Love's the Answer by planet p

Disclaimer I don't own the Pretender or any of its characters, or Love's the Answer; its music or lyrics.

The piano was a recent addition to the Commons, and a fairly odd one, at that. Miss Parker wondered if it signalled anything; that they'd soon be receiving new 'subjects', say. She paused in the doorway, a frown creeping its way onto her face.

It had been a long, long time since she'd seen Angelo smile, but the expression on his face was clearly a smile; she could see it there in his eyes, plain as day. And all because of that little piano, and a little song…

She thought she might have felt a pang of annoyance, or jealousy – after all, Angelo had been her friend when she'd been a girl; the same as Jarod – but she felt none of this; a mild curiosity was all. How strange it was, this scene…

A quick survey of the large, mostly empty room had immediately told her that Merchant was nowhere to be found – it was just the three of them – so she must have been with one of the youngsters, supervising a SIM.

"…If you want to hold your woman, this is the way: Love her more today, than you did, yesterday. Love's the answer…! Love's the answer…!"

There was something not right in that expression, though. Angelo, she was not worried about, but Lyle – that worried her! And then it hit her…

That wasn't the man she'd been told was her brother-

That was the psycho boy who'd killed his best friend in cold-blood!

A sudden chill swept over her – What was Angelo up to, getting so chummy with a maniac like that? As if Lyle wasn't bad enough – but Bobby! – and she found herself taking a involuntary step into the room, though she had no idea what she would do then. Yell at him to quit messing around when he was supposed to be working and pray he didn't figure on to the fact that she knew?

Angelo's gaze flickered to her suddenly.


"Do you want to try?" Lyle asked, in what Miss Parker assumed was Bobby's accent (it was noticeably more like Plum's; noticeably more Nebraskan).

Angelo stood quickly and nodded to Miss Parker, who Lyle turned to look at… and turned an uncharacteristic shade of pale, his eyes widening as only Bobby's could.

"Sister," Angelo breathed, frowning at Lyle, who'd turned to stare at him.

Angelo nodded again and Lyle sighed, reaching a hand up to his head.

"Sister okay," Angelo said.

Lyle nodded. "She's cool," he said.

"Boo," Miss Parker remarked dryly, walking over to them. "I didn't realise I could strike such fear into people, much less my little brother!"

"My little brother hasn't seen you before," Lyle excused, though Miss Parker didn't buy it at all. "He was startled, that's all."

"Your little brother's scared of women, huh?" Miss Parker joked, laughing to herself.

"Parker," Angelo greeted suddenly.

"Miss Parker," Miss Parker corrected out of habit. What the Hell! Angelo was her childhood friend. Still, Lyle was hanging around. It always paid to be extra cautious when the creeps were out…

"I don't suppose you have something constructive to do," Miss Parker commented, to Lyle, who – annoyingly – hadn't bothered answering her earlier question.

"Persephone believes learning a musical instrument again will go a long way in helping Angelo," Lyle replied.

"Surely you haven't forgotten," Miss Parker said, to Angelo, who frowned.

"One does lose the ability, if they don't keep up with it," Lyle said.

"You didn't seem to have any trouble," Miss Parker replied, sourly.

"Bobby did seem to enjoy playing the piano. A strange boy, that one. But I guess I can't be accusin' anyone of strangeness…" He smiled.

"I think it's bullshit, personally," Miss Parker replied. "I think this alternate personality rubbish is just that – a fantastical load of bollocks!"

"If that's what you think, sis. So? I heard from someone that you could play. You gonna show us, or what?"

"Or no!" Miss Parker snapped.

"Oh, come on, boarding school girl, don't be a spoil sport."

"I don't play, moron!" she snapped.

"Aw! How come?"

She glared at him menacingly.

Angelo frowned.

Lyle looked at him and shook his head. "It's cool, sis. I kinda cheated anyhow. Note to self: Your little brother is not a performing animal. Honestly, my boy!" He started humming the song 'Bobby' had been playing earlier: Tanya Tucker's Love's the Answer.

Miss Parker grinned. "Don't tell me Bobby was in glee club!"

"Glee Club?"

Miss Parker cracked up.

Lyle turned to Angelo quickly, but Angelo just shook his head and nodded to the television. Lyle frowned, looking at the television with scepticism.

"Our school competed in the interschool music festival, and we had a Christmas concert. I think we actually… Yeah, we won one year." He laughed. "Jimmy couldn't believe it. He said it must've been magical intervention that did it: it was Gloria's fault, blame the Mexican girl. Still, I reckon he was pleased. Edward even smiled." He stopped smiling.

"When he was younger, Edward used to tell Jimmy every day how proud he was of him; that he believed in him and would stick by him to the end. But when he got older, not so much. It really hurt him, in a way. Jimmy. He missed hearing his dad tell him that he cared and that he'd be there, when and if he ever needed him." He shook his head. "Ah, that's in the past."

He glanced at Angelo. "Hey, Ange, wanna watch the Discovery Channel?"

"No. Med Space."

Lyle laughed. "They don't argue 24/7, Angie."

Angelo nodded. "Pretty well they do," he said.

"Wanna go see if they're arguing… excuse me, discussing very important matters with conviction right now?"

Angelo smiled.

"Cool." Lyle looked at Miss Parker. "So, we're going down to Med Space to break up a fight. Catch ya."

Miss Parker shook her head, appalled. Boys!

As they were leaving, Persephone appeared in the door, accompanied by Reagan. Lyle grinned. "Hey, you!" he said, picking Reagan up and spinning him around in a circle.

"I feel sick," Reagan told him bluntly.

Lyle put him back on his feet. "Look who's come to see you!" he said, shooting a glance at Miss Parker.

"Yeah, right: me," Reagan replied dryly.

"That's right, little one."

"Did the Tower change your meds again?" Reagan asked, annoyed. He was ten, not a fool. He was an Empath, too!

He stared strangely at Angelo, who was busy eating all the biscuits in the jar of biscuits Persephone had brought with her – a gift from Raines, apparently, which he'd gotten on a recent business trip.

Reagan shook his head and strode over to his 'sister', Miss Parker. "Hi, sis," he said drably. A perfect imitation of Ethan's glum replies to her questions, Miss Parker thought, on an aside.


"Oh God!" Reagan replied. "Do you have to say that?"

"Why not?" Miss Parker asked.

Reagan rolled his eyes and repeated Lyle's earlier greeting, "Hey, you!"

"Right. I'll remember that for next time."

Reagan smiled: What next time?

"Hey! I know I haven't been around to see you all that often this year, but I'm doing my best, you know I am."

Reagan crossed his arms. "No you're not," he said plainly.

Miss Parker felt deflated. Well, she hadn't really been too busy that she'd had no time to visit her little brother. She wasn't kidding anyone, in reality. Reagan had seen it straight off, and why not? She'd just been slack; uncaring.

"Hey, maybe we could make one of those friendship bracelet things one day," she suggested. Like he'd made for Lyle, she thought, wondering why the lunatic had got one and she hadn't.

Reagan rolled his eyes. "Why not today?" he asked, though his tone of voice said, Don't bother. I don't want to, anyway.

"Do you want to?"

"Clearly, I'm keeping you from something Oh, wow! so important!" he replied sarcastically.

"That's not true," Miss Parker said, hurt.

"Reagan, that's not a very nice thing to say to your sister," Lyle told him, joining them suddenly. "She's trying really hard. She's just not used to this sort of thing."

"What the fuck is that?" Reagan snapped. "'This sort of thing'! You mean human affection, don't you!"

"No, hon, that isn't what I mean," Lyle told him. "Your sister's got human affection plenty, it's just expressing it that's a little hard. It's like that when you've been hurt; you don't want to get hurt again. Don't be so hard on her."

Reagan glared at him. "Why not? She's hurting me! What does she want – me to turn out just like her! What a fucking bitch!"

"Reagan, you're not a trooper. There's no reason that you should cuss like one."

Reagan shook his head. "Whatever! We all know you're in love with her. It's disgusting – you're brother and sister!" He turned and stalked away.

"Why can't I love my sister, Reagan?" Lyle called after him. "Don't you love her? She loves you!"

Reagan didn't dignify that with an answer, but just disappeared into one of the corridors. Persephone went after him.

Miss Parker turned and glared at Lyle. "I don't need you sticking up for me, loser!"

"Oh, so it's all about you, huh, sis? 'Don't you fuckin' stick up for me, weirdo!' Well maybe I wasn't stickin' up for you, hon – maybe I was actually takin' an interest in my son! Sometimes, love, I swear it's like you fail to grasp the concept of family." With a sigh, he turned and walked away from her, leaving her glaring after him with death in her eyes.

What a fucking asshole!

At the door, he stopped and turned. "I could never hate you, darl, but you make it so damn hard to care for you!" he told her.

Angelo walked out of the room, after Lyle.

"Unbelievable!" Kim breathed, from across the room, standing outside one of the study rooms.

Miss Parker looked at him.

"'S up?" he asked.

Miss Parker said nothing.

Kim made his way over and shrugged. "You know teenagers. Moody."

She shook her head. "I hate Lyle!"

"You shouldn't hate folk who are fucked up that badly," Kim said. "It ain't a joy, that sort of life, no matter what they say. Deep down, they know it ain't the way, they know it ain't right. And the ones that are so far gone that they don't – it's just a cryin' shame, ain't it! That one's got issues." He sighed. "Reagan really does need you, you know. He knows this ain't the way a person should have to live and it really hurts him that there ain't a thing he can do about it. And seein' the way you are most of the time, seein' your sad little face, and those sad little moods you get in – like we all do, at times – it hurts him all the more. You're his family, he really loves you, but he's got nothin' else to do but to stand by. He can't help, and it's like you're already dead; it's like he's done you wrong even though he never meant to.

"He's a funny little thing and stuff gets to him, despite that they're always telling you – out there – that that's the way it's always been, the way it's always gonna be, the way it's gotta be. Cos he doesn't think it does. And, rightly, it shouldn't have to be. Rightly, we'd all look out for one another, we'd find joy in the joy of others, and in the joy of all; there'd be no war and we'd all have homes and opportunities, we'd never go hungry and we'd all have families and someone to love us, someone we can love.

"It hurts the kid, you know. We all went through the same thing, right? When it could really hurt us, that sort of thing, then we learnt to survive, to let it go. Maybe we're traitors, I don't know, but we've got to live, too, you know."

"No, I didn't go through 'the same thing'," Miss Parker replied, her voice hard, and strode away.


"Kid thinks you're mad," Angelo told Lyle, putting the lid on the jar of biscuits.

"I am mad," Lyle said.

Angelo narrowed his eyes.

"Aren't we all, in our own way. Mad for believing in this, or for not believing in that. Mad for so many reasons there can't be a sane person left in this world. Mad is just a word, Angelo. It's our actions that count."

"Mad, too."

"I know."


Lyle looked away from him. "I can't do it all, Angelo. I'm not the only one in this; in this family. And you know Mel: she doesn't even think I'm really a part of this family. I'm jus' makin' out like I am for my own indescribably sinister reasons. Reagan thinks I'm in love with her; she does, too. You can't give a damn about your family members these days; someone's instantly on your case about it! They're tryna change us, Ange; they're tryna make us not care, make us not… We can be… good, feeling people, but they'd like us all to believe that we should be unfeeling and… savage. Does that make sense, Ange?

"It keeps us controllable that way; we can't stand together and say, 'No'; we can't stick up and make ourselves heard – we just gotta go on hurting each other, go on having war and poisoning ourselves by ignoring our feelings. Why do we even talk, or build cities, or say all the pretty things we say, all the wonderful things they tell you when you're a kid and your parents don't tell you are bullshit because they want you to go along with it all and make a lot of money and who cares about the rest of us, who cares about the whole of humanity and this planet: we were made to be in charge. And we're as good at it as ever: only think about us, never anyone, anything else. Us. Now.

"I know I'm mad, but sometimes you can't say you're proud to be a person; you can't say you're proud to be a human. Sometimes, it damn well sucks."

"Shouldn't think about," Angelo said.

Lyle sighed, resigned. "They got to you, too, buddy. What's the point?"


"What's that? Nobody understands love anymore. There are some things love can't make up for." He sighed heavily. "I guess I'm luckier than some. Think about all of those soldiers who'd been in the war, killing people, and then they come back and everything's just so… so much of the same! Nobody cares, like they didn't care before. Only, even when they do care, who can see it amongst all of the uncaring ways that we perpetuate? Who can see that love can be real, and that caring can make all the difference? Caring never stopped any wars, never stopped people from killing other people. Because it's so hard to see that those people right in front of us are people too, when we don't feel like we're a person, either; when we're treated like we don't matter, when you look around and it's all around you, suffocating the masses…

"Shut up, Lyle," he told himself. "You don't even know. You think you do, but what do you know? Stupid, little rich wanker! Think you're such a shining example of what people can achieve, but what have you ever achieved, in reality? What's so great about what you've achieved? Who has it helped, apart from yourself? Has it really helped you, huh, chum?"

Angelo stared at him.

Catching Angelo's look, Lyle said, "I think Brown needs to up the dosage on my mad person pills. A little more poison, it's great! I really won't be able to do anything then – it's not my fault, no more." He laughed. "Where's my sister when I need her. I'll bet there's something untactfully off-colour that I could say to her to get her to slap me – it gets her every time!" He smiled. "Man, she undervalues herself so much! It's not right. Then again, she has the almost very nearly unforgivable and very painful habit of thinking that the moment a person starts acting like they might care for her that they're trying to swindle her out of something: the truth, her rights, sex. Poor, poor thing!"

He looked at Angelo. "Why am I telling you all this?"

Angelo shrugged. Cos people sometimes just had to talk, to say something.

"Of course, I trust you as much as I… Well, I reckon, right now, Ange, I trust you more than I trust me, but that's really not the point. Got to stay in character, no?"

Angelo nodded. Of course.

Lyle grinned, making a peace sign, "I'm totally back in the zone!"

Angelo shot him a look that said, Oh?

"Oh yeah, baby! Oh yeah!"

Angelo patted his arm, disturbed, all the same. For not being a Pretender, the kid was as disturbed as any of them. "Good job, dude," he said.

Lyle smiled and hummed For the Good Times.


Cox grinned, from across the coffee room on Ground Floor (a regular haunt of Miss Parker during breaks). "Woo!"

Lyle rolled his eyes and walked to the sink to pour himself a coffee from the coffee pot on the draining board.

"Did you watch my ep last night?"

"Er, no, I did not," Lyle told him.

"Oh, yeah, me neither," Cox replied, calmer. "I heard from Cherry it was on. She watches it every time they replay it, you know. Anyway, then I checked in the paper in Heathrow Lounge and I just about cracked up. It was awful. I never laugh. I mean, if I do laugh, it's more than likely I'm faking it. I'm not really a cheerful guy. I guess you're not either, huh?"


"So, what's with you today?" he asked, sipping his own coffee.

"Nothing. I kinda had a fight with my sister. Depressing. I think I'll get her some chocolates, or something."

"You're not going to say they're from Ethan this time, are you?"

"Nah, I'll be honest this time. Honesty is the best policy, as they say. Plus, she probably won't touch them; likely, she'll palm them off on Broots."

"Broots'd like that."


"Or she could give them to me," Cox suggested. "I like expensive chocolates, too. Er, maybe that sounded… awkward."

Lyle smiled. "I don't know, only if you were in an awkward frame of mind, Frankie."

"We're all so geared up for that sort of way of thinking these days, though, don't you think?"

"Some of us are, I guess, yeah."

"It's terrible. I shouldn't buy into it."

"No, but sometimes you can't help it."

"I need to help it."


"Heard any interesting, totally shallow gossip?"



"I'm in a really crappy mood today," Lyle told him. "Crappier than usual, I mean. It interferes with stuff, you know."

Cox grinned. "I'm so picturing Jarod."

"Yeah, well, you can blame that on me, too."

"Not everything's your personal fault, you know," Cox told him.

"Yeah, but shooting Kyle is."

Cox frowned. "Look, Kyle's let it go. He's moved on. You're only hurting yourself by holding onto it. You shouldn't encourage that attitude, you know. You won't do it again, so let it be a lesson, accept it, and move on."

"Cox, shut it. You have no idea how many people I've killed or how many more I will in the future. I know you're just trying to be helpful, but it's not helping. I hate to sound like so much of a bastard-" He laughed, suddenly. "But, hey, I probably am!"

Cox frowned more.

"I'm sorry."

"You don't have to apologise," Cox told him. "I get it. Sometimes it becomes such a part of us, this feeling bad about what we've done (and what we might have done differently) stuff, that to live without it seems… unbearable, seems like we haven't really lived at all and what are we, who are we? They train us like that, but that doesn't make it right. Understand that, if you can. I know it's hard. It becomes our excuse, you know. An excuse that without which… well, we'd have to act… I don't know… just exactly as they expect us to, exactly like they want us to.

"But you can't live like that. You've gotta see it, take from it whatever you can, and do your utmost best to never, ever make the same mistake again – and live!

"That's what I'm trying to do right now, and I think I'm doing quite well, for a start…"

"You're doing great! You are great. You're a real friend, Frankie."

Cox made a face. "Are you taking the Mickey, or is that just your standard response to people who give a damn? You're so much like your sister, you know. Whenever Sydney says he cares, she replies (in words or not) that she doesn't, or like it's his fault for acting all caring-caring when he doesn't really care (when we all know he damn well does, mind you, and so does she) but that'd constitute her having to care, too, and she's not sure she wants to. Like she's so down on herself that she thinks that to care would be one more sin on that long, long list. For God sake, Lyle, I thought you got that shit! Don't play the same game as her: it's fucking not right!"

Lyle shook his head. "I'm sorry."

"If you're so sorry, don't do it again."

"It's hard."

"I know it's hard! But you don't even try!"

"I will, in future."

"Yeah, well, if you want to keep any friends at all, I strongly suggest it," Cox replied firmly. If he sounded angry, it was just that he was annoyed and that it came out as anger when it wasn't; when he was worried.

"Frankie, I wasn't taking the Mickey. I really meant it."

Cox looked away from him, to the door, but there was no-one there, listening in. "Thanks."

"That's okay."

Cox sighed. "I worry about her, too. Everybody says I'm Raines's lovechild; she's like my sister, too, in a way. You're not the only one she gets around totally rejecting, but, like I said earlier, I get your frustration (and I can only imagine how it must have been for her dad, if he'd even cared, because who could say, beyond the superficial, expected exterior), the one she really is rejecting is herself. She's not letting herself look back, she's not looking for the answers where she might be able to find them (from inside) because it's too painful, and, in the end, she's really betraying herself as well as anyone who might care, but she's not ready to take that plunge. All we can do is set the right example, show her that it's possible, and when she feels up to it, stand with her and say, 'Yeah, we're there for you, gal.'

"Sydney gets pretty spare about the whole situation, sometimes, and I've seen it. It's a hard, hard situation."

"Life is hard, though, huh?" Lyle said. "Sometimes, it's cool. Sometimes, it's not. And then sometimes it's really great. They're the chances we take, though, I guess. It can't always be great, even if we think it can, even if we tell ourselves, 'Right, I've got the perfect solution to this', or… or the perfect mindset, because something always comes along, someone always comes along who touches us, who we really connect with on some level, and then, when they're down or something bad happens to them, it hurts us when there's nothing we can do to bring them back up again, or to help. That's they way it goes."

"That's the way it goes," Cox agreed.

Fulton stepped into the coffee room. "I see you boys are really working hard. As usual."

"As usual," Lyle replied.

Fulton sighed.

"Hey, Cherice."

"Hey, what?"

"Could I have a hug?"

She rolled her eyes. "Oh God. Spare me." She sighed. "What do you think? Wha' do you know, it's Free Hugs Day. Get here then. I don't want Raines walking in and thinking he can sidle in on the action, too."

Cox smiled. That'd be pretty funny to see, admittedly.

"What about you, Frankie?" she asked.

"That's okay. I'll pass."

"No you won't," she said. "Maybe I want a hug from a cute, blue-eyed, thin as a whip MD."

Cox laughed. "Are you serious?"

"I don't know. I'm still thinking about it."

"Yeah, I can still get away then, if I make a quick exit?"


He sighed. "There's just no winning, is there?"

She walked over and hugged Lyle. "Is he scared of hugs, or what?" she asked.

"We don't talk about that sort of stuff."

"Ah. Well, pointers!"



"You're really nice to hug."

"That'd be on account of my extensive background in the field," she joked.

He laughed.

Cox crossed his arms. "Someone promised Whip Thin a hug, I believe."

Fulton rolled her eyes and walked over to give him a hug. "I have a plan," she said, afterwards. "To get Miss Parker to cheer up. Have you seen her today?"

"That's my fault," Lyle said. "I was assuming like I know her, as usual. Mmm. What about this plan?"

"We should play her favourite song in the elevator tomorrow."

"Does she have a favourite song?" Cox asked, genuinely intrigued.

"Maybe Can't Take My Eyes off You," Lyle replied, frowning.

"That song is so bad for me," Fulton said. "Whenever I hear it, I break into unhinged laughter. Although, it could go a long way in proving my insanity plea?"

"What's this for?" Lyle asked.

Cox shot him a look that said he shouldn't have asked, seriously.

"The usual," Fulton replied.

Raines, Cox mouthed. And added, Dead.

"I can't see that she'd be much cheered by such a gesture," Lyle said. "The slightest hint of someone recognising that she's an individual and really caring for her because she is, freaks her out immensely. She'd rather just be the Ice Queen with the player reputation no-one talks about but everyone knows about. There's no surer way to alienate her, than to show her you care, or that you've noticed her and seen that she's a person, too, like you are. I don't know… I'm not the best judge of character, but… it does seem fairly like something a stalker would do. She'd just freak out; either way it'd strike her as someone assuming some sort of intimacy with her that she didn't want."

"I'd think it was cute," Fulton replied. "I guess that's just me, though. Although, if I didn't know anyone, or I didn't really like anyone or think they liked me, and then, out of nowhere… yeah, it'd be pretty creepy!" She glanced at Cox.

"Any ideas?"

"Say 'hi'."

"You don't say 'hi' when you see her?"

"Sometimes, sometimes not. She doesn't like me much. I mean, she thinks I'm a child molester and a child killer, after all. Among my many assorted crimes."

"She trusts Jarod, doesn't she?" Fulton asked.

"Ha." Lyle frowned. "Well, in one way, but, in another, she doesn't trust him at all. He's a Pretender, and she's pretty smart, she gets that, sure, but that just means she knows fairly well what he's capable of and she's wary and often distrustful. As Jarod, yeah, I guess she thinks he's pretty great. He's done a lot of things she admires, a lot of stuff she'd like to be able to do herself and thinks a person should have a right to, like sticking up for himself and not letting other people get away with using him. But, to her mind, she's never had that luxury. But I guess she gets why he wants to be out there, making up for his bad karma or whatever you want to call it by doing good things to balance it out, I guess, but she'd just never do that. If she could get out, she'd stay away from doing anything that could land her right back in the centre of it all again. I don't know that she trusts that they're on exactly the same page; that he'd be trustworthy, really, or if he'd chose to help others over anyone that he knew he had a real chance with, if he put himself in it, all the way.

"I'm just going on… but I don't know that she trusts him all that much. She's been burnt by trusting people before; she's seen it happen to her mom, to her dad, to practically anyone she's ever cared for in the past."

"That brother of hers, then?"

"Are you kidding? She thinks Mira's right off his rocker. A real crackpot. Her brother, a sad kid, sure, but totally off the planet. She'd never voice it out loud, but she doesn't trust him, either. Not like she doesn't trust Jarod, though. She doesn't trust Mirage knows how to act as a… as a civilised person should, if that's the right way to put it. Because of his history, of Raines's indoctrination from such a young age, I guess she thinks it'd be virtually impossible for him to overcome that, as much as she wishes it for him, and as much as he might think it would be nice.

"I think that the only person she trusts is herself, and not because she thinks she's a really good person, but because she knows how she thinks and what she's capable of and what she's not."

Fulton frowned at Cox, then said to Lyle, "You really think about this stuff, don't you?"

"I'm an Empath, Cherice. We do. We have to."

"Clearly, but, please, remind me never to date an Empath."

"I wasn't aware that you dated," Cox said.

"Ha. Well, I think I'm ready to start getting out there again."

"Good luck, hey."

"Thank you. Ah-ha! I know what to do! Girls' night!"

"She'd only say 'no'," Lyle said.

"If it was Cherry, Plum, Midori, Merchant, Allison and I?"

"Yeah, even it was all of you."



"Anything's worth a try once, though," Fulton said.

"Sure. Give it a go. Go for it. You never know. Just don't expect too much."


Fulton, Cox and Lyle turned to look at the door, where Sydney had just walked into the room.

"Hi," Fulton and Cox said.

"Sydney," Lyle said.

"Actually, I was just talking to Cherice," Sydney said. "But it's good to catch up, Cox."

Cox frowned. "I reckon my break's up, in any case," he replied. "I'll see you all 'round. Fulton, Syd, Lyle."

"Tah," Fulton said, and joined Sydney by the fridge.

"Look after yourself," Lyle said to Cox, at the door, busying himself with reading the notices on the small noticeboard. Sydney had clearly heard from Miss Parker about their earlier altercation.

He sighed and nodded bye to Fulton. He had work to be doing, anyway. He shouldn't have been so trusting himself – especially about stuff that wasn't his – but sometimes he just had a bloody mouth and no-one around to put a hand over it. It wasn't even that he didn't want to (or didn't) trust Cox or Fulton, it was just that it was a bad move; it just put them in the line of fire along with them if anyone ever came after him or his sister for something.


It was well past time for her to have left for home, but Miss Parker stayed back to catch up on paperwork and maybe get ahead on some things she'd just find tedious later on. But really, the real reason she stayed was so she could go down to see Reagan later. According to Merchant, his usual knockoff time was 8:30, so she'd go to see him at 8:15.

She spent an hour working on her paperwork, before she gave up and dropped by Heathrow Lounge to check out the latest psychology journal to see if the Tool had had anything to say, or if his co-conspirator-in-arms, Randolph, had either, and, of course, for the coffee, too.

At ten past eight, she caught the elevator down to SL-11, and waited for Merchant to let her into Commons (it was past her regular knockoff time, and Commons was now locked down, except to anyone who frequently worked with the subjects, i.e. Merchant). Persephone came to let her in and informed her that Reagan had gone to bed already and that she'd go and check first that he wanted to take any visitors tonight. Apparently, he had the right to say 'no' if it wasn't his trainer or some such person.

After a minute or so, Merchant came back to tell her that it'd be alright if she popped in to have a chat for ten minutes or near that amount of time.

She walked off to Reagan's quarters, and waited for Merchant to swipe her card to open the door, then stepped inside. She'd been in this room before, so she didn't spent a lot of time looking around at the light green walls or the ridiculous volume of stuffed toys for a Centre subject, but walked directly to his bed and sat down on the edge of the mattress.

She heard the door close after her, and was glad that Merchant had allowed them that luxury, at least, though it was all being recorded anyway. The illusion that they were alone together was a nice one. At least, it would have been had Reagan not been in a mood.

"Look," she said in a no-nonsense voice without being harsh, "you've got it all wrong, Reagan. You're an Empath, and I'm not. I can't block anything from you. I haven't had the greatest life, and my job isn't all sunshine and daisies and lunches at expensive, ritzy restaurants, either. I'm trying to protect you from all of that! I'm not trying to push you in the direction of becoming like me, at all, I'm trying to do what I think is right." She watched him, waiting, but he didn't move. He was facing the wall and she'd given him the choice of acknowledging her or not (without getting in his face about it) by taking the side of the bed that he wasn't facing.

"That's crap," Reagan muttered, finally.

"How is that?" she asked, trying her hardest to be patient.

"I don't Empath you! I never have! You're my sister! I can see by the look in your eyes, or by your tone of voice what you're really feeling and what you're not saying. I don't need to Empath you to realise that. I'm still a person. But you're treating me like I'm a freak, or I'm sick or something; like I'd die or lose it if you came to see me and let me know you cared. Well, I'm not! I can protect myself, myself! Persephone trains me to block the psychic streaming safely. We're always training, and I get better every time! Don't give me this bull crap that you're trying to protect me – I have to protect myself, too! You're just protecting yourself, that's all! Because you think I'll turn out just like my father! You don't even take the time to get to know me, but you'll believe that so easily! It's so much fucking crap, Melody!"

Miss Parker swallowed her abrasive reply, and suppressed the urge to shoot to her feet and grab Reagan and shake him violently. She didn't even tell him that he was never to use that name to address her again. She said, instead, "Prove me wrong, Reagan. Go on then, prove me wrong. Nothing I've heard so far has said anything to me that you're different from him, at all. You bitch and moan at me about how you're hard-done-by by something I've done, or something you've construed me to have done (or thought, or felt) by your mad insight into my psyche, and you blame me, whilst maintaining that it can't possibly be any of your own fault because you're just so fucking great! Does that sound like anyone to you?"

She finally got to her feet. "Have a nice night," she said, and left him alone; to sleep, or stew over his thoughts, or hate her, or whatever. She'd given up caring (at least for the rest of the night).