Title: Picking Up The Pieces
Author: MMB
Rating: PG
Category:
Spoilers: yup, a few
Timeline: after IOTH
Keywords: MPBSF, A
Summary: Miss Parker has trouble coping when Jarod disappears completely. Sequel to "Retrospective"
Disclaimer: They aren't mine. I'm just borrowing them for a bit. Please don't kill me...


Picking Up The Pieces
by MMB

Eventually the garish sound broke through his dreams, and he realized that the phone really WAS ringing.

Sydney rolled over on his stomach with a muttered French obscenity and opened his eyes to near total darkness. The only light in the room came from the lighted numbers on his alarm clock that said 1:53, and the darkness of the room around him that told him it was very late at night. And yet, the phone was still ringing. Somebody was actually awake at this ungodly hour, and obviously they wanted HIM awake too. He fumbled through the darkness for the handset on the nightstand, not entirely awake yet. "What?" he mumbled, barely coherent.

"Are you Dr. Sydney Green?" a very officious voice on the other end of the line asked.

"Yes," Sydney grunted and then propped himself up on an elbow. "Who is this? Do you know what time..."

"Do you know a Melissa Parker?" the officious voice continued, ignoring the sleepy questions.

That brought Sydney awake very rapidly. The only woman he knew with the last name of Parker anymore was... Miss Parker! In the nearly thirty years he'd known her, she had steadfastly refused to reveal just what her first name was to anybody save Jarod - and he had never revealed her secret. In fact, in all that time, he had heard Miss Parker referred to by her first name only once: just now. "Yes, I know her," he answered, now moving to sit up and throw his feet over the edge of the bed. "What's wrong? Is she alright? Who is this?" His last question was now a demand.

"This is Officer Silva with the Blue Cove Police Department. Melissa Parker was involved in an automobile accident about an hour ago. We have arrested her for public intoxication and driving while under the influence, and when we took her to the hospital to have her injuries tended before booking her at the station, she listed you as her next of kin."

"What?" Since when did Miss Parker consider HIM her next of kin? What the hell was going on here? Sydney was up and out of bed, reaching for the lamp on the nightstand. "Where is she now?"

"She's just finishing up here at the hospital. If you'd like to meet us down at the police station..."

"I'll be there in half an hour!" Sydney hung up quickly and reached for his clothing from the day before, his mind reeling from the very idea of Miss Parker in police custody. It was almost unbelievable; but then, the last few months since Jarod completely vanished from Centre detection had been nearly unbelievable anyway.

After his meeting with Jarod in the park, he had taken the message that the Pretender was through playing the game to The Centre and passed it along, as requested. Miss Parker herself had taken the news of Jarod's decision to vanish completely better than he had expected - actually, she had treated his announcement as if it were nothing but wishful thinking on Jarod's part. Neither Lyle nor Raines had been quite so cavalier in their attitudes when they heard the news, however; but their sudden concern didn't seem to phase or influence Miss Parker to vary from her normal routine of the hunt.

But then the days had become weeks, and the weeks had begun to stretch out into months without a single clue, a single breadcrumb, a single hint. Jarod had told the truth - he WAS gone. What was more, Sydney knew that Jarod had long made a habit of calling Miss Parker at home late at night on a semi-regular basis - and even those calls had ceased entirely. And as much as she would never have admitted it to anyone, he could tell as more and more time passed that she was missing that regular, taunting contact with her prey - her old friend. With those calls gone, another piece of her past had vanished.

Eventually the pressure, first directly from Raines and Lyle and then later from the Triumverate itself, to show progress in the search for the Pretender became more and more intense. More sweeper and search teams were assigned, but none of them had any more luck than the original. A full six months had passed now with no new word, and it was finally becoming clear to all concerned that Jarod actually was gone for good - for all practical intents and purposes, it was as if he had never existed.

For his own part, Sydney had believed Jarod completely when he said that he was going to vanish; and as the days and weeks passed, the psychiatrist had grieved the total loss of the man he'd often thought of as a son as if Jarod had died. He did his consulting work mechanically, contributed to the hunt more and more sporadically as the need for his psychological expertise and personal knowledge of their subject dwindled. Eventually he focussed more and more on the various twins research projects he had been encouraged to begin in the interim. As it became more and more obvious to all that the hunt was a waste of time and energy, he dove more deeply into his research, letting himself think of very little else most of the time.

He knew from Broots, who would occasionally come down to the Sim Lab or catch the psychiatrist in the cafeteria and bring him up to date on the latest, that Miss Parker had begun to withdraw. Passing her in the corridor accidentally one afternoon, Sydney was fairly sure he had caught a whiff of alcohol on her breath as well. But these had always been her coping mechanisms - he knew this from having watched over her after Thomas' murder. She would withdraw, drink alone and privately and grieve for a while, and then come back stronger than ever when her grief was spent. He had faith in her that she could handle herself under this latest stress, and that things would work out as they had all the other times.

Or so he had thought. Now, hurriedly pulling on clothing in the middle of the night, he was no longer quite so sure of himself, or her...

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

The Blue Cove Police Station was a small cement pillbox building set back from the street only slightly. Sydney parked on the street directly in front of the building, sprang from the car, took the steps up two at a time, and pushed through the glass door. Behind the counter, a rather bored looking officer glanced up at him. "May I help you, sir?"

"My name is Sydney Green. I'm here in regards to Mi... Melissa Parker?"

The young man shifted papers in front of him, looking through them, then nodded. "Oh yeah. Silva said she'd called you and to expect you." The young man ducked behind his counter and came up with a clipboard with a set of papers already attached. "If you wouldn't mind filling these out..."

Sydney looked down at the papers, which seemed to be asking all kinds of personal questions, and refrained from picking up the clipboard at all. "Why do I need these? I'm just here..."

"Look," the officer said in a tired tone, "if you want to be able to have the lady released to your custody, you'll need to fill those out. If you don't..."

"I thought Officer Silva said she was being booked already? Isn't there to be a hearing first...?"

The officer sighed, as if he'd explained the same thing hundreds of times before and had the spiel down by heart and was bored to tears with it. "Yeah, you're right. She has been booked, and right now she's in a holding cell. But the fact is the magistrate won't be coming through here until a week from Friday. And since nobody else was injured in the accident, and her injuries were only minor, and she didn't even take out the telephone pole she hit, there's no reason to keep her locked up except the lack of a willing custodian. The magistrate has set up a standing bail amount for non-injury accidents involving intoxication just for this kind of situation, and a set of procedures for the DUIs and their custodian in the meanwhile to follow. We've had a lot of luck with this program, incidently.

"So, as I see it, you have a choice. You can leave her to cool her heels here in a regular cell until the magistrate gets back - and heaven knows most drunks could use the drying-out time. All you have to do is refuse to fill out the forms, and that's what will happen to her. But if she's to be released on bail before the hearing, she needs to be released into the custody of a close friend or next of kin. That person would not only be responsible for making her bail but then also will be held responsible for getting her enrolled in a substance abuse program and seeing to it she makes her court date. And that's the person who has to fill out the paperwork." He pushed the clipboard in Sydney's direction. "Sorry about that..."

What in the world has she gotten him into, he mentally asked himself in frustration as he reluctantly picked up the clipboard. Sydney looked down at the papers, then slumped over to a chair near the end of the counter, drew out a pen and settled down to begin filling in the data that essentially asked for his entire life's history and every bit of his current information. Fifteen minutes later, he stood and took the completed and signed forms over to the counter and slid the clipboard toward the officer.

The officer flipped through the papers, then looked up. "Let me take these in to my lieutenant, and we'll see what happens, OK?" Then, without waiting for Sydney's reply, the young man abandoned the counter and disappeared down a hallway. A couple of minutes later, the officer reappeared and buzzed the swinging door to behind the counter open. "The lieutenant would like to talk to you," he explained in his still bored tone, then led the way half-way down the hall to a smallish office into which was crowded a much-too-large desk and too many file cabinets, along with a single extra hard wood chair.

"Mr. Green," the bald officer leaned over his desk, extending his hand.

"DOCTOR Green," Sydney corrected the man quietly.

"Medical?"

"Psychiatry."

The officer nodded, waved Sydney into the only empty chair in the room, then reached for the papers that he had just filled out. "I see here you work for that... that Centre place..."

"Yes," Sydney answered patiently. "So does Miss Parker, for that matter."

"Yes, I know," the lieutenant nodded again, then set the papers aside. "I helped investigate the murder of Thomas Gates. I remember this lady well."

Sydney somehow managed not to flinch. Miss Parker had at first been a suspect in Thomas' murder, but had managed to lose even more popularity at the police station when she'd tried to attack the man they'd found with her gun and covered in Thomas' blood. "I hope my paperwork is in order..."

"Oh, I don't think there will be any problem releasing her into your custody, Doctor. As a matter of fact, considering your job description, you are probably the ideal person to have custody of her. There's just the matter of the policy stating that every time we arrest a Centre employee, we've been asked to report the matter to their security department..."

Now Sydney did grimace - the irony of writing an arrest report for Centre Security that would land on the desk of the person being arrested was just too much. "That might not be necessary in this instance, Lieutenant. I can take care of that report for you as well, if you wish - save you the paperwork and the hassles, not to mention the drive out."

The lieutenant's eyebrows soared toward his hairline, but then he relaxed as if relieved. "I appreciate the offer, Doctor - and, believe it or not, I think we'll take you up on it. Its nice to have someone with some Centre-associated authority to deal with right away. Our experience has been that they're rather particular about the way they want their forms filled out and just generally difficult to deal with as a whole..."

"I'm glad that I can be of such efficient assistance, lieutenant," Sydney responded with dry sarcasm. "I know how The Centre operates, and what it likes to see in reports."

"Uh - yes, I imagine you do. By the way, did Officer Dwyer inform you that if Melissa Parker is released into your custody, you will be responsible for seeing to it that she's enrolled in a substance abuse program within the next two days?"

Sydney shook his head. "He mentioned the substance abuse program, but hadn't put a time factor into the requirement. Still, that should be no problem..."

"Good," the lieutenant narrowed his eyes, "because she'll need to bring proof of that enrollment to her arraignment in front of the magistrate next week or she'll face additional charges. Think you can handle that?"

"Lieutenant, I'll see to it that Miss Parker complies with all her custodial and remedial requirements personally," Sydney said firmly. "Is there anything else I need to do?"

"Just write the check for $1000 bail, which will be returned to you uncashed when Miss Parker shows up for her court date."

"Anything ELSE?" Sydney asked dryly, pulling out his checkbook and reaching for the pen the lieutenant was conveniently extending him.

"Actually, no," the officer said, rising after giving Sydney the pen. "Give us a few minutes to return her personal belongings, and we'll turn her over to you in the front office."

"May I please use your telephone while I'm waiting?" the psychiatrist asked deferentially, pausing in writing the check.

The lieutenant waved his hand at his unit, then left the office. Sydney finished writing the check, then stood and moved quickly to the phone to dial Broots' home number from memory. He rolled his eyes apologetically as he heard his colleague answer the phone with a voice probably as least as sleepy as his own had been only an hour or so earlier.

"Broots?"

"Sydney?? Do you know what time..."

"Yes, I know the time. I need to ask a favor, and it's an emergency."

The man on the other end of the line seemed to awaken very quickly. "An emergency?"

Sydney nodded. "It's Miss Parker. I need you to cobble together some sort of excuse to explain why neither she nor I will be in to work for the next few days."

"What's happened?" Broots demanded.

He might as well tell the truth - with something like this, Broots was certain to find out eventually anyway. "She was drinking and had an accident and got herself arrested," Sydney explained quickly. "Look, I don't have the time to give you all the details. I'll call you later - but I need some time, and I need it like yesterday."

"I'll take care of it the moment I get to work in the morning, Syd," Broots assured his friend. "Are you going to be home?"

"I'll be taking her home with me in just a bit."

Broots paused, thinking. "Lemme know if there's anything else I can do, OK? I mean... its Miss Parker, after all..."

"You'll be the first to know, Broots - and thanks!" Sydney hung up, and walked tiredly toward the front lobby again. The absolute last thing he needed, at this late stage in his life, was to have to become a babysitter to a grown woman. And for it to be Miss Parker - a DRUNK Miss Parker at that - that he suddenly was responsible for... well, that was taking a very old and established relationship and stretching it almost past the tolerance point. He handed the check to the officer at the desk to process, then parked himself in the uncomfortable chair he'd sat in earlier to fill out forms and waited, feeling he'd been used and getting more and more irked about it with each passing moment.

A few minutes later, Sydney stood again as Officer Dwyer and the lieutenant escorted a very tattered, handcuffed and subdued-looking Miss Parker from the back of the station. Her hair was tangled, and a tiny butterfly bandage stretched across a cut in her forehead that had most likely bled profusely, from the looks of her blouse. That garment had scattered bloodstains all down the front, with the sleeve was ripped away at one point. Her suede skirt looked scuffed and damaged as well as spotted with blood, and her legs had several spots that promised to turn into livid bruises after enough time had passed. She indeed looked as if she had been in an accident - although she was steady enough on her feet that it looked to Sydney as if the accident and its aftermath had sobered her up rather abruptly and effectively.

While the officer proceeded to unlock the handcuffs that restrained her, the lieutenant looked over at Sydney. "The hearing will be next Friday at 10. Make sure she's there." When Sydney nodded his agreement, the lieutenant looked over at Miss Parker. "Doctor Green here has paid your bail and agreed to be responsible for you while you're in his custody awaiting your hearing. If you consent to follow his instructions until your hearing, we can let you go. So what do you say, Miss Parker?"

She nodded dispiritedly, then finally took a glance in Sydney's direction. Something in his facial expression told her she wasn't finished reaping the consequences of her actions, and she looked back down at her feet.

"Sign this, then, Doctor - and she's all yours." Officer Dwyer shoved another paper across the counter at Sydney. "And Miss Parker, you need to sign this, which puts into writing your promise to abide by Dr. Green's instructions." Miss Parker took the pen the officer handed her and signed quickly.

"Thank you," Sydney said in a sour voice, signed his name on the new paper in the spot indicated with a tired flourish, then turned to his 'charge'. "My car's out front." With a final nod at the two police officers, he commandeered a tight hold on an elbow and firmly escorted Miss Parker from the building.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

The more he thought about it, the angrier he was getting. What in the hell was she thinking?

Miss Parker was a grown woman, one who had survived much worse disasters in her life without going out and making a fool of herself like this and then dragging him out of bed in the wee hours of the morning to save her from her own folly. Why in the world she had chosen to fill in HIS name as her next of kin at the hospital was absolutely beyond him. They were work colleagues - acquaintances of long standing - NOT family! She had a twin brother, and a father, such as they were - although heaven knows, HE wouldn't want to claim either of them...

And how dare she put him in the position of having to make the kind of promises it had taken to get her out of jail! He was comfortably set financially, but $1000 was still a LOT of money to spend on a work acquaintance on a moment's notice, even if it was to be returned to him later. And heck, he had read the fine print on the papers he had signed in order to get her released to him. There was the criminal liability that would be his if she didn't fulfill all the requirements they had set for her - that alone was substantial, not to mention that he'd never see his $1000 again. Such a thing would have been acceptable to ask of a parent or relative - but he wasn't even related to her! What the bloody hell was she thinking?!

Tired, sleepy, and thoroughly disgusted with her, Sydney pointedly hadn't spoken a word to her since he'd climbed into the car next to her. Frankly, he didn't trust his temper not to flare uncontrollably at her while they were moving and cause yet another accident. But there were several things he fully intended to say to her once he got her to his home, where he could blow up at her with impunity.

She might have once been his boss at work, a person to whom he had for years needed to be accountable during the daytime. But they were in different departments altogether now - their work relationship had been severed the moment the hunt for Jarod had been suspended. They hadn't spoken more than a dozen words to each other since that day, mostly because there had been no extra-curricular friendship cultivated from either side. There was no logical reason for her to think that he continued to be obligated to come running the second she twitched a finger in his direction. She had no business pulling him out of bed in the middle of the night to rescue her from jail and a public intoxication charge! As far as he was concerned, she had violated the terms of their acquaintance the moment she had assumed the right to ask him to put his reputation and financial security on line to bail her out of trouble. At that point, as far as he was concerned, he gained the right to rail at her to his heart's content the moment it was safe to do so privately, something he fully intended to do in the very near future.

As he drove home through the dark streets of the hamlet, his mind suddenly erupted with the legal phrase for the way he was being asked to act: "in loco parentis". His mouth pulled into a tight line as he considered the Latin phrase for taking a parent's place or responsibility for the actions of a child. "Loco" meant place, but in another sense it also mean loony - crazy - and that was indeed what a person became when asked to baby-sit an adult who should know better. Wrapping her expensive Boxter around a telephone pole, indeed! There was no excuse...

He glanced over at her face at a moment when it would be reflected in the glare of a street lamp, and he could see that she had barely moved since she'd gotten into the car next to him. She still had her own gaze firmly fixed on the street ahead of them, her face expressionless and bleak. Were this any other time, and were the circumstances different, he'd have been beside himself with concern - a Miss Parker without her fighting spirit had something dreadfully amiss that would worry him more than almost anything else. But not at two-thirty in the damned morning, and not while driving her home from the police station where she'd been taken after wrapping her car around a telephone pole. What the bloody hell had she been thinking?!?!

Sydney steered the car up his driveway and into his garage, punching angrily at the opener to close the garage door after him. He unbuckled his seatbelt and climbed from behind the wheel, still without having uttered a single word to his passenger. He walked toward the connecting door that led into his kitchen without a backward glance, knowing that when she was ready, she would follow him into the warmth of the house. Still really quite angry, he stripped off his jacket and tossed it carelessly over the back of one of his kitchen chairs and flipped on the light. He seated himself at the kitchen table and folded his hands in front of him on the table to wait out her hesitation to enter his house. He had every intention of nailing her with a long-overdue lecture about responsibility and consideration for others, the latter a concept she'd never truly seemed to understand or practice, the moment she came through his door.

He didn't have long to wait. The timer on the light in the garage was set to extinguish itself in two minutes unless a switch was pushed, and a little more than two minutes later, the door to the garage opened slowly.

Miss Parker stepped through into the kitchen looking decidedly unsure of herself and thoroughly beaten. She cringed at the sight of Sydney sitting at his kitchen table, his hands folded in front of him, his face stony and hard, and his gaze fixed at a point on the opposite wall. She froze briefly in her steps before moving further into the room. Not since childhood had she felt so out of control and foolish, and thus humiliated and chastened, around another person - and of all people, Sydney had never been one to make her feel small or inadequate or insecure before. But then, she'd never before asked of him what she'd asked of him tonight - something she could never have even dared ask of either man who had claimed to be her father in her lifetime.

"Daddy's" affections had never been entirely trustworthy anyway, and Mr. Raines - evidently her real biological parent - was the Devil Incarnate NEVER to be trusted. She knew without a doubt that neither of them would have lifted a finger to help her had she asked, and she would never have even tried. Sydney, on the other hand, had always been supportive, caring, willing to help - and on a night like this, when she was so completely vulnerable and without excuse, he had been the one person still in her world upon whom she had thought she could rely absolutely. But while her trust had been proven well placed, obviously there was going to be a price to pay for his unquestioning and effective assistance at the drop of a hat. She would now have to face his anger; something she'd never really seen displayed fully before at all, much less had aimed directly and full blast at her.

"That must have been quite some bender you went on," he commented very quietly with icy coldness, then and only then looking over at her.

She lifted her gaze to his, her grey eyes filled with deep humiliation and regret, but found she couldn't answer him. There really was no acceptable answer - she knew it, and she knew he knew it as well. For once, there was no excuse for him NOT to be absolutely furious at her and in a position to express that ire at her freely, knowing she knew she deserved everything he might throw at her. His anger was actually one of the few things about this mess of an evening that she DID understand, something she almost expected. Were their positions reversed, she knew she'd have long since been reaming him a new one with lethal hisses aplenty.

She HAD dragged him out of bed in the middle of the night. She'd taken his long-standing relationship with her completely for granted for years while it suited her and pushed away his expressed concern every time it made her feel vulnerable. And yet, she had trusted without a single thought or doubt that he would still be right there and willing to take care of her somehow when she called, ready to make things in her world OK again after she'd mucked it up royally. One glance into those snapping chestnut eyes was all that was necessary for her to know, however, that things were not yet OK in her world - far from it.

She looked back down at her feet again, unable to maintain eye contact with him. She wrapped her arms around herself as if his attitude was refrigerating the kitchen and chilling her to the bone. His silence in the car had been nearly her undoing already. Never had she ever imagined that Sydney's anger and disapproval could be so difficult to weather - and never before had she ever felt reason to be frightened of the otherwise mild and genteel Belgian or his temper. But "Daddy" had always yelled and made lots of noise, and generally lashed out liberally with a hand or fist as well - so silence, restraint and a lethally calm voice, completely foreign to her experience, were utterly terrifying.

"Well?" that frighteningly quiet voice continued, "Do you have nothing to say for yourself?"

She didn't move for the longest of times after the sound of his voice had died away. Then first one tear, and then another, dropped from lowered eyelashes to wash tracks down pale cheeks as she began to shake from the inside out in humiliation and terror. Then it was as if she were a leaky balloon, rapidly losing volume. She folded in on herself with a soft sigh and only barely managed to find the nearest empty kitchen chair before her legs refused to hold her up any longer. She collapsed into the chair, leaned forward and buried her face in her hands.

"You can turn off the waterworks, Parker; it's far too late for them to do you any good with me." Sydney's voice remained cold and completely unmoved. "It was too late the moment you climbed behind the wheel with too much to drink. Look me in the eye and tell me just what the hell you were thinking by dragging me into this," Sydney demanded in an icy-calm voice that snapped with restrained ire. When she didn't move, however, his voice became a verbal whip that snapped and lashed out at her sharply. "Melissa Parker! You will LOOK at me! You OWE me at least that much!"

His use of her first name in that tone of voice brought her head up immediately, but Miss Parker knew she was in no position to be the least irritated about his knowing - much less actually using - that long-discarded name. The shaking inside her grew greater at this new glimpse at his angry face, and tears ran unchecked down her cheek. "Sydney," she managed finally in a very soft, hazardously unsteady voice, "please..."

"'Please?!'" His voice grew even quieter as he became more incensed. "Is that all you can..."

Whatever little control she still had over her emotions cracked and shattered with the return of that lethally quiet, angry voice. With a torn gasp, she slipped from her chair to her knees and leaned her head heavily onto his thigh and clutched at his nearest arm. "Oh please... don't..."

At long last, the degree of her apparent distress touched him and cooled his anger to the point that he could begin to see just how broken she was quickly becoming. "Parker, c'mon now..." he said more gently and reasonably, reaching for her to help her back into her chair again only to find her limp and practically boneless. She slipped from his grasp without even trying, slipped even away from his lap and ended up a crumpled heap at his feet.

With that, Sydney's fury died quickly, as if the flames he had tended and built so carefully were suddenly doused with ice water - and all his plans for a stern and timely parental lecture while he was still angry enough to carry it off properly flew right out the window. He suddenly realized that this was no act - no ploy for sympathy. Miss Parker, one of the strongest personalities he'd ever met in his life, actually was psychologically disintegrating before his very eyes, and the process had started long before he had been called to the police station - had probably actually started long before she'd climbed into her car for her ill-fated drive. He stood and then immediately knelt next to her and with gentle hands sat her up and turned her until she was facing him.

"Hey!" he called to her gently, cupping a cheek and trying to get her to look at him again. "What's going on here?" But she could only shake her head at him, her violent shivering making her defensive hand movements almost combative. Sydney subdued the flitting, trembling hands and then drew her to her feet, carefully slipping his arms around her so that he was supporting her weight almost completely. With his arms tightly ringing her front and back and holding her to him very tightly to keep her from collapsing on him again, he led his shivering and stumbling guest into the darkened living room. There he deposited her gently on the couch, turned on a nearby floor lamp and then sat down next to her.

"Parker," he called gently, and with a hand smoothed back the tangled hair from her face. "Look at me."

But she was too shattered now to obey him. She sat where he had placed her, sagging forward as if she were a puppet with its strings cut, shaking uncontrollably inside and out; and the sobs that finally began to rip from the bottom of her soul made her utterly incoherent. Mollified and growing more upset by the moment that she could have gotten into this state without his having noticed at all, Sydney simply gathered her close again and held her to him wordlessly. It took a very long time for her violent sobbing and quaking to wane to only hiccoughs and quiet weeping. "I am SO sorry, Sydney," she whispered into his chest at long last with a final shudder.

"I know you are," he soothed, relieved that she was at least functional enough to speak to him intelligibly again.

All she heard was a soft voice - the lack of anger in it didn't register. "I can't..." She started to cry more heavily again. "Don't be so..."

He could feel her shivering beginning again. "Calm down, everything's alright now..."

"Sydney, you're... don't leave me..." Her fingers began moving frantically, clutching at his tear-dampened shirt. "I can't... lose you too..."

"Parker, you're not making sense." Sydney blinked. "I'm not leaving," he assured her gently. "You're not losing me. You had them call me - remember?"

"But... Momma... left me... Faith... Thomas... Daddy... now Jarod... and you were so... so..." she listed her losses painfully through her tears, finding speaking almost beyond her. "Oh God... I'm alone now... nobody... I can't... do this..."

"Shhh... Quiet, now," he directed gently, stroking back her tangled hair over and over again as she rested her head limply against his shoulder and shook violently from head to toe. "Rest easy and don't try to talk for a bit. Just take deep breaths and concentrate on the sound of my voice. Listen to me." He made his lightly accented voice smooth and hypnotic, the very opposite of both the quiet fury and the sharp verbal whip he'd been wielding such a short time ago. "You're safe now; I'm right here beside you and I'm not going anywhere. You're not alone. I'm right here. Relax. Breathe..."

She tried, she really did, to follow his instructions - to breath and relax and listen to the reassurances that he kept repeating over and over again in his hypnotic, sing-song voice. The ragged need to gulp in air around her tears slowly eased, but the tears themselves kept flowing freely and copiously down her face. She kept her hold on the front of his shirt tightly, as if afraid she was going to be ripped away from him by force.

"Why, Sydney?" The question was asked so softly that he almost didn't hear it.

"Why what, Parker?"

"Why did he leave?" The fingers tightened their hold on the shirt yet again.

"Why did WHO leave?"

"Jarod."

Jarod? She was asking him about Jarod NOW? "Because he knew that The Centre - and you - would never stop hunting him down otherwise," he replied gently. "I told you this a long time ago, Parker, that he was tired of the game and wanted out."

"But..." She struggled to make her tumbled mind process thoughts properly again. "I thought..."

"You thought he was kidding. I know." Sydney adjusted his hold on her without letting go. "I tried to tell you that he wasn't... and you wouldn't listen."

She sniffled, she was crying again softly. "Momma left me too, Sydney - she went through that horrible act, let me think she was dead, even though... Then Daddy... used to get so... he blamed me for everything..."

Sydney shushed at her indulgently. "Surely not... You were so young... you can't still think he blamed you for anything..."

"He did... He told me... that it was my fault, that if Momma hadn't felt she had to 'rescue' me, she'd still be alive..." Her tears were flowing faster again, and the words seemed to just tumble from her. "Sometimes he'd get so angry... he used to... hit..."

"Parker!" Now she had his full attention, and he realized that he was hearing the voice of a badly abused child whose defenses had finally so completely crumbled away that she couldn't help exposing a suffering that had lain hidden for decades, festering and poisoning a helpless soul. He was hearing at long last a voice that had been crying out in all sorts of other ways for years, and yet had never been heard before this. The realization was an enlightening, sickening one. "Why didn't you say something..."

"Because I believed him," she said simply. "He was right - it WAS my fault. I deserved whatever he... So one time, I decided I would do... whatever it took... I stopped... letting him know... letting him see...how much it hurt... and he kept on... and on..." She stopped speaking again for a while when her shaking began to interfere again. "I never tried it again."

"Did you ever tell anyone?" Sydney asked in a shocked whisper, nauseated by what he'd just heard. As her words had tumbled out and painted this incredibly ugly story, he marveled that she had even survived childhood with anything approaching sanity.

"Only Jarod. He saw the bruises after that one... Daddy got so mad, he wasn't careful where he hit so that it wouldn't show... and I didn't stay away long enough..."

"He never told me..."

"I asked him not to, made him swear," she whispered. "I was so ashamed... All this time, I... did whatever Daddy wanted... so he wouldn't... hate me anymore... even though I deserved... And then on the plane... after all those years, Daddy just opened the door at ten thousand feet and stepped out... And now Jarod just walks away too..." She choked back a wrenching sob. "Sydney, tell me the truth - am I such a horrible person that..."

"No, you're not! Hush now!" The psychiatrist held her tightly to him. "Don't EVER think that!"

"I thought... when you were... so angry... so quiet..." Talking around the sobs was getting difficult again. "I'm so sorry... forgive me, Sydney?"

"Of course I forgive you," he soothed, smoothing her hair back rhythmically again. "I just wish you'd have come to me - talked to me - a long time ago."

"I thought... I was so afraid that... every time I talked - REALLY talked - to anyone... they eventually would turn away... or leave... or die... Momma, Daddy, Thomas, Jarod..." She buried her face against his shirt. "Then you were SO... quiet.... I thought I'd lost... and I'd be completely alone... You scared me, Sydney..."

Sydney tightened his arms around her yet again, keeping his voice smooth and soothing. "I was angry with you, Parker, and for good reason. And even though I do forgive you, I admit that there's a part of me that's still very angry with you - nothing's really been settled between us yet. I admit I meant to intimidate you; I just didn't mean to frighten you to the point of collapse. And for that I *AM* sorry."

He felt her body lose just a little bit of its tension, and the violent quaking abated back to simple shivering again. "But we're talking now, though, REALLY talking, I think for the first time in a very long time, eh?" He stroked her hair. "And angry or not, I'm not going to turn away or leave you now. You had the police call me. That means I'm in this with you now, and I'm GOING to help you through this, one way or another - whether you like it or not."

"Promise?" The question was whispered while fingers twisted in the damp shirt fabric once more.

The little-girl-lost attitude was painfully wrenching, given the incredible and unexpected revelation of long-term physical and emotional abuse. He nodded firmly, knowing she'd feel his movement. "Yes, Parker, I swear it; and you know that I always keep my promises," he said solemnly, then pushed her away from him slightly so that he could cup her cheek and tip her face up to his. "So... Do you think you can look at me now?" he asked gently. Very slowly, very hesitantly, she blinked open her grey eyes, tears still swimming deeply and overflowing. "Am I still so terrifying?"

She shook her head slightly, but couldn't hold the gaze for very long before she shuddered and moved to rest once more against his chest without a word.

"Whatever am I going to do with you?" Sydney asked in gentle exasperation. He tsked at her softly when he felt and heard her breath catch again, then shook his head and wrapped his arms around her again to let her cry herself out again for as long as it needed to take when she began to sob again, quietly. This time, however, he felt her arms loop themselves loosely around him and hold him back, but not with desperation or fear but rather acceptance of his support. He knew they were cleansing tears she was shedding this time, and he was certain that this was but the first of many similar storms to come.

This collapse had not happened in a vacuum, indeed it had been coming for far longer than he ever could have imagined possible. Helping her put herself back together again was not going to happen either easily or in an instant - the decades of physical and emotional abuse capped by perceived repeated abandonment couldn't be undone overnight or through a single, painful, confession. As tired as he was, he knew that her salvation - her redemption - was going to lie in the realization that she'd found safety and refuge at long last, and someone she COULD trust. For the first time in her life since her beloved mother had left her, apparently, she could learn to be free from the fear of either abuse or abandonment. As she learned to trust and feel secure, he was certain that most if not all of the causes of her alcohol abuse would disappear. She needed treatment, yes - but more than that; she needed the support of someone who genuinely cared, someone who cared enough not to walk away from her when she needed help and didn't know how to ask for it.

'In loco parentis'. Sydney sighed as the phrase popped into his head yet again, and with that sigh finally accepted the fate destiny had decided at this late date was to be his. Jarod, another for whom he had so willingly acted 'in loco parentis', had once spoken to him about how the bonds of family didn't depend so much on blood as they did on love. Given that, he realized he WAS as much her next of kin as either Raines or Lyle after all - and that he could relax now and stop pretending he didn't care about her deeply after all. As she sobbed, he began to shush at her softly and rock her gently in his arms the way she'd needed to be held and comforted for so very long by a loving father - only to be beaten and convinced of her own lack of worth instead. He held her the way he'd long wished she'd have allowed him to do when she hurt so many times in the past, grateful to finally have the chance to render the needed assistance.

Once her breathing had once more evened out, he loosened his hold and took a quick glance at his wristwatch. "OK. Its now three forty-five in the morning. You're exhausted and still under the influence of however much of whatever it was you pickled yourself with before wrapping your car around that pole. I'm exhausted from being dragged out of bed in the middle of the night. So what I'm going to do right now is I'm going to park you in the spare bedroom so you can sleep it off, and I'm going to climb back into my own bed to catch up on my own sleep. We will deal with the rest of this in the morning when you're sober and we're both a helluva lot fresher." He pushed her away from him and turned her face to his again, his voice becoming slightly more firm and determined despite its gentleness. "And we WILL deal with this - ALL of this - in the morning, Parker, won't we?"

"Yes, sir," she agreed in a very chastened but thoroughly relieved voice. She was finally able to look him in the eye without urging now, and for a slightly longer period of time, although there was a new and healthy respect and hesitation in that look. She had now experienced first hand the wide spectrum of the parental side of Sydney's nature, and she wondered belatedly if she'd ever really known the man that well at all. Perhaps if she had...

"Come on, then," he said tiredly, rising to his feet and reaching down with both hands to draw her to her feet with him. "I'll help you up the stairs, so you don't fall and break your neck." He settled one arm about her waist and grasped the far forearm with the other and helped her walk slowly and carefully from the dimly lit living room and up the stairs. He opened the door to the spare bedroom and turned on the light. "Give me a moment, and I'll get you a spare robe of mine for morning, and something to sleep in for now." He ducked into his own room, snatched up one of his dress shirts and a bathrobe from his closet, then brought them back to Miss Parker as she stood in the doorway and put them in her hands. "Here."

"Thanks." She looked up at him again, this time her expression was clouding again. "Thank you, Sydney - for everything. I'm just so sorry..."

"Not now," he shook his head and with gentle hands turned her away from him and gave her a little push into the bedroom. "We'll talk in the morning. Sleep, Parker - go to bed, sleep it off." He pulled the door closed, then turned with a yawn to flip off the hall light.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

The knock on the bedroom door awakened Miss Parker with a start that awakened every last ache and pain throughout her body. As a result, she answered the knock with a groan, and then heard the door open at the sound.

"I brought you some coffee," Sydney announced in a soft voice, as if aware of the pounding anvil between her temples, "and some Tylenol. I figured you could use it."

"I feel like I've been hit by a semi," she barely managed, rolling onto her side to peer up at him with bloodshot eyes that blinked in the full morning sunlight. Even the rich, dark emerald green of his robe was too much for her. She groaned and covered her eyes with a hand, and then groaned as moving the arm to put her hand over her face ignited new adventures in pain.

"It wasn't a semi," Sydney responded dryly, "it was a telephone pole." He seated himself on the edge of her bed, careful not to jostle her too much. "Here," he nudged her arm with a hand closed around the tablets, "these will help the headache and all the assorted aches and pains from the accident itself."

"Oh God, it WASN'T a dream then," she breathed, moving her hand painfully away from her eyes and, eventually, taking the tablets from Sydney.

He brushed her tangled hair away from her face so that he could examine the butterfly bandage over the cut on her forehead. "No, I'm afraid that it was quite real," he replied still dryly and somewhat distractedly. His brows pulled together somewhat in concern as he saw signs of her having broken the wound open in her sleep both in the dried blood on her forehead and the small stain on the pillowcase. "So are any memories you might have of the police station or being in handcuffs."

Miss Parker had no response to that. She shot him a look filled with deep regret and utter humiliation, then rolled onto her side to prop herself up on an elbow as she reached for the coffee to wash the tablets down her dry throat. She handed him the coffee cup back, then lay back into her pillow and closed her eyes in a futile attempt to stop the sudden upsurge of tears from escaping. She would have rolled and curled herself away from him completely as well except that a hand at her shoulder prevented her movement. "Uh-uhn. None of that, Parker. Stay with me here."

"Sydney..." She squeezed her eyes tightly shut, but a tear still escaped and ran from the outer edge of her eye down the side of her face. The moment she stopped struggling against that gently restraining hand at her shoulder, however, it moved to stroke her hair back gently - and the gesture gave more tears the encouragement to follow where their leader had gone before.

"How much of last night's excitement DO you remember?" Sydney asked gently, fingers carefully wiping tears away.

"I... I was at the Fox and Hound..." she began, sniffling.

"Obviously. Do you remember what you were drinking?"

"Bourbon. Neat."

Sydney winced. "That accounts for at least part of the headache and probably a sour stomach as well, no doubt. Do you remember leaving?"

Miss Parker would have shaken her head, but the first movement of her neck reawakened muscle aches. She stifled a groan. "No. Actually, I really don't remember much of anything until... they brought me out of that cell and you were waiting. Everything between sitting at the Fox and Hound and then is just a blur."

He nodded, filing the information away. "And after that, do you remember what happened?"

Bloodshot grey eyes slowly opened and focussed on the face above her through the tears. "I remember I've never been so scared of you before in my life. I've never heard someone so angry be so quiet."

Sydney's face reflected some regret. "I know."

"Are you still angry?" The question came at him in the tones of an apprehensive child, and he was reminded again that he was dealing with a person who could only remember verbal and physical abuse as a valid expression of anger.

"Not half as much as I was," he said after giving his own emotions a thorough assessment, and saw her face relax just a little bit. "Most of my temper came from being pulled out of a sound sleep at 2AM to drive to the police station and bail you out of jail and being almost too tired to think straight myself." His chestnut eyes bore into hers. "But face it, considering the way we HAVEN'T had much to do with each other lately, that was the last thing I should have expected from you - especially being told that you wrote down on your forms that I was your next of kin."

"Sydney..." she started again, a new tear escaping. "I didn't know who else to put down..."

"Hush, it's alright. I'm glad you had them call - now that I've had some sleep, that is." His fingers caught the new escapee. "I promise I'm not really angry with you anymore, Parker - but I am VERY disappointed in you," he continued in blunt honesty. "You know better than to drink that heavily outside your home and then try to drive."

"I know. I don't know why..."

"Frankly I don't care why, so don't even try to justify yourself." Sydney told her firmly. "It was an incredibly stupid thing for you to do - and I know you're not a stupid woman. You're damned lucky you didn't kill yourself or somebody else - and I know you're not normally so careless or thoughtless of your own welfare, much less that of others, either. You also took it for granted that I would come to your rescue at the drop of a hat, willingly open my checkbook and dish out thousands of dollars to get you out of a jam you'd put yourself in as if I live merely to serve your whim - after having totally and conveniently forgotten that I was even alive. That's what makes me so disappointed. But..."

"I'm so sorry, Sydney." she reached out a hand to his arm. With just those few words, he had managed to make her feel disappointed in herself, to bring the full weight of her actions into proper focus. "You're right. I..."

"You didn't let me finish," he frowned down at her, and she fell silent again. "But in the end, I think that accident was the best thing that's happened to you in a long time."

The hand fell away and grey eyes stared up at him in shock. "What the hell are you talking about?" she asked with a dim shadow of her old bravado.

"You need help, Parker, and unfortunately you needed to reach a point where you couldn't avoid getting that help any longer. For almost as long as I've known you, you've never let anybody help you when you hurt, when you got knocked down - even when you knew you needed the help desperately. It was like your going it alone was the only way you could prove yourself worthy - and all it did really was make matters worse for you and everyone else who WOULD have helped you. Your getting drunk and wrapping your car around a pole last night may not have been the safest way to arrive at that point where you'd get help whether you wanted it or not, but it did do the job..." He stroked her hair back gently one last time. "And like I told you last night, when you had to tell them who to call, you had them call ME - and that puts me right in the middle of making sure you GET the help you need, one way or another, regardless of whether you like it or not. And that's exactly what I intend to do, starting right now."

The shock had become simple insecurity. "What do you mean?"

Sydney's voice got firm, but it was backed by a warm expression in his eyes. "I mean that you decided to call me in the middle of the night to get your ass out of jail, and this is fair notice that you need to be ready for everything that goes along with that - or get ready fast, because things change as of now. You're going to get the whole package and it works two ways. I WILL help you, Parker. I'm with you completely in this because what you've really asked for and what I will be giving you is nothing less than a commitment of the heart that can't get turned off again. The most important thing, however, is that this commitment will be a mutual one. Do you understand what I'm talking about?" She shook her head, eyes wide and searching.

"Then I'll tell you, because you need to know and be aware of what's going to happen from now on. Were you anybody else last night, you would have been calling for a family member to help you out - and when you called me, you called out for the only person left in your life you thought MIGHT actually care enough to help. Right?" He waited, and she finally nodded reluctantly as the tears swam deep in her eyes again. "Well, then, as the saying goes, 'be careful what you wish for, because you sometimes get it.' You needed and wanted a surrogate family member to come to your rescue; well, then, a surrogate family is what you get as of right now. From this moment on, our relationship changes and there will be NO going back. Do you understand?" He waited again, and when she nodded again, he could see that her gaze held just a hint of hope struggling through the tears. Still, there were important things to be spoken between them openly at least once. Considering her past experiences, he couldn't leave these things unaddressed.

"There are a couple of things I do promise and you can trust in my keeping these promises. I promise you I will NEVER raise my hand, fist or voice in your direction. I do not yell, I do not hit, ever. OK? And I promise I will NEVER abandon you. You're family now, the only family I can claim with impunity." He smiled at her encouragingly, and was glad to see that she tried to return the smile, however hesitant and fragile the attempt.

"And right now I'm telling you to get your butt out of that bed and come downstairs and eat something. Then after you take a nice hot shower and soak some of those aches and bruises, we can get you to your house to get more decently dressed and pack some clothes for your stay here."

"Sydney, no..." she began in protest, only to have his hand fall gently on her mouth and stifle her from speaking, then raise up and shake a forefinger at her nose.

"You will NOT argue with me on this, Parker," he warned in a firm voice. "I'm legally responsible for you until a week from Friday, which means I'm going to keep you where I can keep an eye on you until at least then." He could see in her expression that, however unhappily, she was accepting his terms. "Besides, once you're dressed in something other than my borrowed shirts and bathrobes, we will head back into town and to the mental health center to get you signed into that substance abuse program that was a condition of your release into my custody. And without a car, and until you find out whether you lose your license, you'll need me for basic transportation - whether it be to treatment or back to work."

"But... What about work...?" She had the good sense to look concerned. "Won't my - our - absence be noticed? What will they say when they find out...?"

"You should have thought of that before heading for the Fox and Hound last night," Sydney shook his head. "But you're in luck. I called Broots last night from the police station, and he's running interference for you this morning. I was between groups of test subjects and could be expected to be taking a day or so off as a matter of course anyway. And, for what its worth, I took care of short circuiting a police report of your arrest last night so it won't be crossing the desk of anybody at the Centre on its way to your desk. We have a window of time here to get things in motion that need to be done with a minimum of Centre involvement."

He rose and retrieved his donated robe from its place draped across the foot of the bed. "So here," he said, tossing it at her hand. "Put this on and come down for a decent breakfast, and lets get going. We have a full day ahead of us."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

"I gave them the excuse that she wasn't feeling well, that it was probably the 'flu," Broots explained as Sydney closed his front door behind the tech. "And I reminded them that you often took a day off between different groups of subjects."

"That's what I had hoped you'd do," Sydney nodded, and ushered his younger friend into the living room and waved him to make himself comfortable.

"So... Where is she?"

Sydney jerked his head in the direction of the stairs. "Upstairs, resting. Her first interview with the program psychologist was harder on her than I think she was expecting. And she still has a number of aches and pains from the accident that the Tylenol I gave her before she lay down won't be able to entirely put down." He gazed evenly at the younger man. "I think I'm going to need your help, Broots."

"With Miss Parker?" At Sydney's nod, the tech swallowed then nodded back. "You've got it. What do you need?"

"Most of the reasons she managed to get herself in this jam is because she hasn't let anyone in - she's been going things alone for the better share of her life. We both know she couldn't really trust Mr. Parker to be very supportive - and some of the things she told me... well, she's been on her own for a whole lot longer and through a whole lot more than either of us ever imagined. This latest with Jarod disappearing was just the last straw - I tell you, Broots, last night she went through an emotional breakdown after I got her here. She's functional at the moment, but very fragile."

"Geez!" Broots gazed in the direction of the stairs with sympathy. "Who'd have ever guessed..." He looked back at the older psychiatrist. "So, what do you have in mind?"

"She's in treatment now for the alcohol, and part of that will include treatment for depression. But what the treatment program can't give her is a more... immediate... support system. Our Miss Parker needs a family behind her, people who care for her." The chestnut eyes gazed beseechingly into Broots' ice-blues. "I'll do what I can, but she needs more than just me behind her. I was hoping that maybe with you and Debbie involved, we could help make her recovery a shorter one."

"Well, yeah... sure! But will she accept us? I mean, after all, c'mon Syd - she calls me 'Scooby Doo' almost as often as she uses my real name, and you seem to vacillate between 'Freud' and 'Dr Spock' among others..."

Sydney shook his head. "I discussed much of my relationship with her openly this morning, mostly because it was I who ended up filling out forms and writing bail checks and actually taking physical custody. With you and Debbie, however, I was thinking of something more in line with you just being friends - and you two just being HERE on a fairly regular and frequent basis, so that things can develop naturally. She and Debbie are already close, after all, so there's a foundation to build on."

Broots thought for a while. "OK," he agreed finally. "We're in. Miss P has stood up for me and mine often enough and I've never had a chance to repay that in any kind of practical way before. How about we have supper together tomorrow? Deb can fix a casserole, and you can supply salad and bread and dessert?"

"I'm not sure what kind of shape she'll be in," Sydney warned, "but that still sounds good to me. Seeing that she doesn't need to be one hundred percent to have others care is something she needs to experience."

"Sydney? Did I hear voices?" Miss Parker's voice came from the stairs, and she took several steps into the living room before she saw Broots and blanched. "I'm sorry, I'm interrupting," she murmured and turned as if to flee.

Broots stood quickly and, after a hasty glance at Sydney, reached out a hand and snagged hers before she could pull too far out of reach. "Hey!" he exclaimed in a soft voice. "Its just me. I just stopped by to let Syd know that I gave you the 'flu for a couple of days, so you don't have to worry about coming in for a while." Keeping firm but gentle hold on her hand, he held her still so that he could step around the sofa and face her. "I'm just glad you're OK," he said gently when he saw that she was having trouble meeting his gaze. "By the way, I took a drive past the impound yard and saw your car - or what's left of it. You're lucky to have walked away from that!"

"Broots and Debbie will be joining us for supper tomorrow evening," Sydney announced with a cautious eye to her reaction.

"I don't know that I'll be very good company," she said in an uncharacteristically hesitant voice, and Broots finally comprehended just how much of a breakdown she'd suffered. Sydney was right - she was fragile, broken; and suddenly, perversely, Broots would have done just about anything to bring back her swaggering, fighting spirit.

He put out his other hand very carefully to her shoulder in a gesture of comfort that he'd never imagined he'd be able to offer his touchy former boss. "You'll be just fine, Miss P. Don't you worry."

She looked at him directly at last, her grey eyes searching for the slightest sign of insincerity and only finding genuine concern and friendship in those pale blue orbs. "Thanks, Broots - for everything."

The normally nervous computer specialist patted her arm. "Not a problem, Miss P. What are friends for, after all?" And for the first time, Broots got a glimpse of the kind of smile Miss Parker was capable of, and he promised himself that he would see to it that he would see far more of them in the future. He smiled back at her. "That's better. You look much better when you smile, you know..."

Sydney watched the two of them hesitantly forge the beginnings of a new and more substantial bond between them, and suddenly he knew that not only would Miss Parker recover from this near disaster, but that it spelled the beginnings of a whole new life for them all. Jarod was gone, but in his wake they had discovered a legacy of new family ties that would sustain them all in much better state than any of them had enjoyed before.

Like he had told Miss Parker only that morning, the accident was most likely the best thing to have happened. For all of them.


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