in the actual pursuit,” Raines demanded.

“Three?” Three more? “That is extreme. More people do not make it any easier to catch Jarod,” Sydney insisted. “That is who we will need to catch in order to get Miss Parker back.”

“Two of them will be working together to nail where Jarod targets first. You can’t separate them. Literally.” Raines looked toward Broots. “Your need in the pursuit is minimal.  Light computer work to help the new pursuers discover the way Jarod works. Otherwise, I want the three projects you are working on done as quickly as possible instead.”

“What?” Confusion spread onto his face. “You mean, I don’t have to chase anyone down anymore? Just do the side projects, and some tutoring?”

“They are more important to me right now,” Raines answered. “With your years of dedication to Jarod, and your work at the Centre, you are also due a promotion. You’ll get paid three times what you were after you finish these projects.”

“Oh.” That confusion spread to a definite joy. “Yes, sir! You bet, Mister Raines.”

“There will be no use of Angelo in any capacity,” Raines warned each of them. “He is being monitored by 24 hour surveillance, along with guards.”

“Guards too?” Sydney asked. What was Raines hiding with Angelo?

“If you speak to Miss Parker, be sure to tell her that everything is fine.” Raines breathed deeply as he handed Sydney a recording. “Give her this. The Triumvirate will not mess with my heirs.”

“What about her?” Sydney asked, looking at the recording. “Their purpose for her?”

“Is null and void. It was Lyle, and a few insiders inside Mutumbo’s  area,” Raines insisted. “Mutumbo personally guaranteed the traitors were dealt with, and I guaranteed Lyle had been dealt with. The Centre is, and always will be, her home.”

Lies. Mutumbo had to have known what was going on. Raines was stepping lightly.

“Now. I don’t like to talk about this,” Raines said. “It is . . . Parker policy. This situation needs to be taken care of, and just in case either of you start . . . acting foolish about the situation. I must stress it.”

“Stress what?”

Sydney and Broots watched as Raines brought out a case with DSA’s, similar to what Jarod made off with. “Stress that if these fall in the wrong hands, The Centre will make you and everyone you love . . . . gone.”

“What are those?” Broots asked.

“DSA’s,” Raines said. “DSA’s of someone’s entire life.”

“Copy of Jarod’s?” Broots guessed.

“No.” He handed them the briefcase. “My daughter’s.”

 

----------------------------------

 

After each of them left Mister Raines’ office, they didn’t speak. They went straight to their office to work. Broots got down beside the computer. Sydney was quiet over in the corner. “Um.” Finally, Broots spoke. “Did . . . did you know?”

“Of course I didn’t know!” Sydney went off on him. “If I had known I would’ve-!” He cut himself off.

“Well? Do we, um.” Broots glanced over at him. “Do we tell Jarod about her? I mean, next time he contacts us?”

Sydney grabbed a chair and sat on it, contemplating. “Jarod is watching her stress already. He knows that stress with her history of ulcers wouldn’t be good for the pregnancy. But . . .”

“Sydney?” Broots questioned. “What . . .” Sydney started to leave the office. “Where are you going?”

“I am . . . taking a day for myself,” Sydney said. “I need time to adjust to this news. Please, work on your projects, Broots.” Sydney left the office, thinking back to the conversation they had with Raines.

A conversation about a subject he should have known better.

Miss Parker.

 

“What do you mean of her entire life?” Sydney asked. “She was not held at The Centre.”

“From early birth ‘til she was in her early twenties, I kept tabs on my daughter.” Raines opened the DSA case, grabbed one and put it in. “It operates by locating the chip that was lodged into her shortly after birth. Every Centre camera is programmed to switch to her presence, and record it’s log time in part of the . . .” He breathed. “Chronology of her life.”

He hit play. Sydney and Broots watched as Raines carried Miss Parker as a baby away. It went from one room, blacked out, to the next room, blacked out, and to the next room until Catherine Parker was in the room, stretching her arms out for her.

“I. But. I?” Broots looked to Sydney. “Sydney?”

“Raines.” Sydney’s voice was stiff. “You have been spying on Miss Parker all of her life?”

“Not when it wasn’t convenient. I had it removed in her mid twenties, The Centre had total control of her and it was causing complications.” He looked at Sydney. “Having Miss Parker transmitting everything around her, made it easier to find the traitors.”

“Then . . .”

“Why couldn’t I say everything I saw?” Raines said, finishing what he wanted to ask. “I wasn’t in charge. Mister Parker would never have allowed it.” He smirked. “From her lovely home to The Centre itself. Few and far places between were the only thing not monitored. Now.” He closed the DSA player. “Take this. Study it. Study her. Study whatever you need that will help you catch her.”

“What?” Broots pointed shakily to it. “But, how is that supposed to help?”

“Get under her skin. Torment her. That’s how Jarod does it. He patted the DSA player. “Find her weaknesses. Give her riddles to solve. Torture her, and make her hitchhike and run away to get back home.”

“Yes, sir.”

Sydney and Broots looked behind them. By them was another person, stretching his arms out for the case.

“You can count on us.”

Siamese twins smiled gleefully as they strolled over. Clearly connected at the hip area, they each had two arms, two legs and a head.

Sydney looked back toward Raines. “You expect us to just sit and watch her lifetime away to find little bits to torment her with? Raines-“

“Mister Raines,” Raines corrected him. “And if you aren’t comfortable with your job, then I suggest a new one. We don’t do two week notices though. We run differently. Besides,” he wheezed. “It’s no different than we did with Jarod.”

“At least he knew he was being watched.”

“Is that better?” Raines asked him. “Do it or don’t Sydney, but I want Miss Parker back.” He took a deep breath. “If something happens to me, it’s all over. The Triumvirate will cease total control. The Parkers would no longer run it. We have no scrolls, no defense. That is why it’s important to get her back. Even above Jarod. Jarod is important to the future, but Miss Parker is the now. Without the Now, There is no future.”

“And you will keep both heirs?” Sydney asked innocently. “They won’t be separated at birth? Even if one is as brilliant as Jarod himself? I’m sure Miss Parker is quite worried . . . that The Centre may meddle in her own affairs with them.”

“You know there are two,” Raines said. “All of The Centre knows there are two, there will be no secrets. The delivery will be open to all The Centre who want to see it, to destroy any chances of taking anything. If any don’t survive, I will personally see to it there is a funeral and wake with a body presented for her to identify with a signed signature, and identification by you and Broots, if that’s what it takes to get her back!”

“But . . . Catherine Parker?”

“I already have control of The Centre. I’m not young and I don’t need to be reckless. The future survival will be better with two, and if they are as brilliant as Jarod? Then The Centre will be in the best hands for a long time to come.”

“But.” Broots was getting braver again. “What about Jarod?”

“You will be capturing him too. He is the second highest priority, and he’s escaped The Centre for six years.”

“Well, yeah, but that’s not what I mean,” Broots said. “Are . . . I mean, if he’s brought back, will he get to interact with his kids?” He cleared his throat. “Sir?”

“Probably not, Broots,” Sydney said looking toward Raines. “I doubt the children would be perfect candidates to run The Centre, if they knew their father was a subject himself.”

“Actually.” Raines . . . smirked. “The Centre is all about family. They can see their ‘daddy’  up to two hours a day. As long as he’s working well.”

“And you don’t think that kind of exposure would change them in any way?” What was Raines up to?

“Miss Parker broke the rules and interacted as a child with him. She still became the perfect one to run The Centre after me,” Raines said.

“But?” Broots just gestured toward him. “She’s um, she’s called you names, threatened you several times, and almost shot you. So.”

“She has a Parker kind of heart,” Raines said, almost with pride. “It always stabs hard for affection.”

 

At his house, Sydney held himself a drink as he sat back in his chair. He swirled it in his glass. “Old fool. Just an old fool.” He took a drink. “A fool about Jarod. A fool about Catherine’s child.” He took another drink. “Just an old fool.” He picked up his phone.

Jarod would not be happy about it. Far from it. He’d probably hold a lot of blame over him, and he’d be right to do it.

He polished off his drink and slammed it down.

Sydney could never make up for all the years he kept Jarod at the Centre. But now, he realized he let down someone else. “I knew it too,” he slurred. “I knew it. Ever since that last time with her, and I didn’t push it. I didn’t push it at all, I just ignored it.” He picked the glass back up and refilled it.

He didn’t even get a chance to talk to Jarod about any voices or visions Miss Parker could be hearing. Since Ethan was special, he might assume it was the same thing.

It wasn’t.

 

---------------------------------

 

“You have to get Miss Parker back here safely,” Raines said, “or things could turn sour for her.”

Broots asked. “Why? How will things turn sour?”

“Miss Parker is true Parker blood,” Raines said. “When a Parker is pulled into training, their minds are . . . changed a little. It helps them focus.”

“Minds change?” Broots asked. “What do you mean?”

A child’s scream was heard outside the door. Broots stood up, and then looked at Raines. “What’s that?”

“Nothing. We’re discussing work, Mister Broots. Sit down.”

The scream came again. This time, Sydney stood up. As he headed to the door, so did Broots and the two Siamese sisters.

“We are in the middle of a meeting, gentleman, where do you think you’re going?” Raines said. “If you leave out that door, you’re fired.”

Broots stopped almost as soon as the Siamese sisters, but Sydney reached the door handle. If he was fired, he would no longer be able to help Jarod from the inside. And now, Miss Parker. But there was a child in trouble.

There was another scream, and Broots, Sydney , and the Siamese sisters all made for the door. Sydney opened the door.

In front of them was a sweeper.

“And that’s what it is. There is no child in danger.” Raines snapped his finger and a little girl came from behind the sweeper. She was fine, just smiling. “She’s happy because she gets an extra piece of candy for pretending.”

“What game are you playing?!” Sydney insisted.

“Sit down.” Everyone came back over and took their seats again as Raines moved back behind his desk. He wheezed. “Jarod would have ran out that door as soon as he heard the child scream. Broots stood up as well as Pipper and Papper. Sydney did nothing until the second. It took the third to go after her. Williams stayed seated.”

“You threatened our job,” Broots said.

“External factors. The degree that it takes to help someone. Let’s just say that . . . Parkers are kept focused on what is important. Not on the child crying, but the meeting.”  Raines breathed deeply. “That same focus can be lost when an intense physical condition happens. In this case, pregnancy could be causing Miss Parker to . . . regress.”

“Mister Raines,” Sydney addressed him. “I would like to know more about this focusing process.”

“You can’t. It’s too late, Sydney,” Raines said to him. “There are some things that can’t be undone.”

“At fourteen,” Sydney said. “It was at fourteen, wasn’t it? While she was in training? What did you do to her? Advanced re-education?”

Mister Raines just . . . smiled. “We get rid of the ‘distraction’, so that she’d stay in her seat. Instead of scurrying around like the other mice, her mind stays focused on one target. Her cheese.”

“What?” Broots looked toward Sydney then back to Raines. “Miss Parker would have got up to check too.”

“Yes. Even after the procedure she was still . . .” Raines paused. “Distracted. She still holds a lot more focus though.”

“Damn it, Raines!” Sydney raged on him like he were his colleague and not in charge of The Centre again. “She was just a child! What did you do? Surgery on the brain?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Raines said. “It’s irreversible. And it doesn’t hurt. I had it done as well. Mister Parker had it done. Even Lyle had it done. The procedure is kept so secret though, I would not allow it on the DSA’s. Don’t bother looking.”

“Mister Lyle? When he came to the Centre?” No reaction. “As Bobby?” A faint smile. “And shortly after, he committed his first murder.”

“Focus is important. He got his cheese.”

 Sydney was getting the hint. “It’s disturbing.”

“It’s the Parker way. It strengthens the focus, to help ignore all the scurrying mice.” He breathed harder. “Who doesn’t like cheese?”

Sydney sat down, almost dazed. “And the boy, Ethan?”

“Ethan had an inner sense that could be damaged and make him useless,” Raines insisted. ”However, Miss Parker’s focus can cause distraction and indecision if the body undergoes trauma. It could be undone. That’s why . . .” He faded off a moment in a wheeze. “Thomas Gates had to go through his own gates to heaven.”

Half fact. Half cruelty.

“So? You mean, so the true Parker women-“

“Don’t. Have. Children. They come from the male side.” Raines took a deep breath. “Besides. He was a distraction. She is still vulnerable to distractions.”

“Yes, you’re right. She still has an ability to live a meaningful life,” Sydney said firmly. “She can still love. Still tell right from wrong.” He knew that, he’d seen that. Plenty of times.

“It’s harder for her with that flaw, but yes. We help counter those distractions as we can.”

“Yes. Distractions. Good,” Sydney said. “I very much hope she does keep getting distracted.” He could see Broots looks of desperation to not push so hard. Raines owned everything. If he wanted to, he could ask a sweeper to step right through the door and kill him if he wanted too.

But, Sydney. Sydney wasn’t taking any of those pleading looks. Not now.

“She can’t. Soon, she’ll be insane, with no idea which voice or action is hers anymore.” Raines took a deep breath. “Unless she receives treatment. Only The Centre can give her that treatment.”

“She’ll be insane?” Broots asked.

“The brain is a fickle machine, Mister Broots,” Raines addressed him. “As you can tell from Angelo. Things happen. The less she stresses, the better her odds, but she always stresses. Especially about her mommy.” He wheezed slowly. “If something happens to me, and she’s unfit, you will be working under the Triumvirate, and believe it or not, they will not be half as kind. Their focus is even . . . sharper.”

“They undergo it too?” Sydney said more to himself. “At what age?”

“That is not part of the current conversation, or need to know,” Raines wheezed. “I just need Miss Parker back. Take the DSA player and everything here. Torment her until she breaks. Find a way to leave a message, to make sure she gets the point and gets back here.”

“He might just steal her back,” Sydney said. “Jarod is good at that. Is she going to get treatment right away, or will it be too dangerous for the pregnancy?”

“ . . . just bring her back. You’re all dismissed.”

Broots looked around at the Siamese sisters and the other person. “Um. Hi?”

“Hello!” The twins said upbeat.

“Meet and greet outside. Get out,” Raines said clearly.

Broots, Williams, Pipper and Papper all headed out but Sydney remained there.

“I said leave,” Raines warned him again.

“A blood test was performed yesterday concerning Broot’s daughter,” Sydney said. “Results have been delayed.”

“Delays happen. I’m sure you’ll get them. It’s not the biggest problem in the world for me right now, Sydney.”

Sydney didn’t answer, but he didn’t take his eyes off Raines as he left the room.

 

----------------------------------------------

 

He sat himself down for a time.

Like Angelo. Whatever happened to Angelo, it must have been similar to what happened to Miss Parker, only less . . . aggressive. “Get the cheese,” he said, thinking about it again. “Ignore the scurrying mice and just get the cheese.”

Another drink. Another shot of courage. It was getting later, and he had to do this. Setting his glass down, he picked up the phone.

And then put it back down. He’d have to do it soon. Each time something bad happened though, Jarod would always ask in the angriest tone how he could be a part of such and such. And sadly, most times, Sydney was clueless. Numb to the facts.

When he found something out though, or helped Jarod in some way, he imagined that familiar smile, heard that cheery tone of the boy he once took care of.

And this one. This one.

Jarod was going to come unglued. Bad. Like when he confronted him about being stolen. And, he didn’t even know how to approach the fact that Broots’ daughter’s blood tests were being delayed either. He couldn’t work that in easy. Not as angry as Jarod would be.

 

Just a few more minutes.

 

--------------------------------        

The Next Day . . .  

Miss Parker looked in front of her at the oven.

“Should really use that thing.”

No.

“Should.”

No.

“You could make Jarod something homemade.”

No.

“Make him what you used to make with momma.”

No. I don’t remember it.

“Yes you do. I could even recite it to you. It’d be a nice thing after you said you thought he was going to go crazy. You weren’t supposed to tell him that. It hurt him.”

“Shut. Up.” Why couldn’t it leave her alone? “You used to not have voice. You were just a gut feeling. Why the hell don’t you stop? Why the hell are you still bothering me? I told Jarod the truth. I’ve been decently nice.” Why was it still tormenting her?

“Fix something. It’ll be good for all of you. Jarod’s doing his thing upstairs. You’re bored downstairs. Why not?”

“Because I could be doing something else! Like contacting someone else.”

“No, don’t. Why? It worries Jarod.”

Miss Parker picked up the phone. She wouldn’t see Jarod for another day still. “Are you really just pro-Jarod all the time?”

“Well, not when he dissed the name Angel.”

“I can’t keep hearing me like this.” She was growing concerned. “At least say ‘I’ again, because I am literally starting to believe . . .” That it wasn’t her inner sense. That her mind was just going. “I should make something that’s easy.” But, okay. Sort of.

For the donuts.

“A Sundae Party! Give him the Sundae Party you always wanted to!”

“ . . . ice cream does sound pretty good.”

----------------------------------------

Sydney didn't move. He hadn't worked up the courage last night, and things just got worse throughout the day. Much worse. He should have called. He didn't stay long at work, getting too disgusted. How was he supposed to work like this? Pipper, Papper, and Williams. They were all definitely Raines people.

But, it couldn't be held off forever, and the phone made its presence known as it started to ring. He knew the number calling him. Jarod. He couldn’t ignore it, and now he was calling him. He picked up the phone. “This is Sydney.”

“Give me something, Syd.” Miss Parker’s voice. “Tell me something new. Give me something. I can’t take this being nice much longer. I’m about to blow my kettle lid off! It’s been three weeks, living in these miserable fake lives that Jarod conjured up. I have been a pregnant girlfriend to a guide for a Space Center, one to a pig inseminator, right now, I seem to be a girlfriend of a Doctor Hopkins, but soon I am probably going to be some wife at a donut factory!”

“Miss. Parker.” He sighed. “Please calm down and we can talk.”

“I need help, Sydney. I hear something, a voice. I thought it was my inner sense, just strengthened, but I don’t think it is. When I was younger, something happened. When it first began, I . . . I’m not crazy, I know I’m not, but I literally have my fourteen year old self talking back to me, about today!”

“She is you, Miss Parker,” Sydney said.

“No, because we don’t, we aren’t on the same page. Sometimes we are and I feel like I’m agreeing with myself, but many times, we aren’t. She wants to go all goody two shoes and I can’t take this much longer. She made me throw a big Sundae Party. Why would I do that?”

“Miss Parker,” Sydney said. “It’s okay, I understand. Do you remember . . .”

“Remember what, Traitor?”

Sydney struggled as Pipper and Papper grabbed him and Williams took the phone. “Oh, well if it isn’t the lovely Miss Parker. How are you today?”

“Did you just nab Syd in his own house?”

“Yessiree.”

“Impressive. That takes guts. Who are you?”

“Williams, Miss Parker,” he said to her. He winked at Sydney. “So, I hear you want a good deal from Mister Raines. An even better deal than you already got? I got one for you.”

“I’m all ears.”

“More than ears, you are way more than ears,” Williams said Creepily.

“Stop it!” Sydney struggled to break free. “Parker, you must control yourself!”

“Did you hear about the Pizza Planet down in Texas? Middle of it?” Williams asked. “Seems somehow a prerecording of what sounds to be your mother, getting on and never leaving the elevator, with you screaming, got shoved into their music system somehow. It was so disturbing, made frontline news in that small city.”

“ . . . wha . . .”

“But that’s nothing compared to what’s on the side of The Centre right now. Go ahead, check it out. Pipper and Papper are excellent at digital painting, and your mother’s face all mashed up . . . with a special little message below it,” he said with a bite in his voice. “Daughter of a Whore, It’s Just Beginning. We’ve got so much dirt on you, Jarod’s torture will look like child’s play, Miss Parker. Missy. Angel. Little Miss. Or my personal favorite? No One.”

Sydney was released while Williams tucked the phone into Sydney’s own pocket.

“Dial tone. Wonder why. Pipper. Papper,” Williams commanded. “I think Mister Raines can expect his daughter home soon. Oh, and Sydney? Thanks for the heads up.” He patted Sydney’s pocket where he put his phone. “Go ahead and contact Jarod whenever you want. The sooner he knows where his Miss went, the faster we’ll catch him too.”

“Six years for the chase?” Pipper giggled. “Gosh, we are going to nab two in less than two days.”

“I know,” Papper said. “There’s definitely been a traitor blocking everyone alright. What should we do with him, Williams?”

“Nothing. Sydney just has a personal line to keep in contact with his Pretender, so he has someone to cuddle up to. Otherwise, he’d buzz off forever. Am I right, Sydney? No reason to throw him off the case.” He leaned toward him. “Professional opinion anyway.”

“What you three have done no human should do to another!” Sydney spat. “You have no right to torment her that way!”

“We just did a painting,” Pipper said. “Williams is the one who did the recording.”

“Although, that’s nothing compared to what’s next.” Hearing Sydney’s cell phone go off, he smiled. “Good, Missy is still playing with us.” He answered it again. “Hello?”

“You son of a bitch!” Her voice was livid. “Desecrating my mother’s memory like that. You’re going to pay.”

“I don’t think so. I think you’re going to pay,” Williams warned her. “You see, No one, Mister Raines has a DSA player of you from birth into well into your twenties. I know everything about you. What you want people to believe. What you don’t want people to know. What you don’t want people to see.”

“Williams!” Sydney shouted at him.

“There’s no filter on these puppies. Like the puppy you saw when you were eight and you begged your mommy to get but you weren’t old enough yet. Or the meal you made with your mom that got burned, but you both giggled and ate it anyway. Or the showers, daily dressings, and private encounters with your lovely boytoys. Going rate is 4,000 around The Centre for simple shower cutscene DSA’s. I start taking custom orders tomorrow.”

“Bastard!”

“Hey, Mister Raines said whatever it took. Doesn’t mean I can’t make a profit on the side. Any other whore and there’s no way they’d pay, but there’s a lot of people at The Centre that want to know the elusive Miss Parker, inside and out.”

“And if you actually get off on that,” Pipper shouted on the phone. “We’ve also got your daily sessions with your therapist when you left for training!”

“Yes. A lot of people will be getting more than lunch tomorrow when all The Centre TV’s mysteriously kick on to show ‘No One’. Let’s let everyone know how Miss Parker became the cold hearted bitch they know today.” Williams handed the phone back to Sydney. “There we go. I’d say she should be arriving within a few hours, depending on where she is in America.”

Sydney stood still as they left. In just a few hours, Miss Parker would be back, and Jarod would have to be forced to do something drastic.

He sat back down with his drink. Jarod would soon call. He would soon call.

 

He would call.

Chapter Text

I do not own Pretender.

Five hours later . . .

 

He wasn’t expecting that. Jarod came down the stairs, and saw the spread. He couldn’t hold back a smile. Before his time outside, this would have been the biggest gift of all time because he would have never experienced it before.

Now, it was still a treat, especially considering the source. “Neapolitan ice cream. Bananas. Chocolate chips, Sprinkles, cookies, fudge, syrup.” He pointed to everything individually. “Strawberries too? Cherries. Nuts.” He walked around it. It was unlike her to go all out like this.

Had the little moment they shared, been bigger than he thought? He excitedly looked downstairs for her.

Not there. Well, she was probably in the garden again. Okay, not there? “Miss Parker?” Maybe she went for a walk. He looked at the table, and under the table. “Okay. This isn’t funny.” He moved from room to room downstairs, even checking the baths. The closets. Calling to her.

Why would she go and make a Sundae Party and then . . . “Oh no.”

He spied something off the side of a couch. He picked it up.

Personal business in Delaware, Hopkins. Not going to The Centre. Be back soon,

Miss P

 

---------------

Sydney did it. He hadn’t told him about Broots’ daughter or about Parker’s mental state. The DSA’s were enough to earn his wrath first. “Are you okay, Jarod?” Silence. He could hear some sounds, like a brush through some trees. Jarod was moving. He held the phone patiently.

“Sydney!” Yes, he knew that voice. It was the ‘you screwed up you idiot’ voice.  “What do you mean her whole life is on a DSA system! Raines has it on a DSA system?!”

“Yes,” he slurred again. “Jarod. There’s something else too.”

“Are you telling me she was watched all of her life? Without knowing she was being watched? Sydney? Who has access to it?”

“Raines wants her back, badly. He gave us these. Broots, I, and three other people had access to them.”

Broots and Sydney. He could see that being okay, they would never mess around with it. “Who else?”

“Pipper and Papper, a pair of Siamese twins that raised in rank here. There is also a Williams. It is possible I have seen him on a T-board I was a part of once.”

No idea who they were. “Why did Raines give this to you?”

“Jarod.” He heard the sound of more drink being poured. “Raines knows that you got under Miss Parker’s skin with history. He called it torment.” Jarod heard him sip his drink more. “He . . . wanted us to find things from her past, her life, to use against her. To make her come straight back, no matter the cost.”

Torment. “It wasn’t torment, Sydney, I was trying to help reconnect her to her own truths.” Damn. “She’s going for the DSA’s, not The Centre.”

“Williams left one on a music system in a random pizza place. The soundtrack of the elevator ride, starting pleasant than ending with the screaming.”

“A random pizza place?” A place filled with kids and good times, heard that?

“Williams is. He keeps . . . watching other parts. Her entire life is on there, nothing is missing.” He took another drink. “Pipper and Papper believed that using Catherine Parker’s memory in a vindictive manner would work better. Broots, after just a little forced watching, he wouldn’t even come near the DSA’s again.”

“What else are they gonna do?” His eyes were sharp, judging. He never meant to torment Miss Parker, just give her truth by truth. Bit by bit. But these people . . . “Sydney?”

“Oh, I believe Pipper and Pepper or Papper has already digitally painted her abused mother on the side of The Centre wall. It says, “Daughter of a Whore, It’s just Beginning. I . . . I don’t even want to tell you what Williams was planning.”

“Sydney,” Jarod said strongly. “I need to know.”

“Well, I believe the whole collection of her life is not at The Centre anymore, since he seems to have pickpocketed choice private moments for his own profit.”

“Sydney!” Livid. “How could you let him just have those?! That’s her life. Her every breath. Her every bat of the eye. All of her personal moments. Public. Private. Emotional.”

 “If I mess up, I lose control over watching over you and Miss Parker. Broots, he might as well be gone. But Jarod, there is something-“

Jarod hung up, too tired of hearing any more excuses. Miss Parker needed help, and like it or not, he was helping, and then bringing her straight back.

 

---------------------------------------------

 

Front of Centre Headquarters.

 

Pipper and Papper were in their finest pair of dresses, waiting right there for Miss Parker. There was no way someone like her wasn’t going to come charging into The Centre now. Only, she must be really far from Delaware. It had already been five hours.

“Why is she taking so long?” Pipper asked, looking at her watch. “We’ve been here all day. Night’s coming.”

“Maybe, it wasn’t enough?” Papper suggested. “It should be. We were brutal. She should be here ready to shoot us and give us a real licking.” She looked around. “I wished she would show up already?”

“Oh. Hey, uh?” Broots came over toward them as they waited at the front doors. “This is for you. It just arrived.”

“Ooh, I love presents.” Pipper took it.

“Who says it’s for you?” Papper complained. “It says Pipper and Papper.”

“I better get back to my projects now.” Broots nodded to them. “Working overtime. Be heading home soon. Um, hope you do well.”

“I want to open it.”

“No, I want to open it.”

“I get to open it.”

“No, I get to open it.”

“Fine,” Pipper agreed. “We’ll do what we always do.”

Each of them grabbed the flap and opened together.

Then, each of them screamed. A message that read

THERE’S ONLY ONE BITCH AT THE CENTRE AND IT’S ME.

Inside were their twin puppies collars.

“That bitch has my puppy!”

“That bitch has my puppy!”

“Brooots!” They ran straight toward him. He was father away, still in the process of leaving the grand room that was the entrance to The Centre.

“We need your computer,” Pipper said, shaking him violently. “She isn’t going to hurt our puppies!”

“She wouldn’t hurt our puppies, would she?” Papper asked. “You worked with her. Would she do that?”

“Well, um.” Broots massaged his neck a little. “Miss Parker can be a little mean.”

“She’s a bitch,” Pipper and Papper said together.

“She was created to be one, remember?” Pipper said to him. “You remember the DSA?”

Broots shook his head. “Um. I don’t think she has any real qualms about pets. She’s just interested in getting what she wants. If she’s focused on you, I’d be careful.”

“Broots? Are you still here?” Sydney approached him slowly. “Pipper and Papper too?”

“Oh. Yeah. These projects are hefty.” Broots gestured to the girls. “They were waiting for Miss Parker, but-“

“She stole our puppies!” The twins complained again.

“Doctor Sydney?” Pipper came over to him closer. “Do you believe she would hurt our puppies? Please, doctor?”

 

At first when Sydney met them, he couldn’t place where he’d seen Pipper and Papper before. In truth, they were only small girls when he worked with them briefly with twin experiments. However, they both had disappeared as clients. Apparently as they were growing up, they become more than interested in the scientific side of The Centre, and had made such an impression on Mister Parker, that they were hired at the Centre.

They had been working their ten years, in the deep recesses of The Centre somewhere.

“Our puppies?” Pipper asked him again. The calmer of the two. “Do you think she’d hurt them?”

“I have known Miss Parker a great number of years. I believe that, considering her options of coming into The Centre with an unknown future for her children, or being less than benevolent to a couple of juvenile pets to make you do what she wants, she would pick the pets.” Sydney had a manila envelope in his hand. “And I came down because she left this at my house. I am certain it may answer your questions.”

Papper angrily took it and opened it, then screamed. “Polly?!” She gave the manila envelope to Pipper. “I have to get out to the other side of Delaware, she left Polly all alone by a dumpster! She’s wet too! What a bitch!”

“No, I recognize this place.” Pipper disagreed. “My little Sanzibar is on the other side of the city. Oh, she’s so distressed!”

“No, we’re getting Polly first, not your stupid dog with a stupid name!”

“Sanzibar is not stupid, she’s the best! We are going to get her first!”

“Are not!”

“Are too!”

Broots came over to Sydney. “Is she really playing so weak of an angle?”

“You bitch, give me the keys!”

“You can’t drive anyway, only I can!”

“Broots,” Sydney said, “Miss Parker cannot just come into The Centre to retrieve the DSA’s. She will work whatever angle she has too, to get what she wants, without putting herself at risk.” Honestly, it was good to say that. As much as they had hurt her, Miss Parker did not lose sight of what mattered. To stay away from The Centre.

“Yeah, but, she might need to be here now,” Broots said. “To get better. Do you think Jarod knows about that?”

“I think Jarod would recognize how dangerous something was,” Sydney said. “We can’t put it past The Centre that it could be a lie, or the truth.”

“Well, we know something happened. We had to . . .” He shook his head. “Gaw, I don’t like this Sydney. How can you watch someone’s life, when it wasn’t meant to be watched?”

Like Jarod’s.

“Well, I didn’t mean like Jarod’s. Well, maybe a little,” Broots confessed. “But, I mean.” He took a deep breath. “He’s been out there six years, Sydney. He’s still . . . okay?”

“I believe that Jarod has found his own ways to deal when he gets overstimulated. I’ve already told you this, and Miss Parker,” Sydney said to him.

“But none of the other Pretenders-“

“He is Jarod. I wouldn’t put it past him.” Sydney started to walk away. “Miss Parker may try and make contact with either one of us. Please go home, just in case that is where she starts.” He looked toward him. “Did you grab the DSA player?”

Broots shook his head. “When I checked back, it was gone. I think Williams has it.”

“Broots!” Sydney winced. “Of all people, he should not be holding it.”

“I know, I know,” Broots said. “He’s long gone too, and The Centre doesn’t have addresses easily accessed.”

“Well, get it.” Sydney looked at his watch. Jarod should be arriving soon himself now. “I want that address before I leave tonight. Understand?”

“Yeah, Sydney,” Broots said. “I got it.”

 

------------------------

Broots’ House . . .

 

The babysitter opened her mouth in horror as she stared at a picture from a manila envelope. “Michael!”

Miss Parker stayed there, a heft of a mailbag on her side. “Michael’s too common of a name for my style.” She looked at the babysitter. “Something wrong?”

“I’m gonna kill him!” She cried out as she started to take off for the car. Then she looked back. Then she looked to her car. “I’ll be right back, I promise! I just have to kill a boyfriend.” She got in her car and sped off.

Miss Parker dropped the mail bag inside and closed the front door. “Broots, I’m going to kill you.” She had that little piece of evidence for some time. She kept close tabs on Debbie, closer than even Broots. She didn’t even bother if Miss Parker would watch her for a few minutes, just drove away, expecting everything to be okay while she annihilated her cheating boyfriend.

Too young. Too careless. But, Broots had to have a lot of babysitters, emergency or otherwise. He needed to do better with his vetting though.

“Miss Parker!”

That delightful voice hit her ears. “Debbie.” She watched as Debbie ran up to her, giving her a hug. “Easy on the tummy there, kiddo. How are you?”

“Better, now that you’re here.” That bright, familiar smile shined back at her.

“Well two tones of dumb and blonde stepped out, so I guess I’m watching you.” Miss Parker closed and locked the door behind her. “By the way, I’ve got something in that huge pile of mail.”

Debbie moved over to the mail she dropped. There was something scrambling around. “Oh, wow!” She dug in as she saw a furry back. “What is it?”

“Better guard than that babysitter,” Miss Parker said, still not believing it. She looked back toward her. “Every house needs at least one bitch guarding it. But, two’s a better count.”

Debbie looked inside again and pulled out another puppy. “Two puppies?” She brought them both out to the floor and watched them move around. “What are their names?”

“Whatever you want them to be,” Miss Parker said, watching the window and feeling her gun strapped to her side. It would be too risky to go back home for any, or to The Centre, so she simply played good neighbors over at ‘Doctor Hopkins’ and helped herself to a couple. “They are your puppies now.”

“Really?” Debbie asked excitedly. “Will daddy let me have them?”

“Does he ever get a choice with me?” She finally moved away from the front door, confident everything was fine. “So?” She smiled. “Let’s head to your room and talk for awhile.”

 

--------------------------------

Williams Home . . .

 

Williams rubbed his eye while he conducted business on the phone. It was almost two in the morning, but he was taking the day off tomorrow. ‘Sick day’. He wanted to catch up on the pretty unique merchandise he landed in the Jarod and Miss Parker case. “No, no less than four thousand,” he said on the phone. “Sure, you could buy a whore for less, but it isn’t the illustrious and sensuous Miss Parker,” he said with the deal. “And trust me. Fifteen minutes with a whore or a night with Miss Parker in the shower, the shower is way more worth it. Where else you gonna find it?” He set the DSA down and picked up another one. “Of course, if you’re looking for something more for your own fetish. She is a sweet little girl, cherry picked at times. No? Dirty huh? For 25,000 I will part with one of her sexual escapades. The girl is a real-?” Williams stopped, hearing something behind him.

At least, he thought he did. Probably nothing. He had a very advanced security system, common riffraff couldn’t beat it. “Oh, where was I? Oh yes. Oh, you want that one? Oh, yeah. It’s not really that cream of the crop. Shoot, she was picking up hotness by the time she was sixteen, but she didn’t give it away ‘til twenty one. She didn’t know what she was doing, but I guess it’s the first time part that you want , huh? Well, that’s a one-time special of-“

 

Williams awoke, aware he’d been tied up, and he was upside down. “What the hell? Help!” He felt a flash come at him from the right. Another from the left. He looked at where his prized DSA’s were. Missing. Shit!

“Looking for this?”

Oh no. He was trained to recognize that voice. He squinted as he felt another flash on him as Jarod approached him.

He did not look happy. In fact, the Pretender looked downright psycho. “Holding someone’s entire life, and taking choice cuts for profit? Aren’t you a piece of work.”

“It was just a little,” he said in his defense. “A couple nights here and there, so many DSA’s, no one would have known.”

“So that makes it right?” Jarod grabbed the extra DSA he had pocketed in his coat. “A few little tidbits of a person’s life. A life that was completely on camera, but neverallowed to know about it. You were going to torment her with this, weren’t you? That’s what Sydney said.” Jarod shook his head. “But that’s not true.” He gestured to William’s laptop, fully open. “According to what I read.”

Williams squealed as the Pretender held him in his grip. This guy looked like Williams was the one who locked him up his entire life! Was he going to kill him? It wasn’t in his personality to do that. He only did it once, and it was to save someone else.

No, he had to think of something else. “Oh, come on. Not like you feel real bad about it. It’s sort of justice from your point of view, right? She’s been watching you since you were kids. Take the DSA and some of her videos. Do the same thing.” Nope, that wasn’t it. If it was possible to make the Pretender madder, he just did it. “Come on. She chased you six years to bring you back to the place you despised, right? I mean, you can’t really be into her?”

“Not like you are,” Jarod said with a deadly voice filled with venom. “Selling bits and pieces, and then finding her, making her the deal of a lifetime, right? Her life for your bed.” Jarod pushed him and he felt himself swirling. Around him were red lights, flashing on and off. What was that?

“How do you like being in the spotlight against your will?” Jarod brought out a different laptop. Probably the Pretender’s own. On it was Williams . . . dangling without boxer shorts or pants?! He knew he felt a draft below. “Not very fun, is it? Wiggle all you want, it doesn’t make anything turn off. Trapped. Just visual food for the hungry masses.”

Hungry masses? “Wait, you don’t have this live streaming to some sicko fetish site?!”

“Maybe, maybe not,” Jarod warned him. “Maybe your address isn’t so hard to find either for them.”

“Okay, okay! What do you want, the other discs?” he asked. “I kept a couple in the drawer of my room, next to my bed.”

“Any more?” The Pretender started to spin him around more and more.

“Okay! Okay, okay, okay!” Shoot. “I put a few choice fourteen year old videos in my mattress, but I swear, that’s it! That’s the whole collection I have! Pipper and Papper have a couple of her mother and her when she was younger. Nothing choice, fully clothed. That’s it, that’s all I have, I swear it, now please put me down?” He looked at The Pretender’s laptop. “I’ll quit my position tomorrow too, just please let me down!”

“Well, knowing how nerve racking it is to have your whole life on camera against your will, with people seeing it that you don’t even know? I would have to say . . . no!” He spun Williams around one more time before taking all the DSA’s.

“Wait. Wait, what do I do then?!” Williams shouted. “Let me down! Help, help!”

 

----------------------------------

 

“I got them, Sydney,” Jarod said. It looked like all of them. Hopefully. “Most of her life is resting right here.”

“Yes. Raines liked to keep ‘tabs’ on his daughter,” Sydney said. “I’m glad you got them back. Have you found her yet?”

“Not yet,” he admitted, “but I’m betting I know where she is.”

“Where would that be, Jarod?”

 “To the only person who can still make her smile.”

 

-------------------------------

Broots’ House . . .

 

Broots went into his house quietly. Surely she would connect with Sydney and not him? He opened the door, but it was already opened. “Debbie?”

“Hi, dad.” Debbie was over in the corner. “How was work?”

“Okay,” he said as he closed the front door again. “Make sure you keep this locked and shut. You never know who’s out there, honey.” He looked around. Whichever babysitter he had trusted to watch her, was off his list now. Better just pay her and get her out.

“I have a surprise?” Debbie said to her dad.

“Another surprise? I mean, uh.” He was still getting over the fact she was growing up so fast. “I mean, no, surprises are good.” He looked around for the babysitter. “Debbie, where’s your babysitter?”

“One of my better babysitters came, and . . . well, made her take a hike?” Debbie said. “She didn’t think she was doing a very good job.”

Oh great. He knew who that must have been. “Miss Parker’s here?” Oh no. He was supposed to be after her. “Okay.”

“Yeah, but that’s not the surprise,” Debbie said. “We’ve got two puppies!”

Oh great. He knew whose those were too. “Oh?”

“I see you made it home, Broots.” Sydney came from beyond his hallway toward him.

“Sydney? Is she okay?” Broots asked. Then, he heard a knock on the back door.  The back door. “Sydney? Do I have the two most wanted people at The Centre on my property right now?”

“It is quite possible.”

Broots answered his back door. Like he thought, the man they’d been chasing for six years was right there. There wasn’t even a word exchanged as Jarod came into the house with a DSA player and looked around. He looked toward Sydney. “Is she here?”

Yep. This would be a long night.

 

------------------------------

Debbie’s Room . . .

 

“Hi, Doctor Jarod.”

Of course. “Did you make it out of funky wunky town?” Miss Parker asked, knowing he’d be straight at that door if he made it out before she made it back. Predictable. And probably, furious. “I didn’t go back to The Centre.”

“I know.” Jarod walked in the room. He looked less furious than she thought. “Sydney told me what they had.”

“Well, I’m working on getting it back,” Miss Parker said, “and it wasn’t lives in danger, so I had to split a bit for myself.”

“Broots’ house is a little too close to The Centre for comfort.” Jarod held up a DSA player. “I’ve got it. We need to get out of here now.”

“How the hell did you get it?” She almost groaned. Figures that he would know how to get into The Centre. Her eyes dwelled on the case, missing the exchanged looks of Jarod and Sydney.

“Miss Parker?” Sydney bent down toward her. “How have you been feeling?”

“You mean am I going nuts with Jarod?” Miss Parker asked. “I probably am. Enjoy that update.” She looked toward Debbie. “Guess I gotta go. The grownups came home.” Debbie reached over for a hug. “I’m alright. You take care.”

Broots looked over toward her for awhile. Jarod noticed that. He wouldn’t stop looking so concerned. “She’ll be fine,” Jarod said. He looked back toward Sydney.

“Um? Miss Parker?” Broots came over closer to her. “For what it’s worth. I had to watch, ‘cause of the job, but I didn’t watch too much, just . . .” He sighed. “Sorry. About.”

About what? Jarod looked toward Sydney. They each saw something, they weren’t just apologizing for doing their jobs.

“About what?” Miss Parker asked, about as clueless. “If you’ve been watching my life, uncensored.” Ooh, she was hot. “Let’s just say, you could be apologizing for just about anything.”

“I’m sorry, too,” Sydney said. “When I stopped you from seeing Jarod again. That very day, I should have looked closer.”

“Hm.” Miss Parker didn’t say much more. “It’s fine, Syd.”

“I’m-“ Broots stopped. “I don’t have the right words. I don’t really understand it.”

“Jiminy, what parts are you spying on, Broots?” She crossed her arms.

“No, no, not that!” He quickly said. “Never that. I meant, the other really . . . the focus treatments.”

“Focus treatments?” Jarod asked. “What focus treatments.”

“Nevermind what focus treatments,” she told him. She looked at Broots. “It’s a Parker thing, traditional. Don’t worry about it.”

“But I do! But the change,” Broots said.

“Hey.” Parker held her finger toward him, almost with a warning wag. “I’ve been through enough in The Centre, more than enough that, if I didn’t have them, I wouldn’t be here.” She put her finger down. “Take good care of the pups, Broots. Yipper and Yapper deserve a little angst in their life right now.” She reached for the DSA that Jarod held as he handed it over. “Back home we go.”

“Not quite,” Sydney said. “Parker. You need to tell Jarod about the focus treatments.”

“No, I don’t.”

“Yes, you do!” Sydney almost came unhinged on her. Uncharacteristic of him. “Because they are the reason that Raines wants you back, as soon as possible. You are the last heir that can take his place.”

An evil grin fell against her face. “It’s about time.”

“And his heir,” Sydney said, ignoring her sentiment about her brother, “must be of sound mind.”

Sound mind? Jarod looked toward her. She had an inner sense, but that wasn’t the same thing as crazy. What was Sydney talking about?

“Um, come on, Debbie.” Broots grabbed his daughter’s hand and brought her out of the room.

“I tried to tell you over the phone, but you dashed off so quickly,” Sydney said toward Jarod, before turning back to Miss Parker. “Your pregnancy, coupled with the focus treatments, may be causing you to lose yourself.”

“What the hell’s going on?” Jarod asked. “Sydney?”

“Ooh, the guy who knows everything feels out of the loop. Welcome to the definition of my life.” Miss Parker massaged her neck and looked back at Sydney. “When the treatments go awry, The Centre can fix it. I can keep it in check for a little longer, Sydney.”

“Keep what in check?” Jarod demanded. “Miss Parker?”

“Oh.” Miss Parker’s hand dangled out. “Jarod Hopkins’ Miss Pinkman has less of an inner sense, and more of an annoying fourteen year old self that she talks to and sees.” She scratched her head. “It can be fixed, that’s been documented. But I can’t be at The Centre until after, Syd. I’ll be fine a few more months.”

“What are these treatments?” Jarod asked, wanting either one to answer him.

“I don’t know,” Sydney said. “Of all things Raines recorded, he specifically said he did not put that in. It was a Parker secret. I just know it helps to focus and avoid scurrying mice. That is what Raines said.”

“Keeps the eyes on the prize,” Miss Parker said. “You don’t get bogged down in the details.”

“What?”

“Let’s just say, it didn’t completely work on Miss Parker,” Sydney said. “Thankfully.”

“Daddy always hated that it didn’t work right,” Miss Parker said. “It helped, but it didn’t work right.”

“Sydney?” Jarod was pleading with his eyes. What was it? What was it supposed to do?

“Let’s just say a certain boy committed his first murder, shortly after finishing the treatments, secretly,” Sydney said. “A certain someone’s brother.”

Miss Parker looked back toward Sydney. “Lyle?”

“Before he was known as Lyle,” Sydney said, “and just as Bobby.” He looked toward Jarod. “Once a goal is set, that’s all that matters. The ability to do much else outside of that goal doesn’t hit. The emotions. The consequences. All that matters, is the goal.”

“Not always,” Miss Parker said.

“No, because it didn’t work fully on you,” Sydney said. He looked toward Jarod. “They started, around the same time I said she couldn’t see you anymore.” He turned to look toward her. “I’m sorry for not looking deeper, Miss Parker.”

“Whatever. We better get going. Having a whole reunion under the same roof is asking for trouble,” she said, until there was a knock on the door.

Broots came to their door right away. “It’s Mister Raines! W-what do I do?”

“Your car is right in front. He will know that you are home,” Sydney said to him. He gripped the handle of Debbie’s room door. “Let him in, but keep him away from here.”

Meanwhile, Jarod was already looking for a way to open up the window and pop out the safety screen.

 

-----------------------------

At the Front Door

 

Broots’ answered the door. “H-hello, Mister Raines. Nice to see you?”

“It’s never nice.” Raines didn’t butt his way in. “May I come in? I have an urgent matter to discuss with you.”

“Um. Sure, of course, why wouldn’t I think that wasn’t okay?” Broots moved out of the way.

“Mister Broots. There comes a time in every person’s life when something tragic happens.” Mister Raines wheezed and looked back at him. “There is something very unfortunate that is about to happen to you.”

“To me? W-why?” He asked. “I haven’t done anything. And I-I’m finishing the projects.”

“Not to you, and not by The Centre.” He breathed in deeply. “Where is your daughter?”

“Oh, sleeping! She’s taking a nap right now,” Broots said quickly. “I don’t want to disturb her.”

“Good.” Mister Raines brought out an envelope. “I deeply regret that this is your last paycheck from The Centre.”

“Uh.” Broots took it shakily. “I haven’t done anything wrong.”

“No, Mister Broots, but things have happened in the company of The Centre. Although I lead The Centre, it is owned by The Triumvirate. The Triumvirate is responsible for what happened.” He wheezed. “In fact, only a handful of traitors in The Triumvirate, who have been dealt with, but I fear that . . . the connection will be too deep.”

“Connection?” Broots didn’t understand. “What do you mean?”

“Lyle didn’t just try to assassinate me out of office,” Raines wheezed. “He was using a plan developed by the most brilliant minds The Centre can have, to catch Jarod. And, it almost worked. It’s actually a shame that it didn’t, and that Lyle was too irresponsible to plan it correctly.”

“I?” Broots still didn’t understand. “What’s that have to do with me?”

“The Centre has discovered that your daughter was taken from her home, and to South Africa, that same time you went with Miss Parker.”

“What? No.” Broots couldn’t believe that. “I left her with a babysitter.”

“Yes. This one.” Mister Raines held up a picture and Broots about lost it.

“Oh!” He said horrified. “Her head?”

“Current whereabouts unknown,” Raines said. “Knowing my former son, probably not likely to be found.”

 Broots covered his mouth. “Wh . . . what . . .”

“The plan The Centre discovered is, grim, for your daughter.”

“Debbie?! W-what do you mean, what did you do to my daughter?!”

“Nothing, not The Centre,” Raines said clearly. “I have nothing to do with your daughter. As I have nothing to do with what happened to mine.” He took a deep breath. “The traitors in The Triumvirate have been dealt with, as well as Lyle, but no cure was found in his possession.”

“C-cure?”

“They gave her a shot of something,” Mister Raines said. “No one knows what. The Centre is working around the clock with The Triumvirate to figure it out, but the chances don’t look good.”

Broots breathing had sped up. He looked unpredictable. “W-what are you saying? My daughter’s going to die because of Lyle? Lyle?!” He shook his head back and forth. “No! No, she’s not, she’s not going to die!” He covered his face. “I’ll help, I’ll do whatever I can!”

“You are a technical assistant and computer programmer,” Mister Raines said with a slight wheeze. “You can’t do it. The Centre has everything it needs to try and find the cure. Stacks and boxes of it. It, and The Triumvirate share everything. With it all, there is a cure. It is a test of time, but that time is low.” He nodded to Broots. “As the leader of The Centre, it was my place to tell you.”

Debbie shot out of the hallway, her breath going just as fast. “Daddy?! Am I . . .?” She rushed into Broots’ arms.

“You gotta do something.” Broots just stared at Raines. “Do something, you gotta do something!”

“We are doing what we can.” Raines took a deep breath. “Sorry. I didn’t plan on waking her up. I’ll be going to Sydney’s next. As old comrades,” he wheezed, “he should hear why. You do not have to feel obligated to return to The Centre. Just leave a memo, and we’ll pay a small amount of damages for what happened.”

“Small amount of damages, you son of a bitch!” Broots tried to grab him, but the sweepers that accompanied him quickly stopped him, ‘causing Debbie to scream, ‘Daddy, no!’

But, a sound came from the back room. One that he was expecting. “Sweepers, windows!” he demanded.

 

-------------------------

 

“Damn!” Miss Parker banged on the door as Sweepers held their guns on them. When they heard Debbie scream, Sydney headed forward, but stopped before going out the door. Miss Parker had pulled out her gun, pushing herself to the wall. Jarod almost made it all the way out, before Miss Parker tried to pull him back in. It was too late though. Their presence was known, and Raines had Broots house perimeter covered in sweepers.

The door swung open, with Mister Raines staring at them. “See what I mean, Sydney?” he said. “The scream of a child only happens once for him.”

Miss Parker held up her gun. “And a bullet only needs to strike the head once for you.”

“Ah.” Raines almost smiled. “It’s good to have you back. I still have Broots in custody, so don’t get too trigger happy.” She sighed and lowered her gun. “Welcome home. Now, we can deal.”

 

------------------------

 

“Debbie, Debbie come back!” Broots yelled, trying to catch up with her after the Sweepers took everyone away and let him go. She was running. Running like if she stopped, then she would stop, but Broots didn’t let her out of his sight. “Debbie!”

Then, she stopped and ran the other direction, into his arms. “Daddy, it’s not true! It’s not true, is it?! Daddy!” Her tears couldn’t stop. “I’d remember being in South Africa, I’m sure of it, right? That man, he wasn’t right, was he? Daddy?” She gripped onto him tighter as he picked her up. She buried her face into his neck. “Daddy, I don’t want to die!”

“I’ve got you. I’ve got you.” He couldn’t answer her back.

 Not yet.

 

--------------------

Chapter Text

The Centre. Jarod’s old room . . .

 

“Isn’t it comfy, to be home?” Raines asked in front of him.

Jarod looked around. Like always, they knocked him out with a sedative before bringing him in. Except this time, he was actually in his exact same room, not a torture chamber. Or did it just seem that way? He got up and looked around at the tiniest of details that he made on objects, to make sure they couldn’t deceive him.

“Same room,” Raines said. “No, I don’t know how you escaped. No, I don’t know if you had help,” he wheezed. “But, if you want to save little Debbie’s life, that you so grossly overlooked, then escaping again would be a bad idea.”

Jarod looked out of the plexiglass but didn’t say anything.

“Now, I didn’t come up with this plan,” Raines wheezed. “It was Lyle. He can’t . . . talk right now to give you the details. All I know is, it’s botched up.” He took another deep breath. “I didn’t lie to Broots. I have no idea what’s wrong with that girl. It could be anything. The Centre really doesn’t consider it a high priority issue.”

“Of course you don’t,” Jarod practically spat. “Since when has The Centre ever given a damn about children’s lives?”

“The Triumvirate owns The Centre, so I can’t answer that easily,” Raines said. “The things you will need will be distributed to your room at 8 AM until 11:59 PM. After that, they will be collected again.”

“Of course,” Jarod said. “So if I do escape, Broots’ daughter dies, unless I find the cure, or the entire collection of what I’m working with.”

“How the tears will fall,” Raines said without remorse. “We are currently examining the daughter. You’ll have all the analysis you need. If you need something else, you’ll make use of your gopher to fetch for you. Extra data. Utensils,” he wheezed. “He’ll sign back and forth for them, keeping track of it, so that everything stays accounted for.”

“And how do I call for my ‘gopher’?” Jarod asked. “I very much doubt I’m getting a phone.”

“He’s already here,” Raines said. “He can’t see you. He’s just waiting over by the entrance door. A regular call from you will stir him. He’ll be here day or night, unless something unforeseen happens.”

It was obvious who it had been. “His name’s Broots, not gopher,” Jarod corrected him. “And he’s doing what he can to save his daughter. He is a good dad, unlike you.” He leaned closer on the plexiglass. “Fine. I’ll do what I can for that innocent girl, but don’t expect me to do any Sims for you.”

“Not. Yet,” Raines said.

“And I want to see Miss Parker,” Jarod demanded.

 “Ever the considerate daddy, aren’t you?” Raines answered. “Later. She’s under the knife.”

Jarod banged on the plexiglass. “There’s no way whatever you’re trying with her is a hundred percent safe right now!”

“It’s fairly safe. It’s better than waiting for her mind to keep roaming. I need her to be of sound mind first,” Raines told him. “After that, I can worry about the heirs.”

“I’m warning you,” Jarod said, “don’t mess with me, Raines. I am not in the mood for play! Those kids, both of them, if I haven’t figured a way out . . . no matter their intelligence, they better stay safe, and together, with Parker.”

“So considerate. Together, with Parker,” he wheezed. “Such compassion for the one who’s wanted you locked up the most. Don’t worry. I’ll take good care of my grandchildren,” Raines said. “Just like I’ve done with my daughter. I never missed an important moment in her life.” A slight, almost smile as he rolled his gas tank away.

“Raines!” Jarod yelled one more time.

Raines turned around. “What? Shouldn’t you be getting started?”

“Miss Parker wanted me to name our boy,” Jarod said. “I have his name now.”

Raines took a deep breath. “And what is the name of my grandson?”

“Onyssius.”

------------------------------

Centre’s Health Ward

 

Miss Parker groaned as she looked around the room. Broots was over in her corner. “Broots?”

“It’s okay.” It didn’t sound like it from his voice. “Everything was a success, according to Raines.”

A success? No more other voice? She looked toward the ceiling. She heard no other voice at all. “What happened?”

“It’s been four days,” Broots answered. “Jarod is . . . trying to find a cure for Debbie. I’ve been aiding him, but he wanted to know how you’ve been, so I’ve left. Otherwise, I don’t leave.” He looked back toward her. “No one knows what’s wrong with her.”

“Lyle knows what’s wrong with her.” She groaned and tried to pull herself up, but didn’t succeed.

“No one’s heard from Lyle at all though.”

“Trust me. No one dies at The Centre.” She tried to roll herself out.

“Miss Parker, just hang on.”

“Fine, I’m fine,” Miss Parker said. “I need to talk to Raines.”

“The deal’s still on,” Broots said. “Everyone knows you’re having twins. Even Frosty who loves Mountain Dew too much that it’s starting to rot out his front teeth down on Sl-26, he knows too.”

“Good. What about Jarod?” She asked.

“He’s . . . he’s working on the cure, in his room,” Broots said. “Here.”

“He’s contained. After six long years.”

“He’s been caught more than once, Miss Parker.”

“Yeah, but I wasn’t here to see it. There’s a difference, Broots.” Now she really wanted to get up.

“I?” Seeing she wasn’t giving up, Broots helped her up. “Are you okay?”

“Fine.” She listened to the sound of her breathing. Nothing. No voice. She looked toward Broots. “How’s Debbie doing?”

Broots looked down. “It’s um. It’s a slow process. The Centre is putting her in limited access to anyone. Says, for all they know, she could be contagious. I just don’t think they want to risk me pulling her away.”

“Hm.” Her tone didn’t change. “How are you doing?”

“ . . . it’s a slow process,” he whispered. “Jarod’s trying, but there are so many different things it could be, Miss Parker. They had a whole area, a whole room dedicated to everything. And, they only let him work on it from 8 AM to 11:59 PM. Even if he thought he was onto something, they wouldn’t let him continue.” He scoffed. “I-I don’t know how to feel.”

“What do you mean? You feel bad for Debbie. It’s not complicated, just hard.”

“What do I mean?” He sighed deeply. “It’s more than Debbie. I chased Jarod for years, for my job. He’s helped me more than once, and now he’s . . . spending every minute he can to try and hopelessly  . . . find something.”

Miss Parker sighed. “Don’t tell me Sydney got to you. Jarod belongs in The Centre. He’s right where he should be. At least he’s making a difference instead of doing Sims for The Centre. He should feel grateful about that.”

“Grateful?” Broots couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “You spent almost four weeks, all day long, with Jarod.”

“Three and some change, he was doing his psychotic twirl a whirl mind screwing in the last week,” she said.

“You don’t feel bad at all, that they put him back away?”

“Should I?” She took a deep breath and moved toward the window. “I’m having children with him, Broots. That can’t be changed, but he’d be out there, ready to take them away from me. He’s safely behind the glass again. That’s all that matters.”

“I don’t. I don’t think so,” Broots disagreed. “I. I think he was okay, outside of the glass.”

“What is so wrong with you?” Miss Parker complained. “You chased him for six years, Broots, you should be celebrating.”

“He’s the only thing, the only hope Debbie has, and . . . I should be celebrating?” Broots scoffed. “What the hell did Raines do to you?”

She held her hand out, like she was holding a cigarette, but there was none. “Nothing.” She pretended to puff on the invisible cigarette and blew it in the air.

“I don’t think . . . he would have ever gone psycho,” Broots said, staring at her.

“He was halfway on the looney bin all the time, Broots.” She did the same thing again, puffing on her invisible cigarette.

“Sydney said a long time ago that-that the stuff he was doing, it kept him well.”

“So?” Broots could almost visualize the smoke encircling her. “He’s old Broots, and very connected to Jarod. He wasn’t going to believe anything.”

“You were connected to Jarod.”

“I detached myself a long time ago,” she said as she flicked the imaginary cigarette out of her hand. “Only thing I wanted was him trapped. Now I’m free.”

“Good to hear that.”

Broots jumped as he saw Raines coming in. He still didn’t know what to make of him. On one hand, he could have just let Debbie die. On the other, he could have spoken up faster. It was only because of what Sydney did that Raines sped things up.

But, he was also in charge, and crossing him, meant crossing Debbie’s life off. “Mister Raines, Sir.”

“Why aren’t you down by Jarod?” Raines asked.

“He wanted me to check on her,” Broots said. “Make sure she’s safe, Sir.”

“You better have one hell of a deal for me,” Miss Parker said, focused on Raines.

“All in writing. All contracted. Everyone knows. Everyone can see the birth if they want. The children can be right here, while you work. Watched only by those you approve of. There will be cameras on them at all times,” Mister Raines said. “I’ve done everything you’ve asked for.”

“Hm. It’s apparent you need me,” she said. She looked out the window. “I missed this view.”

“No one can forget about home,” Raines said.

“And now that Jarod is nicely tucked away, I don’t have to worry about him.” She gave a small chuckle.

“By the way?” Raines said. “Jarod said that you allowed him to name the boy?”

“Well, I was out with him. I had to give him something,” Miss Parker said. “If I remained unbreakable, he might take them away. But I didn’t break. Just a tiny crack, he thought he could work with.”

Raines smiled. A flat out smile. “You are my daughter.”

“Don’t smile at me you bastard.” She pointed straight at him. “You’ve been watching me on a DSA all my life. That’s creepy as hell. Stay away from me.” She groaned. “Before you go, what did Boy Wonder want to name him?”

“Onyssius.”

Miss Parker laughed. “My ass.” She moved past Raines. “I am getting something to eat. This pregnancy drives me crazy,” she groaned, “and then, I will go see Jarod for myself. See him where he really belongs.” She imagined the sound of her stiletto heels clicking on the ground, instead of the regular shoes Jarod made her wear. “Broots, get me a pair of my old stilettos. No, scratch that. I want a ride back to my house. I need to get dressed. I can finally get out of these drabs and back into some style.”

“Yes, Miss Parker.” His voice sounded low. “Anything you say. Home’s probably safer anyhow.”

“He’ll find it, Broots,” she said looking toward him. “Jarod’s got skill, don’t worry.”

“Yeah. Pardon me.” Broots shuffled out of the room and down the hall.

 

It was normal, but it wasn’t. And puffing on an invisible cigarette? What was that, when did she start that? Almost four weeks. Not even a smidge of sympathy. I mean . . . she still believed he’d go crazy outside? Even he had started to have doubts by the third year Jarod wasn’t better off outside. He helped a lot of people, did a lot of good, but catching him was his job.

Sydney told them very early on that Jarod would be okay, but Miss Parker kept saying he wouldn’t. It was hard to tell who to believe. And now, Jarod was the only thing giving Debbie even a slice of hope. “Jarod even saved my life once. I.” He looked back at Miss Parker who followed him out. “Hello?”

“Hello?! Did you forget I need a ride back home, so I can get out of these draggy clothes? Gaw.” She passed by him. “After that, I’ll have my car. I’ll be fine. Everything will be back to normal.”

Broots looked toward her. She turned and stared at him.

“What?!” she demanded.

“Nothing,” he said. “Nothing at all. I-I’ll give you a ride back to your place, and then get back to Jarod.”

 

---------------------

 

“Just a few more years, tops, Broots,” Miss Parker said as she got out of the car. “The Centre will be mine.” She looked toward him. “Don’t expect a pay raise.”

“I don’t . . . think I’ll be working there,” Broots reminded her. It’s like, her mind was half scrambled.

“Hm. Sorry. Maybe you won’t. If you are? Don’t expect a pay raise.” She took a deep breath and walked away without saying a word.

When she entered into her house, she closed the door. She moved to look at the picture of her daddy. Oh, how I miss you. But at the same time . . . why’d you do this to me? She set it back down and looked at her grand view. “I hate fighting this.” She rubbed her mouth. “And I’m starting to miss that voice of mine.” She moved away.

“Jarod is a danger.”

“Jarod will be fine, Miss Parker. You know him.”

“Jarod is a sweet boy, and I’m sure you could be good friends.”

“You are not pure enough anymore to be his friend.”

“He will go insane. Listen to yourself. You’ve studied them all.”

“He saved me. What do you think of Jarod?”

“Perhaps Jarod has gone off the deep end?”

 

Conversation after conversation reared its ugly head, in her head. Where is that other voice anymore? Gone. Fixed forever. She tried to walk away, think about something else. Did anyone know how hard it had been?

The Parker focus. “I have to do this.” There wasn’t much choice. Her whole instinct was screaming that it was wrong, a bad idea, and everything between here and there was going to burn for her action. There was not a single voice that would cheer her the other way anymore. “No. No, I will make this feeling my bitch.” She marched toward her old laptop, booted it up, put in her password, and easily got the information she wanted. The Centre kept up with so many people, she was bound to find someone.

She sent an email and waited.

How did you find me?! What are you going to do?!

She sent another quick email back, and waited again.

Awwwww hell! Nah, nah, that’s bad! Aw, poor J-Dog. J-man. That’s awful.

Oh god. Who the hell did I pick up? She closed her eyes. She had to start this way, any other would be too high and look suspicious. Bottom of the barrel. She sent another email, and retrieved what she needed for the next step before answering her phone. Be nice. She cleared her throat. “Hello?”

“Hey, hi! Um, It’s me. You know, that guy you just messaged? You found my thing? So, Jarod’s in trouble? Man, that’s bad, that’s real bad. So the people got him? He gonna like make like a Houdini and split?”

Keep it together. “He can’t just leave. He has needs that need to be fulfilled. I need you to get a message to an address. And if anyone calls asking about me, I need you to tell them I was a total bitch to you.”

“But you sound nice? Hey? Real nice. Um. So. Um. How are you involved?”

Gaw. “I’m the mommy.”

“Jarod’s?”

Gaw! “No, of his soon to be kids. I’m. Concerned.”

“Being a mommy, that’s gonna be crazy.  And to J-man’s kids, aw man. I mean, it’ll be great. Ace school, no homework problems or whatever. And hey, the kids, they will probably be bringing home plenty of green so you don’t have to worry about them.”

Keep. It. Together. “Will you write this address down, and what I want in each message?”

“Sure, but um, hey, uh? I owe Jarod. I do, a lot. A whole lot. But, uh. Yeah, uh. I haven’t seen him in like two or three years or so? But, favor’s a favor and I owe him. But, uh, I’m not like resourceful, you know, like him? He’s uh, he’s got a real big brain. Like giant brain, and mine isn’t quite so high.”

“Which is why I can contact you,” Miss Parker said boldly. “You’re the idiot who was sending out signals in newspapers clearly to Jarod, signals so big nobody could miss them for very long! So big that nobody took it seriously after awhile. The Centre kept watching you, but you’re no one important. You are at the very bottom of the bucket, someone won’t check you except to wring out the last of the water. Now, shutup and listen to me!” Hey, she could only take so much. “Argyle, right?”

“Yep, that’s me. A-R-G. Y-L-E. See, that’s my name on account of this-“

“I don’t care,” She groaned. “I just need you to listen to me. Write down this address, and this information.”

“Hey. This is safe, right? ‘Cause I have more than me to watch out for? I got my dad, and I got my girlfriend.”

“It’s. Fine,” she said as calmly as she could. Where the hell did Jarod pick this guy up from? She didn’t know, but asking him how they first met would just get him talking and he needed to shut up. This was hard enough. She was fighting pureinstinct to get this done.

After she gave him all the information she could, she had him read it back to her. “No, idiot. The Centre, not center. C-E-N-T-R-E! It’s the place!”

“Oh. You know, when I was a kid, I used to spell center like that for years, until-“

“Shut up!”

“Well, I was, but what about this word center next to Centre?”

“I hope you have mercy on your soul, if you were here right now . . .”

“I could put mid maybe?”

“You do that,” she said in a harsh whisper.

“Wow. You know, you’re mad, but like, you sound really sexy too. J-man found a good thing. But okay. Um. I got the email. I spelled the name right, and the messages. Two. Uh, One asking for a new email address to be deleted quick after. And then uh, the real message. Right?”

“Yes,” she seethed, trying to stay calm. Hopefully. He got it right. “Thank you. Argyle.” At least the weeks of trying to be nice was good training for dealing with this man. “If anyone calls you, checking to see what the emails were about from me, say a total bitch was threatening to kill me for information on Catherine Parker.”

“Yeah, yeah. No. I don’t know her.”

“I know you don’t know her, but if I’m poking around, it’s for her, so just go with it.”

“Yeah. Okay, I’ll say I know her.”

“No. You say. I asked about her,” Miss Parker said. “Saying you know her, will probably get you killed.”

“Oh! Aw no, man!”

“Yeah. Try not to confuse them.” She hung up the phone. He owes me. He owes me soooo big.

Emily. Her email was discovered again. Not surprising, The Centre was good.

There was no way Miss Parker trusted Raines to keep his deal with her children. If she could come back to The Centre, it wouldn’t be dragged in like this, and it would be after the birth. Not before. And Jarod wasn’t going to be restricted on how much he could help Debbie either. Her health was not a condition for him to stay put. She knew Genius Boy did better with things on his own terms than when it was forced on him. It could mean the difference between saving Debbie and not.

And that’s about as far as her decision making could go. For now, she just had to pretend like everything was back to normal. That she didn’t just help out the man she’d been chasing for six years to break out.

Oh, and find his damn family for him while she was at it.

 

---------------------------

It wasn’t a hundred percent safe, nothing was.

In fact, it was probably overkill, but she wasn’t going to take any chances. Unlike Argyle who the Centre wouldn’t be giving a shit about, they would be watching closely for anything about Jarod’s family.

She drove away and towards the grave of her mother. It was somewhere, after getting back home, she would go to feel better. Especially since she would feel safer with her children. At least, to them. It should be the perfect place to get a call. And even if surveillance was on her, they wouldn’t catch shit from her mouth.

Her phone rang. “What.” She kept everything casual, and still, like always, like she was talking to anyone about anything.

“How can I help?” Soft. Feminine. Emily.

“Well, I don’t know why you’re so worried,” Miss Parker said out loud. “The only way Jarod could find out what he was working with would be to bust into The Centre section it’s stored in. But there are huge locks all over that door, and tons of security. With him stuck in that glass, he couldn’t work on a cure anymore. And he’ll never leave, not with a little girl’s life on the line.”

“Okay. Someone’s life is on the line, and if Jarod leaves, that’s it.” Good. She knew how to read between the lines. She figured his family would have experience with what she was doing. “He’s working on a cure, so he’s stuck? How are you involved though, with my brother? Can you say?”

Careful. How could she do this one? “Huh? Yes, he wasn’t thrilled about naming our daughter Angel, but if he wants me to call our boy, Onyssius, he really can’t call me out on that.”

“Jarod’s having kids?! Wow. I didn’t know he was having kids. Jarod’s getting his own family. Making his own family on his own terms. That’s wonderful!”

No. She wouldn’t let them think that. They needed to understand that she wasn’t some sweet little girlfriend just ‘trying to help’. They needed to understand the position itself or they would be even more enraged when they found out. “I don’t know how I feel. All I know is that he threatened to take my children from me if I stayed at The Centre. As much as I tell him it was The Triumvirate who impregnated me, and The Centre wasn’t involved, he’s not going to accept it. And this is, this is not easy. He’s been my prey for six years. I hunted for him. I followed every lead for him. And now, we’re both stuck in this position.”

Silence. She continued.

“He’s finally locked up, and I don’t have to worry about him, but I still worry about Raines. He separated my mother’s children, you know that. I had a brother I didn’t know I had, Ethan. And Lyle? That horrible brother is the reason I am in this situation with Jarod. I hope he’s dead.”

A sigh. “You’re part of The Centre. Jarod. He?” Crying? Pathetic. “You’re only helping him because you’re worried about your children! And you should be, because they are Jarod’s! There’s no way anyone in our family is going to be in The Centre!”

“You really forgot the number again?” She didn’t give a shit what Jarod’s little sister thought of her any more than anyone else. She recited a number to her. “Don’t forget it again, Moron.”

Angry dial tone. “See that you do.” She acted like she hung up the phone and started to walk away. Emily probably couldn’t do much, but she might be able to reach Major Charles if she were lucky.

They would need one hell of a plan. The stockpile of everything Jarod would need to help Debbie, it would be massive. At least twenty boxes full, if not forty or fifty.

It wouldn’t be easy. She had no idea what to suspect, or when. She didn’t even know if Broots could help, but they had his number now.

All she knew was, before anything happened, she needed to find her brother and pay him a visit.

----------------------

 

“I. I don’t . . .” Broots looked behind him. Miss Parker kept her usual pace in her stilettos, even though she was almost six months pregnant. Talk about a feat. “I don’t know how long we have. Jarod said he wouldn’t need me for at least an hour, but still.”

It didn’t matter. And even though Broots was uncomfortable, he was bringing his ass too. She stopped right in front of a cell, where a familiar silhouette was seen. “It feels much better having the tables turned, Brother.”

Lyle looked toward her. He didn’t say anything.

“Cat got your tongue?” Miss Parker asked. “It’s not easy holding back when you just want to throw up when you see someone. Welcome to what I dealt with.”

He still didn’t speak.

“Where’s the cure?” Broots asked Lyle. “You made a cure. Where is it?”

Lyle still wasn’t talking.

Miss Parker looked at him. It was apparent he wasn’t walking for a reason. “Immobile there?”

Lyle gave a brief smile, then stopped.

“Can’t say I feel sorry for you. What, with, you know, you impregnating me with Jarod’s kids!” She yelled at him. “Where’s the cure, Lyle?”

“Is it at your house?” Broots asked.

Lyle didn’t answer.

“Your office?”

Lyle didn’t answer.

“Damn it, Lyle!” Miss Parker tried to reach in for him, but didn’t get too far with her stomach.

“He can’t answer you.”

Miss Parker looked back as Mister Raines came up.

“So. You found him. I knew you would,” Raines said. “Happy family reunion.”

“Reunion my ass, Lyle, where is the cure?!” Miss Parker shouted again.

“I told you. He can’t answer.” Raines looked straight at him. “He lied to me. So, I had his lying tongue removed.”

Broots gagged a second, but Miss Parker felt no reaction. “So. Cat really did get the tongue. Me-ow.”

“Play 20 questions all you want. He’s not giving the answer,” Raines said. “I’ve incapacitated him. Even if I forgive him in the future, he’ll never talk, and never walk, again. This cure is the last bit of joy he has.”

“Damn,” Miss Parker muttered her breath. “You don’t care. You want her to die. You have it, but you want her to die.”

Lyle smiled again.

Broots could barely breathe. “What do you want for it?” He pleaded. “Anything. Anything I can give you, just please, tell me where the cure is?! Please!”

 

“Broots. He once buried a pregnant woman in the middle of a desert for fun,” Miss Parker said, staring at him. “If he’s got nothing left but this last vindictive move.” She shook her head. “Jarod’s the only hope.”

Chapter Text

I own no Pretender, probably clear by now I just really love this show.


 

Major’s Secret Location

 

“Major?”

Major Charles turned around and looked at Gemini. He had been taking care of the boy nearly three years now. It was tricky, at first, taking care of the clone of his son. It almost felt like cheating at times, like he was stealing time with Jarod. But, the boy was different. Raised different.

And he was family. In a way. “Yeah?”

“Emily’s on the computer.”

“Oh.” He moved over toward the computer and smiled wide at his daughter. “Emily. How are you? Any luck finding your mother yet?”

That look. Sorrowful. “Dad?” She said softly. “Jarod’s trapped in The Centre again.”

No. He placed his hand to his forehead.

“Jarod’s left The Centre before. He’s even come back and forth. They haven’t found out how he got out yet,” Gemini answered. “The worry should be minimal.”

“Maybe he can still get out on his own,” she said, “but he can’t because he’s the only hope for a little girl’s life. He has to find a cure for her.”

“A little girl’s life?” Major Charles asked. “Whose?”

“I don’t know.” She was still very sad. “I know this because someone contacted me. Catherine Parker’s daughter.”

“Miss Parker?” No. “How did she get your number? Are you safe?”

“It’s not like that. She’s trying to get Jarod out.”

Jarod out? “Has she turned over a new leaf?”

“No.”

“You are really sad,” Gemini said, looking toward her. “I wish I could make you feel better. Can you tell us why you’re sad?”

“She wants to help Jarod,” Emily sighed, “because somehow she became impregnated with his kids.”

“What?!” Major Charles mouth just hung open. “I mean, what?”

“And she’s worried because apparently the leader separated her from her brother at birth,” Emily said. “She doesn’t trust The Centre. Oh, but she doesn’t mind stalking Jarod for six years.”

“Okay.” Major Charles held his hands together, thinking. “The Centre impregnated her with Jarod’s kids?”

“No, The Triumvirate. She says it’s not The Centre, but The Triumvirate runs The Centre!” Emily shouted. “Jarod’s kids are in the belly of our enemy!”

Major Charles wiped his mouth and shook his head. “Oh, this is bad. Jarod’s children, if they are in Miss Parker, will become part of The Centre if we don’t get them out.”

“But she doesn’t want out, she just wants to know the kids are safe. She doesn’t regret going after Jarod at all!” Emily cried. “How could anyone do that to Jarod?”

“Miss Parker was nice.” Gemini interrupted the uncomfortable silence. “She was the first person who was ever nice to me. I think we should welcome her into the family.”

“Catherine Parker was nice.” Major Charles sat down in a seat, his bones feeling old and tired as he let out a deep sigh. “Her daughter. She’s got one big question mark on her.”

“She chased Jarod for six years,” Emily said again. “And she didn’t sound one bit regretful.”

“But she told you about Jarod,” Gemini said.

“She is selfish, and I don’t trust her. I don’t think she should be around Jarod’s kids.”

“But, they are her children as well,” Gemini said. “They share them. Together. Miss Parker’s the mom. Jarod’s the dad.”

“This is a complicated matter,” Major Charles said. “But it’s not our decision. It’s Jarod’s. They are his children.”

“But this is our family. It’s really hard to keep it together,” Emily said. “I still think she’s the enemy. What if she finds out about us, and she turns us over to The Centre? Dad?”

“I don’t know,” he answered. “If you want to keep her out, Emily, you may have to keep Jarod out too. I don’t see him as . . . someone who’s going to turn a parent away from their kid. No matter who the mother is. Not after all this.”

“But, dad-“

“I’m just laying it out,” he answered. “Now, first things first. Let’s find out what’s really going on at The Centre, where he’s at, and how to contact him safely to create a rescue plan. Because it sounds like this one might be a doozy. If we screw anything up, a little girl’s life could be lost forever.”

“Did she say anything else?” Gemini asked.

“Well. Their names are Angel and Onyssius.”

Gemini smiled. “Our new family members have names.”

“Grandkids from The Centre. Did not see it coming,” Major Charles said.

“It’s exciting news,” Gemini said, “but is there anything else?”

“She recited a number. She addressed it like she was talking to someone named Broots.”

“Oh. He could be the dad of the little girl, or maybe a contact?” Gemini pulled out a separate laptop. “Give me his information. He can’t be that hard to find.”

 

-------------------------

Jarod’s Room.

 

Jarod looked outside the plexi glass. “Broots, are you still there?”

“Uh. Yeah.”

He thought so. It was lights out. Jarod should be sleeping, but he didn’t always want to play by their rules. Everything was taken away of course, past midnight, right before lights out. “You should go home.”

“Oh. I’m fine.”

Jarod sighed. “Look, I’m sorry about your daughter. I’m doing what I can. You can’t stay in one place forever though. She’s probably gonna be okay for awhile, Lyle was timing it for a whole year. We’re just lucky Sydney was thinking early, that’s all.” Still, he wasn’t moving.

“Don’t worry, I’ll find somewhere else to go.”

“Well, I didn’t mean it like that,” Jarod said. “Honestly, I won’t get any company but you probably. Maybe Sydney. I haven’t seen Miss Parker yet.” He delved more into it. “You’re sure she’s fine?”

No answer. He either didn’t answer or was already gone.

 

---------------------------

The Centre’s Health Ward

Sydney watched as Debbie played with the puppies. At least there was someone that she was allowed to have contact with. Watching her through glass, just like others watched Jarod. Horrifying. What had Lyle done to her?

No signs were showing, but the blood test definitely found her white blood cells becoming lower than the norm for someone her age. At least right now, she was healthy. It was a shame Broots wasn’t allowed to see her as much though. It was as if the Centre really believed he’d bust her out.

Even Sydney had limited time to watch through the glass. But then, he watched as Broots walked up to him.

“How’s she doing?” Broots asked. “Oh. Puppies. She really likes those.”

“Yes. She does well with them. They help keep her company, since no one else is allowed to,” Sydney said. “How many hours do you get to see her, Broots?”

“Three total. They, uh, think I’ll focus better if I don’t dwell on her so much.” He had a strange sad chuckle when he said it. A look only Broots could ever pull off. “But, I don’t have a choice. I can’t make the Centre mad.”

“What do you have underneath your arm?” Sydney asked.

“Oh, uh, envelopes,” Broots said. “Raines wants some invitations sent out for some . . . thing.”

“And the night before it was what?” Sydney asked.

“I forget. I think delinquent account calling?” Broots said.

“They are taking advantage of you, Broots,” Sydney said as he stared at Debbie. “You can only see her three hours a day. You must be beside Jarod all day. And they are giving you things to accomplish in between. You’re not getting the rest you need.”

“Oh. I-I don’t think I would anyhow,” Broots said. “Doing the crummy jobs no one else wants in the Centre tonight or going home to sleep without her each night. I’d rather do the crummy jobs. I-I fall asleep between here and there.” He rubbed his eyes, pulling the tears out of them and sniffled. “I don’t know. Sure is making those focus treatments look good right about now.”

“Don’t say that. Don’t ever say that, Broots,” Sydney said. “Is Jarod up right now?”

“Um. I think so.”

“Raines doesn’t like me talking to him very long, so this will probably be the best time. I need to tell him what we saw. Her private life or not, he needs to know. I’m sure he must be wondering by now.”

“Yeah, go ahead.” Broots felt his phone ring. “Hello.”

“Hello.”

“Um. Hi?” Broots looked confused. “Do you have the right number?”

“I think so. Do you know Jarod?”

Broots moved from his phone to look at Sydney and whispered, “there’s a young kid asking about Jarod?”

Sydney took the phone. “This is Sydney.”

“Oh. Hello to you again.”

“Oh.” Sydney grinned, looking toward Broots. “Yes, I remember you. How are you?”

“I’m fine. I took the name Gemini, if you want to call me something now.”

“Nice to hear from you again, Gemini,” Sydney said.

“Nice to hear from you. Uh. I am looking into this Broots character? He works at The Centre, hunted Jarod for six years with you and Miss Parker. Is there a reason Miss Parker would give us his number?”

“Perhaps.” Sydney looked toward Broots. “Something happened to his daughter.”

“Okay. Debbie. Correct? That’s who Jarod is there to save?”

“Yes, Gemini. Is Major Charles there too?” Sydney asked.

“Broots is a technical analyst and a computer programmer.” The sound of thumping was heard on the other side. “I’m sure it would be impossible to hand Jarod the phone, right?”

“Right,” Sydney said.

More thumping. “Oh, I get it. I will need to talk to Broots.”

“Yes.” Sydney handed the phone back but whispered. “It’s Jarod’s clone. He knows something’s wrong with Debbie, and knowing his skill, now knows everything about you, so be truthful but cautious around what you say out loud.”

Broots nodded. “Uh. Hello?”

Sydney smiled as he walked away. Getting closer, Jarod. Not to saving Debbie, but figuring out how to get him out of there.

 

Sydney walked into the darkness of Jarod’s abode. He wasn’t allowed to go beyond the plexiglass this time.

“Sydney.” Jarod came closer in the darkness. “Any news?”

Sydney smiled at him, big and wide. “I have nothing, Jarod. So far, no one has made any contact.” He did not stop grinning. “There’s no hope anywhere.”

“That’s devastating, Sydney.” Jarod smiled wide too. In the darkness, the cameras could see, but not see expressions as well. However, they could see each other’s expressions very well.

“I don’t see how there will ever be a way to get out,” Sydney said with his usual smile. “For instance, Major Charles and the boy of the Gemini project, without someone finding out where they were, they could never know about this or you. None of them could.”

“Yeah. It’s really hard to live with that knowledge, but at least I’m helping someone.” Jarod read between the lines.

Then, Sydney dropped his smile. “However, giving you no hope is not why I’m down here. I need to talk to you. About, the focus treatments Miss Parker went under. I don’t know exactly what they did, but I saw it. I saw it, little by little, until it all just came to be.”

Jarod scooted as close as he could. “What are they? You told me, briefly.”

“They are . . . cheats,” Sydney said. “When a little girl gets fond of a balloon and it pops, she should be sad about the balloon, or even cry about the balloon. A little girl on a focus treatment, would simply take it as it is. A popped balloon. Replace it or forget it. No crying. No emotion.” He sighed. “Miss Parker’s focus treatments don’t work completely. She’s not without feeling, but to stir emotion in her. You must step deeply into her world. Otherwise . . .  when you are ready for the red alarm lights to go off, I have something.” Sydney brought out a DSA. “I cut it extremely short, about 30 seconds clipped together, to show you.” Sydney opened the door quickly, slid the DSA in, and closed it again. He would probably not be able to get away with that again.

“Red alarm lights?” Jarod picked it up. “Well, no time like the present.”

 

Start of DSA

“No, no, no!” Young Miss Parker was struggling in her seat while a vicious dog, barking and snapping its teeth were mere inches away. “No!” At her side was Mr. Raines. “Please help!”

------------

A later shot of a snake wrapped around her mid-section. One that was harmless, but someone like Miss Parker wouldn’t know that. “Stop it!”

“Recite,” Raines said with no feeling.

“Parker is power. Attitude is power. Family is power. Emotions are weak. Feelings are weak. Pretenders are dangerous. Secrets are dangerous.” It kept coming closer and it screamed again. “Daddy!”

“Up it more,” Raines said.

-------------------

An even later shot, this time with a knife, slowly grazing down her arm. She said the same words, over and over, at a higher and intense speed, it was almost impossible to understand. “Parker is power. Attitude is power. Family is power. Emotions are weak. Feelings are weak. Pretenders are dangerous. Secrets are dangerous. Parker is power. Attitude is power. Family is power. Emotions are weak. Feelings are weak. Pretenders are dangerous. Secrets are dangerous. Parker is power. Attitude is power. Family is power. Emotions are weak. Feelings are weak. Pretenders are dangerous. Secrets are dangerous.”

----------------

 

The next clip showed Mister Parker charging in while a pit bull was barking at Miss Parker. There were even some scratches on her legs from claws that barely managed to reach her. The snake was lying comfortable around her mid-section and lying on her shoulder.

“What in the hell are you doing to my daughter, Raines?!” Mister Parker ran right up to him and throttled him.

“The Parker focus,” Raines said after the throttling. “She needed it. She’s been seeing Jarod secretly, and she’s too weak to live in The Centre, let alone run it when she’s older.”

“Focus is one thing, but I heard from medical you’ve got her running 248 times over the limit!”

“She saw Jarod 248 times. I had to be careful.”

“Wha-that much? How do you know?”

“I just know. She’ll be fine. Nobody dies from it.”

Mister Parker chanted about his little angel as he removed her from the chair. Her eyes were already cold, but he kept muttering how he’d always be there from now on, and how he was so sorry his angel got hurt.

------------------

The last part Jarod barely started to see as he got tackled to the ground before the DSA was turned off was that of Miss Parker. She held her father but didn’t make any noises. Any sounds of crying. She didn’t even look scared.

“God! What Catherine would have thought if she knew about this,” Mister Parker muttered.

“Mother was weak and that’s why she committed suicide,” Miss Parker said plainly. “I won’t be weak. I never will be weak.” She clung just a tiny bit harder to Mister Parker.

“Stop the hugging, you’re going to undo everything!” Raines complained. “Right now she is raw steel, if you start hugging her, she will have a weakness for you.”

“Everyone needs a weakness to overcome,” he simply said. “It’s alright. Daddy’s here for his Angel. My Angel, My sweet, sweet, Angel. Come back to daddy, Angel. Angel, Angel, Angel.” He glared at Raines. “Keep your hands off of my daughter, Raines!”

 

----------------------

Jarod awoke on the floor some time later, of course, alone again with the DSA gone. In that whole mess of torture to her, he didn’t miss the phrase in that whole thing that involved him. Considering the clipping, Jarod could guess she was tortured in several ways for hours, to see if the ‘treatment’ was working. So it only made sense after that, they would send her down to see Jarod.

For the ‘Pretenders are dangerous’ part. That’s why she won’t let up. That’s why, no matter how long I stay out here, no matter how many I help, she wouldn’t. And Mister Parker’s interruption during that transformation was the reason she had any feelings left at all. It might be why she responded so well to the word Angel. He said it repeatedly.

Jarod always knew The Centre was responsible for the damage he had seen in her. He never understood why, or how, but thinking about the torture methods? Sydney barely showed three in thirty seconds. There were probably many, and the torture was long and grueling for the fourteen year old young Parker.

No wonder Broots and Sydney had to say sorry, and why Sydney demanded she tell Jarod. Sydney said they started right after he stopped me from seeing her. There was more to the puzzle, but he had enough to see the answers he had always wanted.

And, because of Mister Parker, there was now more than a slimmer of light that he might be able to bend some of her ‘focus’. He moved himself over toward his bed. Lights out, but he would be demanding to see her tomorrow. To see the results of the treatment she had to go under himself.

Did it make her stronger . . . or weaker?

 

-----------------------

The Next Day

 

“What are you crouching back there for?” Miss Parker asked as Broots kept his head down and followed her from behind.

“Not in the mood to play commando,” he said as they continued to walk.

Miss Parker made her way down to Jarod’s room. She stood in front of the plexiglass. “So, Demanding to see me?”

Jarod approached closer, looking at her feet. “Those aren’t the best to be wearing. You’re carrying extra weight up front, you could trip and fall easier. We talked about this.”

“Sorry, Jarod, but like I said before. Nothing brings me to my knees, least of all gravity,” she said. “So. Onyssius, huh? Aren’t you a clever bastard. Better hope it has half your brains or it’s going to be awhile before it can spell its own name.”

Jarod shuffled around inside the plexiglass up closer. “So, finally caught me,” he said leaning forward slightly more in his shuffling. “How’s it feel? Having me trapped in here again?”

“Feels pretty damn good.” She raised an eyebrow. “You’re back where you can’t go psychotic on anyone.”

“I never would have,” he said, leaning more toward the front of the glass. “Pretenders aren’t dangerous.”

“Sure because the ones who have escaped were a ball,” she reminded him.

“The Centre changes people. They were changed against their wills before they left for freedom. Just as you were,” he said. “How do you feel about pit bulls barking now, Miss Parker?”

“Hm. No problem,” she said. “Just part of tradition.”

“Funny. Daddy didn’t seem to be too happy with the ‘tradition’,” Jarod said.

“Yes. I hear you were watching clips of my life, probably given to you by an old man in a tweed jacket, who can’t keep his nose out of my business,” Miss Parker answered. “What did you want, Jarod, it’ll be 8 AM here soon. They’ll be dragging out your chemistry set for you to play scientist so hurry it up.”

“Did you get a good enough deal?” Jarod asked. “Did Raines give you something you couldn’t refuse?”

She rubbed the side of her ear. “That’s my own business what deal I have. Time’s up.” She turned away on her stilettos.

 “You’re still wearing that dress?” Jarod said “Let me guess. You’re almost six months pregnant, carrying twins, and they don’t have that size in your styles?”

 

“Like you can talk about style. I’ve seen a mess of what you call friends.” She scoffed. “ J-Dog.”

Jarod turned away and hid his smile. Nope. There wasn’t a deal good enough out there for her to ever trust Raines. ‘Pretenders are dangerous’ didn’t override her common sense. She was the one who somehow contacted his family. Only she would have that kind of clearance if anything were found.

He waited as things were brought in for him to work with, trying to keep his expression neutral. Soon though, he’d not only be out of The Centre, but he’d see his family again. Once the hurdles were figured out.

------------------

Two Nights Later . . .

 

Broots knocked on Jarod’s glass door. “Um. Here’s the analysis typed up for tomorrow.” He opened the door and handed them to Jarod.

Jarod felt something beneath the reports. He smiled as he saw it.

“Debbie wanted to make something for you,” Broots said, his head still tucked down. “And uh.” He coughed. “I’m going to see if I can get her some pop *cough* tomorrow. They have 7 essential vitamins and-“ He coughed again, not finishing his statement.

Then he was gone.

Jarod stared at the card. Made it? It was a regular Thank you card with her name on the inside. But it wasn’t even written by her. Oddity number one just showed up. He studied the card. It looked normal, quite normal except there were a few areas with vague underlines beneath them.

Taking the words that were underlined in his head, he unscrambled it. It was a simple email address going to Gemini.

Jarod of course noticed Broots coughing. He tended to do that when he was nervous. Broots . . . was always nervous now that he could lose his daughter. But it was when he coughed, and why he would bother telling Jarod he was going to get her pop tarts. He coughed on tarts. Then, he said something similar to what he said to him. Seven essential vitamins and. He coughed on minerals.

“Jarod?”

Jarod turned and smiled. “Angelo?” He moved toward the front. “What are you doing here?”

“Oh. Raines let me go,” he said sadly. “I too late. To help. You know.”

Angelo always knew things. “It’s good to see you anyway. How’d you get down here?” Jarod asked.

“Oh, I just needed help with something.” Sydney came from the corner and touched Angelo’s shoulders. “Things tend to get away from me sometimes. I was busy on the internet and he popped right out.”

“Yeah. Internet is fun. Right, Jarod?” Angelo smiled.

“Wouldn’t know,” Jarod answered. “Haven’t been able to access it for days. All I have is a couple of databases that I have to record findings in.” But, they would know that.

“Come, Angelo. There is nothing for Jarod to discover from you anymore,” Sydney said as he moved Angelo away.

Jarod went back over to the computer, and scanned all the information. Broots had been filling in the basics when something new came that Jarod was allowed to check into. There were so many chemicals that The Centre had that The Triumvirate could have used, there wasn’t enough room in even his room for them all. He had to work with them in shifts each day, making it even harder to find a cure.

And a cure for what? There was only one sign, a slightly lower white blood cell count. All he could do right now was experiment with them.

To help keep them straight, he had access to a database, and hopefully he could combine similar chemicals. When he needed to do that, he would send Broots to get a different chemical. Sometimes he would get a reaction, no reaction, or some reaction. It was like a giant deck of match, hoping he could see something in one, to ‘match’ in another set from a different day.

Jarod scrolled through the contents on the side. Remembering Minerals, he checked in there. Then, he saw a new section added about Tart Minerals.

Oh. It’d be there a day at most once someone else looked over Broots work. He clicked the link and saw it.

Broots listed every single chemical and ingredient all over the pages. By the looks of it, he really never slept much. But it was all there, in alphabetical order, the full inventory. Jarod judged there had to be at least 2,000 chemicals.

Broots internet must be watched, so he couldn’t use it. It was probably watched at his home now too, and he couldn’t just run off to the library, someone would follow. Sydney could barely even visit Jarod, especially with the trick he pulled last night. Somehow, they expected Jarod to access the internet to get the email to Gemini. But how?

They put all kinds of passwords and blocks on their system. They made sure Jarod could not access it at all. Most people who worked at the Centre probably had to come to work with the passwords written down somewhere. They were never easy to figure out, and changed often. I have to have what I need though. Something. Something, something.

The dress! How could he not see it? She was even wearing her stilettos to make sure I didn’t miss it. He teased her about not being able to fit in her tight, dark fashions she always wore. She knew it was coming.

“Like you can talk about style. I’ve seen a mess of what you call friends.” She scoffed. “ J-Dog.”

 

Jarod pulled up the internet extensions and found it. Miss Parker’s internet wasn’t security enabled right now. He clicked it and found it asking for a passcode. Her saying a phrase and it just being there would be too simple. The Centre would get her for that, and she’d never leave herself open. Hmm.

“Like you can talk about style. I’ve seen a mess of what you call friends.” She scoffed. “ J-Dog.”

Ahhh . . . He put in the name Argyle, the only friend he had who ever called him that.

He did not have long. As soon as it connected, he put in the email address and sent the web page of information off, turned off access again, and stepped away.

It was a lot of chemicals. He wouldn’t be able to leave until he could work with them outside The Centre, or it could be another day short of saving her life. Hopefully, they could figure it out soon.

 

---------------------------

Gemini waited by the computer and watched it come in. “Oh wow. Major? Jarod got me the list.”

Major Charles sat down and stared. “Hell, that’s some list.”

“I estimate a little over 2,000 chemicals.” Gemini scratched his head. “This could be tough. I estimate three days.”

“Three days for all that?” Major Charles said. “I’d say three months.”

“No. If we could get access to a main Triumvirate area, we could get most of everything with much less security. The Centre and The Triumvirate share everything, remember?” Gemini said. “Surely, most of the ingredients, if not all, should be there.”

“Then, we can just find the stragglers,” Major Charles said. “I’m pretty sure that place is going to be tight now.”

“Yes. One of them,” Gemini said. “There are two others. I don’t know where they are at, but I bet our new friend will.”

 

“Oh dear. If Emily can be nice enough to her.”

Chapter Text

----------------------------

In Front of The Centre

 

“Going for a mid-day drive?” Raines asked as he popped up by Miss Parker’s car.

Miss Parker got out of her car, taking her shades off. She didn’t wear them as much anymore, but stuck with the new style of her clothing, they at least made her feel like herself. She had already taken off the stilettos again. She really didn’t want to risk falling in the name of fashion, and she knew how awkward the weight in front of her felt. “Is it illegal for me to drive my own car?” she asked.

“I just don’t think it’s smart.” Raines approached her steadily with his oxygen tank. “You disappeared almost a full month with Jarod. Do you think it’s such a good idea to go off alone?”

“Listen, walking corpse, I did that to protect myself,” she answered. “Jarod’s locked up. So what the hell are you expecting me to do?”

“Still be cautious. Jarod’s family can . . . disturb things, if they find out he’s here,” Raines warned her. “I want you to take six sweepers with you everywhere.”

Miss Parker looked at the entourage of his sweepers behind him. He always had them, to make sure he wasn’t an easy target. “Sam is fine, and I’m not always on duty.”

“I insist,” Raines said.

“My car doesn’t ‘fit’ for six sweepers,” she said. “This isn’t a stakeout, they aren’t going to be pairing off in different cars.”

“Yes, they are. There will be a day shift and a night shift as well, for extra precaution,” Raines said. “You don’t understand the severity of what you are carrying.”

“Well, you don’t understand the severity of what you’re dealing with,” Miss Parker said as she opened her car door. “I’m hot. I’m grumpy. I have mood swings that could move the Richter scale, so step back off of me!”

Raines looked confused. “It’s not even August anymore.”

“It doesn’t matter! Give me space,” she demanded. “I can’t go grocery shopping with a fleet of sweepers!”

Raines wheezed. “They’ll carry the groceries for you.”

She rubbed her sweaty brow, trying to calm down, but it wasn’t working. “Sweepers equal stress, Raines! They are for active duty.”

“Guard duty,” Raines said. “Until the end of the pregnancy.”

Miss Parker paced back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth. Eyeing him. Glaring at him. She put her hand to her mouth, afraid she might start to drool. “If you thought I was a bitch before, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Back off your little parade, I mean it. Or you’re going to see something, you won’t know how to handle.”

Raines didn’t move.

“I mean it, Raines.”

Raines still didn’t move.

Miss Parker paced back and forth again. Miserable son of a bitch wasn’t going for anything! “I don’t want sweepers following me around everywhere!” she shouted. “I want to go home, take a luke warm shower, eat some food, and relax! I don’t want to deal with this today you god damned oxygen wielding, grim reaper looking, maggot infested breathing, lucky to be out of a nursing home, sick, twisted, demented ass . . .”

 

Five minutes later . . .

 

“ . . . with the size of my stilettos, it’ll be shoved so deep up there that the doctors are going to have pull it out of your ass!”

Raines turned and saw part of The Centre actually looking out of the windows. Curiosity could not be helped. That was the largest and most vivid speech anyone had ever heard Miss Parker make.

“And that’s just for you!” Miss Parker pointed at him. “So these dumbass, underpaid-!“

“Stop!” Raines demanded. “It’s no secret you don’t like my sweepers. Take one of them, and one of your own. That is my final offer.”

Miss Parker still stomped her feet. She was brimming with something! She wanted to do something, and that something was not going to be out there in the middle of The Centre where at least fifty people were gawking now. She turned that something toward’s a tirade of anger, to block it, but she needed to move soon. “Fine! You, not so dumb one, in! And someone find me Sam’s ass now!”

She got into her car and pointed at Raine’s sweeper. “You! Better have good training, because we are going shopping, and you better believe your head and ass is holding all of it!” After Sam was found, he got into the car. As soon as he was in, Miss Parker pulled out of there as fast as she could.

 

----------------------------

Next to Jarod’s Room . . .

 

“Jesus.”

Jarod stopped a minute as he heard Broot’s voice. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. Just. I just got an email from Lucy down on SL-14 with the lazy eye and the bright red suit that blinds everybody, that Miss Parker had it out with Raines. She attached a video.”

Taking on Raines? “What happened? She wouldn’t be fighting.”

“I don’t know. She says Raines wanted Miss Parker to take six of his sweepers as body guards everywhere.”

 Jarod moved up closer to hear the video. “Could you turn it up a smidge?”

“Um. I guess?”

. . . take a luke warm shower, eat some food, and relax! I don’t want to deal with this today you god damned oxygen wielding, grim reaper looking, maggot infested breathing, lucky to be out of a nursing home, sick, twisted, demented ass . . .”

Jarod couldn’t help a small smile. “Well, this is one of the good times to be sealed away from her social interaction.” He didn’t need to listen to the whole thing. “That mood swing get results?”

“Yeah, one of his sweepers and one of hers,” Broots said. “She said Raines’ sweeper would be doing all the grocery holding before speeding out of here. She was furious.”

“He’s blocking her too.” Even when his family came up with a plan to get him, they had to get her out. He wasn’t leaving without her. If Raines was forcing her to have an entourage, it would be even tougher.

He also knew her for a month. That whole tirade? She was beyond slightly stressed. “Broots, I don’t need anything for awhile. Go check on her, make sure she relaxes for me. If you can, call her and see if she wants something in particular.”

“Yeah, I know. I’ve been there,” Broots said. He got up, and walked back to Jarod. “Oh. This is what I meant to get you last night.” He opened the door, set it down, and closed the door again. “I’ll take good care of Miss Parker, I promise.” He nodded lightly and took off.

Another clue? Jarod moved over and picked it up before going back to his spot. It was a red envelope with To: Jarod on it in a child’s handwriting.

He opened it gently.

 

Dear Jarod,

I know my dad won’t open this because he respects my privacy. I know what he did at The Centre now too, he told me. I hope you don’t get too mad at him. He’s not an evil man. He said at first, you were safer at The Centre. Then he said, instead, that he was safer chasing you, even if he didn’t want to anymore.

I kind of get that. His boss is freaky, and this place, it won’t let me even come out. And you’re stuck too. I don’t like being stuck, so hearing about you being stuck for almost all your life really hurts. I’m sorry.

I know you are trying to help me. I hope you can. I want to live a lot longer. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I won’t lie, I’m really scared!

 I don’t feel any different, I don’t think. Everyone says it’s slow moving. I guess that I won’t get sick ‘til later.

Sorry this is so long. I can play with puppies, color, and read. That’s about it. So, I figured I would write each day for a bit to you.

Daddy told me you can’t get out because you’re helping me. I’m sorry. I miss him. I think I even miss school. I miss my friends and playing with them. I wish they could see our new puppies.

Miss Parker stopped by. She is getting big. I can’t believe she is having twins. I love Miss Parker! I hope she likes being a mommy. She misses hers. She doesn’t get along with a lot of people. But, it’s okay. She’s like a superhero who’s also a friend. So, please don’t be real mad at her. She’s going to have to go through the pain of birth too.

I love the names of the babies. I don’t know what Onysus (spelling) means? But it sounds cool. And Angel! Miss Parker loved Angel. It always made her feel safe and warm when she heard it. She says she missed hearing it.

Sydney came by. I like Sydney. Daddy said to always trust Sydney. I think I see him more than my own granddad. Especially now. No one outside can see me.

I really miss outside and school and life. I can see why you ran away. A lot of kids say they’d rather do anything but go to school. If I could walk out and go to school right now, I wouldn’t complain.

They tried to take my puppies away. Some mean people. Miss Parker marched right down and she said a lot of words that I know I’m not supposed to hear. In the end, they said I could keep them. I just smiled at her.

I feel more scared today. Nothing changes. It feels like I’m never going to go home. I have five months to live, maybe, but it doesn’t feel like living. I cry a lot. I try not to, but I can’t help it sometimes. I don’t know how difficult it will be to cure me. I hope it’s not hard, or much longer. I’m scared ‘cause no one can say for sure what’s on the other side. Will there be lots of pain?

If I don’t make it, then it’s over. I didn’t matter to the world at all. It’s just a weird feeling. I mattered to daddy. He’d be sad. Miss Parker would be sad too. I think Sydney might be sad too. It’s harder to tell with him.

I don’t think I can really add anything else. Just, if you can help, thank you. But, if you can’t. My daddy always said when someone does their best, then there’s no regrets. So, no regrets.

Looking at this. Everything’s jumbled and it’s big. I wrote it day to day. It’s not a happy letter to give to someone who’s trying to help me. But, Sydney insisted since I did it, I should finish it. So, I’m sorry if this was bad and repeated a lot.

I hope one day we are both free from here. I guess I will be, one way or another.

 

Debbie

----------------------

 

Sydney visited Jarod at night again. “Raines said I should not be seeing you anymore. So, I came to say goodbye,” he said to Jarod. “Also, that The Triumvirate was broken into a couple of nights ago, and everything seemed fine, except for some missing chemicals.” His signal. Jarod would be free to go. He turned around on his heel and almost walked off.

“I’m not mad at Broots for chasing me,” Jarod said from the darkness. “Be sure that he knows that.”

Ah. That must have been in Debbie’s letter. “I will, Jarod.”

“And that I’m sorry for what I have to do to him now.” Jarod came up closer to Sydney holding the letter. “I’m taking her with me.”

“What?” Sydney turned back around to look at him. “Jarod. I can let you know any data you want, and as soon as the symptoms appear, I can tell you. We’ve already agreed to that.”

“Things change. She’s coming with me.”

No. “Jarod, that is not an option.”

“She’s trapped in The Centre. Just like me.”

“Not like you. Not like you now, and not like you were!” He had to talk some sense into him. “She has people who visit with her.”

“But can’t touch her.”

“But they visit with her, and she has . . . furry company.”

“Which isn’t the same thing.”

“For goodness sakes, Jarod, Broots is here! He sees her every day, every minute that he’s allowed too! If you take her, then he could miss the last few months with his daughter.”

Jarod banged the letter on the glass. “And in the meantime while her dad gets that time with her, which is good, it’s not good enough! Every minute she is in there she has to worry about the next five months, five months, of her life. There is nothing here to distract her! Whether she lives or dies, she is left dwelling on death. Feeling no human contact. Left in a room, with books, crayons, and a couple of puppies. While waiting to see if she lives she gets to have no life! And that’s fair?”

“Jarod-“

“No!” He looked back toward the letter. “No, I can’t do it. She isn’t spending five months trapped in The Centre. She’s not contagious, Lyle just wanted her infected, no one else. I’m sorry, but the plan’s changed. I’m taking Broots’ daughter with me. Even if I can’t save her, at least she won’t die here alone.”

Sydney rubbed his face anxiously. “This isn’t right, Jarod.”

Jarod pulled out the letter and flipped it around. “I can’t ignore this, Sydney.”

“Another person? It was tough enough with just Miss Parker out there with you.” Sydney tried one more time, but caught some words in the letter. He sighed. “What should I tell Broots?”

“Tell him . . . I’ll make sure she gets to see a lot of America. Experience a lot,” Jarod said. “That if she’s okay, I’ll make sure she gets home. And if she isn’t, she won’t die alone. And, I’ll still make sure she gets back home.”

“I can’t convince you otherwise, can I?” Sydney asked.

Jarod just took the letter and retreated backwards.

There was no choice. Jarod wasn’t even going to risk telling Broots.

Jarod was taking Debbie with him.

 

 

 

 

Later that night . . .

 

Sweepers. Miss Parker groaned as she looked at her bedroom mirror. All day and all night. At least she kept her promise about the grocery store. Her stress level was so high. She knew she needed to calm down to do this. She stared at the DSA Player and her life, sitting right underneath her bed. What an asshole, doing that to her. It wasn’t the first terrible thing he’d ever done though.

It probably wouldn’t be the last, now that Jarod could no longer be an excuse.

And while it was bad what Raines did, she found a lot of wonderful memories on there. As much stress as she suffered from, watching her and her mother from her childhood days really made it feel better. Brightened her mood before she would have to start kicking ass.

She held her gun tight, waiting for the signal. As soon as she heard the loud clunk, Sam knocked on the door. Armed with her pistol and the DSA’s of her life, Miss Parker went out toward him.

“Let’s go.” Sam was her most loyal sweeper. He followed her obediently all his life. He got the drop on Raines sweeper, and they were out of there.

Jarod would be free soon. That was good. She on the other hand? She was going to have to get herself out. While she knew Jarod cared enough about her unborn babies not to hurt her, and as long as she didn’t keep them in The Centre, he wouldn’t come after them.

There were big holes in that with his family. They were related to Jarod, but they could be ready to do anything. She had no trust or love to his family. The second they were born, they might try to rip them away.

She left a big enough hole that Jarod would know where to get her, but his family wouldn’t. The Centre would never bother looking for her there either, because it was the last place on Earth a girl like her would ever be found.

“I got it from here, Sam,” Miss Parker said as she commanded him to get out. With no words between, Sam got out. “Call The Centre tomorrow morning. Tell them what happened.” She drove off again, as quick as she could.

She wanted a voice to tell her that it was wrong. That Jarod’s family didn’t change anything. That nothing was happening. But that damn inner sense. That gut instinct, it had been screaming at her that she had to get out. Going by herself wasn’t an option, they’d track her and her car. Sydney and Broots, they’d look for them. She was a bitch to anyone else, so no one would help her in the first place.

Okay. Only drawback to being a bitch. There was only one option open, and as much as she wanted to ignore it, she knew it was the right decision.

She stopped the car and got out.

For the love I have to make sure they are born safe, sound, and not taken away by Jarod’s family. I have to do this. I feel it.

A honk. Miss Parker started heading toward the honk. I called it right in my head. I was hoping I was wrong.

No. The guy on the phone. He was an idiot, through and through. He honked again. “Hello, there, Miss P,” Argyle said from his car. “Um. We need to get going before the flashing blues and reds come.”

She got into the other side of the car. She couldn’t risk any kind of paper trail by plane or by car. Even stopping for gas would be found to something like The Centre. She needed an entire chauffeur and escort.

“So, wow, look at you. You’re all big,” Argyle said as they started to drive. “Wow. J-man’s having kids. It feels like I just met him, the other day. So, they kickin’ around in there.”

“Yes, they are starting to.” And as much kicking as she felt to the left. It must be Angel because it would be a woman’s natural reaction to get away from Argyle as fast as possible. That same kicking was a constant reminder that she wasn’t alone anymore. She had two new souls to take care of.

And her body and mind were so conflicted. One part of her, the part that used to speak the loudest but was silenced, rooted for Jarod. That he would be okay. That they could get through it. That she couldn’t trust Raines, and that she needed Jarod.

But the other part kept fighting even louder.

RUN.

 “So, my hideout isn’t so much of a hideout as a little place for me and my dad,” Argyle said.

“The smaller, the better. As long as The Centre hasn’t been there,” she said evenly. “I have my own money, so don’t worry about me. As soon as we arrive, I can take care of myself. Jarod will know how to find me.”

“Yeah, you bet,” Argyle said. “Only, tell him, you don’t trust his fam, right?”

“I don’t trust him either. I don’t get much of a choice,” Miss Parker answered. “Just. Drive. Conversation makes me edgy.”

“You’re kind of . . . you know, I mean, like a sexy vampire,” Argyle said. “More of the vampire part though. That’s not good.”

Miss Parker looked toward him. “I’ve been ‘nice’.”

“Yeah, but, like . . .” Argyle took a deep sigh. “See, I met people in the elements. Like you. Just like you. They get that way ‘cause something happened to them. So, what happened to you? You like, get caught out there for a little while before, like, finding your way back?”

Elements? “Something like that.”

“That’s bad. You can’t linger out there, it changes you. You know? It changes you bad,” Argyle said as he turned in for gas. “Real bad. Can’t trust anyone, then you realize, you have to trust someone. But you don’t know who to. And, it’s just not good, Miss P.” He hopped out of the car to start pumping gas.

Miss Parker sunk deeper though as she saw who else stopped for gas.

 

Emily. She shut her car door and then the clone of Jarod got out from the back. “Not here, Gemini. Too close, Blue Cove is the next town over. Someone might recognize you here. We’re getting gas, and getting Jarod.”

Jarod’s clone got back in and stuck his head out the window. “And Miss Parker?”

“I know. I can’t believe this. Saving the enemy?” Emily’s attitude told Miss Parker she got it right. Like hell she was trusting them. “Blue Cove is next. Stay covered.”

“You’ll have to get along with her at some point,” the clone of Jarod said. “She’s not really that bad.”

“She’s not good either. There’s no way she’s staying part of this family,” Emily said. “Count on it.”

Then, Miss Parker’s true inner sense kicked in again. Involuntarily and ever so fast. Even though she was ducking away, Emily was going to get closer. She knew it.

“Got it,” Argyle said as he hopped back in. “Boy, gas never gets cheaper, does it Mi-!”

Miss Parker bent toward him, kissing him, essentially doing two things. Hiding her face from the enemy, and stopping Argyle from saying her name.

Argyle didn’t take long to slip right into it.

Hm. He sure did have an anxious tongue. After a month out with Jarod, and now clearly pregnant to any good looking Joe, nothing got to be on her menu. Although he was annoying as hell, Argyle had the right desperate tongue for the job right now.

Six months trapped in South Africa. Almost a month trapped with Jarod. It wasn’t exactly hard to accomplish an undercover makeout.

After Emily pulled away, she stopped. She rubbed her lips with her fingers.

Argyle pulled away slowly. “Okay . . .” He cleared his throat. “So. Did that just happen?”

No, don’t slip that way. Her getaway was her getaway. Who cared how her hormones were raging, this guy was not a stud. Makeout session. That was as far as she should go. For now.

“So. Are you his girl, or are just those twins his? Like, a split custody thing?” Argyle asked. “Oh. I really shouldn’t be asking that. Okay.” He started his car. “Um. Yeah. Uh.” He scratched his shoulder.

“The enemy was next to me,” Miss Parker said honestly. “Otherwise, that neverwould have happened.”

“Yeah, of course. You know? You’re Jarod’s girl, I know that.”

“I’m not Jarod’s girl.” She scratched her head.

“Oh. So like, you haven’t even kissed?” Argyle said. “Oh. Well. You know, it’s cool. Like, libido changes in pregnancy. Lowers a lot in a lot of women. And uh, but I’ve seen it do the other thing too. Sometimes.”

“Can we drive?”

“Oh, yeah. You bet, Miss P.”

 

Two blocks from the back of The Centre

 

 “Come on, get the lead out!” Major Charles said to them. Emily followed Gemini out of their car and moved into the limousine. “See, good, huh?” He said just smiling away to Emily. “No one would suspect a fancy limo of anything.” He moved away quickly. “Jarod will be meeting us shortly with one other.”

“One other who?” Gemini asked. He looked out the window as they drove.

Jarod was running and carrying a girl almost his age. Except he was increasing his speed even faster. Before Jarod even made it out, alarms started to go off. He didn’t trigger anything.

It was a fire alarm.

 

The faster he got to them, the better. He hit the car door and put Debbie in first. “Room for two?” He scooted in next to her as his dad took off. He smiled at Emily and she smiled back. So did Gemini.

Wait. He should have gotten a serious shouting match with Miss Parker over what he just did with Debbie. “Where’s Miss Parker?” Jarod asked anxiously. “The plan was to get her first.”

“She was not there,” Gemini said. “One of the sweepers had been unconscious on the floor. Since only that variable changed, we still came to get you, with plans to find her again later.”

“She’d know to be here.” Jarod looked at Gemini. “She contacted you.”

“She contacted Emily,” Gemini said looking toward Emily whose happy face went away. “Was she aware of the plan?”

Emily sighed. “Did it matter? I didn’t want to talk to her again.” She crossed her arms. “Her brother almost killed me.” She looked toward Jarod. “She’s The Centre.”

Jarod bent down toward her, knowing her pain. “Emily. I know it’s hard to accept this. Trust me,” he said. “I didn’t want it this way either, but I have to accept it. With The Centre’s involvement or not, I can’t just let them go.”

“No, but her soul is cruel, and she has no right to be a mother,” Emily said. “She’s evil, Jarod!”

“Emily,” Major Charles said from the front. “This isn’t easy on anyone. Let’s not get into this. Jarod. If she didn’t know what was happening, but she felt like she was in peril, where would she go?”

Was someone after her already? Was Raines trying something? He was away, behind glass. He couldn’t help. “She wouldn’t just run. One of the sweepers was knocked out? She had two.” Sam, obedient as always. He must have knocked the other one out.

Okay. She would need to get far, without using any identification. She wouldn’t try running away somewhere he had to hunt her down to. She already knew he’d do that, and it wouldn’t leave him happy.

He smiled at Emily. If Miss Parker felt threatened, she would run. And Emily had threatening  written all over her. “Emily?” Jarod said. “When my kids are born, you have to be good.”

“Of course,” she said softly. “They are family.” She smiled. “Just, not that woman, and there’s no way she can stay attached to them.”

“Emily!” Major Charles scolded her. “What did I tell you?”

Jarod sighed. That was it, that’s why Miss Parker ran on her own. “Emily, no.”

“No? No?! I’m just supposed to sit back and let the next leader, of The Centre, waltz on into our lives? No way, Jarod!” She protested.

“Miss Parker is not bad,” Gemini said to her. He looked toward Jarod. “I sense confusion in her.”

Damn. He wanted to stay, at least a little while, with them. They never got to stay together for too long. But Emily’s wrath, burning in her eyes. It couldn’t be ignored. “Miss Parker is my business, Emily, not yours. Stay away from her.”

His words, he could tell it was like a dagger to her heart. “She’s evil, Jarod. Would you rather Snow White had stayed with her wicked mother or find the seven dwarfs?”

“I am not taking them away from her.” Then, he added more. “No one is taking them away from her.”

“It’s. The. Centre!” Emily scrunched up in her corner. “I never got to even meet Kyle, because of The Centre. You have a clone, because of The Centre. We can’t find mom because of The Centre. We are hunted, and we never get to be together for very long, because of The Centre. Not to mention, the man who killed our brother, and who almost killed me, is her good for nothing twin brother!”

She was breaking down. Gemini tried to hold her. “Here.” Jarod moved over, switching places slowly with Gemini. “Watch Debbie’s head,” he said to him. He came over and hugged Emily. “I know, Emily.”

“This shouldn’t be happening. This never should have happened. You can’t, just, let The Centre in.” She clung to him tighter, this time crying. “They do nothing but destroy us. Hurt us. Even, look at that little girl.” She gestured toward Debbie. “They probably hurt her too. I don’t even have to ask why you had to stay to find a cure. They’d hurt the innocent just to get to you.”

Jarod looked down at her, toward Gemini, and toward his dad.

 

“When they come, take them away, Jarod. Otherwise, you’re leaving Snow White with the wicked queen.”

Chapter Text

To Argyle’s Car

 

“ . . . and so I says to pop, you know, we just need a little cooling off time, you know? But, I don’t know.” Argyle looked back toward Miss Parker. “Something wrong, Miss P?”

“Argyle?” Safety. Emily was too damn close to Blue Cove. She hated to do this, but she needed the tactic. “I’m not fond of Jarod.”

“Oh. Yeah, sorry,” Argyle said. “J-dog’s a good guy though, give him a chance. Okay? Just a little chance.”

“The best I could manage, maybe, is okay acquaintance.” She looked toward Argyle. “He hates me just as much. I mean, has he ever mentioned me?”

“Uh. No, I don’t think so. But like, I haven’t seen him in years.”

“I’ve known him since he was a teenager,” Miss Parker said. “Has he mentioned me?”

“Uh, I don’t . . . think he ever did?” Argyle said.

“Exactly, we aren’t close.”

“Um. Okay?”

“That woman back there? Did you hear her?” Miss Parker asked. “She likes me less. She wants to take my unborn children away, and I’m not letting her.”

“What? Oh no.” Argyle whined. “That’s bad, that’s real bad. Kids should be with their parents. Whatever this issue is, man, it’s gotta be solved.”

“Yes. You can tell Jarod where I am, after I am out of here. And tell him that his dad, his sister, and his clone, are his business. I don’t want to know about them, and they better as hell not know a thing about me. Because if his sister steals my children after they are born.” She fixed the rear-view mirror slightly. “I’ll kill her. I will hunt her down to the ends of the Earth and I will stab her pretty face.”

“Um?” Argyle shifted uncomfortably. “Okay?”

“But he’s going to call sooner than I expected,” Miss Parker said. “When he does, don’t tell him where we are. Just say we’re safe. Don’t try and lie, he’ll see through that.”

“Wait, hang on.” Argyle. “Look, I was doing this as a-a favor for Jarod. I really, reallyowed him for everything he did, and-and, but this don’t sound like I’m doing it so much for him now.”

“You can still tell him. Later.”

“This don’t feel right.” Argyle shook his head. “J-dog was good to me, and now I can’t tell him where his girl and unborn kids are?”

“For the last time.” Easy. Eeeasy. “I’m not his girl.” Hmph. “Do this favor for me, and I’ll prove how much I appreciate it.”

“How much you appreciate it?” Argyle glanced at her, then back at the road. “W-what do you mean?”

“Let’s just say contrary to appearance right now, I’ve been a lot more around the block than you have.” She brought his arm closer so he leaned down. She whispered into his ear, and then let him go again. “Deal?”

“Uh. Uh.” Argyle looked back at her. “I, oh, whoah. I don’t know. I mean. This is a little freaky. Don’t get me wrong, even as you are, you’re more banging than any chick I’ve ever laid eyes on. But.  Jarod, he’s-“

“A daddy,” she said. “No control otherwise of me. Men don’t own women because of babies, do they? No one owns anyone. Relationships. Marriages. I have neither. So.” She looked out the window. “Your choice.”

 

 

Back to the getaway car . . .

 

How would this ever work? Emily was afraid Miss Parker would tell The Centre. She’d turn. She wanted Jarod to take his kids away after they were born.

Which was exactly what Miss Parker was afraid of. “Dad, I need your phone.”

“Who are you calling?” Emily was still so nervous. Gemini didn’t care. Dad, didn’t know what to think of the situation.

“I won’t let her know about you,” Jarod said, “If that’s what you want, fine, but you can’t know about her either.” He took his father’s phone.

As he did that though, sirens went off. He could hear them all the way out there, blaring from The Centre. “Damn.” If he was caught, his whole family was caught! “Dad, step on it faster!”

But up ahead, was a road block. Although that never stopped them, the person blocking the road with his trademark devilish smile meant the road block was just a nice little warning to what he really had.

“Dad, stop,” Jarod commanded.

“Are you crazy?! We need to go around it, Jarod.”

“Dad, stop! That man is the one who killed Kyle. Stop here, turn around, and get out.”

Major Charles stopped. “Jarod, no!” Emily cried. “You see? This is because of that woman. It’s all a setup, Jarod!”

“Get Emily and Gemini out of here.” Jarod picked up Debbie and closed the door behind him, watching Lyle as the wheels sped away in the opposite direction. If he knew he was breaking out, he could have caught them all a long time ago. He started to walk forward, but heard a slightly different step next to him.

Gemini?! “You were supposed to go with dad!” Jarod yelled at him.

Gemini glanced back at him. “I couldn’t leave you alone. There’s no telling what he has planned.”

Damn it. Too late now. He trudged to the road block with Lyle, holding Debbie, with Gemini by his side.

“Good, good,” Lyle said as Jarod came closer. “I was hoping you’d come to your senses. Did you see my friends? They have a lot more style than The Centre.” Lyle walked along the ground. “The thing is, Raines didn’t want to get his hands dirty. Or, too bad of health to rough me up. Boy, this plan had some tough spots. Getting beaten down pretty bad by sweepers, that wasn’t fun at all.”

“Just get to the point,” Jarod said holding onto Debbie. “Do you have a cure for her?”

“The word is treatment. She’ll be fine with a shot of what’s in this little red vial.” He reached into his suit pocket and pulled out a red vial. “She takes it once a month, like clockwork, for the rest of her life.” He pocketed it again. “Don’t feel bad, Jarod. I had to make sure it was something you didn’t detect. It works slowly on the body, real slow. Hardly any change. Then one day, she’s out riding her bike, and bam! She’s dead.” He chuckled. “You had no chance. Even Broots had to know that when I told him what it had been.”

Broots. Everything was a setup.

“It’s fine, you know? The only problem was, Raines brought you in. And, Raines wasn’t supposed to do that,” Lyle complained. “So I had to let you escape, so that I technically caught you. With my deal complete.” He fixed his tie straight. “Mister Lyle Parker now owns The Centre, according to The Triumvirate.”

Jarod watched sweepers come from the sides.

“The one on your left, you might want to let him give her that shot? And, of course, down on the ground and hands behind your back. Or, we could shoot out your kneecaps. Either works for me.”

Jarod had no choice. He let the sweeper take Debbie, got to his knees, placed his hands behind his back, and could feel the handcuffs being put on.

“Good boy,” Lyle smiled.

“If you own The Centre,” Jarod growled, “what’d you do to it?”

“Oh. The sirens? I had to clear out a couple of old levels of the building. You know? Make room for the new.” He winked at him. “Fire alarm was probably by Broots. Not like I said he couldn’t pull it.” He moved to the left, just grinning. “Everything was perfect. Except, that those geniuses did mess up on something. They all assumed you’d be so taken with Miss Parker there in the cell, and having to Pretend to be the one thing you despised so much, nobody planned on you finding the lab and destroying everything.” He shrugged. “Still. I’ve got some new names to try for Pretenders thanks to Nugenesis, and hell, Angelo’s still here. That makes it easy.”

Jarod tried to struggle, but was knocked down further to kiss the ground.

“Take it easy, Jarod. Broots had to. You couldn’t do anything, and he was going to do what it took to save his daughter’s precious life.” He chuckled. “And as a bonus, I have myself a personal slave for the rest of Debbie’s life.” He put his hand in his pocket and leaned slightly to the right. “I’ve always kind of wanted one of those. A lifetime slave. Now, last thing.” Lyle dialed a number on his cell phone. “Baby Jarod has a starring role with The Triumvirate. And thanks for bringing the Gemini project back too. Guys, could you, go ahead and cuff that little clone too? Thanks.”

“If you think, you are really getting away with this,” Jarod started to warn him.

“Shh. On the phone,” Lyle said. Then, his expression faded. “Who is this?”

Jarod watched him. Whoever it was, it wasn’t making Lyle happy.

“Listen you little bug, unless you want killed, you better bring her back,” Lyle demanded. “I need her back here! Now!” He held his finger up to the lovely people in colorful head clothing. “How much do you want, huh? Fifty thousand. Hundred thousand.” He smiled to his ‘new friends’ amiably. “Million. Two million.”

Oooh. “What’s wrong, Mister Lyle?” Jarod practically dripped the words out of his mouth. “Deal going a little sour?”

“No, quiet,” he said to Jarod. “I can find you, kill you, and . . . well, for your own protection, Sis.” Miss Parker clearly took over the phone. “Yeah, I sound great having regrown a tongue.” He licked his lips. “You were supposed to run with Jarod’s family, why the hell weren’t you there? Mm? Yep, I got her taken care of. Partly.” He was rubbing his ear. “This is stupid, we have GPS inside the cars, make it easy and just . . . you aren’t in a Centre car?” He held his finger gently back up to the others. “Get your ass back home, now.”

“Mister Lyle.” A strapping man came in front of him. “Did you just lose our greatest investment?!”

“I promised Jarod,” Lyle said. “I delivered. Five months early.” He gestured to him on the ground. “Not only that, but his clone too. We haven’t even found a lead on him, and there he is. Bonus.” His smile was fading. “She can’t be far. I can find-“

 

Then all the lights went out. Jarod closed his eyes as in the dead of night, intense flashers were seen.

Everyone sheltered their eyes, but Jarod felt someone pulling him away. Not knowing who it was, but knowing he had to trust them, he followed their lead. He found himself in some kind of car, still squinting his eyes. “Gemini?”

“I’m right here,” Gemini said. “Who did that?”

Jarod moved around, waiting for his vision to come back. “I don’t know. Who are you?” he called to the driver.

“Broots couldn’t help you, but, he didn’t want to hurt you either.”

What? “Ethan?!” Jarod almost shouted for joy.

“I had to wait, until they revealed the cure,” Ethan said. “My sister. I knew she would be alright. She was told to run. Oh, the girl is by your feet. She is still unconscious. Broots, he has a message for you for her. He said if she dies because of Lyle, bring her back, otherwise to take good care of her.”

With his eyesight returning better, Jarod could see Debbie by his feet. “The best care I can.” He could see Ethan driving now.

“He also said that if Sydney was wrong, Miss Parker was right, and something happens to Debbie that wasn’t Lyle’s fault, he’d hunt you down and kill you in cold blood.” Ethan shrugged. “He really loves his daughter.” He had some kind of goggles around his neck that had probably kept his eyesight clear.

Jarod already knew that. At least Broots was compassionate enough to see what needed to be done. Let Debbie go. “I’ve been looking for you.”

“Whenever The Centre found a lead to our family, Broots tried to clear it. Knowing I was Miss Parker’s brother though, he kept the information.”

Jarod nodded. “Bad position. Good guy.” He sighed. “I need to contact Miss Parker.”

“You are having twins with her.”

“Yeah,” Jarod said.

“I can’t connect to her yet. The voice, it says she has to run with clowns. But, there’s someone you love that you will finally see soon.”

“Who?”

“Your mother.”

 

 

Diner . . .

Small diners. No possibilities. No one was ever found there. Nothing eventful happened. No miracles were made. Miss Parker held her fork in her hand, trying to twist some cold spaghetti on the fork.

No Centre for her. She knew that by Lyle’s voice. Son of a bitch. Of course he was still kicking, and bucking harder than ever. He even now had Jarod, which meant, her survival skills were up to her.

“This isn’t ketchup. You can’t taste the tomato at all.”

And an old war veteran, and that clown, Argyle. He didn’t want his dad to get as close to the danger and Blue Cove, so he dropped him several towns away. All he told his father was that he was getting Jarod’s ‘girl’ out of a bad situation. Bad situation alright, and with Jarod’s twins in her stomach, it was bound to get worse.

“Hey, hon, it’s not alright for a new mom-to-be lookin’ like her whole world is falling apart.” Miss Parker saw a pie slide next to the food. “Maybe that’ll help cheer ya up?”

Hm. Pie. “Thanks,” she said lazily. She used to never even touch a damn carb and now she was drowning in them thanks to her cravings. But her world was shitty. She wasn’t going to turn down pie.

“Hey, look at that. See? Good things can happen. Good things,” Argyle said from the other side of her.

“I’m surprised someone like you didn’t fall for the money.” Miss Parker looked toward Argyle. She was stuck with him. He might as well spout off a little bit. “How did you meet our mutual acquaintance?”

“Ah. Oh. Who cares? You know, it wasn’t the best part. I’m just here. That’s good, right?” Argyle looked toward his dad. “Eat the potatoes too, pops.”

“Potatoes though, they ain’t got no flavor,” his father said.

Hm. Well, at least he didn’t crack when Lyle started throwing out cash. All he had to do was give away some kind of landmark and she’d be gone.

“You like the pie?”

Oh. The waitress again. One of those annoying voiced ones too, checking on you when you weren’t feeling so good. “Fine.”

“Looks like you could use more than pie though. What’s wrong, Little Missy? A new momma shouldn’t look kicked to the curb like that.”

Miss Parker sighed. “I’m not going to give my life story to a waitress.”

“Even the ketchup,” Argyle’s father complained. “The potatoes and the ketchup. It’s just, it’s awful.”

“Dad.”

“It’s just awful, Argyle, it’s awful.”

“Dad. Pope mom.”

“We should head on out of here.”

“Nah, you should stay for a spell. Especially you, Angel carrying Angels.”

Miss Parker stopped eating her pie. Why’d she say that? Miss Parker lifted her head to look at the waitress. “Oh. My. God.”

“No god, just a waitress. Lenny! I’m taking off for a break.” She took off her apron and came ‘round the other side. She smiled at Miss Parker brightly. “You look just like her. She knew you would. Come with me.” She gave a quick wiggle of her hands to Argyle and his dad. “We’ll be back in half an hour. Bide your time. Have some pie.”

She grabbed Miss Parker’s hand with her still in shock. “Uh?” Miss Parker followed her outside and into a beat up old red car.

“Hop on in. Don’t be shy.” Jarod’s mother started the car.

Miss Parker jumped into the passenger side and they took off. “You’re Jarod’s mother.”

“Margaret is more of the name I go by.” As they started to drive, she slammed Rag Doll by Aerosmith through the speakers. “Hang on, darlin’.”

Miss Parker held on as she took an off-beaten path through the woods, kicking up dust and dirt. “You knew my mother?”

“Yes, Miss Parker, I knew her.” Her accent had changed, and so did her movement. Opening her purse, she popped some kind of candy in her mouth as she drove. “But, me and Catherine aren’t really that big of a deal in the whole scheme of things.” She took another turn with accurate precision. “Talking in one place too long could be dangerous.”

“Yeah.” Miss Parker didn’t exactly know what to say. “Jarod’s been looking for you.”

“Uh huh, and you’ve been chasing him. I almost met him once. It was nice seeing him outside of pictures. I got so emotional.” She shook her head. “I wanted it to be, so when I got that message. Ugh.” She sighed. “I risked everything for us to see him. Now there isn’t even an us. Hang on tighter.”

She took a tighter turn. Miss Parker really held on. “How do you know so much?” Miss Parker asked.

“Your mom,” Margaret said. “She had a rare gift, an inner sense that she trusted. I wish I had it sometimes. She wrote down a lot of things though.” She reached into her glove compartment as ‘Rag Doll’ ended. “Here.”

Miss Parker took the papers. “You searched for the scrolls with her?”

“Mmhm. And I put them back again, and . . .” She shook her head. “So many people were hurt. I didn’t want anyone else to hurt, but it was time they were refound. I put the doll back, with the key inside to be discovered again.” She stared ahead of herself. “I lost so much, I didn’t want to lose anyone else. I’m very sorry, but the chain reaction had to happen at some point.”

“Chain reaction?” Miss Parker asked.

“The one you’ve seen. Your daddy, your biological father, your brother, and The Centre.” She sighed as Guns N’ Roses ‘Child of Mine’ started to play. “I saw the scrolls.”

“You saw them? You had them,” Miss Parker said.

“Briefly. Catherine and I both saw them. We knew things because of it. It’s a small blessing, but a curse too,” she said. “Because of what I know, I can’t get close to Jarod, and every time I lost someone in my family, I was bound to never see them again. The Centre made sure of it. Until now. It’s almost over, ‘Angel’.”

“Jarod is at The Centre again,” Miss Parker said.

“No, he’s not. Don’t worry. He’s a big boy now. Even at nine, he was a real go-getter.” She slowed down the car as they came into traffic. “When we stop, grab the uniforms in the back.” She ruffled through a stack of ID’s in a holder next to her seat.

As they stopped, Miss Parker obeyed her and grabbed two sets of uniforms. She followed Jarod’s mother into a hospital.

“This way.” She showed her the changing area.

 

Miss Parker wore the nurse’s outfit the best she could, but Jarod’s mother stood up firm and straight, speaking with people medically about cases and charts as they walked. His mother was a Pretender?

“Keep coming this way.” She brought Miss Parker into a spare bedroom. “The Triumvirate makes itself into believing it’s a god because of its power, and its cures. When The Centre popped up with its scrolls, they immediately seized power over it, but could not control the one owning it. They wanted the scrolls. They knew The Centre had them, but it wasn’t giving them up, so they had this strange relationship.” She sighed and sat down on the empty bed, patting her hand next to her.

Miss Parker came toward her and sat on the bed.

“They’ve seen bits too. No one sees the whole thing,” Margaret revealed. “Not without being cursed, and forced to die soon after. But, I saw the best bit. Catherine and I.” She touched Miss Parker’s hair and bent it back over her ear. “The ending to The Centre and The Triumvirate.”

“The ending,” Miss Parker said in a hushed whisper. “How’s it end? Why is Jarod so important to The Centre?”

“Because, they caught his name on the scroll,” his mother said. “They know he has something to do with it all. But, they think his name, and holding the Jarod of the scrolls, gives them power. They do everything they can to hold a ‘Jarod’. They don’t even know what or which ‘Jarod’, but a boy was found with Pretender skills that matched. ‘Must be him’, they thought.” She sighed. “He’s not the power. He’ll be the destroyer. Good for him,” she smiled.

“No one can destroy The Triumvirate,” Miss Parker said. “The Centre, it’s just a tiny little part to it. The Triumvirate. It has three headquarters, three chiefs, each headquarter controls-“

“He’ll destroy it all,” Margaret said again. “When they go too far.”

“They’ve always gone too far,” Miss Parker said. “These babies.” She closed her eyes. “I don’t . . .”

“You had the enemies’ children,” Margaret said. “That can’t be easy. On you or Jarod.”

“How do you really know so much?” Miss Parker wished she had grabbed the papers now. Was it all in there? “You have abilities like Jarod.”

She laughed. “More like Jarod has abilities like me. I was born first.” She went over and picked up a chart, doing something with it. “A new patient should be coming in soon, so there isn’t much time, we need to get going. I still have to get you back to your traveling companions. If there’s anything you want to know, ask now.”

“How did . . .” Oh. “Why . . .” Shoot. She followed Margaret out of the room. “Why aren’t you mad at me?”

“For chasing him?” Margaret asked. “How do I speak so easily to the one who wanted to keep bringing Jarod in?”

“Yes,” Miss Parker asked.

“I know why you want to bring him in. If you show him, he’ll understand,” Margaret said. “But there’s no reason to worry. Catherine wrote ‘by a trick’. He’ll figure it out. The older he gets, the stronger he is. You’ll be fine, and so will the others.”

She talked to another person about a patient on a couple more floors before they reached the car.

“This Pretender business,” Miss Parker said. “Why are you doing it this boldly?”

Margaret moved back in the car. “I was born into a foster home. It wasn’t long before I realized how different I was from everyone else.” She started the car again and she started to drive away as Bon Jovi’s Blaze of Glory played.

 “As I grew older, I could get away with newer occupations. New things. I never had to want for anything anymore. Doctor, Lawyer, whatever I wanted. When I had money, I decided to get into more exciting things, really live. I didn’t just want to live my life in a big house with a pool and maids. It was boring. Then, when I started to discover the excitement of flying, I met Charles.” She sighed. “Love changes everything. I never had the heart to tell him about my old life. I just stayed still, stopped all the pretending, and decided to marry. But.” She took a deep breath. “I loved him but I was miserable. It wasn’t life. He took it more as a sign that we needed family. It wasn’t easy though. I eventually found a way. Nugenesis helped us.” She looked out the window. “I raised my boys, but I still missed my world, I was homesick for it. More than I wanted to admit.” She kicked the car faster. “But, I had my family. I thought I was fine.” She stopped. “What a fool I was.”

Miss Parker looked out her own window. “You’ve never gone . . .”

“Crazy? No. I’m not so in tune that I need that. I’ve got some skill, but my sons would outshine me any day,” she chuckled.  “I mean, my son,” she corrected herself.

“Ethan,” Miss Parker said. “Did you know about him?”

“Oh yes, yes. Um. That . . . was not easy,” Margaret confessed. “My Charles and your mother having a child. The nerve of The Centre! But, it wasn’t out of love. Just, The Centre. We decided, then and there, when it was all over we wouldn’t fuss over anything like custody. We’d all just be one big family.” She coughed slightly. “Your mom was stressed and stretched to her limit though. I shouldn’t have been surprised when she never came to see me again.”

Miss Parker fell silent for a moment. “They got nerve back.”

“With you and Jarod, I know. They never make it easy,” Margaret said. “Whether you are in there or running from it. It’s never easy.” She reached into her glove compartment again. “Give Jarod these. I don’t have a whole lot of pictures of us together left.” She smiled at her. “It’s alright. I know why you are the way you are. And it’s the same way that Jarod’s going to take it all down.” She smiled at Miss Parker, robustly. “Tell me something honest about Jarod. Don’t say he has abilities or waste time with that. Tell me something real.”

Oh. Real. Not about abilities or chasing him. “He was raised by a man named Sydney.”

“Yes, a darling. I know that. Tell me about you and him, when you were little. How did he make you feel?”

Damn. Memory capsule. She rubbed her eyebrow.

“Won’t tell him, promise,” she laughed. “Please?”

“He was like . . .” She licked her bottom tooth gently. “An odd superhero that was caught by the enemy, so he could never save the day.”

That brought a smile to Margaret’s face. “A caught superhero.”

“Who talked funny,” Miss Parker added. She looked back toward her. “Superhero does nothing from behind glass though. I had to become my own hero. Why do you want to know that?” There was only so long. Why waste time on something like that?

“Then believe in him, to be the superhero he is. He’s not trapped behind glass anymore.”

Miss Parker didn’t know what else to say as she got out of the car. She held the pictures, filled with confusion. “Did she . . . are these . . .” She looked down at her stomach.

“They were created to get the Parkers out of The Centre,” she revealed. “They would have the blood of the Parkers, by contract, but The Triumvirate would raise them. Which would be hell.” She almost took off, but stopped right away. “Do you know why your father called you Angel, Miss Parker?”

“Which one? I saved my father’s life when I was little, according to him. Or, tradition,” Miss Parker said. “Crypt keeper’s daughter. Same with Miss Parker.” She sighed. Most likely, she’d rag on her to change her little girl’s name too.

“The family was low in status,” she said. “Her mother wanted her to feel like someone, no matter what, so she was called Miss Parker. But, her daddy preferred Angel. She wasn’t low or high . . . she was sweet to the touch. That’s what he said,before he looked at the scrolls,” she said softly. “Don’t ever look at the scrolls. You know what you need to know, and that’s all you need to know. Now, Jarod will be waiting for you. Get going.”

Miss Parker watched as she took off. She tried to remember what she could about his mom.

“Miss P! You’re back!” Argyle said coming out. “Hey, Pope mom’s good. It’s almost exactly half an hour.”

“Yeah. She got skills.” Miss Parker rubbed her neck. “We better get going.”

 

 

-------------------

Chapter Text

Las Vegas Borderline- Two days later

 

“Aw, come on,” Argyle complained as he saw the bright lights flashing in the window. “I was going the speed limit.”

“They know, Argyle,” his dad warned him. “Even just a little over, they know. You should be more careful, there’s a pregnant woman in this car. With twins, you know. You should know better.”

“I wasn’t speeding, pops.” Argyle insisted. It felt good to be back to his old car instead of that rental, and it felt much better almost being back home. And plane rides? Don’t get him started. At least it was almost all over.

And this was a pretty big favor. He didn’t feel like he had anything left on his conscious. Traveling across America to get Miss P out of harm’s way, it was pretty even to . . . trying to sell J-Man to The Centre. Getting him smacked in the face as Dick Dixon. Helping him from being toast with crime bosses. Getting him and his father honestly talking again. Even helped him save Mona. They were a good thing for a little while. Still, sort of. On and off problems. His dad was all over him to commit.

Argyle drummed on his steering wheel. Soon, it would all be behind him. As soon as he dealt with the flashing red lights. He reached for his credentials, already knowing the drill.

Instead he felt his car door open and he was being pulled away. “Whoah, hey! I might have gone over the speed limit a little bit, but no reason to do that.”

“Shouldn’t talk to police officers like that.”

“Uh?” Wait. “You uh . . .?”

The police officer lowered his finger. “Thank you.” There was that familiar smile. “I’ll take it from here.”

“Yeah. No problem,” Argyle said, noticing him. “Baby momma completely fine, nothing wrong at all.” He expected Jarod to keep moving.

“What do you mean no problems?”

“No problems.” He coasted his hand across himself. “Got through, safe as a breeze.”

Jarod didn’t look like he was backing down. “Argyle, what are you hiding?”

“Nothing big, ‘cause you and her aren’t a thing. She said that a lot. You know, you’re not a thing.” He tried to smile.

Jarod wasn’t.

“Oh, oh, hey? Promise, didn’t hurt a thing,” Argyle said. “Really, kids all safe and-“ He felt himself getting pushed back on his car. “What? She started it.”

“Argyle. What did you do with her?”

“Nothing much. She saw her enemy, and she took action,” Argyle said. “I didn’t never let anything else happen!”

Jarod sighed and let him go. “You just kissed her. She was using you as a shield.”

“How’d you know?”

“She’s good at shielding herself.” Jarod smiled at him again. “No biggie.”

“Really?” Argyle smiled. “Cause that woman was at the gas station for awhile, we must have made out like five minutes.”

“ . . . fine.”

“Really?” Argyle asked. Even through his disguise, he could tell it was bothering him. “Okay. But, you should probably watch her. She’s really wanting it bad, and if you like her?” He hit him playfully on his chest. “Then don’t let her go batting with another guy. Know what I mean, J-dog?”

 

“I gotta go.” Jarod didn’t answer. Argyle, she made out with Argyle? He could buy shielding, but the second part definitely didn’t make him happy. She wasn’t going to do anything while she was pregnant with his kids.

He went over to the passenger door, opened it up, and started to pull her out. She didn’t seem surprised.

“Officer,” she muttered. “If you intend on bringing me to your family, you can forget me going along peacefully.” She was holding her DSA case.

“Turn around.” He brought out some cuffs. She seemed disturbed for a second. “You’re coming with me, in a cop car? My family isn’t anywhere around. What’s wrong?”

She simply held her hands up, but didn’t answer. He cuffed her hands and brought her over to the car.

They were soon on their way out. Jarod reached in his pocket and gave her the keys.  She undid her cuffs. “Lyle took control of The Centre, as well as Broots.”

“Broots?” she asked.

“Lyle had a ‘temporary’ cure,” Jarod said. “Once a month, for the rest of her life. Which means Broots was his slave.”

“That little bastard.” She folded her arms. “I should’ve known. Broots must have seen him again.”

“My family got out,” Jarod said. “Broots had a connection to Ethan. He got us out, without looking like Broots helped. I also have Debbie now, and her treatment. It can be duplicated, but I need to find something long-term for her.” She was staring out the window. “There’s absolutely no way you can say ‘for now’. Lyle has control of The Centre. Raines is a whisper on the wind. Even Sydney can’t be found. I think Broots must have warned him before everything happened.”

“Where’s Debbie and Ethan?” Miss Parker asked.

“Safe. With my clone. He calls himself Gemini,” Jarod said. He pulled up next to another car. “Come on.” They both got out and headed for the other car. “You’ll see them soon.”

“I saw her.”

She was opening up about what she was hiding now? “Saw who?”

“I took a ride with a waitress at a small diner,” Miss Parker said as she got in the car with Jarod. “She played Aerosmith and Guns N’ Roses as we drove to a hospital. I dressed as a nurse, helping her with her rounds, and she drove me right back to the diner.”

What? “What do you mean?”

“Your mom, Jarod, I was with your mom.”

He felt his heart pounding in his chest, remembering all the little details she just said. “Waitress. Doctor?”

“She was a Pretender,” Miss Parker said. “Natural. She grew up in foster care, found her way out, made her new life. Living day to day free until she met your dad. Fell in love, had children. You know the rest.”

“Mom?” His mom? “Well, what else? I mean, what did she say? What did you talk about? What was the name of the hospital? The diner?”

“Calm down,” Miss Parker said.

“Well, what did you talk about? Why was she talking with you?” He wanted to know a million things!

“She knew I was pregnant. She knew I was chasing you. She and my mother saw the scrolls, and that’s why The Centre keeps her away,” she answered. “She knows how The Centre and The Triumvirate end, and she warned me to never look at the scrolls myself.”

“Well, what?” Jarod asked. “How? What is it about the scrolls and me?”

“You. Your first name was in the scrolls,” Miss Parker said.

My name?” Jarod sighed, staring at the road. Almost angrily. “My first name. Might be me, might not, but it’s my name. Is that why they won’t quit?”

“I guess.”

“Is that why you never quit?” Cheap shot, but he wasn’t feeling very amiable. His name. He was taken away because of his name. He scoffed. “Cloning me with Gemini. Wanting to name the male Jarod before it was born. Now it makes sense.” He shook his head. “And these twins. Oh, let’s make sure he’s completely tied to The Centre by making sure it’s Parker blood.” He kept driving. “My family went to get you and you weren’t there.”

“Like hell I would be,” she remarked. “Your family’s not going to come near me.”

“No, they aren’t, and because I’m with you, now I can’t be with them either,” he shot right back toward her. He sighed.

“Your mom had no problem with me,” Miss Parker added oddly. “She was more than happy to see me.”

Jarod looked over toward her. “Why? Because your mom and her used to be friends, she thinks you’re different?”

“Be that way. I won’t tell you anything else,” Miss Parker said darkly.

Damn. “Look. I just. I want to be with my family, but I can’t. Even when I find them again, I can’t be there and here. Gemini’s fine with you. Ethan trusts you,” Jarod said. “Other than that.”

“Oh, pour whiskey all over my heart,” Parker muttered. “You’re not the only one stuck in hell.” She tried to pull her dress down more over her stomach. It was bunching up at the top.

Easy. He needed to keep her stress down. “It’s been a little while. Do you feel them yet?”

“Yes,” she said honestly. “Poor Angel was constantly kicking to get away from Argyle.”

 “He’s . . . unique.” Jarod looked over to her tummy. “Still kicking?”

“No. Argyle’s gone.”

Jarod tried not to smile on that one.

“Your mom said that The Triumvirate think that you are the source of their power,” Miss Parker went on. “But you’re not. You’re supposed to destroy The Triumvirate and The Centre somehow, when they go too far. Those were her words.”

Him? He did it somehow? Took the whole thing down. How? And what did it mean by go too far? They’ve always gone too far. “Anything else?”

“Maybe. I don’t know.”

“Miss Parker,” Jarod said. “I haven’t seen her since I was taken as a child. I remember her hair. I’ve seen her once, in a car, calling to me . . . telling me she loved me,” he trailed off. “You know how special a mother is. Every single word you can remember, please.”

“You’ve got an image of a woman in your head, Jarod,” Miss Parker said. “She may not fit that image.”

“I don’t care,” he said. “I want to know her. The real her.”

“Okay.” She took a deep breath. “She was miserable with the life she chose.”

Jarod raised an eyebrow? “What do you mean?”

“How do you feel when you think about the future, Jarod?” Miss Parker asked curiously. “When The Centre is gone. You can be with your family.”

He smiled for a bit. “Better than ever. Watch Emily grow up. Watch Ethan grow up. Get to know my dad better. Meet my mom.”

“But no more Pretending,” Miss Parker said. “No more atoning. No more of anything but books and guides to study new things. New things that you’ll never have a need for.”

Why was she saying that? “I haven’t allowed myself to think that much ahead.” She was wanting an answer though. “I don’t know how I’ll feel.”

“Trapped and miserable. Your mom loved your dad, that was clear,” she said, “and she loved her children. But she was miserable. She stopped Pretending when she met your father. She fell in love but she wasn’t happy.”

Jarod . . . focused on the road more. “Oh.”

“Your dad thought maybe she wanted family. So, they went to Nugenesis. Then she had family,” Miss Parker said. “Do I need to say it?”

“She was still miserable.” He rubbed the bottom of his mouth.

“She loved her boys,” Miss Parker said. “After you were taken, she still never said anything. Probably guilt.”

Jarod continued to drive. Pretending . . . learning new things, becoming new people. Everyone had a career, a goal, a desire to be something. Whether it was an artist, a writer, a construction worker, or just rich lounging around. Everyone wanted something. “I love it all.”

They both looked at each other.

“Everything,” Jarod said. “She must be the same way. Staying still is . . .” He shook his head. “I can’t be just one thing. There’s so much out there. So many professions. Things to learn. It never stops. I could learn and study for a lifetime, and there will still be so much more. Not everything I do is a hyped adventure, or classy, or great,” he said. “Some is. Some isn’t. But.”

“You want to experience everything. Because you can be everything,” Miss Parker said. “Even your taste reflects it, Jarod. You’re even more out there than your mom. At least she just has CD’s of Guns N Roses, Jovi, Aerosmith and the like in her car. You’ve got Blues, Jazz, Classical, Country, Nature and everything else.”

Jarod smiled. And then, he strangely found himself starting to laugh.

 

Miss Parker looked toward him. He looked like he just discovered something for the first time. “What?”

“I always wanted to know what I’d be,” Jarod said. “If I wasn’t taken. If I didn’t have everything ripped away.” He sighed. “I’m  . . . I’d still be me. I’d still want to be me. I don’t want to do just one thing, or live in one place. Helping people with my Pretending skills, it’s . . . me.”

“I don’t think you’d be so God of Retribution about it,” she corrected him. “Probably on the right track though.”

“What else did you learn?”

Of course ‘what else did you learn’. “Uuh . . .” Oh yes.” She had laid them inside her DSA case on top of her mother’s papers. “She had some pictures before you were nine. She didn’t have many, so knock yourself out.”

“Pictures before I was nine?” He actually pulled over on the side of the road and took them. He looked at each of them like they were a treasure to behold. Over and over. “A dog? A family dog. A red house. Climbing trees. Kyle.” He looked back toward her DSA. “What are those papers?”

“My mother’s,”  Miss Parker said.

“Her plans?”

Miss Parker sighed. “Mom heard her inner sense more. It even whispered about the future to her.” She picked up one of the papers and handed it to Jarod. “She knew.” Jarod took the paper and looked.

“Twins between enemy and friends. Good words.”

“She was always good with words,” Miss Parker said, holding her hand out again for the paper. Jarod didn’t give it back though. What was he doing?

“By a trick of the heart, the eyes cannot know.” Jarod muttered.

“Mother’s words aren’t simple.” She held her hand more out for the paper.

“Most of its easily decipherable,” Jarod said. “From that context, it sounds like something happened that another person was lied to or mistaken about.”

It wasn’t a mistake. It couldn’t have been a mistake. Because that couldn’t . . . no, it . . . she couldn’t be mistaken. “The Centre and lies. That’s not a stretch.”

“Yeah. Why’d she write it?”

Crap. She looked out the window, knowing it was coming.

“Something wrong?”

“No.”

“You’re lying.”

“Do we really want to get that curious into personal things again?” she said giving him a warning. “The way Sydney’s cologne-“

“Stop.” He rolled his eyes and kept driving. “Half an hour more.”

 

--------------------------------

Bright green grass. Not a grand house, not a small house. Middle of a suburb. In the middle of the grass she saw Debbie smiling and playing ball with Jarod’s clone.

Jarod pulled into the driveway.

“Miss Parker!” Debbie threw the ball to Gemini and launched herself right at Miss Parker. “I missed you so much.”

“Easy on mom, Sis,” Gemini said coming toward her. “How were things?”

Okay. Hm. “Are you feeling okay, Debbie?” She bent down toward her and looked at her.

She was happy, but there was definitely something there. “I’m okay. I just miss someone. Really badly. I’m trying to imagine it’s like camp. Gemini’s trying to help.” She looked over toward Gemini. “He tries hard to be a brother. Little too hard.”

“I am learning how to be a normal brother,” Gemini said. “I’ve never had a sister that I had to interact with at my age.”

Miss Parker looked at him oddly. “How much interaction have you had since you left Donoterase?”

“Isolation is best to stay hidden,” he admitted.

Sad. At least he’d been safe. “Let me guess.”

“Go ahead, dear,” Jarod said.

She rubbed her brow. “Mother to a teenage son, mother to a teenage daughter, carrying your twins, and married to you?” Just a smile. “Oh god.”

“What’s wrong, Miss Parker?” Debbie asked.

“Let’s just say mommy didn’t always like to stay home,” Jarod said, looking toward Miss Parker. “Think of it as practice.”

“Why couldn’t it be an Aunt or Uncle, extended family?” Miss Parker questioned.

“Same rules apply.”

“Different circumstances, different things.” She rubbed her face and sighed, rolling her eyes. She looked around. Some kids were playing in the neighbor’s front yard. The neighbors across the street were people who were just sitting on benches, enjoying the day.

“Good morning,” someone said as they passed Miss Parker, walking their dog.

“Good morning to you too, Ma’am.” Gemini said, not missing a beat.

Jarod waved at the nice lady.

Miss Parker just stared, taking into account all the little things she saw, darting across the neighborhood. She’d worked apartments, small rentals, a luxurious house and hotels with Jarod and her team for years.

This was none of those.  “I. Have stepped. Into Hell.”

“Actually, it’s Summerlin,” Jarod corrected her.

Miss Parker rubbed her eyes. “Okay. I’m just gonna stay over with Argyle after all. Let me borrow your car.”

“Oh, come on. It’s new. Exciting. Good practice.”

“Good practice for gun training,” she said darkly. “Family neighborhood. This better not be a long Pretend.”

“Oh, it’s not unusually long,” Jarod said. “About average. Why?”

She gestured around here. “Not going to last long.”

Jarod shrugged. “Good practice.”

“For what?” He wouldn’t be. He would not be doing that. He better not be doing that.

Jarod gestured to Gemini and Debbie. “When Debbie’s cured, I can stop using Pretends with a family, and I can take her back to Mister Broots. After that, Gemini will contact dad and he’ll be gone. Until then, it doesn’t matter whether I am a butcher, a baker, or a candlestick-maker.” He waved toward them. “They need to have decent lives. Besides, if I bring Debbie out into a less than stellar neighborhood and something happens to her, I believe Mister Broots will kill me.”

“Right after me.” That’s right. She grabbed Jarod’s jacket. “Damn it, Jarod, you better not be planning to do something stupid in a ghetto somewhere anywhere in the near future!”

“I know. I’ve fixed it, relax.” He pulled his jacket away. “Good?”

“Almost.” She grabbed his jacket again, tighter, pulling him closer. “I worked for The Centre. I don’t know how the hell any of this is working out for the future. I am getting through this hell, day by day. For now. But if you expect me to just be a stay at home mommy while you run around Pretending all day, you better start figuring out a different plan.” She let him go.

Jarod fixed his jacket. “What has Argyle been feeding you?”

“What’s it matter?!”

“Anything bad?”

She bit on her thumb briefly. “Stupid morning sickness is coming back.”

“Moving into your third trimester in less than a month.”

“Bite me. I need a toothbrush.”

“Already bought. Come on.” Jarod gestured to Debbie and Gemini.

Right inside, Miss Parker saw someone she’d been waiting to see again. He’d been watching the kids near the windows. “Hello, Ethan.”

He stood up from his stool and came over. His eyes. The way he used them over her.  A feeling that she couldn’t hide anything. A trusting soul, so open, it wanted to connect to hers.

“Six months.” He looked at her stomach. “You’ll be a mom soon.”

“Yes,” she said softly.

“Jarod will be a dad soon too,” Ethan said. “The Centre.” He looked toward Jarod. “He can’t see our sister, or our dad again. Because of it.”

“The Triumvirate and Lyle,” she corrected him.

Ethan came closer to her, very close to her. He stared at her, like he was trying to pull something from her. Then, he hugged her.

Miss Parker quickly patted him. “Okay.”

“No. It’s not. Jarod is your enemy. You are Jarod’s enemy. This is the last thing that should have respectfully happened,” he said. “You were driven away from the place you used to consider a second home. Jarod’s being driven away from his family. It’s not okay at all.” He hugged her tighter.

Uh. “I need to brush my teeth,” she insisted. “My breath is horrible.”

“Everything is horrible. For the rest of your life, you’ll be chased by the enemies you used to call friends.”

Sydney. Broots. “I gotta go. Let go.”

“You’ve been forced into a role that you aren’t ready for,” Ethan continued. “I can feel it. You’re burning, and you can’t figure out how to put out the flames.”

“Ethan!” Okay, she was getting mad. She tried pushing him off. “Get off. Let go. Get off!”

“Ethan.” Jarod came over and tried to pull him off. “Now’s really not the time.” He still wasn’t budging. Jarod pulled harder. “Ethan, what are you doing?”

“Six,” Ethen repeated. “6.6.6.6. Six hours.”

Stop. Stop. Stop. Stop. Stop. Stop! “I survived so it doesn’t matter!” She yelled at him. “Now get off of me!”

She felt Ethan get off of her finally, but it was because Jarod pulled him off. He tried to get him to settle down. Which made her feel worse. I don’t need him to be my damn protector. He wasn’t there for me. He was never there for me. He was behind glass. I run my own life. I run it. I run it! She stalked off angrily, trying to find the bathroom. Bathroom, bathroom, damn toothbrushes.

Found. She closed the door and looked at the toothbrushes. Which one? Deduction time. Two blue, solid blue. One pink. One red. Clown red could be Jarod’s. Two solid blues though, Gemini is a clone. They could like the same color? Aw hell, that wouldn’t work. He likes all colors. He likes all things. All I can figure out is the pink.

There was a knock at the door. “Can . . . I come in, Miss Parker?”

Debbie. “Sure.” She opened the door and saw the familiar face. “You can help me figure out which toothbrush is mine.” She closed the door afterward as Debbie moved toward the toothbrushes.

“Jarod . . . I mean, dad . . .” She pointed to the blues. “The blues are his and Gemini’s. They seem to know which side each one is on, and can tell the difference even though they are the same color.” She pointed to the pink. “I got pink. So, you got red. It’s pretty, right?” she asked. “It kind of goes, you know, with the dark outfit that you . . . you know, with the red tha . . .”

Oh no. She felt Debbie grab her and start to cry.

“I’ve been trying really hard!” Debbie said, clinging to her. “And Jarod, he’s been really good, and I should just be really happy that I get to live, but I can’t- I can’t- I can’t!”

“See your daddy,” Miss Parker finished for her, bending down toward her.

“What if it takes a long time?” She grabbed tighter around her neck. “I-I asked Gemini, and he said he couldn’t stay. It could be days, weeks, months or years. I don’t want to be away from daddy for years! He’ll forget about me!”

“He would never forget about you,” Miss Parker said.

“If I’m not there, when I could come back, I could be too big. Or, maybe he’ll like not having to deal with me.”

“You. Debbie. You are the most important thing in this world to Broots,” Miss Parker said as she held her. “As much as you miss him, he will miss you. And it doesn’t matter how many days pass by. If you are missing him, then he is missing you.”

Debbie rubbed her nose with her hands. “I’m getting you all wet.”

“Don’t worry,” Miss Parker said. “These aren’t designer anything. Now, if these were my favorite top and blouse, it’d be different,” she tried to joke. “Broots will never forget you. He knows where you need to be to really get cured.”

“We’re all just . . . we’re all just stuck, aren’t we?” Debbie asked her. “None of us want to be here like this.”

“Yeah. We’re all that crusty toothpaste on the top of the tube that can’t close,” Miss Parker said as she tried to brush her cheeks.

“How?”

“Fate . . . funks it all up.”

“No, I mean you. How?” Debbie asked. “How do you make it through? I mean, you’re carrying, I mean, Jarod, the guy that’s playing my dad, you’re carrying . . . I mean his kids? But he’s your enemy too.”

Miss Parker sighed. “Life is cruel. You have to learn to deal.”

 

----------------------------------

 

Jarod approached the bathroom door. He was about to ask Miss Parker if she’d seen Debbie, when he heard something. After crying. That crying sound when the tears are done and the body just wants to relax. Not wanting to eavesdrop, he knocked on the door. “It’s Jarod?”

“Like I care?” Miss Parker’s loving voice responded.

Jarod was rewarded with Debbie popping out. She looked better. He knew a good cry would do her a lot of good with Miss Parker. “Doing better?”

Debbie rubbed her eyes. “I’m okay.”

Jarod bent down to her. “I promise, Gemini and I, were going to do what we can. We can’t work on it 24/7, but we are going to work hard on it.”

“I know,” Debbie said. “I just miss Daddy. Not you. My real dad.”

Jarod smiled. “It’s just pretend. I would never dream or be able to replace your daddy. Okay?”

Debbie nodded.

“Great. Why don’t you go ahead and go downstairs? We’ll figure out what to eat.” Debbie headed downstairs while Jarod looked in the half open bathroom. “Miss Parker?”

“What, hubby?” She said coming out to the hallway, making him straighten back up.

“Dinner?”

“As long as I’m not making it.”

“Nah. Prefer tasty things.” The usual bicker back and forth. Whatever happened to that tea and night on Carthis? “Before we go, I thought we’d talk out something real quick. I don’t expect you to be a stay at home wife, if you don’t want to be. But. We are moving around. A lot. I don’t have time to watch anyone.” She was still staring hard at him. “I’ll make you a deal.”

“What kind of deal?”

“Wherever we go. Two houses, next to each other,” Jarod said. “One yours, one mine. We’ll switch off who’s a parent, but can go over and see the kids. Fair?”

“Well, well, Pretender.” She looked up and winced her eye. “That would work.”

“Just two requests.” Jarod help up two of his fingers. “I need to take them a few times a year to see the family.”

“What?”

“It’s family.”

“Over my dead body,” she snarled. “I dealt with Argyle and the colonel to avoid that!”

“Look.” Jarod held up his hands. “You can’t know where they are, and they won’t know where you are. You know I won’t run off with them. Right?” That was a deep breath from her. “I won’t let anyone take them.”

She gestured at him with her pointing finger. “ . . . you better be damn careful,” she settled with, “and no way when they are newborn.”

“Good. We’ll fix the housing after their born, and after Debbie’s better,” Jarod said.

“How long do you think?” Miss Parker. “No promise, don’t get all scientific, just about how long?”

“Maybe a week? Month, tops, hopefully,” Jarod said. “It’s a lot more possible now without the stupid games The Centre was pulling. Worst case scenario I can make enough of the temporary cure to last her a lifetime. But, there’s no guarantee it would be foolproof.”

“Great,” she said. “So what’s number two already?”

Jarod looked around him to make sure Gemini and Debbie weren’t around.

“Oh, I’m not going to like this one if you are doing that.” She stared at him. “What is it?”

“You’re free to live your life however you want,” Jarod said. “Say you’re just babysitting the twins, or say you don’t have them. I don’t care, make up your Pretend life story in each place. But.” He looked at her seriously. “Nothing doing until after their born.”

Miss Parker took a step forward. “What? Excuse me?”

“The third trimester is usually mellow, but you’re in the second trimester,” Jarod said. “Argyle thought you might be trying to do something that wouldn’t be a good idea right now. With kids in there.” He gestured toward her tummy.

“Are we seriously having this discussion?” She growled.

“Do whatever you want afterward, but you’re not risking anything with them. Anyone could have any disease or condition out here, and we aren’t very far away from Las Vegas, where there’s a lot of temptation.”

Miss Parker closed her eyes and held her hands up. “I can’t believe you’re having this discussion with me.”

“Medical,” Jarod said.

“Bullshit answer,” she growled.  “I just used a technique that I’ve used more than once to easy targets of the opposite sex, to make sure he didn’t spout out where we were on the phone! A tactic, thankfully, that kept Lyle in the dark.” She stepped back to her original position. “It’s a bonus he was just a friend the whole time and I didn’t have to knock him out.”

Thank goodness. Jarod believed that. Argyle did look like an easy target. “I won’t do anything either. It’ll screw up the Pretend considering were supposed to be man and wife, with two kids, and two more on the way. Oh.” He reached in his pocket and pulled out the marriage ring. “Would you put on this ring and be my fake wife?”

She took it and put it on her ring finger. “Til death do us part. Maybe less considering the sparkle.”

He listened. Carefully for ‘for now’. When he finally didn’t hear it, he almost couldn’t stop the smile from gracing his face. No more ‘for now’. He finally found a deal she was willing to accept.

“For now, Jarod, wipe that smile off your face.” She headed downstairs.

Well. It was delayed. Which still didn’t wipe the smile off his face. He was at least getting somewhere.

As he started to head down though, Ethan started to head up. “Jarod.”

Jarod nodded. Ethan wasn’t into Pretending, and he wanted to get back to the others.

The whole family found each other again. Only, Jarod wasn’t invited. Gemini was only staying to help him find the cure, and to experience life a little more. “Off already?” he asked. “Could come with?”

Ethan stood still. “Six hours, Jarod.”

“I heard that,” Jarod sighed. “What’s it mean?” He said nothing though. “Bye, Ethan.” He passed him down the steps.

“Two separate houses will not destroy the pain,” Ethan said, “but two DSA cases watched together, can stop the hiding.”

That made Jarod stop and look back toward him. “What?”

“The voice . . . check both your DSA’s. What you think you know, you don’t know.” Ethan shook his head. “I’ll see you soon and I’ll try to bring her back with me.”

“My . . . mom?” Ethan didn’t say anything. Jarod just continued on his way out. He loved his brother, but when he got deeply mysterious, it could be tough sometimes.

 

 

---------------------------------

Chapter Text

“That was an interesting experience,” Gemini said when they came back home. “A facility where you can play, but also eat at the same time. It is usually one or the other. Because of the need for both, I feel that they couldn’t put as much into the food.”

“I think they put something in the food,” Miss Parker complained. “Are you trying to kill me? We don’t have to make the Pretend harder by going to those food and game at the same time places.”

“Wanted to try a family place with a family.” He looked toward Gemini. “What do you think?”

“Well, I think most kids try to play as much as they can, and other kids being there makes it beneficial. Also, a lot of grownups don’t like to deal with children personally in nicer places, so for them, it’s a great way to let them legally run off and play without worrying about them.”

“It was fun,” Debbie simply said. “Good pizza, Jarod, thanks.”

“Succinct yet simple.” Jarod gestured to her to Gemini. “It’s trickier than it looks. I still have problems with it sometimes.”

“You’re right, Dad. I’ll get there,” Gemini said.

Jarod wasn’t worried about him. It was easy to get Gemini to Pretend well. He became the role. Brother to Debbie, son to him. He didn’t drop it. Miss Parker and Debbie, on the other hand, we’re still taking time to get it right.

And when they did, the Pretending stopped as soon as the doors were closed. House doors or car doors. It was a more open neighborhood, they all needed to be careful. Gemini only fell out of the role when he became a scientist and helped to find a better cure for Debbie, but then he slid right back into it.

But Miss Parker and Debbie. Yeah. It didn’t completely work

 

“Oh, look at you, what, eight months?” A woman asked randomly to Miss Parker.

“Six months,” she answered with a slightly sharp tone. Debbie and Gemini had been on arcade games right next to them.

“Oh, well I hope you enjoy the adventure of parenting all over again, Missy,” the person said.

“Don’t call her that,” Debbie said next to her. “Only her special someone called her that, you shouldn’t call her that.”

“Huh? I don’t understand?” She gestured between Jarod and Miss Parker.

Jarod quickly grabbed Miss Parker’s hand. “Come on, Missy, let’s see if the pizza is ready.”

Miss Parker’s entire body froze like steel against him. “Yes,” she seethed. “Lets.”

 

 

Pretending for those not trained to do what him and Gemini could do? It was tough. It felt like second nature to pick something up, learn it, and do it.

Speaking of doing it. “You guys can stay up for one more hour, then it’s bedtime. Your mom and dad have some things to discuss.” Gemini and Debbie both sat on the couch. Gemini grabbed the remote and turned on the TV.

“What?” Debbie complained and tried to take the remote. “We’re not watching this.”

“It’s a very interesting documentary over how animals-“

“I’m not watching animals kill each other.” Debbie tried to take the remote, while Gemini kept it and didn’t change the channel. He played his role just fine, and he was making Debbie get into hers, whether she liked it or not.

“Come, dear,” Jarod said to Miss Parker. “Up to the bedroom. Let’s go talk about something.”

“Well, all kinds of fun if the discussion is in the bedroom,” she teased him. She smiled down at the kids. “Hour, Debbie. You need me to come say goodnight to you?”

We can say goodnight.” Jarod gestured his head upstairs. “Let’s go.” Up the stairs, they went into their bedrooms.

“More talking,” Miss Parker said as she went on the bed. “Debbie’s not a Pretender and she knows how I feel about that name. You can’t expect her to be perfect.”

“Oh. It’s not about that.” Jarod closed the door. “Night time is the perfect time to get some things done. Things not involving kids. Things involving . . .” He pulled his DSA case from beneath the bed and plopped it on the top. “His and Her lifetime DSA Cases.”

“And people think they are fancy with His and Her towels,” Miss Parker said to him. “What about the DSA cases?”

“Ethan said to compare them,” Jarod said. “What your mother said, in those papers, this might be what it’s about. ‘By a trick of the heart, the eyes cannot know’.” He patted his case. “Come on honey, get in bed. Let’s see what kind of action we can stir up.” She wasn’t quick to move. “Ethan’s usually on the ball,” Jarod reminded her.

She gave a deep sigh, went and got her DSA case. “This is a great deal of my entire life, Jarod. I don’t even know specifically what’s on here.”

“I know the feeling,” Jarod admitted as he touched his DSA gently. He opened it up and faced it toward her. “We’ll be fair. You show me yours, and I’ll show you mine. Deal?”

She was thinking for about a minute before she turned her DSA case around and opened it for him. She grabbed a specific DSA, like she knew exactly what she was looking for. She looked at it, flipping the tiny disc between her fingers a few times before setting it in. “Memory road is bumpy. Are you sure about this, Jarod?”

“Yes,” he said. “Pop it in.”

“Fine,” she said curtly. “Don’t believe me about your sanity line?” She hit play. “Here it is.”

 

Start of DSA

Young Miss Parker came toward Young Jarod’s room. She used her father’s key to open the door. “Hi, Jarod.”

Young Jarod looked up from his chair and table where he was working. “Oh. Good morning, Miss Parker.”

“Whatcha doin?” She came round to see him.

“Analyzing.”

“Like I didn’t see that coming,” she chuckled. “Do you want to do something?”

Jarod sighed and looked at his papers. “I probably shouldn’t. They’ve been wanting me to analyze all these cases. I’ve done nothing but this for the past two months.” He looked at her. “What’s wrong?”

“Well. Mister Raines,” she said slowly. She looked like she was about to cry, but shook her head. “So, do you want to do something?”

Jarod got up. “I’m concerned, Miss Parker. You have a terrible feeling in all of your gestures, in your voice, and your eyes. Everything’s wrong.”

“It’s okay.” She smiled at him sweetly. “As long as I’ve got a friend, I’ll be fine. So?”

“Okay.” Jarod stood up. “What do you want to do?”

“We could run around in the tunnels?” she recommended. “Sydney’s gone this week. I overheard Raines say that when I was dealing with the treatments. Come on, let’s go. Maybe we’ll even run into Angelo?”

“Yeah. Sounds good, Miss Parker. Let’s go.” Jarod and Miss Parker left the room. Darkness. Next camera. Darkness. Miss Parker stooped and crawled through the tunnels. Darkness. Miss Parker crawled past another camera. The same thing repeated for a good five minutes. “Jarod?” She looked behind her. Then, someone grabbed her roughly by her leg. “Ow!” Miss Parker kicked slightly then her eyes went wide. “Jarod, what are you doing?” His hand appeared out of the camera angle. “Hey, you can’t grab me like that.”

“Shutup, perp,” Jarod said. “Your days of committing crimes are all over. I’m bringing you in.”

“Jarod, let go.” He dragged her roughly through the tunnels until he kicked one open. “Why are you being a jerk?” His strength, even at that age, was as tip top as his mind. “Jarod, I don’t wanna play cops and robbers.”

He pushed her through the open tunnel. “Whoah!” She landed on a table. She wailed a little from the pain.

Jarod came back over to her.

“You okay?” he said.

“Yeah.” She got up and moved her feet. “Don’t do that again.”

“I’m sorry. I was concerned.” He looked at the tunnel above. “I’m someplace I shouldn’t be. I need to get back.” He headed back up the tunnel. She propped herself up the tunnel to. “That was weird,” she said aloud to herself. “I didn’t say I wanted to play cops and robbers.” After walking for a few minutes, Jarod came behind her again. He yanked her hands behind her back and slapped handcuffs on her.

“Jarod, what are you doing? Stop it.”

“You are under arrest. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in the court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you? With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak to me?” He kept pushing her forward.

“This isn’t funny. Where’d you get these from? Where are you taking me?” Miss Parker kept trundling through camera after camera. “Jarod, answer me!”

“Don’t threaten a police officer or you’ll land yourself in even more trouble.” He pushed her ahead harder.

“Throw the perpetrator over here, officer.”

Miss Parker cried as she was pushed on the ground. A cigarette butt landed beside her. “Mister Raines?”

“Officer. I am your superior. The keys to the cuffs.” Raines held out his hand toward Jarod. “Go back to headquarters. I’ll take care of things here.” Jarod walked out of the camera.

Raines brought her up, turned her around and undid her cuffs. “What have we learned today?”

Miss Parker. “Jarod. He . . .”

“Say it,” Raines insisted. “Or you can keep these on, I can call him back, and he’ll play bad cop with you.”

Miss Parker bit her lip. “Pretenders . . . are dangerous.”

“Damn right they are. You are not going to see that boy unless your father tells you to. Next time, he’s likely to kill you. When he’s been studying something too long, his mind can’t function right. Outside of his confinement, he will go crazy.”

 

End of DSA

 

Miss Parker took the DSA disc out of the player. “Well, Jarod? I’m waiting.”

 

“I.” Jarod couldn’t believe what he just saw. He didn’t remember any of it. What happened? “Someone trapped me.” Jarod looked toward her. “I’m not unstable.” How did he get that deep? He found the exact same date, and played his version for her. “This is what I have.”

There she was. She came in. Studying excuse. She moved ahead of him. Jarod was putting his things away, when Mister Raines came in, insisting on a quick Sim. A cop and a fugitive. While he was doing the Sim, the DSA ended. “Raines trapped me somehow, psychologically, in a Sim. My mind was trapped, and it couldn’t get out. I’d been studying for weeks, over the same thing. It’s the same reasoning behind my isolation times,” he said.

“Just don’t go to deep, and don’t lose track of who you are,” She said. “If you do, especially around Debbie, it won’t be pretty.” She pulled out her gun she always acquired from somewhere and petted it. “I’m ready for anything. I always have been, Jarod.”

“Just. Watch again.” He played his part for her on his own DSA player again. “That’s what I have. That’s all I have, but that’s not even what I remember. You were colder. You’d been hurting other kids around The Centre.”

“Hm?” It was like she completely forgot. “Oh. That was daddy,” she said. “From the way Sydney acted, he knows it now.” She made a funny sound with her mouth, a slight pop. “I was a Parker growing up and I wasn’t strong enough. He thought making people scared of me would start heightening my reputation. Then, he put me on treatment.”

“He didn’t do it,” Jarod said. Her memories were mixed up too?  “I’m not the only one mixed up, am I? Watch your own treatments. They were all by Raines. Your dad didn’t come in until the very end, and he stopped it. Stopped it cold.”

“Raines?” Miss Parker asked. “Not, daddy?”

“No.” He tried to scoot closer, wishing they had started their cases beside each other and not in front, in enemy positions. “I’m not dangerous. That doesn’t happen. Hemade it happen.”

She went quiet and stuck a fingernail in her mouth.

“Pretenders are dangerous.” Jarod couldn’t deny it. He had pulled her. He had pushed her. Roughly handcuffed her. “When triggered wrong. It’s not easy to do what Raines just did. Sydney had been gone a time, I remember that. Only someone like Sydney or Raines, who had experience with the mind and Pretenders, could pull that off.”

“It’s . . . difficult?” She eyed him. “How difficult?”

“Extremely.”

“So.” She looked down at her DSA case. “Gemini will really be fine too?”

“Yes.”

“And . . .” She looked down toward her stomach. “If they are like you-“

“They’ll be fine too, I promise.” After seeing that DSA, all he wanted to do was touch her. Make gentle, physical contact to make her see. “The real me, would never hurt you.”

She didn’t respond.

 “ . . . did you ever tell Sydney?” Jarod asked her. “That I started to think I was a real cop and couldn’t get out of it?”

“Sure. But what do you expect? I just had ‘an overactive imagination’ and ‘Jarod could never do anything wrong’. If anything, it was just ‘rough play for a girl’. It was all cruel lies from the vicious Miss Parker.” Miss Parker moved her feet around. “Just be careful, Jarod, you’ve got kids here now.”

“I . . . I never meant to hurt you.”

“Jarod, you never hurt me. You barely pushed or pulled,” she said. “Scariest thing was the handcuffs but even that wasn’t anywhere near . . .” She hesitated. “But, if you lose yourself to a role, there’s no telling what you could do. That’s why, when we get this figured all out, you should make life easier and just-”

Not The Centre,” Jarod insisted. “I keep control. You’ve seen how it works by now. For six years.”

“The solitary days.” She seemed to be coming around. Slowly. “Are you sure?”

“It can’t happen. It won’t happen.” He reached for his phone. Maybe Sydney was back by now. Worst case scenario, one of the new hunters answered it and he hung up.

“J-Jarod?”

Broots. “Is Sydney there at all yet?”

“He and Angelo are gone. H-how’s Debbie?”

“Doing great,” Jarod said. “Miss Parker’s here. Having a ball.”

“Oh, thank goodness.”

Jarod couldn’t miss the relief in his voice. “I can’t go out of my mind, Broots, I know who I am. What Miss Parker told you, it was something done to my mind by Raines that can’t happen again. Ever. Debbie is safe with me, I swear it.”

“Oh. That’s really good to hear!” Complete, absolute relief. “Is she there?”

“It’s almost bedtime, but yeah, she’s here,” Jarod said. “Not long, Broots, this phone shouldn’t even exist anymore.”

“Yeah, I know. I stole it. I’m in a park, unfollowed. Um. Where is she? No, no, wait! Don’t tell me. Uh. Just. She’s nowhere bad?”

“Nowhere bad at all, Mister Broots,” Jarod said. “We are all fine. Hang on, I’ll get her for you.”

He looked at Miss Parker. Still on edge. Was that the only time that happened? “I’ll be back, Miss Parker. I need to let Debbie talk to her real father for a bit.”

“Fine.” Her voice was brisque. “Probably head to bed too. No reason to stay up.” She grabbed her DSA case and put it back underneath the bed.

“For what it’s worth, I’m sorry for what happened,” he tried again.

Why would The Centre care to do that? If they wanted them split, they could have just taken Miss Parker’s access key to his room away. Why go through that much trouble?

 

Miss Parker waited in the bed, trying to sleep. I miss that voice. I need that extra voice right now. Just saying ‘Jarod’s a friend’ or ‘he’s telling the truth’ or . . . telling me to make a Sundae party for him. She wanted to turn in bed, but her body wasn’t letting her. She was stuck on her back. That innocent voice. That believed . . .

///”It’s okay, it’s okay, Sydney will come. I swear it, soon. Kri Kraw Toads Foot, Geese Walk, Bare Foot.Um. Does that help? Miss Parker? Please?”///

 Jarod was playing a dangerous game with her. With his reaction just from the cops and robbers incident.

This was going to be a tough ride. She already knew it. If she had it.

 

---------------------------

The next night . . .

 

Miss Parker didn’t like it. She was fidgeting all over. Jarod could see it clear as day. “Do we really have to do this?”

“From what I saw last night? Yes,” Jarod insisted. This time, they were opening their cases on the same side of the bed. Miss Parker was finicky to touch. If something happened, he wanted to be right beside her. “Pick a date.”

“I don’t know which date,” she said.

“Okay. Let’s try . . .” he lifted his DSA. “Middle fourteen.” Her expression. “Did you look at the focus treatments?”

“Some,” she said softly. “It was long-term, I can’t watch all of it that fast for you.”

“Well, what you did watch? Is that what you-“

“Yes,” she said just as fast. “Sort of.”

“Sort of. Isn’t the same as a yes,” Jarod said. He showed her a disc. “This one?”

“Jarod. I haven’t watched these,” she said. “I watched . . . better times,” she admitted. “Mostly my mother. I didn’t want to watch the later dates.” She looked around the room, like someone may come in.

Jarod shrugged. “We’ll both be surprised then. I’ll go first.” He slid in the DSA. He skipped ahead through a sim. Another sim. Another sim. There was always a lot of useless data on DSA’s. Another sim. Wait. “Can I ask you something?”

“Fire away,” she asked.

“Why did you watch me, but not come see me at times?” Jarod asked. “Watching me behind the veil.” Not a Sim. What was that? “Lunch with Sydney?” He looked at the date, so he knew where to pair Miss Parker at. “I remember that. I always thought that was odd.” He hit play.

 

Start of DSA

 

“This is really neat, eating together,” Young Jarod said. “Aren’t you going to eat Sydney?”

“No, Jarod.” Sydney scooted his lunch away. “I don’t like it.”

“Your food?” Young Jarod asked as he gestured toward the bag. “But, you can eat whatever you want.”

“No, I don’t like the fact that I have to be here,” Sydney answered. “All staff were demanded to stay in the same place for lunch.” He stroked his bottom lip.

“I think it’s great,” Young Jarod smiled at him.

“Yes, Jarod. It’s an interesting experience.” He sighed. “Why don’t I eat what you’re eating?”

“Oh. Sure,” Jarod said. “But, why? Can I not even see regular food in real life that everyone else eats?”

“There’s no need to do that,” Sydney insisted. “Let’s just enjoy lunch, hm?”

 

End of DSA

 

“Why was Sydney eating with you?” She asked the same question.

“I don’t know. Between my sims, some parts never made sense.” He stared at it. “Your DSA’s were divided by cameras. Mine was just that room.” He tapped almost on the screen. “A lot of time between was useless. Sitting for hours. Standing for hours. Reading manuals for hours.” He sighed. “You’re turn.”

“Yeah.” She looked at her own DSA. “Let’s see if I have something besides eating.” She slid it in and skipped across until she came to the same date and time that paired with Jarod.

It could be nothing. It could just be her walking around. It could be a complete waste of time. Or it could be something that she didn’t want to see. She didn’t always make it back to the glass.

 

Start of DSA

 

“Sydney! Sydney!” Young Miss Parker called, terrified, running from camera to camera down the halls. She ran to the elevator so fast, she slid inside slightly, grabbing the side before tumbling. She started to bang hard on the floor that led to Sydney and Jarod. Before the doors closed though, she was seized.

By someone else. By different hands.

Pause DSA

“Who the hell is that?!” She pointed to the DSA. “That is not pruney faces, old or young.”

“Triumvirate muscle,” Jarod said.

Start DSA

“Let go, let go! Sydney!” Miss Parker yelled again. “Sydney, Sydney!”

Pause DSA

“Why wasn’t I calling for my father?” Miss Parker said, about as surprised at the DSA as Jarod had been. “Where the hell was my father? Where the hell were the sweepers, why was I trying to reach Sydney back then before-”

She went quiet. “Before?” Jarod asked. “Before what?”

She ignored him, hit stop, and moved back further in the disc. She hit play again.

Start DSA

Miss Parker was sitting in her treatment chair. She knew that chair well. There was a barking the distance, but she didn’t show signs of fearing whatever was behind the Office door.

“Excellent,” Raines said from in front of her. “You are doing well.”

Then, the door was pulled open.

Raines stood up quickly and approached them. “Mutumbo. Adama. It’s a pleasure to see you, but this is quite abrupt.”

They moved past Raines toward Miss Parker.

“Her focus treatments?”

“Are doing nicely,” Raines said.

Miss Parker met their eyes. “Parker is power. Attitude is power. Family is power. Emotions are weak. Feelings are weak. Pretenders are dangerous. Secrets are dangerous.”

“Parker . . . is power?” Mutumbo said, looking toward Raines. “That is not the word for our treatments!”

“The Parkers run The Centre.”

“By our good graces!” Mutumbo shouted. He grabbed Miss Parker. She still didn’t blink. “How many times was this used?”

“Over 200 times,” Raines said. “She was far from ready. Mister Parker stopped them but it should be enough to run The Centre in the future.”

“Why was she far from ready?” Mutumbo held her arm up like an outstretched vegetable. She started to kick to get away. “Let’s test her focus.”

“Her focus is good enough. Mutumbo, her focus is good!” Raines complained again.

“There are other Parkers,” Mutumbo said. “We will test her. See what her mind tells her to do. Bring it in!”

Raines moved back as a large lion was brought into the room.

Pause DSA

“There was a lion in that room?” Jarod blinked. He looked toward Miss Parker that was starting to fidget.

“Oh, yes,” she said a low whisper. “I remember why Sydney was eating with you,” she said softly. “All of Centre staff had to stay in their offices and out of hallways.”

Start DSA

Miss Parker looked toward Mutumbo.

“Go ahead,” he said. “All The Centre staff has been commanded to stay in their offices and out of hallways, or they are fired. Immediately.”

Miss Parker’s breathing was fast as she stared at the lion.

“Focus is about getting to the solution, finding the solution, no matter what the problem is.” Mutumbo patted the lion. “If you find the answer, my lion will be called off. You have a one minute head start to get to the answer to this question.” He bent down toward her. “Who is the best psychiatrist in The Centre? Sixty. . . fifty nine . . .”

Miss Parker’s voice caught. “Sydney!” She managed to screech.

“ . . . fifty eight . . .”

“Go, run to the answer!” Raines told her. “And run fast, your life depends on it!”

Miss Parker took off out of the office as fast as she could. She hit the elevators.

 “Sydney! Sydney!” Young Miss Parker called, terrified, running from camera to camera down the halls. She ran to the elevator so fast, she slid inside slightly, grabbing the side before tumbling. She started to bang hard on the floor that led to Sydney and Jarod. Before the doors closed though, she was seized.

The camera switched again as a Triumvirate member flung her out of the elevator.

“If the lion can’t get there, it’s cheating! Stairs!”

Miss Parker opened the steps and ran down the stairs as fast as she could. Then, when she reached the almost last floor, she jumped down and grabbed the door as fast as she could. “Open, open!” She quickly grabbed her key, looked up, and anxiously swiped the card, shutting the door behind her. “Sydney!” She screamed. She ran, but another Triumvirate grabbed her key.

“No blocking the lion with doors.”

Miss Parker started walking backwards slowly as the man opened it. He tossed her key to the floor. She made a quick grab for it, turned around and started to run again. The door was unlocked and it flew open.

Darkness. Camera switch. Darkness. Camera switch. “Wait, wait!” Miss Parker stopped. She looked behind her in fear, and started to run down the left path. “Sydney!” She screamed as she heard it slam right into the door she was just at.

She ran and leapt up into The Centre’s cafeteria room. She ran across the tables as it tore through, and she opened a cafeteria door and, this time, pretended to seal it shut.

“The lion can’t go in here,” someone else said from the Triumvirate. “It must stay fair.”

Miss Parker backed up, looking around. Single room. When the Triumvirate person grabbed her key again to unlock the door, the door exploded open, and the man screamed as he was caught beneath it.

Pause in DSA

-----------------

Jarod winced and looked away. “Why didn’t you ever tell me about this?!” The lion was eating the Triumvirate man’s liver. If he had zero experience with the insides of the human body, his gag reflex would be fully going off. Watching the carnage, it still almost wanted to.

-------------------

Start of DSA

 

Young Miss Parker watched the act before looking around. Seeing a vent, she climbed on the counters and proceeded to escape through them. She was slower, and injuries were setting in, the adrenaline was calming down and it was apparent she was hurt. She punched her way into the location she needed. She dropped to the floor, not far from Jarod’s room. “Sydney.” Her adrenaline, her mind, it was all gone. She got up off the floor, and tried to run there.

Mutumbo and Adama were right there, right before the entrance.

“Okay, Miss Parker. You are fine with us. For now.”

 

End of DSA

 

“They . . . trained a lion . . .” Jarod didn’t even know how to say it.

“My DSA wins for most action-packed of the day,” Miss Parker said. “You eating with Sydney, and me watching someone being eaten. Are we ready to call it a day?”

“They.” Jarod held his hands out. “Why didn’t you tell me?” He looked at his own DSA at the date. “We were still friends back then. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Why?” Miss Parker asked. She groaned. “You had your own problems, like, you know, not having a life.” She got up. “I’m tired.”

“After watching you outrun an African lion inside The Centre, I bet you feel exhausted.” He glared at her.

“What’s with the glare? I didn’t do anything wrong.”

“You didn’t tell me.” He gestured to the DSA case. “We were friends. You should have told me you were outrunning a lion. Fourteen years old, African lion. Do you know how lucky you are that you weren’t killed?!”

“I kept my focus,” Miss Parker said. “I knew if I closed another door, I would be safe. I tried that at the end of the stairs. I knew if I locked it though from the previous experience, they would simply unlock it.” She shrugged. “Sorry but I didn’t feel like dying. I was fourteen years old, limited experience with lions, and all I wanted to do was live, so don’t start in on me!”

What? Jarod sighed. “I’m not mad at you for getting that guy killed on purpose.” He shook his head. “I’m mad that you didn’t come to me and tell me.”

Wait. That look. That flinch. “Did you tell me?” Oh, that fidgeting reaction. She glanced away towards a curtain. Nothing interesting in a random curtain, except a direction to look at. “When did you tell me, I want to see it.” He put his hands on her DSA player to move it forward.

“Stop, don’t. Jarod,” she scolded him trying to move his hand away from her DSA Player. “My case, my life.”

“If you told me and I don’t remember, then it’s my life too on there,” he said seriously. “I want to see it.” Her eyes, they were burning with no so hard, she didn’t even need to say it. “How do you have something of me that’s not on my DSA’s?”

She licked the bottom of her lip and then bit it. “No.”

“Yes,” he said with the same kind of conviction. “My life. Something was erased. Again,” His lip curled. “I want to know. I have the right to know!”

“Okay, fine, whatever big brave boy!” Miss Parker yelled at him. “You want to see it, you got it,” she sneered. “But I’m not watching. I’ve already got it engraved in my mind.”

“Things aren’t always the same as on the DSA,” Jarod warned her.

“This one is.” She held her hands out for keys. Jarod reached in his pocket and gave her some.

“Don’t do anything bad,” Jarod warned her.

“You mean don’t go hump Elvis on the strip?” She teased him as she took them. “I’ll be fine. I just need a drink after this night.”

What?! “Parker, I-I shouldn’t even-“

“Milkshake,” she said. “Testy much?” She sighed. “I don’t want to hear about it, Jarod, when I get back, and only a few minutes. Go anymore than a few and I’ll shoot you.” She took off out of the room.

 

Jarod sat back down. She was hiding her feelings behind her antagonism. She did that a lot, but he knew whatever he wanted to see was not going to be an easy thing.

Chapter Text

Start of DSA

 

Miss Parker was running through the darkness. She unlocked Jarod’s room, and relocked it. She quickly hid under his bed. Ever the light sleeper though, Young Jarod looked under his bed. The lighting left a lot in the dark, mostly shadows, but the voice was heard and most of the movements were seen. “What are you doing there? Miss Parker? Are you crying?”

“I can’t take it anymore. Please make it stop,” a voice came from beneath his bed.

Jarod got out of bed and looked at her underneath it. He bent down on his belly. “What’s wrong?”

“The Triumvirate. I can’t do this anymore. I need out of here. They’re going to eventually kill me.”

“Why?”

“They sent a lion after me through The Centre! I ran and I ran and . . . I made someone get eaten. I had to, Jarod! I!”

“A . . . a real lion? In The Centre?”

“Yes. I . . . I-I’m so scared.”

“It’s okay. It’s okay, we’ll tell Sydney. He can do about anything. Wait ‘til morning, right here. It’ll be okay.”

“No, it won’t.”

“Mister Raines?” Young Jarod pulled himself up quickly as the lights came on in the room.

“I need the little whiner beneath your bed, Pretender,” Mister Raines said. He opened the door. “Bring her here to us.”

“Why?” Jarod asked. “What are you going to do?” He stayed right where he was as Mister Raines, his sweepers, and triumvirate members entered. “You can’t hurt her. She’s Mister Parker’s daughter.”

“Mister Parker is gone for the week,” Raines said. “Move.”

“No,” Young Jarod said. “Sydney-“

“Isn’t here,” Raines said. “Even if he was, I wouldn’t care. Move.” Raines snapped his fingers and a sweeper started to move Jarod. He struggled.

“Stop it, you can’t hurt her! She’s Mister Parker’s daughter, and he rules The Centre!”

Miss Parker yelled as she was dragged from beneath the bed. She was carried out by sweepers.

After the sweeper let Jarod go, Raines closed the glass door behind him. “You did exquisite work on the lion,” Raines said as he looked at Miss Parker. “The Triumvirates were pleased. But now, you, are down here, again? With him?”

“Should we erase her memory now, Sir?”

 “Erase her memory?” Raines said. “No.” He looked toward Young Jarod. “Erase this part from any DSA of his. We will erase his memory. Right after we do something.” He approached Miss Parker. “Scared of the lion, weren’t you?”

“It could have killed me!” She cried out. “When daddy finds out-“

“Daddy can’t do anything. He’d be killed,” Raines said. “The Triumvirate are not something to dabble with. Have you seen your daddy with them? How’s he act? Not superior. No one acts superior with them.”

Miss Parker struggled.

“Not even me. Because of your actions.” He sighed. “I will have to leave for ten minutes.” He looked at his watch. He looked to one of the Triumvirate members. “Mister Parker is going to expect damage from the lion encounter. Make sure it looks like she did it to herself running.”   He looked back to Miss Parker before looking toward his sweepers. “Sweepers? Come with me.”

“Huh?” Miss Parker was surrounded by four people from the Triumvirate. She backed up to the glass by Jarod.

“It is a big responsibility, to run The Centre. To be a Parker. Your actions affect not only you. You will remember this lesson.”

Pause DSA

Jarod. Tried to watch the screen. Her screams. Mixed with his. He’d look up every once in awhile and see him banging on the glass wall, unable to help. Trapped behind glass. He heard her cries of anguish as he heard the sounds of bones breaking against the glass.

Start of DSA

“Miss Parker! Miss Parrrker! Miiiiiss Parker! Stop it! Stop it, stop it, STOP IT!”

When Raines came back Miss Parker was screaming in agony. “Now. Your daddy will know about the lions, but if you tell him about this? Your little friend, Jarod, will pay. Responsibility starts today. Childhoods ends today.” He looked at her wounds. “That lion sure did a number on you. Glad you survived. The infirmaries closed though. I’ll be back first thing in the morning.” He looked toward Jarod. “I’ll have to be to erase your memory.”

“No, get her help, now! She needs help!” Jarod screamed. He slumped to the ground, barely beating on the glass now. “I’m sorry. I can’t do anything.”

Her breathing was slow. “Just. Focus.”

“How are you even still talking?” He lowered his head. “Until morning. No medicine until morning, and I can’t help you!” He banged on the glass once more. “What can I do?”

He just breathed along with her. In that room.

“Kri Kraw Toads Foot, Geese Walk , Bare Foot . . .” Young Jarod did the only thing he could. “That song comforts me . . . what . . . what comforts you?”

She breathed deeply. “Angel. When daddy said it . . . I felt safe . . .”

“Mister Parker called you Angel?”

“Focus,” she said. “Focus. Morning.”

“I’m here. I’ll be here ‘til morning.” He hit the glass again. “Then they’ll take you away and I won’t remember.” He closed his eyes. “I have to remember. You need help. You need lots of help.” He stroked the glass where her cheek was at. “Kree Kraw Toads Foot, Geese Walk, Bare Foot. Morning time’s gonna come, Angel, I promise.”

 

End of DSA

----------------------

Jarod hit stop. He couldn’t take it anymore. Miss Parker had told him and he couldn’t remember it. But, it was there, on the DSA. She would want to kill him now, he watched more than a few minutes. He fast forwarded here and there, but he watched ‘til morning. All night long, she was there, suffering, with him only being able to talk. He couldn’t touch. He closed his eyes. Miss Parker. He closed her DSA. “I’m not behind glass anymore,” he muttered to himself.

Raines and the Triumvirates. If they were out there in his world, he’d use his Pretending skills to take them all down if he could for that! All of them deserved to pay, each and every one. If he knew how to do it. Right now, she should be cooling her heels in a ‘milkshake’. He knew her better than that. She wasn’t doing anything uncouth during pregnancy, but the thought of her being out in las vegas didn’t sit well with him.

Especially after seeing that. How many times had she tried to get help from him, only to have him forget? Only to have him trapped behind the glass. He got up and moved away.

Nuh uh, he couldn’t grant her wish of ‘not a word’, or leave her alone out there right now. He had to talk to her.

 

----------------------------

Las Vegas Strip

 

“We don’t usually get asked for that.”

Miss Parker sighed as she looked at the bartender. “What do you have that’s not alcoholic?” She stared at the waiter. Of course, nothing for her there. She watched the guy in front of her light up his cigarette right across from her. Tasty. Her life in the pursuit of Jarod had changed so much. She used to feel on top of the world, and now she felt like a lonely woman hiding in a gutter, defending herself with a toy gun.

She went there more than once. Between here and there in the pursuit of Jarod, he liked returning to that area. Whenever they didn’t have a lead on him, she’d go there just in case. Instead, it was really about the warm and inviting environment. Less about the bright lights, but more about the adult world it encompassed.

She had been a single woman with a pair of stilletos and a voice that could kill any man into a one night cozy in her bed. Now. What the hell was she? Her job, didn’t have one. She could never go back to her home in Blue Cove. She was a gigantic thing carrying two babies that she had to share with the one she was supposed to capture. Now, she had to play mommy to two more kids, because Debbie needed a better cure.

Jarod made a good offer to her. But that’s what it was, an offer! She used to be in command. She used to be right on target to inherit The Centre. She got chased by lions, suffered daily, went through horrendous treatments, both needles and psychological to become the femme fatale she had been.

All blown sky high once she took that trip to Africa.

And Jarod wasn’t making things any easier. On Carthis, in one night, she messed up. She was allowed to a little bit. It was only one night. She dropped her guard, just a tad because of all the discoveries, and he snuck in. They had almost kissed, but she slipped out of that very quick when she realized she lost it.

For that moment, her focus had disappeared.

And she swore to hell and back she wouldn’t let it happen again. So far, okay, but Jarod was actually . . . watching the DSA’s. What if he stumbled on the only one that . . .

“Miss Parker?”

She turned around. Like a second wind of life, she felt her lungs fill with hope. “Hey, Stranger.” She winked at him. For that moment she wasn’t stuck in regular shoes, a loose dress, and felt as big as an ox.

“Well? Nice to see you again,” he said. “You remember this was my corner, huh?”

Uh uh. It was her corner. He just happened to share it, but if he wanted to feel important, he could go right ahead. “Been some time.”

“Few months,” he said, smiling. “See you got a little something extra more than you bargained for.”

Shit. Of course he recognized her giant belly. She was six months with twins. The world she had once envisioned was slipping away again. She leaned on her cheek. “It wasn’t intentional.”

He just shrugged. “That too?”

Miss Parker looked down at her ‘wedding’ ring. Damn you, Jarod! “Let’s just say Las Vegas turned me around a bit.”

“I see. Stuck on the mommy path with the guy who’s the father in a dumb accident?” He nodded.

“You have no idea,” she said slowly enunciating it all. “All I want is a drink and . . .” She looked toward someone else smoking on the other side. “He made my life hell. I hate him so much.” Then, she felt a warm hand on top of hers. The warmth of an old life. Her life. Fate. Don’t make me reinvent my life again.

“Everyone gets in sticky situations,” her old boytoy smiled. Name? What was his name? “You just have to think what the best way to get out of it is. I mean, I’ve never been the woman but I’m sure I’ve probably plundered a cave or two. I imagine they’re still out there living their lives paying babysitters to watch them while they’re out.”

She felt the back of his warm hand on her cheek. “I couldn’t do that.” She looked toward his drink. “I could never do that to my kids. I had a warm and loving mother. I can never live up to her, but I at least need to try to be something for them.”

“Well, that’s good.” He removed his hand from her cheek. “So, you’re out here for one last hurrah?”

She looked at her glass of water. “Hurrah.”

“Well. Maybe I can help you out with that little last hurrah?” He brought a wallkie talkie to his mouth. “Found and located.”

Hm? She looked around herself.

“How would you like to talk to your father?” He pulled out his phone. “Any minute, the man known as Mister Parker will be calling you.”

“No.” They were not going to play that game with her. “I have to go.”

“He’s going to call for you.” The pnone started to ring and he answered it.

“Calling don’t mean shit. It could be anyone on the other end.” She would never fall for that.

“Okay, Sir, she doesn’t believe. Okay.” He held the phone up to her. “He said when you were little you used to play with blocks. The only letters missing were the letters not in the word The Centre.”

How would they . . . it could be tradition.

“Not budging , Sir,” her boytoy, that she realized just now, had been part of The Centre and just assigned to the area. Focus. Gone. “Okay.” He held the phone up to her again. “Your mother kept you by her side whenever she was working in The office of The Centre, and your dad said it was an angel watching over an angel.”

“Daddy.” A year and a half later after that accident. Presumed dead. She grabbed the phone. “Daddy?”

“Angel.” His voice. That name. It felt so good to hear it again!

“Daddy, there’s so much-!”

“Sh, sh, calm down Angel, calm down.” Never letting her get a word in. It was certainly her father. “Now I know about what Lyle and The Triumvirates did to you, and I know why you are stuck out there with Jarod. It’s okay. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”

Then the words. The words she’d dreamed that she could hear again almost every night.

“Daddy’s back in control of The Centre. You can come home now, sweetie.”

“But. Lyle-“

“Has been dealth with. Severely for the crime he induced! I can’t believe my ownson! But. He wasn’t. You know that. Discovered a little secret there, didn’t you?”

Miss Parker sat back down at the bar. “Daddy. I don’t know what to do. What Lyle did. These are Jarod’s-“

“Angel, angel. I’m not in the dark about this. I know what I’m doing. You have to come home.”

“I.” She couldn’t. The cure for Debbie. Gemini was nearby. Jarod would be furious. But. “I miss home.”

“I know you do.”

“I can’t describe it,” she said. “It’s the worst, most terrible place on Earth, and I live for it.”

“Oh, Angel. Jarod’s got you all twisted up again. Look, you come home, and everything will be solved. I’ve got the real cure for Broot’s daughter right here in my hand. I know you’ve undergone some harsh times without me by your side, but it was imperative I returned the scrolls back to the sea.”

Scrolls.

“They can’t harm us anymore. Only the Parkers know the location, and that is going to have to satisfy the triumvirates.”

“Daddy.” No. What do I do?

“Now, I know you better than you know yourself. You’re fighting with yourself over my grandkids. You want to protect them, most of all from Jarod, who you know will come after them! He won’t stay in The Centre where he’s safe, and he won’t leave them! But honey, you know, you know they can’t live out there like regular people if either of them have his gift.”

“He’s um. He’s learned to control it,” she said carefully.

“Even if you believe that, is that what you want, Angel? To be out there, running, with Jarod? You want to run from me.”

“No, daddy, but-“

“He’s the enemy you are supposed to capture! And you are his. That is your focus! If you stay out there, do you really think they’ll be safe? His family, hm? He found them, and they will nab my grandkids as soon as they get the chance! They don’t want a Parker raising a Pretender.”

“I don’t have the right to just take them.”

“And he doesn’t have the right to drag you out into that world! Away from your home, and away from me! Putting them at risk, it’s all putting them at risk! Angel, you’re all I have. We only have each other.” He sighed. “You don’t have to hunt for Jarod anymore, I can put you back in corporate just like before this whole mess began.”

Ouch. Conscience. “He won’t let them get them.”

“Lies. He’s been hunting his family and searching for his mother for six years. You think he’s really going to let a daughter of mine, the person he sees as his enemy, raise his children?!”

She put her hand to her head. Where was that voice now? Where was that voice now?! “Jarod-“

“-is probably already thinking of a good deal between the two of you. Of course he is! When your defenses are lowered, he’ll come in, take them for a ‘small trip’, and off they go! Never to be seen again. I know what it’s like to lose children, I know. I don’t want you to suffer that same fate, Angel. Let me come get you.”

No. “Jarod would be out there like the Boogeyman, daddy.” No. Oh no.  “I can’t.”

“You have to. The scrolls say it is gonna happen. You need to end the Parker madness. The first step is coming back to The Centre.”

“The Centre is tied to The Triumvirate, and The Triumvirate is what did this to me!” She yelled for the entire bar to hear, not even caring anymore.

“What is your focus, Angel? What is your focus?! Say it!”

“To capture Jarod and bring him back to The Centre.”

“Above all. He is the number one priority. Now, I know you are upset about what happened. You have every right to be. Figuring out these kids, I bet Jarod’s taken you to a messy string of places, not fit for someone like yourself. Probably don’t even feel like yourself. Can’t imagine what it’s like to be paired up with your own enemy. Must be hard, Angel, and I’m sorry. But-“

“You will never do anything more to us.”

Miss Parker looked down at her hand. “Daddy?” She was fading off. She looked to the other side of her where her boytoy sweeper once had been. He was gone.

Her focus was so lost. That surgery. “Jarod.”

 

“Oh, no more for her, thanks,” Emily said to the bartender as Miss Parker faded away. “Pregnant in the first place. She shouldn’t be out here. Right, dad?” She held her left side. “Let’s get her back home.”

Major Charles shook his head but grabbed the right side. “Jarod is not going to like this, Emily.”

“This is bigger than him. This is bigger than us,” Emily insisted. “The dust is settling, dad. Before I lost track of mom, she knew she was the key.”

“That doesn’t mean she’s bad.”

Emily looked behind her at Ethan. He followed too? “Ethan?”

“You don’t know the real her,” Ethan insisted. “She’ll be a good mother. Let her stay with Jarod. Please?”

“They took away everything.” Emily looked toward Major Charles. “Everything. All our years together. Growing up without any brothers. Never getting to know Kyle even one day. And Ethan?” She looked toward him. “Look what Raines did you to. How he hurt you, manipulated you. He kept you away. He killed your own mother.” She looked down at Miss Parker’s unconscious form. “It’s payback time, and Jarod is too kind to do what must be done. No more will our family be kept away from us because of Parkers.”

“It’s Catherine Parker’s daughter,” Major Charles sighed. “But, she never stopped chasing. I.” He breathed as he lifted her into the car.

“The Centre will get their hands on them, and we can’t let any more fall to them,” Emily reminded her father. “They never plan on giving back mom. We’ll never plan on giving back them.”

“Jarod won’t go for it,” Ethan warned her. “You can’t take her. I can’t let you take her.” He looked toward his father, grabbing his shoulder. “Jarod wouldn’t want this. To do what you want, you’ll have to keep him away too.”

“No,” Emily insisted. “I just need more time to make him see. When he sees that she can’t be a part of their lives, then everything will be fine.” She sighed. “Three months. We’ll keep her comfortable for three months.”

“And then?” Major Charles asked. “Send her back to The Centre, never to see her kids again? Or something else?”

Emily glanced toward her father. “Dad, stop.”

“This is wrong.”

“Well you are here with me, aren’t you?”

“I-I” He held his head. “I have to be there for all my children.” He looked in the backseat at Miss Parker. “I don’t know which way to go, but with her father back in there? I, things . . . just got complicated. More complicated.”

“She’s my sister,” Ethan tried again as he approached the car. “This isn’t the way.”

“She’s the enemy,” Emily said to Ethan. “Even dad has some knowledge that this has to be done. To save them.”

Ethan covered his eyes. “Jarod will be upset.”

“This world isn’t perfect,” Emily said, still trying to convince him. “It’s not. Our family is not getting intermingled in The Centre though. Not again. Not anymore.”

“Mister Parker came back,” Major Charles sighed. “She’s likely to do anything, Ethan.”

“She’d do the right thing.” Ethan looked down at her. She was slumped against the side in the back.

“I hope I get to see you again,” Emily said to him. “But you can’t come. It’s obvious you’ll give us away.”

Ethan watched as they sped off, his head lowering to the ground. He closed his eyes. What should he do? “Send out the clowns.” What could they possibly do? “I should contact Jarod.” No, but it was still telling him to send out the clowns first.

 

-----------------------

 

“Yeah, I know, bread,” Argyle said to his dad. “Anything else to add?”

“No, but I need bread,” his father said. “Ooh! Some tomato and mayonnaise. Real burgers. Those diners up there by Delaware, they didn’t have the right pizzazz.”

“So you want bread, tomato and mayonnaise or for me to just pick up some burgers, pops?” Argyle asked. “I’m a here, I’m a waitin.”

“Got to get a real sandwich again,” his pops said. “Just go around the corner and pick some up, then go to the store.”

“Alright. I’ll be back.” Argyle opened up their apartment door and started heading downward. While he moved, he received a call. “Hello?”

“You need to watch for Miss Parker.”

“Miss P?” Argyle stopped. “Who is this?”

“Black limousine. Follow the black limousine.”

“Kay, pal, this is LA. Watcha mean follow the black limousine, what limousine?” Argyle started heading out the door and getting into his car.

“The voice says you’ll know.”

“What do you mean I’d-“ Argyle watched as a black limousine started to run straight by his place. And his wasn’t an area that a black limousine should be scratching around in. “Never mind.” He started to follow after it. He couldn’t see inside. “Miss P’s in there?”

“Don’t lose them. Keep following them.”

“But, how did you even know this number? How do you know all this?”

“I followed you for some time. I was watching out for my sister. Her life is hard right now.”

“Tagging me, you been tagging me?” Argyle whined. “Why’s this stuff keep happening to me?”

“Don’t lose them, please.”

“If Miss P. is in there, I won’t lose her.” Argyle heard the dial tone and called his pops. “You have to wait for the sandwich, pops, I gotta tail a black limousine that’s carrying Miss P.”

“What?!”

“Yeah, I know, weird psychic stuff, but if Miss P’s in there, I can’t lose her.” Argyle hung up before his dad could ask anymore. He didn’t know what that guy was talking about with voices, but if Miss P. was in the limousine, that was all that mattered.

 

Jarod heard his phone ring. He looked at the number. The phone he gave Sydney. “Broots?” he asked. “Not a good time. It’s late, Debbie’s already in bed, and I-I’m not in the best state of mind here.”

“Mister Parker is back, Jarod.”

“What?”

“And that’s not all! Ethan just called me. I’m sorry. This isn’t easy to say. Your family just abducted Miss Parker.”

“What?!” He stood right up, almost knocking over the DSA case. “What do you mean, how do you know that?!”

“Ethan told me. He said he sent the clowns to follow her. Jarod. I don’t know what that means, but he said to call this number.”

Jarod listened closely. Argyle’s number. “Thanks.” He didn’t have time to think about anything else. Emily, no!  He knew the hurt the Parkers did to their family was great, but this wasn’t the answer. He dialed up Argyle’s number. “Argyle!”

“Hey, uh? Geez, your fast. Gave me a heart attack.”

“Miss Parker?”

“Uh, yeah, this weird guy said something about a voice and a black limousine? I mean, I don’t know but this like, high top limousine just went cruising by my house while my dad asked for-“

“Don’t lose them, stay in touch with me.” Jarod grabbed his keys, his jacket, and moved out the door. He knocked on the young teens’ door urgently. Gemini was out first, standing erect with Debbie coming by his side. “Get dressed fast, we’re going for a ride.”

“Going for a ride?” Argyle asked on the phone. “I’m on the ride.”

“Listen, Argyle, don’t interact with them. Wait for me.” He tried to wait patiently for the kids, but his family knew how to move fast. It’s how they stayed away from The Centre. It could be months before he got to Miss Parker again!

And he had questions he wanted answered. He wanted to tell her things. Ask her things. Things she never gave real answers to, lies that drove him away. And if gone long enough. He didn’t want to miss them. He missed so much time with his own family, he didn’t want to miss one moment of their lives. He went back to get their DSA cases and several vials of the cure for Debbie. There was no telling what would happen, and if they would come back or not soon.

He would eventually have to come back, it’s where the chemicals were for Debbie, but he would have to leave everything and everyone, and make damn sure nobody followed him back! Because it was no longer safe.

 

 Not because of The Centre, but because his own family tailed him! As the kids came out, fully dressed, Jarod headed out the door with them. He locked the door, went toward the car, unlocked it and they all got in. He hit reverse and headed off toward the bright lights of Vegas.

Chapter Text

Inside the Limousine

 

Miss Parker started to open her eyes slowly and looked around. No. Limousine clearly. Who was driving? She was cuffed behind her back, and lying on her side. “Bastards,” she muttered as she started trying to work with the cuffs. Dislocating a part was hard, and she had no idea if it would be different now that she was pregnant, but she had to move.

Then, the window between the limousine and the front came down. I knew it, I knew it! She struggled harder. “I’m not part of this family reunion.”

“No, you’re not,” Emily said as she looked at her. “The Parkers aren’t going to hurt us anymore. No matter what you’re trying to do.”

“What I’m trying to do?” Miss Parker scoffed. “What makes you think I was a part of this?!”

“You’d do anything to get Jarod. You’ve been chasing him ever since he escaped your clutches,” Emily said. “You want to go to The Centre, force Jarod to come back in order to see his children. It’s not going to happen.”

Oh, she could have asked her how she thought something ridiculous would be what The Centre itself would ever come up with as an actual plan. But, instead, she turned away from the excuses. She didn’t need to explain herself to Jarod’s family. “So what then? You’re going to plug me away behind my own glass? Teach me a lesson? Justifiable revenge, is that what this is getting marked down into in the family’s old album?”

“We don’t want to do this,” Major Charles finally said. He couldn’t turn around though since he was apparently driving the fancy getaway car. “I don’t want to hurt Jarod, and I don’t want to hurt you. I don’t want to hurt anyone, but I can’t risk you going back to the Centre. It tore everything away from us. I can’t just let something happen.”

“So you tailed your own son, found out where he lived, and abducted me,” Miss Parker said straight to him. “Don’t make excuses, own up to what you do! Own it.”

“Don’t talk to my father that way!” Emily warned her as she glared. “You are going to get the best food, for them. The best diet, for them. If it’s for them, you get it, otherwise you don’t deserve anything.”

“Fantastic, I’m just the luggage again.” Miss Parker groaned. “Then what are you going to do? Take them away from their own mom? I will hunt you down, and I will kill you, and I won’t stop until you kill me,” she warned her. “So if you plan on taking my kids, you better plan on killing me. Emily.”

“Let’s not go there. We aren’t going there.” Major Charles groaned. “We aren’t killing you afterwards.”

“I will kill you then,” Miss Parker said darkly. “I will hunt you down for the rest of your life and I will kill you.”

Major Charles was quiet for a time. “If we take you, it’s wrong. If you take them, it’s wrong.”

No one ever said that was what she chose. She just barely even heard her father was back. To take them back to The Centre, with Jarod still out there? It was. A hard decision. A decision she knew that was too tough to consider the first time around. “You may hate this,” she said, knowing they’d hate it. “But the sad truth is, that I know Jarod better than you,” she said with venom. “The only way he’s going to be a part of their lives, and not let a mother be a part of their only child’s life, is to kill me. That’s a fact. But, Jarod holds tight grudges,” she warned them. “Real tight. Family or not, I would not want to be you.”

“He holds that grudge deep inside because he can’t see our mom,” Emily corrected her. “He is going to be sad, and it will be hard. Especially when he already has to share a brother with you, and this is really hard on Ethan too! But our family is not going to be forcibly tied to The Centre. You aren’t taking them into The Centre. Jarod or otherwise.”

“Angel and Onyssius, are none of your business,” she seethed. “When I get free. I’m going to have to consider these harsh decisions made against me and why very hard. Or I will come straight after you and kill you.” She glared hard at them.

“It’s not going to be Angel.” Emily pointed rudely at her. “I looked around enough. I know enough. That’s your dad’s pet name for you. My little niece, my only little niece, won’t be named that!” she sighed. “You’re a vindictive woman. You made friends with Jarod when he was little, trying to keep him in The Centre with it. Then you moved away and your job changed, and you didn’t care. You hunted your friend. It wasn’t a big problem. He was probably just an assignment as a child.”

You have no business talking about my childhood,” Miss Parker struggled more.

“I’ve studied The Centre.”

“The Read Along Version for Kids apparently.”

“The only reason he doesn’t hurt you, and he lets you keep chasing him is because he cares. And that caring is nothing that you deserve.” Emily turned back around in her seat and Miss Parker watched the window between them go back up.

“Emily, we have a tail,” Major Charles said. “Three cars down from us.”

“How long?”

“For some time now,” he admitted. “It’s not a Centre car. It’s not Jarod either.”

Miss Parker looked toward the door. The car was going slow enough. Since someone was following them, she could normally shove her feet against that door, popping it open. At the very least, it would cause a commotion on the streets. At the very best, she would be able to get herself to roll out of the vehicle.

But both options weren’t options in her condition anymore. How am I going to save myself?

 

Argyle’s Car

 

“Aw, no. No, no!” Argyle whined and called Jarod. “They must have spotted me, they turned direction on me. I’m sorry, J-dog, I really tried.”

“It’s okay. I’m sure my family’s good at getting rid of tailers. Which direction?”

“Uh. Left, lost me on a streetlight,” he said. “I’m sorry, J-Man, I’m sorry.”

 

“Don’t be Argyle.” His voice picked up a strange cheeriness for the situation. “That’s just where I need them at.” Jarod had been following the directions of Argyle, and already predicted the way they were heading out. In fact, if his math was correct in where Argyle was, how fast he called him, and the shortcuts Jarod took then- “There!”

He gunned it. “Kids, stay strapped in tight, and hold onto something!” He switched gears. “We are in for a bumpy ride.”

Debbie clung onto the side door as the car picked up way more speed.

“This is highly past the posted speed,” Gemini said as he looked toward Debbie. “Are you okay?” Debbie nodded. “It will be fine, though we are excelling at a greater velocity, Jarod should be able to control it and time-“

Jarod made a tighter turn, and then shot to the left, avoiding the car coming, swerving back to his right side. “Totally in control,” he agreed.

 

Limousine

 

“Oh, damn, it’s Jarod,” The Major said as he saw the driving. Only his son could perform the moves he could to catch up like that. “I can’t outrun Jarod, Emily. We both know that.”

“She can’t go back to The Centre! She isn’t taking them to The Centre!” Emily cried out. “No more, dad.”

Major Charles sighed. “The Centre never stops tearing my family apart. Next place we pass, I’m stopping. Even if I wanted to maneuver, we’ve got a pregnant woman onboard. Jarod knows that.”

At a cheap restaurant, he pulled in and waited for the inevitable.

 

Jarod’s Car

 

“Stay here and don’t move,” Jarod warned the kids as he got out of the car. He slammed the door as he went toward the limousine. He knew exactly who had to be driving it.

Emily came out first. “Stop, Jarod, don’t do this. It’s a mistake.”

“Then it’s mine to make, we went over this!” Jarod yelled at her. He watched his dad come out of the car. “Why?”

“She works for The Centre, Jarod,” he sighed. “I was on edge most of the time which way to turn, but Mister Parker came back.”

“Mister Parker?” The man who raised her? The one last seen jumping out into the sea with the scrolls?

“The Centre would feel more like home, now than ever,” his dad said.

“Trying to find me, to call me,” Jarod said slowly, trying to keep back his anger with what they just did. “That would have been a much better idea than stealing her away from me!”

“Jarod.” Emily came from the other side of the car closer to him.

 

Bullseye! With the car stopped and in the right position, she dislocated her shoulder and held back the pain. She’d been through much worse, she just needed to focus on what was important.

Her dad was right, Jarod’s family was not going to let her go. At the Centre, she risked her children, but with them, she was risking her life. With no way to win, she made the only decision she could. When she heard Emily get out, she made her move, using her good arm to get the door open. She slid out on the side and into the small restaurant in front of her. She opened the door quickly and ran up to the person behind the register. “Please, help me!” She cried. Not hard, she dislocated her shoulder. Her acting would be stellar. “I was kidnapped, and they are right outside. Please don’t let him get us!” She was big enough she shouldn’t have to pat her stomach, but just for good measure, she was sure to rub it.

The person behind the register took her to the back. “Manager!” The manager came forward to her. “She says she was kidnapped.”

“Yes, they are right outside, lock the doors, please! They are trying to kill me! A man and a woman. Be careful, there are more kids in the other car.” Jarod wouldn’t have risked leaving them behind, they needed to be careful. “ I-I need a phone, to call the police!”

Once she got the phone she pretended to dial 911. “Hello, I am Miss P, Someone is trying to kill me.” She gave the location.

 

Back to Jarod’s Conversation

 

“Mine. My family,” Jarod said. “You’re a part of it, but you have no right to steal any other part of it, Emily!”

“I’m sorry, but don’t you see?” She begged him. “She’s evil. There’s no choice. She’s going to desert you and go back home. It’s inevitable. You have to get rid of her!”

“And say what to them?” Jarod asked. “When they ask where their mom is?” Wait. He saw something when he said that, that ran across her eyes.

“Tell them anything you want. Tell them she was a fairytale princess if you want,” Emily said.

“Because she’d never see them to tell them the truth?” No, no, no. Her hatred. Losing him. Losing Kyle. The Centre. It was so great that . . . “Or because she’d never live to tell them the truth?”

Major Charles held up his hands. “Jarod, nobody knows what is best at this point.”

“Well, I do!” Jarod yelled at him. “I am taking care of them. Like it or not. Centre related or not.” He looked at Emily with the eyes that he didn’t want to. That he saved for the worst people in the world. And he didn’t want to. She was his sister. She’d been through a lot. But she needed to understand.

It wasn’t a choice. It was never a choice. “Open up the back, give her back, and get the hell out of here. I don’t want to see you ever come near any of us again, Emily, because I swear.” He didn’t want to say anything more.

And he didn’t have to. Her trembling, crying face was enough of an answer. “Wrong choice. Don’t come to me later, don’t come back to me later when you and your kids are trapped back in The Centre!” She ran back to the car and got in.

Major Charles just stared at him. “Jarod-“

“She met mom,” Jarod said, trying not to explode on him. He knew that he was caught in the middle. Between justice, between worry, and between love.  He couldn’t be easy, but he couldn’t be hard either. “Did mom like Aerosmith?”

Major Charles couldn’t help a smile. “Well I’ll be.”

“Miss Parker drove in the car with her,” Jarod said, “and mom was fine to her.” Jarod pulled out his wallet, reached in and got the new photos. He held them up. “She gave me these, said mom wanted me to have them.”

Major Charles came over closer and looked at the pictures. “So it’s true. She met Margaret.”

“And mom didn’t take her away from me,” Jarod said, still trying to stifle his anger. “Never did anything. Went on a ride for half an hour, talked, and she was right back. So. If mom, of all people, the one that none of us can get to could get along with her?”

Major Charles nodded and handed the photos back. “Alright, Jarod. Maybe Margaret knows something we don’t.” He took a deep breath and sighed.

“I need Gemini to help me with the little girl,” Jarod said slowly. “I need to work on the cure. I am going back to get storage for everything. After that.”

“Untrackable,” Major Charles whispered. “Be careful, Jarod. I hope one day this gets straightened out. Enough, that-“

“-we can be together again,” Jarod said. “I hope so too.” He moved toward the back of the limousine and opened it up.

Gone.

“Emily?!” Jarod yelled at her from the back. The window was open. She knew she’d escaped.

“She got out herself,” Emily chided him. “You want responsibility Jarod, you watch that bitch yourself.”

“Damn it!” Parker was good. He looked next to him where they stopped. He tried to go into the door, but it was locked. When the car stopped, she was already thinking of her moves. Went inside, claimed kidnapping, asked for phone. She’d say cops but she’d call The Centre. “The Centre is going to be coming,” Jarod said, but the screech of wheels were already heard. He went toward Gemini and Debbie. “Miss Parker bailed.”

“They took her,” Debbie said looking at the ground. “I don’t blame her for that. Do you, Jarod?”

Jarod heard the sirens coming from behind. No doubt she’d be headed for The Centre, back to daddy. Especially if she sensed the deep anger within Emily.

He got in the car, hit reverse, and got out as quickly as possible. Miss Parker.

With her dad back in control of The Centre, her running back to it, and him carrying two kids in his car. What was he supposed to do?

 

---------------------

The Centre

 

Miss Parker walked through The Centre, in disbelief she really had to do it. She wanted anything to get away from the life she was forced to live because . . . not going to do it, I am not going there. Instead, she opened those beautiful office doors she used to open and saw a sight she had wished to see over a year.

Her father, the man who raised her as his daughter, behind the desk. The picture of her mother was hanging over it all once again. At his side was Sydney and Angelo. Angelo looked properly dressed.

“Well, well.” Mister Parker stood up and held his hands out toward her. “Oh, Angel, how I’ve missed you.”

Her heart lifted as she heard those words. She went straight toward him and hugged him. His scent, oh, how she missed it. It was unlike any other scent out there. Daddy. She would never know why he stirred her soul like no one else could. She could be in a blazing fire and he could calm it with just his words. Just his voice. “Daddy, you’re back!”

“Yes, and to wonderful news.” His smile was radiant. “Look at you. The style leaves something to be desired, but don’t you worry about that. I know you were living with Jarod of all people.” He rolled his eyes and looked toward her tummy. “Six months, huh?”

“Jarod’s family were going to hold me hostage for three months,” Miss Parker said, “and then steal my children.” She said it, letting her father get the true vibe of it.

“I know, pumpkin, I know. That’s why I wanted you here.” He smiled. “Now, you’re alright, which is great. Jarod and his family will be great too. So will you. You’ll be able to work right from The Centre, doing paperback and watching my grandkids.”

Jarod and his family would be great? What did he mean? “What are you talking about?”

“Uh, Sydney?” Mister Parker let Sydney approach her.

Sydney bent toward her gently. “Mister Lyle was playing both ends to get The Triumvirate into his pocket,” he said. “The Triumvirate believed that we had held potential bodily fluid of our pretenders, and we believed that they had held bodily fluid back from us. However, it’s not true,” Sydney said. “Mister Lyle deceived all of us.”

“What do you mean, Syd?” Miss Parker looked down at her stomach. “This isn’t a strap-on.”

“No, but, the only accessible Pretender here for Lyle’s scheme . . .” Sydney moved slightly and Angelo approached her.

Angelo smiled. “Hello, Miss Parker. Again.”

Miss Parker raised her eyebrows. “What?”

“Yes, yes, I didn’t want to go over this on the phone. You deserved to be here yourself,” her father smiled. He gestured to Angelo. “Angelo is the father of your children, sweetheart.”

Miss Parker blinked twice as fast. “Angelo?”

Sydney smiled at her. “It’s okay, Miss Parker. It’s better than that.” He placed his hand on Angelo’s back. “When we ran the treatments, Angelo became more expressive with his own self again. Do you remember that?”

Miss Parker had no action left but to nod.

“The effects were irreversible,” Sydney said. “However, it was not a complete regression.”

“I . . . hid,” Angelo confessed. “A little?”

“Oh. My. God.” She touched her forehead. “Daddy, wha-?”

Mister Parker placed his hand on Angelo’s shoulder. “He can learn again. Sydney has steadily been teaching him over the year. A little here. A little over there, until Raines stopped letting him out.” He sighed. “Anyhow, everything is back to normal, and even better now.” He chuckled. “Grandkids.” He patted Angelo’s shoulder. “You see what I mean? The Parker curse ends with you.”

Her mouth couldn’t seem to shut. Angelo?

“Oh. Um.” He walked steadily toward her. He took the fake wedding ring off her finger, placing it in her other hand. He pushed a different one on her ring finger. “For you. Dear?”

“An engagement ring?” Miss Parker looked toward her father.

“Well, honey, we’ve got to look respectable here at The Centre,” Mister Parker said. “We’re changings things. I won’t keep running it the same way, not anymore. But, baby steps. Oh no, it’ll be all better when you take over. All this darker side of the business that was going on, it’ll be all gone. Won’t be The Centre anymore,” he insisted. “We won’t be following the Triumvirates anymore. However, I have to do some things to get it into that spot. Won’t happen overnight and you know the Zulus. Man and a woman aren't even married until a child, and a child coming before and . . .” He placed his hands on his shoulders. “I’m proud of you, honey! You survived some grueling months for the tricks Lyle played.”

“Uh?” She needed to focus. “Debbie?”

“Oh. Jarod will eventually bring her back and we’ll get her cured. Hrm, we have the real thing Lyle hid.” His voice tightened at the end. “I’m sorry, but I’m not happy with your brother’s actions.”

“Not happy?” She said. “He held me in a cell for six months, and impregnated me!”

“Whoah, Angel,” Her father scowled. “Don’t raise your voice to me. I didn’t raise you to do that. Now, he’s been taken care of. He’s not going to bother you again, and he’ll never get control of The Centre. It’s obvious he’s unbalanced.” He moved aside and brought Angelo closer. “Now, be nice. Sydney will continue to work with him, and over the years, he’ll get better.”

“He is doing quite well,” Sydney agreed. He smiled at Miss Parker. “Angelo seems quite happy to have his own family too. I think that knowing he will be responsible for new life, may open up his mind even more. He is already excelling well.”

“See? Happy. I told you to just make it home, didn’t I?” Mister Parker chuckled. “No problems with Jarod’s family, he wasn’t ever involved. I’m gaining a new son-in-law, everything’s wonderful. All we need now is the DSA’s Jarod stole.”

Her eyes roamed the room. Her father seemed either happy or relieved. Sydney looked quite relieved, but he was always hard to read. And Angelo? Looked like he won the lottery with that giant smile.

“Not hiding anymore,” he said sweetly. “Not, your brother,” he said as he smirked. “but, husband.”

She felt him touch her arm.

“Honey?” Her daddy said noticing her look. “What’s wrong? You don’t have to worry about Jarod anymore. I’m back. This is a wonderful day.”

“A fantastic occasion,” Sydney said sauntering slightly higher. He whispered something to Angelo.

“Oh. Yes.” He smiled at her. “Can I feel  . . . my children?”

“Uh.” She never even let Jarod feel her belly yet. It wasn’t going a ton, and he would have had to keep his hands there for awhile but. “They aren’t moving a ton right now. It might take a few minutes.”

“I think just touching your stomach is all Angelo is asking for,” Sydney said.

“Oh.” She looked at her stomach. “Sure.”

Angelo put his hand on her stomach. He felt around and then chuckled. He looked toward her. “I felt it.” He stroked her tummy lovingly. “Our boy and girl.” He smiled at her. “Happy day?”

She breathed a little fast, not saying anything back.

“I’ve got a whole wardrobe of clothes for you, Angel,” her daddy said. “Your mother had twins too, and you and her are so much alike, I’m sure they will all fit.”

“I see that you’re overwhelmed,” Sydney said to her. “It is an incredible adjustment to what you believed was the path your life was set on. Your whole life has been disturbed frequently this past year. It may take a little time.”

“Yes,” Angelo said as he looked toward her. “We’ll learn. Together. Dear.” He smiled and gave her a small kiss on the cheek.

 

----------------------------

Jarod’s house . . .

 

Jarod sighed as he studied the schematics of The Centre. “Most likely, in the office.” He didn’t want to do this. It wouldn’t have happened if his family hadn’t jumped the gun! In The Centre again. His family, in The Centre. For now, he returned back to the safehouse so the kids could get some rest. He had around three months to figure out what to do. How to convince her, one more time, that his family wouldn’t come back.

Then, his phone rang. “Broots? It’s really late now.”

“Hello, Jarod, this is Sydney.”

“Sydney!” Thank goodness, the voice of reason in his life. “It’s good to hear from you. Did you and Angelo make it out okay?”

“Yes. In fact, Angelo has some news he would like to tell you.”

“Jarod!”

Jarod smiled. “Angelo.” He put the schematics into The Centre completely out of his head. “How are you?”

“I’m. Super. Best ever,” Angelo said. “Angelo has exciting news. Oh. Oh, Sydney, I. That’s right. I. I have exciting news!”

Jarod fixed himself up straighter in the chair. Some good news would be a really good thing right now. “What is it, Angelo?”

“I am going to be a father!”

“Oh.” Jarod pulled the phone away to hide his sigh. More than him and Miss Parker were affected. Lyle. He was using another surrogate. What if he did that to the others too, to create his potential pretenders quickly? He moved back to the phone. “That’s great, Angelo.”

“It is. I got all dressed up for her.”

“That’s nice.” At least they were letting him see the surrogate.

“And, I felt it kick, Jarod! Inside her tummy. It’s so alive.”

“Yeah. I know the feeling,” Jarod smiled. “Never felt a kick yet, but hearing its first heartbeat.” He nodded. “It’s unforgettable.”

“It’s all so fast, Jarod. I’m trying to keep up.”

“I know, Angelo.” Jarod knew he would try.

“She liked the ring today, I think.”

“Ring?” Jarod raised an eyebrow at that? “The Centre’s not making you marry her, are they?” That wouldn’t make any sense.

“Um. They said, um, marriage is the correct step. To take for me,” Angelo chuckled. “I don’t mind. She’s pretty, Jarod.”

“That’s . . . good?” Jarod shifted eyes around the room. Marriage was more than how pretty someone had been. There was only thing Jarod could think of. “The mom, involved, is The Centre footing a bill for her to stay quiet?” If that was the case, he could see it. On paper. Papers at The Centre always looked different. But it was doubtful she’d actually stay with him, and that he would get to stay with his kids.

“No bill. It’s just . . . uhh . . . something.”

The Centre never stops interfering. “That’s nice, Angelo.” Jarod didn’t know what else to say to him.

“I kissed her. She didn’t react. Sydney said I did good. She was surprised though.”

“I’m sure,” Jarod answered. “I hope it turns out well.”

“I hope so too. I kind of always liked her. You know?”

“Kind of always liked her?” Jarod didn’t understand that part. “What do you mean?”

“Oh. Miss Parker. I always kind of liked her. Like, um . . . crush? Mister Parker, he put his arm around me too. Welcoming.“

“Whoah. Whoah, whoah, whoah.” Jarod stopped him. “Miss Parker is carrying my twins, Angelo. Are you confused?”

“No. Um. Lyle lied, Jarod. They’re mine.”

“Let me see the phone now, Angelo,” Sydney said as he took the phone. “Jarod? Did you hear the exciting news?”

“Lies, those are mine!” Jarod stood up and shouted, the schematics falling to the floor. “What kind of game is The Centre playing?”

“Jarod, relax,” Sydney said. “Any good therapist would say that someone who only believed that they were going to be a father for a month would not have such violent repercussions to being told the truth.”

What? “No they . . .” Jarod had been a therapist, and he knew any good therapist wouldn’t say that. Sydney would never say that. He sat back down in his chair. In fact, he would not have just let Angelo start talking if he had such news. He thinks the phone might have been compromised.

It would make sense. It was discovered, and then taken by Broots. Given back to Sydney. The more people that mess with it. Or, maybe there were people who knew about the phone, that he didn’t want knowing the truth either. Hiding it from even Broots?

“You’re right, Sydney,” Jarod say, playing along. “Now that I think about it . . . you’re right. All my freedoms are back,” he said. “No one tagging along with me on Pretends. I don’t have to quit Pretending. My family, I can connect with my family again. It’s great news.”

“It’s fantastic news,” Sydney said. “Everything worked out very well. I’m glad you are taking it so well. I told Miss Parker that you would probably be happy with the news and not start torturing her with mind games.”

Even the wording. Torturing. Sydney was playing it very cool. He did have something to say. “Absolutely, couldn’t be better,” Jarod said. Then, he didn’t want it to sound too obvious. “I mean, I liked the thought of having a family, but the stress. Having to bring her everywhere with me, her having no real skills. Then, driving my real family away.”

“Yes, I know. It must have been tough on you, Jarod. It’s going to be a little tough on Miss Parker. I don’t believe she was thinking marriage was in the cards, but her father has put his foot down pretty hard on this one. Very hard. They are working on dates.”

Ah, that was where Sydney was trying to lead him. “Dates, huh? Say, Sydney, is it going to be soon? Might be able to attend far away with flowers.”

“I’m sure. Perhaps a small area on a hill? I believe the date of the marriage should be October 20th. I’ve always appreciate that date. Almost like you always appreciated your favorite number.”

“Sounds like a nice date,” Jarod said. “You should try convincing them, I could work that into my calendar.”

 

“I believe it would be a sight to see, Jarod. My home would be quite perfect for it in the back, but I’m afraid Mister Parker would probably not allow it. I guess, we’ll just have to see. Nice talking to you, Jarod. Take Care.

Chapter Text

The Centre was not his favorite place, but sometimes the secrets of it were not easy to reach except on Centre property himself. He didn’t mind that. Quite used to it by now, coming on and off the grounds. Jarod had found a small safe just on the outer hill of Sydney’s home. He placed in a simple combination. . 10-20-08.

It opened up revealing a DSA, and a phone. Setting up phones were tough, Jarod did it alone so that he could trust it. But, he would use it this one time to talk to Sydney. He walked away slightly to find a less conspicuous spot to call and to play the DSA.

“This is Sydney.”

“Sydney. Lovely place for a marriage after all.”

“Jarod.” Sydney’s breath sounded different. “How are you?”

“Right now, wondering why Mister Parker is trying to fake me out?” Jarod asked. “Oh, and of course, the DSA you so lovingly added to this little bouquet. What is it?”

“Something I wanted to show you as soon as I discovered it,” Sydney said. “Pipper and Papper had two DSA’s of Miss Parker’s that wasn’t picked up. One of them were therapy treatments. Very . . . revealing. However, the second. You hold it in your hand. It contains your life, Jarod, something that you need to see.”

“Wait,” Jarod said. “My life? But, wha-“ The twins? “What’s this have to do with the twins?”

“Oh. Nothing. I was there for the reveal from Lyle,” Sydney said. “While it could be the truth, it seemed like it was a desperate move when Mister Parker threatened his life to know everything. Saying ‘I lied’ is an easier way to slip out of it.”

Jarod took a deep breath. “What do you think?”

“I think that Mister Parker, if he saw the scrolls, may or may not be doing this on purpose, Jarod. I can’t guarantee anything. The whole lab could have been a setup, or not.”

“Oh.” Jarod swallowed hard. “I thought you’d have something more concrete about that, Sydney. Came from a long distance, left two kids with a babysitter, all for one DSA and a ‘it might be wrong or right’?” He didn’t want to hear that. “Is it wrong or is it right? Is it a trick, or not, Sydney?!”

“I don’t know, Jarod. I am sure we can run a blood test after they are born to know the truth.”

“That’s not good enough.” Jarod felt his heart beating hard. “Sydney. I.” He let out a deep breath. “Angel and Onyssius. I was . . .”

“You have grown used to the thought of having them. After such a long time with a strong belief, I understand that. I wish I had something better for you. I have to say that The Triumvirate lies as much as Mister Lyle. It is not easy to know the whole truth.”

“Well, I guess I’m just going to have to pay a visit to Mister Lyle myself,” Jarod said with conviction.

“Jarod. That is not why you are out there. The DSA. Play it.”

“My life, huh?” Jarod asked. “Parts of me eating with you while Miss Parker was chased by lions in there?”

“Eh, what?”

“Nevermind.” Jarod pulled out his DSA player. “How long is it?”

“I believe the time span you are interested in is six hours, but it does not follow . . . off Centre property. Good luck with this one, Jarod. After I found it, I didn’t have the heart to contact you or anyone for a little while. I’m sorry.”

“Okay.” Jarod didn’t know what for yet. He hung up the phone and pulled out the DSA. The dates were labeled right before the end of his visits with Miss Parker. One day, she just stopped visiting, left for awhile, and visited twice more. Visited in the most viscious of ways, their friendship was quickly terminated.

As he moved on though, he watched the date. They . . . increased. They increased past the last dates of her being ‘nice’. Dates he didn’t have. A date between he didn’t have at all. And that would probably be where to start.

 

Start DSA

 

Miss Parker moved her way through the Centre with some kind of large open brown purse. She didn’t stop until she reached Jarod’s door. Slipping the key in, she went inside. “Jarod?” It was lights out. “Jarod?”

Young Jarod rubbed his eyes and got up out of bed. “Miss Parker?”

“Hi,” she whispered. “I need you to do something for me.”

“Oh.” Young Jarod winced more. “Sydney said I can’t see you anymore. You’ve . . . changed.”

“Not really,” she admitted. “My daddy wants people to think I’m meaner for reputation reasons.  Rumors, and I have to act a little different too for him. But, I’m still me.”

“Oh. Well, that’s good,” Jarod smiled. “Did you want me to search for something again?”

“No,” she said. “I want you to come with me. Off Centre property. Just for a little while?” she asked. 

“From here?” Jarod’s voice trembled. “I-I don’t know, Miss Parker. The Centre, if it found out-“

“I really, really want you to come?” she asked. “Please?”

Jarod rubbed his ear. “Well. I can try, Miss Parker, if it’s that important to you.”

“It is. I need to see something for myself.” She took his hand. “This way. Our first trip is to the bathroom.”

“Bathroom?” Jarod asked. “Why?”

“To dye your hair and get you dressed, Jarod. After that, leave the rest up to me if anyone tries to stop us.” She had taken him into the girl’s bathroom and into a stall. The camera couldn’t see beyond that, but when they emerged, it was clear she tried to dye his hair.

Pause DSA

 

Jarod smiled. He didn’t remember any of it, but he looked goofy. Too dark for that.

Start DSA

“Sorry, it didn’t exactly turn out right,” Young Miss Parker said as she quickly combed his dark with tints of blonde hair. “Call it highlights. It’s different enough.”

“Can I see?” Young Jarod asked excitedly. He moved to the mirror and moved his head around. “It’s . . . different. I like it.”

“I know, it’s not the best. Trust me, it’ll work. It’ll fit the image.” She reached in her bag. “Here, put these on.” This time, he went into a stall alone while Miss Parker played lookout.

When he emerged he had on denim jeans and a tie-dye shirt. “I don’t think Sydney would ever wear this.” He pulled at the shirt. “This doesn’t look like me at all.”

“Duh, that’s why you’re wearing it, Jarod. Come on.” She took his regular white clothes and put them in the bag again. She slipped it over her shoulder and grabbed his hand. “Remember, if anyone tries to talk to us, just stand there and don’t say anything. I’ll handle it.”

Unnerving. Both of them walked out into the open late-night area of the first floor. Miss Parker kept her eyes straight, while Jarod tried to feed off of her movements.

“Hey, what the hell?” Someone stopped them. “Miss Parker, what-“

“Get off of my back!” Miss Parker shouted at The Centre employee. “This is my boy, and I am showing him where I work. Daddy said I could show him the upper level.”

“Are you insane?” The employee was not convinced. “Why?”

“Why? Because I said so, that’s why!” Miss Parker shouted pushing the employee. “Daddy doesn’t like being bugged for small things, he gets really mad about it, so if you call, your job is on the line! Now, excuse me.” She grabbed Jarod’s hand quicker. “Daddy said displaying power is the Parker way, so he’s gonna learn from the start who controls this relationship.”

Pause DSA

Miss Parker. Easily, he could see the Parker of today right in there. He certainly would have remembered that. They made it out of the building with no more incident.

Start DSA

The front cameras had Jarod blinking and looking around on the front steps.

“I’m outside,” he whispered. “We’re outside.”

“Yep,” she said. “Come on. Let’s go to the left and wait just a little while so no one sees us, then we’re sneaking into my daddy’s car. Come on.”

“What?” Jarod was starting to trip out as they walked along the grounds outside. “M-mister Parker’s vehicle?”

“Yes, then we’re sneaking out,” she said. “I already did it once today. He doesn’t even know I’m at The Centre.” She smiled. “Come on, Jarod, I’ll show you the way.”

“But. But.”

“Come on.” She grabbed his hand. “Don’t you want to see the fair?”

“Fair? Equal?” Jarod asked.

“No. Cotton candy. Ice cream,” she insisted. “Rides. Other kids. Bright lights,” she smiled. “Come on, Jarod, it’ll be fun.”

“Outside.” Jarod smiled. “Outside!” His face was brimming with excitement. “But, you said you wanted me to do something for you?”

“You are,” she said. “I need a real friend right now. I need a real break from The Centre. It’s . . . tough,” she settled on.

Pause DSA

Getting chased by a lion than having your bones broken, laying there overnight. “Yeah. Tough was the word.” But did she really pull it off?

 

Start DSA

She held his hand. “Follow me.” They went from camera to camera. “The fair isn’t always here in Blue Cove, Jarod. I want to go. I need to go. As you can see from how I have to act inside, I kind of need a break from it all. And, I wanted you there too, to see something.”

“See what, Miss Parker?”

“I was told something special, about you Pretenders,” she said. “I just don’t believe it though.  I saw it, but then everything was okay. I think. There was a crack last time, so it can't be bad. You. I think. I mean. Nevermind, you wouldn't understand.” She stopped right outside her daddy’s car. “I think this should be the beginning of getting  out. We’re too young, at fourteen, we can’t stay out of The Centre. There’d be no food or shelter. But when we got older, when I get a job and start getting paid . . . maybe, we could permanently leave together?”

Pause DSA

Jarod’s eyes were transfixed on the screen, his whole body leaning in. She was not only getting him out. She was promising freedom. With her. Leaving The Centre.Together. He was more than old enough by the time he escaped by himself that he didn’t have the problem their fourteen year old selves faced. He could get a job, fake a job, fake a career. Being fourteen, it would be tougher. Several days without a home. Leaving Miss Parker out on the streets, barely making ends meet until he figured out a different solution.

Start DSA

“The Centre?” Jarod asked. “For good? When we got older?”

“I’ve already started training,” Miss Parker said. “I’ll be able to get my first job when I turn 16 beside it. I won’t make lots, but if I save really hard, and with your skill-“

“I could do it, Miss Parker!” Jarod said with certainty. “I could do it. Two of us, with jobs, limited food, limited housing. It would be tough, but doable. Then, we could move up in society, as we get older.” He smiled. “The real world. Out there!”

“Okay, Jarod, hang on. Daddy’s car is right over there,” Miss Parker said. “Let’s go.”

 

Gone. Many hours passed that weren’t accounted for before Miss Parker entered the property again. Jarod stared. She was in front of Jarod, but something was different.

“In here, officer.” She opened the front doors to The Centre. She went slowly up and pushed the doors open to her father’s office. “Daddy?”

“Daddy’s working late sweetie.” Mister Parker said. “That’s why-hey!” His anger unfurled. “I didn’t bring you to The Centre today!”

“I’m . . .” She moved into the room. Jarod followed behind her.

“Is this him?” Jarod asked her.

“Yes, officer.” Her voice was low and shaky as her father’s eyes were about to boil over. “This is the man.”

Jarod stood up straight. “I have a citizen’s complaint that you have been keeping people here against their will, Sir? Is this true?” He reached around himself and then looked toward Miss Parker. “Ma’am? Did you steal my handcuffs?”

What followed was a lot of berating and crying between Miss Parker and Mister Parker as Jarod simply investigated the office.

“Don’t touch behind that office chair!” Mister Parker went off on him. He picked up his phone. “I need Sydney! Now!” He slammed the phone down. “How long has he been like this?!”

“I don’t . . .” She was backing up. “Three . . . hours?”

“Three hours?!”

“I thought I could snap him out of it daddy. Last time I saw it, he snapped out of it, but I had to get him back, and I didn’t have-“

“Well, you can’t!”

Pause DSA

It’s. not. It couldn’t be. Jarod watched himself. He fully believed, without a doubt, in any way, that he was a police officer of the law. Despite how he even looked on the outside. He was lost in the Pretend. Why was he even pretending to be an officer, how did he get caught up in that?

Start DSA

“Daddy?” Miss Parker cried. “Can you help, Jarod?”

 

“Maybe,” he muttered. “Maybe! Jarod is a very, very special Pretender! Our highest of all of them, young lady. What were you doing even seeing him? No, no, I don’t want to know.” He grabbed his head. “I may have to send him to The Triumvirates.”

“Huh? No.” Her eyes went wide and for a moment, she couldn’t seem to talk. “No. No, no, no! She begged. “I’m so sorry, I promise, anything, please! Not The Triumvirate, please! ”

“Anything?” He breathed hard. “You will work harder in your training.” She nodded. “You will become the top of your class for The Centre, and no more goofing around!”

“I promise,” she said. “It’s not his fault, not The Triumvirate, please daddy!”

“And if we can get him back, if-“ he breathed, “you will not see him again unless I otherwise command it. Is that clear?”

“Yes, daddy.”

“And if he ever escapes from The Centre in the future, you will use everything you know to help bring him back! Any Pretender, from now on! Now that you’ve seen it. Now that you’ve sown this in him,” he growled. “They are not normal. They can’t run normal lives under so much stimulation.”

She nodded her head. “I’ll. I promise. If any of them leave, I’ll bring them back safely to The Centre. No matter what.” She tried to hold it together. “I won’t do anything else bad again, daddy. Just don’t punish Jarod.”

“Hm.” He looked at her. “You will be the top here, Angel.”

She nodded.

“If you care about that boy, and you don’t want him sent to the darkest parts of Africa, you’ll learn everything you can about Pretenders.”

She nodded. “Anything, anything, anything! I promise, daddy, just save Jarod. I’ll do all the treatments! I’ll work extra hard! It wasn’t his fault! It wasn’t his fault! Not The Triumvirate!”

“Fine,” her father agreed. “We’ll see if Sydney can help him.”

Several minutes later, Sydney came rushing into the room. “Jarod? Jarod!”

“Sir, unhand me. Challenging an officer is a serious offense,” Young  Jarod said.

 

Sydney worked with Jarod for half an hour before starting to make progress. Miss Parker stood in the corner of the room. “Now, do you know who I am?” Sydney asked. “Who am I, Jarod?”

Jarod sighed. “Sydney?”

“Yes. Yes!” Sydney hugged him. Sydney actually hugged him? “Oh, thank goodness, Jarod! Never again, don’t ever do this again!” He stood up and looked toward Mister Parker. “Jarod will be alright, sir. I will have to work with him, privately, for some time. I do not suggest any Sims, so that I may establish a connection for at least . .  . four weeks.”

“That’ll put us behind, but it’s better than the alternative.” Mister Parker’s eyes fell to Miss Parker. “Like losing him altogether!” He slammed his fist down on his table. “And you! You! What were you thinking?!”

“I’m sorry!” Miss Parker cried, her body shaking, unconsolable. “I really am, daddy, I just wanted-!”

“He is not a regular boy!” Mister Parker yelled at her. “Sydney. Please. Your expertise on my daughter.”

Sydney approached her. “Miss. Parker.” His voice was no-nonsense. “Jarod’s sense of self was almost entirely lost today. You, are the sole reason behind that!” he yelled. “He could have had his mind trapped in that state forever!”

“I’m . . .” She couldn’t even say it anymore. “Never again, I promise. I’ll never let him leave again.” She looked toward Jarod. “I’m sorry.”

“Jarod is . . .  pure,” Sydney settled on. “He does not have anything to do with the outside world.” He pulled at the shirt he wore. “This is not him. You almost destroyed him.”

Then, Raines came through the door without a single knock. “What is it that I heard happen to a Pretender?” He glared at Miss Parker. “Didn’t you learn your lesson last time with the handcuffs?!”

“It’s fine,” Mister Parker said. “Sydney’s working with him back.”

“I suggest it may not be fine.” Raines gritted his teeth at Miss Parker. “If they find out, they will demand him. We should send him to The Triumvirate.”

“No! No, I agreed to everything!” Miss Parker yelled, turning toward her daddy.

“Don’t raise your voice to Raines!” Mister Parker came from around his office desk. “I have her allegiance, Raines. As long as this never happens again, they don’t even need to know about it.” He looked back toward her, disappointed. “An officer. Why was he stuck as an officer?”

She looked toward the ground. “He . . .” She went silent.

“Hrm?” Mister Parker asked again. “I asked, what was he doing pretending to be an officer?” She still didn’t say anything. No pleading. No begging. Not a word.

“Miss Parker, answer your father!” Raines demanded.

Miss Parker trembled. “I don’t know,” she confessed. “He was happy, eating cotton candy for the first time, and it just happened.” She ducked her head down as she heard more shouting. “I’m sorry!”

“You ought to be!” Even Sydney was getting into it. “That was too much for Jarod!” He looked toward Mister Parker. “I will never condone letting him go to The Triumvirate though. I do not know enough about them to feel secure with that decision.”

“That decision is not yours,” Mister Parker said. “It’s my daughters.” He looked toward Miss Parker. “She will be the finest she can be. The best Parker of them all. Or he’ll go, for a one way trip.”

“Best, daddy,” she insisted. “Best.”

“Today, you traded your life for his,” Raines said to her. “The Triumvirate will carve his mind up like nothing you’ve ever seen. The Centre is a frosty fudge swirled sundae compared to what they do. Have you seen their Pretenders?”

“Yes, she has,” Mister Parker answered for her. “And you don’t want him to go there, do you?”

“No.” She stood up straight. “Never.”

“Then behave, and he can stay.”

“I.” Sydney gestured to Miss Parker. “Wait. Jarod . . . I don’t know anything about The Triumvirates, Sir.”

“Yes,” Raines said. “Consider yourself lucky.”

“No. I can’t.” Sydney gestured toward Jarod. “If she messes up, he goes? That’s not a deal I’m comfortable with! Children mess up!”

“I won’t,” Miss Parker said firmly. “I’m not an ordinary child either,” she said to Sydney. “I know what they do. I promise. I won’t mess up again, Sir.”

“Miss Parker, your father is stressing a deal you are not prepared for,” Sydney said looking toward Mister Parker. “Jarod will be fine.”

“No,” Mister Parker said again. “It’s all on my Angel.” He looked toward Miss Parker. “You have to be his Angel, or he’s bound to somewhere worse than hell. The Triumvirate. Discussion is done.”

“But, Sir!” Sydney protested.

“Done!” Mister Parker yelled harder. “Take Jarod. Work with him. No Sims for a month. Go.”

Sydney grabbed Jarod’s hand and led him out of the office.

“Raines,” Mister Parker muttered. “You know what to do. I don’t want that challenge again.”

“Yes, sir. I will make sure in a month Sydney doesn’t remember this, nor Jarod.”

“Wipe Jarod’s DSA’s too. Mm. Duplicate some tedious times between so it doesn’t look too suspicious.”

“Of course.” Raines left the room.

Miss Parker and Mister Parker stood alone.

“You won’t speak to Sydney about this deal,” Mister Parker said. “In fact, I don’t want you talking to him for many years. Certainly not Jarod. No, wait.” He gestured toward his daughter. “I do.”

Miss Parker looked toward him, trying to meet his gaze. “Daddy?”

“You are his enemy from now on. When you see him, you will act like you hate him. Like he’s not good enough to you. Underneath you.”

“I.” She hesitated only a moment. “Yes, Sir. Never again. I won’t befriend the Pretender again.”

 

 

End of DSA

Chapter Text

Lyle adjusted his tie as he waited calmly in yet another cage. He sighed. Like childhood again, all locked up.

“Been playing with quite an advanced chemistry set, haven’t you?”

Shit. “Hey there.” Lyle tried to play it cool as he heard Jarod’s voice. “Don’t suppose you want to just forget that whole thing, right? I mean, it didn’t work out for me or for you. It was kind of like a draw.”

“A draw? You mean, impregnating Miss Parker was a draw?”

“Well.” He shoved his hands in his pockets and shrugged his shoulders.

“Funny, Mister Lyle, how you seem to be sweating more. Some serious sweat for a ‘mistake’.”

“Oh. No, not that way,” Lyle said. “No, I mean, the babies? Yeah, no, I assumed you didn’t know and you’d be mad when you found out.”

“Lying is all over your face, Mister Lyle. I wouldn’t be risking being down here otherwise if I didn’t find out ‘Angelo was the real father’.”

Shit. Again. “Come on, can’t we all just let this go?” He asked Jarod. “Dad’s not too mad. Raines is gone. World’s a bit better for my sister now.”

“Yes. Curious. You’d think that touching his Angel would make him reign down a punishment fit for devils. Instead, you’re in a regular prison with your suit and tie, just standing around. Like you’re waiting for something.”

Damn, where was he at? “No, not really.”

“What do you know about the scrolls, Mister Lyle?”

“Not much. I mean I didn’t.” He gestured his arm around. “I mean. You’re names in there and . . . look, I didn’t know anything until Mister Parker came back. No matter how it may seem.”

“What did Mister Parker say was in there?”

Lyle rubbed his cheek. “Look, my thing was simple, I was just making new pretenders, I didn’t know anything really about the scrolls until Mister Parker shared some stuff. That’s it. I was just looking for something that made The Centre and The Triumvirate both happy. Both ruling officially over the scrolls. That’s it.”

“Hmph. And what about Miss Parker’s DSA case?”

“Poor her.” All fake compassion ripped out. “She gets pretty days seeing her mother and her paint and read. I get days of . . .”

“Well. I’d like to say I feel sorry for you too,” Jarod said from behind, now holding him by the throat. “But the fact that you killed my brother, and impregnated Miss Parker while locking her up in a cell leaves little room.”

“Oh. Yeah, I forget about that.” Mister Lyle tried to squirm. “Oh come on, it’s not like I killed her too. I can’t do that to my own sister. It’s just babies not bullets. You don’t even have to be responsible, no one will know.”

Why is Mister Parker saying she’s carrying Angelo’s twins? Tell me!”

“To protect her and his family,” Lyle said. “Geez, Jarod. For being smart you’re stupid sometimes.” He felt the squeeze tighten. “Okay, nevermind. I can explain better.” He lightened it a little more.  “Imagine when you were this cute and innocent pure little snowflake fourteen year old that you were suddenly thrown into the wilds of Africa, and actually outrunning lions or any wildlife would be your love of the day until it was time to go Simming. Boy. No Sims like there Sims. Two Sims per day for one meal. Four Sims for a decent big meal that we would consider average. Otherwise, you know, hunt your own food.”

What? “They would enclose me with what?”

“Yeah, but the Sim area, all stark white like The Centre. All decent. All calm. If you did nothing but Sims all day you’d eat like a normal guy and never have to worry about any perils.”

 

An animal. They would treat him like an animal, unless he was doing Sims. That’s why Miss Parker wouldn’t let him go, no matter what. “Miss Parker.”

“Saved your hyde,” Lyle said. “Still does, crazily. I think you’d be due for a little touch of reality.”

Horrible. “That’s not what I asked you,” Jarod said, knowing he was trying to get him off track.

Lyle groaned. “Angelo is on the bottom tier of Pretenders and available. You are tip-toppy and gone for six years. The Triumvirate have been wanting you for some time. Only reason is well. Well, reasons. Scroll crap. I don’t know.”

“That’s still not what I’m looking for, Lyle!”

“Fine, okay. When Mister Parker came back, he was afraid they might not like the deal of losing two potential pretenders that the ‘great Jarod’ brought them, but he wasn’t going to let ‘his precious Angel’,” he said in a mocking voice, “and his grandkids get pulled down. But, you don’t fight The Triumvirate. You can’t win. So, he did the best thing he could. He lied.” He shuffled his feet a bit trying to get comfortable as best he could with someone’s hands around his throat. “I choke a little, admit my ‘flaw’, and in about three months, I’ll be free. I’ll just have to watch my back a little more.”

“Yeah. Or you might be walking down a hallway, and come face to face with a lion.”

“Nothing gets the heart rate going quite like it.” He felt the pressure completely leave his throat. “Now, now.” Lyle quickly moved away more from the side, fixing his tie. ”Let’s not go overboard on your kids’ Uncle Lyle. Hey, you wanted family? Well, here we are.” He underestimated how far he was though, and felt Jarod grab his arm, with his missing finger.

“Some family members aren’t invited to the first family picnic,” Jarod said darkly, bending the arm back enough on Lyle to get an audible sound of pain from him. “Don’t push me.”

 

Miss Parker’s Home . . .

 

No more Pretending. Just, home. It felt strange though. Her father had replaced her entire clothing line with her mother’s styles from Paris, that fit her when she had twins. Everything else was gone. Even the light dresses that she had worn during the time she had been there with Raines for her belly.

She loved her daddy, but he was a control freak. Then again, so was she. She looked at her alcohol glass that usually had something much better inside, now containing only water. She was relaxing at night, trying to let the stress of the day settle away. Life was as close as back to normal as it was ever going to be.

Her phone rang, interrupting the sense of peace she was trying to find. “What.”

“How are you tonight?”

Really, Jarod? “You better be careful, you’ve still got Debbie and Gemini with you, and not all sweepers are delicate when they find and catch.” She expected some kind of rant. ‘How she could say something like that’ kind of thing.

“I’m more than careful. Heard the news,” he said dully. “Angelo, huh?”

“Hm.” She sighed. “Complete with wedding bells once it’s born. The Triumvirate wants to check it with a blood test, to make sure The Centre isn’t holding back.” She drank some of her water. “Then after that, reputation always has to be good. So, you are free and clear. Like always, you come out smelling like a rose, Jarod.”

“I had a little chat with Lyle myself,” he admitted on the phone.

“Uh huh.”

“I don’t think they have it right.”

She sighed. “Well, no one pays you for thinking. Unless they do. Get your first paycheck yet?”

“I know they don’t have it right.”

Not this. “Guess I’ll find out.”

“The Centre would forge the results they were expecting. Or The Triumvirate would forge the results The Centre was expecting,” Jarod said on the phone. “I don’t know which way it goes. The Triumvirate. The Centre. Words seem to slide off the tongue so easy, like they are the same. But they aren’t the same, are they? There’s a reason when the big Triumvirate dogs bark The Centre heels, isn’t there?”

“Really?” That was the way he wanted to stir the conversation? “Fine, Jarod, I’ll bite. I guess there is. Lions for one.” She took another drink of her water as she reclined on her couch. She thought he’d want to dwell more on the twins than that. Had Sydney been right that it was just the concept of losing more family to the Centre, more than wanting family?

“I think there’s more than that to it,” he said off of the phone, appearing right next to her couch. The pure shock of seeing him in her house, right there and then, made her lose her sense of focus! She quickly recovered, got off the couch and went for her nearest gun.

“Gone,” Jarod said. “All of them in the house right now.”

She wiped her forehead and looked toward him. “Are you here to drag me all the way back again? It’s not going to do any good,” she warned him. “I’ve got three months anyhow, and your family is just going to play kidnapper again, or The Centre is going to be after me. At least right now I get a three month reprieve from you making your move against them.”

 

Jarod approached her. “Sydney showed me something I’d never seen before.”

“Is that a fact?” She looked toward a window. “What, the Father’s Day card in crayon he’s been keeping stashed away for years?”

What? “He threw that away.” Sydney threw that away, when he was young. Right in front of him. “He said he never wanted to see anything like that from me again.” And he realized . . . she just slipped out. “Damn!”

Always an ace up the hole with her. He looked around, she couldn’t be far. Now his mind was divided between thinking about where she could be, and that event. That. Card. She had that ready, just in case he ever blocked her.

He heard a knock at the door. Damn. She had to come out of her hiding place to answer the door now, but now there would be people to help capture him. Normally, he’d take off for good, but that wasn’t going to happen this time. So, he planned on leaving a few minutes. Getting off the property was important, especially if there were sweepers, but he wasn’t going to stay gone forever.

They were talking. They were definitely going to talk.

 

“Miss Parker,” Sydney smiled at her from the door. “Your father wanted Angelo to visit you.”

She pulled the robe on her nightgown tighter, relief that he was there. Jarod wouldn’t stick around too close. Right after they leave, she should probably head to The Centre right away and figure out her next move. “Any idea what time it is?”

“Father’s orders,” Sydney said as he brought Angelo in. “He will have to live with you and not in The Centre soon.”

Miss Parker rubbed her eye. Cut the crap, Syd, you know this isn’t real.”

“What do you mean it isn’t real?”

“Daddy?” Oh no. She couldn’t complain about Jarod now, it would be her fault. “What are you doing here?”

“Showing Angelo the ropes to his new life.” Mister Parker patted Angelo’s shoulder. “But, what do you mean it isn’t real?”

“Uh. The. Events lately,” Miss Parker stumbled. “They don’t feel real.” Stumble. Slow. Ineffective. She never had good focus around him.

“Yes. It is all tough, isn’t it?” Mister Parker walked in with Angelo. “Lot different than how it began. Yet, it’s a blessing,” he smiled at her. “It’s a blessing it’s really not Jarod’s. The trouble and the pain he would cause to this family. No, no.” He looked toward Angelo. “This is much better.”

“We’re. Better,” Angelo smiled at her.

“Right,” Mister Parker said. “No home. No past. No glitched data. Uh, Sydney needs to go over some things with you. Expectations and such. Sydney?”

Sydney was looking to the right. He looked back and smiled. “Maybe another time would be better?” Sydney asked. “To go over all of this?”

“Over what?” Miss Parker asked. She looked toward her father and Sydney.

“Oh,” Sydney said, “I forgot that I had pressing issues to take care of.”

“Don’t worry, whatever the issue is, I won’t be mad if it’s a little late,” Mister Parker said. “This is for them. New family. Come on.”

Sydney approached slowly. “Considering you will be marrying Angelo soon, Your father thinks I should go over some basic facts with you on how to handle him.”

“Soon?” Miss Parker looked at her father. “Daddy, you said he was moving in after they were born? And marriage? How soon is soon?”

“Well, it’s gonna take time to get everything situated,” Mister Parker said wiggling his hand. “Be around four months or so.”

“Well, it should,” she said. “To make sure I’m not marrying him for no reason at all.”

“Stop it,” Mister Parker said firmly. “Angelo is the father of the children. Angel and um . . . you need to change the other name,” he insisted, making a shooshing motion. “Bad memories. Now, you let Jarod pick that, right? Well, let Angelo pick the name of the boy.”

“I. Name?” Angelo asked slowly. “I don’t know.”

“Don’t rush it, Angelo. No reason to rush. Anything right now.” Sydney was squirming around everywhere. Just what was going on with him?

“Nonsense, nonsense. The closer they are before the wedding, the better this will be. I know my daughter’s . . .” He cleared his throat. “Taste. Not the best all the time.”

Miss Parker looked away and then back at her father. “Taste?”

“In men. You need to stop running your life the way you have been,” Mister Parker warned her. “Find one man and stick to him.”

Miss Parker blinked slowly and took a moment to reply. “I did.” She was feeling herself break. “Remember?”

“Oh.” He touched his chin. “Oh yes, I forgot. That whole mess with Brigitte. Hm. Sorry. Um.”

“I know.” Not his focus. Her daddy wasn’t cruel, but Tommy was years ago and he wasn’t in her father’s focus. So, after time, he wouldn’t even think of him. It wasn’t cruel. Daddy was never cruel.

“Anyhow, now, it’s time to make that change. For good.” Mister Parker gestured toward Sydney. “Go ahead.”

Sydney approached Miss Parker with Angelo. “Mister Parker, I really feel as if it should be a little later-“

“Sydney, you know Parker’s don’t change their minds once they’ve started something. Besides, you are already here. After this, we will go back to The Centre.”

“Yes, Sir.” Sydney tried to smile. “Well, Miss Parker. With you marrying Angelo you’re going to have to become an expert on some things, and be lenient on others with him. Cooperation and patience is best for a relationship with him to blossom.” He scratched his neck. “He’s quite good in some areas, getting better in many, and in as little as a few years he may be fully . . . complete,” he settled with.

She used her best ‘you better not be doing what I’m thinking’ low, no-nonsense tone. “O-kay?”

“Good.” Sydney gestured for her to come toward Angelo. “Kiss him.”

She just stared at Sydney. “Cheek? Lips?”

“Kiss him as you would your husband,” Sydney said. “That is what he will be becoming.”

Greeeat. The empath. I make regular guys tingle, what will it do to him?  Well, she didn’t have a choice. She tried to kiss him lighter than Argyle, but felt a huge surge come from him. She had no idea what happened, as she felt a crush behind her head.

Sydney and Mister Parker helped pull him off.

“Relax, Angelo!” Sydney insisted. “I knew we should have started simpler.”

“We’ve got four months. We have to figure out the line,” Mister Parker muttered to him. He looked toward her like everything was fine. “Can’t just free reign it on the honeymoon. You okay, sweetheart?”

“Am I okay?” She pointed to her wall. “He thrusted me into a wall!”

“The sensory, he is still very empathic,” Sydney said, trying to calm her. “Having the sensation of being inside your mouth had an effect on him. He’s going to have to get more used to touching his wife in that way.” Sydney looked toward Angelo. “You must be more careful.”

Angelo nodded. “I. Uh.” He shrugged.

“We will work more on it,” Sydney said.

“But he learns lessons quicker, right?” Mister Parker said. “Try it again.”

Sydney just looked at him dumbfounded. “Sir? He just ran her head into a wall.”

“You can be more careful, can’t you?” Mister Parker smiled at Angelo. “Go on, try again.”

Sydney looked toward Miss Parker. “He . . . will be less likely to run your head back like that, but I don’t recommend it.”

Nice way of phrasing that Sydney. Why was her father demanding this? Unless. Oh no, he isn’t. The Triumvirate. No wonder it was after the birth. They wanted the honeymoon below their noses. No Centre involvement. “Daddy, where is our honeymoon?”

“It’ll be safe, we’ll teach him,” he said gruffly. “Teaching him now.”

“Daddy? Just answer,” she said. “Is it below the moon of the floating bed bridge of the Triumvirate?”

“Um.” He cleared his throat. “Beautiful out in South Africa honey, you know that. Best place for a honeymoon.”

He was doing it. He wouldn’t. He would. He’d have to? Me. Using me? Daddy uses everyone, but it’s for love. It’s always for love. Daddy? I don’t understand what the heck you’re doing. The floating bed bridge. The scenery was beautiful, in the dark. The bed was an actual bed, but much larger held with restraints. It could be rocked back and forth, or left to be still below the African moon.

It was an exclusive spot, only the Triumvirate could enjoy it’s beauty. Newlyweds, anniversaries, and special moment sharing between couples. It was too far above ground for anyone to see anything, and it was a joy the first time she got to see it.

As his daughter, she saw so many things. The reach of the Triumvirate, no other American girl would ever see that bridge. Along the top was woven natural binds of ivy, different assortments, filled with flowers. They ran along the base of the bed as well. The holdings were strong but didn’t ruin the view of the water below the bridge. It was made so that no one could fall, but could see the beauty of Africa all around them as they swung.

 It was like something out of a fairytale. She even told her father one day when she got married, she’d be sure to come there. Her father and mother had been there too several times. A special bridge.

But while that was true, every bridge also had a secret. As beautiful and sentimental as it was, every bridge has a top. It wasn’t until she was older that she realized it wasn’t just a romantic spot made from the heart.

It was business too. To make sure no one was trying to marry into the Triumvirate the wrong way, or when things like what she was doing right now occurred. Marriage real or not? From their view above the bridge, standing on the arc, they’d know.

She kept all the knowledge in though. She already knew what her father was planning, she just didn’t know how he was doing that to her. Daddy loves me, he’s always been fair. There’s a reason, there’s a heavy reason he wants us on the floating bed bridge.

“I don’t recommend this at all,” Sydney urged Mister Parker, still lifetimes away from understanding. “Angelo is an empath. It will take a great amount of-“

“Syd, we don’t have time.” Miss Parker pursed her lips looking off toward the corner. Daddy doesn’t let me down. Daddy only hides things when he needs too. “Daddy’s right, let’s do this. Just, move him more to the left, away from my stomach.”

Sydney stared at both of them incredulously. “You are pushing too fast.”

“Sydney, do as I say!” Mister Parker insisted.

Miss Parker edged up closer to Sydney and whispered into his ear for several seconds. “Sydney, I have to have sex with Angelo on our honeymoon, so figure it out.”

His face beamed red. “No, absolutely not!” He turned to Mister Parker. “You cannot expect that, that is at least two or three years away in his progress! If not even more!”

“Well, you are going to make it happen!” Mister Parker said. “The best you can. This is not a choice, Sydney, for anyone.”

 

Damn. They were still there? Jarod looked at his watch. He didn’t have the rest of his life for Blue Cove. Gemini and Debbie were at home with a hired babysitter. He said ‘business’ as the reason he was leaving. Which was true, but this business was starting to take awhile.

When he left for a short time, he went ahead and called the babysitter up, seeing if she’d watch overnight and maybe longer. He got an overnight, but not much longer. Although they could probably take care of themselves . . . he really preferred having someone watch over them who cared. He had a high paid but several years’ experience babysitter, and by his background check into her, was about the best one he could get.

Should I come back tomorrow? How long is this going to take? But then, all of that went out the window, when he heard Sydney yell.

“He cannot be ready! You could not literally want your daughter to go through with that.”

What? Jarod came up closer into the house. He kept out of view but looked into the room.

“Do what you can, Syd,” Miss Parker said. “Daddy’s never wrong. Don’t worry about me in the meantime.”

Sydney’s hands clenched tightly. “I know why you’re thinking that,” he said, “but this is wrong!”

“Sydney!” Miss Parker gripped her head. “Daddy, why did you lie?”

More lies. What is he lying about now? Jarod just watched the scene, trying to figure out why Sydney was so upset.

“They would have looked harder, Sweetie,” Mister Parker said. “It was all I could do.”

“Lie?” Sydney asked. “About Angelo being the father instead of Jarod?”

“No, damn, Syd.” Miss Parker took a deep breath. Lots of stress. Her body was super tense, even her voice. “Daddy’s going to try for me having an actual relationshipwith him,” she said. She looked toward him.

“Well, what was I supposed to do?” Mister Parker asked her. “Angel, they would immediately test it as soon as it was born! By the time we get through with resting their suspicions, we’ll have enough time to . . . cover up some facts.”

Mister Parker did know he was the father. Jarod shook his head. Of course the Triumvirate wouldn’t fall for it. But how was having it be a relationship supposed to rest their suspicions?

“The bridge.” Clearly, Sydney was starting to pull it together. “The floating bed bridge!”

The floating bed bridge? Jarod stuck his nose into The Centre many times, but there were still so many secrets he didn’t know. This floating bed bridge was definitely one of them. From Sydney’s appearance though, it couldn’t be a good one.

Sydney was an easy going individual. Disciplined but understanding. Getting him mad took some doing, but he was glaring at Mister Parker. Glaring.

 “Are The Triumvirates so powerful,” Sydney said, deeply and judgingly, “that you would put your daughter on that bridge, vulnerable and right in front of them?”

 “Do you think I like it any better?!” Mister Parker yelled back at Sydney. “If they find the truth my grandkids are done for and so is my daughter, to some . . . whoreish life of being in the Triumvirates cell! Breeding stupid Pretenders! And I’ll be dead,” he said with certainty. “Because I can’t let that happen to her.  Some son I have!”

“You could give her to Jarod. Find a way to communicate,” Sydney insisted. “I’m sure he’ll be coming soon for her.”

Jarod was still trying to put the puzzle together. Mister Parker didn’t just say it was Angelo’s bodily fluids, but Angelo was already in a relationship, and the baby happened beforehand? To avoid her fate. Wait a minute. Even Mister Parker didn’t have the power to pull his daughter from Africa? Lyle was right, he’s trying to save them.

“Calm down, seriously,” Miss Parker warned the both of them. “I’ve handled my share, I’ll be fine. Do I look like I’m on my first prom date?” She took control of the situation. “Come on, come on over here, Angelo.” She gently beckoned him to come. He smiled and sauntered over. “Hey there,” she smiled big and wide. “This?” She took his hands and rolled them over her tummy. “This is the babies. Don’t hurt the babies.”

“Don’t hurt the babies,” Angelo said.

“Good. Get on my left side. Alright?”

“Why?” Sydney asked Mister Parker. “Let her go.”

“His family will kill her. Already tried kidnapping her, Sydney!”

“There must be something!” Sydney demanded. “Miss Parker?”

“Sydney.” She licked her bottom lip tenderly. “The Triumvirate is not a dinner guest. And the way daddy’s acting, I know who he’s communicating with.”

“What about it.” A deep voice came from the front door.

Jarod tucked himself back further again. He could barely peak by the front door. Definitely someone from the Triumvirate.

Miss Parker and Mister Parker instantly stood to attention.

Jarod leaned in slightly again.

“Bhekumbuso,” Mister Parker said welcoming the man who came in. “I didn’t expect you for another hour. Um, please, welcome.”

“Bhekumbuso.” Jarod knew that name, but he’d never seen him in The Centre. He stayed in Africa, and never visited like Mutumbo. Even Adama was known to visit when things got tough.

 “I hear there was a . . . mix up?” Bhekumbuso came closer to Angelo. “You had a relationship with Miss Parker?”

“Yes, of course he did,” Mister Parker said as he rubbed his cheek. “Fine man, fine man.”

“Hmm.” Bhekumbuso looked toward Miss Parker. “Lovely bride to be, isn’t she?”

Miss Parker tried to smile. “Well, thank you very much, Bhekumbuso.”

That’s straining. She was better than average people when it came to Pretending, but even Jarod could see how hard it was to be nice to him.

“Very pretty. Very hard to see how this relationship would have worked.” Bhekumbuso looked toward Angelo. “With you, in the bowels of the Centre.”

“We worked together.” Miss Parker moved right next to him. “Catching Jarod, we bonded a few times until something sparked.”

“Sparked.” Angelo nodded.

“Hm. Sparked.” Bhekumbuso didn’t look so sure. “Mutumbo says it could be, Adama says it can’t, and I? I don’t know.” He looked between the two. “Kiss your bride.”

“I do not-”

“Syd, shut up.” Miss Parker scolded and then placed a happy smile back on herself.  “He is a little shy.”

“Yeah.” Angelo nodded toward him. “New to this.”

“New to the concept of marriage,” Miss Parker lied. “Who isn’t?”

Bhekumbuso was still watching.                                                                      

Jarod was still watching. Angelo. Empath. Kissing. This can’t be good!

Miss Parker came toward him, whispering something in his ear. Angelo nodded and followed her over to her bar. She placed herself in the back of it, and pulled him up the front to kiss him. It looked like it was a cute way to kiss, but it was actually to help keep her unborns safe if anything unforeseen should happen. There was more leverage room to get away.

And that was about as scientific as Jarod’s mind would get as he saw what was happening. Angelo’s kissing had turned primal. Not primal lust, that wasn’t Angelo. Everything he felt from her was building up and he was biting on her.

“Angelo, cease,” Sydney came over to him. “Quit. Quit!”

Miss Parker tried to hang on, but her mouth was starting to bleed through the biting.

A bad risk situation or not he couldn’t let it continue! “That’s enough, Angelo!” 

Chapter Text

A bad risk situation or not he couldn’t let it continue! “That’s enough, Angelo!” He came out from the side and pulled Angelo away from her. He pulled Angelo along the other side of the wall, trying to keep him in control. “Settle down, Angelo, settle down,” Jarod begged him.

“Jarod!” Mister Parker yelled. “What the hell are you doing here?! Sydney?!”

 “No sweepers came with us, and we have no weapons. We are regular civilians at this point, visiting your daughter, Sir,” Sydney reminded him. “Perhaps Bhekumbuso?”

“Jarod.” Bhekumbuso stared at him. Clearly he had no one either.

Once Angelo calmed down more he slid down against the wall.

Jarod turned around and faced Mister Parker. He thought about the past. About the words he said before he jumped off that plane. “You love your daughter very much,” Jarod said. “About the only thing you do love,” he added, “so things must be getting pretty bad to throw her out to the lions again.”

Mister Parker took a deep breath and was red in the face. “Jarod. You can’t interfere. Stay out of this!”

Jarod turned toward Miss Parker. As brave as ever, acting like she was fine while blood dribbled down her mouth. “Are you okay?”

Yes, it irritated her. Yep, she was fine. Jarod knew he was in a tight spot.

Mister Parker. Miss Parker. And a third to the party he never even saw before except in pictures. It was the last place he should be, but he couldn’t let what he saw continue.

His eyes narrowed on Mister Parker. “A sensitive area, the mouth, and with all the secrets, lies, and the suffering she’s been through, what do you think Angelo’s feeling?” He moved forward more toward Mister Parker, not even caring if he was ruining their secret. His voice was low, but his eyes spoke volumes. “There’s no way this lie is going to continue.”

“I knew it!” Bhekumbuso said. “It is all a lie, Jarod is the father!”

“Someone’s a little late to the party,” Jarod joked slightly, knowing it would really get under this superior man’s nerves. Especially since no one else would it seemed. He looked toward Angelo  who was starting to feel better. “Sorry, Angelo. You okay?”

“Angelo . . . not father?”

“No,” Jarod admitted. “That’s my department.” He looked back to Miss Parker that looked mad enough to kick not one ass, but a multitude of them. “You snuck off, naughty girl.” The only one grinning in the room was Sydney.

“It was all fake. A lie.” Bhekumbuso looked toward Mister Parker. “That was a real risk you took.”

“Daddy didn’t try the lie, I came up with it,” Miss Parker said, trying to defend him.

“At ease, honey.” Mister Parker smiled sadly to her. “You have your entire life ahead of you.” He took a deep breath and looked toward Bhekumbuso. “Let’s talk a deal.”

“You know the scrolls?” Bhekumbuso asked.

“Yes, I do,” He breathed slowly. “My grandkids belong to The Centre.”

“My kids don’t belong to The Centre,” Jarod corrected him.

 “Mutumbo would want that. He’s very ‘chummy’ here.” Bhekumbuso glared at him. “Conceivance was in Triumvirate territory, The Triumvirate owns them.”

“You don’t own them either,” Jarod said to the Triumvirate man. They were pushing.

“Yes, but The Centre is the only one who can make a deal that Jarod will accept,” Mister Parker said. “By that right, he’s still ours.”

“I am no one’s!” Jarod yelled. He reached in his jacket and pulled out a gun, moving it between Mister Parker and Bhekumbuso. He was getting tired of their mouths. “Talking about me like I’m still property when I’m the only one holding a gun? Not too bright.”

“We are done with you,” Bhukumbuso said plainly. “The boy named Jarod was found, his task is complete. We only want the Angel carrying angels. As Mister Parker said, deal time.”

“Name and location of your mother, Jarod,” Mister Parker said, “and a clear contract that states no one in The Centre would be coming after you at any time. Have your family back.”

“I’m rebuilding on my own, thanks,” Jarod said.

“And the brother, Kyle,” Bhekumbuso. “That is what The Triumvirate offers.”

Really? They wanted to pull out that trick? “Kyle is dead.”

Even Mister Parker looked at him. “Bhekumbuso?”

“Overstep boundaries, don’t care, small consequence now. Dealing,” Bhekumbuso said.

“He was Centre Property!” Mister Parker looked furious. “Damn that son of mine.”

What? What was that? Jarod looked between them. “Kyle is dead,” he repeated.

“No one dies at The Centre.” Bhekumbuso tilted his head. “The Centre holds nothing but our waste. Storage space. Useless clones that didn’t work. Like, the ‘Kyle’ who died.”

“Clone?” Jarod held his gun straight on Bhekumbuso. “What do you mean?”

“You’re copyrighted to The Centre,” Mister Parker said.

“And because of that, we don’t feel like always sharing our latest technology to each other,” Bhekumbuso said. “The Triumvirate clones not only turn out faster and better, but we can control aging now.”

“What?” Jarod watched the stranger. “Control cloning?”

“Yes, but no copyright to you.”

“Kyle’s . . . alive?” His brother was alive?

“Safe and sound, in the Triumvirate.”

Jarod felt a darkness in his soul start to lift. One that he felt both times he lost Kyle. Once, in an explosion. He didn’t know he survived, he found him again, only to be taken away by Lyle. There was no way to miss it, his brother was used as a transplant for a young boy. He was gone.

But. A clone would be exact in every way. Except one. The experiences. The same man. “Not the Kyle I knew.” His heart sunk once more.

That was like saying Gemini was him. In makeup only. He wasn’t him.

“Red Rock. Dry River, Arizona,” Bhekumbuso confirmed. “Killed by Lyle. Happened to come across? With the one Mutumbo favors most?”

Jarod blinked. “What?”

“Think about it.”

“Lyle killed him.” Jarod breathed hard. “I was there, the whole time. I even donated his heart to . . .”

“And no one dies in the business of The Centre,” Bhekumbuso reminded him.

“Are you saying?” Jarod tried to remember. That day. That wonderful day, finding his brother he thought was dead, and then losing him all over again. All in a day.

“Triumvirate clones are disposable,” Bhekumbuso said plainly.

Jarod breathed harder. “Are you telling me . . .”

“We wanted both of you in the Triumvirate. Mister Lyle only managed one. Not enough to gain The Centre.”

Lyle was out of The Centre. Lyle was gone from The Centre, he was trying to get Jarod to get back in. But that wasn’t it at all. “He wasn’t trying to get back in, he was making a deal to get the whole Centre? Completely?” He tried to keep his gun on them, but he could feel the palpitations inside of him.

His brother.

Could be alive.

“Overstepping, he was one of ours,” Mister Parker grunted.

His brother.

Could be alive.

 “Your real brother. You can ask him facts and he can tell you everything,” Bhekumbuso said. “Brother. Father. Sister. Rebuild wherever you like, and we will not follow. Just give the Triumvirate control to the twin angels.”

“The Triumvirate is not getting a hold of them!” Mister Parker looked at Jarod. “Okay.” He breathed deeply. “I can’t get you your brother, true, but I can get you your mother. We know how she Pretends, we can find her at least every six months. Nabbing her is hard, just like you, but if you know the location, you can do the running.”

“You. Two. Are incredible.” Jarod felt like he couldn’t even breathe. “I can’t believe something as sinister as the two of you exists out there.” Jarod looked between them. Bribing him with his own family. Stealing it.

“Oh, cut the bullshit, Jarod!” Mister Parker yelled. “You know damn well you want to experience childhood. Hm? Look at all the clues you leave behind. No, you want to have your father and mother, have your brother and sister. Experience the family you have. Live your life free, to explore. To relearn. You can’t do that with kids! It’s a burden, not a relief. You don’t want to watch other kids grow up, you want to.”

“You think because I missed out on my childhood.” It never stopped. They never let the pain stop. “I couldn’t raise . . . my own? Without, some kind of, jealousy?” He felt the gun tighter in his hand.

“Psychologically, you never would have chosen to have kids,” Mister Parker said. “I know, Sydney did that comparison for us. You want to be a kid, not have kids. It was never going to be in the cards. So, burden. You’re stuck in this, right? Well, you aren’t abandoning them. My daughter will do just fine.”

“Okay. As usual, we will have to work together with The Centre,” Bhekumbuso said to Mister Parker. “I will be quiet about Angelo. Same plan you have.” Mister Parker nodded. “After the plan, and the watchful eyes turn, I get a twin angel.”

“Split my grandkids?” Mister Parker scoffed. “Ridiculous!” Then, he winced as he heard a bullet.

Jarod fired one between the two of them, unable to take it anymore. “My kids are not a luxury! They aren’t copyrighted, they aren’t for sale, and neither is my brother. So, how about this for a deal?” he asked them. “I take Miss Parker, we take care of our own kids, I’m going to rescue my real brother, if he’s really out there, I will find my real mother, and you are all left with nothing.” He looked toward Miss Parker. “We need to go. I can’t take this much longer.”

“Daddy?” She worked up some nerve. A lot of nerve. It was pouring out. “I.”

“You can do it.” Jarod understood it now. Why ‘Angel’ worked so well on her. Why she always called her father ‘daddy’. Why she could never hold the control with him. “For Angel and Onyssius, you have to do it.”

She glanced toward Jarod a moment, then back to her father. “If I go willingly, Jarod, there will be trouble.”

“I know. I saw the DSA where I was freed with you. I know what will happen if I’m caught, and I will accept it. Especially if it’s where Kyle is.” The Triumvirate. Simulations for food and shelter. Otherwise. “Now come over.”

She still didn’t move.

“I’m not fourteen anymore,” Jarod said to her. “You can’t keep fighting this battle for me.”

 

 “No! Okay, that’s it!” Mister Parker held his finger toward his daughter. “I didn’t want to do this, but I have no choice!” He sighed. “Stay, Angel, and I’ll give you the love of your life back.”

 “Miss Parker,” Jarod commanded. “I will not let my family hurt you, I promise.” Her father was her weakness to her focus. He always had to try harder against him. “Come this way.”

“What do you mean?” Miss Parker asked her father.

“Honey. Some people just don’t work together. You two didn’t, you know, but at this rate I’m willing to bargain,” he muttered. “Bhekumbuso. Need to strike a deal with her too.”

“Deal with me. What?” Miss Parker asked.

 “You were leaving The Centre,” Bhekumbuso said. “Parkers need to run the Centre. Lyle was not everyone’s favorite.”

“I had to do something,” Mister Parker said. “I’m sorry. You know what happens when you cross your focus.” He sighed. “No one ever dies at The Centre. Not even those in The Centre, just business of the Centre.”

“I don’t . . .”

“You unbelievable man.” Jarod already figured it out. “How could you?” Jarod narrowed his eyes on him. “Are you kidding me? To her?”

“What? What are you two going on about?” Miss Parker looked toward her dad. “Daddy?”

 “Thomas.” Jarod looked right at her.

“What?” Miss Parker looked toward her father.

“Thomas Gates is alive,” Mister Parker said. “Haven’t you been listening at all? Clones for the Triumvirate is easy, and they needed the Parkers here. You were leaving, so they helped. So, stay here, and I’ll give him back to you.”

“Tommy?” Blood rushed from her face, and her body felt weak. “Wha . . .?”

“If you go with Jarod though, you’ll never get him back,” Mister Parker said.

Her hand covered her mouth.

Her mouth just hung open as a tear fell from her eye. “You. Knew. Daddy?”

 “I was hoping Jarod would just stay away, and we could get this business handled. He always stays away from The Centre.” Mister Parker looked at her. “Bringing this card out.” He sighed. “Short time with Angelo, one hard night, and soon after I’ll get him back to you.”

What one hard night? Tired of it. If Jarod were a weaker man, he’d use the gun right now. “My brother, Kyle!”

“That is our part,” Bhekumbuso said.

 “Can’t happen,” Mister Parker snapped back. “Just, leave things alone, Jarod. We can work out a deal. Your whole family can go off Centre radar.” He gestured toward Miss Parker. “And guilt, don’t worry about it. You’re not abandoning them, you’re giving them a better life, being raised with Thomas Gates and my daughter.”

Jarod winced involuntarily at the cruelty he kept hearing. More and more and more. “Are you  . . . kidding me?”

“You don’t have the kind of life that you can raise kids in anyhow!” Mister Parker yelled. “Avenging is a dangerous business, if you care about those kids, let Thomas have them instead. He’s in a coma, a little convincing up in the mind and he’ll think it’s only been six months or so. He’ll assume they are his.”

“That’s enough!”  Jarod moved forward closer to Mister Parker, putting the gun straight to his heart.

“Jarod, stop!” Miss Parker yelled out.

But, Mister Parker did something else. Something Jarod didn’t predict. He pulled Jarod’s gun to the left, and caused him to fire.

Hitting Bhekumbuso square in the chest. As he started to fall, Jarod went toward him, trying to save his life.

 

“Angel.” Mister Parker didn’t listen to all the jargon or instructions Jarod was giving them. He watched Sydney as he followed Jarod’s orders to try and save Bhekumbuso. “Come here, sweetheart.” She moved toward him. “Give daddy one last hug. Hm?”

“There’s too much blood. Internal bleeding.” Jarod sighed. “I can’t save him.”

“No, and me neither.” Mister Parker just smiled at his daughter before he fell himself.

“Daddy!” She bent down to him. “What’s wrong?”

“Well. Daddy’s dying, Angel,” he said to her. “And, this time, I won’t be coming back,” he chuckled. “It’s okay, though, it’s supposed to happen this way.”

Jarod moved over toward him. “What did you do?!”

“Anger at the one you wanted to kill for killing himself? You always were the strange one.” Mister Parker groaned. “Stop it, leave me alone! You’ll get a chance. Poke and prod later.”

“What do you mean?” Miss Parker asked, holding his hand. “What did you do?”

 “What did you do?!” Jarod demanded again.

“Daddy!” Miss Parker held him tightly. “What did you do?! Please, tell us!”

“I have what Broots’ daughter has,” he said breathing softly. “The Pretender Alex gave it to me. The cure we made doesn’t work this late in the game, it just helped to . . . keep it at bay. The cure we have now should work for Debbie. There’s a reason Lyle had it and the cure. We’ve been working on it. I didn’t want to upset you, Angel, by making you worry.”

“No.” She shook her head. “No. No one dies at The Centre.”

“Starting now. They will,” he said. “Ah. I wish I could have done something more. I knew from the tingles though, it was over. Even knowing the scrolls, it doesn’t help any. Too vague. Too . . . ah.” He groaned. “Go wait in the other room, Angel. I’m sorry, but my last few breaths have to be for Jarod alone.”

“What?” She felt herself being gently pulled up.

“Come on, Miss Parker, come with me and Angelo. It’s okay.” Sydney’s voice. “Let’s respect your father’s wishes.” He had gone quiet ever since Jarod came to the room.

 

Jarod looked toward Miss Parker and Sydney, making sure they were okay, then looked down at him. “Where is my mother and brother?” He better be trying to make amends before death.

Breathing was getting harder. It looked like he was in pain. “Pocket. Wallet.” Jarod checked and found his wallet. An address on a piece of paper was stuck on the back. “Thomas Gates.”

“This should have gone to Miss Parker,” he said trying to keep the annoyance out of his voice. Yes, he was dying. Yes, Miss Parker was going to be hurt by it. But this was the man, the one responsible for taking him from the ones he loved. Raising him in The Centre. “Where’s my brother? My mother?”

“Honestly?” Mister Parker breathed. “I don’t know, Jarod, gah! I only run The Centre.” His breathing was getting worse. “Most things, I don’t know. Focus, let’s you get it done though. No questions. No secrets. Just get it done.” His breathing capabilities were going. “You’re mother, you’ll see her soon. Your brother, you’ll find him too. Just, keep the twin angels away from the devil, and hold on tight. I’m sorry. I am.” He groaned. “My Angel’s going to do what she can. Follow her lead. Do you understand?”

“You don’t have anything for me.” Jarod just looked at the ground. “The leader of The Centre doesn’t know anything about me.”

“Blast it, Jarod, I’m trying to-“ Not much longer. “Let my Angel, be your Angel. Don’t let her get confused between the angel and devil. He’s not like the others. He’s not a kid. He’s something different. The Triumvirate has him, and he’s . . .”

“He’s what?” Jarod asked. “What?”

“He’s out to get . . . twin . . . devils.” He yelled sharply a second. “Jarod! The Centre can’t run without a Parker. Speak through anonymous phones if you don’t want her to stay, but she has to use it! Lyle’s unfit, Raines is gone. Use it to track the devil. Track him . . . or he’ll steal all the angels.” He yelled sharply one more time. “After that, their fate is up to you. Given enough incentive. Man is capable of almost anything. Remember what I said? Remember it.” One more crack of pain and his whole body went loose.

Jarod watched him, checking his pulse. He was dead. His eyes laid open. At no point could he have been changed since saying everything. He was dead, he knew everything about Miss Parker, and even said goodbye.

The fact that he even had to think about all that first was disturbing. But it was over. Twin angels. Devils. He plugged everything he could into his memory. He may not know what everything meant, but he would have it for later.

For now, he moved toward the room with Miss Parker. She was in there, her eyes casted down. Angelo was slightly off in the distance and Sydney was beside her.

“It’s over. We need to get moving,” Jarod said gently.

“I don’t . . .”

“Come on.” Her whole body was shaking. She hid the pain, but not well. “You need to get out of here, Sydney.”

“The Triumvirate will come for The Centre.” Miss Parker finally spoke. “Lyle has been deemed unfit, Raines is missing, and my father is dead. We have to go, Syd. Get Broots. Say you’re tracking Jarod or something, I don’t care. We have to go.”

“Tracking me?” No, she was out of it. “We need to get back to Debbie and Gemini.”

 “No, we need to get Broots. We need to get access to The Centre. We need to . . .” her eyes started to close and Jarod picked her up.

“Mild sedative.” Jarod threw the needle on the ground. He was dealing with Miss Parker, and he couldn’t risk her getting out of control with him so he created his own gentle sedatives. “She’ll be fine. I’ll get back in touch soon. Are you sure this phone you gave me is safe?”

“Yes, Jarod. No one knows about it.” Sydney looked toward her. “I don’t know for sure the capacity of The Triumvirates. It’s always been higher than The Centre. At other times, it’s almost like The Centre mocked them. I always assumed they were only another version of The Centre, but . . .”

“I don’t know. Kyle could be alive though.” Jarod held her tight. “Hidden in The Triumvirate. Somehow.”

 “Keep an eye on her, Jarod, you can’t let her come back again,” Sydney said. “I hope that you do find him alive.”

“Yeah. Hope.” He tried not to let hope spring too high. The Centre never gave anyone hope for too long. “What was this floating bed bridge?” Jarod asked. “I caught the end of that conversation.”

Sydney sighed. “Nothing, Jarod, that concerns you. It will waste time to explain it or its history.”

“Must start searching . . .” Miss Parker breathed in her sleep. “Must search . . .”

 “Focus is even in her sleep.” He looked toward Sydney again. “I better get going.” Card. Brother alive. Mister Parker dead. Thomas in a coma. Twin Angels. “I really better get going.”

------------------------

Jarod’s Place the Next Morning . . .

 

“So, I’m all better?” Debbie asked as she braved the needle and had a bandage placed on her.

“Hopefully. We’ll know in a few days,” Jarod said with a smile. “If you are, you can go back home.” He wasn’t prepared for the hug he got.

“Thank you, Jarod!” She squeezed him tighter. “I miss my dad!”

“I know.” Someone else would too, when she woke up. He watched Gemini come into the room. “Ready to go back home soon?”

“It is where the heart is supposed to reside.” Gemini didn’t add to it. He just looked out the window. “I want to remember every detail I can.” He waved out the window at some boys his age. “Jarod?”

“Yeah.” Jarod was finally released from the death grip hug of Debbie.

“This was a wonderful experience.” He moved away from the window and looked to Debbie. “I enjoyed being your brother.”

“Yeah.” She bopped her head a little. “It was kinda cool being your sister. Kind of. It was fun hanging out.”

Uh oh. Jarod tried to hide a smile. It looked like Gemini experienced more than just a little stimulation from the outside world. Debbie too.

“Would you like to sit down and watch a stimulating program without murdering animals inside of it?”

“No documentary?” Debbie came closer to him. “Cool. Let’s go.”

Jarod certainly didn’t mean for that to happen. They were supposed to be pretending to be brother and sister. Well, what Broots doesn’t know. Although he wouldn’t be surprised in a few years if Gemini  found a way to ‘accidentally’ attend her school.

Speaking of playing Cupid, Jarod knew the stress level inside of Miss Parker must be at an all- time high. Her father was dead, no mystery to ponder, just dead. The love of her life wasn’t actually a long distance away, but she was carrying Jarod’s kids.

He knew from experience with Zoe, it didn’t make for happy endings. And considering how far she was already stressed, he was going to get to the answer first, so she wouldn’t have to worry.

It wasn’t hard to find the information once he knew what to look for and where. Thomas Gates had been sent to the hospital for a coma, but more than two years ago he was released. For some reason, he didn’t return to Blue Cove, or at least contact Miss Parker. That part, he didn’t know about either. Another reason he wanted to handle this first.

He wouldn’t ask him anything about Miss Parker. Just call him up as his old friend first, like he used to. He grabbed the home phone and made the call.

“Hello?”

“Hey, Thomas,” Jarod said, happy to hear his voice. “It’s Jarod, remember me?”

“Oh. Jarod? Wow, I haven’t heard from you for . . . hm, years hasn’t it been?”

“Yeah. Lost touch. Heard you were in a coma.”

“Some time ago, yeah. I called your number but it said it had been disconnected. I looked for you, but couldn’t find your last name.”

“I go through a lot of phones,” Jarod admitted. “Name change too. So? How’s it been?”

“Doing great.”

“Still in construction?”

“Absolutely. Nothing like building the world.”

“Yeah.” That’s why Jarod had liked him. “Did you ever make contact with anyone else? I mean, why were you in a coma in the first place?”

“See, that’s the scary thing, Jarod. I don’t know how it happened. I fell asleep, and then I woke up like two years later. Man, after that experience, I just had to get out.”

“That is strange.” The Centre didn’t even try for an accident. “What about the girl you were seeing?”

He sighed. “Missy.”

“Yeah. Her,” Jarod said.

“I’d been gone two years, and, I don’t know. I. My house, my job, my whole identity pretty much. It all just seemed to go offline. Everything just . . . I had to restart again. I had to get out and restart again. Besides, I wanted to get out anyhow and move to Oregon before all this and she didn’t want to. Maybe I could have convinced her, but showing up in her life again like that. It didn’t feel fair.”

“You were scared she’d have someone else?” Jarod asked.

“Yeah. It doesn’t matter, its ancient history now. I probably would have lost her when I went to Oregon.”

“Maybe not. Maybe she loved you more than you think,” Jarod said.

“I don’t know. What are you up to?”

“Oh, this and that.” Damn. How was he going to do this? “What if she did love you, now, but she was stuck in a predicament. Say, pregnant with another man’s kid. But, it was an accident. How would that make you feel?”

“Oh, Jarod. Not these twenty questions right now. I forgot how much you like to analyze stuff. Oh. Here sweetie, here’s your ball.”

Jarod heard the sound of a small ball, and laughter of a small child on the phone. Oh no. Life moved on for him. He heard a woman’s voice calling out too. “Sorry about the analyzing. You know me.”

“Yep, I sure do,” Thomas chuckled. “Anyhow, I gotta go. Great hearing from you again. Stay in touch, Jarod.”

Jarod hung up the phone. Maybe it was for the best? Zoe never even left him an opening. Thomas might have been the same way.

“Is mom going to be getting up soon, Dad?” Gemini asked coming back into his room.

Jarod was going to tell him that he wanted her to rest at least a couple of days, but as he looked toward Gemini and Debbie’s hands, something else fell out of his mouth. “Brothers and sisters don’t usually hold hands like that.”

“They bond very close,” Gemini said. “I believe that sometimes the older sibling holds the hand of the younger one.”

Jarod glanced at Debbie. She was glowing red. “Sometimes. You two go relax, play, and enjoy the day. I’ve got some work to do.” He watched them sail out of the house like they were on a summer breeze to go play outside.

The way Miss Parker reacted, it sounded like The Centre might be a little vulnerable right now, and he wanted to dig deeper into it. Maybe he could find out about Kyle, if he was alive. Or his mother. Or maybe even into Miss Parker. If she was really preventing me from being given to The Triumvirate, there must be a letter or two.

He had no idea how wrong he was with just ‘a letter or two’.

------------------------

The Deepest Parts of Africa

 

“I don’t want to open it, you open it.”

“No, you.”

“Come on, fellas,” Jarod said. “I’m not going to bite. I just need out. You know what Bhek said.”

“It is true,” the worked looked at the other one. “They said we have to. Let’s just give him the injection and open it. On the count of three.”

“You do the injection.”

“You do the injection.”

“Why don’t I do the injection?” Jarod held his hand out for the needle. It was quickly dropped in his hand while each one moved a long ways away. Jarod expertly gave himself his injection and dropped it to the ground. “Okay, guys. You have to open the doors. In order to let a person out. This is basic hospitality, one on one.”

“I hold left. You hold right.” Each of them trembled as they held their hands over the release buttons. As soon as the alarm started to sound, they split.

The door started to go up. Jarod walked out, watching it go up. He trotted away to a giant helicopter waiting for him. “Oh, look, a helicopter.” How neat. He approached it with a wide, big smile. “I’ve never flown one before. This is going to be a great adventure.”

“The Triumvirates now have control over the Centre. There are no Parkers running it, which makes things complicated,” the Zulu inside of it said. “Your information is on the side. You have all copies of every Pretend Jarod has done with any copies of any ID’s. Pick one.”

“Super,” Jarod said. “But calling me Jarod, and calling him Jarod is a little confusing,” he pointed out. He smiled. “I should add to my name. What’s my last name?”

“Triumvirate calls you Devil.”

Jarod nodded. “Jarod Devil. Hm. I like Hades better. How about Hades? Jarod Hades. I like that. It sounds real.”

“Fine, Jarod Hades.”

“Yes?” he chuckled. “Yes, I like it.” Jarod took the papers and looked through them. He whistled. “Jarod’s been busy, hasn’t he?” He chattered his teeth. “I want to try gum again.”

“You can try some before you accomplish your goal. One only.”

“Well alright, I can’t wait!” He jumped into the helicopter. “This is great. Do I get to learn how to fly one of these things?”

“Probably.”

“Actually, I should already know. I just finished a simulation over the helicopter. Bhek said he wanted to see how good I could be.”

“I am flying it right now.”

 

“Not anymore.” Jarod smiled at him, grabbed him by his jacket, and listened to the sound of the pilot’s echoes as he scooted over, taking the place of the screaming man. “Echoes are neat up here.” He looked at all the buttons and gadgets. He felt himself becoming a pilot behind the wheel, just like in the simulation. Except now it was real. “Whoo hooo!” He yelled happily. “Real world, here I come again.”

Chapter Text

-----------------------------

Jarod’s Safety House . . .

 

Miss Parker sat up and touched her head. How long had she been out? Looking around, she had a vague clue. “Damn, Jarod.” She moved out of her bed, remembering what just happened. Angelo rumor. Getting out of control. Jarod showing up. Bhekumbuso being shot by her father, and her father dying of whatever Debbie had.

She had just taken control of the situation, and Jarod took her out of it. She went to the closet to get some fresh clothes on. As she opened the door, she saw the strangest sight. At least fifteen of her mother’s pregnancy clothes were all in there. Impossible. There’s no way Jarod would do that for her.

Then, she started to hear it. Jarod’s voice. Except it was something she wasn’t prepared for. It had nothing to do with the twins, Angelo, his family, her father, or anything like that. In fact, they should be words he shouldn’t know because he should never have known to look.

She was caught, off guard, as he read them from the half opened bedroom door.

“Subject is hard to control. Request sending to The Triumvirate,” his voice echoed. “Month after month. Denied, denied, denied, by daddy.” He punctuated denied each time by throwing a paper in the air.

She looked behind her, feeling like she’d just been caught completely nude in front of Jarod. Even tightening her robe didn’t change the feeling she felt.

He continued walking into the room with more papers repeating ‘denied, denied, denied’ as three more papers fell from his hand. “Requests of urgency to let The Triumvirate capture him and they have all been denied thus far.” He started reading another paper. “To The Triumvirate, from the daughter of the former leader, Mister Parker. However humble I may be . . .”

She took off and fled to the bathroom. She never fled, but Jarod was hitting her with something she was unprepared for.

 

“Jarod the Pretender has not lost his sense of sanity,” Jarod continued to speak, right by the bathroom door. “While he has remained uncaptured, he has hurt no one and in fact has an excellent track record of saving those he helped. Attached are copies once again of all the exemplary things Jarod has done, with special notes about saving my father in an assassination attempt, as well as a fellow Centre member. I urgently implore you to give us more time. Any punishments for the lack of conduct so far shall be taken by me on behalf of my team, African punishments or otherwise.”

Jarod stopped quoting the papers. “I’ve been in some heavy Pretends, Miss Parker. I’ve never been in one since I was fourteen years old like you.” He knocked on the door. “Please answer? I’ve been waiting for you to wake up for this.”

“Go back to The Centre!” she finally said.

“I don’t know what happened last time,” Jarod said, “but I saw the DSA. You freed me from The Centre for a night.” He knocked on the door, urgently wanting to see her. “You freed me. I don’t know what happened between there and The Centre, and all I have are all these papers you wrote on my behalf. Just more and more. But, I want to know. Why did I get stuck as an officer?”

“I. Don’t. Know.”

Jarod grabbed the door handle and felt her weight against it. “You should have told me.” He tried again. “Miss Parker, let me see you?”

“No!”

He did it. He could hear it. He was breaking through her focus because he understood it now. Why she tried so hard to capture him, yet still knew how to talk to him like a friend when she had to. Why they went from being the only people they really trusted, to becoming enemies. “You did everything he said, and he denied The Triumvirate. I’ve got so many letters from you I dug up all day and last night, personally trying to address them. You took copies of my red book work and you sent it to them, with hours of notes and details, trying to keep me from being captured by them.” Please. He tried to open the door again, but her weight was still pressed on it. “You personally took punishments for being incompetent, to continue to pursue me.”

He hit the door wanting to see her so bad. When he first found out about it in Blue Cove, he didn’t have that much time to look into it. He knew she saved him, even Lyle stressed that point, but he had no idea how much until they returned safely back to the house with Gemini and Debbie.

That’s when he dragged out his laptop. With no one running the Centre, he got scoops of information, not only on facts about his family, including Kyle’s disappearance, and Tommy’s coma, but once he started looking at the document and letter history.

It all fell out of the bottom. Every letter, every addressal, every memo. What he held in his hands to read were only a few. “I don’t know what The Triumvirate would have done, but it’s clear from how much you’ve been rebelling against it, that it would have been a bad place.”

No answer. He sighed. “Miss Parker? Thank you,” he finally said.

“You’re thanking me?” She finally spoke. “I. I almost lost . . .”

“No, you didn’t. What you did was right,” Jarod said. “You freed me, and that’s where I belonged. Out there. I don’t know what happened, but it wasn’t a mistake. I would have snapped out of it eventually, I couldn’t keep it up.” He moved closer against the door again. “I know that I said only Raines or Sydney could have done it before, but there was one other way.” He sighed softly. ”Now, I fell into an officer,why did I do that?”

He already knew the answer. He wanted to hear it from her though.

Two fourteen year olds at night, no parental supervision, a huge place with multiple kinds of strangers. One, beautiful and developing into a young lady, and the other a clueless kid who probably looked in every direction but straight. “Easy targets, weren’t we?”

He heard it. That crack in her. He hit it.

“Ah!I outran a freaking Lion, Jarod, I was able to handle it! Everything was fine, they didn’t know my training, I took their gun, and they ran off. I yelled stop because I didn’t want the bastard to get away.”

“Stop. Gun. So much exposure at once after leaving the Centre.” Jarod nodded. “It’s a trick. Sydney would call it ‘survival’. I took the lessons in my head that must have been roaring up front and placed myself there.” He sighed. “It was right after the handcuff officer experiment with Raines too, jutting it into my brain that much further.”

 He tapped the door softly. “I wanted to be someone who could help. But, I don’t do that anymore. Younger Pretenders can have it happen, their minds aren’t quite developed enough,” he said. “Gemini still has ‘survival’.”

He knocked gently on her door. “It’s over. You don’t have to fight me to bring me in. I can’t go into ‘survival’. Do you understand that? I can call Sydney, right now if you want, to confirm it.”

“This entire time . . . you’ve just . . .”

Yes. Yes, yes, yes! “Even in survival mode, I would have come out by 0900,” he said. “Sydney would have told you that but you didn’t tell him the truth. Not that I blame you,” he said. “I can’t blame you for anything.”

“Don’t. Start.”

“I thought The Centre changed you and you were lost forever to me,” Jarod admitted. “I thought maybe I could help bring you back again, if even a little, but I never imagined . . . that you never left. Fooling a Pretender. You are good.” He heard a groan from her.

“This isn’t the time, Jarod.” Crack. “My father is dead, even you witnessed it. He couldn’t have been a clone, he knew things.” Crack. “A Triumvirate leader was killed, the one with the strongest power.” Crack.  He could hear her cracking more and more. “So much happening right now, I have to get to Broots.”

“Even as enemies, I couldn’t hate you, and now that I know the truth . . .” He started speaking in Afrikaans from her words again. “I know that I am but a humble subservient of The Centre, which is a humble subservient to you. Although Jarod continues to elude us, The Triumvirates rules of a village raising a child must be presented for you to see in the most modern of ways. While Jarod lacks his own identity, he is out there helping the rest of his family, everyone in America that cries out for injustice.”

“Stop, Jarod don’t-“

He finished it in Afrikaans. “Even the personal experience I witnessed of helping a little girl whose parents were killed trying to save their child. He became their parent and gave her what they couldn’t.  In this way, bumping Jarod in such a vengeful way is a mockery to the history and the culture of the Zulus. I implore you, I shall take the punishments for my team, and any wrong doing of Jarod in your eyes.”

“Jarod, for the love of-“

“I’ve missed so many years with you. There’s no way I’m just letting my old friend go back to The Centre.”

“I’m not a friend. It’s not . . . I don’t, you’re supposed to . . .”

This time, when he pushed the door in, she was no longer bothering to hold it. Her body was over on the other side of the bathroom, her head beside the toilet.

He knelt down to her, and caught a glimpse from her eye. “Hello, Miss Parker.” She moaned softly. “Been a long time since I’ve seen the real you.” He gently patted her back. “This focus, it made it really hard to find you in this shell you’ve been covering yourself in.”

“Why’d you bring back some of my momma’s clothes?” she asked softly. “Parisian style doesn’t fit pretends.”

“I can’t offer much. Least I could do is that. There is one other thing,” Jarod said. “I already looked into it. As his friend first, I found Thomas. He fell out of the coma two years ago. He was afraid you might have moved on, so he didn’t contact you. Now he has his own family. With me, he lost touch. Phones aren’t something that can stay the same for me.”

“ . . . Tommy . . .” So breathless. “He’s alive.”

“So’s Kyle. Those . . .” It was hard to speak. “What were you saving me from because it’s exactly what Kyle’s going through now. Is it what Lyle said?” Jarod asked. “Do you choose to do Sims, or are you forced to live in the wild? Is that true?”

“I failed.” She retched in the toilet. Jarod didn’t care. He’d seen a lot worse in the many fields he’d been in. “We need to get Broots. We need to get going. Get all the old information out, Jarod.” Her head was swimming. “You’ve got to listen to me, I know I’m not in the best shape right now, but don’t baby me, you don’t understand . . . listen. Please.”

/// “My Angel already knows. She’s going to do what she can. Follow her lead. Do you understand? Let my Angel, be your Angel.”///

“I’m listening,” Jarod agreed.

“Good. Then, before I say this?” She was obviously trying to keep herself in control. “I’m . . . I’m sorry, Jarod. This was my fault.”

“Nothing to be sorry about,” Jarod answered.

“The Triumvirate, after that act, and no one at The Centre, can now fully take on your case.” She took a deep breath. “When I was with Tommy, I had decided to go to Oregon with him, but he didn’t know that. It took a lot, because I had to . . .”

“Lose focus,” Jarod said. “No more capture and bring me to The Centre. But, you did it.”

“They knew I would though. It didn’t get very far, but after I researched more I found a terrible truth. A truth even my mother never knew. The Triumvirates, keep to themselves. They rule, but . . .” She ducked her head into the toilet again. “I’m such a loser, how could I let this happen?”

Jarod rubbed her back again. “It’s alright, Miss Parker. Is there anything I can do?”

“Oh god, if you say ‘can I analyze you’, goody two shoes, Boy Genius, I will kick your butt.”

Jarod smiled. Later. After all this time, she was definitely on his list though. Reallyhigh up there.

“The Triumvirates were doing cloning a long time before The Centre. Think of them as . . . two kids working on the same math problem,” she said. “One’s gonna get the answer faster than the other.”

“So they did excel at cloning?” Jarod said.

“Yes, but they have a sharing pot with The Centre, because of the scrolls. They get rights to some things. The Centre gets rights to other things. Playing in the Triumvirate, is like playing with The Centre, fifty years in the future. There’s no telling what they have.”

“That’s my problem, for me. All you need to do is calm down.”

“Daddy’s gone. He’s really gone, I feel it this time, I know he’s gone.”

“Yeah, he is.”

“Thomas is alive.” She closed her eyes. “He’s alive. How could that happen?”

Jarod scratched his head. “Same way Kyle’s alive. I just, I’m trying to think when they could have switched him. Did Lyle plan the whole time in Dry River with the clone, or did he steal his clothes somewhere along the line? Even now.” He shook his head. “More questions than answers.”

“For once I’d like more answers than questions.” Miss Parker tried to get up. “I hate morning sickness.”

“I don’t think it’s all morning sickness,” Jarod said. “You were in a Pretend for fourteen years on me.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said.

“You pretended to be my enemy, so you could continue to be a real friend,” he said softly. He knocked his fist ever so softly against her cheek, in a buddy style. “Thanks.”

She didn’t answer back.

“Breakfast?”

She still didn’t answer back. She just closed her eyes. “Stop being nice. You’re a tease and an ass. Get out so I can change.”

Jarod just helped her up. “You convinced your father that I should add another Sim every day to earn all my meals,” he said in his defense. “I had to catch up to a high number by the end of the year.”

“Yep.”

 “You also convinced your dad that I should have been working over the cold time. I know it as Christmas now,” he said. “You said I was behind, and that I should catch up on 18 Sims before I even got another morsel of food. I would have starved if it wasn’t for Sydney sneaking me in food.”

“Yep.”

“Did that more than once. After awhile, Sydney stopped taking vacations, period. He didn’t even take off Sunday, he was there, every day, unsure of what treachery you were going to convince your daddy to do next to me.”

“Hm.”

“You did all of it to protect me though, from the Triumvirate. Sneaky Miss Parker. That part never changed,” Jarod teased. “Let’s get you some fresh air. You look like you need it.”

“Don’t start.” She moved away from him. “You’re nothing more than a lab rat, I’m just trying to bring you in, no matter what it takes. Or took. Or when I can. Now, out already.”

Jarod left the bathroom, as well as her room. He closed the door but continued to talk to her. “Do you remember the ‘survival’ I went into, Miss Parker?” Jarod said softly. “You went into one too, all those years ago, so you could do what you had to. You used your own Pretending skills.”

“I’m not a Pretender. Far from it,” she said from inside the room.

“Maybe, maybe not, but the result was the same.” All he wanted to do was hold her. Stare into the eyes that he once knew. Find her, hiding deep inside. Knowing she was in there, somewhere. For years, she had trained herself to be a certain way. Act a certain way toward him. If he could get past that, then maybe . . . “Can I-“

“Don’t say it,” she warned him as she opened the door. “Don’t say it. I am so warning you, you better not say it.”

 

-----------------------------------------

///“Morning, Jarod,” A young Miss Parker said waving at him through his glass.

“Good Morning, Miss Parker.” He was tapping his pencil. “Can I analyze you today?”

“No,” she said.///

///“Hey, Jarod,” A young Miss Parker said as she tapped on the glass.

Young Jarod was climbing out of his floating ball and looked back toward her. “Good Morning, Miss Parker. Is there something I can do for you today?”

“No. I just wanted to see you.”

“Can I analyze you then?”///

///“You’ve grown,” Jarod said as he caught her before she caught him. “How much have you grown?”

“I don’t know. Since when?” She asked. “An inch or two this year?”

“Can you be more specific, please?///

------------------------------------------

 

“Ooh, goodness.” Miss Parker looked into the living room where Debbie and Gemini were watching TV together. She was dressed finally, and away from Jarod. Now that he knew the truth about her, she felt uncomfortable around him.

She treated him like worthless shit after that night she dealt with her father. Even when she went after him to chase him down, she never gave him nice words. She didn’t have to be as crude anymore, but he was bringing it out as well with the games he played with her.

And he did that because she treated him like shit in The Centre. Full circle.

Jarod was starting to break the circle and that was scary. Last time that circle broke, they were in Carthis. And she needed that circle to stay a circle. She couldn’t turn back time to when they were fourteen year olds again. Things weren’t the same. Their worlds weren’t the same. “Am I interrupting something?”

Gemini looked behind him. “Not at all, mom.” He looked toward his hand that Debbie let go of. “Why did you let go of my hand, Sis?”

“Nevermind. As you were. I need coffee. And a bullet to the head.” Her brain felt fried. Jarod had no idea what was coming for him. She was too wiped out to get it across.

“Too much caffeine in coffee,” Jarod said from behind, “and the second request isn’t available either.”

She smelled the waft of orange juice beneath her nose. “If that’s got vodka in it, we’re talking.” She took it, of course knowing nothing was in it. Enjoy it while she could. Everything was about to be sent to hell. In a matter of hours, Jarod would be screaming.

“Oh, Miss Parker!” Debbie’s face was radiant as she came over to see her. “That’s so pretty.”

“Thank you,” she said stroking her dress. “It was my momma’s.”

“Well, it’s really beautiful.” Debbie looked toward Jarod. “Isn’t she beautiful?”

 

Instinct. A question asked and he automatically started to discern the answer. “Well, her hair is a mess, and the shoes don’t match at all, which mixed with the fact that it was designed by some of Paris’ best custom designers, it leaves a lot to be said for it.” He stared at her longer. “But the beauty about life is the imperfectness of it all, plus Catherine Parker wore it when she was having her daughter, and that same daughter is wearing it now.” He looked toward Miss Parker who finally looked at him straight.

As in straight. As in he wasn’t an ass, or a puzzle giver, or the reason for everything that went wrong in her life. Like he was the simple boy behind the glass again. Just. Breathlessly. Real. “Beautiful.”

Just like that, the look was gone and she looked away. “Uh. Thanks, Debbie. Jarod. I think.”

For a moment, she was there, she was right there. “Can I-“

“No, don’t ask me for anything.”

“Really simple question?” he said walking after her.

“It better be real simple,” she said gruffly.

“Can I measure the fundal height again?” Jarod asked her. She rubbed her mouth. Even that annoyed her.

“How about you call Broots to get in contact with me on your little phone,” she bribed him, “and I’ll let you spend all the time you want to try and feel a kick.”

Jarod didn’t even waste time answering as he pulled out the phone Sydney gave him.

“Can I feel them too?” Debbie asked.

“It could take awhile, depends on how restless they are.” She mosied over to the couch. “I’ll just sit on the couch and everybody can just go at my belly. I get the remote though.” Might as well let them all have their moment.

It wouldn’t last long.

“I get to feel it too?” Gemini said. “The life inside of you that is growing but cannot survive in this world yet without your body and nutrients?”

Miss Parker sat down. Debbie was the first to touch her stomach. “Could take a little while. I don’t really know,” she said. “Angelo felt it right away.”

 

“Sydney, there you are,” Jarod said on the phone. “Listen, what’s happening at The Centre?”

“Still nothing Jarod, from the last time you called,” Sydney said. “If something happens, I will let you know.”

“Hm. I need a favor. Can you give Broots this number?” Jarod asked. “Only Broots, but I need him to call on this phone. Please?”

“Of course, Jarod. When?”

“Soon as possible if you could?” Jarod asked. He looked over at Debbie trying to feel around the tummy to get a kick while Miss Parker just drunk her orange juice like it was going out of style.

“Well. I’ll see what I can do.”

“Thanks.” Jarod hung up and wiggled the phone over to her. “Any second.”

“I don’t feel anything,” Debbie said.

“Yeah, it comes and goes,” Miss Parker admitted.

“Where are you feeling it from?” Jarod knew the chances of feeling it too weren’t spectacular, but knowing Angelo felt them before he did? It irritated him.

 “I felt it!” Gemini laughed. “It was a funny vibration. Right here.” It was on her lower middle left side. Debbie put her hand there and smiled. “You felt it too, right?”

“That’s just great.” Jarod was still staring at the phone.

“This can’t end good,” Miss Parker muttered. “Fine, Wonder Boy, you can feel too, have at it. It’s just a belly.”

Really? He laid his hand right where the kids felt it. He felt nothing. “They sure do like to tease.” He felt around the area. Angelo felt it. Gemini felt it. Debbie even felt it.

Then, right before he brought his hand away, he felt it. Tiny. Soft. Vibration. He knew well what the kicks were supposed to feel like, having felt many in his medical Pretends. He looked down toward her, but she had met her eyes to his already.

“Happy?” she asked.

Jarod felt another kick in the same area. They were moving. His kids were moving inside of her. But those eyes. They weren’t just tired and weary. They were eyes of desperation. Of hiding dangerous knowledge. But not dangerous in themselves. Pleading, sorrowful.

She moved them back away, but Jarod already figured it out.

Miss Parker knew something was coming, and it was going to be bad.

 

 

------------------------------

Chapter Text

Detroit

Jarod Hades dusted a little something off his expensive purple gigolo shirt as he knocked on the door. He watched as a middle aged woman answered the door. "Hi there, remember me?"

"Uuuh, Jarod?" She blinked, taken back several breaths as he pushed his way into the house.

"Gosh, your house is just as pretty as I remember it," Jarod said as he looked around. He watched a man come from the back. "Howard, right?" He snapped his fingers at him and winked. "Never forget a name. Remember me?" He smiled and gestured to himself. "I bought you those Paris tickets for you and your wife. You know, to reconnect after I screwed her."

"What?! No. Uh." Joyce shook her head at her husband. "It was never like that."

"You called me up from the service," Jarod chuckled. "Come on, Joyce. I screwed you while your husband was living right above you." He looked toward Howard. "That'd be you."

"What are you doing, Jarod?" Joyce looked like she was going to become unglued. "Howard, I don't know why he's here."

"The service sent me."

"No, I did not hire another person."

"Well, you didn't hire another person," Jarod said. "You hired me. Jarod Heart. Cause you know I get the job done."

"No! No! I swear, Howard!" She tried to reason with her husband.

"Ooh. I was supposed to wait until after he was further out of the house this time?" Jarod asked with a wince. "I got confused. It didn't matter last time."

"No! No!" She pushed Jarod and ran to Howard. "I swear, honey, nothing, I'm not doing anything! He's off his rocker, please!"

Howard looked from his wife to Jarod. From his wife back to Jarod.

"Oh, I can't lie," Jarod said, tossing his hand across like it's no big thing. "The truth is, I'm not here to service your wife again, sir. She hasn't called the service. I just thought I'd have a little fun Pretending." He went to the front door and locked it. "Actually, I'm here just to kill you in a flashy style, and hopefully get a little Angel to follow me." He smiled at the both of them. "So? How do you want to do this?" He pulled a knife out of his pocket. "Die together in each other's arms? One at a time?"

He watched as Howard attempted to get the gun out of the closet. He aimed it right at him. "My, my, Howard. Bold move considering you only put bullets in that when you go hunting, but you're next hunting trip isn't for two weeks."

He went right over and snatched it. Then he put the knife back down on a nearby end table, reached into his pocket and started to put in his own bullets. "Don't worry though, I got the bullets for you." He cocked it at them. "Jarod's Valentine day reunited couple. He's sure to remember this one."


Jarod's Previous Lair

Broots was mere days away from getting from The Centre for good with Debbie. Once she came back. Until then, he had to deal with the presence of the one who stuck her with a needle in the first place.

Mister Lyle. The Triumvirate let him out, to help in the search for Jarod. He was moving around a new place of Jarod's, except that Broot's knew it couldn't be so. Jarod was down in Summerlin.

Broots watched him back and forth while Sydney stepped out for the phone. He didn't seem to even act like he did anything wrong. Getting Miss Parker pregnant. Using Jarod's bodily fluids without permission. Giving Debbie a shot that would eventually kill her. Nope, no remorse at all.

Focus. Scary. "Okay, our boy already learned about Valentine's day a long time ago," Lyle said. "I know I wasn't here, but I read the report. Same city too. Helped a, um." Snapped his fingers. "Cynthia Sloane. To stop destroying homes. This, however, isn't anything related to that." He sauntered around and looked down. "Well. That's new. Ick."

Broots and Sydney both came by the stairs where Lyle was sauntering around.

"I-It's the romance novel Jarod wrote of Miss Parker," Broots commented, disgusted. "But, it's. Ew."

"This fascination with my sister is getting sick, even for me." Lyle pulled on some gloves and grabbed the book. "It looks like it was read a thousand times and it's covered in stains. Ugh."

"Worn down. You can only barely see the image on the front," Sydney noted.

"Yeah, through all the stains of a sexual nature." Lyle bagged it. "The hell is wrong with Jarod? He just kidnapped her, why waste time with this?"

Sydney looked offended. "Mister Lyle, it may not be that kind of fluid." Sydney looked at the book. "It seems water-soaked. Let me see it."

"Have at it. He's your monkey doing the jerking."

Sydney put on his own gloves and looked at the book. He opened the pages up. "Water has stuck the pages together, but you can clearly see all the soil marks. Dirt, all over this book."

"It's a dirty book," Lyle said. "Can't miss the reference, Sydney."

"No, Lyle." Frustrating. "Dirt. Earth. Soil." He shook the book and more dirt fell off. "This book wouldn't get this wear and tear from average use."

"It's like it's been through a jungle," Broots agreed.

"This book has been through a jungle?" Lyle asked. "Great, so, our great Jarod is out in the jungle somewhere, holding Jane hostage while looking at porn."

"I still believe that Jarod did not mean to shoot Bhekumbuso," Sydney said, "and I do not believe Jarod is prone to leaving America." Sydney looked back at the book, seeing if he could discover anything else from it. Was Jarod leaving clues to steer The Centre away from his true destinations?

"Whatever. Let's get the lab to analyze the soil so we can figure out where the ape's hanging around at." Lyle took the book back. "But, still, FYI, Sydney?" He chuckled. "Water isn't white."

Broots shuddered at that.

"Finally gone. Repulsive." Sydney tried to shake it off and looked toward Broots. He slipped him a piece of paper. "Jarod wants you to call him immediately."

"Oh. Uh? Okay." Broots looked out the window to check on Lyle. "I hate him, I really do." He looked toward Sydney. "But, um? He's right there."

"Right where?"

"Water isn't white." He dialed the phone number.


Jarod's Home . . .

The touching moment of Jarod feeling the kicking was instantly interrupted as Miss Parker seized the phone when it rang. "What Broots, tell me you got something going on now. Anything weird, out of the ordinary. The Triumvirate owns The Centre. No scratch that, The Centre is just a place for them to monitor, a new branch for them. Something has got to be going on, my bitch senses are tingling like crazy."

"Well, uh, good morning to you too?"

"Broots!" Miss Parker shouted. "You can't tell me nothing is happening."

"Well, um, Mister Lyle is helping us in Jarod's new, uh, lair."

"Jarod doesn't have a new lair," Miss Parker said. "You know that, Broots."

Jarod raised his eyebrow. "No time to do just about anything yet. What new lair? Where?"

"Where are you now?"

"Detroit. This place, it's got Jarod written all over it though. Small innocent things like candy hearts. There are cookies, with m and m's inside, and candy heart boxes and valentines just all over the place. Like um, last time."

"That does sound like him." Miss Parker looked to Jarod. "We didn't miss some second Valentine's day card lair in the past, did we?"

"You've never missed any, period," Jarod said. "That would only give me hope, and you know The Centre hates doing that."

Miss Parker got back on the phone. "Anything unique, Broots?"

"Well, um, yes? The romance novel Jarod wrote for you is here. It's covered in soil and it's badly damaged, like it survived the jungle. It's also. Um."

"Also what, Broots?" Miss Parker asked.

"Can I talk to Jarod instead?"

"No."

"Oh. Um. Well? Please?"

"Fine." She wasn't going to get an answer. She looked toward Jarod again. He would have to get involved at some point. She would have to keep her focus strong. It didn't feel like she had any left. She had to be strong though, for everyone. "Broots wants to talk to you."

Jarod took the phone. "What's unique in this so-called lair of mine?"

"The romance novel you wrote for Miss Parker is here," Broots said. "It's covered in soil, and it's badly damaged. And it's umm."

"And?" Jarod asked.

"It's covered in what appears to be . . . white stuff that . . . intercoursing nature?"

Jarod looked back toward Miss Parker. "What?"

"What is it?" Miss Parker asked.

Jarod moved away from her stomach and started to leave the room. He looked back to make sure she didn't get up. Gemini must have sensed he wanted her to stay there, because he got right on top of her stomach with his ear and started talking about the process of what was going on inside of her. "Broots."

"Yeah, Jarod?"

"Test it too. Find out who the hell it is."

"Yeah. I'm sure we will."

He hung up, remembering what Mister Parker and Bhekumbuso were arguing about. Bhekumbuso even said, straight to his face, they didn't want him anymore.

They weren't after him anymore.

"Just, keep the twin angels away from the devil, and hold on tight."

"Don't let her get confused between the angel and devil. He's not like the others. He's not a kid. He's something different."

"The Centre can't run without a Parker. Speak through anonymous phones if you don't want her to stay, but she has to use it! Lyle's unfit, Raines is gone. Use it to track the devil. Track him . . . or he'll steal all the angels."

There was someone else after Miss Parker.

It must be what everyone referred to as " . . . the devil."

Jarod held the phone, much to Miss Parker's chagrin. All day long he tried to reconnect with his old friend, but it was like she still wasn't budging. The nicer he'd be, the worst she became. He had already demanded she tell him what she was hiding, and all she could say was that it was too late, and she needed to return to The Centre to take control. That was it.

He was getting edgier so he would make the next call. Someone knew something he didn't, and he had to know what.


The Centre

Broots looked toward Sydney vaguely as he searched the computer. Miss Parker and Broots only ever shared one secret from their partner. He thought he could get out of the Centre before it had to be revealed to him. Because it would make him emotional, he would have no choice but to tell Jarod, and Jarod would . . .

Knowing Jarod? He would have surrendered right then and there to the wrong people. . .

/"Did you find it?" Miss Parker asked. "The connection between Jarod and my mother? Anything on the picture that could help?"

Broots had gone silent. "No. Um, I slipped. I'll get there, but there's something you should know." He wasn't able to keep good eye contact with her. "I discovered something new today. A new secret opened up today, besides that." He bent closer to her. "I-I don't know what to do about it! If Sydney found out . . ." He looked away. "He can't keep secrets, he'd tell Jarod, and he'd be devastated."

"Hello?" Miss Parker scoffed. "Broots! We are catching Jarod. He is our prey. So start speaking in my language."

"Okay. This, uh, was right before Thomas Gates' end. It looks like it was in a hidden alert file. Possibly hidden by your father or Raines." Broots brought up the page. He watched as she hovered over him. Her heart must have been hammering. "Well?"

"Seal it up." She stood back up. "Seal it all up. Not a word to Sydney."

"Right. I thought so."

"Broots. Seal it up really well," she said, glancing back at the computer. "Even I don't want to be able to access it again."

"Okay." Broots stared at the computer. "Sorry, Jarod. Um." He looked at the screen one more time before he deleted it. "Sorry, Kevin Baily."/

Jarod was on the phone now, it couldn't be denied. Broots knew what he would find soon. It was going to traumatize the poor Pretender. It was too far.

It was just too far.

"Anything new yet, Broots?" His voice was tense. He probably knew Broots was hiding something too. That he knew something like Miss Parker.

"We are looking, Jarod," Sydney assured him. "I'm sure it's only a matter of-"

"Hit." Broots dreaded the word as he said it. "Ah. Uh. A connection to Jarod Heart," Broots said softly. "A. A woman named Joyce Cullman and her husband Howard . . . they are, uh, dead."

"What?" Jarod yelled in the phone. "When?!"

"It's less the when, then the how, Jarod," Sydney's voice took over. "It was yesterday. They were . . ."

"What, they were what?" Jarod demanded.

"Jarod. They were tacked up to their living room wall, their hands holding each other's and a heart around them with the words, With Love, From Heart."

Broots and Sydney both covered their ears as they heard Jarod's painful yell.

"Joyce! I. No. No! That twenty five years of . . . the . . ."

"There was something else found at the scene," Sydney said softly. "It's a copy of your service card, as well as the novel you wrote with Miss Parker on the cover again. This one was clearly new, but it was still . . . soiled."

Nothing but a dial tone was heard.


Jarod's Home . . .

"Where's the Triumvirate?" Jarod asked, moving straight into the living room toward Miss Parker. "I have to turn myself in."

"The Centre was supposed to capture you," Miss Parker said boldly, not even needing to ask. Something happened to someone he cared for in a previous Pretend. "Not the Triumvirate, Jarod."

"Who is he?" Jarod accused her. "Don't even lie, who's masquerading as me?!"

"Plagiarism," Miss Parker said. "He is the only copy I've found that the Triumvirate has of you, except, that he has had focus treatments since he was very, very, small."

"When did you find out about this?!"

"Shortly after I received a picture of our mom's together," Miss Parker said. "I discovered it. They set him loose one day, right around Tommy's death. A warning shout out no one heard because someone covered it up from hitting The Centres red alert histories on you. Broots found it. The same thing."

"Someone I helped in a Pretend was murdered?" Jarod asked. Oh, he was nauseous and mad at the same time. "Who?"

"A boy named Kevin Bailey," she said. " . . . you're first-"

"Pretend." Jarod covered his eyes. He took a moment of silence for the first young boy he helped. His first red book. "That kid. He was just starting to live. He lost the ability to walk because of a . . . so young!" He shook his head. "No! Two people have already died in less than twenty four hours. I know thousands of people, Miss Parker! Even if I try to find him, more lives will be lost in the process. Lives that I helped save, are now targets to be killed. That's not worth freedom."

"Jarod," Miss Parker warned him. "Not the Triumvirate. It's not an option."

"So, I just wait 'til he murders more of the people I helped? People I knew?" Jarod asked her. "No. I'm not playing this game. Where do I turn myself in so this stops? The same place I rescued you, is that good enough?"

"Jarod-"

"Stop protecting me!" He shouted at her. "I'm not a fourteen year old snowflake anymore, Miss Parker. There's someone out there, Pretending to be me, and killing in my own names!"

"And it doesn't stop on a dime, Jarod!" she shouted. "That isn't how he acts. He isn't there just to get you back to the Triumvirate. He was set free as a warning, for me, just like Kevin Bailey. So, that's it! Unless a Parker gets back into The Centre, he'll strike again. It's not for you. It's for me."

"The Triumvirate was just hoping I turned myself in?"

"They knew you would have, if you didn't know it wouldn't make a difference," Miss Parker said. "These deaths aren't your fault, they are my failure. I failed to get and protect copyrights on you by getting to The Centre after daddy's . . ." She took a moment. "I have to get back to The Centre, Jarod. I have to get into my father's seat, and reclaim it as mine. If I don't, this will continue. You have to let me go."

/"My Angel's going to do what she can. Follow her lead. Do you understand?"/

"The Centre. I can't just let you . . . " He looked toward her stomach.

"Daddy already set it all up with Angelo," she reminded Jarod. "They all think that you kidnapped me out of confusement and you shot Bhekumbuso. If you haven't noticed, even Mutumbo pulled his weight back in after his supposed death. No one even said anything, we're all used to it. Nothing is certain. Mutumbo wants them in The Centre, he'll be fine. I just have to watch my back with Adama."

/"My Angel's going to do what she can. Follow her lead. Do you understand?"/

/"Jarod! The Centre can't run without a Parker. Speak through anonymous phones if you don't want her to stay, but she has to use it! Lyle's unfit, Raines is gone. Use it to track the devil. Track him . . . or he'll steal all the angels." /

Steal all the angels. Mister Parker wasn't talking about just his daughter, or his grandkids. "He was talking about everyone I ever helped."

"I have to go, Jarod!" She yelled again. "I know that you're not happy about it, but it's like putting three people's safety on the line for a thousand others. You said it yourself, you can't stop him from striking again. He's not for you, he's for me. He was for me last time, but Raines or my father or someone hid it! To lessen the guilt. But it doesn't matter. This is my deal," she said again.

"The Centre."

"Is a sheep in wolf's clothing, not the other way around," she warned him. "I'll get you anything in there that might be about your family, top clearance, I just don't think-"

"There's anything there. It's in the Triumvirate somewhere." He thought back to the Pretender Alex. Sent to the Triumvirate.

/"And they thought you were the smart one!"/

"While we are lollygagging about like this, this second Pretender is out there, using your connections, Jarod!" She yelled. "You said it yourself. You know thousands of people. You have hundreds of identities. You can't save them all and us." She crossed her arms over her stomach. "You'll never do a single Sim again, because they destroyed lives. Risking three while leaving thousands on the line isn't any smarter here."

Jarod still didn't answer.

"Nothing's going to happen. They just need a Parker in The Centre. The second Pretender won't be called off until I am there. If you don't move, someone else you knew will die a death they didn't need to!"

"Why do they need a Parker in the Centre?"

"I don't know. It's just the way it's always been. Probably contract related because of the scrolls." Miss Parker looked at him steadily. "I'm a big girl, Jarod, we both know that. I took care of myself back then, I can take care of myself now. Just give me the keys, and let me go." She held her hands out. "Keys, Jarod!"

"Will he still be out there?" Jarod asked softly. "Even if I turned myself in?"

"Yes," she said softly. "Let me do what I have to. Give me the keys."

Jarod reached in his pocket. She was right. Three lives. For how many out there? "Will he go away?"

"He'll be out there as long as they want him out there, but he won't interfere with you," she said. "I don't know if that means he'll be good, or he'll just keep it low key so we won't know. I can't guarantee anything. Except that to stop this, now, before another life is lost that you know, I need the keys."

Jarod pulled out the keys. He didn't want to. She made to grab them, but he grabbed her.

In the deepest hug he could give. "I'm still trapped behind the same damn glass." He pulled her head toward his.

"If we find him, it's over. Broots and Sydney will make sure you get everything to help try and stop him too." She tried to pull away slightly. "You have to let me go."

"I just . . . found you," Jarod said.

"I was gone practically a couple of days, Jarod."

"That's not what I meant." He stroked her cheek ever so gently. "If we get through this? Can I analyze you?"

"When we get through this," she corrected him. "It'll be like hunting you, but we've got you too this time. This bastard won't be out there forever. I have to go. You have to let me go."

He didn't want to. Nothing in his heart wanted to let go of her. There was no protection for her, just herself and her attitude. A flimsy cover story. And someone out there, with his abilities, with a thirst to hurt the people who knew. The people he helped.

/"My Angel's going to do what she can. Follow her lead. Do you understand?"/

"I understand." He wanted to do something as she was in his arms. Not knowing when he'd feel her again. When he would be able to touch her again. Even though he could hold her, he still couldn't hold her. Unable to save her without putting thousands on the line, she was the one again. Right outside his door. Suffering. "Kri Kraw Toads Foot, Geese Walk, Bare Foot." He breathed slightly. "Morning time's coming soon, Angel, I promise." He felt a strange release, a relaxation under him. Something he'd never felt before.

That's right. 'Angel' still worked on her. He rubbed the top of her head softly with his. "Debbie and Gemini are going home. I am going to try and find this Pretender masquerading as me as soon as possible."

But then, he did what he had to do.

He let his Angel fly.


The Centre . . .

Broots and Sydney walked side by side with her through The Centre, each of them determined to see she got through. Broots took the left side. Sydney took the right. Miss Parker walked straight in the middle with fire in her eyes.

In front of the office door, Adama and Mutumbo waited.

"You are here?" Adama asked.

"I am. Once I got away from Jarod again," she said confidently.

"Hey, hey," Lyle complained as he sauntered straight up to them. "Why are Sydney and Broots at your side? I'm your family."

"Will somebody get him out of here?" She said. "Find a nice tight cell for him. No, wait." She looked straight forward at him. "Put him in Jarod's new cell Raines was building." She wiggled her fingers in a shooing manner as he yelled and was taken away by sweepers. She'd love to see him get out of that. "Mutumbo."

"Miss Parker." Mutumbo nodded. "It is good to see you inherit The Centre. We shall do many things together."

"Miss Parker." Adama did not seem as happy. "This only stands as long as Mister Raines is gone."

"Then it stands," she said. She looked toward Mutumbo. "Unless you have something pressing to say to me. I run The Centre my way. I get rid of what I don't like. I'm not a slave, like the others, to your every whim."

"Those." Mutumbo scoffed. "Are heavy words."

"To the man who is responsible for keeping me in a cell for six months and impregnating me?" she said. Yeah, there we go. Now it was in his focus again. "You're lucky that's all I say. Adama?" Miss Parker looked toward him. "The Centre would like to keep in closer communication with you than it has in the past. I don't guarantee everything we talk about will get done, but it will be considered."

Adama was her enemy. The closer she could be to him, the better.

"I think considering the strained relationship between my part of The Triumvirate and The Centre? This, would be welcomed." He bowed his head gradually. "Welcome to The Centre. Bhekumbuso's replacement is not quite ready yet, but I am sure we can handle all difficulties with ease."

"Hm." Miss Parker watched them both move as she flung the doors open. Sydney and Broots walked right in, right beside her, on each side.

She walked up to the desk that used to be occupied by her father, looked up and saw her mother's painting. Standing proud. She moved over toward the seat and took it as gracefully as she could in her condition. "Sydney. Please have someone fetch my Angelo. Now that I run this place, I want him beside me instead of down in The Centre."

"Yes, Ma'am."

"Miss," she corrected him. "Miss Parker."

"Yes, Miss Parker," Sydney nodded and left.

She watched as Adama and Mutumbo both walked in themselves to look at her. "May I help you, gentleman?" she asked.

"She is the perfect Parker." Adama nodded toward Mutumbo, who begrudgingly nodded. "With you, we will make great strides to The Centre. We would be honored if you would have your honeymoon in the Floating Bed Bridge."

"Absolutely," she smiled gracefully. "Can't wait." She watched as Sydney returned with Angelo. He was not far, and properly dressed already. "Hi honey. Fetch your things, you'll be coming home to stay with me now."

"But? Angelo confused again?" Angelo looked to Sydney.

Sydney smiled. "There's no confusion. She came back to you, because she loves you, Angelo."

"Yeah. And, uh, babies need their father," Broots spoke up from the other side of the desk.

"Okay?" Angelo smiled. "Okay."

"This?" Adama gestured to Angelo. "This is-"

"I swear, if you say anything bad about my Angelo, I will not be responsible for my actions." She stood up from her chair in a huff. "He used to be quite normal, yes, I can't hide the fact that he's different now. But, he used to not be. Being down in the depths of The Centre with Raines changed him," she said. "I fell for him as he was getting treatment. It did not work, but it did not change anything inside me."

"I am working with Angelo daily," Sydney said following her lead. "Raines did a number of things upon him. Most can be fixed."

"Will be fixed," Miss Parker said. "Because A Parker never changes their mind."

"Understood," Adama said with a bow. "My mother was the same way, tragically. Something happened to her too, and she is no longer the same. I never knew what it was, but its best not to look into the trite too deeply. You lose focus."

"Yes. We shouldn't lose focus," Miss Parker agreed. "Should we, Mutumbo?"

"I agree, we should not," he said roughly. He sighed hard. "I believe Angelo will be fine as a husband, but he will not be fit to run The Centre in the future unless he passes The Triumvirates tests." He gestured toward her. "However, with your twin angels, I'm sure we don't have to worry about the future."

Mutumbo and Adama both bowed and left as her sweepers came in.

"Everything checked, top to bottom for any kind of listening device," she demanded. "Move!" She stood silent with Broots, Sydney, and Angelo until the sweepers said it was clear and left the room.

She turned to look at Broots. "Open up all access codes to all files. Make sure Jarod gets it. If there's even a shredded morsel of the name of his first family dog, I want it discovered."

"Yes, Ma'am. I mean, Miss Parker," Broots said.

"Calm down Broots, I haven't changed any," she said. "I just have a different office. Sydney, I want a full investigation started on SL-27 and anything that is hiding down in there, I want to see. I don't want a stone unturned in The Centre. If I am running it, then by god I'm running it." There was a stack of folders on her desk. She opened the first folder on the front of her desk.

She closed it and threw it in the trash. "Sydney, I want an entire background check on any and all children in this facility."

"Yes, Miss Parker," Sydney agreed.

"If something not in the status quo comes up in background checks, I want to know right away," Miss Parker insisted. "My eyes and ears only."

"Yes, Miss Parker," Sydney agreed.

"Oh and one more thing, Sydney." She looked at the desk in front of her. Her father's desk. Now her desk. All those years there. "Everything goes according to schedule until I look deeper into matters, except we are not chasing Jarod anymore or the DSA cases. Mister Broots?"

Broots looked around himself, then gestured to himself. "Me?"

"Yes. What do you think we should have Lyle do? He can't just lie around all day. We pay for his food. We shelter him. He doesn't have the brains to do a simulation." She clicked her tongue. "I'm leaving that up to you. However, I do warn you, he doesn't mind pain. He just hates tedious tasks."

"I think collating would be a good suggestion," Broots said. "Delinquent call calling. I'll get on that, Miss Parker."

"Thank you, Mister Broots."

Broots smiled. "Your um, your welcome, Miss Parker. Uh, if I can be so bold?"

"Mister Broots?" Miss Parker looked toward him. "You are the left hand person of the woman in charge of The Centre. You had better be bold."

Broots nodded. "It feels really good to see you sitting there."

"Thanks," she said. "Mister Sydney?"

"Do I have to be Mister?" Sydney asked.

"Yes, Sydney. All respect due to you. If you won't take your last name, you'll take it with your first. Follow the standards," she warned him.

"Oh fine, Mister Sydney," he agreed. "Yes, Miss Parker?"

"I want you to go around The Centre, make sure no child's life is being used in a negative way. I trust you can recognize signs. Pink slip anyone you think is doing wrong. Full authority."

"I can recognize signs," Sydney said. "I will keep my eyes open."

"Good. Mister Broots? I want you to feel free to take a vacation at any time for as long as you need." She looked toward him. "The Centre will not be involved in where you go."

She picked up another folder on her desk, looked at it, and threw that one in the trash too. "Sick day regulations. Anyone who wants to leave The Centre because they feel so much as a cold coming on is allowed to. Last but definitely not least." She turned to Broots. "I want to know anything and everything about Jarod's lairs that crop up. I don't mean the usual, Mister Broots."

"I know what you mean," Broots said in a whisper. "I'll let you know."

"Good. Most likely it will have stopped." She picked up her next folder. This time, she set to work actually working. "That will be all for now, gentleman."

"Miss Parker," Sydney said.

"Hm."

"There are no words," he said.

She looked up from her work and toward him. "Just follow my commands, Mister Sydney. It doesn't matter how much I piss them off." She set back down to work. "They can't do anything for three months anyway and I'm the only one here to run this rodeo. They killed two people to make sure I got back here in the fight, so they are going to deal with this bitch 'til the end." She sighed. "Besides. If we're still stuck at the end?" She shook her head. "At least I did some good. Oh. That reminds me."

She looked back toward Sydney. Her eyes filled with emotion. "If it's my time on the elevator, make sure the twins don't ever go to the Triumvirate. Okay?" Her voice was quiet towards the end as she went back to work.

"I see now . . ." Sydney said softly.

"See what?" she asked.

"Why your father called you Angel."

Chapter Text

In Front of Jefferson Heights

 

Jarod was sitting right behind him in a row of benches, just a short distance away from Jefferson Heights. The building that Cynthia Sloan had helped to restore. Way back then, he had been a male escort for the soul purpose of reaching to her. She would have destroyed her childhood home, to erase her past. He helped her rediscover it.

At that same time, he also had another client he had to take care of. Joyce had separated from Howard and was hungry for a man’s touch, but Jarod knew it wasn’t over yet for them. He kept dealing with them, on the side of his real mission, and ended up solving their problem too.

So, it was no big surprise, after hearing about the murder ‘Jarod Heart’ had committed, that his so-called clone was right there, in front of the building that had been his true mission. To save that home.

“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers,” Jarod said from behind his counterpart, making his presence known. He kept his voice level.

“Have you ever had these?” His clone said holding up a popcorn ball for Jarod to look at. “They took corn kernels, heated them up causing it to burst outward and then added marshmallow, and for some reason, thought they belonged together and sell them in balls.”

Jarod didn’t answer. “Did you kill Joyce and Howard? Did you kill Kevin Bailey?”

“Hm.” His clone took a bite out of his popcorn ball. “It was my mission. Nothing different than all the simulations you did at The Centre, Jarod. Oh. Apologies. I forgot to introduce myself. I’m Jarod Hades.”

“There was a huge difference,” Jarod came back on him. “A huge one. What gives you the right to take innocent lives away?!”

“Well, if I don’t, my life ends.” He held up his arm as he took another bite. “See how putrid and green my arm looks? Yeah, it’s not pleasant, sorry. I have about a day to get back to The Triumvirate for the cure and go back into my hole. So, I’m just enjoying my last discovery of the day. This fascinating popcorn ball. Although the valentine stuff was okay,” he admitted. “It was really hard to find. Completely out of what they call ‘season’. But this Halloween stuff, mm, it’s everywhere. That’s how you found me, isn’t it?”

“Same city. Visiting Halloween shops, asking questions. One of them was bound to mention where you went,” Jarod said. “It didn’t even take a genius.”

“Yeah, but you didn’t have enough faith to risk everyone. Don’t feel bad though. I’m heading back home, my job is done for now. Won’t be messing up your Pretends. Jarod Heart was fun though. Bucky was a blast too! I loved his wings. You should go visit him again, he missed you.”

“So you think because you have to go to Africa, I should just let you go?” Jarod asked. “Because you are done with the game, I’m just going to forget that you strung up two people that I helped get back together? They sent me a postcard of their second honeymoon.”

“Sorry to hear. It doesn’t really make much difference to me. Not much does. Nothing’s really in my focus.”

Jarod sneered. “What is the focus of something like you?”

Jarod Hades threw a book in the air and it landed smack dab in Jarod’s lap. Hades finally turned around, bringing his shades down, to look Jarod in the eyes. “What do you think my focus is, Jarod?” He took another bite of his popcorn ball. “It’s making sure The Saddest Little Valentine stays right where she needs to, until I need her.”

“What do you need her for?” Jarod asked, not breaking eye contact.

“Nothing yet. And, nothing, if her little twins stay in The Triumvirate,” Jarod Hades said. “But, honestly? I really hope they don’t. Do you know what kind of world I live in, Jarod? Know the difference between The Centre and The Triumvirate?”

“I have an idea,” Jarod said. “It’s still not something I would kill three innocent people for.”

“We all have self-preservation habits,” Jarod Hades said. “No one knows how far they are willing to go until it comes down to it. Even you have to cut me some slack. You haven’t even bothered with a gun.” He took another bite of his popcorn ball. “You talk a big game, but you’re not going to do anything to me. I’m not going to do anything to you. We’re just two guys talking outside on a beautiful day, with one of us eating a popcorn ball.” He took his last bite.

“You’re going to leave, and be back out there waiting for me like a bad dream,” Jarod said. “You took my Pretend. My identity that helped to save people, and used it to kill.”

“Uh huh. Can I have my book back?” Jarod Hades asked pointing to his book. “I know I’ve got all the copies in Bucky’s shop, but man, they don’t survive  home too well.” He looked back toward Jarod. “Can’t even smack me, can you? It’s okay, Jarod, there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s not in our nature, buddy. Now, if I attacked you, you would attack me. It would also give you the perfect excuse to kill me.” He shrugged. “But, I’m not doing that. My book please?”

Jarod proved him wrong, landing a punch right on his nose.

Jarod Hades took off his cracked shades. “Darn. I liked those.” He rubbed his nose. “Ouch, Jarod. That was violent. What provoked that?”

“Acting innocent isn’t going to make me want to let you go!” Jarod warned him.

“If you don’t let me go, I die. You don’t like death on your conscience. It’s brutal.” He looked at his hand. “I miss my popcorn ball. Hey, do you want one? I could buy one for you.”

“Well, something tells me that I could pull it off,” Jarod said bending closer to him.

“You mean handcuff me and leave me to die?” Jarod Hades asked. “That’s not nice at all. You’ve been hanging out with Alex and Kyle too much.”

Kyle? “What do you know about Kyle?”

“Just another guy in the hell of the place that I call my life.” Jarod Hades pointed down again. “Can I have my book back yet?”

Jarod held it. “No.”

“I like having my book,” Jarod Hades said. “I already wasted two copies for evidence to connect me.”

“Some evidence.”

“Well.” Jarod Hades shrugged. “I can’t help it. I mean, she is my focus. And I am normally a really nice guy. Truly,” he said. He looked at his watch. “But when the day comes that I get to take care of my focus? I mean, damn Jarod. I’m you, and that’s the estranged Miss Parker you’ve been gaga with forever. It’s the only lovely thing I’ve seen since I’ve been out in the wilds, the only one I get to concentrate on night and day with pictures and, of course, your book. So when I come for her, I’ll leave a bigger body trail than I did to that mass of school children over there that I bought lovely candies for because they remember me as the guy who ‘saved their home’. They’ve got about five minutes before side effects kick in. Let them die, or catch me. Your choice.”

Jarod’s eyes went wide as Jarod Hades ran off. There was no time to chase him! He ran to the kids quickly, insisting each of them get to the hospital now.

 

----------------------

The Centre

 

“Doctor Connors,” Sydney greeted as he stood beside a co-worker. He. Had wanted to do this. For a long, long time. No one ever gave permission though because Doctor Connors was a highly sought after individual, and his ‘side projects’ shouldn’t damper it. “May I speak to you for a moment?”

“Sydney,” Doctor Connors said.

“Actually, Miss Parker says it must be Mister Sydney now,” Sydney said, giving him a taste of what was to come. “She took over The Centre today.”

“I heard that,” Doctor Connors said. “Getting some recognition you haven’t had in some time I hear?”

“Mm. And I’m afraid I need to give you this news. Doctor Connors. Your ethics to improve the psychic quality by temporarily blinding your patients, which could lead to being truly blind, has been an issue.”

“It was never an issue before. By losing one sense, the psychic connection was even stronger.” Doctor Connors said. “I’ve done exquisite work for The Centre.”

“I’m afraid it’s not enough to put a child’s eyesight at risk like that.” He handed him a pink slip. “Please remove yourself from the facility,” he said. “Miss Parker will discuss your severance pay later.”

“What?! No! I have done nothing but fantastic work for The Centre!” Doctor Conners objected.

“Hm.” Sydney motioned from behind himself. Out of the corner came four sweepers. “I’m afraid we are cleaning house today for those who don’t feel they’ve been given a fair handshake.” The four sweepers came up from behind Sydney and toward Doctor Connors.

Doctor Connors looked at them. “Okay.” He backed off slowly. “Fine. I-I’ll go, but under protest.”

“Under protest?” One of the sweepers asked him.

“I mean,” Doctor Connors fidgeted. “I’ll be back to discuss things later.”

“No, I’m afraid you are being escorted out, and all access to The Centre is to be taken away,” Sydney said. “Now. Miss Parker will contact you soon about severance pay. Gentlemen?” He watched the sweepers escort him out. Sydney grabbed everything Doctor Connors had and scooped it into the medical waste. As he left the room, he caught the smile of one little girl in the corner.

He simply gave a small smile back.

 

----------------------

Hospital near Jefferson Heights

 

“Sir, you really should go home. You aren’t family, and it’s past time to go.”

Jarod didn’t want to leave. Those children. Fifteen in all. “I just want to know they are okay. It’s my fault they are in there. I didn’t think, I just wanted to get to him.”

“You couldn’t have known, and they’ll be okay.”

“Doctors never tell anyone, anything,” Jarod said. “I know that.”

“I know they’ll be okay, because I already looked over them.”

Wasn’t he talking to a nurse? “Are you a doctor?”

“I was today. Now I’m a nurse.”

Jarod looked up, hearing the strange choke in the voice, and the words, and almost fell off his seat. She was smiling wide, the large smile she had when he first saw her five years ago for that brief bit of time. “Mom?” He plummeted into her, holding her deeply. It was real. It was her. It was finally her! “Mom!”

“Jarod. Miss Parker has The Centre. As long as the Angel’s beyond the glass there, everything will be alright and I can see you!” His mother held him back as hard as she could with tears in her eyes. “Jarod! Oh, how you’ve grown so much. The last time we met, it wasn’t meant to be. I’m sorry I rushed it.”

“Mom.” Jarod didn’t care. Her voice. Her voice was just how he thought it’d be. One of those things that continued to linger within him, even when everything else faded away. “I have so much to tell you! I have so much I want to ask you!”

“Then come with me, Jarod. Let’s get out of here.”

 

-------------------------------

Jarod’s Mother’s Car

 

Jarod memorized everything in her car. Miss Parker did get the music, but there was so much more. A mish mash of lives. He touched the hulu girl on the front dash. His mom’s car.

“It’s a mishmash of stuff,” she confessed as she hopped into her car and put it into drive.

Jarod looked down past the CD albums and saw all the ID tags. “Art museums. Ballet. Nursing. Restaurant worker.” He was flying through them. “Parachute Jumping Instructor. Plumber. Artist.” There were hundreds of them, just like he had. “I got Pretending from you.”

“A little bit of everything is inside each of us,” she said as she turned on her music, Wanted Dead or Alive by Jon Bon Jovi, and drove off. “Tell me, Jarod. How are you doing?”

“Better now,” he said, smiling as he looked at her. “Much better. Those kids will be okay?”

“Yes. The devil only put the scare in them. They needed to be out there for at least an hour more with it to do any damage,” she said. “You know doctors though. They never tell you anything. Just the fake doctors work the best,” she joked. “Jarod. It’s so good to finally meet and talk to you.”

“It is.” He wanted to memorize everything around him, but he heard his mother’s urgent voice.

“No need to waste your time. Most of this stuff isn’t me.” She reached into her purse and pulled out a piece of butterscotch candy. “What you see is what you get, not the stuff around me.”

His breathing felt erratic. “Where are we going?”

“To go see the angel carrying your angels,” she answered. “Do you want to come pretend with momma like the old days?”

Jarod laughed. “Did I?”

“Oh, yes, you did. You and Kyle used to get out of the car with me and . . .” she faded off. “Well, it was a long time ago.”

“Kyle’s still alive,” Jarod said. “I found information on him, at The Centre. He was replaced with a clone before he died. He’s inside The Triumvirate. I’m going to get him out, I promise.”

She laughed with joy. “Kyle’s alive!” Her whole face lit up. “I wish I had known, but The Triumvirate is a maze. You could search your whole life looking for something there, and never find it, without knowing what it is you need. Where you saved Miss Parker, was nothing but the tiniest of buildings in its structure. You’ll find that out later.”

“Mom? How did you know I’d be here though?” Jarod asked.

“The scrolls are very . . . vague, Jarod. It’s like trying to decipher Nostradamus. But, sometimes, after events occur, you figure out where you need to be. Don’t worry about that,” she insisted. “Tell me about yourself. Tell me all about yourself!”

“I . . .” Jarod didn’t know what to say. “I Pretend, like you, to help people.”

“But what do you like?” His mother asked again. “What’s your favorite music? Favorite color?”

Oh. “All of them.”

“Yes,” she chuckled. “Correct. You’ve always been that way. One day, you would be building skyscrapers out of blocks and the next, snowmen out of oreos. Oh my goodness,” she laughed. “One time after we went to sleep, you and Kyle snuck into the kitchen, took an entire three packages of oreo cookies to your quiet room, dug out all the cream filling, and made yourself a huge white snowman using chocolate as decoration for it.”

Jarod started to laugh. “I did?”

“Mmhm. Your father and I woke up to both you and Kyle stuffing your faces with the leftovers and ‘unusable decorational materials’,” she laughed. “Hoo boy, the major was mad at you!”

Jarod cracked up laughing. “Yeah! Kyle and I went together really well.” He looked at his mom. “Did you ever meet Ethan?”

“No, but, I don’t feel . . . bad or good about it. He’s your father’s other child.” She shrugged. “That sounds quite cold, doesn’t it? I’m not the warmest of mothers.”

“That’s not true,” Jarod said. “You’re a very warm mother.”

“Perhaps I wasn’t too bad,” she said. “I don’t know.”

“Kids . . . didn’t make you happy though,” Jarod said, letting her know Miss Parker told him that part too. “I don’t blame you. When you couldn’t Pretend anymore.”

“It was tough,” she said. “I should have trusted Charles, I know that now. I don’t know if he would have understood, or let me do anything. But. He should’ve known.” She looked toward Jarod.  “At least you’ll never have that problem.”

“What do you mean?” Jarod asked. “I’ve got kids coming soon. I’ve got dad and Emily. I’ve got-“

“The life of a man that can’t just be one person,” she said, “and there’s no way Miss Parker is ever going to really want to settle down. She could try. I imagine one day she might have, but her whole life was dedicated to The Centre. She’s never going to be an average mom. She’ll be a good mom, but not average.” She patted his leg. “Don’t screw up like I did. Ask her if she’ll continue with you. You might be surprised at the answer.”

“But, I go everywhere,” Jarod admitted. “A lot of places aren’t . . . family oriented.”

“Figure it out,” she said. “I used to daydream about it. What I would do if I just toldhim, and he understood it.” She looked toward him. “I started thinking about the risks, and how to reduce the risks. Things like sending you off to the next Pretend a day early, before the danger, and arriving that next night. A plan on what to do if I didn’t arrive. How you boys could grow and become my backup. Things like that.”

“Backup.” Jarod smiled. “I would have backed you up.”

They shared a smile together as they both shared special moments in their lives as his mother continued to drive. After about half an hour, Jarod’s cell started to ring. He looked at the number. “Why’s he calling already?”

“Why’s who calling, Jarod?” his mother asked.

“Thomas Gates.”

She slammed on the brakes, making the car come to a complete stop. “ . . . what?”

“You heard of him?” Jarod asked, seeing a strange look in his mother’s eyes. “He was dating Miss Parker years ago.”

“Yes, I know,” she said, her voice a little tense. “Just because I couldn’t meet you, Jarod, doesn’t mean I wasn’t watching for you, or those around you.” She scratched her nose. Anxiously. “Or the stupid shit you pulled either! Do I even need to bring up the fact that you wrote a romance novel with Miss Parker seductively on the front cover of it, and had it published?”

“Ah.” Jarod looked at the phone, then back at his mom. “No?”

“Good. Answer it,” she demanded.

“Hello?” Jarod answered.

“Oh. Um. Hey, Jarod. You said that Miss Parker’s single now, right?”

“Right,” Jarod said slowly.

“She is pregnant though. Another man’s kid?”

“Uh. Yes,” He answered truthfully.

“But, they aren’t together?”

“No,” he answered back. “Don’t you have family?”

“Well, no. That was the family of a girl I’m seeing. Um. I don’t know. Missy and I . . . *sigh* it felt like paradise. I wanted her to come with me so bad. Sometimes, I think I should have called her but. Well, and now she’s carrying another guy’s kid. Yikes, I’m sorry to drop all this on you, Jarod. Maybe. Maybe I should try giving her a call. As a friend? See where things go?”

Jarod watched his mother shake her head no back and forth. “I don’t know if you should do that yet. Not everything’s quite final there, I’ll talk to you later about it,” Jarod finished. “I have to go.” He hung up the phone. “What?”

“Why is her ex-dead lover calling you?” she asked.

“Oh. We were friends first.”

“I know that, Jarod. Why’s he calling you now?”

Oh. “I just . . . if he wanted to.” Weird sensation. Really weird sensation, like he was a child trying to explain why they were doing something bad. “We could tell him the truth, and he could join Miss Parker. I’ve already agreed to set up a two house thing.”

“To share the kids?”

“Yes.”

“On each pretend.”

“Yes?”

“She has her house. You have your house.”

Why was she making this clearer? “Yes?”

“Oh my god. I’m sorry, I thought I raised a genius.” She took off in the car faster.

“Mom!” That was over the speed limit. “What are you doing?”

“Sometimes geniuses are too genius, and need a little common sense knocked into them.” She whacked his shoulder again. “Thomas is over three years in her past, Jarod, why are you trying to involve him in this whole mess?”

“He was . . . the love of her life,” Jarod said. “After everything that happened, I just wanted her to be happy.”

“Happy? You can’t bring normal people into the pretending world that easy,” she scolded him. “He’s as normal as they come. That’s why she was so into him. He was sweet, and warm, a handyman, and oh so cute. Those flannel shirts. Oh god, you could eat him up.” She glanced at him. “I’m a woman too, don’t judge me, and I haven’t seen your father in years.”

Jarod’s eyes went wide. “Mom!”

“I haven’t done anything, but I wouldn’t blame him if he has,” she said. “It’s hard, being lonely. Don’t do that yet. Don’t bring Thomas in yet.” She shook her head. “Momma didn’t raise no fool, Jarod, give yourself a fighting chance. Do you think she’s going to be happy in that kind of life?” She scoffed. “I wasn’t. Some people are made for different things.”

“Fighting chance?” Jarod questioned. “What do you mean?”

“Do you want to raise your twins?”

“Yes.” That was definite.

“Do you want to have Miss Parker beside you?”

“Yes. She is their mother.”

“Do you want to have Miss Parker beside you, while she’s having sex with Tommy in another house, or sex with you in yours?”

Okay. Miss Parker did warn him that his mother may not be the image of what he imagined.

“Just answer honestly. If not to me, then answer to yourself. Now, Jarod. Do you want her?”

He winced his eye. Carthis. “The feelings between, it’s just residual, from when we were kids. The her of her now, and the me of me now? We barely get along. Her and Thomas though. He made her happy.”

“He was there for her, psychologically, in a way you couldn’t be. You should have, but you couldn’t be, because she had to chase you.”

“You were in the psychiatric field too, weren’t you?” Jarod joked.

“You can be now,” she reminded him. “You’re not trapped behind glass anymore. Thomas is a wonderful man. Very,” she said dreamily. “But so are you, Jarod. Don’t light a torch for the wrong old flame yet. Don’t do it.”

“Why are you so adamant about that?” Jarod asked. “I want to get to know you, and you keep dwelling on Miss Parker.”

“Because, according to the scrolls, there is competition for the Angel’s hand,” she said. “And pardon me for being biased, but I think my boy who’s been forced to be stuck all alone nearly all of his life with no one else there for him, deserves to have his own Angel a little bit more.”

 

--------------------------------------------

 

The Centre Cafeteria

 

Broots squeezed out the ketchup on his hamburger while he looked at Sydney. “So, um, Sydney? I-I don’t quite know what to choose here,” he said. “Miss Parker, she’s alone, up there in her office because if she isn’t, some nut job clone comes out and kills people that Jarod knew? And there’s no one here for her except me and you.” He placed the lid back on the ketchup and sat it down. “Then again, I don’t want Debbie so close to The Centre, that anyone wants to try and hurt her again. That anyone can try and hurt her. You know?”

“It is a dilemma,” Sydney said putting down his glass of water. “Miss Parker gave you outright permission to leave however you need to, Broots. I agree though. The situation she is in, is not of her own design. I will be here for her, regardless of what happens.”

“I know. I’m thinking that, even though my ex-wife is the devil,” Broots complained. “I mean a two-faced, lying . . .” He sighed. “She might be what Debbie needs right now.”

“Are you thinking of sending Debbie away for a little while again?” Sydney asked.

“Maybe. I mean, I missed her a lot when she was with you-know-who, but at least I knew she was safe,” Broots said. “It’s not like he was tearing down a road in Las Vegas somewhere, you know? And, The Centre had no idea where she’d been.”

“Perhaps Jarod could take her back?” Sydney recommended.

“No way, way too much to ask for, especially in his lifestyle,” Broots said. “Besides, like I said, her mom would work.”

“If you want to be here for her, you can be, Broots,” Sydney said. “Although, I fear that, even Miss Parker, will have trouble with the Angelo issue.”

“Oh, you got that right,” Broots scoffed. “Angelo attacked her once, when he was empathing Kyle, remember? And now, he’s gonna be, what? I mean, you told me what happened, about the biting and-“ He slammed his pop down. “I-I just can’t stand it! I mean, I know she can handle herself, but . . .”

“You still have feelings for Miss Parker, don’t you, Broots?” Sydney asked him directly.

“Imagining that little imp hurting her. I mean, Miss Parker, is almost unhurtable, but she’s been hurt. That time at the hospital, with her perforated ulcer?” Broots shook his head. “I couldn’t help her then either. How are we just supposed to sit back and let that happen?” He scoffed and took a drank of his pop. “She deserves better than that. I mean, maybe not me, but she deserves something better than that.”

Sydney smiled at his comrade. “I would have honestly felt much better in this situation, if it had been you, Broots. Angelo is dangerous.”

“Yeah, I know.” Broots took a bite out of his hamburger.

Sydney watched Mutumbo and Adama coming from behind them. Since they were Miss Parker’s ‘right-hand men’ he expected to see more of them, as Raines had with Mister Parker. However, as they were coming over, Broots said something.

“If only I could tell The Triumvirate it was my kids instead of Angelo’s, you know?” Broots said before taking another bite of his burger. “That the one in the bowels of The Centre Miss Parker had been with was me, this situation would be better. I mean, Angelo’s too fragile to even touch, let alone have any sexual relationship with her.”

You are the father?!”

Sydney watched as Adama roughly grabbed Broots and spun him around.

“Oh?! Oh, oh, no. I-I.” Broots looked back toward Sydney.

Sydney, however, was thinking a different way. He wanted Miss Parker to survive and be safe, no matter how long the situation took to work it out. Angelo was a misfire. But Broots? “I don’t believe you can hide the truth anymore, Broots. I’m very sorry.”

“What?”

 

Sydney watched Broots being dragged away by Adama and Mutumbo. He smiled and took a last drink of his water and followed behind.

Chapter Text

The Centre: Office Room of Miss Parker, Leader of the Centre . . .

 

“You are not having the twin angels, you are just having twins!” Mutumbo accused Miss Parker as he and Adama physically flung Broots into her office.

Miss Parker looked at Broots on the floor. “What is the meaning of this?”

“He is the father!” Adama shouted at her. “Not Angelo. I always thought your story seemed fishy. There is no potential pretender inside of you. It’s just regular Parkers!”

Miss Parker held her pencil firmly in her hand. “I never said they were any ‘twin angels’. I don’t even know what that means.”

“You cannot fool us,” Mutumbo said to her. “You are having regular children.” He sighed. “Your daughter will be named Angel. Perhaps it will be her fate to have the twin angels?”

Miss Parker watched as Sydney came in. Finally, someone who could made sense of this mess. “Mister Sydney.”

“I am sorry, Miss Parker,” Sydney said. “It seems they heard Mister Broots and I discussing the children and Angelo, and Mister Broots accidentally told the truth about the paternity involving him.”

“What?” Broots was starting to wake up. “I did, what? Oh.” He looked toward Miss Parker. “Sorry. I-I didn’t mean-“

“I didn’t want The Triumvirate to hold it against me,” Miss Parker said for herself. “As of the relationship with me and Broots, yes. We have been hunting Jarod for six years together. However, Mister Broots doesn’t have the confidence to run The Centre. I love him, but he’s a whiney ass pansy that’s afraid of his own shadow, and I had better luck of molding Angelo into what it needed. After he was fixed with Mister Sydney.”

Adama and Mutumbo both looked at each other.

“It’s just regular business. Regular birth,” Adama said. “Fine, we no longer care. You are still fit to run The Centre. We will be running another test soon to re-examine Mister Lyle’s qualities for running it. I believe if we both deem him fit, he can be a replacement for The Centre when you are not available.” He nodded to Mutumbo. “I will be scheduling a trip to leave America as soon as I can then. There’s no reason to stay.”

“Yes. This situation is resolved. Miss Parker can run it, but she isn’t what we needed.” Mutumbo’s eyes laid on her tummy. “At least not yet. Remember, she is calling her daughter ‘Angel’, Adama. Hm.”

When they both left, Sydney breathed a sigh of relief.

“O-kay?” Miss Parker said gesturing to Broots. “What the hell did you say, Broots?”

“Oh.” He slightly smiled in fear. “No more Mister Broots?”

“He made them believe your children were nothing special,” Sydney smiled. “Which is exactly what we wanted!” He went over and slapped Broots on the back playfully. “Get up, Broots. That couldn’t have been more spectacular.”

“Okay? Can I get any details?” Miss Parker insisted as she came out from behind the desk. She stood in front of it, with her arms crossed, staring at Broots. Before Broots opened his mouth though, Adama came back in. “May I help you with anything else?”

“Reputation is still important. Even the most fragile mind can be trained.” He looked toward Broots. “You will marry Miss Parker instead of Angelo, at the assigned date. You will move in with her, as well as your daughter. We will begin your own focus treatments immediately. A healthy body is all that is needed for the process. To make you into the Parker you need to be.” Then, he left.

“Oh. Focus treatments?” Broots looked toward Miss Parker. “Oh. I-I’m sorry! It was a mistake, I-“

Miss Parker held her finger toward Broots. “You, shut up.” She took that same finger and gestured it toward Sydney. “You. Start.”

Sydney nodded. “Broots and I were having dinner together in the cafeteria. A regular occasion, Broots was discussing what he wanted to do with Debbie, or if he should stay at The Centre. While speaking of this, we also discussed Angelo, and Broots simply made a joke, about how it would have been better if it had been him instead of Angelo. With the right words, in the right order, and Adama and Mutumbo standing behind him at the right time?” Sydney shrugged. “How could I not take that chance to save you from the fate of Angelo? He is unstable. He is a good man, but as an empath, he is dangerous.” He gestured to Broots. “If for some reason, you have to make it to the Floating Bed Bridge. They don’t come any gentler, Miss Parker.”

“Huh?” Broots looked toward Miss Parker. “Um? I? I just wanted to help, I didn’t think . . .”

“You did.” Miss Parker stared at him, with a slight smirk. “You’re a moron, Broots, but you genuinely helped me out.” She stepped forward toward him. “Front and Center. Now.”

Broots did as she commanded, but felt her mouth envelope his. It didn’t take very long for him to reciprocate either.

Then Mutumbo walked in. “We will be heading out soon.” He looked at both of them as they let go of the kiss. He looked toward Broots. “Congratulations on your upcoming wedding. The Triumvirate will take care of it all. Is there anything you are allergic to?”

“Uh. I-I don’t think so,” Broots said.

“Good. Good day.”

“I knew they’d do that,” Miss Parker said. “They tend to come in an office multiple times.” She fixed Broots collar. He was sweating. “Calm down, Broots.” She sighed. “Look.” She tried to smile at him, and oddly kissed the top of his bald forehead. “If things stay bad, I was either stuck with Angelo who could eventually kill me, or with my nerdy computer guy who’s had the hots for me since day one.” She fixed his shirt. “I choose my nerdy computer guy. Get your stuff. Debbie will be safe with us.”

“Uh? But?” Broots couldn’t speak. “I. Uh oh.” He rubbed his mouth.  He watched Sydney reaching for his phone. “Oh, who are you calling?!”

“A U haul,” Sydney said. “The Triumvirate will want this matter taken care of right away.” He headed out the glass doors.

 

----------------------------

Jarod’s Mother’s Car.

 

Jarod looked at his phone. Sydney? He answered it. “I think the Pretender clone that killed my friends is out of America now,” he said. “He had some kind of green virus running through his arm, and he had a limited time to make it back.”

“Let’s hope so, Jarod. As for your ‘twin angels’ as Adama and Mutumbo called them, I have a feeling everything is alright now. They believe them to be regular children.”

“Really?” Jarod smiled. “That’s good news. How’d that happen?”

“A chance interruption in the cafeteria. Now, Broots is scheduled to marry Miss Parker instead of Angelo. She will be safer now if anything happens and she’s stuck at The Centre. He is moving in tomorrow morning.”

“Um?” Jarod looked toward his mom then blinked a couple of times. “Could you tell me that again?”

“They believe that Broots is the father, instead of Angelo. To them, she is no longer carrying ‘twin angels’. Just regular twins. Whatever the scrolls had said, they don’t believe she is the one anymore. They even told her that in her absence, Lyle can run The Centre temporarily once approved. They just need to deem him fit again. Maybe a few days for paperwork to go through. They have to override Mister Parker’s previous judgment.”

“Uh . . . huh.” Jarod felt his breath catch. “Moving in tomorrow morning?“

“Yes, they’ll be marrying in Africa. The Triumvirate is taking care of everything.”

Jarod rubbed his mouth. “Can you tell me about that Floating Bed Bridge now?”

“Oh. Well? It is a special bridge designed to commemorate and celebrate events of The Triumvirate’s couples. It is often used for honeymoons and anniversaries.”

“Why were you upset about it though?” Jarod asked. “Sydney?”

“Well, it can also be viewed from the top arch. The bridge is like a bed, Jarod. A floating bed. Sometimes, officials have been known to make sure regular activities are performed as not to being tricked.”

“ . . . honeymoon activities.”

“Yes. This is good news though, Jarod! Angelo, he was in no way prepared to encounter that bridge. Broots will be fine up there with her, if things have to get that far.”

“No, he’s not.”

“Why not?”

Cause I’m going to kill him. Jarod hung up the phone. He touched his forehead.

“Jarod?” His mother asked. “Was that Thomas Gates again?”

“No,” Jarod said a little hard of breath. “It might not be Thomas the scrolls are referring to.” He looked at his mother. “It could be . . . Mister Broots.”

“Broots?” His mom looked astonished. “The little computer guy always beside her?”

“Yes.”

“Oh. Well, I did say the scrolls were vague.”

“He can’t have them. I know he’s a good dad, but he can’t have my kids.”

“Don’t struggle, Jarod, its okay,” she said. “Besides, you were ready to give her back to Thomas Gates.”

“Yeah, but. I don’t.” What was the difference? She was just as safe with Broots because Parker took care of herself. “This isn’t right. I am really unsettled by this.”

“Jarod?” His mother smiled. “Thomas Gates was someone you found for her. You felt he was worthy enough to be with her. You know how much she loved him. How nice they were together, how he had such a good effect on her. And now that he’s back, you wanted her to have that same kind of sweet happy ever after, even if it wasn’t with you, because he was the love of her life.” She changed gears. “Instead, she’s going to be banging The Centre’s local computer guy.”

“Mom!” Jarod winced. “You are really not what I expected.”

“Make jokes all you want. Finding someone for the woman of your dreams in the first place was tough, but at least you had some control when you were the one who picked him. Knowing Broots, the locally scared of his own shadow guy bumping fuzzies with your dream girl, Jarod? Not working so well on your noggin’.” She made a ‘tsk, tsk’ sound.  “Jarod. I think we need to go on our Pretend,” she said. “It’ll make you feel better.”

“Why? What are we going to be?”

“Cooks. At a cafeteria.” She shifted gears one more time. “At The Centre itself. Not scared, are you?”

“Actually,” Jarod stared out the front of the window. “Sounds good. There’s somebody I’d like to talk to.”

 

----------------------

 

The next day . . .

 

Broots looked around himself as he sat in the cafeteria with Sydney again. “It . . . feels like everyone’s been watching me all day.”

“Of course,” Sydney said. “You are going to be the new Mister Parker to them.”

“Broots Parker?” Broots couldn’t say it with a straight face. “How the hell did this happen? I-I don’t even know.” He looked upward. “Why’s Aerosmith playing in the cafeteria? Usually the stuff is duller.”

Sydney shrugged. “They play all kinds. Your mind is jumping today, isn’t it?” He patted the front of the table. “I wouldn’t stress, Broots. Jarod and Miss Parker will in all likelihood have their situation resolved very soon, way before any marriage takes place. This is just a much better precaution,” he reminded him. “Angelo is unstable. He was unsafe.”

“You’re right, you’re right,” Broots said. “Most likely, we’ll be okay.”

“Extra potatoes, Sir?”

Broots saw a large pile of mashed potatoes land next to his hamburger, but that wasn’t the surprise. Not only did no one serve way out there, the server had a voice like . . .

“More?”

A pissed off Jarod. “No.” Another larger pile landed on his tray, splashing on his clothes. “Shoot.”

“Oh no, better get that cleaned up.” Jarod’s voice came as he pulled him up from where he sat. “Let’s get you to the bathroom, Sir.”

“Uh, Sydney?” Broots looked back. Oh thank goodness he was following.

Jarod practically heaved him into the bathroom before flinging him casually to the wall.

“Easy, Jarod,” Sydney said as he came into the bathroom with them. “If you did not understand, I helped to perpetuate the lie. Please, calm down.”

“My kids,” Jarod said picking Broots back off the wall. He brought him eye to eye with him. “You don’t touch Miss Parker until after my kids are out of her.”

“Yeah, yeah, I get it,” Broots said. “I won’t touch her like that, Jarod. I never meant for this to happen! Please don’t kill me?”

Jarod sighed and pushed him away, letting Broots stumble.

“Jarod, that’s not polite,” Sydney reminded him. “I am more to blame than Broots for this.”

“Why?” Jarod looked toward Sydney.

“You two have come and gone, from Pretending to the Centre, Pretending to the Centre, if you don’t get your lives figured out before your children are born, then at least Miss Parker will not be forced up there with Angelo,” Sydney reminded him. “He can’t even handle a kiss. That kind of pressure and new sensations, feelings, and touches?”

 

“He’d kill her.” Oh. Jarod understood now. He looked back at Broots, who looked absolutely terrified of him. He smiled. “Sorry there, Mister Broots.” He helped to dust him off. “I thought something else was going on.”

“I already told you,” Sydney said and shook his head. “Jarod. How are you doing?”

“Doing okay, the murdering clone is gone for now,” Jarod said. “Lyle can run The Centre now?”

“Yes, in a few days most likely, but I believe Miss Parker herself is running it quite well,” Sydney said. “From her position, in two days, she has already refound the homes of fifteen Centre children that we could not find authentications for, but we found addresses for in connection to them. You should have all of that information via email if you wish to help.”

“Fifteen stolen will be returned?” Jarod asked.

“Yes,” Sydney said, “Also, she has helped me get rid of some of the worst scientists I haven’t been able to get out of The Centre. Especially Doctor Connors. He was literally guaranteeing that the children he was working with would end up permanently blind, and I could not get Mister Raines or Mister Parker or Mister Lyle to get him out of here because his previous work was academically important.”

“That’s good,” Jarod smiled. “No, that’s great!” He patted Sydney’s arm. “Great job, Sydney. You’re doing good. So is Miss Parker. But, this is The Centre.”

“I don’t believe she is working for long time employment,” Sydney said. “I don’t believe that’s in  her plan.”

“Yeah. If she’s doing this?” Jarod looked at Sydney. “Maybe I can get better than a ‘for now’ now? Do you think she’ll stay with me, permanently, Sydney?”

“No.”

Jarod was feeling much better, until he heard Broots behind him. He turned around and looked at him. “You don’t think she’ll stay?”

“Well, I mean, for her children, yes. Um. But.” Broots held his neck. “Jarod? Do you, um, have a crush on Miss Parker?”

Jarod chuckled. “A crush? She’s been chasing me for six years. I can barely tolerate her.”

“Are you sure? ‘Cause that was kind of heavy treatment just now,” Broots said.

“If I had a crush, I would never have set her up with Thomas Gates. I just want you to be careful of my kids,” Jarod said. “She’s carrying my family. I’m very particular about family. You know, considering The Centre stole them. And my childhood. It’s going to be a touchy subject with me.”

“She’s fine though. I mean, if I did have something with her?” Broots pointed out. “I think anyone would be gentle. Thomas too, right? He wouldn’t wait three months.”

Jarod rubbed his right eye. “Just. Extra precautious.”

“Jarod.”

Jarod turned to look at Sydney.

“You dragged Broots into a bathroom and pushed him against a wall, after flinging mashed potatoes at him.” Sydney stared at him. “Do you really think that excuse is going to work?”

Jarod looked between both of them. “I didn’t fling mashed potatoes at him, they just went in his general vicinity of where he was standing.”

“Okay,” Broots said, “but I was just going to say, you could get her, but not like that. I know how the focus works.”

Jarod grabbed him and brought him so close they almost bopped heads. “You know about the focus treatment?!”

“Yeah, I had to take my first one,” Broots said. “See, um, your poison ivy.”

Jarod raised an eyebrow. “What?”

“Well, I mean, you’re as annoying as poison ivy.” Jarod tightened his hold. “I mean, there’s gotta be an easier way to explain this? The treatment, not doing what it wants, causes intense stress. Only when she’s working on it does she feel relief. She won’t feel final relief until her focus is complete.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well. Her focus is capturing you. So. When you are captured by her, and her focus is completed, poof,” Broots said.

Jarod wagged his finger at him. “Nice try. Just keep your hands off of your so-called future bride.” He started to walk away and then turned around. “While she’s carrying my kids. I’ll be back soon for her.” Then he continued off out the door.

 

Broots approached Sydney. “Sydney?”

“Hm.” Sydney looked toward Broots.

“He’s got it bad for her, doesn’t he? Even though she’s been chasing him for six years? How’s that possible?”

 “Well. Jarod didn’t have much life experience, he was kept very isolated,” Sydney said. “All he knew of life was from his simulations, except for Miss Parker. So to him, the idea between dating and mating was hard to disassociate, and all he knew was that he very much liked Miss Parker.”

“Oh.” Broots eyes went wide and looked toward Sydney. “Are you saying?”

“After Mister Parker asked one day, if Jarod wouldn’t mind if someone dated Miss Parker, Jarod gave very instructional details of how he felt about that along with what he’d like to do with Miss Parker to Mister Parker. Everything from the activities of a date, to the more strenuous activities not involved in a date, but involved in the mind of a fourteen year old boy.”

“ . . . oh.”

“Yes. It didn’t end well, to be sure.” Sydney sighed. “It was almost a lifetime ago though, just children. Yet, it probably still dwells on his mind.”

“So, is he in love with her, or not?” Broots asked. “I really want to know.”

“It’s hard to say. He could be feeling the emotions of the past, and not the present. It has been some time, and I know Jarod has moved on with different women. He even has one that he’s seen more than once.”

“So, it’s not like that. Then why such anger?” Broots looked back at Sydney. “He mentioned Thomas Gates though. Miss Parker mentioned him too.”

“Yes, he’s still very much alive,” Sydney said. “I personally feel, Broots, as if Jarod may have been trying to get them back together.”

“Oh. Oh?”

“Jarod brought them together the first time. He may be trying for the same thing again.”

“Oh. Oh well, oh!” Broots felt offended by that. “Miss Parker said Thomas had family. Jarod said that to her. So, then what? What’s he so mad at me for?” His nostril flared. “You know what? I know what. He thinks I’m not good enough for her. Well, I am. I am plenty good enough for her.”

Sydney looked toward Broots. “Did you say you had your first dose of treatment, Broots?”

 

“I can make her happy too. I can. I could give him something real to worry about too, because I’m not the one reaching out Sydney. Oh no, no.” He walked away from the bathroom.

Chapter Text

Miss Parker’s House That Night

 

“They sure are fast,” Broots commented as he looked around her house. “Moved completely in two days. Like a day and a half.”

“Hm.” Miss Parker put down her glass of water. “Come over here, Broots. Let’s discuss some things.”

“Yes, of course,” Broots said as he sat beside her on her couch. “I respect all your wishes, Miss Parker.”

“Good. Don’t tease me about my water glass being my alcohol glass for starters,” she said. She looked at her dressings. “Don’t tease me about my midnight dressings. I know I’m not exactly . . . made for top and bottoms.”

“I think it’s very pretty,” Broots said, trying to cheer her up. “Really.”

“Broots, your tongue would be hanging out of your head if I could have worn my real night outfits,” she said taking another sip of his water. “The Centre has a process for Parker couples. Whenever we greet each other and leave each other, we have to have one open mouthed kiss. Not very long, but nothing chaste. Five to ten seconds.”

“Oh. That’s fine.”

“And uh . . .” She started to giggle as she cried, covering her mouth. “Uh, I get uh, moody sometimes. So, just try to-“ She drank the rest of her water and threw it down on the carpet.

“Miss Parker.” Broots wrapped his arms around her. She wasn’t herself. She was trying to be, but she wasn’t. Her whole life was falling apart, and he knew that. Her father’s death was the final icing on a hard cake she was forced to eat in her life.

Just as he thought, there was no threat, just reciprocation. “Why? Why me? Why does it always have to be me?” She squeezed him tighter. “I can’t even have the option to drink the pain away.”

“There, there.” Broots held her tenderly. “I know your father meant the world to you.”

“Daddy’s gone. Momma was gone, and now daddy is too. I’ll never hear him again.” She started to break down on his shoulder. “I can’t do this, I’m not strong enough to do this anymore.”

“You’re plenty strong,” Broots said, “and me and Sydney, we got your back.”

“No, it’s all wrong, it’s all completely wrong. I am stuck, Broots, and I’m going to lose my children.”

“Oh. Uh, no you’re not,” Broots said. “It’ll be okay.”

“Yes, I will.” She clung to him tighter. “I can’t go with Jarod because then The Triumvirate clone will come out. I have to stay at The Centre. But Jarod doesn’t want them in The Centre, so he’s bound to come and take them from me. Not to mention his family, they are going to want to kill me.” She couldn’t keep it together anymore.

“Oh. Oh, don’t think like that,” Broots said. “It’s okay, it is. Once Lyle’s deemed fit again. I’m sure he will be. Soon too. You have to think positive. You’ve had an ulcer, Miss Parker.”

“And that too!” she yelled. “Oh, oh, your whole life is falling apart, but you have to somehow relax or you could hurt your own children.”

“I didn’t mean it like that,” Broots said. “Look, um, Jarod knows why you’re here right now. I’m sure he’s got your back.”

She just started laughing when he said that. “You know, that’s actually funny, Broots.” She tried to control her breathing.

“Easy. In and out,” Broots tried to relax her, stroking her back. “This is going to work out. It won’t be long.”

“I feel like I’m dying, Broots,” she admitted. “Everything that was my life, everything that helped me focus, it’s all gone. It feels gone. Poof.”

Broots was going to say something else, but then he saw her eyes. The overwhelming fire inside of them that he had always witnessed was gone. All she had were regular, docile, questioning eyes. A sense of purity and caring behind them. “Beautiful.”

She hit all his senses with the smile she gave him before she gave him a kiss.

However, he only kissed back a little. “Um. Oh, I can’t do that,” he said to her. “You are hurting because of the loss of your dad, your strange adventures, and your mood swings.” Mostly though, her father.

“Broots?” Miss Parker touched his face. “You really are a goody two shoes friend, you know that?” She laughed quietly. “How do you get yourself into these things?” She collapsed her body weight against him. “Tell me something, Broots. Did you ever make love to your wife when she was large and in charge like me?”

 “Well, yes,” he answered honestly.

“I haven’t been touched by a man in nearly seven months. That’s almost a record for me,” she admitted. “I can’t drink to take the pain away. I can’t smoke to take the pain away. I can’t shoot anyone to take this pain away. I have nothing anymore.” She looked back toward him, with those beautiful eyes that he had noticed last time. That yearned for touch. Her whole body was yearning for touch. “I may be a little big, computer boy, but why don’t I make that dream come true for you?”

“Oh? What dream?” he asked nervously.

Her smile. Oh, her smile. “The one where the drop dead gorgeous boss noticed her lonely computer guy’s crush, and wants to do something about it?” She stole another kiss from him.

“Oh. Whoah.” Broots tried to hold off. “That sounds . . .wow,” he said, “but uh, I-I-I don’t think Jarod wants me to, uh, to, mess with you while you have his kids inside you.”

“Broots.” She shook her head. “For one, okay? He’s worried about strange men and diseases. He wants them healthy. That’s Jarod, Mister Way Over Precautious. Are you a strange man and do you have any diseases?”

“Well. No.”

“Plus. You’ve done this before, with your wife,” she reminded him. “Not to mention, it’s my body. So?”

“So?” Concentration was absolutely nil right now.

“Shh.” She put his finger close to her mouth. “You had your first focus treatment today. Use it. Focus. Don’t get caught up in distractions, that’s not what a Parker can do. Let me show you what a Parker can do.” She gently sucked on the top of his finger.

“Oh, oh god! I know but-but-but the answer is still no. I’m sorry, I-I can’t. I mean any other time, yes, but I can’t.” He pulled himself away painfully. “You need time to heal. This isn’t how you heal.”

That smile she had on her face completely shattered. Shattered like a mirror. “Oh. My. God. I am sooo unattractive now, I can’t even hold your interest?” Her eyes were as round as balls. “What happened to me? What happened to me?” She backed away, almost stumbling on the ground. “I have to rebuild my life again. I have to focus. I have to do something.”

“No. You just need to let it all go,” Broots corrected her. He pulled himself up. “And I still think you are very beautiful. Very, very beautiful. But?” He stopped her moving around. “You are also very, very hurt. I couldn’t forgive myself if I took advantage of you like this. Miss Parker?”

“Just leave me alone. Leave me alone before I shoot you.” The words were something she would say, but it was barely heard through the crying as she went straight to her bedroom.

“Oh no.” Broots felt something on his shoulder. “Oh no!” He felt someone put their hand over his mouth and turned him around.

Jarod.

“Oh, I-I-I didn’t-“

“Sh.” Jarod held his finger to his mouth, silencing him, moved him out of the way and went toward her bedroom.

 

Her body was as limp as a rag doll. Jarod approached her slowly. Every single defense she had up was gone. Her father’s death, seeing it, being there for it, it had torn her to pieces. She was more torn up now than when she thought Tommy had been taken from her.

He snuck in, with his mom on extra lookout. He just wanted to make sure Broots wasn’t taking advantage of his new situation. Miss Parker was desperate for touch, like he thought she might be. But, she was also worried about so much more. She still saw him as the enemy. The thief in the night who would steal her children.

He touched her hand. Not a single movement. He got on the bed and scooted her up into his arms. Still nothing. She was so out of it, she must have thought he was still Broots.

 

///“It’s alright, Angel. Be strong.”

“Parkers are strong. We have to be. If you want to survive, you have to stay strong.”

“You’re going to be alright, Angel, I promise. Things change. The world changes. Parkers make it through it. That’s what we are. Survivors.”///

 

Which, she did. For that moment that reality didn’t put it together, and she opened up her eyes, he saw her. The real her that he remembered. Those eyes were still the same. It was so deep and real, that he almost felt like she was fourteen years old again.

 

“Kri Kraw Toads Foot, Geese Walk, Bare Foot.”

That voice. That young, pure voice. Young Miss Parker loved that voice. The way he talked. The way he smiled. His eyes big and bright, even though he was hurting inside too. “Hi, Jarod.”

“Hi, Miss Parker.”  Young Jarod wasn’t behind the glass anymore. “Are you okay?”

“I guess,” she admitted. “Haven’t spoken for a bit, have we?”

“I don’t think we have. Not really,” he admitted. “You can come closer.” He gestured to her. “If you want.”

Miss Parker shrugged her shoulders. “Okay.” She moved closer to him. “I’m not used to seeing you outside of the glass, Jarod. What are you doing outside of it? Are you in trouble?”

“Is that the only time I was outside of glass?” Young Jarod asked her. “Come closer.”

“You were only out, if someone got you out,” she said. “No one ever got you out and had good things happen. So, mostly, yeah. You’re safe in glass.”

“Why do you think I’m safe in glass, Miss Parker?” Young Jarod asked, beckoning her to come even closer.

“Well, because,” she admitted. “Sydney’s behind that glass with you, or you’re alone. Nothing ever bad happens behind it. In the real world, a lot of it isn’t safe.”

“That is true, but that’s what is so exciting about it,” Young Jarod said to her. “Never knowing what happens.”

“That’s ridiculous,” she admitted. “I would rather be trapped in glass than live out here. The things I have to do . . . had to do . . . to survive.” Her mind felt jumbled as she saw strange images of herself, older. “To live out here, I have to change. I have to take care of myself. To be the best. I have to.”

“For me?” Young Jarod asked. “You didn’t change all for me, did you?”

“No,” she said. “Not completely, but, I can’t stay like this.” She looked around herself. “In my world.”

“Oh.” Young Jarod beckoned her closer. “Tell me about your world.”

“You’ve asked me that before, Jarod,” she said. “There’s sky and trees and cars and people and schools.”

“Not the world. Your world,” Young Jarod asked her. “Tell me about your world. What makes it different? Why would you rather be behind the glass?”

“Jarod?”

“Who’s that?” Young Miss Parker asked.

 

------------------------

“Nobody.” Jarod glared at Broots as he came into the room. Miss Parker was talking to him in her sleep. He was trying to make her feel better, connect to her, and maybe get to the bottom of some of her mysteries. “Get. Out,” he said in his lowest voice.

-------------------------

“I-It’s nobody,” Young Jarod said, beckoning her closer again. “Come on.”

She stopped. “Wait. I remember now.” She took a step backward as whispers filled her head. “I can’t see you anymore, Jarod. Not in a friend way.”

“Well, then, before you go?” Jarod said. “How about a small hug? Your dad won’t know. I promise.”

“You can’t promise that, Jarod,” she said. “And if anyone finds out, I have to protect myself. I can’t be like those girls in the fairytale stories who get to have a hero. I’m on my own. Anything I want or need, I have to take it. I have to do it.”

“Including protecting me?” Young Jarod asked. “That’s a real big responsibility, Miss Parker.”

“Anyone I love. Everyone I love. I have to protect them all. It’s what a Parker must do. Focus on what they want most.”

Young Jarod seemed as if he was leaning in closer. “And what is that focus, Miss Parker?”

“That everyone stays safely here at The Centre, and not The Triumvirate.” She took several deep breaths. “Never The Triumvirate. They have power, Jarod.” She looked around herself and timidly stepped closer. “Power no one else should have. If they wanted to? They have things that could poison the entire sky in a day. Ruin the waters forever. They can erase memories, or reteach things to someone. They could literally wipe out someone’s mind to becoming nothingness. They even have viruses, that if they went out of control, could infect everyone and kill the whole world.” She shook her head. “The worst thing of all though? They have . . . treatments. And they are bad.” She took another step closer. “And, I could tell you, but you’re never going to remember anyway. Because no one ever lets you.”

“I want to know,” Young Jarod said to her. He reached out for her hand. “Please tell me?”

“It’s like . . . like being stuck in poison ivy. There’s an itch all over the body and nothing can stop it,” she said. “Except to focus on whatever goal you must accomplish. Even then, it continues. A mindless itch, a horrible feeling in the pit of your stomach. It makes you feel like you stole something and didn’t tell anyone about it. Or you broke something. Guilt. It eats away at the soul, until whatever is the focus is taken care of.”

“Oh,” Young Jarod said. “That sounds terrible.”

“The longer it stays in the pit of the stomach, the more it hurts. And it hurts,” she squealed. “And it hurts, until you accomplish it.” She shook her head. “That’s why daddy drinks.  He says when you can’t accomplish your focus, you need something else to deal with the pain.”

“If you beat the focus though, and then something reverses, will the ache come back?” Young Jarod asked.

“No. I mean?” She shrugged. “It’s not supposed to, but I haven’t accessed my focus yet. I don’t need to. You are right here.” She smiled. “As long as you are at The Centre, behind glass, I feel better.”

“If I’m at The Centre.” Young Jarod seemed to almost lose his breath.

“I should go now,” she said, looking at Jarod’s hand. “I have to go now. I’m endangering you,” Young Miss Parker said.

“No, wait!” Jarod reached out his hand. “Stay with me, Miss Parker!”

 

-------------------------------------

“Stay with me, Miss Parker.” Jarod held her back and forth in his arms. This wasn’t good. None of this was good. The Centre was terrible for her. It was tearing her apart. She was always so stressed by it, and the death of her father only added to it. She was going to end up in serious trouble if she stayed, which meant his unborn children would be in trouble too.

If she didn’t stay though, The Triumvirate would kill someone he once helped in a previous Pretend until she returned.

And he couldn’t let that happen, but he heard what she said to Broots. She feared him coming in at the edge of night and stealing them away from her.

Then the unfocused, beautiful eyes were gone as straight recognition hit them. “Ah!” She smacked him on his arm. “Jarod, don’t scare me like that!”

“What is it with the arm?” Jarod said as he watched her leave his grasp quickly. “Just checking up on you.”

“Well, I’m fine.” She dusted herself off. “Wait a minute. Did Broots let you in?”

Jarod kind of threw his hands up.

“Door. Knock,” She warned him. “I’m carrying your kids, not explosives.”

“The Centre seems to get that confused a lot,” Jarod joked with her. “How are you doing?”

“Two days, Jarod. No, less than two days,” she said. “You already have to look in on me? Do you know what a stalker is? Have you been one of those yet?” She straightened her top out better.

“One time, but just to understand how to catch one,” Jarod said. He waited for her breathing to return to normal. “How long will it take for Lyle to be fit to take over The Centre again?”

“A few days. I’ve got stuff going on in the meantime though. I can’t locate the homes of more stolen children, it’s not in the databases anywhere.” She looked toward the doorway and gestured to it. “Why is Broots pacing up and down the hall?”

“Exercise?” Jarod said.

“Did you scare my little computer guy?”

“Maybe slightly? You didn’t sound so good,” Jarod admitted. “I’m not going to do anything against you, Miss Parker. I know you are here for my sake, more than your own.”

“Yeah, sure.” She didn’t believe him. “We’ve already been back and forth from Pretends to The Centre three times, Jarod. I don’t know the future. You don’t know the future. Unless you became a psychic phone operator when I wasn’t looking?”

Jarod smiled.

“Smart butt.”

Jarod smiled even bigger with a single laugh. “Well, I haven’t heard that one in a little while, Miss Parker.” He leaned back on the bed. “You should get some rest. You’ll feel better. It’s been a really stressful time, I can tell.”

She sighed and laid down on the bed. “Will I ever stop being . . . trapped?”

“One day,” Jarod said. “Because there’s no way anyone who has a version of me . . .” He stopped and breathed more before getting up. He looked back toward the bed. As he suspected she was already asleep. He smiled and fixed her pillow a little better.

He left the room, got her lights turned off and closed the door. “Ah. Mister Broots.”

“Yes?” Broots asked.

“Come here.” Jarod pulled his arm around him and made him start to walk with him. “You’ve never touched Miss Parker sexually.”

“Um? No, I haven’t,” Broots said.

“I know. I just stated that,” Jarod said. “That statement needs to remain true, Mister Broots.” Jarod led him to a different bedroom. “I know that Miss Parker is a little . . . antsy. I admire the way you handled that.”

“Sure, yeah.”

“Not a comfortable subject for you, is it?”

“Not really, no. Um.” Broots looked around. “Am I in trouble for something?”

Jarod patted his arm. “No, no. No.” He didn’t let go of him. “Don’t touch her. I don’t care what kind it is, penetrating , petting, or-“ He watched Broots start to curl up. “Got it?” Broots nodded. “Good. We aren’t going to have this discussion again, right?”

“Uh. Um.”

“Uh, Um, what?” Jarod asked. “What?”

“I know they are your kids, and you’re all wigged out about, you know.”

“No, I don’t know,” Jarod corrected him, “and if you can’t say it, then you can’t doit.”

“You’re wigged out about penetration and your babies,” Broots said. “But. Um. I mean, not that I’m . . . but, I mean-“

“I wouldn’t finish that statement with my Jarod,” Margaret said from behind them.

Jarod took his arm off of Broots. “You’re supposed to be on lookout.”

“Lookout’s done. Miss Parker’s asleep. Let’s get going.”

Jarod looked at Broots one more time. He shoved him slightly in the chest then pointed at his face. “Don’t touch Miss Parker.”

“Okay. G-got it.”

Jarod didn’t let him out of his sight until he turned the corner.

“Doesn’t matter what you do to threaten him, Jarod,” she warned him. “Every man can only hold back for so long.”

“Poison Ivy. I’m poison ivy.” Jarod stopped, thinking about her words. Then about Broots words when he dragged him to the bathroom. “She’s running The Centre, right now. Right?”

“Right,” his mother said. “When she’s gone, I can’t see you anymore. I think you can guess, The Triumvirate has some dangerous weapons to use against Pretenders.”

“I’m sorry.” For now. There was only one solution. For her mind. For her soul.

“It’s okay.”

Jarod looked back toward his mom. She had a sad gleam in her eye.

“I already know what you’re thinking about, Jarod. Our time together is maybe a couple of more days.” She smiled. “This time, it’s by your own choice. You’re not trapped behind the glass.” She left out the doorway back to the car.

Broots walked by, seeing Jarod, then her. “Still here? I mean. That was your mom?”

“Yes,” Jarod said. “Broots. I am going to need Sydney on the phone, now.”

“Sure. Why?”

“Because. To end her focus. Miss Parker needs to capture me and bring me back to The Centre herself.”

 

Three Nights Later . . .

 

“I’m still not weighing you down yet, am I?” Miss Parker asked as Broots just watched TV. “It’s been three more days. I’m still wanting you, Broots. I think that may mean?” Oh! Broots. It didn’t make any sense. Everything with him was perfect in every way.

He was safe. He’d never hurt her. She saw Debbie every day, a ray of light in the miserable excuse of a life she had. Broots had been crazy for her ever since he first saw her walk up to him. He was practically drooling on his shirt the first time.

Not to mention, one partner. One safe partner. Even Jarod couldn’t complain in her choice of partner. Broots had even done it before with his wife. Double bonus experience.

But Broots was not budging the dial on her. No matter what. “Fine. You know what? Maybe there is something about this bulge that is the biggest turn off for you. But, I still have experiences that don’t involve that.”

“Uh, no, no!” Broots kept her from getting on her knees. “No way, Miss Parker. I know that you’re still hurting.”

“I am,” she agreed. “But not for the reasons you are thinking.” She sighed and sat back on the couch. “Debbie is asleep. Everything is quiet. The house is secure. I’m not babbling about my father’s death. You, are hard enough to drill through a diamond. What the hell is wrong?”

“Oh. I’m not that, uh, turned on?” he babbled slightly.

“I’ve known softer pool sticks than you,” Miss Parker sighed. “If I get completely naked, panties and all, and walk straight into my room, would that do anything for you?”

“N.” Broots squealed. “No?”

Miss Parker tossed her head backward, before grabbing him for one more kiss. That, he just couldn’t seem to deny. He had no problem getting into the kissing, but he wouldn’t move past it. “I swear, Broots.” She chuckled and her face lit up. “You really are the best friend ever. Tell me what your focus was? Because I think I know what you chose.”

“Um.” He sighed. “To make sure, that you and Debbie, are happy. Even if I’m not.”

Miss Parker gave him a small hug. “Keep this up, and I’m liable to actually fall in love with you.” She chuckled and got up. “I’m running a bath as hot as I can safely make it. If you change your mind, you know where I am.”

 

-------------------------------

Miss Parker’s Dark Kitchen

 

“Tsk, tsk, tsk, seven months can do that to a single woman,” Margaret said from her view. “Wow.” She looked toward Jarod who was, seemingly, not so chilled tonight. “Calm down, sweetie.”

His right leg was bouncing back and forth as he leaned against the kitchen sink. He couldn’t see anything, but he heard everything.

“You do remember that you played a male escort yourself?” his mom pointed out. “You know that after that long-“

“I don’t need to hear it,” Jarod warned her as he kept bouncing his right leg back up and down.

“Okay, okay,” she looked back in. “Damn, she really wants to bang that computer guy. He’s resilient, I’ll give ‘em that. He’s a good friend. To you and her.”

Jarod didn’t want to answer.

“He is. He’s not the one trying to give himself his own blow job,” Margaret pointed out.

Jarod winced. “Could we please not go there? That’s kind of an issue I don’t want to talk about with my mom.”

“Well, the last topic we discussed, Jarod, before you were taken, was how to properly switch off a train from one track to another on your new train set,” she said. “You’re a lot older, and your train set is different, sweetie.” She sighed. “Are you ready?” She started to walk toward Jarod. “Let’s get this done.”

“When I do,” Jarod said, looking at the ground, then back at her. “You’ll have to go again.”

She just smiled. “You’ll know when I’m near, Jarod. Just, listen for me. I’ll be out there.” She started to step away. “Besides, maybe you’ll get lucky and she’ll step out of that shower naked as a jaybird, all wet to try one more time to distract Broots. That’ll give you some encouragement.”

“Mom.” Jarod winced and watched her leave. He shook his head. “Bye, mom.” He moved away from the kitchen.

Toward the couch with Broots. He jumped over the couch and landed right next to him. “Tonight’s the night.”

“Oh!” Broots looked beside him. “Uh. Hi? Um. I didn’t do anything. I’ve been good.”

“Yeah. I know.” Still, Jarod pushed him back a little. “Don’t have to kiss her so often, Broots.”

“Well, it’s the only thing I can get.” Broots froze and shot off the couch from Jarod. “Oh, that didn’t come out right, did it? It’s uh, well I have to at work. Parker couple tradition and. Um.”

“Go into position, Mister Broots.” Jarod watched him leave until he moved toward her bedroom. He pulled out the handcuffs. When he reached it, he dialed Sydney up.

“This is Sydney.”

“Sydney,” Jarod agreed. “You made double sure about the glass I’ll be behind?”

“Contractors are all finished. It is breakable glass on the front now. If anything ever happened, you’d be able to get out that way if you need to in a pinch.”

“Good. Access codes to all the programs in The Centre?” Jarod asked.

“Done, Jarod.”

“More than the color white in there?” Jarod asked.

“Done, Jarod.”

“Approved decent meals? With desserts. And holiday treats,” he added too. “My mom and I whipped up some really good Halloween cookies you know.”

“Everything is on the menu. I’ve done everything I could to make this stay as pleasant as possible,” Sydney said. “No matter how short it is. I did what I could, Jarod.”

Jarod took a deep breath. “I’ll see you here soon, Sydney.” He hung up and waited. Waited for five minutes. Then another ten minutes. Then another fifteen minutes. He heard cursing. She got stuck. It might be a little while.

“Stupid bath, what was I thinking? Better stick with showers.” She walked into the room with silky red tops and bottoms.

He was ready for her surprise, and to catch her if she fell because of it.

“Ah!” She yelled. She reached for her nearest gun and pointed it at him. “Don’t scare me like that! What the hell are you doing here?” she asked. “You know I have to be here, unless you caught that guy.”

“I can’t,” Jarod insisted as he got off the bed. “I know that it isn’t your fault that this is happening. But, The Triumvirate is a part of The Centre. To me, it’s just like The Centre forcing me to play along.”

“Jarod,” she warned him, cocking her gun. “I am not even in my third trimester. What are you doing?”

“It won’t be that bad. I know you’ve been wanting to get on with your life. It’ll be tricky at first, but it’ll be okay. Don’t worry.” He held up the handcuffs. “I’m the best medical professional.”

“What?!” No way, did he flip his lid? It was a little over six months, six months! She shot the gun around the room, but like always in a Jarod situation, it wasn’t loaded. “Damn it, Broots!” She called for her backup. “Where the hell is he?! Stay away, Jarod!”

“I got him!” Sam had his gun trained on Jarod from the outside.

Sam was on duty?

“Sam’s on duty?” Jarod asked innocently.

Broots came into the room with his own gun. “Sorry, Miss Parker. Um, I just wanted a little extra protection, since you were so scared. There’s more than Sam out there, Jarod. There are six sweepers posted around here, and each of them is coming.”

Jarod sighed. “I’ll escape again you know.”

 

“Yeah, but if you’re thinking about taking Miss Parker to try and get your kids at six months? I think a little quiet time is needed for you.”

Chapter Text

 The Centre. Jarod’s Old Room . . .

 

He could break out at any time. No one figured out how he’d done it. But bringing him in, physically herself, and seeing him behind the glass safely again. Where his mind could be sound, and her body could be safe.

She. Felt. Amazing. The itch, the constant pain, dwelling deep within her stomach that had whispered about Jarod behind the glass for so long, had gone away. Breathing, in and out.

Jarod stared at her behind the glass. “Better, aren’t you?”

“You’re nuts,” she said breathlessly. “What the hell were you thinking?”

“That if you captured me. Not Brigitte, Not Lyle, Not Raines, or anyone else. Then the focus pain you feel would finally stop,” he said. His eyes darted around her and he smiled. He locked his arms behind his back. “Hello, Miss Parker. Is there anything I can do for you today?”

She touched her head. The pain did stop. The constant nagging and irritating pain.

See? Jarod is your friend.

The voice was back? How could the voice be back? She had surgery to get rid of it.

I had a talk with Jarod.

You can’t. You’re just a voice.

I’m not a voice. I’m you. The part you couldn’t get to. I’m not making you crazy. You don’t need surgery to put me away. You just needed to recognize who I am.

More inner sense?

No. I’m you. I was trapped, but you can see it now, can’t you? No. More.

“Focus,” she said breathlessly. When she looked at Jarod again, she saw someone different.

Her old friend. The eyes of her old friend she once set free herself. He was older, but, it was him. She watched him place his hand on the glass between them.

The connection. There wasn’t Young Jarod, and the man named Jarod she had to capture anymore. They were the same. His hair was different, thicker. His eyes were rougher due to all the growth and impurities he knew of the world. Yet, he was there, smiling at her.

She looked at her own hands, feeling the same thing. There wasn’t Young Miss Parker, and the Miss Parker that was a death cold unfeeling bitch to the world. They were the same, only an evolution with the hardships of life that slowly moved her from one phase into the next.

Fifteen. Sixteen. Becoming tougher. Seventeen. Really tough. Eighteen. Die hard beautiful with the skills to boot. Nineteen. Twenty. By the time she was twenty one, she had almost completely changed. But that evolution, it wasn’t overnight. And for some reason, those missing years never clicked to her. When did she stop being good, and turn cold and ruthless? At what defined age?

“Sydney’s watching him extra close right now,” Broots said as he came into the room. “Even he was a little worried to hear about the disruption, and he promises Jarod won’t get out no matter what.” He smiled at Miss Parker.

Miss Parker brought Broots’ closer and gave him the standard Parker kiss. “Thanks, Broots.” She looked back toward Jarod. His eyes were still the same, but there was something else now. “I don’t know your plan, Jarod. You could have just asked if you wanted to be in here, not give me a heart attack.” She sighed, but still stared back at him. She shook her head.

“One of my conditions, is to see you,” Jarod said to her. “While I’m here, at least two hours.”

Two hours? “What do you want me to see you for two hours for? What do you want to do for two hours?”

“Maybe nothing. Maybe something. But, two hours at least. Every day I’m here. I hate loneliness, even if it’s a day,” he said. “Which it better be.”

“I never understand what’s going on in your brain. Fine. Two hours every day.” Before she left she gave Broots the standard Parker kiss again, and then left.

 

Broots smiled at Jarod. “It worked? That’s great.”

“Yeah. It worked.” Jarod came right up to the glass and tapped on it. “Mister Broots? How is Debbie?”

“Oh, she’s doing fantastic,” Broots said. “All better. Not that we could tell anything was wrong, but. Well I mean, she’s probably all better. Thanks for taking care of her.”

“Mm.” Jarod continued to smile. “Thank you for your assistance too, Mister Broots.”

Broots nodded and turned away.

“Touch her while I’m in here and I’ll kill you.”

Broots turned back around to look at Jarod. He was looking at a book. “Huh?”

“Hm?” Jarod lifted his eyes from the book. “What?”

“I heard you,” Broots said.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Jarod flipped a page in a book. “Sounds like a guilty conscience brewing.” He lifted his eyes out of the book with a blank glare. “Best not to let things happen then.”

“W-why? Because I’m not as fantastic as Thomas Gates?” Broots questioned him. “You don’t think I’m good enough for Miss Parker, do you?”

Jarod lifted his eyes to him, this time ditching the book. “I don’t think I like that tone, Mister Broots.”

“Just answer me one thing,” Broots said. “If Thomas Gates hadn’t had a family, were you going to set Miss Parker back up with him?”

“ . . . maybe.”

“Well, you know? Maybe you can let people decide their own lives,” Broots announced. “You know? Maybe the one who’ll make her truly happy isn’t Thomas Gates.” He scratched his arm.

“They are giving you more treatments, aren’t they?” Jarod asked gently. “Those actions, they aren’t typical of you. You’re jaunty demeanor isn’t there. Take it easy. Those distractions in life you put aside to focus, they are important. This won’t last long. Long enough for Lyle to get control of The Centre, so I can take Miss Parker back safely, and then it’s over again. One to two days. So, calm down. Don’t let them change you.”

“They aren’t changing me,” Broots said confidently. “They aren’t. They aren’t. Are they? Oh god.” He closed his eyes and rubbed his face.

“It’ll take several more sessions I believe before you’re really corrupted,” Jarod said. “This plan shouldn’t take much longer. Just hang on. Hang on to what is important.”

“Yeah.” Broots wiped his forehead. “I don’t know what’s happening to me. I-I feel like someone different. Like a, like a half confident superhero that can do anything, a-and then just pathetic old me. There’s only been three treatments of it so far.”

“Old you is not pathetic. That’s the treatment talking,” Jarod warned him. “Old you is a wonderful father. Old you is a good friend to Miss Parker, who hasn’t used her to his advantage. Don’t let the old you disappear, Broots.”

“I’m trying, Jarod. I’m trying,” Broots said. “Her eyes are really beautiful lately, aren’t they? It isn’t just me, is it?”

Jarod felt his breath catch. “That’s my Miss Parker’s eyes. Those are the eyes I used to see when she visited me right here. And those eyes you have now? Are not yours.” He tapped on the glass. “Don’t push, Mister Broots. I didn’t save Debbie for nothing. She is someone very special.”

“Well, of course she is,” Broots said. “She’s my daughter.”

“That’s right, but if you keep changing, I won’t let her stay with you,” Jarod warned him.

This time, Broots breath caught. “What?”

“Focus treatments change people. Even when they aren’t completed fully, like with Miss Parker, they still changed a lot. If you change too much, I can’t trust her with you.”

“Y-you better not try and take her!” Broots warned him.

“Then use that, Broots, that fire inside of you. Reject the focus. Stay strong. Stay Broots,” Jarod said. “The day that fire dies, Debbie comes with me permanently. Keep that truth with you and let it burn inside.” Jarod banged on the glass. “You can defeat this.”

Broots nodded. “I won’t lose her. I won’t.” He scratched his neck. “I won’t, I won’t, I won’t.” He turned and started to walk off. “I won’t change. I won’t change.”

After he left, Sydney approached.

“He is definitely changing,” Sydney agreed with Jarod. “Whatever these treatments are, they truly do change people. When he goes without them, I hope it starts to reverse.”

“I hope so too. This won’t be long, Sydney,” Jarod said to him. “Just long enough to make sure Lyle can run The Centre.” He gestured to his computer. “And working on finding who else doesn’t really belong here either. By the time I’m gone, I bet I have a full list. I won’t do anything until Miss Parker’s safe though.”

“Of course,” Sydney said. “Let me know when you want lights out, Jarod. Anything else you need too.”

“Thanks, Sydney,” Jarod said, tapping the glass. “Being behind here again, willingly, feels sickening.” He looked toward Sydney. “But it was worth it to see it again.”

“See what?” Sydney asked.

“Her eyes.” Jarod smiled. “My old Miss Parker.”

“Yes, I’m sure you missed your old friend,” Sydney said. “Are you sure you aren’t wanting anything else though?”

Jarod didn’t respond. “Lights out, Sydney. See you tomorrow.”

 

----------------

 

Miss Parker’s House . . .

 

“I feel different,” Miss Parker admitted from by the couch next to Broots. “I see things, differently. Broots.” She looked toward her friend. “Is it the relief of capturing Jarod? Is he right?”

“Probably. He’s always right,” Broots said. “He’s always perfect.”

“Perfect at equations,” Miss Parker said.

“Sure, just equations,” Broots scoffed.

“What’s wrong, Broots?” Miss Parker asked him. “You really haven’t seemed like yourself.”

“Well. I just mean,” Broots said. “I’m just a computer guy. Jarod though, he could be anyone he wanted to be. He’s been a fire fighter, a neurosurgeon and any other doctor type out there. He’s been a lawyer, a chili cook off contender, a rodeo clown. I mean, he’s even been posing as robbers and killers and bad dealers. Not to mention . . . a male escort of the highest authority that a mogul actually used him for his services.”

“Oh. Is that what’s been up with you?” Miss Parker asked him. “Jealousy of Jarod? Jarod and I are, loose friends, at most.”

“But.” Broots touched her hair lightly. “Sometimes. There are these moments.”

“Mm. Maybe,” she admitted. “But, it’s just the past. And even then? It was different, so quit worrying.”

“What do you mean, different?” Broots asked.

She rolled her eyes. “When Jarod was younger. I didn’t really care about his abilities. Well, no, scratch that. I did. He was useful,” she chuckled. “When I was younger, I was fascinated by something else though about him. And none of it applied to the crime stopping, robber foiling, masked hidden man saving lives of the Jarod of today. Not running into buildings of fire, blazes of bullets, or being a male escort,” she chuckled on the last one. “I don’t care if he was 500 or 5,000 a day. How many moves he makes or how cool he thinks he is.”

“Uh?” Broots was surprised. “Really? None of that?”

“Hm-mm. I liked him for something else.”

 “Well, what?”

“Being my geek.”

Broots smiled and chuckled. “Um. What?”

“He was my geek,” Miss Parker said again.

“You think Jarod’s . . .” He looked deep into her warm, beautiful  eyes. “The guy who goes out and saves everyone and everything is just, really . . .”

“My geek.”

Broots started to laugh even harder. “But, I-I thought when you were smaller, you thought he was . . .?”

 “He was my wonderful, geeky friend.” She shrugged. “What else are you fishing for?”

 “But that’s it? Just, friend?” Broots asked. “I mean, there wasn’t, he isn’t, he was never . . .?”

“Mm. Okay. I’ll tell you.” She whispered closer to him. “But you owe me?”

“Um.” He looked toward her. Oh, those beautiful soft eyes. “What?”

“I . . . liked my geek,” she admitted. “More than I should have? For a reason that, after six years, has almost whittled away. Being out there, in the real world, he’s learned how to be absolutely like everyone else.” She chuckled. “I used to like his funky talk.”

“His what?”

“His sweet, geeky funky talk. He could take three or four long sentences to talk about something, that people could describe in a few words. His attention to all the detail, even when I couldn’t follow it. The words just flowed through my funky talking geek,” she laughed. “Better?”

“Yes!” Broots shook his head enthusiastically. “Wow. I bet he didn’t know that. At all. Okay, so, uh. What’s the favor?”

 

-----------------------------------

The Next Day . . .

 

Broots stretched as he entered Jarod’s room. He smiled at him. “Hey, there.”

Jarod pulled his nose out of a book. “Broots.”

“So. I found out something interesting last night,” Broots said.

“Your demeanor is even stranger today. You’re looser, you sauntered in like you were completely relaxed, and your smile is wider than anything else.” He quickly moved to the glass. “What did you do?!”

“Nothing,” Broots said. “Your kids are just fine. But, that’s not what I was here to talk about?” He saw Fire in Jarod’s eyes. “What? Still not as good as Thomas Gates? I didn’t mess with your babies in any way.”

He still banged against the glass. “What. Did you. Do.”

“Geez, Jarod, calm down,” Broots said. “I was just going to let you know what you meant to Miss Parker when she was fourteen. How she used to see you.”

Jarod slightly eased. “She told you?”

“Yep.”

“Well, how did she see me?”

“As a geek.”

Jarod stared at him a bit. “That’s it?”

“You were and are her geeky friend.” Broots smiled. “You broke her focus after all.”

Jarod just stared at him for awhile. “Geeks don’t run out into buildings on fire.”

“I know.”

“They don’t bring crime bosses to justice, or redeem fallen heroes.”

“I know. But, it just doesn’t register to her.” Broots shrugged. “You are her geeky friend.”

Jarod rubbed his eyes and winced. “I’m a geek.”

“Yep.”

“Nothing but a geek.”

“Uh huh,” Broots smiled. He held out his hands. “Oh, but wait wait wait. That’s not all.” He folded his arms up like he was proud of himself. “She used to like you like you as that geek. She doesn’t anymore because you don’t do what you used to do as much.”

Jarod moved as close to possible to Broots from the other side. “What?”

“Funky talk?” Broots said. “You know, when you say something the really long way around. She said she used to like her funky talking geek.”

Jarod raised his eyebrow. “You had better not be kidding me, Mister Broots.”

“I’m not. She said time whittled it away from you because of all the outer exposure though.” Broots put his hands back in his pockets. “Great news?”

“She thought I was a geek. Her focus is broken and she thinks I’m a geek again.” Jarod turned around.

“I don’t know how geeky she sees you now with her broken focus, but you don’t have your funky talk as much anymore,” Broots said. “I’ve noticed that too. You also don’t really do geeky things, Jarod. You do cool stuff. Really impressive to a lot of women. I mean, you said it yourself. Geeks don’t do what you do.”

Jarod sighed. At least he knew why she came to see him when he was younger. He was just an interesting . . . geek.  

“Yep,” Broots said confidently. “Does that make you happy? That’s something old Broots would do, right? Let you know that?”

“Let him know what?” Miss Parker’s voice floated into the room. It wasn’t long before her Parisian dress came into the room. She gave Broots a delicate Parker kiss, smiled and then looked toward Jarod. “Lyle is officially about to get temporary reigns. Three days only. Permanent should be next. Did you manage to get anything?”

“I got a few things.” Jarod cleared his throat. “The computer didn’t express the location of all the children, in fact, most of the children are still homeless. No rediscovered location except for the ones you found. I have a feeling that information is hiding inside The Triumvirate. I have the names and dates they were each taken.”

“How many?” she asked.

“Forty six.”

“How many does The Centre have legal ownership of then?” Miss Parker asked.

“Thirty one.”

“Forty six kids,” she said in a whisper. “The Triumvirate.”

“Hm. I just came down to tell Jarod the news,” Broots said. He looked toward Jarod. “I’ve locked up a lot of things, twisted them into some of my best programs, so that Lyle couldn’t get to them. With six and a half months and twins, Miss Parker feels like she wants to take a sabbatical.”

“It’s a faraway little place, owned by the Parkers,” Miss Parker said. “I can only be contacted by phone in case of emergencies.”

Jarod’s stand become loose and jaunty. “Well, well. A sabbatical? Until after the kids are born? Probably smart, healthwise. The Centre isn’t the best place to relax.”

“Not only that, but the new couple get a chance to reconnect.”

Oh. Not that voice. Jarod watched as Lyle sauntered into the room next to Miss Parker.

“Family just keeps getting bigger for me,” Lyle said as he looked toward Broots. “That whole killing my new niece thing is probably going to put a damper between that connection for a little while.” He waved his hand in the air. “Your daughter wasn’t really in my focus.”

“Well, she’s in my focus you bastard,” Broots warned him, stepping up in front of Miss Parker. “So you keep your grimy hands off of her or you’re going to regret it.”

“Ah. Good to see those treatments are helping out.” Lyle grabbed Broots hand and shook it. “Welcome to the family.” He leaned over Miss Parker and stared in her eyes. “Eeh, that’s not good.” He gestured to her. “Your eyes are dull and lifeless.”

“Her eyes are not dull and lifeless,” Jarod spoke up. “They just don’t have The Centre written all over them.”

“No kidding. Get that fixed, pronto.” Lyle adjusted his tie. “For gosh sakes, you look exactly like your mother now.”

“Hey, hey!” Broots shook his finger at Lyle. “She is six months pregnant, and she was very stressed with all this twin angel talk. She isn’t doing any treatments at all, she is going to relax, and have a healthy and happy family!” He grasped her hand in his. “I mean it, Lyle Parker, don’t come near my family.”

Miss Parker’s eyes looked shocked. “He just called you out by first and last?”

Lyle did not look happy at that. He pointed his finger at Broots and sighed. “Mutumbo will be proud of your progress, but don’t go too far. If you weren’t almost my brother-in-law, I’d be sending sweepers after you for that one.” He gestured to Broots. “Get dressed too. Right. Parkers don’t dress all gaudy like that. We have taste.”

“Some more than others,” Jarod interrupted the confrontation.

“Well, at the very least, at least I’m not related to you,” Lyle pointed out to Jarod. “A brother in law who thinks his world is his to command is . . . well, actually Parker-like,” Lyle said, “but helping that same world like some retribution avenger? It was hard to sleep at night.”

“Lay off of Jarod,” Miss Parker warned him.

Lyle looked back at her, astonished. “Did you just stand up for Jarod? The annoying pain in the ass that has been haunting you for six years? The cause of all your ulcers and problems?”

Jarod watched Miss Parker look at him. The softness in her eyes, the focus taken out. The burning desire to bring him in, almost all gone. Enough fire to burn for her own passions and dreams, but not to burn her whole life out.

“He’s not that annoying,” Miss Parker said. She looked toward Lyle. “It’s just his geeky way.”

Jarod turned around in disbelief as Lyle laughed.

“Oh, that’s rich!” Lyle laughed as Jarod made his full 360. “Yep. Focus is gone. You see him as the geeky friend you always had to protect. Hm. Funny how things don’t really change much, do they, Jarod? You sure you don’t want her to get focus back? Look at least halfway manly to her?”

“Stop teasing him,” Miss Parker said. “I mean it, Lyle.”

“Ooh. Are you the big sister on the playground defending her little brother from a bully?” Lyle teased him.

Miss Parker grabbed him unexpectedly by his tie. The roughness of the old Miss Parker, still firmly in that grip. “You went after Debbie, gave her the same disease that killed my father, and then kept the cure as your own, twisted goodie. You put me in a cell for six months. Overall, you are not on my happy list, more on my ‘I plan to shoot in the future’ list. The only reason you’re not dead is because I’m too stressed and I need a vacation. Now?” She let go of his tie. “Quit teasing him.”

Lyle adjusted his tie again. “Yes, mom.” Lyle scratched his cheek. “Your little defender is more in charge than ever, Jarod.”

“Shut up.”

“Okay. Okay.” Lyle held his hands up. “A Centre plane will be ready to take my sister and her new fiancée and kid out of here for their sabbatical. So, I will see you?” He pointed at Jarod. “Tonight.”

 

----------------------------------------

Already out and in the Centre plane . . .

 

Okay. Jarod got behind the controls of the plane. Her eyes are pretty. She’s my friend again obviously. Except for the fact that her conscience was on a block. She truly saw him as just a weak and frail fourteen year old boy trapped behind the glass.

And that. Irritated him. More than anything else. He’d rather have her yelling about what an ass he was. She was defending him. Defending him to Lyle! Like he couldn’t defend himself. I take care of myself. I take care of other people. That is what I do.

“Careful, Miss Parker,” Broots voice came from the back. “Okay, now what?”

“Knowing Jarod’s ass, he’s probably already Pretended his way on board.”

Jarod breathed a sigh of relief. Good. It was only behind the glass she would get overly defensive like that.

“Did you call Jarod an ass?” Broots asked from the back. “I-I thought you two were friends. You defended him from Lyle.”

“I did what?”

Yep, a half trance. “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your captain speaking,” Jarod said, not really wanting to get into that. “Are we clear for takeoff?”

“Stop goofing around and get out of here already!”

 

 

------------------------------

Chapter Text

------------------------------

Personal Home on a Secluded Island

 

“So, Debbie and I stay here?” Broots gestured to the phone he had. “If anyone calls, say you aren’t available unless they call more than twice or it’s urgent?”

“Yep,” Jarod said handing him a phone. “That will reach her. Don’t lose it, Mister Broots. As long as they think she’s merely on sabbatical, everything should be fine.”

“Okay.” Broots looked out toward the open ocean and the huge place in front of him. “This is going to be lonely for awhile. But fun,” he smiled at Miss Parker. “I bet Debbie will love it.”

“Just don’t go crazy.” Miss Parker handed him The Centre card. “Jarod’s funds take care of us, so you take this.” She patted it in his hand. “Order food, entertainment, whatever. Just get through the next four or five months here.”

“Oh, I think we can manage.” Broots looked out into the distance. “This place is huge. Wow.” He turned to look at her again. “You sure you’ll be alright, Miss Parker?”

“She’s with me, of course she’ll be alright,” Jarod said. Okay. So, the defending thing was still a little heavy on his mind. As well as the geek thing. Would she always see him like that? Did he want her to see him differently, or not? Did she still see him like that, even though he wasn’t behind the glass anymore?

“Okay. I’m sure Debbie will love it.” Broots smiled at his daughter as she waved back. She was along the shoreline. He looked back toward Miss Parker. “One last Parker kiss?”

“Later.” Jarod grabbed Miss Parker’s hand. “Our ride is arriving.”

Broots didn’t make for a move, but already felt the phone ring. He handed it to Miss Parker. 

Miss Parker rubbed her eyes. “Great. I’m guessing Las Vegas is out now?” She looked up toward the sky. “I know that plane.”

Jarod stopped her from running off. “Easy, easy. It’s just my dad, and he isn’t going to hurt you.”

“No one in your family is supposed to know where I am at!” she seethed. “That was the deal!” She patted around her dress for any kind of gun. She checked her purse. No gun.

“It was necessary,” Jarod warned her, “and there are no guns. Look, we can’t take The Centre plane, they’ll see it’s in use elsewhere. The only way on and off this island is through a ship, and I don’t have any Pretends set up because I was out in Blue Cove with my mom.”

“No one said you had to stay out there.” She held up his finger toward him as she answered the phone Broots just gave her. “Parker.” She listened. “Duly noted.” She hit end and passed it back to Broots.

“I didn’t want you gone too far from me.” Then, realizing what he said. “Six and a half months in, I’m not losing you at the final stretch, and things are about as horrible as when I first broke out.” He sighed. “My whole schedule of Pretends is a wreck now. I had no choice. Major Charles isn’t going to do anything, I promise.”

“My whole life is a wreck now too, let’s just get this over with,” Miss Parker said. “If he tries to kill me, Jarod, I’ll kill him, I mean it.” She breathed heavy. “Where are we going?”

“Base,” he said. “Who was on the phone?”

“Later, Jarod.”

 

-------------------------------

Major Charles’ Secret Base

 

“It’s nice to see you again, Miss Parker,” Gemini greeted her at the door to the cold base. “Come this way, and I’ll show you to your temporary residence.”

Jarod watched as Miss Parker headed away before he looked at his dad. “We’ve got a problem.”

Major Charles sighed. “So, let me just get this straight. The reason we can’t get to your mother, is because of The Triumvirate. It’s not just The Centre base in Africa, it’s a lot more?” Jarod nodded. “And, Miss Parker can’t get away from The Centre without having an evil clone of you, actually come out and hurt people you’ve helped in your Pretends?” He shook his head. “But, you can’t just let her stay because those kids are not going to stay in The Centre. But she has to, or you suffer. This is.” He rubbed his ear. “This is bad.”

“Not only that. Kyle too.”

“Out there, in a jungle, only getting away by doing Sims.” Major Charles shoved his hands in his pockets. “Jarod, this is hell. There’s no way out that’s going to make anyone happy. If she stays . . . we have to get the kids.”

“That’s what she fears,” Jarod whispered. “I can’t do that. I can’t abandon them, but they can’t stay in The Centre.” His nostril flared. “Not only that, they are making her get married.”

Major Charles shrugged. “That’s not a big deal.” He looked back toward Jarod. “Is it?”

Jarod scratched the back of his neck. “ . . . no.”

“Jarod? What is it?”

“Nothing, dad.” Jarod looked back at him. “I have to find my clone. I have to . . .”

“You’re going to have to kill him,” Major Charles said. “Can you do that?”

“I did it once.” Jarod looked out the window of the door. Endless snow. “I don’t want to end anyone’s life, but he’s dangerous. Too dangerous. If I can finish him, then Miss Parker can stay with me.”

“Jarod.” The Major looked at him. “From what you told me, he’s not going to anger you at the time you need to shoot him. It won’t be like before, when someone’s life is on the line. Can you do this?”

“I have to. If I don’t, he’ll just get away, and come right back,” Jarod said.

“What if you just hit him in particular spots, handicapping him for life?” The Major suggested.

Jarod shook his head. “If he’s not useful, The Triumvirate will just kill him. Or, he’ll be out in some jungle, unable to defend himself when a lion eats him alive or something.” He looked back to his dad. “That would be more cruel. He was created that way, not born that way. I don’t want to make it any more cruel than I have to.”

“Alright, well, over here.” Major Charles gestured to the computer. “We know a lot about The Centre, but there’s never been that much on the Triumvirate. Do you have any kind of map of it?”

“I visited it once to release Miss Parker,” Jarod said as he started to search through his father’s computer. “Mom said that was just a small part of it. All I know is, everything that I’ve heard of it, it’s more than just a reproduction of The Centre in Africa.” He sighed. “There isn’t even a map of it. How are we going to find it?”

“Must be one nasty place. I didn’t think anything was worse than The Centre,” Major Charles said. “It’s so secret though.”

“I had full access to the entire Centre when I put myself behind the glass.” Jarod checked the computer even deeper, but it seemed fruitless. “Every code, every kidnapping, everything, I had it all. And, not even one map of The Triumvirate.” Jarod looked toward his dad. “All I found were a few projects here and there joined with them. Where’d you get the chemicals?”

“Another small part. Miss Parker had told us about it. Well, Emily.” Major Charles looked toward the room Gemini took her too. “So she’s been hunting you to save you from The Triumvirate?”

“Yeah.”

“Does that make her a good guy?” Major Charles asked. “She did a lot of stuff, Jarod. A lot of stuff.”

Jarod rubbed his head and kept looking. “I know, dad. She did what she thought was best.”

“Do you forgive her for it?”

Jarod nodded. “I’ve . . . never been able to stay mad at her,” he admitted. “Mom certainly isn’t either.” He looked toward his father, judging whether he should tell him. His mom regretted not telling him that she was a Pretender, but it was her place to tell him or not. No. She should do it.

“Alright, Jarod, but I doubt anything’s going to curb Emily’s feelings,” Major Charles warned him. “You know, if she’s stuck in The Centre, you can’t just let them stay.”

“I . . .” Jarod ignored it. It was the same run around principle. “There’s nothing here, not even in the miscellaneous files.”

“That’s because it doesn’t exist.” Miss Parker glanced toward Major Charles as she came out of her room with Gemini. “Paper, pencil, and pen. I’ll show you the Triumvirate.”

Major Charles grabbed some paper and a pen. Miss Parker quickly took them from him. She drew a crude outline of the whole African continent. “This is Africa.”

“Barely,” Jarod commented.

“Well excuse me for not having the perfect art skills of a Pretender,” she said. “Still better art skills than you did when you first showed up.” She put the pencil down and picked up the pen. She shaded in almost the entire map of Africa, except the dry desert region at the top. “That’s the Triumvirate.”

“All of Africa?” Major Charles took the paper.

“Not the top section. At least, not to my knowledge. Thinking about it, it could be a good place to hide another base,” she said. “For all my knowledge though, that is where it is.”

Jarod took the picture. “How?”

“Hidden, like The Centre tries to be,” Miss Parker said. “There are literally 200 hidden bases just as big and as powerful as The Centre. I’ve visited about 20 in my lifetime. The two main bases are where we share Diplomats. The first is where I was kept, and the second was where I told the woman who’s definitely ready to kill me where the chemicals had been.” She propped herself back up. “Have at it, Boys.” She let the pen roll.

“You visited Pretenders here before,” Jarod said, thinking of a good place to start the search.

“ . . .” She didn’t speak up right away. “Let me see the paper.” She took it back and regrabbed the pen. Where she shaded over everything, she drew three more solid lines. “The Triumvirate is divided into three. Adama’s rule. Mutumbo’s rule. Bhekumbuso’s rule.” She pointed toward the first area. “Adama controls the viral contagions, the memory wiping technologies, the hideous, and the horrid stuff of nightmares. His family line is where re-education first got its name.” She pointed toward the second area. “Mutumbo. Cures. Repairs. Ailments. Most of the technology is more natural, but recovery and healing is the key. Anything Adama creates, Mutumbo must cure, and vice versa.” She pointed to the third area. “Then there’s . . . Bhekumbuso.”

“He died,” Jarod said looking at the area.

“Someone in his family line will take over soon,” she said. “If simply killing three men got rid of everything, someone would have done it a long time ago.” She tapped the area. “His specialty wasn’t chemical, but human. Take a good hard look at what the kids do on SL-26 and you’ve got it.” She took her finger off her crude map. “He’s the one. When he came out to America, he was already suspicious. As soon as he didn’t return, he probably had orders to send out the clone if something happened.”

“He controls the Pretenders.” Jarod looked at the area. Even divided into three, it was still gigantic. “Kyle has to be around there, and so does the clone.”

“And the information about the children of The Centre,” she added.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s even more hiding in there too,” Jarod added looking at Miss Parker. “Do you remember where his base is?”

“I was there, once, when I was twelve,” Miss Parker said. “From Chopper to a little area, and then we had to hike our way in there. Daddy wanted to talk to Bhekumbuso, get some stuff figured out. I looked around . . .” She faded. “I don’t remember anything that could be helpful. Not even the name of the area.”

“Damn.” Major Charles smacked the desk. “It’s almost as big as Africa. Hidden bases, with each one just as powerful as The Centre?”

“Let me guess. In the towns, cities, and wilds, tucked away as ‘think-tanks’,” Jarod said bitterly. He looked toward Miss Parker. “How are we going to get to anyone, if we don’t have any more information?”

“I don’t know. Pretend your way into a main base and see if anyone knows anything?” she suggested.

“I don’t think so. As big as all this is, I have a feeling each contained area is . . . a contained area,” Major Charles said. “Like The Centre.”

“Well do something!” She demanded. “Something. Do something.”

Jarod knew it wouldn’t be solved in a day. “This is going to take time.”

“Well, we don’t get that.” She touched her forehead gently. “That was Adama on the phone, before we left. Lyle isn’t trustworthy for long hauls, he’s been on the unfit list twice. He can watch over The Centre, five days total.”

That wasn’t good. If Jarod didn’t figure out where the Pretenders were, then . . .

 “Where’s the bathroom?” Miss Parker asked Gemini. Gemini guided her.

“Nausea?” The Major asked.

 

“No.” Jarod tried to look his father in the eye. “Knowledge. That I might not have a choice . . . but to take them.”

Chapter Text

The Major looked at the map. “Maybe we can figure this out, Jarod. Maybe we can eventually find a hidden base and work our way in, but the chances we are going to do it any time soon? Especially with her that pregnant. She can’t be going out there like that. Your unborn would be in danger.”

“They already are.” Jarod sunk his head into his arms as he collapsed the front side of him on the table. “Her ulcers. This stress. Lyle can’t be at The Centre more than five days. She already knows how this is looking, and that’s going to hurt even worse.” He covered his head, lying it completely on the table, not wanting to face the world right now.

He wanted to crawl up into anyone else’s skin right now. Anyone. But himself. If Lyle could only take over five days, and she was gone longer, they would send his clone back out. It wasn’t an option. “I can’t take her children away.”

“You can’t leave them in The Centre, Jarod,” his father reminded him.

“But The Centre doesn’t think their special. They think they are someone else’s now . . .”

 

Gemini watched the display in front of him. He moved toward Jarod. Very strange. He’d never seen Jarod do that before. He had seen Jarod do many things, and had heard many rumors of all the things he had done. But he never saw him break down before.

“This whole thing. It’s not right. I lost three people to him.” He held up another finger. “Without Pretending, a killer is about to go loose, I didn’t get in the proper position. And the next one. And the next one. And this, with Miss Parker to boot? It all feels hopeless. There’s no clues, except what’s in her head.”

And oddly, the Major seemed to understand his pain. He was actually holding Jarod quite closely. Gemini came closer. “Jarod.”

“A second, Gemini,” Major Charles said a little more roughly than usual.

Gemini nodded. He could tell he wasn’t needed there. He went down a ways to the bathroom. He was going to knock on the door, but heard the sounds of crying inside. He’d never caught Miss Parker crying during their stay.

Things must have been getting messy.

“Gemini?”

Gemini turned and saw Ethan. “She’s crying. Jarod’s not much better.”

“I know.” Ethan scooted Gemini out of the way and made his way into the bathroom.

 

Don’t be worried. Jarod gets out everything. He finds out everything. So what if I was the only one who could even draw a map to explain things? And that none of it exists on Centre computers? And . . . She wasn’t doing so hot. Miss Parker stared in the mirror, and then realized Ethan came into the room. She turned quickly. He didn’t even knock!

“You are having Jarod’s children,” Ethan said. “Jarod is your enemy. You are Jarod’s enemy.”

He said something like that before, but this time, it seemed to bring down the walls in her defense. “The voices?” She moved closer to him. “Do they say anything? Any name?”

Ethan shook his head.

“What do they say?” She asked timidly. It wasn’t like her, but right now . . . “Ethan? Please? We need help.”

Ethan came over to her and hugged her. “I care for Jarod. I care for you. But, you’re enemies. Jarod is your enemy. You are Jarod’s enemy. It doesn’t change.”

Miss Parker gently closed her eyes and then opened them. Her mouth hung open, but she couldn’t say anything. Ethan’s gift was so much better than hers. “No chance? At all?”

No chance. At all.

Ethan held her as she went unconscious. He looked toward Gemini. “Get Jarod.”

Gemini nodded anxiously, feeling his heart race. He moved down the hall toward Jarod and Major Charles. “Jarod, Jarod! Come quick, Miss Parker is down!”

Although Jarod wasn’t feeling his best, he could do the same thing Gemini could. Get his emotions together fast when the situation called for it. Jarod raced down the hallway to the bathroom where Ethan was still holding Miss Parker. “Put her down, put her down!” He started checking over her. “Miss Parker? Miss Parker?”

“It can’t go on like this, Jarod,” Ethan said, but Jarod ignored him.

“Jarod.” Gemini looked toward Ethan. “Jarod. Is she going to be okay?”

“She just fainted.” Jarod looked back toward Ethan. “What happened?”

Ethan didn’t speak. “I’m sorry.”

“Ethan. He.” Gemini wanted to help. He didn’t want to tell on his brother, but he didn’t want Jarod not to know.

“Ethan, what did you say?” Jarod asked, harshly. “I told you not to stress her out before, didn’t I? What did you say?”

“He said that there was no way both of you could ever be anything but enemies,” Gemini tattled. He had to. Miss Parker was in danger. “You’re enemies and it can’t work any other way.”

“It’s what the voices say,” Ethan said.

“What?!” Jarod started to breathe hard and just looked at him incredulously. “Do you have any idea what she’s been through?” He tried to stir her again. “Come on, come on, Miss Parker.”

“It’s true. I’m sorry,” Ethan said. “I’m sorry I couldn’t bring her. You brought her though, and she is where she needs to be now. To make the decision.”

“She is in no condition to make any decision,” Jarod said. He wanted to be nice to Ethan. He cared for him. But he stressed her out to the max! The voices, even she had them a little. Ethan’s was stronger, and they led them to the right direction before. But. “Why?!”

“Any longer, and you’ll lose all three,” Ethan said. “Her stress isn’t The Centre, Jarod. It’s you. You are the enemy. She is your enemy.”

“I’m not the enemy anymore,” Jarod said boldly. “The voices are wrong, we aren’t enemies. We aren’t.”

“That’s not true,” Ethan said. “You want it to be, but it’s not.” Ethan approached slowly. He took his hand and placed it along her heart. “Her biggest fear is you. If she stays in The Centre, you or your family will take away her children. Yet, if she doesn’t, then your clone will be set loose. For good.” Ethan looked straight at him. “You are enemies.”

Jarod continued to breathe hard. “There has to be something else.”

“There isn’t.”

“There has to be something else!” Jarod yelled. “Dig deeper, find out more.”

“Ethan’s gift doesn’t work like that, Jarod,” his dad said from the doorway. “There’s no way we can find this killer clone of yours in three months without having him come out. The little we do have was just from Miss Parker’s own mind. Now, we’ll investigate and we’ll get there but-“

“Not before they are born,” Ethan said to him.

Jarod closed his eyes and lifted her limp body carefully. “We are enemies. We can’t work this out.” He didn’t want to believe it. "Anything else? Anything?"

“There is something else,” Ethan said. “I don't know what it means. Beyond the Glass.”

“Glass?” Jarod heard her groan. “Glass?”

///“Jarod. Miss Parker has The Centre. As long as the Angel’s beyond the glass there, everything will be alright and I can see you!”///

“I hung out with my mom for days,” Jarod said. “She wouldn’t say something like that, phrase it like that. Beyond the glass. She didn’t talk like that.” The scrolls. “She must have been saying something from the scrolls.”

Miss Parker opened her eyes and saw Jarod. She tried to scramble away, but he didn’t let her. “Hang on, I know what he said to you, Miss Parker.” Jarod looked toward Ethan. “Glass. Would glass work? The plexiglass, before I left, Sydney replaced it on my behalf. Secretly.”

Ethan concentrated. “Beyond the Glass. She is your enemy. You are her enemy.”

“Wait.” Jarod looked toward Miss Parker. “I get it. It’s risky . . . but it’s the only way. There’s no more information. We have to do this.”

“Do what?” Miss Parker asked.

“I have to stay in The Centre.”

“No, Jarod. No, it’s too risky!” Major Charles said.

“No. Mom said it best. As long as the Angel is beyond the glass, it’ll be okay. Mom even stayed with me for days, no visible worries we’d get caught at all. We even Pretended in The Centre itself.” He had to trust that she knew. She had read the scrolls. “As long as Miss Parker is in The Centre, it’s safe.”

“What are you talking about?” Miss Parker asked. “And will you let me down yet? This. Is weird.”

Jarod just smiled at her. “You’ve Pretended to be my wife before, don’t you enjoy a little Bridal style, honey?”

“Jarod. I am not in the mood.”

“Ah, you always use that excuse. What is it this time, a headache?” Jarod joked.

“Okay.” Ethan smiled at Jarod. “Jarod is my sister’s enemy. My sister is Jarod’s enemy.”

“And that doesn’t change.” He understood it now. He understood it now!

“What the hell is everyone talking about? And Jarod, damn it, I’m not kidding. Put me down. Jarod!” She kicked her foot.

Jarod laughed and finally put her down, but once he did he gently hugged her. “It’ll be okay. Until we nab him, we’ll be okay.”

“How?” she asked.

“You run The Centre. You own The Centre, Miss Parker.” Jarod looked directly at her. “All the security. All the cameras. All the gates. People can’t leave without your say so. Without your knowledge.”

“Duh. I have access to everything The Centre could have. What are you thinking about?” she asked.

 

A short explanation later . . .

 

“I don’t like it. I still don’t like it,” the Major disagreed. “I really don’t.”

“I do,” Ethan disagreed.

“I have complete control,” Miss Parker said slowly, looking toward Jarod. “You want me to make everyone believe, you are always in The Centre.”

“But I am not always going to be there,” Jarod confirmed. “I have to Pretend. I have to save. I have to find The Triumvirate, out here. Most of all, I want to keep an eye on the twins.” He looked down toward her stomach. “All this stress, it hasn’t been good.”

“I could put you down as maximum security.” She was starting to see it. “But I can’t ride over the big boys, Jarod. When the Triumvirate visits, they expect results fast.”

“They’ve never bothered to see me before,” Jarod pointed out. He would have remembered them, as a child or as an adult. “As long as they know I’m locked up, I doubt they’d do anything. If they do, try and delay them. Have Broots say it’s a bad malfunction in the program that takes twenty four hours to fix. I can be anywhere in the world and make that deadline.”

 

“Hm. Lyle then?” Wait. What was that? She hadn’t seen that since he was a child. That barely uncomfortable side glance and small . . . awkward almost steely eyed sigh?

“Give him the same excuse,” Jarod said, trying to cover up something.

///“Okay. Okay.” Lyle held his hands up. “A Centre plane will be ready to take my sister and her new fiancée and kid out of here for their sabbatical. So, I will see you?” He pointed at Jarod. “Tonight.”///

///“There it is,” Lyle said devilishly as he bit his lip. “No words. No look. Do you know what you look like right now? Like Broots,” he said rubbing it in. He laughed. “Now, making Broots look like that, putting a scare into the weak? It’s no fun. No, but getting someone like you to finally drop that mask you always put up. I will remember this face for the rest of my life.”///

Dry River. Trying to steal Jarod’s thumb. My Pretender is scared, but he’s hiding it. Jarod was not easily scared. Visibly, he was fine, but there was still something there. “I want to talk to Broots.”

“I’m sure he could make it work,” Jarod said.

“I still want to talk . . .” She paused. “Does this mean I’m marrying Broots?” She looked toward Jarod. “ . . . well. That’s . . .”

“We’ll see when the time gets closer,” he said, not delving any farther. He gave her the phone to contact Broots.

 

-------------------------

Secluded Island

 

Debbie came over toward her dad as Broots opened up a strange suitcase. He stared at it.

“Dad?” she asked, pointing to all the liquid filled tubes. “What’s that?”

“Something I’m supposed to take, sweetheart,” he said, “but something I don’t want to.” He looked back toward her. Jarod. Taking her away. That much mistrust. Even with just the three he had taken so far, he felt such a profound change.

He also remembered seeing the result of the focus treatments, testing them. Miss Parker repeating the same lines while something treacherous was not very far away. Sometimes, close enough, that it could reach.  To do that, without any of the liquid courage they called ‘focus’?

But Jarod’s threat was clear. Focus was wrong. The suitcase held over thirty doses along with their syringes and needles. It wasn’t any compared to what Miss Parker had been shoved into taking by Raines, but Lyle took the same amount he had in front of him.

“Dad?” Debbie asked again. “Is Miss Parker going to become my new mom, or not? Because. I keep hearing things, and we are living with her.”

“Oh, Debbie. I really didn’t want to . . .” He looked toward her. She was really starting to grow up. “We have to tell lies now, to protect Miss Parker and the unborn kids of her and Jarod. Remember?”

She nodded. “They are still Jarod’s?”

“Keep that between us,” Broots insisted. “Anyone else knowing could put Miss Parker in danger.”

“I get it,” Debbie said. “There are problems too, that you aren’t telling me.” She sighed but hugged her dad. “I’m supposed to keep acting like she will be, until this gets fixed? Because, I love Miss Parker. I pretended she was my mom too,” she said. “But, the real thing?”

“Let’s not go there, Debbie, okay?” Broots assured her. “This whole thing, it’ll get worked out way before then. No worries. Trust me,” he chuckled. “There’s no way someone like Miss Parker is actually going to marry me.”

Then his phone to contact her directly, rang.

 

 

--------------------------------------

Major Charles Secret Base

 

She took it. “Okay, out of the bathroom,” she insisted to everyone. Once everyone was safely out, she listened for Broots to pick up.

“Hello?”

“Broots.”

“Yes, Miss Parker?”

“Why . . .” Her mind was charging in different directions. Why she was asking what she was asking. “Did Lyle ever do something to Jarod?”

“Um. I don’t know? When you were missing, after you got shot and Jarod was taken in, nobody was allowed to see him at all.”

///”Hello Miss Parker. Is there something I can do for you today?”///

“He hurt my geek,” she whispered, before she even knew what she said. She quickly corrected herself. “In your expert opinion. What do you think happened?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think it was good.”

Lyle loves to torture. He couldn’t on me, and he still found a way by not letting me talk while he pushed me down deeper. He loves torture. She hit her hand on the sink. He hurt Jarod, that son of a bitch!

Jarod wouldn’t admit how much he hurt him, but she knew him. Knew his subtle signs. His uncomfortable, weary signs. When things didn’t go right. He didn’t want to admit it, wouldn’t admit it. He was the defender of all, big and little. Not to mention, he thought Lyle killed his brother. He wouldn’t show any weakness. “If Lyle comes near Jarod again, I’ll kill him.” That never stopped her before. “ Do you have control of every single piece of The Centre, and can you keep Lyle out of it indefinitely?”

“Well? I do. I mean, most likely, I could keep Lyle out.”

“I want it set up so that if Lyle even sneaks in there, all the alarms and whistles go off. I don’t want him near him.”

“Um. Sure.”

Miss Parker hung up the phone and came out of the bathroom. “So. What is the new plan?”

“Not just new. Solid.” Jarod nodded toward his dad, his dad finally agreeing. He looked back toward Miss Parker. “You stay at The Centre. Cut the sabbatical, this isn’t doing anything except giving people time to discover I’m not there. Slow down your role a little more on investigating though. Keep it more business,” he said. “During that time, I’ll be out here on Pretends. I’ll come back every Weekend, Saturday and Sunday. Make it a tradition to go down and see me that way no one asks questions. It’s just, easily fitted there for your busy schedule.”

“If he’s not there when someone wants to see him,” Major Charles spoke. “Then call him and have Broots make up a malfunction excuse if it’s too long to get back in a reasonable amount of time.”

“Pretends. Africa. The Centre. Not an easy mix,” she said.

“Yes, but, it’ll work,” Jarod said. “Except for one thing? Broots. Treatments. Cease. Your father had the right to stop your treatments, you have to stop his.”

“End the focus?” she asked. “It’s not bad.”

“It’s not good,” Jarod disagreed. “No more.”

She sighed. “I can’t say that to The Triumvirate. But, I can lie,” she agreed. “The tests after the treatment is supposed to be over . . . to see if he had enough . . . it will be extremely tough on Broots.”

“You mean bulldogs and snakes trying to bite and eat at you? It will be tough,” Jarod agreed. “But he’d do anything for Debbie. Stop the treatments.”

“It’s that necessary?”

“Yes.” Jarod looked toward his father, then back to her. “I’m Angel and Onyssius’ father. That doesn’t change. But.”

The Major laid his hand on Jarod’s shoulder. “This probably isn’t going to get taken care of by the time they are born,” he said gently for his son. “Since another man will be the father to everyone else, then Jarod has to . . .”

Let Broots play father.

“No more treatments,” Jarod insisted. “Ends now, it ends now.”

“It ends now,” she agreed for him. “What happens then, after they are born?”

“We’ll discuss it later.” That’s all he went with for now.

“No more ideas of stealing?”

“No. As long as no one thinks they are special, no reason.”

Miss Parker looked toward Major Charles. He seemed to understand.

“No one’s coming after them. Jarod is technically there,” Major Charles said.

“So no more worrying, okay?” Jarod insisted. “No more stress.”

“The Centre is unpredictable,” Miss Parker said. “There’s no telling what could happen, Jarod.”

“I’ll keep Emily away, I promise,” Major Charles said. “She won’t go in alone, and I won’t help her.”

“They are safe.” Three words she had longed to hear for so long. Jarod wouldn’t get them. His family wouldn’t get them. No one knew how special they were.

“But.” Jarod held his finger out toward her, pointing crudely. “To do this. To put myself into that position, a position you know I am not going to like.” His eyes were hard.  “You know what I want afterward. Once I get rid of the clone.”

“I’ll Pretend with you for the Sim atonement.” No more ‘for now’. Jarod was pushing the line of everything to stay in the place he most despised. Staying in The Centre again. Not for a day or two. Weekends, for months, and probably more between when he could for appearances.

“And nothing happens while my kids are in you, I mean it. I absolutely-“

“I won’t do anything,” she promised.

“But something happened, both you and Broots were really relaxed this morning,” he accused her.

The Major shifted slightly away from Jarod and sighed. What was that? Did they have their own little talk while she was on the phone?

She gave him an odd look. “I needed a massage.”

“Where?”

“In that private little area most women like to call . . . their back and feet.” she practically spat. “You put too much scare into my other little geek to get anything else.” Then her eyes went wide and she glanced toward him. “That came out wrong.”

“Lordy, I do not want to be here. Gemini, let’s go get something to drink from the kitchen.” Major Charles and Gemini both left to the Kitchen area.

Jarod rubbed his jaw.

Miss Parker rubbed her chin. “Sorry.”

“That’s all I was as a kid to you, wasn’t it?” Jarod asked her bitterly. “Just the geek in the back of The Centre?”

“So. You’re a geek. I didn’t care.”

“You didn’t say were a geek.”

She held her hands up. “Forget it.”

“No. I am a Pretender, not a geek.”

“I know. It slipped out.” She winced. “I just, something happened to me.”

“Broke your focus. That’s what I wanted to do,” Jarod said. “So I’m not like poison ivy. Instead, now, I am what you used to see before it. Which, apparently, is a geek.”

“Jarod. You’ve never been anything but a geek. I didn’t care,” she said.

He snorted.

“I didn’t mind.”

He looked away then back, still clearly annoyed.

“Fine, if it makes you feel better.” She groaned and looked at her own feet a second before matching his gaze. “I liked you as a geek. You didn’t know anything. There was no bad influence around you.” She looked off in the distance. “I was called Angel, but you were a real one back then.” She looked back toward him. “The only safe, pure place.” Her eyes, meeting his again. Then she moved away again.

Oooh. Geek wasn’t a bad thing to her. She wasn’t making fun of him. “I’m sorry. I thought, I just thought-“

“I wasn’t there to poke fun at you, if that’s what you were thinking.”

“No, I get it now. I’m sorry,” Jarod apologized. “In the Centre. A little boy that knew nothing of the treacheries of it, or the outside was . . . salvation to you.” He looked back toward her. “I’m not that anymore. I’ve been out here six years. Even before that, in the Centre, I still grew up. Figured things out.”

“I know that. Habit. Focus, it’s . . .” she sighed. “It changes you, bit by bit, and little by little. So, I feel . . . weird,” she admitted. “Sometimes I physically see you as a child again.”

Jarod walked toward her, looking all around at her, before his eyes settled back on hers. “I can still be here though, for you. I’m not . . . the same, but I’m still here.” Realizing that feelings were stirring up in him. Deep inside, like Carthis. He knew they were at a turning point again.

But, that turn. Clones. The Centre. It wasn’t just them secluded on a faraway island with a blanket and tea. He patted her shoulders. Not yet. They needed to work on trust and friendship.

 “Thanks. Jarod.” Finally, he got a decent smile from her.

A smile. She smiled. At him. She patted his chest in a friendly manner too and turned away. “I did give him a blowjob though.”

 

---------------------------

 

Dark Africa

Through the miles of wilderness, the beautiful canyons and rivers that inhabit Africa, a voice calls out into the majestic sky . . .

 

“Kyyyyyyylllllee!” Jarod Hades yelled over his favorite sitting rock spot. “Oooohhhh Kyyyyyllee!” It usually took about a day to cross a full boundary area. He’d been calling Kyle for days. “You little prick, stop ignoring me,” he said in a huff. “I met your big broooooooooother!” That should get him. Usually when a Pretender started to hear the long sounding echoes, they at least went in that direction. Kyle should at least be close enough to hear him better.

“What do you mean you met him?”

Jarod Hades smiled as he saw Kyle. “Hi there. How are you? Yep, I met him. They let me out for a whoooole day. I discovered popcorn balls this time. Ooh, and I flew too,” he chuckled. “It was a fun experience.”

“Who did you kill?” Kyle asked him.

Jarod Hades shrugged. “A boring couple he reunited. I hung them on the wall, framed his Jarod Heart’s identity. Did you know your brother was once Pretending to be a male escort? Gah. That guy gets all the fun.”

“Jarod did whatever it took to save lives. He was the saver. Not the decider,” Kyle answered him back. He looked down below him at the rivers. “Don’t kill my brother. Or you know I’ll kill you.”

“Don’t care about him. He’s not in my focus.” Jarod Hades reached in his back pocket and pulled out a book, showing the cover. “Still waiting on her.”

 

Kyle glanced at the book. His brother’s clone always had a copy, carried it everywhere he could. His focus was on a woman, Miss Parker. It was a hunter of his brother so he really wasn’t concerned that much.

“She was supposed to be carrying the twin angels,” Jarod Hades said mysteriously. “Know what that means?” His eyes were wide, staring at Kyle like the madman he was.

He could have never been able to trick Kyle into believing he was Jarod. His cruelty. His smell. His eyes. While he had some strange qualities that reminded him of his brother, he was nowhere close to Jarod. He didn’t have any of the heart or soul of him.

“I don’t care,” Kyle said. “I don’t know what twin angels mean. Is that the only reason you called me here?”

“It means she’d be carrying the chosen ones kiddos.” Jarod Hades wiggled his book. “She was supposed to be carrying your brothers’ kids. Geez, you don’t know nothin’.”

“A hunter. Carrying Jarod’s kids.” He was stretching it. “I don’t believe it,” Kyle said. “He ran from them. They are ruthless, cruel, and care to do nothing but catch him. If I could get my hands on them, I’d set them up and I’d kill them. That would free us.”

“Well, you were right. Turns out it was false. Good for me.” He clung to the book tighter. “She apparently is having regular Management kids. You know, Parkers. A few more months though. Just a few more months.”

“A few more months what?” Kyle asked.

“I’m going to have her in this cage with me.” He chuckled. “Won’t that be fun?”

Kyle looked away, then back at him. “They are going to get her for you? Why?”

“Haven’t you been listening? Don’t you ever listen, Kyle?” Jarod Hades groaned. “I miss Alex. He listened. Hey, who’s on the other side of your boundary?”

“None of your business. None of my business,” Kyle assured him as he sniffed. “Why are they getting you one of my brother’s hunters?”

“So I can make the twin devils.” Jarod Hades chuckled. “After the birth of this regular pair. They think her daughter she named ‘Angel’ might be it. But, just in case? I get momma afterward.”

Kyle looked back at him. “Hm.” He looked back out across the view, then turned to look at him again. “What about the babies?”

“What about them?”

“They won’t have family.”

Jarod Hades shrugged. “That Centre place will raise them. They are Parkers.”

“Their dad?”

Jarod Hades sighed. “I planned on killing him. Do I have to let him live? Would that make you talk more to me? Because I miss talking to Alex. I’m a sociable kind of guy.”

“No.”

“Well, I’ll kill him then. He’s a hunter too.”

“More kids. Raised by The Centre. No mom or dad, but they were evil anyway. It’s like a sick and twisted game.” Kyle looked back at the smiling clone. “Are you done bragging?”

“No.” He rocked back and forth on his rock. “It’s a good feeling. That itch I’ve always had. I’ll finally be able to get it scratched. Just a few more months. A few more months.”

 “Don’t let her near my side of the boundary. This is your only warning,” Kyle said to him.

“Why?”

“Because if I see her, I’ll figure out a way to kill her,” Kyle said, staring straight at him.

“Yeah. There’s that bloodthirst I heard about,” Jarod Hades smiled.

 

“I decide who lives or dies,” Kyle said. “And dying is better than living with you.” 

Chapter Text

-----------------

Broots relaxed with Debbie watching TV, when he heard the sound of a plane again. Miss Parker was supposed to be gone with Jarod. They didn’t even call again. He went ahead and made his way past the hallways. The house was so big, that most of it felt awkward. Him and Debbie ended up hunkering around the smallest room in the middle of it.

He opened the door, and saw Miss Parker marching toward him. Fast. “What’s wrong?”

“New plan,” she said.

“Slow down,” Jarod reminded her. “Speed walking isn’t good.”

“A little speed walking will do good. We only have so much time to get this done.” She felt Jarod clasp onto her hand. Of course. She knew what she was doing. “I can talk this out on the plane, so we can get out. We don’t have much time.”

Broots watched as Miss Parker scooted him in the house.

“Change of plans, Broots,” she said to him. “Big change. Lyle can only rule The Centre for five days. I am betting Adama wasn’t so fond of him, and after two ‘unfits’, called the shot not to let him take charge.”

“Oh. Uh oh.” Broots looked at her eyes. They didn’t look too worried. “Now what?”

“I can explain more in a second. Grab Debbie. We are all heading back to The Centre. Oh, wait.” She pointed her finger at him. “Can you do anything with Centre only live video from here?”

“Not all the way from here.”

“Okay then, let’s go. I’ll get Debbie.”

“Huh.” Broots looked back toward Jarod. “So, what’s the new plan?” Jarod wasn’t speaking to him. “Um. Okay. Used to getting thrown around to and fro.”

“Do you have treatments?” Jarod’s voice sounded bitter.

“Oh. I didn’t take them,” Broots said. “Yeah, right over here.” He walked over to the suitcase.  He put in some kind of code on the side of the briefcase, causing it to unlock. Jarod moved him aside and opened it up.

“So. This is focus.” He picked up one of the vials and looked at it. He placed it back in the suitcase, and then took it. “No more of this. I’m taking it to be analyzed.”

“Yeah, I-I don’t want anymore,” Broots agreed. “Y-you don’t think I have to outrun a lion, do you?”

“I heard it’s good for the heart rate.” Jarod moved away from him, picking up his laptop. “Centre plane. Move.”

“I’ve got her.” Miss Parker came back over with Debbie.

They all started to march to the front door.

“Miss Parker?” Debbie asked. “Where are we going now?”

“Back to The Centre to lock Jarod up.”

Debbie had a funny look on her face.

“Oh, don’t worry,” Jarod smiled at her. “It’s willingly.”

Broots tried to walk on the other side of Miss Parker, but felt himself getting yanked over to Jarod’s side. Strangely. Okay?

As they moved onto the plane, Jarod immediately headed for the cockpit.

 

“Two hours. Barely. Let’s hope Lyle isn’t early,” Miss Parker said as she looked at Broots. “Okay. New plan.” Now that they were finally in the air. “Jarod is coming in and out of The Centre over the comings months,” she said to Broots. “He’ll be here on Saturdays, Sundays and some minimal appearance between. You need to make it look like he’s always in there, including special locking.”

“Special locking?”

“I need it to be like a maximum security prison, where even we can’t reach him all the time,” she said. “Because he won’t be there, he’ll be out Pretending or searching for the clone.”

“Okay. I could loop footage,” Broots agreed. “If he wears the same thing, it should work. Um. But how long will it take to find the clone?”

“I don’t know,” she admitted. “This is just the plan so far.”

“Oh.” Broots nodded. Then, he had a funny look in his eye. “Wait. But, what if it’s not found before . . .” Ohhh. “Yikes. Uh, okay. We could find a way to track Mutumbo or Adama?”

“They won’t take us to Bhekumbuso’s domain,” Miss Parker said. “When Bhekumbuso’s replacement is announced, if we are lucky, he might come to the wedding. Then, we could track him and see if he’ll go to the Pretenders.”

“The um? The?” Broots voice was kinda dry. He chuckled. “Uh? I um.” He rubbed the back of his head. “I-I-I . . .”

“Don’t worry, Broots, we can divorce later once this is taken care of,” she said.

“Oh, good! I mean not that, it was a bad thing, but-“ Broots sighed. “Oh man.”

“In the meantime, it’s going to be way too hard to have them next to me in my office, and to let Jarod find time to see them.” Miss Parker said toward Broots. “So, you need to stay at home and watch them on the weekdays.”

“Huh? But, they are Jarod’s . . .” Oooohhh. Broots winced. “Is Jarod planning on killing me in the future? I-I mean, first, there’s this you marriage thing, and there’s his family which I’m sure he does not want me involved in, at all.” He was starting to sweat.

“He’s not going to kill you, Stooge.” Miss Parker shook her head.

“I don’t understand?” Debbie looked to her dad, then back to Miss Parker. “Jarod would never hurt anyone.”

“Broots? If it hadn’t been you, it’d be Angelo,” she reminded him. “How do you think that would have gone?”

“Y-yeah. Bad.” That wouldn’t have worked in any way.

“Nothing is for certain,” Miss Parker said. “Just, if they haven’t found the clone by then. When they do, this’ll all be over.”

“Good. Good. Cause. I really don’t want to be a Parker,” Broots said looking toward Debbie. “I mean, I-I might not wear the nicest things, o-or I’m not super tough, but I . . .”

“Not everyone’s cut out for it,” Miss Parker said. “Broots?”

“Yeah?” What else could she possibly have to add now?

“After this is over, I’m leaving with Jarod on the rest of his Sim atonement for good. I promised him that.”

“Yeah, I get it,” Broots looked toward Debbie. “We won’t be staying once you go. New city. New job. New everything.”

Debbie nodded and grabbed Miss Parker’s hand. “New start.”

“New starts can be good,” Miss Parker said as she patted her hand.

 

-------------------

Four Hours Later at The Centre. . .

 

“I know for a fact, that he wasn’t in there before,” Lyle complained as Jarod ate Halloween cookies behind the glass.

“Looks the same to me,” Miss Parker said, her arms crossed toward Lyle. “Jarod has a big room. He likes to move. He’s not a fish that’s going to stay in one spot. So stop complaining.”

Lyle sighed and looked toward Jarod. “I know he wasn’t in there.”

“Well, Sydney said he was,” Miss Parker said, “and I trust him a lot more than I trust you.” She flared her nostrils at him. “One simple vacation, and you can’t even handle a week?”

“I can handle five days,” Lyle said. “I just need to convince Adama for more.”

“Hm? Two unfits in less than three months doesn’t make your record shine,” Miss Parker reminded him. “Now, I had Broots put something special in this security system. He won’t be able to get away.”

“Oh, right. Put him in his old room, where he has escaped before, and don’t expect him to?” Lyle questioned her.

“It’s a riveting piece of work,” Broots said next to Lyle. “It’s so tight, even we can’t come in.”

“Without an access code. On certain days. Otherwise, Broots has to override it.”

“Well. That’s not half bad at all, Parker.” Lyle looked from Broots to her. “Why didn’t we ever try this before?”

“Because Jarod was a little more psychologically there,” Sydney said coming over toward Lyle. “We had to grab him from Miss Parker’s house this time. He is getting better, but it’s clear now that he must be behind the glass, back in a quiet element.”

“So he doesn’t steal your kids?” Lyle chuckled as he looked back at Jarod. “Or he doesn’t steal his kids?” He bit his lip. “Honestly? I seriously doubt Broots caught your attention.”

“I seriously doubt you ever use mouth wash,” she said back to him. “You should, with all the disgusting slime that comes out of there all the time.”

“Yeah, well. Maybe it was a lonely call in the middle of the night,” Lyle said. “Maybe.” He tapped on Jarod’s glass. “Either way, I guess you would want him sealed up tight.”

“Tighter than a can of pickles,” Broots said as he scratched his chest.

“It will be better when he is more mentally aware again,” Sydney said. “He is aware of many things, just he’s not quite . . .”

“Trying to cut up Miss Parker at six months to get the kiddies?” Lyle chuckled. “Yeah, I’ll say he’s got something missing.”

“Yeah, well, you don’t help,” Miss Parker said to Lyle. “I don’t want you coming in here to see Jarod without my say-so. That’s an order.”

Lyle seemed deflated. “What?”

“Having the person here that may or may not have murdered his brother is not good on Jarod’s psyche,” Sydney agreed.

Lyle stared at Jarod for awhile. Jarod just waved, and then twiddled his thumbs in the process. “ . . . fine. If that’s what Miss Parker wants, who am I to squabble?”

“Nobody, that’s who,” Miss Parker said. “Get out.”

Lyle shook his head and left the area.

“Crude slime.” Miss Parker looked toward Jarod. She stepped forward. “Anything else?”

“Yes.” Jarod smiled and gestured toward Broots. “I’d like to have a little talk with him. We were in too much of a hurry and I was driving the plane. Didn’t get to chat too much.”

Miss Parker approached the door.

“Um? I get the plan,” Broots said. He looked toward Sydney.

“Private talk. Please,” Jarod insisted.

Sydney shrugged. “If you need anything, Jarod, let us know.”

Broots looked back toward Miss Parker, who sealed up the door behind them. “O-okay.” He waved to Jarod. “Hi, Jarod.”

 

Jarod waited for Miss Parker and Sydney to leave before he put down his cookie. This. This jittery man in front of him, was supposed to be watching Miss Parker if anything went wrong. And, if things were exceptionally hard, raising Angel and Onyssius when he couldn’t be there. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatever  a man sows, that shall he also reap. Galatians. Know it?”

He stood up, and watched Broots almost jump out of his skin. “Those treatments do wear off fast. Good,” he said. “Sit down, Mister Broots.” He moved over to Broots and brought him to the chair to sit down. “You know the plan we have to follow, right?”

“Uh, yes?”

“Yes, you do.” Jarod spun his chair around once, stopped it and continued talking. “It’s not something I’m looking forward to, but with Miss Parker’s ulcers and Ethan’s words, I know this is the best thing I can do for her, and still do what I have to do. Of course, what I would rather do is get her and raise my family away from The Centre. But you know why that can’t happen.”

“Right. Your clone will assume your identity and kill someone you knew again.”

Jarod spun his chair around halfway and looked toward him. “Do you remember what I said earlier? I told you a statement that needed to remain true. And . . .” his face winced. “You didn’t keep it.”

“Uh?”

“Don’t be shocked, Miss Parker’s never been able to hide anything from me. Well, not when it was right-right in front of me.” He turned him to face away again and leaned against the chair. “This really puts us into a predicament, Mister Broots. Number one, I have no choice but to trust you with the most important thing in my life.”

“Miss Parker?”

“Family,” he corrected him. “Now, you are a fitting dad. You did great with Debbie. Good manners. Great personality. Very sweet and loving girl, even Gemini was taken with her.”

Gemini? “Your clone?” Broots looked up toward him. “What do you mean?”

Jarod shrugged. “Young love?”

“What?!” Broots shot right out of the chair. “Y-your clone is, no. Uh uh.”

“Not up to you to decide. It’s their lives,” Jarod reminded him. “Gemini’s not anywhere near her right now after all, but you can’t really change the heart. And, apparently your daughter and Miss Parker both have a thing for ‘funky talk’. Amusing.”

“Not amusing!” Broots mouth opened. “Not amusing at all! H-he better stay away from her, I mean, she’s still young a-a-and no! No way, I forbid it!” He spread his arms out. “No way!”

“Ah. So that’s where the fire is,” Jarod said. “Good. Because I fed Debbie, clothed Debbie, sheltered Debbie, and did everything I could to keep her safe and sound.”

“Yes, um. I thanked you for that?” Broots didn’t understand what he wanted.

“You are going to have to do that for me too. I’m going to have to trust you to do that,” Jarod answered. “Angel and Onyssius.”

“Sure, I get it,” Broots said. “I’ll be good.”

“But not too good because . . .”

“They are yours,” Broots said. “Absolutely. Live in Nanny.”

Jarod walked away slightly, back and forth. “I want to believe you. Sydney said he can help too, but I need to know that I can trust you, and you already let my trust down.” He looked at Broots. “I don’t like slippery slopes. What did you do with Parker?”

Broots seemed confused. “Lived with her?”

“What. Did Parker. Give you.”

Broots touched his mouth. “Oh. That? Well, it’s a manners kind of thing. I didn’t think you’d mind. What was I supposed to do?”

“Refuse,” Jarod said firmly.

“Oh. I didn’t think it was such a big deal? Um?” Broots winced. “Do you want me to give it to you?”

Jarod took a step backward. “That’s . . . not what you’re supposed to say.” He heard Parker laughing in the distance. “Parker.”

“What’s wrong now?” Broots asked.

Jarod moved forward from the glass and saw Miss Parker emerging. “Ooh. How much is that bitch in the window?”

She pointed at him. “That’s for making my life devoid of any pleasure for nine whole months, Jarod.”

Broots just looked at Jarod. He couldn’t tell if he was beyond mad or wanted to laugh. Or both. “What’s going on?”

“You’ll be fine, Mister Broots.” Jarod brought him to the door while Miss Parker opened it, letting him out. “That wasn’t fair.”

“What?” Broots just looked between them.

“I said he gave me a massage. I just gave one right back. And a blow . . . pop. Lovely suckers. Right, Broots?”

“Yeah, I guess?” Broots reached in his pocket and pulled out the blow pop sucker. “What was that about? Does Jarod really want this?”

“Ah, don’t worry, Broots. You keep it,” Jarod said. “Miss Parker is just being her old bitchy self again.”

“As horrible as I’ve felt lately, I will take that as a compliment.” Smart ass smile. “Come on, Broots, let’s go. There’s work to do.”

 

Jarod turned and watched them leave, shaking his head. Her stress? Was definitelylow. Just like he wanted.

“Jarod.” Sydney came from around the corner.

“Everyone wanted to see me screw up, didn’t they?”

“No. I didn’t know about that. I just wanted to see how you were doing? If you want, we can probably use some Centre strings to help you get back on track with Pretending. Extra phones. References.”

“Right now, I need a pen, a pencil, a notebook, and time with my DSA’s,” he settled on. “Thanks though.”

“Miss Parker . . . was back to her old self right there.” Sydney smiled. “Did you honestly think Broots betrayed you like that?”

Jarod winced. “ . . . she is pretty.”

“Yes, but Broots also values his life,” Sydney reminded him. “Broots will be faithful. Although, it would have done better to tell him why even that was not an option?”

“It’s a slippery slope,” Jarod answered, “and he’s just not what she needs.”

“And is Thomas Gates?” Sydney asked. “Or are you? I’ll get your things, and leave you alone with your thoughts, Jarod.”

 

-------------------------------

There had been what felt like thousands at first when Jarod first escaped. He thought there was a good chance it would take him five years to atone for his simulations. But, starting all over, and figuring out which Sims were which, he only had . . . “42.” Between his Sim Pretends, he had done a lot of saving others that didn’t have anything to do with his Sims. That was what made the number seem so large. As fast as he moved? A year, tops.

Then it would be time to find a place to settle. Covered in snow and away from all civilization like dad and Gemini had been. He would be with his family. But.

///“The life of a man that can’t just be one person,” she said, “and there’s no way Miss Parker is ever going to really want to settle down. She could try. I imagine one day she might have, but her whole life was dedicated to The Centre. She’s never going to be an average mom. She’ll be a good mom, but not average.” She patted his leg. “Don’t screw up like I did. Ask her if she’ll continue with you. You might be surprised at the answer.”///

What a future. Jarod looked out from the glass he was in, wondering about it. Wondering about it harder than ever. Should he pop the question to Miss Parker? Did he have the right to ask her . . .

 

If she would do Pretending with him . . . forever?

Chapter Text

 

------------------------------------------

November . . .

 

“It’s a definite, all you can handle vehicle.” Jarod was trying to close a deal as Jarod Ford. Appealing to this couple was tough though. They were interested in the car.

Just not in their children. The five year old was being good, standing next to her mom. Their probably about seven year old was looking inside other cars. And their not even able to stand up well one year old was hobbling against a bumper.

Family people, who had no business being family. Jarod knew that sometimes children could get away, and a parent would call them back and scold them. Everyone had those time. There was absolutely no caring with these two though. And the wife was clearly pregnant again. Probably about six months.

“I don’t know.” The man looked toward his wife. “What do you think?”

“It’s not enough room, we got four and us. They’ll grow up,” she said.

The whole time the man had kept his hand buried in his pocket. As he went to scratch his cheek, Jarod clearly saw there was no wedding band. Yet, the woman had a wedding band. “There are others to look at?” Examining the man, he was already making some guesses. “How about a two seater? They are cheaper. Don’t have to be with the family all the time, right?”

“Yeah, that would be nice.” He looked toward the woman. “Not really an option though.”

The woman glared at him. “I didn’t do this to myself you know.”

“I didn’t do the other three,” he said, in a reminding manner.

Speaking of the other three, two of them were getting further from the area. Jarod continued to explain the features of the car, but he was watching them to make sure they weren’t taken off the lot, or hurt by another vehicle passing by. But, when the barely one year old was three bumpers down and turning against the side of the car, he couldn’t take it anymore. “Do you even care?”

“About this car?” The man asked.

Completely clueless. Jarod went over a few cars, saw the one year old, and brought her back over to them. Some people would never understand what they had. How important family had been. Most people took it for granted, but taking it so for granted they just let their kids move around however they wanted? Wherever and whenever?

They clothed them. Fed them. Sheltered them. But neglected them. And it wasn’t just them, the world was filled with people like that. “Your daughter could have been run over.”

The woman looked offended. “I was watching her.”

“You never looked her way the entire time,” Jarod said, his own feelings getting in the way of his Pretending this time. Miss Parker practically rebelled against her own instinct to capture and bring Jarod in, and even went Pretending with him, so that he wouldn’t take them away from her in the future.

That was caring. That was wanting to be with her children.

“I don’t like your tone to my girl,” the man warned him.

“Well, I don’t appreciate the fact that you still have one of your kids, nearly eight cars away, trying to jump into the back of a truck bed,” Jarod came back on them. He tightened his tie. “I have other customers.”

“Hey, this is bullshit! You can’t judge us! Hey, fuck you, man!”

“Yeah! Stupid ass fucking redneck white trash!”

Language too. Every kid heard language, it was all around them, but preventing it as much as possible. Teaching them what they should say and not. Right and wrong.

“Ford!”

Jarod looked back toward the corrupted businessman he worked for. “Yes, sir?”

“How many cars you sell today?”

“Three. On my way to my fourth.” Jarod was already looking toward his customer choices. Someone less aggravating, much less aggravating would be better.

“Three already?” his boss answered. “Good deal. I was right in hiring you.” He slapped him on the back. “Go get that fourth sale then.”

 

Four days later . . .

 

“Jarod! You’re nuts!” Jarod’s current boss was hopping around in the middle of a dirt road. “Jarod!”

“Now, now, calling someone with a car nuts when you’re blindfolded and stuck in the middle of a vacant road just isn’t a good idea.” Jarod revved the motor. “Maybe you should try again?”

“What do you want, what do you wa-a-ant?! Please?!”

“Marshall Dew,” Jarod said. “Remember? One of your employees that tried hard to land sales for you? A little rougher on his numbers, but overall not bad. Until one day you had him silenced.” He revved the engine again. “You paid for someone to get rid of him. To make sure he never spoke when he caught your underhandedness. Couldn’t lose your whole company, not for one man’s life.”

Jarod railroaded him while he finally got his plea of guilt. Then he got a call on his phone. After the authorities were called, he called back.

“This is Sydney.”

“Sydney. You called?”

“Yes. Sorry, Jarod, I know you are out Pretending for something. You wanted to know whenever someone in Centre medical wanted Miss Parker to start taking something though. I sent information to your email.”

“Great. Don’t let her take anything until I check it out,” Jarod said. “I’ll be there in a few minutes. I’ll call you when I get there.”

 

-----------------------

 

When Jarod arrived back to the safehouse of Jarod Ford, he went to his computer and checked his email. He had two? One was from Broots too labeled ‘Thought You Might Like This.’

He clicked on Sydney’s first, to see the information. He wanted to know any and all things they were trying to make her take medication wise, to make sure it didn’t hurt Angel or Onyssius. If she truly needed something, he would get it for her. Even if the medical in the Centre did get her something they thought she needed now, he would still rather get the pills he could get access too than trust the Centre. He wrote a response to Sydney and closed the email.

Then he looked at Broots message. He never got messages from Broots.

Broots:

This is Debbie. Daddy is letting me use his email to send you a picture. I thought you might like to see this. I call it three angels in an impossible garden!

 

Jarod looked at the picture and his mouth and heart lifted. He forgot all about the parents and neglected children as he stared. Miss Parker was standing out in the garden in the middle of November. While other gardens would be dead, hers were still springing to life. She had what appeared to be several varieties of Skimmia Japonica bursting in their red berries. Debbie must have hid with a camera, because she clearly didn’t know she was being watched. She was smelling one of them with a smile and staring at it, with one hand unconsciously on her belly.

Calm. Serene. No stress. No worries. Her belly was larger than life. Had he wanted to see it? Absolutely. He wrote back to her, telling her she had a good shot in a career as a photographer one day.

And she did. He never would have gotten that pose. Not from her. He scooted away from his computer, grabbing his reserved film paper. He set it in the printer and printed it out.

He adjusted the size and image height, not wanting to risk losing any of it. He didn’t ever bring much from Pretend to Pretend, but this was a keeper. He had a picture of it in his wallet now too, just like his mom, but he also did something else.

Jarod took out one of the bogus diplomas he kept on display for certain Pretends, and placed it in that frame instead. He looked up at it, seeing her through the glass of the frame. “Beyond the glass.” He touched it gently, and then bit at his finger slightly.

Her Parisian dress, that stress free smile, right in front of her garden.

///“Because, according to the scrolls, there is competition for the Angel’s hand,” his mother said. “And pardon me for being biased, but I think my boy who’s been forced to be stuck all alone nearly all of his life with no one else there for him, deserves to have his own Angel a little bit more.” ///

Jarod stared at the picture. His thoughts resurfaced back to when they were kids, and he’d see her coming toward him. Just a little closer, foot by foot. Inch by inch. He lived for those days.

///“You’re not trapped behind glass anymore. Thomas is a wonderful man. Very,” she said dreamily. “But so are you, Jarod. Don’t light a torch for the wrong old flame yet. Don’t do it.”///

He put the frame back down. Tommy was the love of her life. They had something indescribable, something he couldn’t . . . hope to ever have. If The Centre hadn’t ruined their lives, she would be happy and free, probably with her own family of Thomas’ kids.

He’d been ignoring it. Deciding. Putting everything else first before he addressed it. He finally picked up the phone to dial up Thomas’ number.

“Hello.”

“Hey.” Already, his voice sounded different. “It’s Jarod.”

“Oh. Well, hey there. I was hoping I didn’t run you off with all the Missy talk. How have you been?”

“I’m having kids, Thomas,” Jarod said honestly. “Angel and Onyssius.”

“Angel and Onyssius? Those are their names?” He chuckled. “Never were a plain Jack and Jill kind of guy, were you, Jarod?”

“I guess not. They’ll be born in a couple of months.”

“Sounds great. I imagine you must be excited. A dad. Did you go out and buy them new clothes or anything yet?” He chuckled. “What am I saying, you probably did that as soon as you knew about them.”

“I-I try . . . I want to, but at the same time, I’m afraid I won’t get them.”

“Oh. Are there complications?”

“She’s healthy. I’ve been watching her. She’s examined more than the average pregnant woman.” It was The Centre. She was examined at least once a day, with himself even forcing her under his examination and to see the results of The Centre doctors. “They’re all healthy.”

“Sounds like a mental block. You should go out and get something for them. They are your kids, Jarod, and they are coming soon. Go out and just browse the baby aisles. You’ll find something.”

“Can you come see me tonight?” Jarod asked, not wanting to lose his nerve. He had to do this. It was past time to do it. “I’m just a couple hours away by plane.”

“Tonight, tonight? It’s already seven.”

“I can book you plane tickets, all on me,” Jarod said. “Please?”

“Well? If I can be back by work tomorrow?”

“Plenty of time,” Jarod guaranteed him. “I’ll reserve them now. We need to talk.” He hung up the phone.

 

------------------------------

Two Hours Later . . .

 

Jarod heard him come in. He kept the front door open with only the screendoor shut to keep the bugs out.

“Nice little place. Wow. Is that . . . her?”

Jarod turned around and saw his framed picture of Miss Parker. Before he even thought about, he snagged it from his sight and put it over by his computer. “Thomas, hey. Glad you made it.”

“Two round class tickets, how could I refuse?” Thomas smiled at him and shook his hand. “So, you must have something big to discuss with me to bring me all the way out here?” He gestured to the surroundings. “Having harder times lately? Maybe I should have paid for the tickets.”

“No, it’s, don’t judge my surroundings. I’m fine. I like it here,” Jarod said.

“Well, the heart wants what the heart wants,” Tommy said as he sat on a chair in the middle of the room. “That’s all that matters. So, new dad?”

“Yeah.”

“With who?”

Jarod looked toward his photo frame he had taken away, and put it back out. Thomas was no doubt confused with what he was saying. “I didn’t touch her in any way, it was invitro, and not by choice. Thomas. What have you ever figured out about The Centre?”

 

-------------------------------------------

Three hours later after a steady trip down memory lane . . .

 

“No wonder she had an ulcer.” Thomas breathed slowly as he placed the picture down. “How do you feel about her actions, Jarod?”

“She did it for me. She did it to survive.” Jarod shrugged. “She did what she thought was best.”

“So, now what’s happening?” Thomas asked. “I am picking up some heavy mixed signals.”

“Once the clone of me is gone, she’ll go Pretending with me.” Jarod said, trying to move slow. There was a lot of ground he had to cover. Childhood. Experimentation. Him. Miss Parker. Her father. Mister Raines. Her brother. Cloning. His clone. Their brother. The Pretender Alex. He even covered the scrolls and the situation now. Thomas’ head must be splitting.

“The Centre or The Triumvirate is after you, or her, or both, so I could see that,” Thomas said. “Not much choice, I guess. Couldn’t you just . . . hide yourself away? You’ll have family, Jarod. With . . . with someone really special. I mean.” He was clearly having problems with it. “It was a long time ago. I was the one who didn’t call.”

“She still loves you very much,” Jarod told him. “I would . . . be willing to let you and her move around with me, together, in separate houses.”

“I don’t know. I mean, never getting to be yourself?” Thomas leaned back. “I missed her. I loved her. I thought she would be my future, Jarod. That’s a lot to ask though. I don’t know. And, she’s marrying someone else still? A former partner?”

“Yes, but they don’t have anything. It’s just for show,” Jarod said.

“Yeah, which is why I’m really confused, because he’s clearly not the one I should be worried about.”

Jarod recognized that look.

“Why am I even here, Jarod?” He asked honestly. “Young boy, no one in the world, except one friendly young girl. Same girl years later chasing you, hunting you. You should probably hate her, but you helped by bringing her to me?” he asked. “Forget the fact that you know her reasons now, you didn’t before, when you had us meet.” Thomas stood up.

“You made her happy. You were the love of her life. She had a hard time letting go of you,” Jarod admitted.

“Say it, Jarod,” Thomas demanded. “Ask it. Do it. Lay it out there. You drug me all the way out here tonight, and it wasn’t just to talk about The Centre, so just say it already.”

Jarod didn’t know how to respond. Thomas picked up the picture that was framed and held it right in front of him.

“You are trying to make her happy. Give her what she wants,” Thomas said as he laid the picture back down. “If you can’t win her heart over me, then you want me with her, no matter how that feels. Am I right?” He looked deeper at Jarod.

“The next day, she woke up and decided she’d go with you,” Jarod said, not wanting to fall off track yet. “She found you dead, outside. If she hadn’t believed that, you’d be in Oregon right now, with her.”

Thomas walked around his chair. “Did you love her when you set us up together the first time?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you love her now?”

“ . . . I liked the girl who visited me,” Jarod said. “In The Centre, years ago. I don’t know if what I feel is just residual or not. “

“But, it’s a strong enough force to tell me the truth this time.” Thomas picked up the photo again. “She is gorgeous, isn’t she? Look at that, how did anyone get that shot?”

“A little girl snapped it when she wasn’t looking,” Jarod admitted.

“The smile, the hair. What a dress too, god what a dress.” Thomas bit his lip. “I always dreamed of seeing something like this with her.” He laid it down a little rougher in front of him. “Except for the carrying another man’s kids part.” He stuck his hand back in his pocket and leaned to one side, clearly in turmoil. “Yours. I mean, if I followed your location with even dates. Then maybe eventually move up into marriage. Then they’d be mine too. I’d be fathering another man’s kids. Which, is fine,” he admitted. “The girl I am dating now, she has children too.” He smiled. “Children are wonderful. Consider yourself lucky.”

“I know how lucky I am,” Jarod said. “More than most people.”

“I loved Parker, Jarod,” Thomas confessed. “She had a lot of demons to get through. I did my best to help as I could. I mean, it was worth it.” He stepped away from the picture. “Because her spirit, it was bright. She’s like fire, hot enough to burn through any man’s heart. Compassion. It wasn’t lacking, it was just hidden. But when she unhid it?” He took a deep breath.  “It was worth all the baggage she carried onto herself. Tell me, is it worth it for you?”

“She’s having my children,” Jarod reminded him.

“The girl I’m dating now? She divorced her husband two years ago. She smiles with no prompt. She laughs. She’s sociable and fun in public. She doesn’t have the same kind of hot to the touch passion, but she doesn’t hide anything.” Thomas shrugged. “I love that.”

Jarod nodded. “I had someone like that too, not too long ago.” Zoe. “Fun. Loving. No secrets.”

“Yeah, it’s nice. Breezy. Fun. But, whenever I think of Parker? I mean, Bruce Springsteen rolls through my head.”

“Bruce Springsteen? The singer?”

“Secret Garden.” He looked back toward the photo. “She’s got a thousand things inside she’ll never share with the whole world. At least, I finally have a better view of why. I’m going to go now, Jarod.” He gestured out the door.

“What do you want to do though?” Jarod asked. “You are sending mixed signals too.”

“Figure out yourself,” Tommy said. “I’m not the greatest love of her life, Jarod. I know what kind of life she had before me. Now I can see it even clearer. I was just someone willing to go through a lot, to discover the real her. Not many of the kind of guys she was used to, did that.” He pointed to the picture and looked back at him. “Figure out how you feel. Residual. Current. I don’t care, you figure it out. When you do? Then call me.” He held his finger out toward him. “But I’m warning you, Jarod, right now. If you call me, I meet her, and we hit it off again? There will not be another chance for you to take her.” He started heading out the door.

“Then why not meet her now?” Jarod’s voice was harder than he meant it to be.

 

“The same damn reason you even called me about this.” Thomas slightly turned to look at him. “I want to make sure she’s genuinely happy too.” After that, he headed out.

Chapter Text

Mid December at The Centre . . .

 

Sydney came through Jarod’s door and handed him a bottle of pills. “The Centre doctor wanted her on these.”

Jarod took it and looked at it. He opened up the pills and examined them. “I know these.” He capped it back and tossed it back to Sydney. “She doesn’t need them.”

“Hm. You could have said that over the phone?” Sydney said.

Jarod smiled. “Are you kidding?” He take his construction hat off. “Suit me up, I’m here to stay.” For the last three months, Jarod had been through several different Pretends, catching himself up to where he wanted to be. During his time off, he managed to pull himself to The Centre. Not the funnest experience.

“Any luck in Africa yet?” Sydney asked.

Jarod groaned and spoke in Zulu. “I traveled wide and far.” He spoke in Afrikaans. “I mean really wide and far.” He spoke in Ndebele. “Nothing, Sydney, nothing.” He spoke in Xhosa. “The whole time I kept trying to communicate.” He spoke in Venda. “I spoke most of what I could.” He spoke in Tswana. “Still, all me and my dad heard?” He spoke in his native tongue. “Nothing but whispers on a breeze.” Of course, Sydney didn’t understand most of what he said, if any of it but the last part. Still, it was clear. “I’m trying.”

“I know, Jarod. You’ll get there.” Sydney smiled. “I guess you’ve been counting the days.”

“It’s close,” he said excitedly. “I can’t believe it’s getting to be here. I just wish I could have . . .” He shook his head. “Nah. I’m fine. Just, as soon as they are born, I want to know? I’ve got to see them.”

“It won’t be easy,” Sydney said. “Doctors will be watching closely, and if anyone follows, they’ll ask me and Broots what we are doing. We will try to get down here when it’s time.”

“Nothing so far?”

“No. Miss Parker is working per usual. As best she can,” Sydney said. “You saw her last week. The kicks are hurting her sides.”

“Their position,” Jarod said. “She’s close. Keep a close eye on her. If she hasn’t had them by the time she leaves work, I’ll be taking a short break out again.”

“I’m sure you will, Jarod.”

 

-----------------------------

 

That Night in Miss Parker’s house . . .

 

“Damn it. Damn corrupted Triumvirate bastards making me stay for . . .” She could take the time off. Five days, but she still didn’t trust that Lyle wouldn’t bother Jarod. She held her back as she moved inside.

“Miss Parker.” Debbie helped her over to the couch. “Nice and comfy pillows?”

“No.” Nothing was comfy. She stifled a groan as she felt another kick. Damn Jarod’s kids, they are Pretending to be soccer champions. For the easier days. Oh, for the easier days. The time was supposed to be close, but every hour felt like ten hours and every day more felt like ten more days. As painful as birth was, no one told her how painful it was before birth too.

“Lyle sent some flowers for you,” Debbie said.

“Oh, good,” Miss Parker said looking toward her. “Set them in some water. Holy water, and then burn them.”

“Good to see you’ve still got some of that spark.”

Miss Parker turned and watched Jarod come out of the corner. “Visitation, now?”

“By that sound, you’re exhausted.” Jarod came closer to her and looked around her.

“Can we just get them out? Now?” Her eyes could barely stay awake.

Jarod smiled. “No. They aren’t ready yet.” He felt her tummy, and felt a very visible kick on the sides. “Ouch, huh?”

Miss Parker groaned. “Beeeeeed, Jarod.” Debbie helped her up again.

“Sure you don’t even want to kiss Broots tonight?” Jarod teased as he joined her in helping her up.

“Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeed.” She dragged out the word bed all the way across the house until she hit the room of her destination. So out of breath. So tired of it all. She needed a break.

“Better phone in tomorrow,” Jarod seemed to agree as he helped her sit down. “You’re close.”

“But not close enough.” She laid herself down.

“Now, now. You’ll look back at this moment and treasure it. Right before the big day.” Jarod was feeling around her stomach again. “Doctors?”

“Everyday.”

“New pills are no good. You aren’t stressed.” He glanced back toward her. “Just nine months pregnant, and Miss Parker.”

“Saying that is like saying The Centre is just a hotel  you keep sneaking into to dodge a bill.” She groaned again.

“Well, rest will help.”

“No it won’t.” She wiggled slightly. “It’s when I try to rest they start hurting the most.”

“Which is why you need more rest. Less Centre. I can take care of myself.” He knew she wasn’t admitting it, but he could tell. She was working so Lyle couldn’t get near him. “Broots still has all the securities up. I’m fine.”

He had been. He absolutely dreaded the plan when they started it, but he was still out five days a week. It was enough to continue his pretends. He finished his Pretend in Summerlin, went on as a car salesman, and just finished up being a construction worker. Between those pretends though, he had also managed to visit Africa to dig up anything he could.

His dad tried to help too. Major Charles and Gemini were practically living in Africa now, to find the Triumvirate. They had recently found a few clues to what could be a hidden base, but nothing substantial yet.

In the meantime, life went on. Jarod stared at her. Right before the birth, the kicks were the most painful. The babies were fully developed, and the only difference between his kids and a cute kid out there in a stroller right now was being inside Miss Parker.

He glanced back to her. She had faded into slumberland. “You two need to give it a rest a bit,” he said as he spoke to her stomach. “You’ll be out to see the world soon enough.” Angel. Onyssius. It would be soon. He would be a father soon.

“Blasted Centre,” Broots voice came from another room. “Hey, Sweetie.” He was talking to his daughter. “Did you do well with the babysitter?”

“Uh huh,” Debbie’s voice was heard. “Miss Parker’s not feeling too well.”

“I don’t imagine so. She’s in a rough spot. Come on, let’s get you something to eat and let her rest.”

Jarod heard the sound of them scampering off to the kitchen. Miss Parker was asleep. Broots was home to watch over her. He really should go say hi, sit down and eat, and get some rest himself. But, he didn’t want to. He didn’t have a chance to often be beside Angel and Onyssius. It wasn’t like when he was Pretending with her. To make it to Blue Cove, even for Saturdays and Sundays was tough.

All he saw of her was her getting bigger and bigger. She’d visit him for two hours, like he had requested, but that wasn’t nearly long enough it felt like.

His family was almost here, and he wasn’t much closer to finding the clone than he had been since he began staying at The Centre. No closer to Kyle. No closer to finding the actual documentation on all The Centre children. He couldn’t even risk rescuing the fifteen that they did know about, for the safety of his own family.

“Oh, Jarod!”

Jarod looked up to see Broots holding his chest.

“I-I didn’t know you were here,” Broots said. “Sorry.”

“She’s close,” Jarod admitted. “Really close.”

“Uh huh,” Broots agreed. “Life’s really gonna change. So, uh? How is your pretending going? Down to how many?”

Thirty nine. Thirty nine atonements. Not every Sim he ever did for The Centre was bad, or it would be impossible to keep up. It depended who bought them, and what Alex had gotten a hold of too. While many destroyed and killed people, a lot still completed their original intension. Saving lives and helping people. So, just thirty nine Sims to atone for. Meanwhile . . . kids were still being separated from their families, Moms were still looking for their children, Children were still being hurt or abused into being silent. Women were still being hurt, simple men were being used against their will by big business. All the hurt and shame continued on.

That would never change, but, when he could get in there. When he could take that single case, that forgotten and lost soul, and bring justice to it? It was the greatest feeling in the world.

“Oh, tomato sauce,” Miss Parker almost gurgled from beside Jarod. “I need to get supper.” She tried to roll, not even noticing Jarod. Jarod moved out of the way, helping her up. “You’re staying while I’m asleep?”

“I was on my way out soon,” Jarod said pulling her up all the way. “I have 39 more Sims to atone for.” She was busy fixing her dress, not even really paying attention. Why his mom even told him he should bother asking. “Afterwards, we’ll find a place out there. Safe, sound, and live away from society with my family so The Centre won’t find us.”

“Liar.” She finished smoothing out her dress. “You’ll never stop Pretending. Where’d I put my shoes?”

Was that aggravation or fact? “Miss Parker?”

“Do you see them?” Miss Parker looked around.

Jarod bent down. She couldn’t see them over her stomach. “Here, sit down.”

“I just need to slide my feet in, Jarod.” He moved her back to the bed anyway, helping her get her shoes on. Long gone were the day of stilettos or even sneakers. Everything she had was slip on now. She was half reclined back though, unable to sit up like she used to. It was a sight he was fairly sure he’d miss one day. “What were we talking about?”

“Sims,” Jarod said. “I’m almost done with Pretending.”

“No, you’re not. You’ll never stop. It’s who you are.” She tried to help shove her feet in.

“I prefer it?” Jarod tried to help her with her other shoe. “Would it be okay? If I wentpast the Sim atonement?”

Miss Parker looked toward him, like he was repeating the same dribble. “Jarod. You’re a Pretender. You’re going to do it forever, I already know that. What are you wanting?”

Wait. “You don’t ever want to settle down in one area?” Jarod asked. “Schooling. Friends. Getting to know family.” He waited a minute, still holding her foot, which was annoying her. “You were going to go to Oregon, once upon a time.”

She yanked her foot away at his statement.

“Don’t you . . . miss that option at all?”

“It wasn’t the option, it was the person.” She tried to pull herself up. Jarod helped bring her up again. “I need food, move”, she insisted. “I have to get to it.”

Jarod understood her craving and followed her to the kitchen, seeing Broots and Debbie both eating a thing of heated up pasta and tomato sauce. Looked like Miss Parker was calling the shots at the grocery store. He started to slide out the back.

“Wait, Jarod!” Debbie grabbed a couple of brownies and went out after him. “Hang on. Try a brownie. Miss Parker made them with me.”

“That could be scary,” Jarod teased.

“No, try. This is an old recipe she made with her mom.”

Well. Let’s hope she washed her hands. Jarod took a brownie. “I’m sure it’ll be good.”

“Try it.”

Let’s really hope she washed her hands. Jarod took a small bite. And. Stopped.

“It tastes really good,” Debbie said. “Doesn’t it?”

“Decadent.”

“Yeah, decadent. That’s a good word,” Debbie agreed as she took the other brownie. “Miss Parker, for some reason, never really knew how to cook, even though she did with her mom. Somehow, it’s starting to bounce back. She’s already cooked up three old meals with help from me and dad.” She took another bite.

Jarod looked back at the brownie. It wasn’t an out of the box recipe at all. “She forgot?”

“Yep,” Debbie said. “It was like, almost like shwoo shwoo.” She made an eraser against a chalkboard sound. “She even remembered where her mom’s recipe books were that she had forgotten about. Do you wanna see?”

Jarod looked at the brownie. Forgot. From the focus treatments, or was she supposed to forget? “Sure, I’d like to see.”

When he went in, he saw Miss Parker eating a brownie by dipping it into her tomato sauce. Cravings were unexpected things sometimes. He watched as Debbie came over and handed him some recipe books.

“Whoah, whoah there Debbie Dogooder, what are you doing?” Miss Parker looked toward Jarod.

“Just looking.” He set them down on the table and looked at the first one. They were certainly old. He thumbed through the pages. Old recipes. He put it down and checked out the next one. On the inside cover was the name Catherine Parker. Under it, it said Where the Heart is.

He went back to the first recipe book. It said her name again, but this time it said Always Find Me. There was also something very strange about it. While the name Catherine Parker was certainly worn and faded, it was like the other letters . . . weren’t. He picked up the next recipe book, and it was a little more forward with it, causing Miss Parker to react.

“Jarod, I swear, be careful with those,” she warned him. “They’ve been lost for many years.”

“Sorry.” He looked back toward the front, a little more carefully. Her name again with the words The Warm Heart.

Always find me. Where the Heart is. The Warm Heart. There was a purpose for writing that down in her recipe books. If he rearranged it, it was easy to see. Always find me where the warm heart is. And the warm heart?

Africa. Catherine Parker must have known something about Africa when she was alive. Jarod started to thumb through the pages, little by little. On the back of the index page, there was a piece of old paper folded up with numbers and letters. S1GP210 and several more. Did she leave clues?

“Are you going to share what’s so fascinating about my mother’s books, that you are getting your brownie smudged fingers on them for?” Oh yeah, Parker was clearly annoyed.

Jarod picked up the recipe books. “Can I analyze these?”

Parker placed her hand to her forehead. “You want to analyze my mother’s cooking recipes? Are you becoming a chef on your next pretend?”

“I promise to be very careful.” He gestured to her room. “Won’t even leave far.”

“The babies aren’t going to come shooting out,” Miss Parker said. “You’re not going to leave?” She looked toward Debbie? “See what you did now? If You Give a Pretender a Brownie . . .”

Debbie chuckled. Jarod got the joke too. He gently picked the books up and headed toward her room. He didn’t want to get her stressed out or involved yet. Not this close. But, if The Centre didn’t have any resources?

Maybe Catherine Parker did.

It was a game. S plus the number meant the section involved. The abbreviations were trickier. Miss Parker probably could have done it better, but he was looking for the first words in the titles of the recipes. Once he found that, he had to count down the last of the numbers, to discover the letter.

It wasn’t a fun game. It wasn’t done within an hour. Or two. Or three. By bedtime, Jarod was still deciphering.

“Bedtime,” Miss Parker said next to him. “Are you going to move?”

Jarod just patted the bed next to him. “Won’t bite.”

“Jarod. Please. You are doing something with my mom’s recipe books. What are you doing?”

“No stressing before the birth,” Jarod said. “Just get some rest. I’ll get this.” He continued to look.

“You need to at least leave so I can get dressed,” she complained, gesturing toward the door.

“Miss Parker,” Jarod said like she was being rude. “I’ve been a doctor many times, among other things. I’m quite professional. By all means.”

Miss Parker groaned, grabbed her things and went into the bathroom. She came back in a long, long top. Nothing sexy just as comfortable as she could be. With Jarod clear on the right she rolled herself onto the left side.

Either she didn’t have much fight in her, or she didn’t care that Jarod was still there. He hoped it was the second. She pulled out a little remote and directed it to her fan to turn it on, made a few moaning noises and then nothingness.

After decoding another word, he touched her hand to make sure she was sleeping. It was December now, but it didn’t matter. The pregnant body was a finicky thing. He tried to tighten up his coat closer, and watched the papers. At least there wasn’t many and the fan was pointed to her.

“Uh? You’re still here?”

Jarod looked toward the front of the room and saw Broots. He was still fully dressed, which was good. It meant he wasn’t sharing Miss Parker’s bedroom. Which was a no-no. She stopped looking for loving some time ago, her body was focused on the aches, pains, lack of sleep, hormonal changes, and the babies. No time for hanky panky, not needed or wanted. “Can I help you?”

“How long are you going to be here? All night?”

“I’ll be in The Centre before anyone shows up. Good night.” He went back to decoding everything.

“There’s not much there, a few pieces of paper and three books,” Broots pointed out. “You could go decode them on the table now. No one’s there. Easier on your back.”

Jarod didn’t really show an easily readable emotion. “Fine right here.”

“Yeah, but she needs sleep,” Broots said.

Now Jarod’s head was turning. He looked at Broots over again. “You aren’t . . . doing anything?”

Broots looked offended. “Well, I-I, no. But, neither are you. Right?”

“Right.”

“Right.”

Jarod ignored him and went back to work.

 

---------------------------------

 

He would need a nap, but he did it. Each book held something. The first book of recipes held the name of a place in ‘The Warm Heart of Africa’, a specific visitor place to visit in Malawi. It also had something to search for, to help remember the forgotten things.

That was the part that made Jarod stay up past even Miss Parker. Something to remember all the forgotten things that could only be exposed through hypnotherapy, if you knew where and how to look for them. Otherwise, secrets for life trapped in the brain. Now, those secrets could come out.

And what if it went back even farther? If he had that. What if he could remember his childhood, before he was taken away? Remember his mom, his dad, and his brother.

The second recipe book held something odd. It held the name of a place and said distraction. That was it.

And the third? Oh, the third. Oh, the third, third, third. Jarod dialed up his father. “Dad? Pack your bags. I got a full list of places for you to visit in Africa now.”

Just around the corner. A list of places in Africa, and it had to be the places of The Triumvirate. After Catherine Parker passed, they must have known she’d hide something for Miss Parker. Even Raines admitted that he could never find it.

These recipe books, the books that Miss Parker now suddenly remembered like it was clear as day? There was only one reason that happened. If they did it with Debbie, Broots, and Miss Parker in Africa? It must have been done to her then.

Except not out of mistrust or illusion. As Lyle did it to them, Catherine Parker did the same thing. Until a certain time passed.

That’s when her daughter could complete her plan. He set the books down and looked at her.

It was close.

It was close.

 

But not close enough. What he wouldn’t have given to be there when they were born. Medical in the Centre wasn’t going to be able to be a place to Pretend to get into, no matter how lack security had now been against him.

He heard her moan again. He moved the books away and touched her head. “Stay here. One day. Call Lyle and stay.”

“I hate this.” She was sweating even more. “This isn’t fair.”

“Because you can’t point a gun and shoot at it?” Jarod teased lightly. “Because right now you’re just a helpless being? Whether you got a gun or an attitude, it isn’t changing anything?”

“Oh. Do you have to say it so loud?” She scoffed and tried to move.

“No, no,” Jarod insisted. “No running off from me this time.” He felt her stomach and heard her cry out in pain a little, one she couldn’t hold back. “Do you feel ripples of pain along your sides, sort of like a belt around your belly?”

“Is that right?” she asked. “That’s good?”

“That’s very good,” Jarod insisted. “You ready to not do much else for several hours?” Jarod left long enough to call Sydney, and to ask for certain things for medical. Angel and Onyssius were on their way.

“Anything else?” Sydney asked. “Jarod? You know The Centre is going to want her to come in if they think she’s giving birth. They don’t like outside doctors dealing with Parkers.”

“It’s the night,” Jarod insisted. “I can . . . at least be here as long as possible.” He heard another groan from the room. “Thanks, Sydney.” He hung up, but then heard his other phone go off. The one he didn’t use for Sydney. “Hello?”

“Jarod. We have got a problem.”

No, not now. “What kind of problem?”

“Stan. He’s not letting the death of his father go.”

Jarod was on a Pretend to help a man who died get the justice he deserved, and not the wrap he got. In the process of the Pretend though, he learned about the man’s son, Stan. I knew I should have stayed longer. “I can talk to him longer?”

“Jarod, he’s gone. I think, from the way he’s talking, I think he’s going to be after Eric! What should we do?”

“ . . . I’ll be right there.” He hung the phone back up and looked back toward the bedroom. He went back in and saw her, heaving. “Easy. Lamaze, did you go through it? Take it easier.” Jarod touched the top of her head. She couldn’t even move now, just breathe. “I have to go now, but I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

He felt her hand grab his, and cling to it tightly.

“I don’t want to go. Someone’s  life is on the line.” Damn. She was finally reaching out for him and he heard her yell, causing Broots to show up in the doorway.

“I-is it okay?” Broots asked. “Miss Parker?”

“I have to be gone a couple of hours,” Jarod insisted. “I’ll be back.”

“What if you aren’t?” Broots asked as he came to Miss Parker. He took her extended hand. “We should get her to medical.”

Jarod looked back toward her. He let her other hand go and looked toward Broots. “Two hours. Sydney’s coming too. Give me two hours. If I’m not back in two hours, take her.”

“But, what if it’s sooner?”

“She’ll be fine. Two hours,” Jarod insisted. “Sydney can keep me up on her progress.”

Broots scoffed but kept his head down low. He patted the top of her head. “It’s okay. I’m here for you. Just like last time, with your ulcer? Remember? You pulled through that, you can pull through this.” He kissed her hand delicately. “Come on, it’s okay.”

 

“Two hours,” Jarod repeated as he left the room. He needed to get out of Blue Cove quickly, find the kids, talk to the kids letting them know that sins of the father didn’t mean sins of the son, and then get back. If he didn’t, one of them might take it too far. It was a chance he couldn’t take.

Chapter Text

------------------------------

 

“Jarod?” Miss Parker tried to focus around her. She looked beside her and saw Broots. “Where’s Jarod?”

“He had to go for a little while,” Sydney insisted, also now there. “He’ll be back in a couple of hours. If not, we’ll take you to Centre Medical.”

“But it’s okay, we’re here for you. We are always here for you,” Broots insisted, smiling at her. You are being very brave, Miss Parker.”

“Oh lay off.  This is something every woman can go through and-aaaaah!” She leaned her head back as far as possible, clinging tighter to Broots hand.

“It’s okay. Hey, you’ve been shot more than once before?” Broots said, trying to make her feel better.

“I don’t believe it’s the same kind of thing,” Sydney said coming closer as well.

“Of course it wasn’t, my body wasn’t changing to shoot a watermelon out of the bottom!” She yelled again. “Shoot me, somebody shoot me, I can deal with that pain. Right in the leg.”

“Uh? I don’t think that’s going to help, Miss Parker?” Broots said. “Do you want something? Water or something?”

“Jarod!” She yelled.

“Uh. He can’t be here. Remember?” Broots reminded her. “He wanted to be. You know, one of his Pretends had to come first.”

“You shouldn’t be like that, Broots.” Sydney moved to the other side of the bed near Broots. “Jarod truly wanted to be here. It must be a very large emergency.”

“What’s a bigger emergency than being there for the birth of your kids?” Broots complained.

“Life or death. Could you consciously stay, if you knew it meant someone’s life was in danger?” Sydney asked him. He looked at his watch. Hurry, Jarod.

 

Thirty minutes. One hour. One hour forty five minutes . . .

 

“We have to go Sydney,” Broots insisted. “It’ll be two hours by the time we get there. I’ll get Debbie ready.”

“If Jarod said-“ Sydney watched as his phone to Jarod rang. Please be good news. “This is Sydney.”

“I’m . . . get her to Medical.”

He hung up. He wasn’t even going to go into details or make excuses. “Let’s go, Broots.”

“No, no!” Miss Parker yelled. “I can’t, I can’t move. I don’t wanna move!”

 

Centre Medical . . .

 

“It’s okay, Miss Parker, it’s okay. Everyone goes through this,” the doctor said with no compassion. Not like Jarod would have done it. Jarod wasn’t a real doctor, but he was ten times better than a real one, and a hundred times better than the goof in Medical. “Your new Parkers will be arriving soon.”

“I didn’t miss anything, did I?”

No. Not that annoying high pitched voice. “Lyle, what are you doing here?!”

“Niece and nephew,” Lyle said coming toward her, with his usual smile, oblivious of any pain she was in. “You don’t look so good. Relax. Every woman goes through it. Not like you got shot.”

“Getting your shots in while I’m like this. I’ll have you scrubbing The Centre floors for a week.” She started strong, but was in a whine by the end to finish the sentence.  “Broots! Sydney!”

“Parker birth,” Lyle said to her. “Only Parker and medical involved.”

“No. I want my right-hand men in here, now,” she demanded. “Broots! Sydney!”

“She is the boss,” The doctor said. He looked toward  a nurse. “Get her right-hands in here.”

“But she is temporarily in too much pain to run The Centre,” Lyle insisted. “I mean, look at her. I’m calling the shots right now. They stay out. Parker only birth.”

“Damn you, Lyle, when I get out of this bed . . .” She didn’t even have the strength to come up with a comeback. Her whole body, it was wanting to do nothing but push. Her innate desire to push was so high.

“Don’t start pushing yet. I know you want to, hang on.” The doctor checked the baby. “Almost.”

“Almost nothing!”

“Not yet, you are close, but not yet. Take it easy.”

Easy nothing. Her body was telling her exactly what she needed to do. Broots. Sydney. It wasn’t fair. An unfeeling doctor and Lyle? She should have had . . .

“Kri Kraw Toads Foot, Geese Walk, Bare Foot.”

“Jarod!” She cried out. Her senses were too whacked to even think about if she should call out his name.

However, Lyle and the doctor’s senses were right on cue.

“Well. That’s interesting to call out,” Lyle said as he sighed. “Part of me knew. After all, she never even bothered to change the boy’s name. Damn.” He pointed to the doctor. “Not a word what she said. This stays in this room.”

Jarod, Jarod, Jarod . . . She finally needed him for something and he wasn’t there. And why did she need him so bad? It was just a regular birth, a regular birth. She thought of his happy smile again when he was a kid. The happiness hiding behind the sadness.

///Hello Miss Parker. Can I do something for you?///

While she found herself thinking of him, more started to fill her head. Things that she always tried to keep back, because he couldn’t remember. He was never allowed to. He knew about the Lion. About the suffering afterward. He knew somehow about their escape to the fair.

But there was more. There was so much more. There were so many more times. Even if being behind the glass couldn’t do anything, she kept going back to it and him. Back to under his bed. Raines always threatened he would take something out on Jarod, but it wasn’t allowed. Not to the precious resource called Pretenders.

///“Miss Parker? Why are you under my bed?”///

///“Are you okay? What’s wrong?”///

Those moments that he couldn’t remember, they were the reason. The reason that things happened, that he still couldn’t remember. Even when they were older, much older. It was instinct, it was just pure instinct. No matter how awful she had to be to him, for that night, she couldn’t help herself. She ran to him.

///”Jarod? Jarod?” She drummed on his glass, trying to catch his attention.

“Ohhh . . . well if it isn’t Miss Parker?” His familiar baritone came from the darkness. He came closer. “What is it?”

She just stared at him. He’d grown a lot. “Hi.”

“Hi?” He looked confused at her. “That’s weird.” He looked around her. “What’s wrong?”

“Find her, find her now!”

“Can I come in for a bit? Just a little bit,” she asked.

“Normally, I say no to people, you know who starve me and like to visit only to make my life hell,” Jarod answered. “What is it about you today?”

“There you are!”

A member of The Triumvirate. “Nevermind.” She felt her arms being placed behind her back roughly and handcuffed.

“Hey.” Jarod looked toward them. “Hey, wait. That’s Miss Parker. What are you doing?” He tapped on the glass. “Hey, what are you doing?”

“You saw a Pretender? We told you not to do that again without strict supervision!” The Triumvirate man pointed away toward the entrance. “Take her out, and then we’ll deal with it.”

“What do you mean deal with ‘it’?” Miss Parker asked. “What do you mean? You never deal with Jarod!”

“An acquaintance of ours wanted to test something on a Pretender,” he said. “Jarod will test it. He promises to make up for it . . . if the Pretender dies.”

“What?!” No! “Jarod, no! No!”///

They did it. They finally made good on their threat.  And she never visited him again. She moved into corporate and never returned to The Centre, until she had to make good on her promise. To catch Jarod and bring him back to the Centre.

Why was she doing that now? Why was the pain bringing back those memories?

 

///”Miss Parker, it’s okay.” Young Jarod touched her hand when she was underneath the bed. “Raines forgot to erase my memories last time. He said he would soon. He threatened Sydney’s life though, and I just couldn’t risk it. But I wanted to. And I’m sorry.”

“He’d make good on his promise,” Young Miss Parker said as she rubbed her eyes. “Don’t put Sydney at risk. I shouldn’t even put you at risk. It’s just that, this is the only place in The Centre that’s . . .” She stared at him. “That’s good.”

“I want to do more. I wish I could do more.” He moved closer trying to share underneath the bed with her. “You’re my only friend, and I can’t do anything for you.” He reached out to touch her cheek, but she also saw him starting to cry. He sniffled. “I-I-I . . . It’s not fair. It’s not fair! I should be able to tell Sydney. I should be able to tell someone.”

“Welcome to my life, Jarod,” she admitted. “I can’t tell anyone anything. All they do is wipe it out.” She felt him bring her closer, trying to hug her beneath the bed. “What are you doing?”

“You need a hug. You need the biggest hug possible in the world. And so do I. We both need another human’s touch.” He scooted over toward her side and brought her closer that way. “You’re spending the night here, safe and sound, until your father comes.”

“They always catch me, Jarod.”

“Not this time.” Jarod pointed to his right. “Over there is a moving camera that watches me at night. Wait for my signal, then climb into my bed and cover your head. Okay?”

She nodded and waited. Once he said okay, she climbed into bed. After a few minutes, she heard him joining her on the other side. They both stayed tucked up under the sheets, resting on their sides, and holding each other.

She couldn’t believe it. A few minutes passed. Then half an hour. They still hadn’t found her. That night, she laid in his embrace, and he in hers. She woke up with his nudging.

“Sydney starts getting in soon,” Jarod warned her. “You need to climb out before the lights come on.”

“Thank you, Jarod,” she said.

“For what?” Jarod asked. “I can’t stop them from doing anything. I could only protect you for a few hours.”

“A few hours . . . of bliss.” She reached toward him. As a Parker, she knew life was short. The good things in it were short lived. Everything took a chance. And she took a chance.

And kissed him. Short. Chaste. But her first.

He seemed a little amazed about it. There was a funny look on his face. “Okay?”

“ . . . was I that bad?”

“No,” Jarod admitted. “But they always find out. And . . . I won’t remember, Miss Parker. And I . . . I kind of want to remember that.”

Miss Parker smiled at him. She decided that she’d do that again. In the middle of the day. Just him and her. Just, random. He wouldn’t understand why she did it, but he would remember it.///

 

“Doing good, Miss Parker. Keep concentrating on good thoughts. They are always helpful.”

Jarod’s smile entered her mind again. And then, she realized she was covered in blood. All over her. And it wasn’t her own. “Huh?!”

“Doing good, honey.” Jarod’s voice? No, there was something weird about it. “Are you ready to push?”

She looked to the right of her. Jarod? No, the eyes weren’t. And then she knew. She tried to move, but couldn’t.

“Now, now, you are in the middle of birth. You aren’t going to be able to stand up to walk, don’t even bother trying.” Jarod’s clone went over to the dead staff on the floor. “No overtime for them,” he joked cruelly. “Let’s see. Ah, Angel and Onyssius. Let’s get them born. Start pushing.”

“No! No! Broots! Sydney!” She yelled from the top of her voice as she tried to move. She gripped onto the white bedding, trying to pull herself up and away.

“It’s okay, My Saddest Little Valentine,” the clone said to her. “I’m not going to hurt you or them. Their future management. In fact, I’m here to make sure things go right. I’m better than even a real doctor you know.”

She watched that evil clone touching her legs, where they would be showing soon. “Don’t hurt them, please. I’ll give you anything. Anything in the world, just please don’t.”

“Allegiance is a nice thing,” he said. “So? You called for Jarod. You never changed your son’s name. Pretty obvious what happened,” he said. “These are the twin angels.”

“Don’t.” She barely had any strength to talk. She tried to get out of bed, but he stopped her.

“Calm down, Miss Parker,” he said. “You need to reserve that energy for pushing. If I was going to do something bad, I would have done it by now. Well, I mean besides killing all the staff.” He shrugged. “No witnesses. You know how orders go. But I wouldn’t dream of hurting you, and I’m not allowed to hurt Parkers. Well, kill them anyhow. That’s why I let your brother run away.”

She tried to stay away from his hand. He looked like Jarod. He was acting a little like Jarod, but cruel. Mentally unhealthy, she could easily tell the difference. “What are you here for?”

“Well, birth. The Triumvirate want to make absolutely sure this was just Parkers, and not the twin angels.” He shook his head. “Plus, a little no witness killing. A little harder to accomplish, on The Centre itself. Oh, but don’t worry, I’m not all just business.” He grinned sweetly. “I gave offerings to the new angels, in an offering exchange.”

What? “What did you do?”

“I could have done a lot of different things,” the clone said. “Many, but, I decided since this ‘season’ was Christmas, I would go ahead and do something special.” He patted her hand. “I sacrificed eighteen angels to heaven, to celebrate the birth of your two. Best gift ever, right?”

“What did you do?!” She tried to say it tougher. If only she wasn’t so wiped out. “What did you do?”

“I’m sure your little team will find it out soon,” he said. “And you know what? I haven’t properly introduced myself.” He took her hand and shook it. “Jarod Hades.”

“Hades,” she said with as much venom as she could muster.

“Damn, I’ve heard your voice on DSA’s before, but in person that is vicious. Cruel. Sexy as hell.” He kissed the top of her head. “Even better than I ever imagined my Saddest Little Valentine could do.”

She tried to move again, but he stopped her.

“Now, now. Relax. I already told you, I’d never hurt you. And you are about to be a mommy. Can’t turn back now. So, give it one of your all American pushes, huh?”

 

“No word from Medical.” Sydney was waiting right outside Jarod’s door.

“This is so stupid,” Broots insisted, pacing back and forth. “I mean, why can’t we at least be outside the door?”

“It’s how they get away with things,” Jarod said. “That’s why I wanted to be there.”

“It took four hours, Jarod,” Sydney said. “Even you said we had to move her.”

“I know. Life or death, I had to take the call.” Jarod watched Broots pacing back and forth.

“This doesn’t make any sense though,” Broots said. “I mean, shouldn’t I at least be able to stay by the door? I mean, to the whole Centre, I’m supposed to be a Parker here in about a month. Right?”

“That might persuade them,” Sydney agreed. “It’s worth a try, they aren’t answering the phone. Jarod. We will be back again.” He smiled. “I’m sure it will be soon.”

Sydney and Broots both headed off to Medical. When they started to get closer, they saw a body lying in the middle of the floor. They looked at each other, and then both hurried faster. Sydney looked into the window. “Oh my god!” He quickly opened the door, seeing Jarod’s clone right there. In front of her.

“Well,” Jarod Hades waved at him. “That’s not good. I’m not supposed to have any witnesses for this birth.” He looked toward Miss Parker and winked. “I’ll be right back. I’ve got two new people I have to go kill. Can I get you anything while I’m out?”

Sydney and Broots started to run, as Jarod Hades took off towards the door.

But, Miss Parker wasn’t a schoolgirl, a princess, or a girlscout. “Let them go and I’ll make it worth your while!”

That made him stop and look back toward her. “Hm?”

 

“We’ve got a psychotic clone that wants to kill us!” Broots yelled to Sydney while both of they ran. “I hope Jarod gets here soon!”

“Jarod is down in his room, he wouldn’t know to break the glass and come!” Sydney reminded him.

Broots dug into his pocket and pulled out a small looking button like a garage opener. “Considering, you know, clones and birth and scrolls, I made something special for an emergency. I pushed it as soon as I saw the dead body.” He looked back again. The clone still wasn’t after them. “Can we slow down? He doesn’t seem to be following.”

“Miss Parker may be distracting him, but he’ll come.” Sydney yanked Broots over to another corridor and looked back. His breathing was out of control. That was a great amount for his age.

Broots jumped as he heard more running again, but it was from the other direction. “Oh thank goodness, it’s Jarod.”

“What’s happening?!”

“Your clone is apparently assisting the birth,” Sydney said.

“He murdered everyone in there, and he wants us! But, he stopped,” Broots said. “What do we do?”

 

“Get out of here!” Jarod moved quickly to Medical. When he reached it, he opened the door. He could see that familiar, evil grin of Hades. Right next to Miss Parker pushing. He better not . . . Jarod pointed his finger at that devil of a clone. “You touch her, you touch them.”

“Well, I guess the original is fine for The Triumvirate too.” Hades moved away from the bottom of Miss Parker. “She’s currently pushing. Best not to screw up at this time. Go ahead.”

Jarod looked toward her. She was definitely pushing, and she had to. He could see the head. It was time. He came up closer to her. “It’s alright, Miss Parker. Right here, right here.” He didn’t take his eyes off of his clone that was right beside her head.

“So, just between us?” Jarod Hades asked him. “Those aren’t just the little weasel’s one night standers are they? Those are genuinely your little twins. Why else would you be here?”

Jarod didn’t answer back, instead telling Miss Parker to concentrate on pushing.

“There you go, Miss Parker, you’re doing great,” Hades said next to her, patting her hand.

“Don’t. Touch her.” Jarod had to concentrate on what he was doing. The baby had to be born, but he couldn’t just leave him there either.

“Just giving her support. Geez, you’re kind of crabby,” Hades said as he stroked her hair.

“Almost there, almost there.” Jarod looked back toward her, while trying to reach over for the suction for its mouth and nose . It wasn’t long before it was crying. “When you feel it. One more and it’s over. Give it one more good one.”

She grunted and pushed. Holding onto it in its correct position, Jarod caught it. Hades handed him the shears to cut the umbilical cord. He took them and worked fast, trying to keep his eye on Hades too. There was no time to even think about how he was finally holding his family in his arms. He had a clone that was capable of stealing his identity, and that had murdered several times over, right beside Miss Parker’s head.

There was finally a gap in time. Jarod moved up toward Hades, watching his hands. He lifted Miss Parker’s gown up higher and placed it next to her.

“Skin to skin contact after birth, it’s such a good idea.” Hades only smiled. “I guess I better split.” He looked at the almost collapsed Miss Parker, that still had number two to start pushing out. “Congratulations on the new family. Don’t worry.” He put his finger to his mouth. “I won’t say they aren’t just Parkers.” He looked toward Jarod. “Really. I like it this way much better. Do you have a problem like she did if I just go and kill the last two witnesses?”

“One of them has a daughter, and one of them I’ve known as far back as I can remember,” Jarod said. “Yes. I. Do. Mind.”

“Hm. Okay. Tough crowd.” He shrugged. “Think I’ve left you enough fun things to discover out there anyhow. So, guess I should go.” Miss Parker started to push again. “Looks like number two is on its way. Better get back down there, Jarod. Good luck, my Miss Parker.”

Jarod watched as Hades grabbed the exhausted Miss Parker and stole a kiss while she was trying to push. Then he ran out. “Okay, you’re doing fine. He’s gone now.”

“I had. A killer clone of you. Right beside me. Jarod!” She managed to breath between breaths.

“Does The Centre ever make life normal?” he asked. “It’s okay. Give the second a little time, it won’t be as bad.” He moved back up toward her and looked down at the naked baby. He reached over and grabbed the baby blanket that was prepared for it. “I’m going to take her so I can get him.” He picked the crying child up and placed it in one of the glass medical bassinets. “Breathe, it’s okay. He’s gone.”

Jarod was half talking to himself with that statement too. Hades was there, right there, killing people in The Centre, assisting birth, and almost blankly telling him he killed more people he had helped. He was torn, but trying to keep his mind on the birth. “Okay, let’s start pushing soon. You feel it?”

“Damn, women are crazy! I’d rather take a bullet,” she moaned.

“I know,” Jarod said. “Broots told me that you asked Sydney and him to shoot you. In my medical opinion, that wouldn’t have helped a whole lot,” he said, trying to lighten the mood.

 

 

Miss Parker was fading in and out again. She remembered pushing more, and more crying. Then more voices. And then . . .

Chapter Text

“Oh, she’s starting to come to again, Jarod.”

Jarod smiled at her, the biggest smile she’d seen on him in a long time. “They are all here. Want to see them?” He moved out of her view for a little while. Miss Parker tried to pull herself up.

“No, no, no. It’s okay, Jarod’s bringing them to you.” Broots smiled. “You’re a mom now.”

“And a fine mother you will be,” Sydney said from her other side.

“But. Jarod. Glass.”

“Oh, well, when people start getting murdered in The Centre, we go into a different kind of drill, remember?” Broots reminded her. “You know how there’s a fire drill? Well, I made a new drill after Lyle’s trick called ‘get the hell out of the Centre’.” He chuckled. “Well, it’s a ‘Must leave’ kinda drill. I rang it. People figured it out.”

“No one is at The Centre anymore,” Sydney said. “If they are, they are hiding. That clone murdered more than the people in here assisting the birth I’m afraid.”

“And more,” Jarod said. “I don’t know who yet.” He handed her the first one.

 “Which one are you?” She asked as she looked down at it.

“Onyssius,” Jarod said softly. “He has your eyes.”

“Oh, look at him.” His eyes were closed, and he wriggled. Not a lot, but enough to show he was there. He was there now, in the world. His arms so tiny, were trying to move around. She could feel the bottom of his feet too. “I bet you were the kicker, weren’t you?” Then, he opened his eyes.

Not her eyes. Her momma’s eyes. Her mother’s big, beautiful, gentle eyes looked at her.

Looked at her. So tiny. So fragile. How something so small even survived in the world, and could move and do that.

“I don’t get tired of it either,” Jarod said from the other side of her. She watched Jarod’s hands reach toward his. He held his finger out and Onyssius clamped it. “Or that.”

“And here is your little girl,” Sydney said as he held the second. Jarod helped her readjust Onyssius as he brought her over.

“Angel.” She smiled as she saw her. Just as wiggly, if not more. Her feet were kicking more in her blanket than her arms were moving. And her eyes?

///”Good Morning, Miss Parker.”///

She had Jarod’s eyes. Jarod’s soft, kind eyes. Seeing that look, in her own daughter.

“Oh, don’t cry, Miss Parker,” Broots assured her. “Everything’s okay.”

“Those are tears of joy,” Jarod said from beside her. “Those are good tears to have.”

She looked down at each of her twins, in each of her arms. Felt them in her embrace. Looked into their eyes.

Then she looked in front of her where Broots, Sydney, and Jarod were all staring at her.

“God, she’s got beautiful-“ Broots suddenly stopped like he’d been hurt.

“They’ve got all their shots, been rubbed down, checked over, everything,” Jarod said to her. “Healthy. Happy.”

“Angels.” Sydney looked toward Jarod.

Something funny there, but she couldn’t care less right now. She just wanted to stare at the little pieces of heaven in her arms. She felt a small kiss on her cheek, a congratulatory peck from Sydney. She looked back though at them as she felt a camera snapshot on her.

“You’re a new mother. You have to have pictures of the day everything changed,” Broots said with his camera.

She looked next to Broots. Sydney was all the way over there? Then that meant. Jarod kissed me? The congratulatory peck was from Jarod? She felt his hand grab hers. She looked toward him. His eyes were completely fixed on hers before he looked away toward their children.

“I did everything. They are healthy,” Jarod repeated again. “So, I’m  . . . Sydney, how long will everyone stay away?”

“I don’t know, Jarod. For that emergency?” Sydney looked toward Broots. “What do you think?”

“Guidelines say until the leader calls it fine,” Broots said looking toward Miss Parker.

“Good.” She breathed deeply, but felt her body getting weak again.

 

“Sydney, get Onyssius,” Jarod said as he took Angel from her arm. “She’s going to need a lot more rest.” As soon as he said that, he noticed she was out again.

“Jarod,” Sydney said now that she was out comfortably again. “Are you sure about this? They were just born.”

“More than ever. The sooner I find this clone, the sooner he can’t threaten me or her, or anyone I’ve cared about anymore,” Jarod said. “If she wasn’t in the middle of birth.” He sighed. “He definitely has my genius.”

“Yeah. Um.” Broots moved closer to Jarod. “Here’s the, um, hit the Centre found of one of your identities.”

Jarod braced himself. Last time Hades turned Jarod Heart into a cold blooded murderer of two people he helped bring back together. He had given Kevin Bailey something to stop his heart. Now, someone else was hurt. By means of a ‘gift’.

Considering he was learning about seasons, Jarod already guessed it would be someone he helped at Christmas. Jarod took the paper readout, and his heart felt like it hit rock bottom.

“Broots, take Angel,” Sydney commanded. Broots did as was told as Jarod slumped forward. “Jarod?”

“Jarod Marley.” He knew it. He did not want to believe it. “He read all the foster children The Night Before Christmas before giving them . . . cake.” Fruitcake. “With . . .” Puffer fish. He almost tumbled out of the chair. “Seventeen children.”

“And one more. She, um, found a home,” Broots said, knowing he didn’t want to read the rest. “He hunted her down because she was the-“

“Her body was the crowning angel on the rooftop, I saw.” No.

No!

/// “So, what you’re saying is that he had a spirit, a feeling, that made you feel good. Well, as long as you have that feeling, Christmas George is gonna be right here,” Jarod said, making the foster child feel better about the death of the homeless man she and the other children were fond of.

“So every time it’s Christmas, I can think about George and he’ll be here?” Angel had asked Jarod.

“Every time,” Jarod said to her.///

“Um.” Broots didn’t want to say anymore. “Did you see the letter part? It said um.”

“She doesn’t have to think about him anymore.” Jarod’s voice trembled as he closed his eyes, feeling himself losing it. Hades must have found her Christmas card too. Eighteen. Eighteen wonderful children with their whole lives ahead of him, were dead, by Jarod Marley. Killed in a similar way to how he handled Dr.Drake. On top of the girl Angel, he had pinned the identification card to her shirt.

“No lair’s been found yet,” Sydney said delicately.

“Didn’t need one,” Jarod said. “It’s obvious, he wanted to be right here, to tell me, right in the middle of-!” He ducked his head. His children were born. It should have been the happiest day of his life. His family, was there, and he marred it by making sure Jarod knew eighteen children died as a ‘gift’ to them.

“Jarod. Your children are not to blame for what he did,” Sydney said. “The blame is on him. Not you. Not them. Not Miss Parker.”

“And he got away again!” Jarod exploded. “I should have ran after him.”

“In The Centre? He probably had an escape route,” Sydney said. “Even if you had, Miss Parker was in the middle of delivery, Jarod. There was nothing that could be done.”

Jarod bit on his fist as he sat there. He rocked a couple of times and then went up to see his children. “It doesn’t matter what he gave as a ‘gift’,” he said bitterly. He touched Angel’s hand and Onyssius’, feeling them both grab onto his fingers. “I could never blame them.”

They both looked toward him, and started to kick their little feet. Together.

“They are in synch to each other,” Sydney said right beside Jarod. “It does happen between twins. It was one of The Centre’s . . .” he faded off.

“Specialties.” Jarod realized that a long time ago, but Sydney was just catching up to it. The Centre did a lot of work with twins, and the scrolls were calling for twin angels. Still, it didn’t make it any less special. “Greetings to you two as well,” Jarod smiled, feeling a little better inside. That was the magic of family.

He only had a little time left with them before he would have to go again. His next stop would be Africa, to check out the places in the recipe books he looked over with his dad and Gemini. He really didn’t want to though. “Broots.” He looked toward the computer man. “Take really, really good care of them while I’m gone?”

Broots nodded. “Yeah, I plan on it. Don’t worry, Jarod. I can show them pictures of you too if you want?”

“Yes, please. I’d really appreciate that.” He looked back toward the both of them and touched their moving feet. “We are all going to have a blast one day,” Jarod said to them. “I’m going to teach you about the whole world. You’ll learn about the good. The bad. The common daily things that everyone takes for granted.” He scooted up closer to them. “I’ll teach you about Pez, how to eat an Oreo cookie, Mister Potato Head. Silly Putty. Coconut Balls, and Ice Cream. There are so many things out there. You’ll see snow for the first time too. There’s so much out there! You’re going to have a ball with me.” He touched each of their noses. “Your daddy.”

He chuckled, saying that statement. “Your . . . daddy.” Then when he pulled his hands away, he saw something amazing. They each reached for each other’s hand. “Holding hands.”

“Wow, I-I didn’t know they could do that,” Broots said from across the room, seeing it. “That’s incredible. You’ve got really amazing kids, Jarod.”

“I do,” Jarod said watching them. “I have amazing kids. I have a new family forming.”

“I must be honest, Jarod,” Sydney said. “I was surprised with the way events turned. In the end, I hope you are happy with the decision you made.”

“More than happy. And even now, I’m going to be the best I can be.”

“But, this makes things even harder,” Broots said. “Now you’re Pretending. Visiting Africa. Coming to The Centre Saturdays and Sundays. And, visiting them too?”

“Don’t doubt him, Broots,” Sydney said to him. “I’m sure Jarod will manage just fine.”

Jarod just smiled and held up Onyssius, bringing him closer to him. So much to show you. We can go fishing. We can go camping. We can do anything together. We are father and son, and I will never let you go. Ever. He felt his son try to grip onto his jacket.

 

“Sydney, now-“ Sydney held his finger toward Broots, silencing him. He went ahead and slipped out of the room, bringing Broots behind him. They closed the door. “Give him time. Jarod is going to want to analyze them.”

“Analyze them?” Broots asked him. “He already checked their health. You mean, private time?”

“I mean both,” Sydney said as he placed his hands in his pockets. “Come, Broots.” He started to walk away. “Let’s get some more of these poor souls out of the way.”

“Okay, yeah, more fun moving dead bodies,” Broots complained.

 

Jarod felt Onyssius’ fingertip gently, then each one at a time, moving down his hand. As he held him, he studied the blanket he was in, the color of his eyes, the lines on his face, how wide he opened his mouth, how tight he squeezed, how much he kicked and the strength of it. Everything he could.

When he got a chance to himself he wanted to be able to close his eyes and remember him, feel him, in his arms again. Just like that. He rubbed his back for a few minutes and then placed him back down.

He picked up Angel. “A daughter. A daughter with Miss Parker.” He did everything just like before, memorizing every detail he could. “I bet you’ll be in fantastic little dresses. A whole wardrobe just for you. You won’t need them though, look at you. You’ll have a natural beauty all your own.” He never wanted to let her go either. “You got your mother’s hair color, I can see it slightly already at the top. I wonder if you’ll look as much as your mom as she did hers.” As he readjusted her to face him, she patted at his face. He smiled. Baby Michael used to do that and it lifted his heart. But when she did it?

It soared so high. “I don’t want to leave you.” He got up and looked at Onyssius. “Neither one of you.” But, life wasn’t that kind. As long as there was someone out there hurting those he cared for, he couldn’t be with them. “One day, I’ll be with you forever,” Jarod promised them as he put Angel down. “I’ll come as often as I can, but your daddy has things he has to do, and I can’t bring you with me to do them.” He took the blanket and swaddled her safely in it. “If I don’t help, people will end up hurt or worse.” He then took the other blanket and swaddled his son. “If I don’t leave to inspect Africa, then we’ll never be free to be out there together. So, we have to make some sacrifices.” Even though he didn’t want to.

He kissed Angel on top of her head, as well as Onyssius. “I’m your dad,” Jarod said. “Me. Remember me. Jarod.”

“Jarod.”

He heard his name and looked toward Miss Parker. He brought himself over toward her. “You should be sleeping.” He tested her by touching her in several places. “You’re dreaming? Of me?” He took her hand. “I do that too.” He stared back at her face. It was exhausted. He moved to kiss the top of her forehead as he had their children.

Once. Twice. Lingering. He placed a finger gently on her cheek and caressed it before letting go. He smiled at Sydney as he and Broots came back. “Make sure you bring them down to visit me?”

“We’ll find a way,” Sydney said.

“Sure. I mean, Christmas is just around the corner. We could decorate them as gifts? I mean, you know, in their bassinets?” Broots asked. “Not long enough to be without-“

 

“That’s fine, Mister Broots.” Jarod looked toward his newborns again. He really needed to get going, he doubted everyone would stay away the entire day. Most, but not the most dedicated. Someone always had to be there to make sure their ‘live subjects’ ate after all. “I’ll see you soon. Real, real soon.”

Chapter Text

--------------

Parker’s Private Wooden Lodge-December 23rd

 

“Can I?” Debbie asked her dad as she was all dressed up tightly to play in the snow.

“Uh. Uh. Sure.” Broots tried to concentrate on her, but Onyssius was crying for a bottle, and Angel was just crabby and wanted held. “Miss Parker should be back around 3:00.”

“She really had to travel?” Debbie said disappointed. “It’s Christmastime.”

“Oh, the world never stops for  a Parker,” Broots said. “Go on, have fun, sweetie.” He moved toward the room they called the nursery for the vacation and placed Angel down a moment. “I know, I know. I gotta get your brother fed though.” She was throwing a fit. “Please try and calm down?” He took back off to the kitchen and placed Onyssius in a little bassinet as he checked the degree of the formula. “Aw, shoot, too hot!”

Onyssius started crying again. “It just needs to cool,” Broots insisted as he picked him up, but Angel’s hollering still hadn’t ceased. On his way to the nursery though, he noticed her hollering stopped. Hopefully she fell asleep. He moved back to the kitchen and checked the milk. “Still too hot?” Onyssius was still crying. “There, there. Okay. Uh? Let’s see.” He looked around for a pacifier to help him out. He found it lying on the floor. “Oh great, now I have to clean that.” He placed Onyssius back in his high chair and stooped down to grab and clean the pacifier. Then he went over and checked the milk. “Finally ready.”

But, Angel was hollering again. She woke up? Of course. If he worked fast, he should be able to get her back down. If she hollered for too long, he’d have no chance. He moved toward the nursery again. “Calm down, can’t you go back to sleep?” Her feet and arms and whole body were moving with displeasure as her crying only rose higher. “Okay, okay.” He picked her up and headed back to the kitchen. “At least Onyssius isn’t . . .” Crying? His heart started to beat fast. He knew he left him in the high chair. Right? “Oh? I? Uh?” He went back to the nursery to see if he could see him.

What?! “Uh. Uh. Uh.” His breathing was erratic. Where was he? Where was he?! “Okay, Okay. You stay right here, okay?” He put her back down in the crib and looked out the door. He looked around the house, but kept his eye on the nursery as much as possible.

He wasn’t  there. He wasn’t anywhere! Broots grabbed at the hair at his head. Someone took him! He ran to dial Miss Parker, but remembered Angel in the crib too. He ran back to the nursery . . . and she was gone?! “No, no, no!” Did The Triumvirate figure out their identity? Did the clone lie when he said he wasn’t going to tell them? He headed all over the house, calling each of their names, until he found the main living room.

He breathed a thousand different types of relief. In front of a roaring fireplace, there was Jarod, rocking both of them in a rocking chair.

Jarod looked back toward him, but not with a kind smile or look. He was either unaware or uncaring of the trouble he just caused. “Hello, Mister Broots.”

Broots sighed. “Hi. What are you doing here? No, that came out wrong.”

“The Centre has holiday leave.” Jarod said as he rocked them. “Where else would I be but with family at the holidays? Except that, apparently you skipped off with Miss Parker to a private lodge for the week?”

Ooh. Those weren’t minty words of goodness and neither was that look. “I don’t know about that? Miss Parker wanted to be up here this year. She didn’t contact you?”

Then, just like that, Jarod relaxed again. “Oh. Did you cool off the formula yet?”

“Oh yeah, I better get it.” Broots moved back to the kitchen and prepared it, bringing it back to Jarod. “Here you go.”

Jarod took it and with only the grace of his genius, continued to hold both of them while he gave Onyssius his bottle, and continued holding it in the correct position with his fingertips as he rocked them.

Seeing now that his presence wasn’t needed, and thankful for the break, Broots headed out of the room. With Jarod there, he would be able to concentrate on his own daughter now.

 

Jarod stared at the fire, looked out the window at the falling snow, and down towards his children in his arms. “I’ve had many Christmases since leaving The Centre. Discovered a whole lot about it, but none of it really mattered.  There was this guy, named Harry,” he told him. “He was grieving for his friend, telling me about him and what he did. His friend’s name was Christmas George.”

He felt Angel gripping his coat.  ”He told me something, something I never forgot, even though it’s been five years. It’ll never leave me.” He brushed his head across Angel’s. “He said, ‘Christmas doesn’t count for squat without family son’.”

He continued to rock them as he moved his fingers up to tip Onyssius’ bottle more. “I never got to spend a Christmas with my mom, my dad, my brothers, or my sister,” Jarod admitted. “But, I’m going to spend it with you.” He hadn’t been gone terribly long, but the last time he held them, they had just been born. About a week ago, yet they were still important days. Time he couldn’t get back. He saw them a little in The Centre, but it wasn’t easy to explain to people like Lyle why they were bringing two infants down to see Jarod. “I will do all I can to make sure I never spend a Christmas without you.”

Onyssius stopped drinking from his bottle, pulled his lips away, and grabbed at Jarod’s nose, patting it. In the background, he heard ‘We wish you a merry Christmas’ start to play. He looked to his side and saw Debbie.

“Jarod, you’re back to see them?” What a radiant little smile. “They’re a handful, but so cute. Do you get to stay?”

“A whole week,” Jarod said. “I’m not leaving for anything.” But he did wonder why Parker hadn’t said anything? He had to do a little extra investigating to find out where they had gone. As soon as he could, he had made his way back to her home, only to find it, and his children, gone.

She wouldn’t try to run away, there’d be no reason to. Why’d she do that? Did she expect him not to actually come up and see them during Christmas?

“Really, you’ll be here for Christmas too?” She asked. “That’s neat. It’ll be us three this year with you and the babies.”

“Us three?” Jarod asked.

“Sydney and Miss Parker. We all come together now for the holidays,” Debbie said.

“You celebrate with Sydney too?” For the holidays? When did that start? “Don’t you have other family to spend it with?”

“Used to, but daddy just brushes it off.” She shrugged. “My grandparents are okay, but there are some in the family that daddy’s never got along with, so the holidays are better with them instead. Besides,” she smiled. “They are family. Ooh!” She said excitedly. “You could help decorate the tree too!”

Jarod smiled. “Yeah, I guess I can.” She was excitable. A lot of kids were at Christmas time. One day, Angel and Onyssius would be the same way. His mind reflected back to all those foster children. They had been so excited when he was there, reading to them, and . . . “Maybe. It might bring back some sad memories though.” He heard the sound of the door opening again.

“Hey, Sydney,” Broots voice came from the front. “Miss Parker’s gone ‘til 3:00.”

“That is fine,” Sydney said. “Mister Parker found it hard to get away even on these days too,” he said.

“Well, I hope they give her more of a break. I mean, she’s had like only two weeks to recover, and they kept making her work for most of that time.”

“The Centre never lets anything go for too long. Don’t worry. I don’t think they are going to pile too much upon her, Broots. Did you and Debbie get everything set out yet?”

“We will!” Debbie yelled from next to Jarod. “We’re decorating the tree soon. Won’t start until Miss Parker comes home. It’s up to you if you want to join. If not, that’s cool. I don’t want to make you sad.” She moved from his side and ran down the hall, greeting Sydney.

Then, Jarod heard another door open and what sounded like a briefcase on a table.

“Miss Parker?” Broots voice sounded through the distance. “I thought you had to work ‘til 3:00.”

“Travel isn’t happening with me yet. I made it quite clear to them, very clear, that I wasn’t doing anything right now.” Her footsteps were heard down the hallways until she entered the same room Jarod had been in. “Did you scare Broots half to death, not knocking again?”

Jarod looked toward the doorway at her. “Merry Christmas, Miss Parker.” He looked down toward his twins. “Their first Christmas.” He looked back toward her. “When did you start spending the holidays with Sydney and Broots? And why didn’t you tell me you’d be way out here?”

“Mm. We weren’t interesting enough to watch over the holidays for long, were we?” she teased him. “Some time ago. We realized . . .” She shrugged. “We’d rather just spend it with each other. Daddy never had any time for me. When Jacob was gone, Sydney had no one but his son, but  he’s got his own thing going on now. And Broots, he couldn’t stand his brother or his family. So, it just sort of happened.”

“Broots can’t stand his family?” Jarod asked. He didn’t know that one either. When did that happen? He had known many things about them years ago, especially for their trip to Oz he set up. But as he got interested in his own family and life, they each fell off his radar more.

Each of them moved on, just like he did apparently. Life never stopped, always shifting, always moving. “Sorry I didn’t know.”

“Why would you need to?” She sighed. “I was going to call you, but I figured you’d probably know before I even picked up the phone. How much time are you wanting to spend with them?”

“I cleared out the whole week,” Jarod said.

“Good. They are up to you then,” she said. “Do you want me to tell Sydney that you’re here or are you just going to hang back out here for awhile?”

She knew. She didn’t say anything about it, but she knew it. That his heart wanted to celebrate Christmas, but his heart was hurt over such an immense death. So many children. Right at Christmas. “I don’t know yet,” he admitted. “I just want to see Angel and Onyssius right now.”

“Fine.” She headed out the doorway. “Might change your mind later.”

How strange. Jarod didn’t see that coming. His Centre hunters . . . had formed their own little family together? While he looked back toward his babies, he made his decision and got up.

This was Christmas. A time for hope and peace and family. No matter how painful it would be, he would help his children celebrate it too. He went towards the front and just surveyed everyone at first.

“Not that way, the other. You’re going to break the bottom,” Miss Parker said as she straightened out the top of a giant Christmas tree they were setting up.

“Well, fake trees are a lot easier than real trees,” Broots said as he tried to drive the screws in to hold it in place.

“But real trees smell better,” Debbie said. “Right, Miss Parker?”

“Yep. Genuine. Momma liked genuine.” She smiled at Debbie. She looked behind her toward Sydney. “Almost ready.”

“Yes, we just must be careful.”

“I know by now, Freud,” Miss Parker teased him.

“They are so old. This part is always unnerving.” He smiled at Miss Parker. “It is always worth it when they are on there.”

Jarod didn’t even want to enter into the scene. Sydney was putting the old Christmas decorations of his family line on there. In fact, it looked like everyone would be doing that. The first ornaments that went up though were put up by Miss Parker.

Bulbs, homemade with the year and the names Onyssius and Angel. “You have ornaments.” As soon as he said that, he knew he’d been discovered.

“Ah, Jarod. You are here to spend time with them?” Sydney asked, gesturing toward his children.

“The whole week,” Jarod said coming toward the tree. It had been awhile since he’d been in front of a decent tree. He noticed Angel and Onyssius were reaching toward the branches. He looked toward Miss Parker too. She still hadn’t quite lost all the baby weight.

Then, during that precious moment, Jarod heard it. Another knock on the door. He would have to move toward the back again. Before he even made it, Miss Parker looked out the window and opened up the door.

Right in front of him . . . was his mom. With gifts in her arms. “Merry Christmas, Jarod.”

 

-------------------

 

It was. The best Christmas. Ever. None of them could compare, none of them. And it wasn’t even Christmas day yet!

 Jarod chatted with his mom as he held Angel and she held Onyssius. Cookies were baking in the oven, a recipe from Miss Parker’s books that she baked with Debbie. Broots was making snowflakes now with Debbie, while Sydney was still examining the tree for the best place to put the last of his bulbs.

“How long can you stay?” Jarod asked his mom.

“All week,” his mom said. “We’re both fine, Miss Parker is in her private family lodge for a reason this week. I am in the room in the far back. I already worked that out with Miss Parker.” She handed Onyssius back to him as she went toward the oven. “Oh, I haven’t tasted those cookies in forever. I’ll be back.”

Jarod watched his mother with Miss Parker. No mistrust. It was clear they had talked more.

“You.” His mom came back over to him trying one of the cookies. “Really need to show up more, Jarod. You’d know more.”

“I’ve been busy down in Africa,” Jarod said. “I want us . . . freed.”

“I know,” she said, “but it’s called a phone. Numbers?” She sighed. “You can be a Pretender and still keep in touch.”

Jarod heard the door again. Miss Parker answered it again.

“Greetings. I mean, hello.” Gemini waved at her as he held Ethan’s hand. He looked toward Jarod. “Hello, Jarod.”

No way. “Ethan? Gemini?” His mother took the babies this time as he went over toward them and hugged them. “I can’t believe this! Everyone’s here?”

“Except dad,” Ethan said. “He’s still in Africa.

“And Emily,” Gemini added, “for the obvious reason we don’t want her murdering Miss Parker.”

“The Major never was a gigantic season lover,” his mother said bitterly from the background. “I’m sorry Jarod, it’s me.”

Jarod didn’t care the reason, he had his brothers there now too. “Well, come in, come in!” Jarod hugged each of them again. He brought them over to meet Onyssius and Angel.

“Behind the glass, and being enemies. It looks like it worked,” Ethan smiled at Jarod. “I’m glad.”

His mom patted Jarod’s lap. “I tried to get the Major to come. He’s not . . . happy with me right now since I told him the truth about myself. Emily is fine with me, but she’s not happy about . . . well, Miss Parker.”

“Oh.” That was too bad. “I’m sorry, mom.”

“It’s okay.” She finished her cookie. “Since I hid it for so long, and with what happened, I think he’s blaming a lot of it all on me. I knew he would, but, a lot of years have passed by since I’ve seen him, Jarod. I wasn’t naïve. I’m better with it than you might think.” She patted his chest. “Anyhow, I heard what happened with the devil.”

“It’s terrible,” Ethan agreed, looking toward Jarod. “My sister and your mother put a great amount of time to get us all together, so this year wouldn’t be as hard.”

“Yes, it wasn’t easy to leave Africa with Ethan,” Gemini said.

Miss Parker? “Miss Parker helped with this?”

“Of course she helped.” His mother moved closer to his ear. “She is your angel, Jarod.”

Jarod turned to look at Miss Parker again. She was eating a cookie with Debbie now.

“Did you take my advice with Thomas Gates?” His mother asked him in a whisper.

Jarod looked back toward her, then looked back at Miss Parker, then back at her. “I . . . talked,” he whispered back.

“And?”

“And . . .” Jarod didn’t know what to say. “He’s not going to meet her until I introduce them.”

“Well, it’s a start,” Margaret whispered back. “Hope you get it figured out though this week. You do remember Broots is marrying her in three?”

“Yeah.” Jarod moved his attention to Broots. He was busy with Sydney instead now. “That shouldn’t be a problem.”

His mother rolled her eyes. “Why?”

He whispered back to her. “I’ve been setting up for a fake marriage, and that bridge isn’t going off without a hitch.”

She smiled at him. “That’s my boy. Want me to bring you a cookie?” She looked toward Gemini. “Would you like one? They are very good.”

“Cookies even from an instant box where you only add eggs and water are special enough. I am sure having confections from-“

“Debbie, over here, you can help put up the star.” Broots interrupted Gemini and pulled his daughter away.

“In a second, dad, I was going to talk to my friend,” Debbie said. “No one even told me he was coming!” She waved toward him, her smile even more brilliant.

“No time to find out like the present,” Broots said, looking toward Miss Parker with less than pleasant eyes.

Oops. Jarod remembered he had told Broots about his daughter’s crush when he thought he’d betrayed him. Not only did Broots steal her away before she could talk to Gemini, he was interrupting his ‘funky talk’. Not only that, but the way Broots was looking at Miss Parker? She didn’t tell him either that his family was coming. Even Sydney had seemed surprised.

She hid it, even from them, so everything really was a secret. They could all spend Christmas together, without worry about someone finding out about them.

 “I will have a cookie soon,” Gemini said getting up. “I would like to go talk to Debbie and see if she needs any assistance with placing the fabricated star on top of the large tree that is now inside the house.”

Ethan watched as he left over toward her. He looked back toward Jarod. “He likes her.”

“Yeah, he does,” Jarod admitted.

“Reciprocal,” Ethan said looking toward them. “Broots isn’t happy about it though.”

“Usually daddies don’t want to think about their daughters growing up,” Margaret said, “or getting felt up.”

Jarod winced. “Mom? A little more subtlety?”

“I thought that was subtle?” She laughed at him. “Open your presents.” She waved toward Gemini to come over too. “These are special ones for today.”

“Major Charles has not done a Christmas,” Gemini said as he took the present Margaret passed out. “I’m afraid I will not get the tradition right.”

“I don’t do much Christmas either,” Ethan said shaking it.

“Just open,” Jarod said to them. He took a minute to look at it. Festive wrapping paper with hues of blue and gold. He opened it up and saw a box with an ornament on it. It had the year and his name in glitter, like Miss Parker had for Onyssius and Angel.

“A round Christmas ornament with my name and the year marked in a glitter substance, with glue peeking out beneath the glitter in spots?” Gemini held up his own ornament.

“I have one too.” Debbie crept up to him, having escaped her father’s eye. “Come on, come put it on the tree.”

Gemini smiled at her, got up and put it on the tree.

“I have the same thing,” Ethan said. “The glitter is red though.”

“Miss Parker did yours. She used similar colors to hers,” Margaret said to him. She sat up and picked up her own ornament that had been hiding in a box, unwrapped. “Come on, Jarod. Let’s go put up the ornaments.”

“You bet. Can you take one of them?” He gave Angel to her as he took his ornament and Onyssius. He went over toward the tree that was finally decorated.

Debbie was helping Gemini place his in a good spot. Ethan found a spot on the side. Margaret placed hers front and center.

Jarod looked at the tree, seeing everyone’s names. Everyone’s ornaments. Then he spied Miss Parker’s toward the top. He placed his toward the top, a little close to hers, but not touching.

It was a sight to behold. It was a large tree for a reason, carrying over three different family generations worth of ornaments. It was the most beautiful tree Jarod had ever seen.

He had seen a variety of Christmas trees, especially during his analysis’ in the past, but this one was it. It was the most beautiful one ever.

 

Because it was his first family Christmas tree.

Chapter Text

-----------------

Outside . . .

 

///”Sorry, I can’t make it for Christmas this year, Angel.”///

///”Sorry, I have to cancel, it’s just not going to happen, Sweetheart.”///

It should feel a lot colder and lonelier than it usually did, but her father never spent many Christmases with her. Sometimes he tried, and things would fall through. And before she could even wish him a merry Christmas, he always hung up. She wouldn’t let that kind of life happen to Angel and Onyssius.

“You brought my family together this Christmas, while you lost some of yours.”

Jarod’s voice. Of course. She continued to stare. “It’s not as bad as I thought. How sad is that?” she answered. She heard his footsteps coming up from behind her. “You get a week, don’t waste it. I’m not a fairy, I don’t do miracles very often.”

He stood next to her. “Thank you.”

She still didn’t say much. “Your mom helped too, it wasn’t all me.”

“I’m guessing so. It would take a Pretender plus your powerful resources to pull something like this off.”

She felt his hand trying to hold hers. “Yeah, well. You did get me a rabbit one year.”

“This is a lot bigger than a rabbit,” Jarod said, forcing his hand in hers. Feeling the lack of choice, she went ahead and held it back. “My first year I learned about Christmas, out there, all those memories were . . . twisted now with what happened.” His grip became tighter on her hand. “And instead of trying to ride through it, so I could try and give Onyssius and Angel good memories, you made it easier by giving me a real Christmas. The first one with my family.”

“Not quite. Your sister wants to kill me, so no invite,” she said to him. “Your dad knows you are here, but he and your mom . . .” She sighed. “Not everything gets a happy ever after.”

“She already knew how it’d go,” Jarod said. “I can see it from both their perspectives. Having me and Kyle taken away to become the one thing she’d already been. It would feel like betrayal. She hid things, and she shouldn’t have. But, at the same time-“

“He dropped her fast, Jarod. Your mom’s a trooper but even she couldn’t handle the burn.” She tucked her coat in tighter. “The one that got her the most though, was when he said her Pretending skills weren’t good enough if they couldn’t locate either of you after this many years.”

She heard Jarod almost choke on the news.

“It was for you, but it was for her too. All she wanted was her family for Christmas. I couldn’t get Emily obviously, and Kyle was never found, but at least she has you.” She looked back toward him.

“That must have hurt.” Jarod looked toward her. “You’ve been talking to her?”

“She knew my mother. Of course I’ve been talking to her,” she said. She looked out into the snow and smiled. “They sounded like quite a pair.”

Funny. He was doing it again. Whenever she smiled in the past, when she was his Hunter, it didn’t seem to do anything. But every time she smiled now, he looked at her differently. Broots and Sydney did the same thing. Could the focus be seen in her that much? Figuring a change of subject would be better she said, “I’m not giving them up at Christmas though, so you are just stuck with me and my little team that used to try and catch you. If you can handle that thick irony.”

“You’d be surprised what I can handle,” Jarod said to her. “So, what are you thinking about out here, all alone? Your father?”

“Partly,” she admitted. “Partly not. Clock is ticking with your family.”

“Most of them are asleep,” Jarod reminded her.

“Okay.” What did he want then? “Are you going to share what you found in my mom’s recipe books yet?”

“Scrumptious recipes to try,” he joked. “Soon. It hasn’t even been two weeks, and I know as soon as I tell you, you’ll be ready to book it to Africa.”

Ooh? “Did you find the clone?”

“Maybe. Maybe more.” Jarod brought out something from his pocket. “Did you ever feel like you forgot something Miss Parker?”

///“Did you ever feel like you forgot something, Miss Parker?”///

“I forgot some of Africa with Debbie because of Lyle,” she said, “but Sydney recovered that.”

“Did you forget about anything else?” Jarod asked.

“No.”

“Are you sure?” Jarod asked. “How do you-“

“Because they wanted me to remember,” she said firmly. “I’m going back inside now. It’s getting colder.”

“I’ll join you,” Jarod insisted as he walked beside her, step by step again.

 

Jarod relaxed with his mug of cocoa in front of Sydney and Broots.

“I have to say, your mother and Miss Parker are full of surprises,” Sydney admitted as he stirred his own cup. “Had I known, Jarod, I wouldn’t have come and had given you the space you deserve with them.”

Jarod smiled. “It’s okay, Sydney. Miss Parker deserves her Christmas too after all.” As he continued to sip, he heard his mother’s voice right next to her ear.

“I know something better than cocoa, Jarod.”

Jarod turned to look at her. “What do you mean?”

“Through the crack whispers an angel,” she whispered in his ear. “Go look in the nursery.” She moved away like she hardly said a thing and went to get some more cocoa.

Jarod looked over toward Broots who was getting Debbie ready for bed, giving her kisses and hugs. “I’ll be back, Sydney.” He headed toward the nursery to see what his mother was talking about. There the door was shut except for a very small way. Like it had missed becoming all the way shut.

“Look at how hungry you are tonight. I’m so sorry momma couldn’t get to you earlier today.”

Jarod looked back. Eavesdropping wasn’t something he should be doing. He scooted the door open slightly and saw something he wasn’t expecting. “Miss Parker?”

She jumped slightly and covered herself up better. “Door closed means knock first?” Agitated but she still continued, still covered up more.

“I had no idea you were breastfeeding.” Jarod closed the door behind him.

“Momma did for me,” she admitted. “It’s one of the best things I can do for them.”

“Running The Centre and doing that though, it can’t be easy.” He came over toward her closer.

She sighed, probably realizing he wasn’t going to leave. “I keep them with me on Saturday and Sundays in The Centre, except when they get snuck down you by my haphazard team. Otherwise, they stay here and Broots brings them twice a day. I get up in the morning and once before night. It’s not perfect, they still need formula, but it works.” Sh