Disclaimer: I own neither the show nor the characters. I don't earn any money; I just do it for fun.
Author's Note:I had the general idea for this fic for about two years, and you can't imagine how glad I am that I was finally able to not only write it, but to write it for the Het Big Bang and to have been able to complete it. Many thanks to my two betas, the ever so wonderful csiangel and silecet. And thank you to whogate who have chosen to make art for this fic. I hope you will enjoy it!
Thanks to Nancy and the anonymous reviewer for the reviews on the previous chapters.
For the first time in his short life, Jarod felt free. He knew his little escapade outside wouldn't last, but at least for a while, he could pretend he wasn't at the Centre anymore.
He raised his head to the sky and watched as snowflakes were falling, white against the dark night sky. Some fell on his face, cold against his skin. He had never seen anything like this before.
Of course, he knew the science behind it, how drops of water transformed into snowflakes if the temperature was low enough, but tonight, it didn't matter. For him, it was like magic.
He spread his arms wide and started to turn on the spot, laughing. Some snowflakes found their way into his mouth, and he was surprised at first, but then he tried to catch some more. It was fun; he was having fun and it was a rare enough occurrence that he knew he would remember those few moments forever.
His head started to spin, making it very difficult to stay upright. He lied down in the fresh snow, letting the cold surround him. He could very well get sick, but he didn't care; he was free and he was breathing fresh air instead of the one from the air conditioner.
He heard the door from the roof open and footsteps running his way. The sweepers had found him, but it took them longer than he had expected. Hands grabbed at his arms, hauling him up and away back into the Centre.
He didn't try to resist; he knew it would be futile: he was a child and they were men. He let himself be brought back to his room. His cell would be a more appropriate word for it, but by thinking about it as just a room, he could think he wasn't a prisoner.
They locked the door behind him and his eyes fell on the security camera in the corner. He smiled genuinely, his heart and mind still full of the joy that had spread inside of him at being outside. He changed his clothes to ones that weren't wet from the snow and went to lie down on his bed.
He couldn't wait for the next morning. Of course, Sydney would be here and he would probably berate him for going outside, but he didn't care. Miss Parker had promised him she would come as soon as he was done with his work, and he was impatient to tell her all about his little escapade.
He was tired, and it wasn't long before he fell asleep. His dreams were full of him running into the snow with Miss Parker and Angelo at his sides, the three of them free to do as they pleased.
Miss Parker had driven for hours, only stopping twice to rest and get some food. Taking a plane would have been easier – not to mention she would have got there sooner – but the Centre could have tracked her and she didn't need that. She certainly hoped that what Jarod had found was worth all of this.
She would soon arrive in Sherwood. She didn't know what would happen once she got there. She hoped that she would get the answers she was looking for, and not find out that the Centre had created another horror.
She had wished that Jarod just told her what he had found instead of making her come all the way to here. Now, she also had to find a believable reason for her to have disappeared for two full days.
She guessed she could say she was following a lead she had on Jarod, and maybe he could give her one of his red notebook as evidence. When she was alone at least she didn't have to convince anyone that she would bring the Pretender back. Well not this time.
It was 9.30pm when she finally reached the sign telling her that she was just two miles away from Sherwood. She had half an hour before her meeting with Jarod, but if she knew him, he was already there. She was about to pass the sign when the voices suddenly became louder. She braked, stopping in the middle of the road.
She breathed heavily; the voices were repeating the same words over and over again, and this time, she didn't need to focus on them to make out the words. They were telling her that she was about to fall into a trap. She took a second to think about the note she had received the night before; she had immediately thought that it was from Jarod, but now, she wasn't so sure.
She hit the wheel hard with her hand; the Centre had had her. They had wanted to bring her here, and if she didn't know why, she had no doubt that it didn't mean anything good for her. She couldn't go any farther.
She made a U-turn and sped away from there. She had to get as far away as possible from here before whoever was waiting for her realised that she wouldn't come. She didn't yet know where she was going; the only thing she knew was that she couldn't go back to Blue Cove.
She was now a fugitive, just like Jarod. He had been right when they were in Carthis; they were more alike than she had wanted to admit at the time. But now, she saw it quite clearly. The Centre had used her all these years, and she was sure that tonight, they would have found yet another way to use her. And probably for the last time.
She didn't stop, didn't look back until she reached Memphis, Tennessee a bit more than two hours later. As far as she knew, she hadn't been followed. She started to feel tired, exhausted even. She found a motel on the outskirts of Memphis and took a room. The receptionist was a bit creepy, but at the very least, she still had her gun if he were to try anything.
She had noticed a car dealership close by; she needed to change cars first thing in the morning. She couldn't risk getting found because of it. But first, she would get a few hours of sleep; wherever she ended up going, the surest thing for her would be to do the journey in one go, and for that she had to get well rested.
She lied on the bed, her Smith and Wesson under her pillow, and was asleep as soon as she closed her eyes.
Jarod stepped on the gas, willing the car to go faster. He still had a lot of miles to cover, and he knew he didn't have much time. He couldn't let himself think that he would arrive too late to save her. She was in this situation because of him.
Like he told Sydney, he had no doubt that it was a trap, but he had to go there and save her. He had no choice. He had come to realise a long time ago that if he had to choose between his freedom and Parker, she would come first. And he could always escape again later. The security around him would be reinforced since the last time he escaped the Centre, but he would do it.
He wished he wasn't alone, that he had time to call his father and ask for his help, but he couldn't lose another minute. He couldn't let himself think about what Lyle and Cox would do to her if she stayed in their hands for too long. He didn't have a plan, but he didn't need one. He knew what he had to do: enter the town, find the public library, save Parker, and leave with her safe and sound.
He couldn't thank Angelo enough for the message he sent. His childhood friend had once again found out about the Centre's plans, no doubt by lurking in the vents, and this time, it would save Parker's life.
Parker. Alex had been right, even though he had refused to see it at the time. She was the most important person for him; she had always been since their childhood. And this time, if he didn't hurry, he could really lose her. He had arrived just in time when Alex had her and Mr. Parker; when he heard the gunshot after he hit him and saw her fall, he thought she had been hurt, but she got back on her feet and fought back.
But Lyle and Cox, they would take great pleasure in killing her if he arrived just one minute too late. She wasn't of use to the Centre anymore; if Mr Parker was still there, things might have been different, but with Raines, he should have guessed they would try and eliminate her as soon as possible.
His mind conjured the image of her lifeless body lying on the ground at Cox and Lyle's feet. He tried to push it away, but he couldn't. This image wouldn't leave him until he saw her alive and well with his own eyes.
He finally drove by the sign telling him he would soon reach Sherwood. He still didn't slow down though; it was almost 10pm and he couldn't risk being late. He had no idea where the public library was, but he trusted his instinct to show him the way.
His cell phone rang, but he didn't take it out of his pocket to check the caller. Whoever it was could wait. Parker came first tonight. The ringing stopped, but a few seconds later, it started again. He still didn't pick up. He was on a mission, he didn't have time for a phone call.
Jarod slowed the car down and turned off the headlights when he entered the town; it was a useless precaution as the sweepers knew he was coming, but he'd rather take it anyway. He saw a sign, showing him that he had to turn right if he wanted to go to the library. As he rounded the corner, a figure appeared just in front of his car, and he had to brake in order to not run the person over.
The figure put their hands on the hood of the car to steady themselves, before making their way to the passenger's window. The face Jarod saw was one he hadn't expected to see tonight.
"It's a trap, Jarod! Miss Parker isn't here, she had never been. You have to go, now!"
Just as he said that, two figures, which the Pretender quickly identified as sweepers, started to run towards the car, firing their guns at them.
"Jump in, Ethan," Jarod shouted, before putting the car into reverse.
His half-brother barely had time to close the door before he sped off, trying to take them away from the sweepers as fast as possible. More were coming their way, having heard their colleagues shoot at them, including two town cars. He had no doubt that Lyle and Cox were in one of them. They had to lose them, and fast.
It was late and there was no traffic to get lost into. They would never be able to reach the interstate before the Centre cars closed in on them. He had to find a way to lose their tail.
He turned a corner, and then another to hide in a dark alley. The cars drove past them, without seeing them. Jarod waited a few minutes, until he was sure that they wouldn't come back before putting his car back into motion.
The Centre cars were going North, he would go South to take the I-40. From there, they would go back East until they figured out where they were headed.
"How did you know?" Jarod asked, as they finally left town
"The voices told me. I came here as fast as I could."
"Where is she?"
"She's safe. I don't know where yet, but the voices will soon tell me."
"Are you sure? Angelo sent me a message to tell me that she was in danger. And when I called Sydney, he told me that Lyle and Cox were there."
"She probably would have been in their hands, but the voices must have warned her. She never entered the town." Ethan paused, letting his brother concentrate on his driving, and resumed talking once they were on the interstate. "Where are we going?"
"I don't know yet," Jarod replied, still keeping an eye on the rear view mirror to make sure that the Centre cars hadn't found them. "Away from here. We'll figure the rest out on the way."
Ethan could see that something was eating at Jarod from the way his jaw was clenched. He wanted to say something, but was stopping himself, and Ethan didn't have to guess to know what it would be about.
"Speak your mind, brother," he urged him. "I know there are things you want to tell me."
"Where the hell have you been, Ethan?" Jarod asked; neither expected the swearing, but given Jarod's level of anger, it was understandable. "You left an unfinished note at Parker's. We were worried about you. We didn't know if you were taken or left on your own."
"I am sorry. The voices told me to leave and I did. I didn't think..."
"That's the problem, Ethan, you didn't think," Jarod interrupted him. "You have a family who cares about you. You can't just leave like that."
"This is what you're doing, though."
"My situation is different. The Centre wants me back, and I have to keep moving to avoid being captured. If I don't let my family know where I am, it's because it's the only way I can protect them."
"I know. And I was doing the same. I knew I couldn't stay with Miss Parker because that would have placed her in danger. And I thought it would be easier for you to run if you were alone."
Jarod could see the logic behind his half-brother's words, but that still didn't excuse his disappearance act.
"Where have you been all this time?"
"Everywhere. Anywhere. I didn't stay in the same place for more than a couple of days. I have you to thank for not having had any money problems."
"You can thank the Centre, too. And you were quick to empty the account after you disappeared."
"I thought that if the Centre ever found out about the account, it would be easy for them to track me down."
"To find out that account, they would have been extremely lucky. But I understand. You don't have it all with you, right?" he asked, thinking about the bag Ethan had thrown on the back seat.
"No. Most of it is hidden in a safe place I have in New York."
Jarod didn't ask any more questions after that. He seemed to be satisfied with the answers Ethan had given him for the time being.
Silence fell in the car, and Ethan turned on the radio to fill it. He turned his look to the outside, pressing his forehead against the window. He could barely distinguish anything in the dark of the night, but it didn't matter; he wasn't trying to look at the landscape they were passing by anyway.
It was late, but in spite of not having had any sleep the night before, he couldn't fall asleep. Something – the voices – was keeping him awake. They weren't talking to him, they were just keeping him alert, and he knew it was because something would soon happen. He hoped it meant that they would tell him where Miss Parker was, and not that the Centre had found them.
It wasn't until a couple of hours later, that he got his answer.
"I know where my sister is," he told Jarod.
"Where is she?"
"Right there," Ethan answered, showing him the motel sign they could see from the road.
Jarod nodded and took the next exit. They soon arrived on the parking lot and got out of the car with their bags.
"This is her car," Jarod said, pointing to the one at the back of the parking lot. "Now, which room is she in?"
"The voices weren't that precise."
"Then, we have to go ask."
Jarod walked towards the reception area with Ethan in tow. There was no one at the desk, but he rang the bell, hoping that someone would soon be over to answer it. A few seconds later, the door behind the desk opened, and a man appeared. The brothers couldn't say that he made a good first impression.
"You want a room?" he asked apparently annoyed at having been woken up.
"We're actually looking for a friend of ours. You might have seen her; brunette, long-legged, eyes that could kill."
"Maybe Benjamin can help you remember," Jarod replied, handing him a one hundred-dollar bill.
"Room 6," he said, taking the bill and giving a key.
Miss Parker had been a heavy sleeper until Thomas was murdered in her own house and she hadn't heard anything. Since then, as if her mind was compensating, she woke up at the softest sound. It was even truer when she wasn't home.
Tonight was no exception; she was woken up by footsteps outside. She sat up in bed, one hand underneath her pillow, and pricked up her ears. They were getting closer and stopped before her door. Through the window, she could see two shadows, but couldn't make out who they were. The rational part of her mind told her that they couldn't be sweepers; they knew her enough not to come at her with such a small number. She could easily take them out before they could fire even one shot.
There was no mistaking the sound of a key turning in the lock, and she had her gun out and raised at them when the door opened.
"Don't shoot, Parker. It's only us."
"Jarod?" she said, lowering the gun slightly. "And who is with you?" she asked, reaching for the lamp on the table and switching it on.
She gasped as she saw Ethan standing just behind the Pretender. She got up from the bed and walked towards him. Jarod was smart enough to get out of her way, and when she stopped before her brother, she punched his arm.
"Where the hell have you been?"
If he hadn't expected Jarod swearing, Ethan did expect it from his sister. But he really could have done without her hitting him; he was sure he would have a large bruise in the morning but he knew better than to complain.
Jarod closed and locked the door, and he knew that there was no way he could escape his sister's wrath now; it looked like his brother had chosen sides.
"It has been months, Ethan! Months!" she continued, when he didn't reply.
"I already told Jarod that I was sorry."
"I'm sure you have already told him everything," she said, turning to glare at the Pretender who raised his hand in defence. "But now you're going to tell me."
Ethan could see that she wouldn't back down until she heard the whole story, so he started telling her.
Miss Parker slowly calmed down as Ethan explained what happened after he left her house in an apparent hurry – and she still wasn't ready to forgive him for that – up until he met up with Jarod a couple of hours before. Both of them had come to her rescue, and if she knew how Ethan had known, it was more mysterious for Jarod, so she asked him.
"I got a message from an old friend," he just said, but it was enough for her to understand who it was.
"So now what?" she asked.
"Well, you can't go back to the Centre for one."
"I already came to that conclusion, but thank you for reminding me, Jarod."
"We should stick together," Ethan suggested. "I know that's probably what they all expect, but it's the best solution."
"Ethan is right. We'll do this for at least the first few weeks. We will decide where to go from there."
Knowing that she wouldn't be able to change their minds – she was really starting to think that Ethan inherited all of his brother's irritating traits – Miss Parker sighed in resignation. She didn't like being attached at the hip to the Pretender, but at the same time, she knew that it was for the best. She knew nothing about being on the run, she didn't have his capacities as a Pretender, and she needed to learn a few things if she wanted to stay away from the Centre's clutches.
"Where are we going to then?" Ethan asked, looking from his sister to his brother to see if one of them had an idea.
"Ben's," Parker replied looking towards Jarod who nodded in agreement.
"Now that this has been decided, we should get some sleep. Parker, you can keep the bed. Ethan, you take the couch, and I'll sleep on the floor, if your sister will be so kind as to give me one of her pillows."
She answered him by throwing said pillow straight at his face.
"Since when were you put in charge?" she asked, but he didn't reply just raised an eyebrow at her. "Fine. But if either one of you snore, I'll shoot him."
She put her gun back underneath her pillow, before lying down. Ethan was already settled on the couch, his eyes closed, but she doubted he was already asleep. She noticed that Jarod put himself between the door and her bed, and she wanted to call him on it, saying that she didn't need protection, and certainly not his, but she just rolled her eyes and switched off the light.
When she woke up the next morning, the first thing Miss Parker noticed was that she was alone in the room. At the very least, she hadn't dreamed last night; she could see a leather jacket thrown over the chair and two bags on the floor beside hers.
The shower was running in the adjoining bathroom, and before she had time to wonder who it was, the door opened and Jarod got out, towelling his hair dry. His pants hung low on his hips, and he didn't wear a shirt. As if they had a mind of their own, her eyes followed a drop of water that ran from his collarbone down to his navel.
Her eyes went up his torso and to his face. He was looking at her, a smile on his lips and a playful look in his eyes.
"Enjoying the view?" he asked, but she didn't reply.
"He went to get us some breakfast, or what could pass for it."
"As long as it's not any of the junk food you seem to enjoy. I'm going to take a shower. I hope for your sake that there's still some hot water left."
She got up from bed and grabbed her bag. She was about to walk past Jarod to go to the bathroom when he grabbed her arm to stop her. She looked up at his face, about to ask what he was doing but the way he was looking at her stopped her.
"Good morning to you too," he just said, before releasing her arm.
Finally free, she went into the bathroom and locked the door behind her before resting her forehead against it. Forget the hot water, she needed a cold shower.
She had been so sure he was going to kiss her, and she knew she wouldn't have stopped him. The look he was giving her had left her no doubt of what was about to happen, but as she had been about to lean in, he spoke, confusing her. He had done it on purpose, she was sure of that.
Little did she know that on the other side of the door, Jarod was just as confused as she was.
He didn't know what possessed him to grab Parker's arm as she walked past him, but there had been just one thing in his mind: he wanted to kiss her. He had wanted to be able to feel her lips moving underneath his. Since Carthis and their interrupted moment, he had often thought about it, and even her rejection in the car hadn't changed anything.
He knew that if he had just waited a second more, she would have kissed him. He had noticed her slowly leaning towards him, and this was what prompted his mind to take charge. Now wasn't the time for this; she had just been forced to take the turning point he had offered her all those months ago, and she needed time, not him pushing himself on her at the first opportunity.
Dropping the towel on the bed, he was rummaging through his bag for a clean shirt when Ethan opened the door, a paper bag in one hand and three cups of fresh coffee in the other. He took one and watched as Ethan emptied the bag on the bed. Miss Parker wouldn't like this; there was only junk food in it.
"This is all I could find," Ethan justified himself at Jarod's look.
"That's fine by me, although your sister will probably not be happy."
If Ethan didn't believe his brother's words, he was completely convinced when Parker left the bathroom to find all this on the bed. He was on the receiving end of her glare and he could swear he heard a growl coming from her.
She accepted the cup of coffee he offered her and took a cereal bar from the pile, the healthiest thing she could find and could pass for breakfast.
"Pack this all up," she told the two brothers. "We're leaving in five."
"We're taking my car," Jarod said.
"I don't have any objection. I had no intention to continue in my car, they know it."
The Pretender nodded and five minutes later, as Parker all but ordered, they were on the road, with her behind the wheel. They probably wouldn't arrive at Ben's before the next evening, especially since Jarod would make sure that they stopped and rested.
He knew that it was just the beginning of a long journey and they couldn't tire themselves out right away.
It had been two days since Miss Parker's disappearance and Sydney and Broots still didn't have any news from their friends. At the very least, they saw Lyle and Cox coming back empty handed the day before. From what one of Broots' friends – and Sydney just couldn't remember which one it was – told him, the following meeting in Mr. Raines' office had been heated.
When Sydney got out of his car in front of Miss Parker's house, he saw Broots coming his way, having just arrived himself.
"I was wondering, Sydney. Do you think we're going to have to face the T-Board? They're going to think that someone warned Miss Parker, and it's a certainty they're going to think it's us."
"Calm down, Broots. If there's going to be T-Board, we can't do anything about it. We haven't done anything that goes against their rules where Miss Parker is concerned. We haven't told Miss Parker that she was in danger for the very good reason that we haven't been able to reach her since she left."
"Yes, you're right but..."
"No buts, Broots. We'll worry about it if we get there. And to be honest, my friend, I think there are two other people who should be more concerned about facing the T-Board."
Lyle and Cox were certainly in more trouble than they were. From what Sydney and Broots had gathered, their plan had been bulletproof, but Jarod and Miss Parker had still managed to escape them. They would probably never get the details of what happened, but it didn't sound good for the two men.
"I'm still not sure we should be here," Broots said, as Sydney was picking the lock. "What if someone at the Centre finds out we were here and they think that we were trying to destroy evidence of our help?"
"I don't think that will be a problem," the psychiatrist said as he finally got the door open.
They stayed on the threshold, stunned by what they were seeing. The house had been searched; chairs and tables were overturned, magazines and books sprayed on the floor. Lyle and Cox had already sent sweepers in here and had probably come along to find evidence that Miss Parker had help.
Sydney and Broots walked farther into the house, but it was the same sight in every room. The door to Catherine Parker's study was ajar and it hadn't been spared either. They had even torn apart the pillows to be sure nothing was hidden inside.
"If we hadn't known already, this shows us that Miss Parker isn't part of the Centre anymore, my dear Broots."
"How could they have done that, Sydney?"
"She isn't an employee of the Centre anymore. She is an enemy, just like Jarod is. And this is what they do to their enemies."
"We will never see her again, right?"
"I don't think so, Broots. And I'd be surprised if we heard from Jarod again either. There's nothing tethering him to the Centre anymore."
"But he has you. And Angelo, too."
"It had never been the same, and you know that. But I'm fine with it. I knew the day would come when he severed all ties he had with us. It was just a question of when not if."
Sydney was resigned, but Broots had trouble accepting that it was all over. That after more than five years, it ended just like that. He didn't know how he was going to tell Debbie that she wouldn't see Miss Parker again; his daughter had grown attached to her over the years, and she probably wouldn't understand why she had left without saying goodbye.
He also wondered what was going to happen to him and Sydney, now. If Sydney was right and Jarod stopped leaving breadcrumbs for them to follow, the Centre might get rid of them altogether. Or worse, they could join Lyle and Cox's team. He wasn't sure which option he hated the most, really.
They left the house, making sure to lock the door behind them even though they weren't sure something worse could happen. They each took their cars and drove towards the Centre; after these early morning findings, they still had to face a day working there.
Once they arrived, Broots followed Sydney to his office. He had to ask his advice as to the best way to tell Debbie about Miss Parker. They spent half an hour talking about it, with the technician worried that Debbie would end up hating him for giving her the bad news.
"Look Broots, Debbie loves you. She's a smart girl, and I'm sure she will understand that Miss Parker had no choice and if it had been up to her, she would have stayed."
"I hope you're right. I should go, now. Oh wait, didn't I leave my notepad here the other day?"
"Yes," Sydney replied, opening a drawer. "I put it in..."
He stopped and Broots wondered what was happening when he saw Sydney taking a small sheet of paper out of the drawer instead of his notepad. The older man read it before handing it to him.
There were only two words written on it, but they didn't need more.
As Jarod had expected, they arrived at Ben's late afternoon, the day after they left the motel. The Bed and Breakfast Inn seemed closed and they wondered if Ben was there when they saw the man appear on the porch.
"Miss Parker, Jarod! I hadn't expected to see you. And certainly not together."
"There have been some recent changes, Ben," Parker said.
"Come inside, you'll explain everything to me over dinner. And who's your friend?" he asked, when he saw Ethan.
"Ethan, this is Ben Miller. Ben, this is Ethan, our brother."
Ben raised his eyebrows at the trio; there was indeed a lot of explaining to do. But he still held out his hand for Ethan to shake.
"Pleased to meet you," Ben said.
"The pleasure is mine. I have already heard a lot about you."
"All good, I hope," the older man joked. "I trust you remember where your room is, Miss Parker," he said and she nodded, before he turned to the two men. "Follow me, boys. I'll show you to yours."
After a shower and a moment to reflect on the past few days, Miss Parker went to the kitchen. She could hear some laughing inside coming from Ben and Jarod, and most surprising from Ethan; it was the first time she was hearing her brother laugh and it made her happy that he seemed to be free of his own demons.
"What's so funny?" she asked as she entered the room.
"Jarod was just telling us of the time you freed all those rabbits when you were kids," Ben replied.
"That was funny," she said with a smile, remembering this moment. "I still remember the sweepers running around, trying to get them all back into their cages."
"I would love to hear more about your time together as kids," Ethan said; he didn't have the chance to grow up with them, but he had the chance to get to know them now.
"You mean when Parker would come and convince me to help her raise hell in the Centre?"
"You make it sound like you had no choice in the matter."
"Because I hadn't! If I had the guts to refuse, you would make those puppy-dog eyes and I had no choice but to agree."
"So, she was manipulating you," Ben summed it up.
"Well, I remember you having fun," Miss Parker replied, narrowing her eyes at him.
"I never said I didn't," he said, walking past her and touching a fingertip to her nose.
She was surprised by this gesture and she wasn't the only one; Ben and Ethan were looking at her, wondering what was happening. She just shrugged before offering her help to make dinner. Her offer was turned down; apparently, ordering take-out on a regular basis meant that she couldn't cook. Not that she could, but she just hated staying idle. It gave her too much time to think.
More stories about Parker and Jarod's childhood were shared at Ethan's insistence. Even though the years following her mother's death had been the saddest for Miss Parker, she still made happy memories with Jarod and Angelo, and for a few days Faith, even inside the Centre's walls. Everything would have been different if they hadn't known each other, if the Tower hadn't decided that Jarod had to meet a little girl to observe his reactions.
Over dessert though, Ben had asked to finally know why the three of them were here, and together. From what Parker could gather, Jarod had already explained how Ethan could be their brother when she was up in her room. She was glad about that; she hadn't wanted to see Ben's face when he found out that Catherine Parker had to fake her death only to be murdered a few months later.
Jarod, Parker and Ethan took turns explaining the situation to Ben, who assured them that they could stay as long as they wanted. The Inn was closed for the season, and no one would think about looking for them here. Neither of them wanted to abuse his hospitality, but they agreed that for the time being, they were safe here.
"I almost forgot," Ben said, getting up from the table and coming back holding a box he put at Parker's feet. "This package has arrived this morning. I forgot to bring it up to your room."
"This is your writing, Parker," Jarod said, reading the address. "You knew what would happen?"
"No. But a couple of nights ago, the voices made me understand that I might not be safe in my own house anymore."
"A few things the voices told me to send away and some more. I knew they would be safe here," she said, smiling at Ben who returned it.
She opened the box, knowing that Jarod and Ethan would probably keep nagging at her until she revealed its contents.
"This is everything I ever sent directly to you!" the Pretender exclaimed.
"You understand now why all this would have been harmful for me if the Centre found it. I'm glad I've saved a few other things too," she said, taking a book out of the box and handing it to Ethan. "This was our mother's favourite book. You should read it."
Ethan nodded, visibly moved by her gesture. She added that there were other things that had belonged to their mother if he wanted to see them later. By the look she was sending Jarod, he understood that most had been found by him and he had returned to their rightful owner.
Dinner was over and Jarod offered to help Ben with the washing, pre-empting Parker's own offer. Once he was sure they were alone, Ben turned toward the Pretender.
"If you don't mind me asking, what is going on with Miss Parker?"
To say that this question surprised Jarod was an understatement. He had of course noticed that Ben had been watching them during dinner, but he hadn't expected him to ask about this.
And the truth was, he wasn't sure he was able to answer this question. He didn't know what he and Parker were to each other. If he had made it clear in the past not only that he still saw her as a friend, but also that he had feelings for her, she had always pushed him away. And he wasn't sure her new situation towards the Centre would change anything.
"I don't know," he finally replied with a sigh.
"Well, you need to figure it out before one or both of you end up being hurt.
Jarod couldn't agree more with Ben. But defusing a bomb would probably be easier than trying to talk about this with Miss Parker.
Miss Parker was lying down on her bed, looking at the ceiling but not really seeing it. In her head, she kept replaying what had happened in the kitchen. The touch had felt so intimate, and yet, he had just touched his fingertip to her nose.
Of course, she was also thinking about the moment they had shared in the motel room, and her mind conjured up images of what could have happened if Jarod hadn't spoken. She was starting to get frustrated by him; it was like he couldn't make up his mind. Not that she could, but if at least one of them was able to see things clearly, it might be easier.
But nothing was easy in their lives, and this, whatever this was, certainly wouldn't be.
Still, if they ended up spending the next few weeks side by side, she needed to know. Getting up from the bed, she walked out of the room and entered Jarod's without knocking. She closed the door behind her, taking in his surprised look at her sudden appearance.
"I think we need to talk."
"I think so too," he nodded, sitting in the chair.
"What are we doing, Jarod? What are we? Enemies? Friends? Something more? I don't know..."
"You know what I want. I've told you before."
"You said we needed to talk, so hear me out," he interrupted her. "I know you haven't taken that turning point willingly, that you had no choice, but what I said before still holds. I'm here. You can turn to me."
"Do you think it is that easy?"
"I never said it was easy. I just said that it was possible. I know that there's something between us, and you know that too even though you don't want to acknowledge it."
"That's the thing, Jarod. I don't know."
"Yes, you do."
"Don't you dare tell me what I do or do not know!" she shouted, starting to get angry at him. "I have had enough people thinking and making decisions for me over the years, and I certainly don't need you to do it too!"
"Then, just open your eyes, Parker!" He was getting frustrated with her; she was unable to let herself go, to feel instead of think. "Because I see it. It is there," he said, gesturing to the space between them as he stood. "And I'm not the only one who can see it. Actually, you're probably the only one who can't."
"Do you think it's easy for me? I did it once, and you know how it ended. Or maybe you forgot."
He hadn't forgotten; he never could. Thomas was his friend, the man she loved and for whom she would have left the Centre behind if they had allowed it. He remembered clearly how she was after his murder. He certainly didn't want her to go back to that state, but he couldn't give up either.
He had to make her understand this, that he wouldn't leave her if the choice was up to him. She had to understand that he would never let the Centre come in between this, in between them. And there was only one way.
He strode through the room, grabbed her face in his hands and took her lips in a hard, bruising kiss. She tried to push him away at first, but then, she finally let herself go, and he saw it as a small victory.
When the kiss ended, he took a step away from her and held her gaze.
"Look at me in the eyes and tell me you don't feel anything. Tell me this isn't worth it."
She wanted to, but she couldn't. She just smiled, and he smiled in return, his face already leaning down to meet her.
A beeping sounded, making them separate with a jump.
"What is it?" she asked, before finding the source of the noise: his laptop.
"I got it."
"Project Renewal. The file was encrypted on Raines' computer."
"Wait a minute... How did you get it?" she asked, and he had the grace to look sheepish. "Last night. I woke up and you weren't there," she remembered. "And we conveniently stopped a couple of hours away from the Centre."
"It was the only way for us to know what this Project is about," he tried to justify himself, but it was to no avail.
"So what? You broke into the Centre, then into Raines' office, risking not only your own freedom but mine and Ethan's?"
"I would have never told them where you were."
"But what if they had seen you and instead of capturing you right away, they let you leave to see if you would bring them to us?"
"What's done is done, Parker. Not to mention that I did it before."
"And it's a wonder they still haven't caught you."
"They", not "we"; after only a couple of days on the run, she had already stopped thinking of herself as part of the Centre.
"I haven't for a long time, if you want to know the truth," she replied as if she had read his thoughts. "Now that we have settled that you're an idiot, what's Project Renewal?"
"Let's find out." He opened the file and started to read out loud. "The project was started by Mr. Parker. Two test subjects, both marked as Xs. I have a completion date here."
"This is the day Brigitte died giving birth to my baby brother," Parker gasped.
"So either Brigitte was one of the test subjects or Project Renewal was about the baby. But I really think it's about the baby." He opened another page, and found more information on the test subjects. "Each test subject is identified with a code. These are Red Files codes."
"Do you know whose Red Files they are?" she asked him, and he nodded. "Tell me," she continued, even though she was sure she already knew the answer.
"Test subject #1 is... That's the code for your Red File," he said, his eyes fixed on the screen before him.
"And whose Red File is Test Subject #2?"
"Mine," he said in a breath.
He was turning to look at her, but she closed her eyes, not ready to face him. She was thinking about what they had found, about the man who had initiated the project and whom she had thought was her father. They had opened a can of worms when they decrypted these files. Or was it when they had met at that motel? Or before that in Carthis or when they had first met when they were children?
It didn't matter when it started really; they had to deal with it now. She opened her eyes and they locked with his.
"Jarod?" she questioned, needing to be sure.
"I don't know, Parker. I really don't know"
"But this is us. The test subjects are us!"
"Then the baby Brigitte gave birth to is ours."
Silence fell upon them as they both took in what it meant. They had a son together, a son the Centre had created for its own benefit. A son that Miss Parker was the first to hold in her arms, even though she didn't know exactly who he was to her. A part of both of them.
Miss Parker felt the bile rising in her throat, the tears pooling in her eyes but she willed them back. Now wasn't the time for that. She would have plenty of time to break down later. Her resolve grew with each passing second, and she could see in Jarod's eyes it was the same for him. She didn't need to ask, because they both knew the answers to her questions, but she needed to voice it and she was sure he did too.
"What are we going to do, now?"
"Find him. I'm not letting him grow up in the Centre and be their prisoner like I was."
"Like we both were," she reminded him; she might have been able to go outside, see the world, but she had been a prisoner just like him, as he told her back on Carthis. "So we take him away from the Centre. And then what?"
"It will be time to take down the Centre itself."