Disclaimer: Not my characters. Shocking, isn't it?

A/N: For Amanda. Happy Chanukah.

Warning: Character death ahead.


Jarod held himself completely still, afraid that even the slightest movement would catch Miss Parker's attention. He knew the wise thing to do would be to leave, but he couldn't. Just a few more minutes, he thought. Against his better judgement, he pressed his face to the window and watched his huntress.

Inside the house, Parker sat cross-legged on the couch, a glass of wine in one hand and a book in the other. Jarod couldn't see what the book was, but from the smile on Parker's face, she was enjoying it.

Either that, or it wasn't her first glass of wine.

It was rare to see Parker so relaxed. After everything that had happened on Carthis, Jarod had been afraid that she would crack. She was strong, but a person could only take so much stress before breaking down. And discovering the truth of her origins and who her real father was, Jarod thought, was more than most people could handle.

Watching her now, though, it seemed that he'd been worried for nothing. Parker looked healthy, happy and relaxed.

That thought wasn't as comforting as it should have been. Jarod frowned, angry with himself. He should be happy for her but—

But he wanted to be a part of her happiness.

He'd always known that the bond he shared with Parker was something special. In another life, maybe, they could have been together. In the months since Carthis, Jarod had realized that Parker had been right. As long as the Centre existed, there could be no 'them'.

Just because he agreed, it didn't mean that he had to like it.

He'd also recently come to realize that part of the reason he'd been unable to completely break from the Centre was the woman currently occupying his thoughts. She deserved freedom as much as he did; she was a victim of the Centre too. He had to let her go.

He raised his hand and pressed it to the glass in memory of their first meeting. She was the first girl he remembered meeting. He'd thought she was the most stunning creature he'd ever seen, and since then he'd always associated beauty with her.

That girl was long dead, as was the boy he had once been. More casualties of the Centre.

Parker put the book down, and Jarod smiled when he saw the cover. The Saddest Little Valentine. He didn't know she'd kept it.

Parker stood, an expression of horror on her face. The wineglass fell to the floor and shattered, spilling wine over Parker's bare feet. She didn't seem to notice. She pressed her hands on either side of her head, mouthing, "No, no, no."

Jarod was instantly concerned. He'd seen Ethan behave similarly when his Inner Sense kicked in. From Parker's posture and the look in her eyes, Jarod guessed that the voices didn't have good news.

He wasn't sure how he came to be at her side. All that mattered was protecting her from whatever danger was coming. If she was surprised at his presence, she didn't say anything.

"Parker!"

She looked through him, tears brimming in her eyes. There was nothing Jarod hated more than seeing Parker in pain. He reached for her.

"Oh, Jarod."

She turned away to answer the phone. Jarod walked closer to her and put his hand on her shoulder. When she didn't pull away, he stepped even closer so he could eavesdrop.

"Lyle." Parker's tone was bitter, laced with anger. If Jarod didn't know her so well, he would have missed it.

"Hey, Sis." Lyle was overly cheerful. It was a state he was in usually after a weekend away in the mountains, following the disappearance of an Asian girl. Jarod's grip on Parker tightened.

"What do you want?" Parker was holding the phone so strongly that her knuckles were white. Jarod could feel the tension in her muscles.

"I thought you might like to know, things are going to be changing." Lyle sounded smug, confirming Jarod's suspicion that he was up to no good.

"If there's a point to this phone call . . ."

"The game's over, Parker." Lyle was instantly professional. Obviously, he'd recognized Parker's impatience. "I found Jarod."

Neither Parker nor Jarod moved.

"What?" Parker's voice was barely a whisper.

Jarod blinked slowly, but remained frozen in place. Had Lyle been watching Parker's house, waiting for Jarod to make contact? Had Jarod endangered Parker by coming here?

"You heard me. I found Jarod." Lyle was back to sounding smug.

"Where is he?" Parker demanded.

Lyle chuckled. "You'll see him soon enough. He's on his way back to the Centre."

Jarod frowned. What was Lyle up to?

"What happened?" There was a new note to Parker's voice; one Jarod couldn't quite identify.

"The orders changed. You know that."

"Damn it, Lyle. What did you do?"

"He was a liability. The Triumvirate came to the decision that it would be more expedient to dispose of him."

"Oh, God." Parker dropped the phone, turning to face Jarod.

"Parker? Parker?" Lyle's voice sounded distant and tinny.

"Parker, I'm okay. I'm right here," Jarod said.

Parker looked up, but once again she stared through him instead of at him, and Jarod felt a vague sense of unease. "Miss Parker."

Even as he reached for her, he remembered. "Hello, Jarod," Lyle smiled, raising his gun.

"Parker?"

A slight sting as the first bullet entered, spinning him around with the impact. He turned to run. Another, sharper sting in his back. Face down on the ground, the grass tickling his nose. Thinking, Parker, help me!

Jarod shook his head to dispel the images. He didn't want to believe it. After all, he was here, with Parker, alive.

Wasn't he?

"Parker, look at me."

She walked to the couch, then hissed in pain as she stepped on the broken glass. Jarod was at her side instantly, bending to examine her injured foot. He tried to pull out the shard, frustrated when he couldn't grip it.

Parker pulled it out and dropped it on the coffee table. She limped to the bathroom. Jarod followed quietly, intending to wash Parker's blood from his hands.

Lyle laughed. "The world is changing, Jarod. You've outlived your usefulness."

No.

"Damn it, Jarod, why couldn't you do us all a favor and just disappear."

He turned to Parker. She wasn't looking at him but at her foot. Jarod reached for, realized he still had blood on his hands and froze. It wasn't Parker's blood.

"You know, Jarod, this is going to break my sister's heart. I'm not completely insensitive, you know, so for her sake, I'll make it quick and painless."

No, Jarod thought. No, it couldn't be true.

He knelt next to Parker. "Let me help you."

She dabbed at her foot with a wet cloth.

"Look at me, Parker. Please." If she looked at him, it would mean he was really there.

"Miss Parker?" someone called.

She stood and limped back to the living room. Ethan stood at the door, his expression mirroring hers. When she saw him, she burst into tears.

"It's true, then?" Ethan asked.

Parker nodded. Jarod shook his head.

Ethan took Parker's hand, led her to the couch, and pulled her into his arms. Jarod watched, helpless to do anything. He had the feeling that he had to be somewhere, but he didn't know where.

"You can go now," Ethan said. "I'll look after her."

Jarod was surprised Ethan could see him. He looked at Parker, asleep in their brother's arms, and smiled sadly.

"I . . . Tell her . . ."

"She knows."

Jarod nodded.

"Say hello to Kyle for me." Lyle's finger tightened on the trigger. Jarod closed his eyes and thought of Parker.

fin