Disclaimer: The Pretender and the Profiler belong to their respective intellectual property owners.

Chapter 45



Miss Parker was back with a vengeance.

Jarod's mocking smirk also decided to make its reappearance. It had been a long time since that infuriating feature appeared again, though this time it was marred by the jagged scars on his face. There was an anticipation of fireworks about to explode between this strong-willed couple, Timmy told himself as he unconsciously braced himself.

The heated glare Maureen gave her former nemesis was classic Parker. The object of their clash of wills was tightly gripped in Jarod's right hand. A bottle of craft-brewed golden lager beer. Jarod's idea of celebrating and letting off steam after finally being discharged by his doctors was downing a nice cold one.

Maureen thought otherwise however and she made it very vocal and crystal clear about her vehement disapproval about his idea of celebrating his discharge from the dreary government hospital. She made a lot of mistakes when she was much younger and wilder because of her infatuation with alcohol and other mind altering substances. Dr. Tushar reminded her that she came that close to becoming an alcoholic. She still shuddered at how close she came. That was why she was so upset upon seeing Jarod holding a vivid reminder of a symbolic nail to her coffin if she had finally succumbed to the life that the late unlamented rat bastard laid out for her.

Jarod was on convalescent leave after being discharged from the secretive government hospital in West Virginia. The Robert Byrd National Intelligence Medical Center was not the most patient friendly of hospitals. Part hospital, part secured facility, all shrouded in secrecy and discretion, this was the place that he was medevaced to from Afghanistan. It was here that he would began his road to recovery from the latest wounds that he incurred in the line of duty. All he wanted right now was to enjoy a nice cold beer and to chill out for just a few precious hours before darkness fell and had to face the inevitable nightmares. Jarod was resigned to the fact that sleep was not going to happen tonight. But before that, given the fiery look Maureen was giving him, he knew that drinking his beer was not going to happen anytime soon.

Maureen wanted to knock that offending bottle of beer out of Jar's hand so badly that her right hand shook as she wound herself up for a physical confrontation. The last five weeks and some days were so compressed she couldn't even tell anybody exactly what day or time it was. Sleep was foreign to her, scaring off the irritating nurses who pestered her about visiting hours being over. Food was something other people do, not her, not when it leaving Jar's side. Memories of the pernicious wait outside the hospital perimeter as she fumed impatiently while the security guards waited for Juana Cloud Runner's go-ahead before finally allowing her and Timmy in to see Jarod; the stunned surprise by Jarod's family as they encountered their living nightmare in person in Jarod's room; Emily's raw, seething hatred expressed in the form of punching, screaming, and slapping Maureen's face and body with all the pent-up decades of fear and loathing; Ethan's loving welcome; Charles' vapid smile, alcoholic breath, bloodshot eyes and groping hands; Isaac's awkward adoration, and most of all, Margaret's sphinxlike expression and remote courtesy leaving no emotion for Maureen to decipher.

Letting out a pent-up frustrated sigh, Jarod told her once again, "Look, it's just one bottle. FYI, I don't drink like a fish." Their stare-down was just another sign of momentous changes in their personal and professional lives. Ever since that bizarre vision of him talking to a long dead friend about the utterly fascinating and infuriating woman before him, his eyes constantly straying towards her luscious lips and his hunger to kiss them and doing so much more to her shapely body. Not only that, but the most important parts of his soul that he kept walled off and with which he only shared with Rachel, he was now willing to share with her. Timmy's and Faith's lobbying and urging were beginning to pay off.

Changes in his life were not just confined to his personal side; it was also showing up in his professional side, too. It irked him how Cloud Runner declared after he fully regained consciousness that he was permanently taken off field duty. Jarod wryly reflected that he wanted to beat her to the punch by informing his superior of his decision to end his role in field operations but somehow she was always presciently ahead of him.

Maureen waged a fierce internal battle to rein in her short temper. Rather than unleashing it on some hulking sweeper or a hapless Broots, she wanted to vent her anger, worry, and love on the frail man standing defiantly before her. Jarod's wearied countenance, sunken eyes, and missing energy worried her. Each of them had too much brushes with death to laugh it off, or in Jarod's case, drinking it away.

Observing both of them, Timmy was on board the "I'm Mad at Jarod" fan club. Because of Faith's intercession with Jarod, the Powers That Be carried out their punishment on his lady for violating the no-contact with Jarod rule by forbidding her to visit Tim for an indeterminate time. The empath internally scowled knowing that meant however long they felt. He had a feeling it'll be some time before he can converse with her and be succored by her love and intimate talks.

"That's how it always began, with one bottle. Pretty soon it'll be two, then three, until you wind up choking to death on your own vomit," Maureen spat out, holding out her left hand. "Give it to me. Now."

Jarod looked at Maureen in exasperated disbelief. Old habits die hard. Her deeply ingrained expectations of instant obedience from Centre lackeys carried over to this latest disagreement between them. Something he resented and still resent. It was going to be addressed as their relationship progressed. But that was in the future. Now the ex-Pretender observed Maureen. Deep lines marred her beautiful face. Her flaming blue-grey eyes couldn't hide how reddened they were with shadows encircling them. There was no hiding the physical and emotional toll the woman standing before him had paid in caring for him as he recovered from his latest war wounds. Her thin frame, almost anorexic, was a stark testament that food and sleep were not on her list of top ten things to do while she was helping him get back on his feet.

There was no mistake in Timmy's mind that this confrontation was just the latest turning point for his best friends. Unspoken but it can be felt by all three that something momentous was about to happen. He silently willed both Jarod and Maureen to take the next step.

The brunette stirred uneasily. She was tired. The anger and fear at and for Jarod were there but a bone deep fatigue enveloped her as she waited for Jarod's decision. Her exhaustion was the manifestation of the terror of losing Jarod just as their relationship seemed to be moving on to something more stable with that maddening hint of progress just on the verge of realization.

Maureen's weariness ended when Jarod did something unexpected catching her and Timmy off guard. He dropped the unopened bottle on the grass and grabbed her by her upper arms. Pulling her close to him and with personal space nonexistent, she was captured by the look in his eye.

"Jarod!?" she squeaked out, startled at his action. "What the hell are you doing?" Maureen felt her heart race beat faster as she awaited his next action.

Savoring Maureen's warmth underneath his right hand, Jarod soaked in her vital presence. Something he missed after Rachel's death. Catching Timmy's eye he asked, "I need to talk to Maureen privately."

The stocky empathy gave Maureen a questioning look. She silently nodded. "Alright, Jarod." Assured that nothing extremely violent was going to happen between these two very stubborn and volatile people, Tim began heading back to the house. The couple waited, still locked in their awkward position, until they saw their friend stepped into Jarod's home.

Turning to face each other, both of them sensitive to their situation, knowing another step was about to be taken. "This isn't about the beer, Maureen. What is it that's really bothering you?" Jarod questioned her. "Is it my mom?"

While the rest of his family headed back to their lives and commitments, Margaret stayed behind to care for her son. She got a room at an extended stay hotel after turning down Jarod's offer of having her stay at his home. Her decision removed an awkward situation between his mom and Maureen. Each had different ideas of nursing Jarod back to health. Margaret made it quite clear and forcefully to her oldest son when Maureen was out of earshot how dangerous and untrustworthy Maureen was.

It was starkly different from her opinion of Rachel. She was the ideal daughter-in-law as far as the worn-out redhead was concerned. The FBI profiler was just exactly what Jarod needed as he recovered from his physical and psychic wounds that framed his tortured life. Rachel's murder was just as devastating a blow to Margaret as it was to her son. Another tragedy added to the butcher's bill for the Russell's. Not only did she lose a beloved addition to her family but the death almost destroyed her son, something that she could not and would not envisioned. She already lost so much that she, unknowingly, shared the same belief with Maureen that if Jarod were taken away from her, it was time for her to give up and just die.

Maureen found herself on the verge of panicking. The white hot anger suddenly replaced by this overwhelming fear, her heart beating to an erratic rhythm, and fleeting thoughts worked their way through her mind.

She almost lost him even though the doctors who attended to him curtly informed her that his injuries, though severe, were not life threatening. It was the idea of losing him, of the odds coming back to beat him after all the close calls he had in the past, that petrified and angered her amidst all of the other emotions whipsawing her that made her dizzy with their impact. Damn him, cursing Jar half-heartedly for making her realize the impact her love for him was having on her psyche and body.

"No," she whispered, the confrontational attitude gone. Her blue-gray eyes locked onto his brown eye. Jarod looked back at her and she discovered the courage to finally lay all of her cards on the table. Taking a deep shaky breath, she told him, "It's about us."

"What about us?" he inquired, dropping his arms and taking a step back. Jarod felt his heart start to beat faster and his fatigue disappearing as he mentally braced himself for whatever she was about to reveal.

In her turbulent life, Maureen was never really in control of her destiny, her fate, options that were shut off to her by the Centre. But now, looking at her true love, she understood that this moment was hers to express herself, to express what she held so tightly in her broken heart for so long.

Maureen cocked her head at Jarod, soaking him in, seeing that light that shone in his eye full of curiosity. "Is there an us, Jarod? We've changed so much, suffered so much pain, gone through so much," she noticed him stiffened at her words, "and yet…you and I are still here. Together."

Jarod shifted uneasily from one foot to another. The Ice Queen that he sought to melt for so long, so futiley was gone. He knew that when she came barging back into his gloomy life. A life that really wasn't life with Rachel's absence. Now, Maureen was helping him discover life again, to live again, and to fight off the numbing suicidal despair that clung tightly to him since Rachel's passing.

A medley of images careened through the ex-Pretender's mind: meeting Maureen for the first time, the moment she whispered her first name to him, that wondrous first kiss, chasing him in those ridiculous stiletto heels and barely there miniskirts, the fraying link between them conducted through the nightly phone calls. Jarod emitted a sigh, an admission that they did have something that just would not go away no matter how hard both tried throughout their lives. "Yes, Maureen. There is…an us."

In the years when they played the "you run, I chase" games, the Pretender would have eagerly promoted that idea especially if the then Miss Parker would finally embraced their relationship openly. But now, scourged by experience, Jarod wasn't that fully confident of Maureen's affections for him.

Relief coursed through Maureen as she realized that the distance that kept her and Jar apart, first by the Centre, the choices each made with their lives, then Rachel's ever present memory was gone. Now, it was up to her to expand on what both were now willing to unveil to each other. "I couldn't bear the thought of losing you." Tears quickly formed as she half-heartedly wiped them away.

Jarod pounced forward as he quickly sought to comfort Maureen. He enfolded her in his arms. It still amazed him that in their far too few embraces that they fit perfectly together as though they were made for each other. The former Pretender gently rubbed his right hand on her back, making soothing motions. What Jarod did not do was to murmur words like "everything will be ok" or "it's alright" when he knew from his searing life experiences that they were anything but that. Further, he wasn't going to insult Maureen's intelligence by repeating those false bromides. She suffered just as much as he did and knew mere words could not and never heal all wounds.

Maureen slowly pulled back to take in his concerned look. She lifted her right hand and placed it tenderly on his face, feeling the stubble on his cheek. His arms slid down to wrap themselves around her waist as he waited for her next move.

The next move was the subject of heated fantasies and dreams, from the time puberty hit them to now. Something that both Maureen and Jarod both plotted out, brooded over and wondered when and where it would happen. But the kiss that Maureen placed on Jarod's lips was unexpected, unnerving yet felt absolutely right.

Jarod froze. His plan to eventually kiss Maureen was thrown off kilter by her unexpected move. His eye closed in surprised pleasure. Physical intimacy, and the hint of what was to come, was a shock to his body. The ex-Pretender was not intimate with anyone since Rachel's passing though there were plenty of women who made it known that they were eager to spend a night or more with him. With each woman, he turned them down.

Neither one knew how long the kiss lasted. It was not a hot, passionate lets-ripped-our-clothes off type of kiss. It was slow, tentative, even shy. But absolutely breathtaking and electric. Maureen tasted him, felt the warmth of his lips for only the second time of her life. She reluctantly released him, ending their kiss. A moan that only she could hear reverberated within her heart. She wanted more, much more, so much more.

"Maureen?" Jarod questioned her as she slowly drew away from him. He was breathless at the wonderful feelings throbbing inside him. Something that only Rachel was able to bring out in him.

She studied him. His eye was alight with a fire that she last saw before Chicago happened. Now it was there, slightly dim as though it was learning how to flare brightly again after so much darkness swamped it. It would flare and stayed there as she spoke the words that she should have said those many years ago, lifetimes ago. When a future that both believe would be theirs.

"I love you."

A/N: The Robert Byrd National Intelligence Medical Center does not exist. I just couldn't resist putting the late Senator Robert Byrd (D) of West Virginia into this chapter because of his well-earned notoriety of being one of the worst pork barrel politicians before his death. He brought home to West Virginia a lot of pork, some deserved, many not in my opinion.

I'm slowly finishing this story but real life is consuming my time as usual so I'll be writing at a snail's pace. Again thanks to any remaining readers for reading this. Please read and review.

Posted on 9 Sep 2012.