Crushed leaves by planet p
Disclaimer I don't own the Pretender or any of its characters.
At his feet, leaves crackled and crushed. Around him, a fierce wind raged. He walked on, toward the park which he'd seen from his car, parked by the footpath along the street. Directly across the street, now, he became aware of a set of neat double-storey townhouses, five from end to end; a car he recognised.
The owner of the car sat on one of the swings at the park's single swing set, humming a rendition of Alma Cogan's Dreamboat, seemingly lost in reflection.
Sydney did not vary his pace, Lyle had no more noticed him than he had the building storm; perhaps he'd heard about it on the news the night before, or on a more recent news update, even remembered that it had been forecast when he'd stepped outside for the day, but in between then and now, the memory had become distant.
Drawing nearer, Sydney noticed that he was reading a paperback, perhaps a novel, or collection of short stories or essays. After several moments, a page was turned, and Lyle began to hum Guantanamera.
Momentarily, it became obvious to Sydney that he was reading a romance novel. He had the same novel, but only because he was not a fan of Destiny Rae Hill, and regularly wrote e-mails to her to the effect. On occasion, Sydney had witnessed Miss Parker reading Hill, and pondered if whether Lyle's reading Hill was because his sister did; if it was some effort to search out a point which might lead to the beginnings of a connection, or a point of interest in conversation.
The wind increased, and the trees along the footpath on which Sydney was walking shifted, their upper limbs thrashing with the wind's currents.
A woman stopped by the swings – Sydney hadn't noticed her approach, nor had he noticed her walking along the path ahead – and fiddled with the zipper on her Inca-patterned hooded jacket for a moment, matched with khaki camouflage-patterned cargo pants, and sneakers, her red hair held by her neck in two short plaits. Her voice was plain but honest when she spoke, "It's cold."
The moment he heard her speak, Lyle looked around at her, closing the novel he'd been reading. The woman didn't look surprised to see the front cover. Lyle reached a hand out to touch her hair. "Did you do those by yourself?"
The woman shifted her weight from one foot to the other, and crossed her arms tighter about her chest. "No, I had my mother do them. What do you think?" she answered dryly in reply.
"They're nice," Lyle said.
The woman flickered her gaze away for a moment, then returned it to his face. "It's freezing and blowy as heck! If you're not careful, you'll come down with something." She shrugged a shoulder. "Or something will come down on you," she added. "I don't know about you, but I'd take no particular pleasure in making like a tack."
Lyle shook his head and stood.
The woman shuffled closer to him a fraction.
"You're not a fan of the winter?" Lyle asked the ground, looking up into her face for her answer.
She laughed and stepped closer to push him in the arm, then, in a moment's passing, stepped back again, retreating to comfortable safety to launch her rebuttal. "I'm not snow boy!"
"Your hair does look nice like that," Lyle told her.
She smiled and turned away from him. "Need you repeat yourself?" she asked the thin, brittle air in front of her, and expanse of green parkland. She turned back to him, no longer smiling. "Why wouldn't I believe you?" she shot. "Everybody says the same thing, but I believe you!" Her wind-stung eyes narrowed in a watery glare. "You're not everybody."
Lyle frowned. "I...'m sorry," he replied lamely.
She touched the palm of her fingers to the tip of her pinkened nose and turned her Inca-patterned back to him in a gesture that might have been both protective and secretive. "You couldn't trust him."
"It was not my place to censor; I should have-"
Swiftly, she whipped around, the moisture that had gilded her eyes before now clearly tears. "It's over!" she told him, voice raised.
"It should have been," Lyle replied quietly.
If Sydney had not been so close, he doubted he'd have caught the words before they were rushed away by the wind.
The woman made a face, making fists of her hands. She clamped her lips shut against any potential sobs, but, slowly, let her mouth open again. For a moment, she looked as though she was readying to form words, then she stepped forward quickly, and, again, dropped back, changing her mind. With an unfisted hand, she reached out and caught his free hand; the other was holding the novel. She sniffed. "Can we go inside now? If you've locked yourself out, I can break the door down," she offered.
"No," Lyle replied distantly.
"What page are you up to?" the woman asked, clearly referring after the book Lyle had been reading.
"You read faster than me," she replied, with a hint of amusement.
"I used to see him; he wasn't the same," Lyle told her abruptly. "I should have given him that chance."
The woman stared at him, frozen. Slowly, she lifted a hand and slapped him. "How can you think I'd want to hear that?" she shouted, her face darkening rapidly with blood.
"You weren't the one to shoot him, Buttercup!" Lyle yelled back at her. "I was!"
She laughed, hollow. "I HATE HIM!"
Lyle shook his head in disagreement, oblivious, except to his thoughts. "You love him too."
Her hand snapped up again and a loud slap rang out against the sound of the wind. "I wanted him dead!" she hollered in a horrible voice. "I didn't want him anywhere near Saskia! I hated you for leaving her there, where he was!"
Lyle pressed on. "He couldn't have hurt Saskia; he loved you! I was afraid-"
"AFRAID OF WHAT?" the woman bellowed, red-faced.
Lyle backed away from her quickly, dropping the book. "I couldn't touch her anymore! I was scared! I couldn't do that to her – I'm not him, however much I try to be!" For a moment, he looked like he might cry. He didn't take his eyes from hers, though. "I tried to hide it from her. I didn't want her to be afraid of me! I couldn't think! You don't-!" He stomped his foot uselessly. "You don't understand! She loved me too!" His voice shook suddenly. "I COULDN'T DO THAT! She'd have taken it if it meant we'd never be apart; she'd made her decision. I tried so hard, but she figured it out! She was so much like you!"
Tears ran down the woman's face, glued to her cheeks by the flattening wind. Sydney heard her next words in his mind, What did it take for you to realise this? Did you do something to her? But she surprised him.
"Did you love him too?"
And suddenly, Sydney understood. Like a blinding flash; lightening.
Lyle did nothing for a moment, perfectly still but for that he was shaking, then he lurched forward and ran away from the crying woman.
Carefully, the woman stepped forward, and slowly bent to pick the book up off the ground. Upon her right wrist was a small, simple sun tattoo.
Sydney stood patiently until the woman had made her departure, before turning and heading back to his car with his new knowledge. As he was driving home, it began to rain.
He woke in his office at the Center at the sound of rain on his single upper-floor office window, cold all over. His head hurt terribly, and for a moment he thought that it was merely because of the cold, but the room wasn't cold, and his nose had begun to bleed.
He could not remember making it home, nor detouring to the Center. The clock on his office wall read within three minutes of the time display in his car, not enough time, by far, to drive back to the Center and make it up to his office in time to fall asleep in the chair behind his desk and wake again.
His office desk was cluttered with papers from a file he'd obviously been reading, and he was wearing his office shoes!
He took the elevator down to Ground Floor, empty, but for himself and the hole from Catherine's 'shooting.' He walked to the door to the undercover parking and scanned his employee ID to clock himself out for the day, and pulled the door and stepped out into the chilly parking lot, loud with the roar of rain in the world outside. He turned toward where he'd parked his car, and spotted Raines standing by his own car, what used to be his wife's old 1950s number, done up and repainted in powder blue, cut and polished to a high shine.
Sydney suppressed a scowl to see that he was smoking, if he didn't mind killing himself, Sydney didn't see why he should interfere.
"'S raining nicely," Raines commented in a British accent as Sydney passed on his way to his car, making him pause, and slowly turn.
Sydney had not heard him speak with a British accent for so long; the better part of 30 years, nearly 35. It'd be 35 years in a year's time, actually.
Raines ran a finger over his bottom lip thoughtfully. "Where is it all heading, do you think, mmm?" he asked, turning to meet Sydney's gaze.
Sydney shook his head. He didn't have an answer to that question.
"Do you think Edie would have wanted me to... 'move on'?"
Sydney made a face. "A woman?" he asked.
Raines frowned. "No, Sydney. A giraffe!" He laughed.
"I couldn't say," Sydney replied, forcing down a blush, feeling his face go hot despite the coldness of the weather. "Would I know-?"
Raines laughed again, and coughed for a moment. "There is no woman, Sydney. I was merely posing the question."
Sydney felt annoyance work its way into his face.
Raines stepped away from his car and walked over to him, clapping a hand to his arm. "I think you've the right idea; you look terrible."
Sydney knew he was lying. He'd been to the bathroom on his office's floor and he'd seen himself in the mirror; he'd looked fine then, and he wasn't likely to look any different now. His headache had lessened, in any case, and the duller light was sure to work in his favour pitted against the bathroom's jarring artificial light which had the capability of making even the healthiest person appear as though they'd just stepped off the set of a zombie flick, as a zombie themself.
Raines' voice snapped him back to reality; the rain pounding down as hard as ever. "How do you feel, mmm?"
Sydney raised a hand to push his hand away, but Raines had kept his hands to himself; hadn't tried to feel his temperature. Sydney frowned, irritated, and stepped backward to allow himself the distance to make a turn and head, once more, for his car. His mind made up, he turned swiftly and began toward his car.
"Sydney, you shouldn't be doing that," Raines' suddenly clear voice told him, at his back.
Sydney laughed, amused, and harsh, and spun back to face him, eyes dangerous. "Oh, don't tell me, are you going to offer to drive me h-" His words were cut short at the sight of Raines' eyes, paler, and suddenly bluer than before.
"You're not an Empath, Sydney," Raines continued, his eyes fixed with Sydney's. "You've always shown tendencies, but the fact remains the same. In a way, it's not such a mystery that things should have gone the way they did."
Sydney only laughed to his face, too frightened to do anything else.
"I do not intend you harm, Sydney," Raines replied evenly. "It is merely a statement of fact. If you're going to go down this path, you're going to hurt yourself." He smiled then, as though he'd thought of a point of contest, then refuted it. "Without question, you will damage yourself. Nobody wants to see that happen, you understand?"
Sydney shook his head. "You'd find that pl-"
"To the contrary, Sydney. Quite so, you see. You are integral to my daughter's entire existence; she could not stand to lose you, Sydney. Were that to happen, indeed, she would suffer greatly." He shrugged. "Perhaps, she would not recover?" Raines added, sounding, suddenly, more Russian than British.
Sydney stepped backward.
"My mother, she was Ukrainian," Raines told him. "Perhaps, to learn her language, I would become a little more like her? Find that part of me inside me, no? The part of her."
"Mary Parker was American," Sydney said, voice steady.
"Mary was not my mother," Raines replied. "Oh, but she took care of the 'slut', I can tell you!" Raines shook his head, noticing Sydney edging farther away, and threw up a hand. "You go! Be off, before I tell something I'll regret."
Sydney turned and hurried away, toward the safety of his car.
The rain blurred the windshield as he pulled out of the cover of the parking lot.
Sydney stared out at the sheet of rain ahead of him, hardly driving at all, trying to see anything if front of him. He felt the unsteadiness of the car's tentative hold on the road, waning, as he pressed on the gas pedal, and eased up. He wasn't going any faster in this weather.
But the car continued to lose control, 'til he had no control over it whatsoever, and it was sliding, slipping on the road, toward the side of the road – and a dense bank of pine trees. Vaguely, he registered that the rain had let up, before the car crashed headlong into the trees, and the awful sound of smashing became too much, and his head hurt so badly, and he was met with blackness. Then, a groggy wakefulness, and he turned his head painfully and his eyes fell upon a girl, a smile curving her lips, a couple of tears clinging to her young cheeks, arms limp at her sides, exposing a small sun tattoo upon the pale skin of her right wrist, and a branch run dead centre through her chest, impaling her to the car seat.
The rain returned full volume, and Sydney slammed his foot on the brake, his heart pounding too fast.
The woman that Lyle had spoken to in the park was dead.
He turned the car about – weather be damned! – and headed back to the Center.
He needed answers.
Raines was sitting on the ground by his car when Sydney returned, his stride full of purpose. He rounded the car and walked right up to Raines, mere paces between them, and stood firmly. "Did you do it?" he demanded.
Raines looked up slowly, not questioningly, but, mildly interested, at least, receptive. "Did I do what?" he asked.
Sydney threw him a disgusted glare. He could at least stand to hear what he was being accused of! "Did you sexually abuse that boy?" he hissed, not bothering to wait for Raines to stand.
Raines put a hand over his mouth to cough, and frowned, eyes watering. "Boy? Which boy?" He cleared his throat. "Boys don't do it for me, I'm afraid."
"Bobby," Sydney ground, hating to say the name.
Raines leapt to his feet. "Oh, Sydney."
Sydney scowled disgustedly, but he knew immediately that whoever had done it, it hadn't been Raines.
Raines laughed, tears building in his eyes. "Oh, Sydney, I was such a fool."
Sydney made a face, but, by now, it was all too obvious. Lyle Bowman, Bobby's adoptive father; the reason Lyle was willing to believe that Cox was innocent of murdering his younger sister, that it had been his adoptive father, Chris Cox, who'd killed little Ursula, and the unfair accusal of Cox without tangible evidence was little more than a witch hunt, based on nothing more substantial than the words of suspicious, corrupted minds.
"He loved them completely, you must understand," Raines told him. "He was such... He wasn't what he is now. He was a beautiful child; he was Catherine's child! Few people would have agreed; out of misunderstanding. He was utterly in love with Elsie and Lyle; they were his parents. They loved him, and he loved them for loving him. He forgave them so much. Maybe he loved Jimmy too, but Jimmy was not family. He did not have to forgive him. Elsie and Lyle, he would have died for. Now, I think he finds that difficult to reconcile given the events that took place. Perhaps he wishes to have done things differently. Certainly, not to have been so hard on Jimmy."
Sydney laughed. "'Hard'! He killed him!"
Sydney forced down another laugh. "There's a daughter," he growled.
"Mmm," Raines agreed. "Kyle was rather upset about what was done to that girl, quietly."
"You weren't the one to shoot him... I was!" Sydney felt a strange illness forming in his chest. "The child's mother?"
"Her name?" Sydney said.
Sydney frowned. "The wife?"
"They were not married, at least, not formally. She was a gift."
Sydney's eyes flashed in disgust.
"Merely a ploy, Sydney. She was a Recessive, he was a Positive. It would make for an interesting experiment, given the rarity of Recessives. A manipulation, like most all things the Center does."
"Then the daughter was a Recessive?"
Raines blinked several times. "An Empath and a Mediator."
"Says you," Sydney replied, well aware of Raines' claim that the anomaly did not exist in a recessive form, but merely a form the Center did not acknowledge, an expression that was given merit by their rival, T-Corp, and the claim that if two individuals were Chosen to each other, then their children would share any expression that their parent or parents might possess in equal form and strength, in general.
"Says the Center," Raines told him. "She was classed as a Class Five Empath."
"Lyle is an Empath?"
Sydney scowled. Raines was being deliberately unhelpful.
Raines sighed. "The girl's MIA. Has been since 1998."
As the classing system for Empathy ran from One to Seven, Five was nothing to be turned away with a toss of the head. Sydney found it hard to believe that at such a high level of Empathy, also, that Lyle had done even half the things he knew him to have done. "I do not believe it," he replied flatly.
Raines laughed. "The truth, Sydney." He coughed, and took a heavy breath. "He's a Class Nine, Michelle and I 'rescued' him from Africa; he's your son. The truth is that Miss Parker, Lyle, and Ethan are all your children; Catherine was your Chosen, your Convergence partner, whichever you would choose. When I shot and killed her, you simply forgot. You were very much in love with her, and I do believe she was in love with you, also. She could not disclose her plans to you for the same reason that Michelle left the Center when I asked her to leave else some misfortune befall you. To protect you, to protect someone she loved deeply; the same reason she had Theodore sent to Africa, never expecting him to be 'helped', but merely to ensue he was as far from Miss Parker as possible. I believe she'd have put him to rest, if the choice had lain with her. The Voices had told her of the great danger that lay with this child, and she'd done everything within her power to prevent that danger from coming to fruition. After all, the blame of the child's conception lay with her; much as she cared for you, she believed you an unwitting party, so to speak, devoid of blame. The first move had been hers, therefore, the outcome of that action lay with her."
"Catherine believed that the boy was dangerous," Sydney interrupted, unable to believe the accusations he was being lain with, so simply ignoring them, "but you unleashed that danger upon the unsuspecting world?"
"Catherine was very sick, Sydney. Theodore was not evil, he was just a child who needed his family, who needed his mother and father, and his twin sister. Mel needed him, too, and she still needs him. The day she understands that, such the better for her. In many ways, they are not two separate beings, but one. They need each other, one as much as the other. Though, in other ways, not so. In other ways, Theodore needs his sister, much more, in fact, than she needs him. He feels so much of what she feels, yet he must pretend that he is something that he is not when he is with her; he cannot allow it to be discovered who he is, nor that there is some slim connection between them. If it was ever found out, they'd have her, too. They'd want her, and they'd have her. Perhaps he could handle going back, but he could not handle them taking her. He could not allow them to hurt her, he never has been able to; he's always had to do foolish things where she was, and is, concerned. He can't stop himself, and he feels no compulsion to try. If he's ever had anything to fight for in his life, it's her. He won't let anyone see it, but it's no less the truth for it."
Sydney smiled. Raines could keep on lying, and he'd keep on not believing him.
"But, Sydney, she isn't dead. Catherine isn't dead. I shot her, but she's alive."
Sydney spluttered, and laughed.
Raines frowned. "In fact, I Healed her," he said, and turned away, toward his car, and opened the car door.
Sydney stared after him, then, as he drove away, after Edna Raines' powder blue sedan.
By the time Sydney had reached Miss Parker's house, he'd decided that Raines had been lying about Healing Catherine, even if he'd not been lying about being a Healer. No Healer, no matter how good, could Heal a bullet to the brain.
Miss Parker opened her front door and stood staring at him; he was wet! After a moment, she decided to invite him inside, and set him down at a chair in the kitchen, in front of a small fan heater she'd had on, and set about fixing them both coffees.
Sydney informed her, straight away, of course, that he was, in fact, her father, and that, in that case, it looked that Ben Miller could be ruled out. In fact, he was also Ethan's father.
Miss Parker turned quickly and stared at him, her eyes wide, unsure what to think.
Sydney laughed. Her brother, Lyle, was an Empath, he added. He needed her.
"You need coffee!" Miss Parker told him, with wide eyes, and, several minutes later, with only the hum of the fan heater to fill the long silence, the coffee was delivered in a mug.
"Your friend was killed in a motor vehicle accident," Sydney said.
Miss Parker's jaw set and she stared at him, no longer wide-eyed.
"She is, however, alive. Older, but alive. And chumming up to your indispensable, wonderful twin."
Miss Parker made a face. He was winding her up, though she didn't know why, nor why he had to be so cruel about it.
"She wanted Kyle dead, and now he's dead. I'd hazard a guess she's over there right now, at his house."
"How much have you been drinking, Syd?" Miss Parker responded, in plain, good old-fashioned denial of his words. "Can you still drive, or would it be best if I drop you off home?"
"I've drunken nothing, Miss Parker," Sydney told her. "I've had a chat with Billy, and he's decided that he doesn't want the trouble that usually goes along with the two of you any longer, so he's passed it off on me, instead. I am your father; I am Ethan's father. I was madly, irrevocably in love with Catherine, and now that I know that she's alive, I won't rest until I've found her, and reunited our family."
Miss Parker winced. "Drugs? Sydney, that's not like you." She sounded disappointed.
"I can tell you where you were conceived, Miss Parker, I am hardly spinning a tall tale. I'm making nothing up. It was in the elevator your mother was shot in." Once the words had left his mouth, Sydney wondered why he'd said them. There was no reason to believe that Miss Parker had not been 'manufactured', much less that she'd been conceived, and, certainly, the idea that she'd been so in an elevator held an even slimmer semblance on sanity than the notion that she'd been conceived by natural means, at all. But it was all there, inside his mind, waiting for him to wake up, to remember Catherine, his Catherine, not the sedentary Catherine drone of his many half-forgotten memories.
He set down the coffee on the table and jumped to his feet, racing to the sink, where he was sick.
Ethan had been conceived in what had once been Catherine's lab, he remembered, and felt incurably, horribly unwell.
Miss Parker had had an imaginary friend. Of course, he'd heard about it. Raines had resigned, with the demand that Miss Parker be taken off the medication to stop her seeing the boy, if he were to consider returning at all, and the Center had folded, and taken the 4-year-old off the medication. But the friend was gone, lost to the little child who'd had so few friends.
Sydney did not mention the imaginary friend to Miss Parker as he was throwing up, nor the fact that he'd been a he; he didn't feel like talking at all, just like stopping being sick, and lying down, maybe.
He thought of the girl, sitting in the bathroom, throwing up, just like he was, or Catherine, though the girl had been much younger than Catherine; it was a feeling he could not help getting now that he remembered the memo he'd been e-mailed by the Canadian auxiliary, in 1998, alerting him to the 15-year-old's disappearance. Jacob had worked for the Canadian sector, he'd gotten his position in Blue Cove as Med Space Director out of it, and no doubt the e-mail had been sent to Sydney out of courtesy, or a vague notion that he may be interested, the girl, after all, was a Class Five.
And also, now, as Sydney discovered, his granddaughter. He was unlikely, as it was, to assist in her retrieval any longer.
Kyle had been there, too, of course. When Lyle and the girl, Lin, had been there. Even when the child had been there. He'd been in love with Lin, he could not have left her if he'd wanted to, not with Lyle.
And there was the girl, in the bathroom, and she had the sun tattoo, there on her right wrist.
A sharp shaking jerked Sydney awake.
"We're here," Miss Parker told him. She'd taken a spot in the residential parking lot.
Sydney sat up straighter.
Uck! Awful! So that's the mystery, the one with B; I hope you don't think I'm nuts. Thanks for reading!