First written and posted on pretendfic in August 1999. This one has been edited very slightly from the original.

Note and Disclaimer: The Pretender and its associated characters, locales, etc. belong to its creators and to NBC and no infringement of any copyright laws is in any way intended in the writing of this piece.

This is the (final) sequel to two previous pieces, "Confession" and "Penance", which are rather necessary to the understanding of this story.

Absolution by Deichtine

I have to get away from this.

I can't do this anymore. I did what I could for Jarod, but I can't stay here one day longer. Yet how can I leave? Even with my naïve understanding of how the Centre works and what it truly does, I know that they will not simply allow me to resign and go my way. I would be dead within the week...and my wife and child as well! Kathy is expecting a son, and wants to name him after me, but what pride is there in that name? What future can I give my son if I attempt this? I can't risk leaving.

But how can I stay? Every day, it seems, I learn a little more about what the Centre is capable of as I rise higher in the 'trust' of the Powers of the Centre. Only yesterday, I had to help restrain a small girl - the same age as my own little Moira - when she decided that she didn't want submit to the needles they keep giving her anymore. What kind of life is that? What am I doing to myself by going on with this, much less to that little girl and the others like her? What kind of man am I? How can I call myself a husband, a father?

I don't know what to do. Lord, help me!

I awake in the middle of the night to the shrill call of my pager, which sits as always on the nightstand beside me. Sleepily, I arise and dress, and within minutes I am on my way to the Centre. When I arrive, I am quickly filled in on the details. Miss Parker has received an anonymous tip placing Jarod in a small city called Carol Stream. We board the Centre jet in silence, and it is not long before the usual fear sets in again. What if, this time, we actually find him? What do I do if it is I who have to bring Jarod down and take him back to the place I helped him escape? I can only pray that this never happens.

We arrive in Carol Stream as morning begins to dawn, and fan out to begin the search. The day goes on, and I grow more and more hopeful that we will find nothing and return to Blue Cove empty-handed.

Suddenly, my heart leaps into my throat as my radio comes to life with the order to converge on an apartment building on George Street, where several locals have positively identified Jarod from a photograph. Unable to do anything else, I obey the order and head for the apartment building. As I get closer to George Street, I see more and more of my colleagues hastening towards the building also. Looking around to assess the situation for innocent bystanders and witnesses, I am shocked to see Jarod standing there at the mouth of an alley, watching us run towards his former lair, smiling slightly and trying to catch my eye. He motions towards me slightly, then vanishes into the alley. I slow down until I am sure that my fellow sweepers are well ahead of me, then turn back.

I am shaking as I enter the alleyway. What can Jarod want badly enough to expose himself openly that way? Is he angry that I'm helping Miss Parker search for him? Does he think I've betrayed him?

Jarod takes my arm when he sees me and leads me deeper into the shadows. He looks around, then stares into my eyes with frightening intensity.
"Joseph," he begins, and I cannot hold it in anymore.

"Jarod, please understand, I don't want to help them, I have to, and it's the only way I can try to help-" I burst out, wanting nothing but to explain everything to this man who I imagine can have nothing but contempt for me.

He cuts me off impatiently, however. "Joseph, listen to me. Do you want to be free of the Centre?"

I am shocked. This is the last thing I expected to hear.

With my thoughts whirling as they are, I can think of nothing better to say than, "What?"

"Do you want to be free of the Centre? To leave it behind you forever?"

My heart quivers with a hope that I push back, not letting myself dare to think that what he is saying might be possible. "Well, of course, I wish I could leave the Centre. God knows how I hate that place and what they do there. But there's no way - they'd never let me leave!" I say, wishing that he would not taunt me with such obviously impossible ideas.

"There is a way - if you are willing to take the risk. Will you let me help you?" "Of course!" I say, the quiver in my heart becoming a shaking that threatens to take over my whole body as hope blooms unfettered in my breast.

"But, are you sure? I mean, how could I ever be free of the Centre? They're everywhere!"

Jarod smiles slightly. "Not everywhere. Your wife and child are already on the plane, and if you follow me, I'll bring you to a plane that will take you to them. They'll be waiting for you there. Everything's arranged."

"Where?" I ask, my thoughts spinning and whirling with this sudden change in my fortunes. As Jarod leads me out of the alley, he explains the details of the plan he has formed, my job at a small security business, the school he has arranged for Moira. When we arrive at the private airstrip, Jarod pushes a bag into my hands and takes the gun from the holster at my side. I look up at him, and he explains, "You won't need it anymore." I nod, overcome with emotion as I face the man who has changed my life so much.

"Jarod, I don't know what to say. This is..." I trail off. "This is... I owe you more than I can say," I finish lamely.

Jarod reaches over and slips something in my pocket as the pilot who is to fly me north clears his throat and taps his watch pointedly from across the room. "No, Joseph. I owe you my freedom. I don't think I would have had the courage to try to escape, to brave the outside world, if you hadn't shown me that you were willing to help. Just look after Kathy and Moira - and little Joseph, when he comes. You're a good man, Joseph."

"Joseph Jarod, it'll be," I promise, my heart full.

Jarod grins, and suddenly I fully realise the change in him since he escaped, and I understand that it was all worth it, just to see that unrestrained smile. He slaps me on the shoulder and gives me a gentle shove towards the plane. "Thanks," he says, and as I look back at him, I see that his eyes are misty. "Now get going, or you'll miss your plane!" I nod, and, not knowing anything else to say, turn and go on to the plane and my new life.

An hour later, as I sit on the plane, I reach into my pocket for a pen when my hand encounters the object Jarod put there earlier. I pull it out and look at it, and then laugh aloud as I see what it is: a Pez dispenser in the shape of an Easter bunny. The meaning is obvious: New Life. Thank you, Lord! And bless him, wherever he is.