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Never Tear Us Apart

Author:   Trixi


SPOILERS: Second Season Final
DISCLAIMER: You know, the Pretender and its characters, Jarod, Miss Parker, Sydney and Broots belong to NBC and I just borrow them. I promise to return them after this. <g>
The title belongs to INXS.

This is my second story and english isn´t my first language so please, just overread any typos... :)

Thousand thanks to Miss H for your great help and wonderful ideas!

and e-mail me if you
read it,
like it,
hate it,
thought about reading it,
know someone who read it,
just send me a note
1007-816@online.de
 

Now on with the show...
 
 



 

Somewhere in a little motel room
 

     "Are you happy now?" Jarod tore at his handcuffs and looked to an evil grinning woman.

     "I'm very happy, yes." Miss Parker took out her silver cigarette case, put one in her mouth and lit it, blowing the smoke directly in his face.

     "We should...shouldn't you call the Centre?" Broots asked, walking nervously through the dark motel room.

     "Don't panic, you moron!" Miss Parker shouted, grabbing him by his shirt and throwing him into the only chair in the room.

     "This time he can't escape.  I have him right where I want him." she purred and flashed Jarod a triumphant look.

     Sydney entered the room and shook the rain from his heavy coat.

     "We have...umm..." he began, but she cut him off.

     "What?  Spit it out!"

     "There's a problem.  The pilot can't come and pick us up.  The storm is coming toward us too fast."

     "Like I told you before." Jarod said, interrupting their conversation.

     "Shut up!  No one wants to listen to you." Miss Parker hissed and took her cell phone out of her pocket and dialed her father's number.

     "Daddy, I have him!  No, I mean...Yes....As soon as possible, but we have to wait here 'til the storm has passed...O.K., 'bye daddy!"

     "And what did he say?" Sydney walked toward the window and looked outside.

     "We should get to the Centre as soon as we can." she went to the bed and checked Jarod's handcuffs once more.

     "Just to be sure." she whispered devilishly to him.  "You know, there is no chance for you to escape again."

     "There is always a way.  Maybe not at the moment."  he said, tearing at the cuffs once more.  "But there's no way I'll stay at the Centre."

     "We'll see." Miss Parker replied sweetly, and felt for the key in her pocket, just in case he was now Houdini and found it.

     She gave Broots the second gun and snapped, "Here, keep your eyes on him. If he tries anything, shoot him.  And do us all a favor, and don't shoot yourself in the foot."

     Then she disappeared into the bathroom.
 
 

* * * * *
 
 

Hours later

     Broots still sat in the chair, Jarod lay on the bed, and Syd had stretched out on the little sofa.  Miss Parker stood at the window and stared out at the steady rain falling. No one had spoken since Miss Parker re-entered the room.  Not even Jarod, who was so fond of baiting her.

     "What's up with Frankenboy?  Is he pretending to be speechless now?"

     Miss Parker looked again at the silver briefcase containing the DSA's.  They had found Jarod and the DSA's, what could make this day better?  Nothing except a flight home to Blue Cove.  She would give the Centre Jarod back and then disappear herself and never come back.  She had already picked her travel route and bought a little piece of land in Canada.  To think of it always made her a bit happier, but Broots dragged her out of her thoughts.

     "Mmm, Miss Parker?"

     "What?" she snapped, colder than she had intended.  He was a poor guy and didn't deserve to be treated like this.  But soon, he would be rid of her.

     "I thought...maybe we could..."

     "What, Broots?"

     "There's a diner down the road, and I thought we could get something to eat. I'm starving .  You know, you called me before I could have breakfast this morning and..."

     "O.K.," she cut him off.  "Take Syd and bring something back for your little genius too."

     "Great.  Syd, you coming?"

     "Yeah." he said, slowly standing up and stretching.  he was somehow glad this hunt was at an end now; he was too old for all this hunting.

     Once they were outside, Jarod opened his mouth to say something, but Parker pointed her gun directly in his face.

     "Not a word.  I have had enough of your little mind games.  You've played them one time too many."

     He shut his mouth again but started as soon as she put her gun back in its holster at the small of her back.

     "Do you already have the flight ticket?"

     "I don't need a ticket for the Centre Private jet." she answered boredly.  She thought that he would have something more intelligent to say at a time like this.

     "I don't mean that.  To Canada.  I meant do you already have the ticket to Canada."

     How could he have know about that?  She bought it with a fake name and paid cash....
 "I don't know what you mean, so shut up!" Attack is the best defense, she thought casually, when her phone began to ring.  She grabbed it and snapped, "What?"

     "Oh, Daddy!  What?  No, I understand....but...no, O.K.... as you wish.  What about Syd and Broots?  O.K., fine.  I'll see you back at the Centre.  'Bye."

     She put the phone on the desk and slowly sank into the chair.

     "What?  Won't Daddy let you leave him?" he mocked and smirked.

     "I told you, shut up!" she shouted and stood, returning to the bathroom.

     She shut the door behind her and leaned against it wearily.  This can't be true. After all the time she spent chasing him, she should shoot him now?  But why?  She thought the Centre wanted him back because he was one of their best sources of income.  Now her father was giving her the clear order to kill Jarod here and now. About Syd and Broots, she mustn't think because they will busy for awhile at the diner.  It was just another job, although she had never had the order to kill anyone, other than Lyle, except he wasn't really dead at the time.

     "Hey!" Jarod shouted from the room.

     Parker smoothed her suit and went back into the room to Jarod.

     "What?" she asked roughly.

     "I need to go too.  Or would you rather I make a mess in here?" he said, grinning at little.  He didn't understand what was up quite yet.

     Miss Parker hesitated before pulling out her gun.  Better now than later, she thought coolly.  But as she aimed at Jarod, and looked at him, really looked at him, she froze.  What was she about to do?

     Jarod saw the look in her eyes and the gun aimed at his head.  He understood now what Mr. Parker meant by his last call.  He was now useless to the Centre and Miss Parker should remove the problem and the evidence.  He tried to free himself from the cuffs and to stand up without success.  He just hit the headboard of the bed.

    He closed his eyes and waited for the <<bang>> but nothing happened.  Miss Parker stood before him, motionless.

     Jarod blinked and replied, "Go ahead, shoot me.  Then you're free!  Don't you think everyone deserves to be free?"

     She didn't move; she didn't even blink her eyes.  She just stood there.
 

* * * * *

     After a few seconds, which seemed like an eternity for both Jarod and Miss Parker, he heard a loud <<bang>> and thought that was to be the last thing he ever heard, but instead, he felt pieces of sheetrock falling on him.  He opened first one eye, then the other and stared at...no one.

     It was then he recognized her across the room.   She was packing their things together and walked back over to him.  She uncuffed him from the bedpost and harshly cuffed his hands behind his back.

     "Just one word or noise and I really will shoot you.  Now get up."

     "Where are we going?" he asked, confused.

     "That's none of your business!  Go!" she exclaimed impatiently, and pushed him out of the room toward the black waiting for them in front of the motel.

 
* * * * *

     Once they were on the road, Jarod dared again to ask her , "What about Sydney and Broots?"

     She clasped the steering wheel tighter and took a deep breath.  "Will you just shut up?  Don't you understand that you should be dead by now?"

     "Yeah, O.K."

     They drove through two states and stopped only at gas stations.  Miss Parker felt like a tractor just drove over her.  She stretched, lit another cigarette, and sat once more behind the wheel.  Jarod seemed to be asleep, finally.  She started the engine, and he blinked and sat up in his seat.

     "You can lay in the back if you want." she offered, wondering where that thought came from.

     "No, I'd like to see where we're driving.  But thanks.  By the way, what have you done with Miss Parker?  You look like her but..."

     "Very funny, Jarod.  Go back to sleep and don't piss me off."

     "What do we do anyway?" he didn't want to push her because he knew she could become very dangerous, but he was curious.

     She pretended that she hadn't heard his question, but after a while she began to talk.

     "I was assigned to bring you back to the Centre two years ago.  I always looked forward to the day I finally caught you and could drag you home by the ears, but I also want some answers to the questions we placed on the last couple of months.When you're back in the Centre you will certainly not help me.  And as much as I hate it, I must admit that you have given me some good answers so far.  I don't know if I would know today that mom was killed instead of committing suicide."

     Jarod just sat there, not believing what he was hearing.

     "You sure that you're Miss Parker?  The one I know, well, isn't..." he teased a bit.

     "Shut up or should I stop?" she threatened.

     "No, sorry.  Please, go on."

     "Fine.  I could live with the fact that you were imprisoned in the Centre until the end of your life but I surely won't kill you."

     "May I ask you why?  You've told me more than once that you're going to shoot me." he said, trying to find a more comfortable position, without any luck.  "Well, if you want me to help you, you should take these off." he shook his hand behind his back, and replied, "Or  I won't be able to do anything with my hands for a long time."

     She looked at his wrist and realized that it didn't look so good.  Miss Parker slowed the car down and pulled off the shoulder.  There, she searched quickly for the key to the cuffs in her pocket, and gave him a warning look before she maneuvered him forward.  "If you try anything, you know what I'm gonna do?"

     "You're gonna shoot me, I know."

     Finally free, he rubbed his wrists and tried to get the circulation going in his sleepy fingers.

     "I don't want to beg for too much, but would you make another pit stop?" he murmured, trying to look pathetic with success.

     "Out!" she said.

     "Huh?"

     "I don't believe there is a stop for another fifty miles.  We're in the middle of nowhere.  You have to go now or wait for a few hours." she said, smiling at him.

     "I'll go.  I guess I don't' have to say, Wait for me, do I?"

     "I don't think so." she retorted.

     What was she doing?  She couldn't understand herself.  Shoot him, leave the Centre, and start again from scratch.  So simple, but no, she had to kidnap Jarod and drag his across the country, probably with a dozen sweepers on their heels.

     She climbed out of the car and looked up and down the highway.  Nothing in sight.  Nothing but sand and cactus, Jarod and herself.

 

* * * * *
 
 

The Motel

     When Sydney and Broots arrived at the motel with the fast food, the realized that the car was gone.  They knocked on the door of the motel room, but there was no answer.  Sydney tried the doorknob and pushed the door open a crack.

     "Miss Parker?" he called cautiously.  "Jarod?"

     They entered the room quietly and took a look around.  Miss Parker and Jarod were gone.  As were all of their belongings.  Gone were the DSA's, Broots' laptop, everything.

     "Sydney? What happened here?" Broots asked, sitting the paper bags down on a nearby table.
"Did the pilot come back and take them and leave us here?"

     Sydney walked through the room and noticed the hole in the wall.  "I don't think so, Broots.  Look!"

     He pointed to the hole, and Broots slowly came and stood beside him.  They stared at the hole for a moment, neither saying anything.  It was Broots' unusually loud voice that shattered the silence.

     "Oh God..." he whined, his eyes darting nervously around the room.
 

* * * * *
 
 

     "Jarod?  Are you ready?" Parker asked, tiptoeing along the side of the car. Her bright idea to wear heels in the desert was not so bright anymore; she now realized how difficult it was to walk in the sand, but she was used to difficult.  After all the months chasing Jarod, she knew that she had been in a lot tougher places than this.  And all because of Jarod.  She was growing irritable with him and snapped loudly, "What? Should I buy you Pampers at the next stop or are you coming?"

     "Why do I have to hurry?  No one is following us.  No one knows that we're here." he replied calmly, strolling back to the car.

     "Whatever."

     "What are we going to do?  Do you want to show me everything in the world that I didn't already discover by myself?  Or are we simply doing a little sight-seeing? I hear the Joshua Tree National Park is beautiful this time of year." he retorted good-naturedly.

     Parker shook her head disgustedly and plopped herself behind the wheel, and took her cue and sat in the passenger seat.

     "I could drive for awhile if you're tired." he offered innocently.

     "Nice try.  And when I wake up, I'm trapped in yet another hellhole and you're gone.  No way, Lab Rat!"
 

     I have to get and idea of what to do next. she thought worriedly.  I sure as hell don't plan on traipsing around the desert for the rest of my life with Wonder Boy.

     "I don't want to ruin your plans, if you already have them, but how long do you think it's gonna take the Centre to find the car?  How many big, black limos drive around here, huh?"

     Damnit, he's got a point. she thought grudgingly.
 
 

* * * * *
 
 

     Parker made another pit stop at a seedy gas station and diner.  She exchanged the limo for a Jeep.  It looked like the Jeep Jarod drove while in the Keys.  The boys that took the limo off of their hands thought they had made the greatest deal of their lives, poor things.  As soon as the Centre found it, they would reclaim their property.

    As Jarod and Parker took their seats in the diner, the boys had already taken off. The waitress approached, and Jarod ordered hamburgers and fries, Parker ordered a salad and pack of cigarettes.

     "O.K., listen, Jarod.  I'm only going to tell you this one time."

     "Oh, our food." he replied, taking the plate out of the waitress' hands.

     Parker closed her eyes and tried to resist the urge to pull out her gun and shoot him right there.

     "You wanted something?  I just didn't want anyone to hear what you had to say." he replied, apologizing, and bit into his hamburger.

     "Yeah.  Let's make a deal.  You help me find the bastard that killed my mom, and the proof I need to take him down.  God help me, don't let Lyle be my brother. And in exchange, I let you leave.  Don't leave any trails behind you, stop calling me, and no one will find you again."

     "But it was fun sometimes, wasn't it?" he teased.  "And by the way, the bastard that you're planning to kill happens to be my father."

     "Oh, sure.  I always looked forward to the nights you called me and woke me up.  And I don't give a shit that he is your dad." she said, not hiding the sarcasm in her voice.  Actually, she had sometimes enjoyed talking to him.

     "O.K., if I tell you now that I apologize, what will you do for me?" he asked, an eyebrow cocked questioningly.

     "I may think about not shooting you or letting my sadistic side come out tonight while you sleep." she snapped, and tore into the salad viciously.

     "Well, that's better than nothing." he quipped.  "But what if I apologize and I'm really sorry for some of the things I did to you?"

     "Then I might think about getting a room with two beds instead of making you sleep beside the car in the sand." she said, this time it was difficult for her not to smile at him.  And she failed because he smiled back.

     "That means we have a deal?" she queried, holding out her hand to him.

     Jarod nodded and took her hand, giving it a squeeze.  "Deal."

     "When we are alone, I'll show you some things I found a few days ago.  I finally found and old friend of my father's and he gave me some papers.  You won't believe it, he knew your mother too.  Mr. Fenigor wasn't the only one who tried to help her."

     Parker looked up at him, her blue eyes wide.  "What?  And when were you going to share this information with me?"

     "I couldn't risk phoning you, you know.  You're house is full of bugs, FYI. So I had to wait until I saw you again.  And, well, now we're seeing each other again."

     "Clever.  But there aren't any bugs in my home.  Believe me, I check for them often.  You know the Parker motto, Trust only yourself and never the Centre."

     "Hmm, when did you alter the phrase?  Two years ago, everything the Centre said and did was right and Law."

     "People grow and learn.  It took some time to discover some details about the Centre, but now I know better.  I'm very careful."

     "But not careful enough.  The last time I was there, I found four bugs." he said matter-of-factly, having already scarfed down the two burgers and waved for the waitress to bring more.

     "What do you mean by, The last time I was there?  You were in my house?  When?" she demanded, her eyes narrowing dangerously.

     "Well, remember after the fiasco at the bank?  After I called you, I felt I had to see you.  Fenigor gave me an envelope with documents putting me in touch with who I am and I...I don't know, I just felt that way...but you weren't at home, so I let myself in and as soon as I was inside you showed up.  I hid myself under the bed and waited until you were in the bathroom.  You got a call from your father, and as far as I could tell you were really pissed off, so I decided to disappear.  When you came back out to the bedroom, I was already gone.  That's it."

     "That's it?  You're a pig, Jarod, and a coward."

     "Well, considering the mood you were in that day, you would have shot me first and asked questions later.  But when I think back, you didn't wear a gun.  Or should I say there was no place to conceal a gun."

     "You really are a pig!  You never were taught to respect privacy, were you?"

     "You mean from the people who watched me for over thirty years of my life, who watched every move I made, every step I took?  No, they didn't." he snapped, now his turn to be sarcastic.
 
 

* * * * *
 
 

     After finishing their dinner, they slowly made their way to a motel.  It was not the greatest, but Parker was becoming accustomed to shoddy, run-down dives very much like it.

     "I have wanted to ask you something for a long time.  How can you walk in those?" Jarod asked, gesturing to her heels.

     "You get used to everything." she replied, boredly.  "I could ask you why you always wear black clothes?"

     "Because I don't have anything else.  At least at the moment."

     "Why didn't you have clothing with you when I caught you?  You had your laptop, and the DSA's, but no clothes with you."

     "I didn't think that I would be out for long and I left them in my room."

     Jarod and Parker entered the lobby of the motel and searched for anyone behind the counter.  Parker shouted loudly, and a man shuffled out of the back room. He looked to be around fifty and looked terrible.  He sported three days worth of growth, a Hawaiian-print shirt that looked like it could stand on its own, mismatched striped polyester pants completed the ensemble, and he smelled like a distillery.

     "What can I do for such a lovely lady?" he asked, attempting to be suave as me smiled crookedly at her.

     "You could give us a room." she said slowly, trying to keep her temper in check as he leaned over the counter and she caught a whiff of him.

     "Sure, how long will you be staying?" he asked, eyeing her.

     "One night.  How much?" Jarod interjected.

     "Thirty dollars cash." he replied briskly, handing them the registry.

     Jarod registered them as Mr. and Mrs. Ford, and Parker pulled thirty dollars from her pocket and laid it on the counter, unwilling to touch Mr. Smelly's hands.

     Once outside, she turned to Jarod and replied, "God, did you smell him?  If I lit a cigarette in there, everything would have gone up in flames!"

     "I noticed." he said and smirked, handing her the keys and took the DSA's from the car.

     "Hey Jarod?  You always were so clever with your choice in names.  Why 'Mr. and Mrs. Ford?'" she asked curiously.

     "That's simple.  You know, Dr. Kimble.  I saw the movie and Harrison Ford plays Dr. Kimble.  To name us Kimble would be too obvious, but Ford is..."

     "O.K., I got it." she said, cutting him off.  "I could really use a change of clothes." she said, trying to smooth her suit and brush the dust off.

     "Me too.  Shall I get us some?" he asked, scanning their surroundings.

     "How do you wanna do that?  Are you a magician?"

     "No, look at the couple next to us.  Maybe they could sell us something. Shall I try and ask?"

     "Go.  I'll wait inside." she conceded, and unlocked the door and slipped into the room.

     Jarod returned a few moments later, carrying a black bag.

     "How did you manage that?" she asked in wonder.

     "I told them we were robbed." he said, flashing her a boyish grin.

     "And they gave you what?

     He sat the bag down, pulled everything out of the bag, and sat it on the bed.

     "Let's see.  This is for you.  Jeans and a T-shirt.  And for me, the same.  They were so kind.  See?  They even gave me a toilet bag!  They said towels should be in the bathroom."

     "Good." she said, grabbing her things and heading straight to the bathroom. Minutes later, he heard the shower running.
 
 

* * * * *
 
 

     "I'm feeling much better." she sang when she entered the room again, happy with the comfortable jeans and T-shirt.  She was lucky that the clothes fit her.  "Your turn."

     Jarod grabbed his things and replied, "Guess there's no chance you saved me some warm water, huh?"

     "If you're lucky." she teased and flashed him a grin.

     Jarod showered and changed quickly, and returned to the room.  He showed her the things he discovered through his father's friend.

     "What's this?" Parker asked, snatching on somethings between the papers from his hands.

     "Oh, that's from my father.  It's a fighter cross." he murmured, taking it slowly from her hands.
 "It looks old."

     "That's the only thing I have from him."

     "I guess we're a lot alike.  I don't' have much from my mom, either.  But luckily I knew her." she said softly, and gave him a sympathetic smile.
 
 

    "That means if we find your father, we may find my mother's murderer?" she asked, glancing at him from the corner of her eye.

     "I can't believe this.  Why would he kill her?  I mean, what where his motives?" Jarod mumbled, staring at the cross in his hand.

     "That's what we have to find out." Miss Parker said, slowly taking the cross from his hands.  She stood and began packing together their things.  "We'd better get moving before they find us, huh?"

     Jarod closed his eyes and tried to focus.  He could run a sim, couldn't he?  Sydney had always warned him that he could get serious brain damage if he could not come back to reality.  He was too close to the whole story, the whole truth to give up now.  But he had no other choice, had he?
 

    These thoughts swarmed through his mind the entire day, while they were back on the road.  He was lost in his own thoughts, oblivious to the rapidly passing scenery, the soft buzz of the radio as they left the broadcasting area, and the heavy silence that had fallen between Parker and himself.  Parker had sensed that there was something on Jarod's mind, and for the first time since the chase began, she wished that he would talk to her.  She was becoming carsick because of the pensive silence that had fallen between them.
 

    "Jarod?" Parker asked softly, daring to break the silence.

    "What?" he asked, sounding as if he had just woke.

    "Are you O.K.?  You seem like you're a million miles away."

    "I was thinking.  We both want to finally find our answers, right?"

    The look on his face made Parker feel strange.  She wondered what was going through his mind and replied, "Yeah..."

    "I'll explain it when we find a place to stay for a few days, O.K.?" he said, smiling slightly.  "How far are we from Detroit?"

    "O.K., Jarod.  We're about and hour away from Detroit.  Why?"

    "Later, O.K.?"
 
 

* * * * *
 
 

    They made it to Detroit in less than an hour, and Parker drove around aimlessly, letting Jarod sleep while she wondered what he was planning.  He obviously planned to include her in his little plot, and she really hated being in the dark.  Patience was not in her vocabulary, and she was growing more and more irritable with her situation and with Jarod.  She glanced over at Jarod and found him still sound asleep, his head thrown back, his mouth slightly open.  She had to smile, and found herself wishing she had a camera to capture this moment.  For the first time, she felt like they were simply two normal people, taking a little trip on America's interstate system.  But she knew better, and did not allow herself to continue the fantasy.

    "Are we there yet?" Jarod asked, sitting up slowly.

    "Well, we're in Detroit.  I've been driving around, waiting for you to wake up."  she replied coolly.

     "Why didn't you wake me?" Jarod asked, becoming more alert.

     "Because, I know you don't sleep much, so I figured that you needed to get rest whenever and wherever you can." Parker admitted, wondering why the hell she was being so nice.

     "Thanks, Parker."  He replied gratefully, smiling at her.  "Let's find a place to crash."

     "You mean you don't have that worked out all ready?" Parker replied, a touch of mockery in her tone.

     "Actually, yes I do.  In fact, we aren't far from it." Jarod said, and gave her the directions to their new lair.

     She parked the car and they got out, grabbing their meager belongings.  Jarod led her into the old factory, and they took the freight elevator up.  The elevator stopped at the top floor, and he led her into a large, renovated studio apartment.  Parker looked around the large room; there was a small couch, a chair, a large kitchen area, and a huge king-size bed almost in the middle of the room.  In the back corner of the room was a spacious bathroom, with a claw-footed bathtub, a  clear shower curtain with puppies on it, and multi-colored décor.

     "Where are we?  Looks like someone lives here." Parker said, and slowly walked around the meagerly furnished apartment.

     "It belongs to a friend of mine.  He's an artist.  He's in Europe for the next two months, so we have enough time."

     "Enough time for what?" she queried suspiciously.

     "Let's go shopping first." Jarod said smoothly, and gently pushed her toward the elevator.

     Parker turned around and grabbed him roughly by the collar and shouted, "Damnit, don't play with me!  What do you have in mind?  Do I have to remind you yet again that I'm the one who's letting you stay free?"

     Jarod gently took her hands and pried her fingers off of his collar, and replied, "No, you don't."  he said, smiling boyishly at her.  Then the easy grin died on his lips.  He took her by the hand and led her toward the couch, gently making her sit down, seating himself before her on the glass-topped coffee table.  He looked at her for a moment, not sure how he could tell her the truth.  He was not sure that she would go for it.

     "We'll do a sim of that tonight." He said and waited for her reaction.

     "What do you mean we?" she demanded, cocking her head, looking at him with her icy blue eyes.

     He had trouble not getting lost in those beautiful eyes, but focused and went on, "I mean we'll do a sim together.  You are a Pretender too, so I'll teach you a few things."

     "Jarod!  I'm not a pretender!" she shouted.

     "Parker, yes you are.  You have the bloodlines, you have the gift.  You haven't been trained and the gift isn't harnessed, but you do have it.  You are a brilliant woman, Parker."

     "What the hell do you know?" she challenged.  "How do you know what my IQ is?"

     "How many times am I going to have to tell you?  I know everything I need to know about you, Parker.  I can always find out anything I want to know." He said, without a trace of the usual smugness.

     Parker began breathing hard and looked at the ground.  She put a shaking hand to her forehead and waited for her mind to process the information he was giving her.  She waited a moment before speaking, trying to get her emotions under control before replying, "Why haven't you done this alone before?  Why do you need me?"

     "Maybe because I was afraid of what I might discover." He said, laughing mirthlessly.  "And because I didn't want to do it alone.  You have no idea what it is like to run a sim and live through something so cruel and sad.  I had to so often at the Centre, and no one was ever there to comfort me when I needed someone."

     Parker sensed how much this revelation was affecting him.  She had those same feelings herself more often than she cared to admit, however she was unable to deal with them.  She hesitated before taking his hands into her own and tried to ease his tension, to let him know that she understood.  She had never been good with feelings, especially her own, any feelings other than anger and hate.   The gesture seemed to be enough, because he looked up at her and smiled.  He took her hand and pulled her to her feet and out the door.
 
 

* * * * *
 
 

     When they returned to the apartment, both carried several large bags of clothing, food, and other necessities.  Jarod sat down several food bags down in the kitchen, and began putting food away.

     "Jarod, I have to admit, I have never had so much fun shopping." Parker said happily, carrying her bags over to the bed and sat them down.

     At the shopping center, they had helped each other pick out clothing.  There was nothing wrong with their usual tastes, but Jarod enjoyed watching her dress, and it was not hard for her to watch him.  Not that she would admit it...

     While Jarod finished unpacking the groceries in the kitchen, Parker began unpacking and putting the clothing in the closet and dresser.  She enjoyed putting their clothing away, it made her feel as if she belonged in a small way.  She did enjoy the way Jarod had looked at her while she modeled clothing for him.  She also actually liked some of the clothes he suggested she purchase.  She walked over to the closet and looked at their clothing hanging in the closet.  She had never seen someone else's clothing hanging beside her own, and it was a curiously comfortable feeling.  She tried to shake the feeling off, and wandered back to the other end of the room to the kitchen.  She found him leaning on the counter drinking a cup of coffee, with a plate of sandwiches on the counter beside him.

     "Hungry?" he asked, nodding his head toward the plate.

     "Not really." She said, taking a mug out of the cabinet, and pouring herself a cup a coffee.

     "You should eat something, you know.  You look thin."

     "Who are you pretending to me now, my nanny?" she snapped, glaring at him over the rim of her mug.  "And no one had ever complained about my weight so far."

     "I just meant it's good for you to eat something once in awhile, instead of smoking all of the time.  It can also be strenuous to do a sim.  You should trust me on this." He replied and gave her a knowing look.

     "Fine." She conceded grudgingly and took one of the sandwiches he offered her.

     Parker took a bite out of the sandwich, and nearly fainted.  The sandwich tasted so good that she had to close her eyes for a moment.  She opened them and found Jarod looking at her curiously.  She just smiled coyly at him, and hopped up onto the counter beside him.  They sat there like that for a moment, neither sure what to say, or if anything should be said at all.  Both in their own worlds, they sat on the counter, side by side, and ate in silence.
 
 

* * * * *
 
 

     He instructed her in everything he knew about pretending and gave her a few important tips.  He made sure that he told her what Sydney had told him.  If she could come back to reality from the sim, she could be brain damaged .  He then put her through a simple sim that went rather well, and he began to feel a bit more comfortable with the idea of her going through the sim with him.

     "Come on, Jarod, let's get it over with." She begged.  "When we know what happened, we'll feel a lot better."

     "I'm not sure that it isn't too soon for you." Jarod said, taking a deep breath.

     "Oh, Jarod.  I can withstand a lot.  Don't underestimate me."

     "I would never do that." He said, grinning.  "O.K., you've persuaded me."

     "Good." She said, smiling triumphantly.  "What do I have to do?"
 
 

* * * * *
 
 

     It was hard.  She walked toward the elevator but could not free herself from the knowledge of what would happen.

     "Easy, Parker.  Try to be Her.  Try to forget everything you are and everything you know." Jarod encouraged and came over to her and put his hand on her shoulder.  "Don't try to push it."

     "I'm sorry, I can't...I just can't." she muttered and shook his hand off.

     "O.K., we better take a break and try it again tomorrow, huh?" he said softly, knowing exactly what she was going through.
 
 

* * * * *
 
 

     After taking a shower, Parker felt a lot better.  She could not shake the feelings she felt when she sensed someone following her to the elevator.  Jarod sat at the kitchen table, his head on his arms, and appeared to be sleeping.  Parker dried her hair with a towel and walked slowly toward him.  She slowly came up behind him, and reached out to caress his back.  She hesitated before touching him, afraid of her own spontineity.  They were so much alike.  She wondered if he felt for her what she felt for him.

     She sat down before him at the table, and he woke.  He sat up and rubbed his eyes, focusing on her face.

     "Hi.  Bathroom's free now." She said softly, smiling slightly.

     "Good." He said sleepily, standing up and walking tiredly to the bathroom.

     "Definitely not a morning person." Parker muttered, but could not keep herself from smiling.  She shook her head and stood.  "Well, at least there's some coffee left."

     She retrieved her cup from the sink and poured herself another cup of coffee.  She caught a glimpse of the pile of dishes in the sink and looked around for a dishwasher.  She came up empty and grudgingly decided to do the dishes, a chore she had not done since she was in college.  After washing the last plate and sitting it in the strainer, she went to bed.  She fell asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow, and Jarod came out of the bathroom shortly after,
His hair still damp, clad only in pajama pants, and he saw Parker lying asleep on the bed.

     "Great.  I wanted to at least toss a coin and see who gets the bed." He muttered darkly, and tried to make himself comfortable on the small couch, without much luck.
 
 

* * * * *
 
 

     BANG!

     Parker sat bolt upright in bed, disoriented.  She tried to focus in the darkness and listened intently for another sound.  She heard a thumping noise and a soft groan.

     "Argh...damnit." Jarod muttered, trying to keep quiet despite his obvious pain.

     She sat up on her elbow and tried to see something in the darkness of the room.  She recognized Jarod's form standing before the couch.

     "Jarod?" she asked, amused.  "What are you doing?"

     "Mhmp.  Ouch." Was his reply.

     Parker untangled herself from the sheet and blankets and walked over to him.  He was sitting on the couch, simultaneously holding his head and knee.  She crouched before him on the floor and looked up at him quizzically.

     "What the hell did you do?" he asked, reaching out to him, putting her finger under his chin, forcing him to look at her.  A single drop of blood ran down his cheek like a tear.

     "Mhm, I guess I jerked in my sleep and fell off the couch.  And I must have hit my head on the edge of the glass-topped table." He replied, looking at her pointedly.

     "Looks like it.  And your knee?" she queried, reaching for a kleenez to wipe off the blood.

     "I bumped it on he couch when I tried to stand up." He said, jerking away when she lightly brushed the wound.

     "You have a serious cut on your temple.  God, you're a big baby.  Do you know where the first aid kit is?  I should fix this.

     "Yeah, look in the bathroom closet, left drawer."

     She flicked on the light as she entered the bathroom.  Jarod blinked at he sudden bright light shining in his face.  He squinted his eyes, wishing she would hurry up and turn the light off.  She busied herself in the bathroom searching for the kit.  She located it, and gave herself a quick glimpse in the mirror.  She smiled at her reflection and started to walk out of the bathroom.  Surprisingly, the kit was actually where he guessed it would be.  Parker quickly scanned the contents as she walked back toward Jarod.

     "Could you please turn on the lamp and shut off that neon light?"

     "Sure." She said graciously, and shut off the bathroom light for him.

     "You know, this never would have happened if I could have slept on the bed." He said, a little hurt.

     Parker rolled her eyes and stuck a bandaid on his temple after cleaning the cut.  "You only had to ask." She said, and drew him close to her.

     "You're not gonna kick my ass now, are you?" Jarod asked, afraid he had pushed his luck with her too much tonight.

     "No, but if you don't shut up right now, I'll think about it.  Now, come on big baby."

     She made him sit down on one side of the bed and she lay on the other side.  When he did not move, she asked, "What are gonna do?  Sit there all night?  You can sit in the couch if you aren't going to sleep."

     "No, um, no." he mumbled and climbed under the covers.

     The next few minutes were quiet.  Jarod moaned as he tried to turn over.  He had a huge dent in his knee and it hurt like hell.  Parker heard him whine and was reminded of Broots.  She never thought Jarod would be like him.  As long as he continued to whine, Parker was not going to be able to sleep.  She threw off the blankets and rushed to the refridgerator, taking out some ice trays.  She grabbed a plastic bag off of the counter and tossed ice into it and shut it.  She walked back over to the bed and pulled off the covers and pushed his pants up past his knee.  She put the ice pack on his now blue-green and swollen knee.

     "Now, be quiet." She ordered, flashing him a dark look.

     "Thanks." He said tightly, watching her unbelievingly.  Such sympathy for the injured man.

     "Now you can call me Mother Theresa."  She said sarcastically, grinning at him.

     Jarod held up the covers for her and replied, "But I can't call you mother.  Well, not now.  Maybe..."

     "Shut up and go to sleep.  Hell, at least let me get some sleep.  I can get extremely rude if  I don't get enough sleep."
 
 

     "When did you get so patient?" he teased.

     "Jarod!" she called warningly, and pushed herself up on er elbow again.  "Do I have to knock you out or are you gonna shut up?"

     "I guess a headache would be much worse than the cut tomorrow." he said, his lips pressed
together.

     "You can count on it."

     Jarod tried to sit up but Parker grabbed him and pinned him to the bed.  She looked down at him and replied, "You make me more nervous than Broots.  Would you do me a favor and let me sleep?"

     "Sure.  But could you stay this way?" he teased and she realized that she was laying on top of
him.

     "Moron!" she cried and crawled back to her side of the bed.
 

* * * * *
 
 

     The following morning, Parker awoke with a peculiar feeling.  She blinked a few times in the now brightly lit apartment.  She felt the soft, steady rhythm of someone's breath on the back of her neck.  Jarod was nestled close behind her, and his presence so close to her sent a shiver through her.  She now had two choices.  Either kick his butt out of the bed right now, or fake sleep.  She could not deny that it was somehow...nice to be so close to him.  Parker moved her head slightly, and felt Jarod move closer to her.  He gently wrapped his arm around her waist and mumbled something.

     Jarod awoke with the unfamiliar feeling of someone laying in his arms.  Either it was a very nice dream or...oh no.  If she wakes up now, there's no way she wouldn't shoot me, he thought and tried to let go of her without waking her.  Parker tried hard not to smile when she felt his unsuccessful attempt to release her.  I'll let him get away with it this time.  I can kick his butt later, she thought and pretended to wake up.  She rolled over onto her back, and Jarod had already disappeared into the bathroom.  When he finished, Parker was standing in the kitchen making coffee.

     "Morning." He said, feeling a bit uncomfortable standing there with her in only pajama pants.

     "Mhm." Was her only reply.

     "Looks like you are a the 'don't talk to me until I've had my morning coffee' type." Jarod teased.

     She shot him a warning look, proving his suspicions to be correct.  Jarod took two bowls, spoons, and the cereal box out of the cabinet and set it on the table.  Parker reached into the fridge an brought the milk and her coffee to the table.  They sat and ate their breakfast in silence, each of them lost in their own thoughts.  After they had finished and put their dishes in the sink, Jarod attempted to talk to her.

     "Why don't we begin with an easy pretend before we try it again, huh" he suggested carefully.  He knew he wanted to know two minutes ago what really happened to her mother i n that elevator, but he also knew how hard it would be for her.

     "What do you have in mind, genius?"

     "How about...um...what about pretending to be a factory worker?  No, please...that was a joke."

     Parker pointed her knife at him and replied, "I'll laugh later."

     "Sorry." He said, chuckling.  "No, we should try something easy.  Like, maybe I could work as a photographer and you could pretend to be a model?"

     "No way."

     "Why?  You need to get the feeling for pretending."

     "I said no.  Think of something else."

     "Park ranger?"

     "No."

     "Ice seller?"

     "No!"

     "Killer?"

     "Not funny, Jarod."

     "O.K., let's try something else.  You pretend to be me, and I you." He said seriously; it was not a question, he meant it.

     "I don't know." Parker said doubtfully.   They were already getting too close to each other.  She knew she should try to keep the wall between them standing, but it was so tempting to let it crumble.
 
 

* * * * *
 
 

     The test went better than he expected, though she nearly killed him in the end.  He was trying to get out of the line of fire and said, "Hey!  Focus!  I would never hurt you." He said, while trying to keep her hands off of his neck.

     "Oh really?  Don't you know how often who hurt me?  Badly?"

     "You mean the strip search in the casino?" he asked, grabbing her wrists, pinning them to her sides.

     Parker relaxed and looked up at him, replying, "You really have no clue, do you?"

     " Enlighten me." He said, still holding her wrists., and she jerked out of his grasp.

     "What about all the little tidbits you throw at me about my mother?  Or all those close calls?"

     He cocked his head to one side and looked questioningly at her.  Parker closed her eyes and tried to think of how to explain her feelings to him.  She was never good at talking about her feelings.

     "Why do you have to play with me all the time?  What is with all of the cat and mouse games?  You could have disappeared long ago and we never would have found you again.  But you always have to call or send silly presents.  Why?" she asked, her voice now shaky.

     "Because." He said hoarsely, turning away from her, walking into the middle of the room.  "Because it must seem crazy to you, but you and Sydney are everything I have from my past life.  I can't just forget that part of my life.  Could you?  Could you just quit the Centre?  What would you do then, huh?  Tell me?"

     "I think you made a mistake with the blood tests.  It seems we are related." Parker said, following him.  "We are both great at hurting people." She whispered.  "Jarod, let's end the whole thing here.  You disappear and I return to the Centre."

     "No.  What will you tell your father?  You knowingly resisted his order.  They will probably send the whole east coast after us."

     "What do you care what happens to me?  You're free and I'll never chase you again." She said, and began packing her things together.

     Jarod stood there, shaking his head in disbelief.  "Wait." He said, taking the pullover from her hands.  "Wait.  You saved my life and now you're going to throw yours away?  They will hunt you just like they are hunting me, and I sure as hell don't want anything to happen to you.  Although you aren't my sister, I care about you.  Please let me help you." He said, giving her his best puppy-dog look.

     "Just shoot me and it'll all be over with." She remarked sarcastically.

     "Parker, look.  They trained me for almost thirty years.  You have to be patient if you want us to be successful, O.K.?"

     She thought about it for a moment and agreed, "O.K.," she said and sat down on the bed.  Jarod sat beside her and folded his hands on his lap before beginning.

     "Parker, I..." he began, but she cut him off by raising her hand.

     "Just give me some time, O.K.?" she said.

     "Sure." He said.  He stood and went into the kitchen and did some work on his laptop.

     Parker grabbed the remote off of the night table and began flipping through the channels.  After hours of endless channel surfing and more endless thinking about the future.  Parker decided it was time to make a choice.
 
 

* * * * *
 
 

     Jarod sat in he kitchen, his feet propped up on the table, the laptop in his lap, sleeping.  Parker walked into the kitchen and saw Jarod sleeping and smiled devilishly to herself.  She crept up to him and slapped his foot sharply.  He nearly toppled over backwards in the chair, barely catching his balance and the laptop.

     "Hey!" he cried annoyed.

     "How can a human being sleep so much?" she queried.

     Jarod rubbed his eyes and replied, "Normally, I don't sleep at all.  Don't know. Must be your presence.  Now that you're here, I don't have to worry about you following me."

     "Let's get it over with.  I don't want to wait any longer." she said, ignoring his boyish grin at his last remark.

     "Hmm,  don't know..."

     "Now.  Don't tell me Sydney waited because you didn't feel well." she snaped, her eyes drilling into him.

     "Well, pretend at your own risk, I've already warned you."

     "Cut the crap, Jarod.  I'm a big girl."

 

* * * * *
 
 

     "Nooooo!" a nerve-racking scream erupted throughout the apartment and Parker sank to the floor of the elevator.

     Jarod turned and walked away from her and the scene before him, trance-like. When he regained his composure, he hurried back to Parker, who still crouched in the corner of the elevator, trembling silently.  Jarod gently caressed her hair and took her arm, helping her to her feet.

     "What did you...see?" she asked, her voice shaking.

     "I didn't actually see anything, it was more like I felt something.  I was angry, angry because you wanted to take someone from me.  I thought, I'm sure he's doing well here.  He doesn't belong anywhere else.  I...I.." he started, but could not go on.  His eyes filled with tears and he had a hard time not letting them fall.

     "What else?" Parker asked, as gently as possible.

     "I thought, my son doesn't belong anywhere else than here with me."

     Parker's eyes widened and she tried to absorb the facts she had just heard.

    There was a long pause while Jarod calmed himself and asked her what she learned. She gave him almost exact personal description of the man she had seen while she pretended, and they hacked into the Centre archives to search for a possible Centre employee match fitting her description.  They were sure that the murderer worked at the Centre at some point.  They just had to find who and where.  Parker moved her chair behind Jarod's and looked over his shoulder while he rifled through every personnel file.  He could smell her shampoo and felt a loose strand of her hair touching his neck, and he shivered involuntarily, trying to re-focus on the screen.

     When she did not move after a while, Jarod said, "You know, this could take awhile.  Why don't' you get us something to eat?  I saw a Chinese place just down the road."

     "No way.  I want to stay here.  I'm sure they deliver, though." she said and stood, walking over to the coffee table where the phone sat.  She picked up the advertisement and began to skim it.
 
    Satisfied, she walked back over to Jarod, carrying the ad and the telephone.  She held the paper out in front of him so he could read it too.  She felt him shiver as she touched his shoulder, and understood why he wanted her to go.  She pretended as if she did not notice, and replied, "I'll take the sweet and sour chicken.  You?"

     "I don't know.  Is that good?"

     She stared at him unbelieveingly and replied, "You've never had sweet and sour chicken?"

     "Um, no."

     "What do you usually eat?  Pez and donuts?"

     "Most of the time.  Just order me the same and I'll try it." he answered innocently.

     She shook her head in amazement, and dialed the number on the ad.
 
 

* * * * *
 
 

     Jarod finished the last of the chicken and set the empty cardboard box on the table. He finished chewing and swallowed, glancing up at her.  He smiled quickly at her and spoke.

     "That was great."

     "I told you so." she said proudly, and pointed to the computer.  "Still nothing?"

     "No." he said, frustrated.

     "What about that?" she asked, leaning forward and pointed at the monitor. "It says 'match.'"

     "Yeah, but that's just confirmation that we're still in the right file.  Um, could you move over a bit?"

     "Why? Do I make you feel uncomfortable?" Parker asked, and playfully blew in his ear.

     "No, I just can't concentrate when somebody's looking over my shoulder."

     "You're a bad liar, Jarod.  You have been observed all of your life and you always did a good job."
she replied, but moved over.
 
    "Thanks."
 
 

* * * * *
 
 

     "We have him!" Jarod shouted, hours later.

     "And...?"

     "His name is Charles Quinn.  He was employed by the Centre until 1979."

     "And then?  Do I have to ask everything?" Parker asked impatiently.

     "The file says he was released.  There is a note, though; he's still in a mental institution called "Last Hope" in Jacksonville, Florida." Jarod said aloud, re-reading the text again in disbelief.

     "Well, what are we waiting for?  Let's pack and go there."

     Jarod nodded, but could not really understand what they had just discovered. He could not quite believe that now he would finally be able to get all of the answers to his questions.
 
 

* * * * *
 
 

Jacksonville, Florida

     Parker and Jarod arrived in Jacksonville early in the day and checked themselves into a hotel.  After tossing their things into the room, they headed straight for the institution.  They entered the lobby and walked to the reception area. Jarod was about to speak with the nurse, but Parker touched his arm and silently told him with her eyes to let her handle this.

     "Mhm, hi..." she said, reading the nurse's name-tag, "Hi Nancy.  We're here to visit Mr. Quinn."

     "Which Mr. Quinn?  We have two." she replied kindly.

     "Charles Quinn."

     "Oh!  Well, let's go look for him, shall we?  Please, follow me."

     "You sound surprised." Jarod said, meddling in the conversation.

     "Well, Mr. Quinn never gets any visitors.  I think you're the first in a very long time."

     Jarod and Parker followed her, exchanging knowing looks.  Nancy stopped and replied, "This way.  Down the hall and then left.  You'll come to a lounge, just ask the nurse there, O.K.?"

     "Thanks." they replied in unison, flashed her quick smiles, and hurried down the hall.

     Before they rounded the corner, Parker took Jarod's shaking hand into her own and squeezed it tightly.  "You'd better go in first.  Alone.  He might recognize me."

     "Yeah." he replied, and went into the room.
 
 

* * * * *
 
 

     The wait seemed like an eternity for Parker, but Jarod returned a few moments later and took her by the hand.

     "You should see him now."

     "But..."

     "No, just come with me." he said, cutting her off.  He guided her to a man in wheelchair, sitting by the window.  He sat there alone.

     "What is with him?" Parker whispered anxiously to Jarod.

     "He's comatose.  He hasn't been able to speak or move since the second heart-attack.  That's all the nurse could tell me." he said, disappointed.

     A nurse approached them and asked, "Are you related to Mr. Quinn?"

     "Um, not really." Parker replied, answering for them.  "What can you tell us about him?  Are there any people who visit him?"

     "No, not a single person.  It's so sad.  Everyone here has a spouse or child that comes to visit them at least once, but poor Mr Quinn has no one."

     "You can't tell us something about his family, can you?" Jarod asked.

     "Well, all I know is that his wife left him before he came here.  Sorry, I have to go now."

     "Wait." Parker said, stopping her.  "Do you know who pays his bills?  I mean, an exclusive hospital such as this isn't cheap."

     "I shouldn't tell you, but I know that's it's an organization from Blue Cove." she said, and left them.

     Jarod and Parker looked at the man they had searched for, for so long.

    The man that ruined both of their lives.  Both could not help but feel sorry for him now. Parker pulled gently at his hand.

     "Come on, let's leave." she said.

     Jarod nodded and followed her back to he reception area, and stopped.

    "Hey, Nancy?  Could you do me a favor?  Could you look at Mr. Quinn's file and see if there is an address or something for his wife?  It's really important to us."

     "Well, it's against policy, but I don't think it'll harm anyone that I tell you. Wait here."

     "How do you do that?" Parker asked, standing beside him.

     "What?"

     "Always get people to do what you ask them to."

     Before he could reply, Nancy returned and said, "Here, I'll write it down, but it's the address from his admittance here.  I'm not sure if it's still right."

     "Thank you very much." Jarod said, and pulled Parker out of the hospital by the hand.

 

* * * * *
 
 

     Jarod sat before the laptop and checked out the address Nancy had given him. He could not believe his eyes when the computer confirmed that the address was correct, and Margaret Quinn lived in Nevada, at the same address, after all these years.

    Meanwhile, Parker arranged her flight to Canada, but Jarod did not notice that she was still there with him.

     "Jarod?" she said, waking him from his daydream.

     "Um, yeah?"

     "I'm going to leave now.  I wanted to wish you good luck." she said and turned to leave.

    "Wait!  Don't you wanna..."

     "No.  I know what I need to know.  My mother's murderer got the justice he deserved.  Now, I'll let you find the freedom you deserve.  There's nothing left for me here."

     "Let me take you to the airport, O.K.?" he offered.  He was used to company now, and actually enjoyed it.  She felt the same, but she knew that he wanted to be with his family, and she would leave so he could pursue that want.
 
 

* * * * *
 
 

     The passengers had already checked in and were boarding the airplane. Jarod did not really know what to say as she walked toward the stewardess to hand over her boarding pass.  Parker stopped and tried to think of what do say to him. The silence was uncomfortable for both of them.

     "Jarod..."

     "Parker..." they began simultaneously, and laughed.

     "Let's wish that we both find what we want, Freedom." she said, looking up into his eyes.

     "Ma'am?" the stewardess called, she was the last passenger.

     "Well...goodbye.  Maybe we'll meet again sometime." he said, and shifted nervously from foot to foot.

     "Yeah, I'm sure you know where I'll go." she said, attempting humor.

     "Don't shoot me." he said seriously, and she did not realize until he pulled her into his arms what he meant.

     She took a deep breath and put her arms around his waist...

     "Ma'am..." the stewardess called again.

     Parker pulled away from him, though she could have stayed that way forever, and turned to leave without a backwards glance.  Jarod watched her, disappointed.

    Suddenly, she stopped and turned, hurrying to him.  She kissed him just once, and disappeared through the gate.

     Jarod watched until the plane took off, and then headed back to the motel. That night, he felt more alone than all of the nights at the Centre or later, after he escaped.  He felt like...he did not know, simply not right.

     The following day, he headed to Nevada in search of him mother and sister. It was not difficult to find her, and his sister lived only a few blocks away too.  However, the reunion was not like he had imagined it to be.  They had many things to tell each other.  Then his mother explained the truth to him.

     His father, soon after his kidnapping, was informed by a woman named Catherine, where their son had been taken.  However, instead of freeing his son, he let himself be bought off by them, and eventually accepted a job at the Centre.  It was kept confidential that Jarod was his son, no one but himself, Raines, and Mr. Parker knew the truth.  And the truth had died with Catherine Parker.

     Jarod stay with them for a week, but soon realized that it was not what he needed. Not anymore.  He had asked Parker months ago what they would do when they finally had their answers.  Now, he vowed, was the time to make that decision.
 

* * * * *
 
 

Canada
A small, rural town

     Parker returned to her small house after shopping, and began to unpack the bags. She was not used to her new lifestyle yet.  Everything was so strange and unbelievable. No Centre, no daddy, no stress anymore.  And...no Jarod.  She had not heard from him since the day she left him at the airport.  She was not even sure if he had her phone number.  But then she remembered who she was thinking about, and knew that he got everything he was searching for.  He had even gotten his family. And she...she now had nothing.  Sure, she knew who her mother's murderer was, but she did not feel any different.

     She looked out of the kitchen window and felt the comfortable warmth of the sun shining on her face, lighting the room behind her.  She sighed contentedly, and walked upstairs to her bedroom to change into something casual.  She froze as she saw a single rose and a note lying on her pillow.  She quickly scanned the room, but there was no one in sight.

     "Jarod?" she called, and walked back downstairs to read the note.
 

 Dear Miss P,

  Wish you all the luck and freedom you deserve.
 
  Love,
  J

  P.S.  Been to the lovely lake yet?
 
 

     Parker folded the note carefully and held it to her chest.  Time for a trip into the wild, she thought and put on a pair of hiking boots.  She grabbed her light jacket on the way out, and ran to her black Explorer.

     As she drove to the lake, she noticed a small cabin off to the side of the road, and made a left down the small brushy path .  As the trees opened before her, the sight that lay in front of her took her breath away.  Everything was green, the mountain peaks snow-covered, and the lake was crystal clear.  She shut off the engine and hopped out of the truck.

     Sitting on a rock near the shore, sat a man.  He was alone, and Parker knew instinctively who he was.  He did not turn as he heard her walking toward him, but looked up at her doubtfully, and watched her sit beside him.  He saw her smile, his tension melted away, and he returned the smile.

     "Hi stranger." she said.

     "Hi yourself.  Looks like you found my little note."

     "Looks that way.  The rose is beautiful.  Thanks."

     A long silence fell between them, neither knowing where to begin.

     "How's your mom?" Parker asked, breaking the silence.

     "She's doing great.  My sister too." he said enthusiastically, and began filling her in on all the things he had learned, but stuck to the facts.

     "And you.  How are you?" she asked, noting that he was a bit...well, not Jarod.

     "Oh, I'm fine." he said simply, and she let it go.  After a while of staring out at the lake, he continued.  "Remember when I asked you what would happen...when we found what we were searching for?"

     "Mmm hmm." Parker replied nodding, watching him stare out at the lake.

     "I can't stay with my mom."

     "Why?"

     "Because, I don't' know.  It's just that we're no family.  Family is more than blood relatives, it's much more.  I realized that having a home and a family is more than sharing genetics and a building with a roof.  It's where you're loved and feel comfortable.  The problem is, I love my mom, sure, but it's a different kind of love. I love the mom I remember from childhood, but now she's a different person.  The story has changed her as much as the rest of us."

     Parker began to understand what he meant.  She was searching for the same things herself.  As the sun was setting, she offered him a ride back to his cabin.  She had correctly suspected that the cabin she passed earlier was his.  It was a few minutes from her own, conveniently.  He hesitated for a moment, as if he wanted to say something, but changed his mind and jumped out of the truck.

     "See ya." he said, turning to walk away.

     "What about breakfast tomorrow?" she called after him.

     "Sounds good to me.  Eight O.K.?" he replied, turning to face her.

     "Um, better make it nine." she said, and grinned sheepishly.

     "I'll be there." he replied, shutting the door, and trudged up the stairs to the front door of the cabin.

     It was best for both of them to have an evening alone to think about things. Parker was still trying to understand his true motives for being there in the first place. He could not stay with him mom, fine.  Why did he track her all the way to Canada?
 

The following morning
8:55 a.m.

     Parker was awakened by persistent knocking on the cabin door.  Her head jerked up from the pillow and her eyes darted to the alarm clock on the table beside the bed.  Shit!  I forgot to set the alarm clock! her mind shouted, prompting her to roll out of bed and crash to the floor.  She yelped and scrambled to her feet, rushing downstairs to unlock the door for Jarod.

     "Come in!" she shouted, and as Jarod entered, he saw a flash of her bare legs as a ran up the stairs.

     "Parker?" he queried curiously.

     "I'll be down in ten minutes!" she shouted and he winced as he heard the bathroom door slam.

     "Okey dokey." Jarod muttered, a bit confused, and strolled into the kitchen and began unpacking the bag he had brought with him.
 

* * *

9:10 a.m.

     Parker ran downstairs, her hair still damp, and took a seat in front of him at the kitchen table.  Jarod looked at her and smiled while handing her a basket of fresh buns and croissants.  She looked at the fresh pastry hungrily and glanced up at him in surprise.

     "Mmm, where did you get them? she asked, taking the basket gratefully.

     "There's a bakery down the road, near town." he said, and looked at her wet head.  "Don't you have a hair dryer?"

     "Nope.  I was going to go into town today and pick up everything I still need. Wanna join me?"

     "Well, because I have nothing better to do, sure.  I need a few things myself, and you have a car." he said and smiled mischievously.

     "You don't have a car?" she asked, amazed.

     "Um, no, not yet."

     "You're getting sloppy in you old age, Jarod." she teased, and took a bite from her croissant.
 

* * * * *

     Shopping with Jarod, was like shopping with a small child.
 
     "Jarod?  How long have you been out now?  I thought that you would have discovered Garfield by now." she said, and wrestled the cuddly stuffed animal out of his grip and put it back on the shelf.  She grabbed him by the arm and drug him away from the toy department.  "First we get what we need, then we look around, O.K.?"

     "Deal." Jarod replied with a laugh.

     After several hours, and two overflowing shopping cart, they finally made it to he checkout counter.  They talked, laughed, and teased one another while they stood in line waiting to check out.  She laughed harder when she saw Jarod's eyes widen with delight at the many different selections  of candy resting before him at the check-out.  She almost had to sit in the floor she was laughing so hard as he scrambled to get at least three of each kind on candy and shove it into one of the shopping carts. The girl behind the counter was watching them with a mixture of curiosity and wonder.

    These two sophisticated adults were acting like two teenagers on their first date.  She immediately recognized that they were the new people in town, and she wondered what kind of information she could find out about them.

     "Hello." she replied and smiled warmly at Jarod as they pushed their carts to the counter.

     "Hi." they chorused and laughed.

     "Goodness, you two are the new folks, right?" she asked, smiling up at Jarod.

     "Yes ma'am." he replied, returning her friendly smile.

     Parker looked at the girl quickly and recognized the look on the girl's face and replied, "Jarod, can you go and get my shampoo?"

     "Don't you have some?" he asked, looking at her curiously.'

     "Yeah, but the bottle is almost empty.  Please?  I'll go ahead and put this up there so she can check us out." she pleaded, smiling at him.

     "O.K., be right back." he said, and flashed her a boyish grin.

     "That your husband?" the girl queried innocently.

     "Not exactly." Parker said slowly, making sure the girl understood the innuendo.

     "Oh.  Just here for the weekend?"

     "No, we moved here a few weeks ago.  Where are the cartons of cigarettes?" Parker asked, letting her know that the inquiry was over.

     "They're over there in the cases." she replied, pointing a few feet away from her register.

     "Be right back!" Parker sang and jogged over and grabbed a carton of Marlboro Lights.  "O.K."

     "Here ya go, Parker." Jarod said, handing her a large bottle.

     "Thanks." she said, flashing him an affectionate smile, as she wondered why the hell this was bothering her in the first place.

     "You're welcome honey." he replied, now aware of the game she was playing.

     "Thanks baby." she replied, flashing him her famous half invitation/half intimidation look.

     "Anything for you." he said, grinning at her.

     The girl continued to check out their things, feeling slightly embarrassed, as if she was in the middle of some sort of charade.  She tried to ignore the two people, and check out their stuff as quickly as humanly possible.  She tuned out the actual words that they were speaking to each other, but could not ignore the playful banter that they used to address each other.  She breathed a sigh of relief as she scanned the last item, and announced their total.  Parker pulled her wallet out of her purse, but Jarod stopped her.

     "Let me.  I still have plenty of money from the Centre." he said and paid the bill.

     "Where do you think my money came from?" she crowed and laughed.
 

* * * * *

1:35 p.m.

     Jarod and Parker hopped out of her Explorer and began to unload her share of the bags.  They carried them to the door and she sat hers down as she fished around in her purse for the keys.  She unlocked the door and they trudged into the house, sitting the bags down on the hardwood floor.

     "You can just leave them there, Jarod.  I can get them later." Parker said, turning to him.

     "Are you sure?  I don't mind helping you unpack." he offered kindly.

     "Thanks, but that's O.K.  I still have to take you to your cabin and help you get your stuff inside." she said, and smiled up at him.

     "O.K." he said, relenting.  "I didn't mean to invade your space or anything."

     "Jarod, that isn't what I meant.  I want to get you home so I can help you put your stuff away.  Knowing you it will sit on the floor in bags for months while you live out of them." she quipped.

     "Funny." he retorted, but smiled.  "Well, let's get going."
 

* * *

     "I can't believe you eat all this junk." Parker commented, taking piece after piece of candy from him bag.

     "I loooove it!" he called, from the living room, and returned to the kitchen, smiling boyishly at her.
Soft music began in the background, but Parker did not notice.

     "What....what's this?" Parker asked curiously, taking video boxes out of the bag.

     Jarod quickly jumped to her side and pulled the boxes out of her hands, hiding them behind his back.  Parker looked at him, one eyebrow cocked, and tried to reach past him, but he twisted away.

     "Oh c'mon, Jarod.  What is it?  Gimme!" she wheedled, trying to reach past him again, but he jumped back.

     "No!" he cried and they began to giggle.

     The fixed him with a determined look, and began to chase him through the kitchen.  He dodged her, and managed to slip through her fingers and out of the kitchen. He ran into the living room, but after two years of chasing him, she had come to anticipate his moves before he made them, to his disadvantage.  He tried to run toward the bedroom, but she had already chosen that as a potential escape route.  She grabbed him, and they began to wrestle.  After some time, Jarod pretended to let her win so he could have her in his arms longer.  Truth be told, she veritably could beat him.  She grabbed the box from him, flashing him a triumphant smile, and began to giggle.

     "Romeo and Juliet and...Dirty Dancing?"

     "Something's wrong with those choices?" he asked, hurt by her reaction.

     "No, not at all.  They're good choices.  Do you wanna catch up on every classic movie now?" she
teased, waving the boxes in front of his face, holding them just out of his reach, grinning wickedly.

     "None of your business." he replied haughtily, grinning back at her.

     "Or are you planning to learn something from these?  I know you.  Everything you do has a reason." she said seriously, and tickled his ribs.

     "Hey!  Watch your hands!  That tickles!"

         "You're really ticklish, aren't you?  Good to know." Parker replied, stepping closer to him.  He tossed the boxed to the couch and repeated her motions without success.

     "Hey, that's not fair.  Why aren't you ticklish?" he complained, trying again.

     "Oh, I am....but not everywhere." she said, looking at him alluringly.

     "Not going to tell me?" he dared to ask.

     "Absolutely not.  Maybe someday you'll find out."

     That, she did not have to tell him twice.  Seconds later, they ran screaming and yelling like two excited children through the house.  Both knew that Parker had an advantage, because she had learned that he was extremely ticklish and where she could strike.  She cornered him against the couch, and with a wall behind the couch, he knew he had no where to go.  She advanced on him, and they ended up on the couch, Parker lying on Jarod's chest, both giggling.

     The laughter died when both realized suddenly what was going to happen. Jarod softly touched her waist, and she caressed his cheek.  She looked at him for a moment, and leaned forward, gently touching his lips with her own.  When she pulled away, she looked into his beautiful dark eyes and felt like an innocent girl with her first boyfriend, a feeling she had not felt in years.  She leaned forward again and captured his lips with her own, this kiss more passionate and promising.

    Suddenly, it was as if everything between their first kiss at the Centre and this moment had never     happened.  They were just two people, happy to be with each other.  Their tongues met, dancing an erotic dance, and both groaned with pleasure.  She wrapped on hand around the back of his neck and ran the other down his muscular body.  His hands began their own journey down her body, and he felt as if he had died and gone to heaven.

     Parker broke off the kiss, planting a trail a kisses down his neck, gently sucking when she heard his moan of pleasure.  He tried to pull her closer to him.  He could not get enough of her.  Jarod pulled her T-shirt out of her jeans and ran his hands up the bare flesh of her back.  To his surprise, he found one of her ticklish spots. She laughed and playfully nipped his neck.  He lightly ran his fingers down her back again, and she giggled in his ear.

     "I knew you'd find it.  You have a 100 points." she whispered, lightly tracing his ear with the tip of her tongue.

     "Oh?  What did I win?" he asked, distracted.

     Parker pulled away from him and stood, earning a protesting moan from Jarod.  She grinned at him and lifted her shirt slowly, running her fingers over her belly, slipping her thumb into the waistband of her jeans, exposing bare flesh.
 
     "Why not come upstairs and unwrap your prize?" she suggested seductively.
 

* * * * *

     The following morning, after breakfast, Jarod and Parker sat together on the front porch; she sat on the top step, her arms wrapped around him, gently stoking his belly, Jarod in front of her, laying in her lap, staring up at her lovingly.

     "Tell me a secret."

     "Shoot."

     "Never say that to an armed woman, boy."

     "But you're not armed right now."

     "But I could have been.  Anyway, tell me how you can stay so slim after eating all that junk food?  You ate ten doughnuts this morning." she teased, patting his stomach.

     "Guess I just have luck." he said, looked up at her, and kissed her.

     They were interrupted by a sharp bark and the sight of a little golden retriever with feet larger than the dog itself, running toward them at warp nine.  He barked and ran up on the porch to them, his tail wagging wildly.

     "Who are you, sweetie?" Parker called to the dog in a voice Jarod had never imagined he would hear coming from her.

     They stood up and Jarod stood the dog into his arms, petting him.  Parker leaned over and petted the puppy too, allowing him to lick her face while she giggled with delight.  She sight of something running toward them caught her eye, and she watched a young boy run closer, calling the dog.  The dog jumped out of Jarod's arms to the ground.  He ran to the boy and barked excitedly, and back to Jarod and Parker; he began running excitedly back and forth between the two.

     "Hi." the boy greeted them shyly.

     "Hello.  Is that your dog?" Parker asked.

     "Yeah.  We went for a walk and he ran away.  Thanks for finding him."

     "Actually, he found us." Jarod corrected.  "What's his name?"

     "Sammy.  Sammy, say hi to these people." the boy replied, and the dog
began to bark.  "You're the new people in town, aren't you?"

     "Yeah." they replied in unison and nodded.  It really was a small town, and now they knew that everyone else knew they were there.

     "Don't you live down the road?" he asked, looking at Parker with confusion.

     "Well...yeah.  You sure know a lot." she replied, feeling slightly nervous.

     "Oh, my mom's got the shop in town.  I hear a lot of stuff there.  Were you two together?" he asked, with a child's innocence.

     Jarod looked at Parker and she answered the boy's question with a hug and replied, "Yeah, we are."

     "Why do you live apart?" he asked curiously.

     "John?" a female voice echoed.

     "Oops, that's my mom.  She's looking for me.  Hafta go!  'Bye!" he called and ran away, the dog following him.

     "Eager kid, huh?" Parker asked dryly, glad that he could not ask any more questions.

     "Did you mean that?  What you told the boy?" he asked, trying to keep the excitement out of his voice.

     "I thought I made myself clear last night." she said, grinning at him.  He grinned back and held her hand.  "Well, I guess I'm going to have to tell you again."

     "You never..."

     "Ssh.  Don't talk." she said, kissing him passionately.

     "Ohhh..." Jarod breathed, understanding.

     Parker smiled and him seductively and pulled him into the house by the waistband of his faded jeans.  Jarod grinned back and kicked the front door shut behind them.  Outside, the birds sang, and the squirrels chased each other playfully.  A soft giggling could be heard from inside the house, punctuated by soft gasps and moans.  It was a beautiful spring day outside, and inside the house, two people who had been isolated by events out of their control, separated by countless barriers and pitfalls, had finally found each other again.  They were the lively, bright-eyed children they used to be.  They had found the other half of themselves that had been absent for so many years.  They were home.

The End
 

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