Disclaimer: I don't own the Pretender or any of its characters.

.

Why she wanted to go this year, she didn't know. She'd meticulously swore off of all previous occasions. She supposed, it was something to do. And if some confrontation, by the natural progression of things, just happened to crop up, so be it. She'd just have to run with it and see where it ended. Normally, school reunions weren't her thing. Or maybe she was just feeling in an antagonistic mood, her life was shitty and she needed an outlet. Needed a clash to feel alive again, to reconnect with herself, a contrast between her 'old' self and her 'new' self; something to make her life feel 'lived'.

Why she'd decided to take Lyle was more of a mystery. Or maybe not. T-Corp hated him, she hated him, he pissed her off. So, basically, bringing the whiny brat along was a sure fire confrontation waiting to happen. The fact that it might have been a bit of payback for having to go to his stupid school reunion blanked in her mind.

She was happily imagining the cat fights already, when she glanced around at Lyle and smacked him in the arm, glaring a frown at him. They weren't in Kansas anymore, he could give it a bloody rest with the humming.

"Planes make me nervous," he told her.

"Sure, Dean! Weren't you the one who famously wanted to be a pilot 'when I grow up'," she snorted.

"That was Bobby, not me. Don't... confuse the issue."

"Shit, can't you just channel the little freak or something?"

"No, I can't. Bobby and I aren't friends anymore."

"Well, maybe if you quit killin' all his lady friends," Parker suggested.

"What lady friends?" Lyle asked, with suddenly wide eyes. "You do realise he's only-"

"Seventeen!" Parker cut him off, widening her own eyes. She laughed. "Next time Bobby pops 'round for the ole family reunion, I'll be sure an' hook 'im up with a nice girl."

"Lay offa my li'l brother, you!" Lyle warned her.

"Lay offa my ears, freak!"

Shaking his head with a dark look, he went back to humming Ida Maria's It's OK.

I so still am! Parker mouthed deviously, with an evil little smile. "Oh!" she said suddenly, finger pointed at the ceiling. "You're not a big Canada fan, are you? Yeah, that's right. Guys over there – they know what you're really like. You can't fool them. That must really mess up your little fun and games, the whole boy-next-door shite! Oops! Too bad. Shouldna done offed that girl, should ya?"

"That girl had a name," Lyle whispered darkly.

"Ooo, what's that then? Witch!" She cackled.

"She was your friend," Lyle said, thoroughly unimpressed with her flippant comments about someone she'd once called a friend.

"Oh my God, bitch! Ya think!" She glared at him. "Her name was Mimi, creep! An' you know what – you wasted her! Equals – I hate you! Don't turn your back on me, freak. I might get the irrepressible urge to fuckin' waste you!" she hissed, her eyes turning suddenly menacing.

"Try it, girlfriend," Lyle snapped. "It's your little friends who sicced that girl onto me. The way I see it, it's their fault she's dead. I was only doing my job."

Parker growled. "And she was only doing hers, bastard!"

"Did I say she wasn't? Contrary to popular belief, I don't hate her. I don't resent her for making me out to be a fool. Goodness knows I set myself up for it, right from the start. Buying into this shit. I don't hate her. She always did the right thing by me. She could have pulled some crazy shit, to try and get out of her fate. She could have threatened to hurt our kid. She didn't do anything like that. But she did make a mistake. And so did I. She mistook me for a human being, underneath. She believed in me. I was an idiot. The company said 'get it done' and I didn't give a second thought to who I was, underneath. If they ever got the impression that they owned me, I can see why they did. That was exactly how I acted. Okay, so these guys don't mind me being a fucked-up asshole. In fact, they like it. Let's go with that, babe!" He looked away from Parker. "I don't hate her."

"Nice try, loser," Parker muttered, "but I'm not that easily taken in."

"Yeah. That's what you think," Lyle replied. "I used to think the same thing you do now, but it's nothing but a lie we tell ourselves. It's not at all the truth."

"The truth can be bent," Parker told him.

"No, not really."

"Oh, don't be naive!"

"Not naive. Tired."

She laughed. "You know, if you're depressed, you should really talk to someone."

"Ha, ha."

She laughed again. What a loser! "Cheer up," she told him, "all girls'. Hel-lo – ladies!" She hummed Put Your Records On, smiling brightly. She was looking forward to the reunion. If he felt like it, he could just Empath her and brighten up.

.

"Jessica!"

"Melody!"

Parker held out her hand for her name tag. Jessica handed it over, glaring questioningly at Lyle. "You brought the..."

"My brother," Parker finished for her.

"Sociopath!" Jessica whispered, sharing a meaningful look with Parker. She smiled condescendingly at Lyle, then handed him his name tag.

"Have fun, lovies!"

"Oh, trust me!" Parker told her, throwing back a hand, diva-style, "Ah aim to!"

Jessica's eyes widened – she'd just remembered something – then her she smiled for real. Gleefully so. "M's here!" she whispered. Making talking marks with her fingers: "Supposed M. We all know she's," she drew a cross over her heart, dead.

Parker tried not to leap at her and slap her across the face. Actually managed it. Yeah, no need to bloody remind her of that little detail!

"Unless...!" Jessica gasped. "The Mysterious Healer's mysteriously in love with her!" She laughed.

"Ha, ha," Parker muttered darkly, and walked off.

"Oops," Jessica whispered.

Parker scowled, turning to Lyle and punching him in the arm. "Call yourself a fuckin' Empath!" she growled.

He showed her his name tag. "I don't even know what this says," he told her, slightly annoyed.

Lisle, it read.

She rolled her eyes. "Oh, for God's sake!"

"I'm not Leslie," Lyle went on.

"It doesn't say Leslie, idiot."

"Then what does it say?"

"Let's pretend for a minute that you were born with a brain – and the aliens didn't mysteriously abduct it two seconds later!"

He smiled, for a moment, then went back to frowning. He shook his head. Still not getting it, apparently.

She shook her head back. "Suck it up, Les!" she snapped, and walked off.

He looked around him for a little help, but nobody was looking at him. He went off after Parker. "What's wrong?" he asked her. "I thought you were looking forward to this."

She mock laughed. Her eyes turned deadly and she made a mock stabbing motion into her heart.

He shook his head. Sorry, wasn't getting it.

She snapped a finger close to his ear. "Wake up, David!" she snapped angrily.

"In English, please," he returned quietly.

"Argh!" she cried suddenly, eyes widening, pointing across the room. "Argh!"

Lyle looked away from her, in the other direction, obviously uncomfortable with her strange antics and her strange 'friends'.

Parker grabbed his arm and stared meaningfully at him. "So says Jess, an old friend of ours has decided to make a guest appearance tonight."

"Jarod?" Lyle asked, with a frown, suddenly not as uncomfortable. Jarod, he knew. "Bit keen, in he?"

Parker made a face. "I swear we're not related," she muttered dirtily.

Lyle smiled, sure he'd got it this time. "Mira!"

Parker shook her head in disgust. "Two words: head check!"

He looked around them again. "Some help?"

"MIMI!" she growled furiously.

"My favourite girl!"

"Your dead girl," she intoned. She shook her head. What the Hell was wrong with him? "Tell me somethin', dumb ass: Has the Tower been messing with your meds?"

"No. They don't call it 'messing'."

"In other words – yeh!"

"No."

"Shut your fuckin' mouth!" she snapped, pointing a finger at him sharply. "Mimi's dead!" she growled.

"I remember," Lyle replied.

"So who's this idiot pretending to be her?" Parker growled.

He shook his head. "Dunno."

"You think we could maybe – go see!"

"Yeh."

"You gonna behave yourself?"

"Don't I always?"

She laughed. "Just remember: I have a gun!"

"I have a good memory."

"You really don't," she muttered darkly, moving away, into the crowd. Knowing Mimi, if this woman knew anything about her, she'd be hanging out at the drinks and party food table. She headed that way.

.

"Argh – her!"

Parker froze and turned to Lyle, glaring at him.

He nodded towards a redhead sporting a bored expression, over by the refreshments tables.

Parker narrowed her eyes, trying to jog her memory. She glared at Lyle, who was suddenly smiling. "A friend?" she queried.

He shook his head, still smiling far too happily.

The redhead spied them and walked over. "Quit leering at me like that, Demented!" she told Lyle. "It's not becoming." She nodded to Parker. "Miss Parker."

"You're not Mimi," Parker growled, ready for a fight.

"Evidently," the redhead replied. She made a face, pointedly ignoring Lyle. "Oh, stop it!" she said, never once looking his way. "My name's not Chumpy, you rabid animal! No, you can't have me. For dinner, or otherwise."

"Are you sure? Cos I-"

"Cos you can what?" she snapped, finally turning to glance at him. "Oh, you're a real charmer, just give you a chance? Pardon me for sayin' so, but I think we all know how charmin' you can really be."

"Why are you here," Lyle asked, dropping the smile and glaring at her, "masquerading as someone you're clearly not? And believe you me, I would remember! Lookin' for trouble, are you?"

"No, I think I found it," she snapped. "That'd be you!"

"What's your issue with my woman, girly?" he growled.

"'Your woman'!" she laughed incredulously.

Parker put a hand up and stepped in between them. "Why are you here, Not Chumpy?"

The redhead smiled. "Oh, you don't know who I am, do you?" She laughed.

Parker glanced at Lyle. "Who is she?"

He didn't say anything. He was smiling again, in a much creepier way than before, in Parker's opinion.

"Who are you?" she demanded, rounding on the redhead again.

The other woman held out her hand for Parker to shake, revealing the small sun tattoo on the inside of her wrist, in doing so. Just like Mimi's.

Parker growled silently. "She's all yours!" she told Lyle coldly, and walked off.

"Wait! Just... wait!" the redhead called after her. "I'll... I'll tell you. Just don't leave me alone with this monster."

Parker stopped but didn't turn around.

"Please!"

Suppressing a growl, Parker whipped back around and stalked back over to the woman. "Who are you?" she scowled darkly. "Last chance! You fuck me around again, I look the other way when Psycho decides it's time for snackies!"

"Okay," the woman whispered shakily. "My name's Emily. Yes, as in Jarod's sister. I'm... the sister."

"What are you doing here, Emily?" Parker scowled.

"What I usually do," she replied quietly. "Landing myself in a whole lot of trouble. Come on, you know I'm a reporter! It's... what we do."

"But why come here, pretending to be someone who's dead? I don't get it, frankly. Are you hoping to wind up dead? Or worse!"

"I just... want answers."

"You're just a crazy fucking bitch!" Parker snarled. "Answers to what?"

"To who the Mysterious Healer is," Emily admitted quietly.

"Don't we all!" Parker scowled. "Take it from me, Red, you're not going to find your answers snooping around here, playing Dead Mediator Girl. You're gonna find yourself a lot of unhappy, that's all you're gonna find."

"M... I swear I didn't know she was a Mediator!" Emily told her a little desperately.

"What the fuck did you think she was then, Little Miss Reporter?" Parker snapped unsympathetically.

"I... I don't know. I guess I hadn't really thought about that. Honestly, I... I wasn't sure I even believed in Mediators."

"But you do now?" Parker laughed.

"I don't know. All I know is – this lot does! I fucked up, okay! You're not going to..."

"Just leave you here to fend for yourself?" Parker asked coldly. "I am! What Lyle does is up to him." With that, she turned on her heel and walked off. She didn't stop this time.

Emily looked at Lyle for help.

"Drop the puppy dog look," he snapped irritably. "You remind me of someone's kid sister, and that's really... not cute. Kids just don't do it for me." He rolled his eyes, grabbing her hand. "Fine. I'll hold your hand."

"I don't want you to hold my hand," she said. "I want to throw up."

"You better not throw up on me," he told her seriously. "And if this is some kind of set up between you two, so my sister can go off and have a merry old chat with your brother, you better watch out I don't catch you out, girly! Or, trust me, there will be Hell to pay." He frowned, and made a face. "What do you mean you want to throw up? You didn't go and get yourself knocked up, did you?"

She laughed bitterly. "Oh, sure, with you lot hanging around, fucking my life up for me just when I think I might get to have one after all!"

He sighed, then shook his head. "The Mysterious Healer? Are you kidding me, girl?"

"Stop calling me 'girl'!"

"You are a girl. Get over it!"

"No I'm not – I'm a woman!"

He laughed, then suddenly shut up. "Are you... making me an offer?" he asked, slightly wary of her, all of a sudden.

"Oh, I would be, wouldn't I?" she replied condescendingly. "Making you an offer!" She laughed silently.

"Well I'm a... guy."

She sighed heavily. "Ohw, I think I need to throw up now."

"If Parker can-"

"Are you trying to make me puke!" Emily asked, thoroughly off put. "That is so not what's happening! As if Jarod would come here – of all places – just when his affiliation with your lot's ended!"

"I don't see why not," Lyle replied.

"Wake up!" Emily laughed. "He doesn't want anything to do with any of you! None of you! Can't you get that into your-" She scowled angrily.

"Sorry, no. I can't. Aliens stole my brain," he told her.

"Pardon me?"

He narrowed his eyes in a conspiratorial manner. "Aliens!"

"You're a bloody alien!" she snapped.

"I wish!"

"Yeah, you do," she scowled.

He smiled at her.

"Give it a rest with the smiley face, E.T.!"

"Can't. I just remembered your favourite type of romance novels."

She pulled her hand out of his quickly, with wide eyes. "If you'll excuse me, I'm going to vomit! Don't follow me, or it won't be pretty!" She walked off, then, seeing that he was following her, stopped and pointed a finger at him. "Did you just hear me say 'don't', or are you deaf as well as illiterate?"

"I heard you. I'm just worried about how safe you'll be, in there on your own, with all of those creepy T-Corp folk lurking around."

"You're the one lurking around!" she snapped.

He frowned. "Say, if my sister is secretly rendezvousing with your brother, wouldn't you want to keep me around for as long as possible? Away from them?"

"If she was!" Emily emphasised. "Which she isn't!"

"How do you know? Maybe Parker and Jarod set this up together, without telling you? Hmm? I bet that thought never even crossed your mind, Lois?"

"Not at all," she told him.

He sighed. "Can I come with you anyway? These T-Corp folk really give me the creepy crawlies?"

"No! People will think we're- Ugh! I can't even think about it without seriously gagging!"

"You're a nice... woman. Compassionate and all that... junk."

"Not that compassionate, trust me," she told him.

"Well, can't you just Pretend you are?"

"Not a Pretender, sorry!"

"Oh, come on! Parker and Jarod could be having a really serious conversation about... stuff. And Parker hardly ever gets to have serious conversations with people who aren't trying to take advantage of her in some way. What do you say we give 'em a break for once?"

Emily laughed. "Sure! Sure, and like you're not just hoping they're having some serious something else... involving making babies! Do you really think I'd be so stupid as to buy into that, Lyle? Somehow, I don't really like the idea of my nieces or nephews getting stolen by some creepy corporation and ending up someone's experimental chew toy for the rest of their natural lives – and then some!"

"Damn, she's onto me!" Lyle laughed. "You ain't as harebrained as you look, girl!"

"It's not funny!" Emily growled.

"To you, maybe," he replied. "Us aliens have a different way of looking at it."

She laughed falsely and was just in the middle of formulating some angry remark to spit back at him when, suddenly, he was right there, in front of her. He drew her into his arms and randomly started to sing Melody Gardot's One Day, leading her along with him in a slow waltz.

She begrudgingly played along until he said, "Class Seven Empaths."

"I'll bet," she muttered, frowning after a group of people who'd passed them a while ago. She kinda noticed how most everyone else kept out of their way, too, or how a conversation would suddenly dry up at the sight of them. Apparently they were that obvious.

"Security," Lyle replied.

That explains that, Emily thought. "What did you grab me for?" she asked, slightly annoyed. "Do I look that suspicious?"

"As an ex-Mediator come back from the dead, or as Reporter Girl making like Zombie Chick?"

She laughed.

"Think about it, Emily! If they believe you, you're their one link to the Mysterious Healer. If they don't, you're a pain-in-the-ass they'd just as soon as see disappear. Probably a Centre set up. Which, trust me, doesn't make it better. You're on their turf now; you're fair game." He sighed. "They can't tell you anything about the Mysterious Healer, Emily. They don't know any more than the Centre does. Which, if anything, is more speculation that anything, and very, very scant, at that."

"Do you know anything about the Mysterious Healer?" she asked boldly.

"Is there any particular reason for me to, Emily?"

"I don't know. Is there?"

"I don't think so," he said.

"Your sister was Healed by he or she. Your sister's best friend. Are you seeing a pattern here?"

"No," he replied.

"You! You are the common denominator here," she whispered.

He stopped dancing. "So? I don't know any Healers, if that's what you think. I mean, yeah, sure, I know some, but we're not great friends."

"You're the alien," she reminded him.

He laughed. "Oh, in that case, it's probably Syd!"

"I'm totally seeing that!"

"He's an alien, he cares about Parker, he has the Anomaly."

"He's not an alien anymore! And so what if he cares about Miss Parker? He's known her all her life. Why wouldn't he care about her?"

"Catherine and he were close. Confidantes. Friends, even. How do you know he's not our uncle? Or our dad?"

"Because Raines is, Dumbo!"

"So says Raines, and the company – AKA, a bunch of lying, scheming child-stealing creeps! Yeah, I'd so believe that!"

"They also said you're Miss Parker's twin," Emily challenged.

"So they did," Lyle agreed. He sighed. "But if I'm not, then the Mysterious Healer's got shit all to do with me, really." He shook his head. "The Mysterious Healer Healed you. Jarod's sister. Which brings us back to Sydney."

"And you."

He smiled, shaking his head.

Emily kept her eyes locked to his.

"Okay, sure. If you want to look at it from that angle. Look, I'm not saying it's Sydney. In fact, I can't think of anyone less likely to be the Mysterious Healer. All I'm saying is – it could be anyone. How would we know, really?"

Emily was silent.

"I'm sorry," he told her honestly.

.

"Why are they just staring at each other like that?" Jarod asked.

"Why do you think?" Parker returned.

Comprehension dawned in Jarod's eyes. And fear. "He's trying to mess with her mind! We have to do something, Parker!"

Parker shot him a funny look. "And what's option b?" she asked calmly.

"He's thinking it could be fun to kill her!"

"He's still a human being, Jarod," Parker told him. "Not everything has to be about murder and mayhem."

Jarod frowned at her suddenly.

"Do you remember when he threw her out that window?" she asked him.

He scowled darkly. "Vividly."

"Well, he knows how to use a gun. Why not just shoot her?"

"Then it would hardly look like a suicide, would it?" he shot. "And, in the sick pleasure stakes, I'm sure it would be slightly less pleasurable."

"He's an Empath. Shooting her would have been-"

"He's an Empath and a Reaper!" Jarod growled. "You know as well as I do he enjoys tormenting, torturing and killing women!"

"Then why didn't he? Why wait for the company to give the say-so?"

Jarod shook his head. "She's not his type," he scowled.

"And you really think that will have changed since then?" she asked.

"He's bored!"

"That isn't why he kills those women, Jarod," Parker told him, with a heavy sigh. "In fact, that's probably the last reason he does. Think of everything he can do. He's not stupid, Jarod. If he's bored, he can do anything. Why does it have to be murder? It's not about boredom, it's about disconnection. Or the opposite, so to speak." She sighed. "But I don't think he wants to kill Emily."

Jarod shook his head, annoyed with what he saw as her deliberate ignorance.

"Come on! He lets her challenge him. He even seems to actively encourage it. She goes to leave, he just has to say something to get her to stay. Immediately, he makes sure he gets on her nerves. He doesn't even pretend to make nice, maybe try to chat her up. If he does, he always makes it a joke. Isn't it obvious to you?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," Jarod told her.

"He likes her."

Jarod laughed. If that wasn't just the most ridiculous thing he'd ever heard, let alone coming from her, he didn't know what was!

Parker sighed. "You don't see it, huh?"

"I don't believe it!" Jarod told her vehemently.

"I do. I can't help it. I'm sorry. I wish I saw another option here, but I don't. I'm trying..."

"They don't even know each other!"

Parker nodded. "They do. She's Mimi Cooper. They know each other!"

"I don't believe it!"

"You said."

"I won't believe it, Parker!"

"That's fine, but don't you see what's going on here? Don't you see why she came here? She wants to know about the Mysterious Healer, she said. Who do you know who'd be sick enough to need a Healer, but not just any Healer – the Mysterious Healer?"

"No-one."

Parker nodded. "Emily does."

He shook his head. "Who?"

"Lyle," she said simply.

Jarod laughed.

"You see now, don't you?" Parker asked. "They mean something to each other, and no matter how they try to hide it, it's still there. He knew she'd been Healed by the Mysterious Healer before. He was taking a big chance, but it didn't matter. He couldn't just let her escape; he couldn't risk them discovering her true identity. If there was any hesitation on his part, it wouldn't have been for long. In his mind, he had no other choice. It wasn't the rightest options, but it was the best, under the circumstance."

"No. I don't buy it," Jarod said.

"I'm not asking that you do, Jarod. I'm just telling you what I see. Of course, I could be completely wrong."

"Mimi Cooper was your best friend, Parker! How could you not know if it was her or not?"

"For a long time, I denied the truth, Jarod. I couldn't handle what had happened at that place, so I just blanked it out, made it into something out of a story I'd read. Mimi knew I'd find it hard to cope. She told me it had just been a story. She knew I'd never leave her if I believed she'd lived, she'd been Healed. And she couldn't stand the thought of them hurting me any more. I loved her, Jarod. So, so much. But then I lost her." She ran a hand through her hair.

"But, even then, losing her was better than the alternative. Than knowing I'd left her behind, left her there! My mind is conflicted in so many, many ways, Jarod. Especially when it comes to Mimi. She was like my sister. She was my best friend. She's like my daughter, my mother. Catherine abandoned me, however you choose to look at it. I don't think I can handle having abandoned someone I'd cared so completely for." She held out her hand. It was shaking. "Just thinking about it makes me want to be sick to my stomach. It's not just you, Jarod, who has lost someone dear to him. And I know you know that. I'm in no way having a go at you. We all have. Time and time again. We lose and we lose again. That does something to a person. Robs them of something. Look at Raines. He's pretty fucked up, right. You think he doesn't feel hurt or pain. Oh, he does! Just as much as any of us. But what he takes out of it is not what you take out of it; his values aren't your values. He's still human, he still feels. And so does Lyle."

She sighed. "It sucks, I know. But that's how it is."

"So you don't know if Emily is Mimi or not?"

"She is," Parker replied. "It just took me a while to realise it, to accept that she was. But, yes, she is."

Jarod got a disgusted look. "How can she trust him?"

"We don't know that she does, Jarod," Parker told him. "I cared about Daddy. That doesn't mean I trusted him. I let him get away with a lot, I know, but I knew what we was like, in reality. I knew I couldn't trust him one hundred percent.

"She's not a stupid girl, Jarod. But she's not without feelings, either."

"I have to do something!" Jarod declared.

"Do what?" Parker asked. "We don't know how things turn out, in the end. If anyone knows Lyle, it's Emily. Out of all of us, I'll be willing to bet she's the one who knows more about him than any of us, even Raines; even the Tower. She mightn't even have told him about everything she knows. She's a Mediator. A trained Mediator. And yes, he's an Empath, but he's equally as likely not to know that she's holding out on him. He could be too close to see the truth. We both know he's not foolproof. He's mucked up before. More times than either of us know.

"I don't think Emily would willing assist him in hurting anyone, least of all anyone she cared about or loved. She's not going to betray you for him, Jarod. For all we know, the way she sees it, he wouldn't want her to, either. He cares about her for the person she is. When you care about a Mediator, you can't expect to be able to change them into something that they aren't. You can influence them, you can't force them to change. And Mimi has some pretty strong views about things, Jarod. About how the world should be, and how human beings should conduct themselves.

"She's not a bad person, Jarod. She never could be."

"But she cares about him!" Jarod spat angrily.

"You know better than anyone that she hasn't stopped trying to expose him for what he did to those girls, to see that they get justice. Don't be so harsh on her, Jarod. We've all got to love someone. And we can't always choose who that is."

"If it's a serial killer – we can!" Jarod growled.

"You say that now, but you've never fallen in love with one," Parker said simply.

"You know that's a cop out," Jarod told her, as she walked away.

She smiled to herself. Yeah, probably.

"Hey! Try to enjoy yourself tonight," he called after her.

She threw a hand up. "Will do."

I will fight, Jarod thought. I will make Emily see that that sociopath isn't her only option. I won't just let him do this to us, to my sister!

.

"Hey, Mels!"

Parker paused, turned back to face the woman who'd just spoken. Jessica. Ugh! "Jessica," she acknowledged.

"Who is she, do you think? You've spoken with her. You think she's Centre?"

Parker shook her head. "No. If you're asking me, I think she's a reporter. She figured out there was some link between Lyle and Mimi and she thinks that might just be her ticket to get closer to him. Could be, she's working for the Triumvirate. Best to stay out of it, I think. If she is with the Triumvirate, I personally wish her all the best."

Jessica glanced across the room, in Emily's direction. "You think so? The Triumvirate?"

Parker shrugged a shoulder. "Who can say? I'm no Empath."

Jessica sighed. "Well, if she is, I hope the creep gets what's coming to him." She looked at Parker, for a moment.

"I couldn't care less what happens to the bastard," Parker told her. "He's an asshole, no matter how you look at it. He's asking for it. He doesn't win any Brownie points with me, just for being my brother."

Jessica nodded. "You're not so bad, you know, for one of them."

Parker snorted, rolling her eyes. "Goodbye, Jessica."

Jessica nodded and walked away, leaving Parker to her own business. Fair was fair.

.

"Thank goodness!" Emily cried, when she returned, a glass of red wine in hand. "Honestly, I don't know how you stand him! He's a terror!"

"What did he say to you?" Parker asked casually, taking a sip of her wine.

"It's more what he hasn't said. He keeps looking at me with those shifty eyes. It's unnerving."

"Maybe I think you're kinda cute, for a... redhead," Lyle replied.

Emily shook her head at him. She wouldn't believe that, not in a million years!

"I don't have shifty eyes, do I, sis?" Lyle asked Parker.

She nodded wordlessly.

"Personal opinion," he said merely.

Parker took a seat at the table with them, grabbing the menu and giving it the once over. Well, she knew what she was having.

A young woman came over and asked them something. Parker frowned, wondering what she'd said, but Lyle replied back in whatever language she'd spoken to them in, and she left. "What was that about?" Parker asked.

"She asked if any of us might have seen her husband around. Apparently, he's avoiding her."

"I didn't hear you asking if either of us had seen him," Parker replied, annoyed.

"I saw him earlier."

"And she doesn't speak English? Or French? How do we know what you say she asked was what she really asked! What the Hell were you speaking anyway?" Parker glared at him, waiting for his answer.

"It was T-Corp speak," Emily supplied.

Parker frowned at her.

"I don't know what she said, unfortunately," Emily added. "I just... vaguely recognised it."

"Well, there you go," Lyle said.

Emily shot him an annoyed look.

"I'm sick of you!" Parker snapped, glaring at Lyle again. "Can't you just fuck off!"

"Oh, would you like me to?" he asked.

"Very fucking much!" she growled.

Emily frowned at her, perhaps wondering why she'd want to fuck Lyle off when he had people issues. Wouldn't it be best if someone was around to watch him?

"If that's what you want," Lyle replied, standing up.

Emily jumped to her feet. "Excuse me, but I think it would be best for all involved if we stuck together tonight."

Parker scoffed, not looking at either of them.

Lyle rolled his eyes. Yeah, that was what Parker thought. "Do what you want, Mimi," he told Emily, "but I'm not sticking around to have her insulting me all evening because she's in a shitty mood because Jarod rejected her advances."

"I told you," Emily scowled, "she wasn't meeting my brother!"

"Yeah, and who's the Empath here, doll?" Lyle snapped back. He laughed, shaking his head. "Oh, so now you've got nothing smart to say!"

Emily glared at him. "You are so full of yourself!" she growled.

"I know," he snapped scathingly, and walked off.

She glanced at Parker for help. What did she do? Did she let the psycho go off in a bad mood? What if he killed someone or some shit?

Lyle promptly found a table with some little kids and sat down with them, starting a conversation in T-Corp speak.

Emily sighed heavily, whispered, "Sorry, Mel!" and walked off to see what trouble Lyle was getting himself into now. If he was trying to annoy T-Corp, making nice with their kids was the fastest way to do it. Everyone knew the Centre couldn't be trusted with kids. They always made out they were so trustworthy, then one day you woke up in the middle of the night and discovered your kids missing.

By the time she got over there, the kids were already chatting to Lyle like they'd known him forever and were best friends. Emily had a bad feeling about Lyle's little plan but she didn't really know what to say to him to get him to leave the kids alone. They seemed to like having an adult who actually listened to them and talked to them as though their comments meant something. Which presented a problem. How was she going to drag Lyle away from the kids without earning herself a handful of dirty glares, or worse. Who knew what they were? Empaths, Reapers, Healers, ISPs, Pretenders? She couldn't tell. They were dressed normally, not in uniform.

"Hon," she interrupted, "we need to talk. I don't appreciate you just running off when I'm trying to tell you something important. Stop acting like a child, for a change."

Nothing happened, apart from a frown from Lyle. The kids didn't even stop talking. Didn't they know English?

"Honey!" she tried again.

A man walked over and said something to Lyle in T-Corp speak. Rather angrily, Emily thought. The kids shot the man an annoyed look, but he ignored them. The man suddenly decided to notice Emily. "If you would kindly ask your partner to move on, ma'am," he said.

She nodded, embarrassment warming her cheeks.

Lyle shook his head. "What's wrong with me talking to them?" he challenged the man, who growled, making Emily jump.

Oh, cripes! A Reaper.

The man turned Reaper, flashing his teeth and black claws.

The children spoke up suddenly, but the man silenced them with a look.

Lyle stood up, never taking his eyes from the man's suddenly yellow eyes. "Why can't they talk to me?"

The man scowled, and said in a deep, growling voice, "We don't like enemy corporations putting false ideas into the minds of our young! Or Pretending to be their friends!" he growled, stressing the word 'pretending'.

"I wasn't putting false idea into their minds. Or pretending to be their friend," Lyle told him blankly. "I was merely talking with them."

"Leave!" the man growled darkly, pointing a finger in the direction of the exit.

"Why should I?" Lyle asked. "I wasn't doing anything wrong."

"Lyle, don't be so argumentative," Emily said. "Let's just go."

Lyle shook his head. "No." Glaring at the man suddenly, he said, "You don't get to decide who they do and don't talk to! They're human beings, not toys! They can make up their own minds!"

The children weren't saying anything, Emily noticed. As though they knew Lyle had gone too far.

The Reaper growled unearthly.

"You know what," Lyle told him, "forget it. You're a jerk. Kids, enjoy your evening." He walked over to Emily, looking very unhappy.

"Can we go now?" Emily asked. She sighed, seeing his glare, and started off in the direction of the exit.

The Reaper watched them the entire time.

"Thanks for that," Emily told Lyle, once they'd been shown out.

"They're as bad as the Centre, that lot!" he growled.

"Oh, come on!" she shouted suddenly. She'd had enough. "Are you forgetting that, just a few decades ago, the Centre was perfectly content to wipe eighty percent of them off the face of the planet – men, women, and children!"

"That was not me!" he snapped back hotly.

"Yeah! It wasn't you! So that makes it okay!"

"That isn't what I said!" he growled.

She shook her head. "I don't see you doing anything to stop your buddies from developing that same virus into a bioweapon! You just don't care! That's the truth, isn't it! The real truth! It doesn't concern you – so you don't care!" Lyle looked really pissed off, by now, but she just didn't care. "I don't know how you even had the audacity to come here tonight! You have no right! You and your filthy little pals, the Centre!" She laughed. "You're disgusting! You know that the upgrades kill people unnecessarily, but do you say anything? No! You keep your stupid, little mouth shut because what's it got to do with you? You're not even human! You're a fucking robot! One of their funny little toys!" She laughed again, so fucking amused, tears coming to her eyes.

"And you're entitled to your opinions," Lyle told her, forcing himself to remain calm, "but, in truth, what do you really know? Very little, I think."

Her eyes flashed angrily and she raised a hand to slap him.

He caught her wrist and growled. "Back off, Russell!"

"You back off!" she yelled. "You've had years to get Mel out of that place! To get out yourself! But the truth is, you just don't care! You enjoy fucking around with people's lives! It's all such a big joke to you!" Tears poured down her face suddenly and her voice shook. "You're not human!" she whispered. She didn't say anymore. She turned and walked away.

Lyle didn't follow her; merely shook his head and laughed. He sat down on the step and fell silent. Emily didn't come back. A moment or two later, he started to cry. Why did he always do this? Why did he always push away the people who cared about him the most? What was wrong with him?

.

After Lyle had left, Parker had a ball. A couple of guys even asked her to dance. Jessica returned and asked if she'd like to join her and a couple of 'gals' for drinks at the bar. Parker agreed, reluctantly, and they ended up talking about some pretty funny stuff, including guys. Jessica was married. Had been four times. Lorraine was engaged to a politician. The guy could be overbearing, at times, but he had money and influence. Ardor was happily married, and had been for twelve years. All eyes turned to Parker.

No such luck, she told them. They asked about Mimi next, predictably. Was she really Mimi? (Jessica kept their earlier conversation to herself.) "You know," Parker told them, "the girl's just changed so much, which, I realise – shit, she's a woman now – shit happens. I have no fuckin' idea, to be honest!" She laughed, and the other women laughed along with her.

"I hardly recognise my daughter from the little girl she was in those early days," Ardor shared, "and she's barely fourteen! It's true! They do change!"

"Our Mi did like to sing, though, didn't she?" Jessica remembered. "You think she's still got a bit of that in her, tucked away somewhere?"

"Look, I mean no disrespect, of course," Lorraine spoke up, "but Empaths just mess things up. Always have, always will. It's their way, I suppose. Whether or not they mean for it to happen, it just does!"

Parker laughed. "Oh, they mean it! Lyle does, in any case! He's a real piece of work."

"Poor Mi," Ardor lamented, shaking her head. "She was... really something, back in the old days. She had such potential. Pity. Poor girl."

"He's a Reaper, as well, is he?" Lorraine asked, and Parker nodded. "How's that work then? Messily, I imagine. I mean, talk about conflicted."

"He's not conflicted," Parker told her, "he's just nasty. Trust me!"

"Reapers can be, darl," Lorraine agreed. "Unfortunately. Some o' them are handsome boys – pity about the short fuses, though."

Parker laughed hysterically.

Jessica rubbed her back, worried that Lorraine was barking up the wrong tree. Perhaps it was time to change the subject. She shared a glance with Lorraine silently.

Lorraine didn't take the hint, apparently. "He's not with anyone at the moment, is he?"

"You're not his type," Parker replied.

"Oh," Lorraine turned her head, lifting her chin airily, "you never know. There's always a first for everything," she told Parker.

Jessica laughed pointedly, pretending Lorraine's words were all in good fun, really. "Lorra! He's with Mimi. You know that!"

"Didn't look like it to me, last time I saw him," Lorraine defended herself. "I've a feeling that gal dropped his ass." She grinned. "More for me!"

Jessica dropped the friendly look from her face and scowled openly. "Look, Lorra, he's Mel's brother. Have some control!"

Lorraine laughed girlishly, waving a hand at her. "Oh, but you know I'm not known for my control, dearie!" she cooed sweetly back at the other woman.

"Let's just cool it, girls," Ardor suggested.

All humour died in Lorraine's eyes. "I forgot, your first husband was an Empath, wasn't he, Jessi? Pity he died. He was good-looking, too."

Jessica's eyes developed a questionable shine.

"You are unfathomable!" Ardor told Lorraine in disapproval.

"Mel," Jarod interrupted, appearing at Parker's side. It was time to say "goodnight", he had a feeling.

Jessica nodded thankfully and ignored Lorraine, ordering herself another shot of brandy before turning to Parker. "Goodnight, Parker."

"Nnn!" Parker waved a hand at her dismissively, frowning at Jarod as though she didn't know who he was. Possibly. She stood up and started to step in his direction, then she suddenly changed her mind and lunged at Lorraine, grabbing her by the front of her blouse. "Lay off of my baby brother!" she growled, doing a good job of imitating the Reaper from earlier.

Lorraine laughed in her face, as airily as ever. Did she actually think her big sister schtick was threatening?

Jarod pulled Parker back from the other woman. "She doesn't mean anything by it, Mel," he told her. "She's just trying to push your buttons." He frowned at Lorraine in annoyance. By the way, not funny!

Lorraine got to her feet. "Oh, I mean something by it, alright!" she declared.

"Lorraine, don't you think you're taking this whole business just a little too far?" Ardor asked reasonably.

"Shut up, Ardor!" Lorraine snapped.

Parker growled at Lorraine, but Jarod got a good hold on her arm, making sure she didn't go anywhere, least of all near the other woman.

"She's pressing your buttons," he told Parker stiffly. "I think it's time we left. Tuh-tah, ladies."

Ardor raised a hand in a friendly gesture, but Lorraine remained silent, standing her ground and smiling at Parker.

"'Night, girl," Jessica told Parker, clapping a hand on her arm. "Go get some shut eye, and forget about that bitch. She does it for the kicks. She's an ass, but she probably ain't gonna change any time soon."

"Touch my brother, bitch, and I will kill you!" Parker hissed meanly, her eyes glinting darkly.

Lorraine smiled at her. "Jealous much, bitch! God, you're such a control freak! What are you two, together or something! How gross!" She tossed her head and grinned all the more. "Might be able to fix that, though."

Jarod had to hold Parker back from ripping shreds off the other woman.

"Just go!" Ardor told Jarod.

.

"She's just talking," Jarod told Parker, as they were riding up to her room later, in the elevator.

Parker laughed in his face. "She ain't just talkin', you blind fool!" she spat.

"And you've had too much to drink," Jarod reported.

She swatted a hand in the direction of his face. He easily stepped back, out of her reach. He didn't try to talk to her again until the elevator arrived on her floor.

She marched off angrily down the hallway, in the vague direction of her room, Jarod following but keeping two steps behind her in case she suddenly whipped around and decided to wallop him one.

She was really pissed about that Lorraine woman's comments, he thought, though he didn't know why. She'd told him enough times that she didn't believe Lyle was really her twin. For a moment, it struck him that it might have had something to do with the fact that he was her best friend's guy, then he pushed the thought away. If she couldn't see that Lyle was insane, and all wrong for her old friend, then she was either blind, or very stupid. The guy was a serial killer!

A couple of minutes later, they arrived at Parker's hotel room. Jarod tried to take the key card off her to help her out with the door, but she just pushed him away each time.

He sighed and let her play with the thing herself. If she wanted to be obstinate, she could have fun with the thing for as long as she pleased.

"You're doing it the wrong way, sis," Lyle told her, appearing suddenly to assist, and Jarod nearly had a heart attack. How had he not noticed that?

Parker growled and snatched the card back off Lyle. "Fuck off, freak!"

He shook his head and grabbed the door handle, pushing the door open. "Off you go, then."

Jarod made a face at him. "You're not supposed to be doing that!" he reminded him angrily.

Lyle laughed in amusement. "Do you think I care! Say, ain't you got a family waitin' for you, boy?" He laughed again, as though it was all just really funny.

Jarod got the feeling he'd been Empathing Parker a little too closely. It had come back to smack him over the face.

Stumbling into her room, Parker slammed the door shut after her.

"Yeah, an' so you should!" Lyle shouted after her, for no apparent reason. He laughed again and walked off.

Jarod stared after him, wondering if he hadn't been drinking. He wasn't supposed to be mixing his meds with alcohol but Lyle wasn't the best at following direction, especially when it came from others. Brown would sure be happy if he ever got wind of that, and Raines probably even more so. His Pet, blatantly ignoring his superiors' orders. Not cute.

Sighing, he walked after Lyle. He supposed he might as well ask where he'd left Em.

.

"Do you mind telling me where my sister is?" he asked, and Lyle frowned, for a moment, perhaps thinking about the question.

Lyle giggled suddenly, and shook his head. "I don't know."

"Use your Empath powers!" Jarod told him irritably.

"What's your sister's name, baby?"

Jarod got a suitably disgusted look. "Emily," he said stiffly.

Lyle closed his eyes, for a long moment. "What she look like?" he asked, when he opened his eyes again.

"Short, red hair," Jarod said simply.

Lyle ran a finger over his bottom lip, staring at nothing, for a second. "Your phone's ringing," he said.

Jarod grabbed his cell phone.

"Be the sister," Lyle told him, and giggled, walking off to give him some privacy.

Jarod shook his head and answered his phone. "Jarod."

Emily asked him where he was. She'd found some place to buy a coffee and hadn't moved since then. She was waiting for him to get his ass to where she was.

Jarod told her he wouldn't be long and put his phone away. Turning around, he sighed. "Do you have a room?" he asked Lyle, quickly catching up to him. He was smiling in a way that reminded Jarod exactly why Empaths were strange, and pervs. That last bit always creeped him out a tad.

"Your sister's waiting," Lyle told him.

"And you're drunk," Jarod replied flatly.

"Not true, little one."

"Did my sister and you have an argument?"

"Don't know your sister, love. Don't know if we had an argument."

"Oh, you know her," Jarod told him. "Very well, I've been told."

Lyle started humming to himself. Jarod recognised the song as Hey, Soul Sister. He couldn't believe he'd forgotten how frustrating Empaths could be.

"Lyle?"

Lyle smiled and went on humming. A while later, he started singing some German pop song from the '70s.

Jarod decided it would be best for him to leave at that point. He had no desire to get involved any further. That was Bobby territory and he wasn't a big Bobby fan. That kid was nine kinds of messed up. At least. He'd just turned and started to walk away when he heard a familiar female voice.

"Hello, darl! You haven't met me, but I was thinking we could rectify that as of now."

He spun about and marched back over to Lyle, glaring at Lorraine the whole time.

"Hello," Lyle said happily.

Lorraine waved, smiling back at him. When Lyle looked away, she gave Jarod a dirty glare.

Jarod shook his head and left her alone in the corridor.

"Hello," Lyle said.

Jarod sighed and glanced at him shortly. "Hi. We have met, but you might be having trouble recalling that just at this moment."

.

Emily shot him a glare, when he arrived finally. "Why'd you bring him?" she groused. "I hate him. Why didn't you just push him under a truck or something?"

"I had no choice," Jarod replied, taking a seat across the table. He looked at Lyle. "Sit down," he told him.

"Be a good boy, Fido!" Emily mocked.

"Your sister!" Lyle said suddenly.

Jarod sighed heavily.

Emily snapped her fingers, waving at Lyle. "Hey, you! Keep your creepy Empath feelers to yourself, eh!" She shot him a glare and went back to staring at Jarod, waiting for him to say something, and maybe explain himself.

"I had to rescue Parker from herself. She was about to take this one woman apart."

Emily snorted.

"Lorraine," he recalled.

Emily laughed. "Figures!"

Jarod frowned, but didn't press the topic. "Do you mind... looking after that one?" he asked, gesturing behind him with a thumb. "You two are acquainted, I hear. Something of friends."

Emily laughed again. "You mind if I push him under a bus or a truck or something?"

"Not particularly," Jarod replied. "Just be sure no-one sees you doing it."

"Ace!" She tossed her head his way. "And where are you off to?"

"Places."

"'Places', he says!" she laughed, shaking her head. She stood up quickly and grabbed Lyle's arm as he was about to wander off. "Oi, spacey! I believe my brother told you to sit down. Quit with the attitude, alright, and sit the Hell down! Don't make me tell you twice, neither!"

Lyle frowned at her. "Oi, bossy! Why are you so bossy? It's mean!"

"You're mean!" she growled. "Si' down!"

He looked at Jarod unhappily, and sat down.

Emily glared at him, then back to Jarod. "Fuck off then," she told him plainly.

"He's right," Jarod remarked. "You are mean."

She scowled, and Jarod took that as his cue to clear out.

Lyle stoked his cheek with the backs of his fingers absently and stared into thin air.

Jarod didn't even want to know what that was about. Probably something pervy, he thought to himself darkly. Empaths just didn't get things like 'private, keep out'.

Emily hummed Der Kleine Prinz, staring down at her empty coffee cup with displeasure.

.

It was quite late when a young woman who was presumably a waitress came to tell her that the place was closing, and Emily nodded. Okey-dokey. Lyle had fallen asleep an hour ago, leaning his head on her shoulder, and she hadn't moved since then. She was glad she'd be able to get up and stretch her legs.

"Oi, pup, place is closing. Time to get up and get outta here."

Waking up, Lyle frowned at her. He moaned. "Didn't we have a fight?"

"Yeah, we did. But here you are anyway. You sure have some bloody nerve, boy!"

"I'm sorry."

She laughed. "No you're not."

"No? Oh, okay."

She rolled her eyes and stood up. She looked to the window, outside. It was bloody dark. "Do you have somewhere to stay the night?" she asked, annoyed at herself for not having thought to bring a coat.

"Yeah." He took off his jacket and offered it to her. "Aretha might be cold."

She laughed, shaking her head. What a tosser! She grabbed the jacket off him and walked off, toward the door. She didn't bother waiting for him to catch her up before pulling the door open and stepping outside, into the cold.

.

Outside, standing on the footpath, she shook her head to herself. "I don't know why I fall for your idiot charms, time and again."

"I don't know why you do, either," he replied. "Mind you, I'm not saying I'm sorry."

She shot him a sideways look, and smiled. "I hate you," she said, and walked off.