By The Grace Of God by jacci, admin

1. Jarod Is Caught by jacci

2. Curious Jarod, meet the box by jacci

3. Welcome Sydney by jacci

4. Sydney finds a present in a box by jacci

5. The Phone Call by jacci

6. Jarod, door and Parker by jacci

7. Let's Have A Little Look by jacci

8. Plane Ride by jacci

9. Welcome to Gandi by jacci

10. Jarod Eats Grubs by jacci

11. Jarod Eats Vegemite by jacci

12. Medical Exam by jacci

13. Bailey Goes Outside by jacci

14. Jarod Is Brought Back Home by jacci

15. Jarod's First Real SIM by jacci

16. The Threat by jacci

17. The Escape by terri_tpfan

18. Jarod Draws Walter by jacci

19. The End by jacci

Jarod Is Caught by jacci
Disclaimer: We dont own then, yada yada yada...

Authors note: Just to let you guys know, the people that were reading By the Grace of God, it has been changed. I am going to remove the orignal version from my page and post the revapmed version here. I hope you like this one as much as you liked the other version. If you want some more of the orignal, let me know and will finish it. As for this one, it was co-written with Jaccione. We both would much appricate any reveiws you guys feel like sending. So read on, enjoy and let us know what you think. Thanks heaps! Onisius

Chapter one...

“Who will it be?”

"It's a guy we want this time."

“Sure, but which one?”

Just as they finished their conversation a man walked past the three people in the dark alley.

“Him?”

“No, no, I didn’t get anything off of him. I'll know him when he draws near. I can feel him, feel the connection.”

They stood in the dark, waiting.

“Him, he’s coming, we have to get this guy!”

A tall man dressed in dark clothing and a leather jacket walked passed the alley, they grabbed him. One hand went over his mouth, smothering the inevitable scream. The other held a gun in it and directed it towards his back.

The unsuspecting man was dragged behind a dumpster. Before he could even register what had happened, they had put duct tape overs his eyes and mouth, cuffed his hands behind his back and bound his feet. This was done with a terrifying efficiency. He was trying to struggle, but it was no use, they finished off with a black hood over the victims head. The kidnappers did not fail to notice their victim's quick shallow breaths once the hood went over his head.

“Get him into the boot.”

Two of them lifted the struggling man into the boot locking him in there. They all got into the Black ’98 sedan, driving off.

The car was just entering the industrial park when it turned into an abandon warehouse. The driver parked the car and the boot was unlocked. It took a great effort to heave the unco-operative man out of the boot.

They placed the kidnapped man on a cold, hard, metal chair. As they tried in vain to re-tie the fighting man to the chair, one of the kidnappers decided enough was enough so the butt of the gun was used to hit him across the face rendering him unconscious.

When the drowsy man came to, he realised he was tied down to the chair. He struggled, testing the bindings, but it was no use. The tape over his mouth and eyes had been removed, leaving only the black, cotton hood.

Jarod had no idea where he was when he woke up but it only took him a moment to realise that he wouldn’t be going anywhere for the moment. He struggled to get loose from the ropes holding him to the chair he was sitting in but gave up when he realised that they would not give. He focused instead on listening to his surroundings, unable to see, he was not sure if he was alone or not. He closed his eyes and concentrated, remaining perfectly still as his breathing evened out again. He was grateful that they had at least removed the tape from his eyes and mouth, but the hood was very upsetting for him and he had to fight his own natural reactions to get control of himself.

Gracie watched him as he stopped his panicking. She listened as the rats scurried about the floor, running over the man's feet. Even though he had tried to hide it, she felt the fear coming off of him in waves and she had to wonder, why her body was telling her she had to get this one, that he was different form the others, that this might be the man work wanted and needed.

Jarod listened intently and heard the small sounds of what he guessed had to be rats, he could not suppress the shiver that ran through him at the thought of it. Once his mind calmed down a little he started to reason that this was probably not the Centre, not if there were rats. The Centre was many things, but it had always been spotlessly clean and in his entire stay there he had not ever seen so much as a single rodent. He guessed even the rats were smart enough to stay away from the evil in that place. He started to relax just a little, reasonably sure that he was not back at the Centre.

Grace walked slowly over to him, her heels clicking softly on the hard concrete floor. They had stripped the man down while he was out of it, only wearing his pants and the hood now. Bare feet, bare chest. She leant over, breathing hot air over his nipples and bare skin. This man would be fun for her to play with before they took him back if he was right. If he was still the wrong one, she would dump him some where and let him go.

Jarod heard the heels and tensed. He tried not to shiver as he felt her breath on him, realising for the first time that he was half-naked. The rats had scurried away at the first sound of her heels on the floor and he moved his head around, trying to locate her. "Parker, take this off me please,” He told her, trying to sound confident. But he was becoming more fearful every moment.

The men were just so much fun to tease like this. The few women she had taken often had families, little children at home and she would always feel extremely bad. She would skip the fun and games, find out whether or not they were what she was looking for before she cut them loose, giving them a bunch of flowers and an apology card. Gracie frowned when she heard the name Parker, it had such a strong sense of power, of fear, of leadership to it. She ran a soft fingernail over his collar bone, wondering if she finally got the right person.

Jarod moved away before he could stop himself, the fear building every second. This was not like Parker at all. She should be gloating by now and he started to wonder if perhaps he was wrong. Also, there was no Chanel, and Jarod could not remember a time when he couldn’t smell that on her. "Where am I? Who are you?” He asked, his voice a little shakier than before. Although if this wasn’t the Centre, perhaps all was not lost just yet.

Gracie leant over to his ear, "I am your new owner, you belong to me.” She whispered to him through the black cotton hood. Her hand on his chest, keeping her from over balancing as she leant into his ear, his finger nails digging in slightly. She loved his fear, could smell it, feel it, taste it.

Jarod tried to shrink from the touch, but was tied too tightly. That was another thing that told him this wasn’t the Centre. It would be cuffs and shackles, not rope. "Who are you?” He asked, trying to ignore her statements about ownership. Information was what he needed right now, and he had precious little of it. "What do you want?"

"You know, I think I finally have the right person,” She whispered to her boys behind her. They had sent her on this mission years ago, and her superiors were growing impatient with her lack of progress. She had found a few suitable people and had sent them in, they had proved to be useful. But she had to find just one, the one. Grace moved to sit on his lap, her legs spread at his crotch. Resting her arms over his shoulders she smiled at the hooded man, "I want your name first. Then I might think about letting you out of the hood."

Jarod shifted as much as he could to accommodate her weight. He frowned, wondering if she thought she had the right person, how she could not know his name? Unless she just wanted to confirm it was really him. He though about a lie, but decided against it. "Jarod,” He said, trying to sound confident, not wanting to show her his weakness.

"Well it’s nice to meet you then Jarod.” She said with genuine happiness. "You answer my questions, and I will answer what I can of yours. How does that sound to you?” She asked, trailing a finger across his naked chest as she talked, happy this one was so far behaving.

He wanted to move away from her very badly, but he needed to keep her talking. He didn’t recognize her voice and if she had been a sweeper, he doubted she would be playing this kind of game. "Sounds reasonable. But I think you may have made a mistake. I don’t know who you are after, but I am not him."

"That very well could be true, we are not sure who we are after either, but that is why you are here, to find out if you are whom we seek.” She was getting such different feelings from him. Hurt, sad, lonely, isolated and wondered if she might just have the right one. If she was feeling right, how lonely had been all his life, she knew how he felt.

"I don’t follow,” He said, wishing she would take the hood off.

"I am sure you don’t. Now Jarod, can you tell us why you were walking the streets in a bad neighbour hood, in the dark?" It was a strange thing for a man to be out alone in a neighbour hood like the one she had gotten him from. She was safe, she had her two boys. And even though this man looked very strong, it was still very dangerous. It made her wonder what he was up to.

Jarod was having trouble making any sense of this at all. If this was just some random kidnapping, he may be able to talk his way out of this without the Centre ever finding him. "I was just passing through,” He told her. He needed to keep her talking, find out as much as he could. There was something terribly wrong about this whole situation and dread was settling on him. If these people were not from the Centre, and so far that seemed to be the case, there was still some hope for him. She didn’t seem to know who he was at all, yet she was definitely looking for somebody specific, his job would be to convince her that she had the wrong man.

"Passing through to where? I want a last name, a job and a place of residency Jarod.” She ordered him in a strict tone. She was in no mood to play these sorts of games.

"Just Jarod,” He said. If she wanted information from him she could take the hood off.

"Then just Jarod, I think you might have confirmed it. If you won’t tell us, then you have something to hide. If you have something to hide, you must be who we seek. I will have to go call my boss now and tell him we are bringing you in, to ready a cell." Grace informed him, hoping it would get him talking. She knew he was hiding something, it was plain as day.

"No wait," Jarod said, starting to panic. He tried to loosen the ropes, but they wouldn’t budge. "Jarod Paterson,” He told her after a moment, using the name he had used on his last sim.

Gracie smiled. "And where do you live and work Mr Paterson?” She asked, her fingers tweaking a nipple as she heard the panic. He was scared of something, and it wasn’t just her.

Jarod hissed in a breath as she touched his sensitive nipple. He could feel his body break out in goose bumps and he tried to remain calm. "I am between jobs, and residences at the moment."

"That is not a good enough answer Mr Paterson. You will tell us your last job and residence then. And do not waste my time about it." Gracie ordered in a harsh, rough voice.

"Doctor, I am a doctor, was a doctor working at Memorial Hospital. What do you want from me?” He still couldn’t figure out why she wanted him to answer these questions. If she was prepared to take him back to a cell in the Centre, then this was really just a waste of time.

"What town and state where you working in? I am getting extremely tired of you not answering me correctly.” She said angrily, slapping his face though the fabric.

His head snapped to the side and he took a moment to gather himself, trying again to loosen the ropes around his wrists. "Locally, the hospital about 15 minutes from where I was taken,” He said slowly, trying to remain calm. He needed to be focused, ready for any opportunity that might present itself. She had not mentioned Raines or Parker or the Centre yet, so he was still hoping to get out of this without any Centre involvement.

Grace listened as she heard the soft taping of keys and knew Wil was checking his background. She stayed in silence, just watching the man she was sitting on. He had such a strong body, but held many scars and she wondered what they were from. Did he do extreme sports and get injured a lot? Or was there something more sinister about the scars? She could have sworn one or two looked like bullet wounds.

"What do you want from me?" Jarod asked again. "I don’t think you have the right man."

"I was waiting to see when your questions would start. I told you I would answer the ones I can. And if you are the right man, you will find out what I want soon enough. But if you are not...” She trailed off.

"If I am not?” He asked her urgently, not liking the sound of that at all. He had been working steadily on the ropes as he had been talking to her and given enough time, he might be able to work them loose.

"Then we deal with that when it comes don’t we?" She wanted him to be frightened, to feel threatened by the current predicament. When scared, they slip up, reveal things they would try to keep secret.

Jarod thought about that for a moment and decided that he wasn’t going to answer any more questions until she took off the hood. Without his sight, he was completely at her mercy.

Wil held the notebook computer up so she could see. He was a ghost, and Wil had been unable to find a single detail on him beyond the fact that up until today he had been a doctor at the hospital for about three weeks, and another hospital for a couple months previous, but before that, he didn’t seem to exist at all.

A few moments later, she saw Wil walk over and show her his results. "Now why Mr Paterson, did you not exist until 2 months ago?” She asked him with raised eyebrows. Funny how he refused to give up information, only for Grace to find out he did not exist.

Jarod sighed, whoever these people were, they were not amateurs. He remained silent, staring into the darkness of the hood, trying to fight off the memories that it conjured up.

Gracie gripped his neck and squeezed it hard. "I am sick of your games boy, you will answer my questions. Why do you not exist?"

Jarod remained still in her grip, trying not to fight her. "They were having trouble with their computers. I guess they still haven’t fixed it yet."

Grace removed her hand and tapped his cheek lightly. "Nice try sweetheart. But my boys aren’t that dumb, they didn’t just check the hospital records. And unless the entire world’s computers seem to not be working, you are lying through your teeth."

Jarod took a deep breath and shut his mouth.

Wil looked at her, wondering what she was she was going to do now. Most of them cracked in no time at all.

She nodded the boys over. "Untie him and fix him up over there.” She looked at the chains hanging down from the ceiling.

Jon moved over to them and waited for Gracie to get off of him before he started to untie his feet, careful not to be kicked while Wil worked on his hands.

Jarod tensed himself ready to move as he felt the ropes coming undone, but before he even finished the thought he felt something cold pressed into his back. "Don’t even think about it, unless you want a new hole in your leg."

Gracie smiled, Wil was always such a control freak. When he was done, Gracie grabbed one of his arms as Jon took the other and led him over. "Chain him up.” She ordered, watching as Jon lifted his arms and cuffed them, securing them tightly.

Jarod struggled to keep his panic under control. They had too tight a grip and that gun in his back ensured he would do nothing stupid. His limbs were also not cooperating with him and he found himself cuffed with his arms stretched above him, although not so high as to be terribly uncomfortable. He was terribly vulnerable in this position, but at least the gun was no longer boring a hole in his back. He wished for the hundredth time that he could see. He was fairly sure this wasn’t the Centre, but it could easily be some place just as bad.

"This is the last time I am asking you, why do you not exist Jarod?” She asked in an order.

Jarod closed his eyes and took a deep breath, remaining silent. Whoever these people were, the less he told them the better. If they had no associations to the Centre, he might still get out of this intact. The less they knew about him, the more chance they would not realise his value to certain people. The very last thing he needed was for them to sell him back to the Centre.

"Not a smart move," Wil said softly.

Jon loved this part. He moved to get the car battery and came back. He waited for Grace to give the confirmation nod and turned it on before placing the wet sponge against Jarod's body. They normally gave in after just one shot of the battery, not strong enough to resist them. He loved hearing their blood curdling screams, it just tickled him like nothing else.

Jarod jumped back violently as he felt the wet sponge on his bare chest and stomach. "Lyle,” He hissed, knowing what was coming next. He had played this game before and it had not succeeded with Lyle, and it would not work for them either.

Jon held the sponge against Jarod's stomach as the electricity ran through him, wondering who this Lyle character he was talking about was.

Wil watched him jerking in the chains, trying to move away from it and shook his head. Most of them learned quickly after their first taste of some real pain.

"Enough," Grace ordered and watched as Jon pulled back. "Now I ask you again. Why do you not exist?" Though Grace was somewhat surprised at how well he handled the electricity. She got the strange feeling he had been though this already.

Jarod sagged in the cuffs, breathing heavily. "Don’t know,” He ground out. He had managed not to scream, not wanting to give them the satisfaction. He had not been able to stop himself from jerking helplessly in the cuffs.

“Pigs arse you don’t know.” She placed her hand over his heart and closed her eyes, getting glimpses of his past. She pulled back as if she had been burnt. "They locked you up, away from the sun and rain. They used you." She whispered. That hit too close to home for her. She knew all about being locked up and used.

Jarod's lip curled under the hood as he sneered at her. "This is some kind of game to you?” He asked in disgust.

"You show respect," Wil said thumping him solidly in the back. He would not tolerate any shit from anyone, not when it came to Miss Gracie.

Jarod lurched forward from the blow, grunting loudly.

Gracie smiled at Wil. He always wanted the best for her. She had not gone a day without seeing Jon or Wil her whole life. Jon was more of a big brother figure, Wil more of her protector, guardian, father.

"You were only little, hiding under your covers. They came in for you, covered your mouth, took you out of your bedroom, they put the hood over your head. A hood just like this one." Her eyes were wide, feeling it, watching the glimpses in front of her. He was only very small, a child still. He was terrified, and had been terrified ever since.

Jarod had no idea who she was, but she knew things about his past she could only have known if she worked for the Centre and his heart sunk. He refused to say anything more, he would never cooperate with these people again.

Grace looked at him sadly, "Jon, let him down.” She knew Wil would have his gun ready and would shoot if he tried anything.

Jon did as he was told and un-cuffed him, watching him drop to the ground with a thud.

Jarod fell heavily to the ground and just remained there for a moment as the blood started rushing back to his hands. When he got them moving, he started to fumble with the knot on the hood, needing to get it off.

Jon stepped in and grabbed his wrists, stopping him. He hauled him to his feet, twisting his arm behind his back.

Wil watched impassively, his gun at the ready, waiting for further instructions from Grace. This one was a fighter, and he was going to keep a very close eye on him. He should be spilling his guts by now, begging for them to ask him questions so he could provide answers. But the man was not responding in the usual way at all. For most people, just being taken and tied up was enough to break them, the fear and uncertainty too much for them to cope with. But he was different, acting as if being kidnapped wasn’t anything too out of the norm for him. He was far too relaxed and it worried Wil. Also Gracie had reacted a little strangely to this one. He had never known her to stop with the car batteries until she had gotten at least some of what she wanted.

Jarod grunted loudly as his arm was bent up, almost to the point of breaking it. He forced himself to relax a little, knowing that they would as well. He would never have any opportunities while everyone was this tense and watchful.

"Bring him to his new room." Gracie ordered, leading the way. They always had a room set up, made of steel, everything welded down, no way for them to get out. She watched as Jon threw him to the ground. "Don’t touch that hood.” He ordered in a deep voice.

Jarod huffed as he hit the ground. He rubbed his arm, but otherwise remained still after sitting himself up where they had thrown him. He was desperate to get this damned hood off, but he didn’t make any further attempt just yet.

Following him in, the door shutting after them, Grace sat on the metal bed and watched him. "I wish you would co-operate Jarod, things would go a lot smoother."

Wil watched him, wondering who the hell he could be. They were usually screaming bloody murder by now or a sobbing mess. He was a cool one, that was for sure, and dangerous too he suspected.

"Smoother for who?” Jarod asked, not hiding the bitterness in his voice.

"For all of us. We get what we want, you don’t get hurt. It’s that simple Jarod. Things would be pleasant while you are here until we have found out what we need to know." She would rather not hurt anyone. All she wanted was to finish her assignment and go back home where things were safe for her.

"Pleasant?” He asked with a hollow laugh. "I can see how pleasant they have been so far.” His fingers moved of their own volition up to the knot again.

"Leave it Jarod,” She warned. "If you answer my questions, you will earn privileges, such as the hood being removed. So far you haven’t given my anything worthy."

Jarod wondered just what those privileges might entail. He tired to listen to see if the two men were in the room with him, but he couldn’t tell. His imagination was running wild, cooking up all kinds of things. "I want to see Sydney,” He finally declared. If they were at the Centre and this was some kind of mind game, he was not going to play along. If they wanted him talking, he would see Sydney first. He hated that he didn’t know if this was the Centre or not. She seemed to know too much about him for her not to be a Centre operative, but there seemed to be gaping holes as well. Unless of course that was all part of the game.

"Well, if you don’t exist Jarod, then how do I know Sydney does?” She asked him, watching him closely for any moves. She glanced at Wil, making sure he took note of the name for later use.

"I am not saying anything else until you let me see Sydney,"

"Well if you refuse to talk, then I guess I am just going to have to dispose of you. Wil the gun please." She hated when they forced her to get rid of them. But she sensed this one could be very important, so she had all intentions of just screwing with him for now.

Jarod knew she was bluffing and remained stonily silent.

Wil handed her his gun, watching closely. This was one cool customer. He was waiting for him to start begging for his life, pleading to be let go. But the man just sat there in obstinate silence.

Gracie loaded the gun and aimed it at him and fired with out blinking, the bullet searing through his arm before handing the gun back to Wil. "We will let the rats eat him.” She said as she and Jon quickly went about cuffing him to the floor, chains coming out of the bottom of either side of the wall.

She stood back, looking down at the hooded, half naked, bleeding man laying spreadeagled on her floor.

Jarod screamed as the bullet ripped through him and could not even resist as he found himself stretched out and cuffed before he had barely registered the pain. His arms were stretched tightly above his head, and he could feel the blood pumping freely. "You can’t leave me like this, I will bleed to death." He tried to move, but both his arms and legs were too tightly stretched, limiting his ability to move completely.

"Not if the rats don’t kill you first, go get the ones we caught the other day.” She ordered, looking at Jon. She knew Jon wouldn’t let her live this down knowing exactly how scared she was of rats, and how she would act like a girl around them.

He nodded and dashed off, going to get the 15 or so huge rats they caught in the traps.

Gracie sat down on Jarod's stomach, touching the wound. "That had to have hurt.”

Jarod shook his head, trying to think through the pain. He screamed as she touched the bullet wound, panting heavily. "If you let me die, they will kill you too,” He tried to reason with her.

"Well you see, my boss won’t know I had you. I get so many new people all the time trying to find a certain one. So it makes no difference if you die or not." Gracie said casually, poking around the fresh wound. "And why do you presume to think you are all so important Jarod?"

"What?” He hissed as she prodded it again. How could she know so much about him but not realise the implications if she killed him?

Jon came back with the caged rats. "I hate those things.” She said, climbing off of Jarod and standing on the bed, "Shut the door so they can’t get out and let them out of the cage."

"No, wait," Jarod said, breathing heavily as he heard them.

Jon nodded, "Not a problem.” He put the cage down and opened the door, letting them run out onto the ground. He didn’t fail to notice Wil climbing onto the bed as well.

"Too late Jarod, I gave you a chance, lots of them actually, and unless you tell me right now everything you think is important, I’ll just let them eat at your flesh.” She said coldly, watching them running around, climbing onto Jarod's body.

Jarod thrashed madly as he felt them on him, their tiny feet and whiskers all over him, twitching at the smell of his sweat and blood. "Get them off and I will tell you what you want to know,” He cried out desperately.

"No, you tell us first Jarod, you weren’t behaving, and you now must pay. And until you tell me what you think is important, they stay.” She said watching as they started to sniff around his wound.

Jarod was bucking his body, trying to throw them off, glad now that he couldn’t see. "I don’t exist anywhere except at the Centre,” He almost screamed. She had to know this, so she must have been after something else.

She nodded for Wil to check it up as she talked to Jarod, his laptop still with him. "Why were you at the Centre Jarod? What did they want you for?” She might have the right guy, she knew of the Centre, her work one of their rivals.

Jarod was panting now, his entire body twisting and contorting trying to dislodge them. "Pretender, I’m a pretender,” He screamed, giving in to full blown panic now. Pain was one thing, and he knew how to deal with that, but this was a whole different matter. This woman seemed content to let him die and he again found himself wondering if this was Centre related or not. He couldn’t figure it out, she knew far too much, but she wasn’t acting at all like the usual sweeper or cleaner. If she did work for them, she would already know what and who he was and if she didn’t, she wouldn’t know what it meant, so it mattered little anyway.

Gracie smiled, gotcha. "Get them off him.” She ordered Jon, not moving from where she stood on the bed.

Jon opened the cage and went about slowly, picking one rat up at a time by their tails, dropping them into the cage, not worrying about moving any faster as he saw one starting to nibble at the man’s wound.

Wil didn’t want to go near them and hesitated a moment before getting up. He started kicking them away, not wanting to touch them.

Jarod started to scream as he felt them gnawing on him, beyond any kind of reason now.

"Would you hurry it up? I hate these things." Gracie snapped at Jon. They were filthy and creepy and plain disgusting.

He sighed, he liked playing like this, he laughed as Wil just kicked at them. He got them all, having to pull the one off of Jarod's flesh.

When they were finally gone, Jarod lay there panting, his fists clenched tightly against the fear and the pain. He didn’t even want to look at the damage to his arm, but he would black out soon if he couldn’t stop the bleeding.

Gracie climbed off of the bed and undid him, helping him to sit up. She inspected his arm and grimaced as she saw the bits where the rats had torn his flesh off. She looked at Jon, "Get those things outta here and get me first aid kit,” She turned to Wil, "I need you to do a back ground check on Jarod here."

Wil nodded, sitting back down on the bed and started tapping away. "I will have to hack past some security, might take a while. Their head tech is pretty good."

"That’s ok. Take the time you need. We are in no rush.” She smiled at Wil, he loved doing this stuff.

Jarod half listened, trying to piece together who these people were and what they might want. The more he thought about it, the more confused he became. At the moment all he cared about was fixing up his arm and trying to stop any myriad of infections setting in.

Jon came back in and handed Grace the kit. "We need to stock up on medical supplies too soon. We are starting to run low. Either that, or you gotta stop hurting these people.” Jon said as he shook his head.

TBC
Curious Jarod, meet the box by jacci
Disclaimer. Dont own them, plain and simple.

Authors note: This is co-written by Jaccione and Onisius. Sorry for such a long delay and will try to make the posts alot faster this time. Hope you all enjoy, would love it if you could please R&R.

Gemini-M; Hey Mercy. It is always a pleasure to get something from you :) Thanks.

Sabrina; Thankyou for the reveiw. I am so glad someone likes the new version. I was worried about redoing it. But if you like it,then I am stoked.

Jill; Yes this story was already submitted, but I treid to explain this. The orignal I did not like too much. There were holes in it every where, and it wasnt flowing smoothly. So I scrubbed it and re-wrote it with Jaccione. I am so sorry for the confusion, I must not have made it to clear. Sorry again, and I do hope you enjoy this version.

Annette; No, this story does not take place in Great Britain. I am very well aware of what a boot is called in America, but I am not American. There is a reason for everything, which is explained later on.

Chapter two...

Well if they just simply did as I told and answered my question, there would have been no need for hurting anyone." Gracie replied, pointedly speaking to Jarod.

Jarod snorted loudly as he nursed his injured arm, fighting the urge to take the damned hood off. "I have medical training, I need to look at this." It was throbbing like crazy and he was having trouble not running SIM’s on everything from hepatitis to rabies and numerous other infections he might have gotten from the rodents. "Please,” He added on the end for good measure.

"We all have medical training Jarod. Though mine is pretty basic, Wil is our resident doctor, but he is a bit busy so you are going to have to put up with me. Unless you are willing to offer more information." Gracie asked, sounding every bit disinterested at the moment.

"What kind of information?” He sighed heavily, knowing just how vulnerable he was at the moment. He was terribly confused as to how this woman seemed to know so much and so little at the same time, and he still wasn’t sure it was some part of an elaborate game. Just when he thought he knew how to play it, she did something completely to set him back to square one. Jarod did not like this uncertainty at all, not used to not understanding the situation. He had never had control in the Centre, but he knew what to expect, and could try and prepare himself. After his escape, he was in control, rarely did he enter a situation now that he had not thoroughly researched.

Gracie shrugged as she poured some alcohol over a gauze and started to gently wipe the blood away. "What you were forced to do in the Centre, why you have ran away? I know you didn’t want to do what it was they always made you do."

Jarod hissed in a breath as she started to tend it. "Is the bullet still lodged in there?” He asked. He couldn’t feel it, and he wondered if it had passed right through.

"Answer the question Jarod, do not change subjects." Grace said but started to look for the bullet and was glad she couldn’t find it. Things would have gotten so much more messy if they had to dig a bullet out of his arm. But she knew how good of a shot she was, and she aimed just enough to hurt, not damage.

He forced himself to calm down, closing his eyes and steadied his breathing. "I think you can probably guess why I chose to run away.” He said calmly. She knew some things, but not everything. "I did many things while I was there. You name it and I have probably done it."

"You didn’t like it there, you were scared so much of the time, alone, hurt.” She looked at the wound more clearly and screwed her face marks up at the bites, "This Sydney, you wanted him to hold you, to love you, to be your father, but he always rejected you. So why did you demand to see him?"

Jarod had no idea who this woman was or what she wanted. "Sydney was my mentor, my handler,” He told her, his confusion obvious. He needed to draw her out, find out exactly what she did know and what she didn’t. She had already shown him her capacity for calculated cruelty, but he sensed an underlying conflict in her as well.

She glanced at Wil, happy to see him nodding to her, already on it. "So he knows you pretty well them?" They could use this Sydney person to find out more personal details about Jarod.

"Yes, probably better than anyone, what has this got to do with anything?"

"Are you willing to co-operate with me Jarod? Do as I say, answer what I ask of you?"

"Or what?” He asked, wanting to understand his choices.

"Or what just happened with the rats will seem extremely pleasant for you.” She said simply, putting down the bloody gauze.

"You don’t really know about the Centre do you?” He asked, guessing she knew some, but not very much. He wanted to appeal to her, get to know her as a person. Her voice was young, sometimes he thought it sounded like she was bragging, or trying to show off and he guessed she was new to this, although not new enough to have slipped up yet, he noted sourly to himself.

"Not really. I know of it, I know some of what they do there, but never actually met one of the their projects. And I am eager to see what my boss thinks of you.” She said smiling.

"He isn’t going to think very much if I am dead,” He argued back. "You are making a huge mistake, these people will hunt you down."

"The Centre does not know about me, which I am guessing is a good thing. Jarod, you don’t seem to comprehend this. I may think you might be useful, even the one my bosses had sent me to seek. But I have so far not reported back to them. No one on this planet knows I have you.” She never told her boss when she took people, just in case it didn’t work out. And for this instance, it was going to serve her well.

Jarod closed his eyes and tried to rethink his strategy. He did not know where he was, who these people were. He could detect at least two men besides this woman. He had no idea what she expected from him. "Please can you take this hood off?” He asked in a voice that was strained, but calm.

"Are you going to behave and co-operate Jarod? I know you don’t like hoods.” She said in a gentle voice taking his hands, "I don’t want to hurt you, but I must do it if you do not behave for me, or answer the questions Jarod."

"I will behave,” He said, resenting it terribly. He was not four years old. He forced his voice to remain neutral. He needed her to think she had won, that he had no fight left in him. He had to get her to the stage where she could trust him enough to remove the hood and the handcuffs. That way at least he would stand half a chance.

Gracie nodded and let is hand go, reaching up for the hood. She untied the knot and carefully pulled it from his head. She waited for the look of shock and horror, disgust. She was only 18, she knew she was young, but she knew she was talented. That’s why out of everyone back home, she was chosen for this mission.

Jarod blinked in the light and then looked at the child that was tormenting him. She was beautiful, but she couldn’t have been older than 16 or 17.

"You know how to hide your feelings well Jarod.” She said looking into his eyes. There was only very mild shock peeking out, "But I can still feel it, and I am sorry to have disappointed you, or anything." She bet Jarod thought his captor would have been older. They always did, and when they saw she was only a teenager, they always felt sick at the thought of some one so young would be caught up in kidnapping.

"Who do you work for if not the Centre?” He asked, completely taken aback by her age and the fact that she could be so callous. He was trying to cover his total shock but couldn’t take his eyes off of her. She looked so innocent, and there something in her eyes that he couldn’t quite read.

"Another organisation Jarod, I am not sure if you know it, but it doesn’t matter, I cannot say their name.” She smiled at him for a moment, "I am pleased to finally see your eyes, talk to you normally. The hood depersonalises everything don’t you think?"

He nodded at her and then turned his attention to his throbbing arm and winced at the sight of it. He thought he could overpower her easily, but he doubted he could get past the two goons so easily. "Do you mind if I get off the floor?"

"Yes I do mind,” She said, not allowing him to get up. She held out her hand for him to shake, "I am Miss Grace."

He took it and shook it gently. "Jarod,” He said, although it seemed absurd. "What am I doing here Grace? What are you doing here?” He looked around at the small room he was in for the first time and assessed quickly it was a cell, and that once locked, there would probably be no way to open it from the inside.

"It’s MISS Grace Jarod, please use my name correctly. And I have already explained this to you, I am searching for someone. And it seems you might just be him.” She looked at Jon, "This is Mr Jonathon, and that over there on the laptop is Mr William. You will obey their commands."

Jarod looked at the two men and then back to her. "Lucky me."

"If you do not get on their bad side Jarod, you will not have to worry about anything. They are really sweet, well to me anyway.” She grinned, ignoring the sarcastic tone of voice.

Wil looked up at her and smiled, not stopping his typing for one second, not sparing a second glance at Jarod.

Gracie pushed the first aid kit over to Jarod, "I assume you can look after your own arm? There is also some antibiotics in there, a syringe as well if you want to use it." She offered. She didn’t want his arm getting infected, or him bleeding to death. So she was quite happy to let him fix it up.

"Thank you,” He said as he took it gratefully. It was really only a flesh wound, and he didn’t think he would sustain any muscle damage, the bullet passing clean through, but the rats had made a mess of it and he shuddered thinking about it. Whoever or whatever this girl was, she was dangerous. He wondered how one got so twisted so young.

"You're welcome Jarod. As I said, you behave, do as I ask, answer what I question, and you will earn privileges.” She reminded him, watching as he got to work on his arm. "Why did they take you? Out of everyone on earth, why you?"

He didn’t look at her as he worked on his arm, cleaning it thoroughly and gave himself a shot of antibiotics after carefully checking the label, hoping she had not tricked him. He wrapped it up tightly and prayed it would be enough. "I have an anomaly in my blood, a gene that is different."

"And this makes you a pretender?” She asked curiously, she felt his doubt and saw it in his eyes. "Do not worry Jarod, I do not want to drug you, or make you sick. What the label says, is what medicine it is." He seemed so trusting, but so suspicious at the same time.

He nodded, wondering why she could read him so easily. "Yes, we think so,” He told her, although nobody really knew how it worked. Raines' attempts to create a pretender usually ended in disaster and they always said Jarod was the best natural pretender that they had ever seen.

"I wonder if they will breed you then?" Gracie thought out loud. "They would enjoy that very much." If they thought he would be fun to breed, they would force him into intercourse with another suitable project, regardless of how the projects felt. They would sit in front of the glass and watch them.

Jarod stiffened and closed his eyes. He was not some kind of farm animal. "What do you want from me?” He asked again, looking from her to the two men that were in between him and freedom.

"That is for my boss to decide Jarod, for now, I am just seeing if you are suitable enough to take back. But by the sounds of it, you are. If you were taken by the Centre, kept there, a pretender as well. I think my boss would love me if I brought you back.” She was thinking of the privileges she would earn for this.

"Who is your boss?” He asked casually. He had guessed that she probably worked for some kind of rival organisation and from the looks of things were just pulling people in at random from the street. He was just unlucky.

"I am not allowed to say his name, just in case. I will get into a lot more trouble then you are in at the moment if I risk him." And Gracie had found that out the very hard way. She still carried one or two scars from that lesson.

Jon watched him carefully, not liking how he was asking these sorts of questions, more so that Gracie was answering him.

Jarod wondered just who she was and who she could possibly be working for. She was only a child. He nodded at her. "Looks like you do this on a regular basis."

Gracie shrugged, "It is my assignment, and until they are satisfied I have got the person they want, I have to keep doing it."

"And who exactly are you supposed to be looking for?" It was obvious to Jarod now that they had not been looking for him specifically.

Grace shrugged. "Said I would know when I find them. My guess is I was meant to be looking for you. You are what they want, what they try to make, what they search for. And from what you told me, you are a natural, not a test tube."

Jarod narrowed his eyes at her, knowing he could not let her take him back to whoever she was planning to. Even the Centre would be better than allowing even more people to exploit him or try to clone him. And he knew the Centre, knew its weaknesses, knew how to escape.

Jon saw the look Jarod was giving her and stepped forward, hitting him upside the back of his head, "Don’t look at her like that boy. You will respect her."

Jarod made a face as his head snapped forward and tensed to strike at him but restrained himself at the last minute, with no hope of defeating them in such a small space, and he was reluctant to risk hurting the girl.

"Jon," Grace said, standing up and moved over to him. "Can you go get him some water please? And an apple?” She asked quietly, looking at Jarod, who was all but sulking.

"Sure Gracie.” He smiled at her and left to get what she had asked for.

Grace moved to sit back down next to him. "You are a very curious man Jarod. No one has ever asked so many questions before."

"I would imagine anyone in my position would have to be curious as to who you were, what you wanted, what was going to become of them."

"I have had a handful ask one or two questions, most just beg and plead. It is beyond annoying. It is refreshing for someone that is keeping calm, no matter how afraid they are. And it shows how smart you are, trying to be a bit more subtle about getting information, asking questions casually."

Jarod raised his eyebrows at her and shrugged. "If you like I could beg and plead, but I have the distinct feeling it will not do me much good."

Grace laughed a little. "No, it will do you no good, but thank you for being considerate about what I might want.” She grinned, this guy was fun, had a bit of a sense of humour.

"Now we have that settled, since I have entertained you, do you mind if I get off the floor?” He asked again. It was only a small concession, and he wanted to see how adamant she would be, how far he could push her. He sighed when he saw the darkening of her features.

"No, you will stay on the floor Jarod, do not ask again, when you are allowed up, I will tell you. Am I clear?” She asked, her voice sounding a bit harsh.

"It was just a simple question,” He said lightly, trying to brush it off casually. He was going to have to tread very carefully around her. She seemed in charge, but she also seemed to be behaving exactly like a sulky teenager and that was a very dangerous combination.

"I heard you at the start, you called out to Parker to take the hood off. The Parker's run the Centre. You must be pretty high up in the project chain to even be considered to speak with one of the Parker's." Grace stated casually, watching him closely, her green eyes wide and curious for knowledge.

Jarod snorted, "Oh yeah, it’s a real privilege."

"You should not be so disrespectful to your owners Jarod. This Sydney man did not train you very well at all."

"They do not 'own' me and Sydney was not my trainer. I am not some kind of circus animal.” He stated hotly.

"No of course not Jarod, you are a project. And I cannot understand how you can have such a bad attitude towards the people that gave you a home, clothes, food, safety. You should be more thankful and polite."

He looked at her with pure astonishment.

"You should remember your place." She didn’t understand Jarod’s behaviour. If he was really taken at such a young age, he should know how to act. But yet, he was so defiant, so angry at his owners for doing what was best for him.

"My place, as you put it, is living my life and trying to do the right thing."

"Your place is to be with whomever owns you, behaving, doing as you are told. Working on what they give you.” She argued.

He shook his head and sighed deeply. "And I suppose that is meant to be you at the moment?"

Gracie raised her eyebrows as she thought about it, "I guess so, never thought of it like that, I have never been an owner before you know." She was always the thing someone else owned. The one that someone else always bossed around, treated badly, played with. It had never entered her mind that the people she took for her boss were the things she owned. It was going to be sweet to own a project for just a little while.

Jarod looked at her and wondered if she were a 'project' herself. It was clear to him that she had never considered this before and he wondered how she had been raised, and if it was so dissimilar to his own upbringing. She seemed thoroughly indoctrinated in her attitude and genuinely perplexed at his. "Now we have our respective status sorted out, what is the next step?” He wanted her to feel in control, not threatened by him.

"Do you have a girlfriend?” She asked suddenly. He liked someone, she could tell that much from him, but wondered who it was. It always fascinated her how someone could love another. How touching the others body was such a big deal. And for a moment, she wondered if this badly trained pretender could tell her what the fuss was about it.

"No,” He said, startled at the abrupt change in conversation.

"How come? Maybe that is your training. Deep down, you know you are not allowed to have feelings for anyone of the opposite sex."

"My feelings are my own and I do with them as I wish," Jarod said defensively.

"Your feelings are what makes you such a good pretender, isn’t it?” She asked him curiously, trying to work this out.

He thought about it for a while and then shook his head. "No.” He knew that they got in the way of what he was supposed to be doing.

"So then if your feelings and emotions do not make you better at your job, why do you even care about them?"

"Because they are mine,” He explained as if it should be obvious to her.

"But they are no use to you." Gracie stated, clearly confused. Others feelings served her well with her job, she needed them, wanted them. But if they served no purpose to the pretender in making him better at his job, why would he want them?

"Feelings don’t have to be useful, they are just there, they define who you are, they make life worth living."

"You should be living to serve those that own you, that you work for. Not for your feelings Jarod."

He could see that talking with her was getting nowhere. "Then I will keep my feelings to myself."

"So you deceive those that are of more importance than you?"

"It is not a matter of deception,” He tried to explain. "More a matter of good sense."

"Oh." Gracie frowned as she thought about it. "So you hide your feelings from your masters in order to not only protect yourself, but to serve them better?"

"If you like," Jarod agreed.

"Well then that makes sense and is allowed if it will help you serve them more efficiently."

Jarod thought it was just easier to agree, so he nodded at her.

She looked up as Jon entered again and handed her the bottle and piece of fruit. "Thanks Jon.” She smiled and handed them to Jarod, "Thought you might like something to drink and eat."

"Thank you,” He said as he took them from her, taking a long drink before munching on the apple slowly. He didn’t know what to expect here, including his next meal, so it would be prudent to take what he could when he could.

"You're welcome Jarod.” She smiled at him as she stood up and moved to Wil, letting Jon watch over Jarod for now. She sat on the bed next to him, "How is it going?"

"He is good," Wil said, not looking up at her, "But it is only a matter of time. He may be good, but I am better." Wil had hacked many computer systems in his time and the security on this was impressive. He bet the head programmer was a net nerd who lived in his own systems and had no life whatsoever. But he had to admit, he was pretty good.

"Of course you are Wil.” She smiled at him. "I know you can do it, I have never known you to give up."

He shook his head. "He will crumble, just like all the rest,” He looked up and grinned at her.

Jarod thought this guy would have to be pretty good. Broots was hard for even Jarod to get around. Jarod had met few people with his intelligence, well, he had never met anybody to equal his intelligence, but Mr Broots was a worthy adversary for him when it came to the Centre’s mainframe.

"Keep at it, why don’t you go to the lounge or some where more comfortable to work on. No point having you sitting in here on this hard metal cot when there is no need for it."

"Will you be alright with him?" Wil asked, not liking the idea of leaving her alone with him while he was unrestrained. He was one cool customer and he wouldn’t have put it past him to use her to negotiate his release, or hurt her in an escape attempt.

"I will be fine, Jon will stay with me if it eases your fears Wil."

Wil nodded, snapping the notebook shut as he looked at Jarod one more time. "Don’t do anything that will force me to make you sorry."

Jarod just stared at him, chewing on his apple.

"It’s cool Wil, I’ll look after her." Jon reassured him, "We need you to get into the mainframe."

Wil nodded and left the three of them.

Jon shut the door, making sure it was secure.

Gracie looked over at Jarod, "You may get off the floor now Jarod, come sit by me."

Jarod sighed softly and sat on the cot, which wasn’t really all that much of an improvement, but at least his legs were in a more comfortable position.

"Do you have a family some where? You were taken from a bed, from what looked like your bedroom." She couldn’t get the glimpses of his past out of her mind. She kept seeing the kidnapping over and over again. Just how Jarod remembered it.

"How can you possibly know that, yet know so little about me? Or is this some kind of game you are playing?” He asked in frustration.

Grace looked at him innocently, "No, no game being played here at all."

"Then how is it you can know the kind of details that few select Centre personnel can know...” He shook his head. "And yet you didn’t seem to know my name or who I was."

"It’s my little secret.” She said with a shrug of her shoulders.

Jarod looked around the room more carefully. "How long do you propose to keep me here before you hand me over or dispose of me?"

"I will only dispose of you Jarod if you annoy me. When I tell my boss, and if he does not want you, you will be free to go." She had only killed one or two out of the couple of years she had been doing this. They just wouldn’t stop their crying and begging. And proved to be way beyond annoying and she just had to shut them up.

He looked at her sharply, trying to see if she was lying or not. But he doubted they wouldn’t be interested in him, even if for nothing more than to sell to the Centre.

Gracie grabbed his wounded arm and squeezed it hard, a calm look on her face. "Do not look at me like that boy. This is the third time you have been told not to be so damn disrespectful. If it happens one more time, I will be forced to punish you. Am I clear?"

Jarod gripped her wrist to stop her, hissing in a breath.

"You will let me go this instant boy." Gracie warned, watching Jon take a step closer just in case. She gripped his wrist with her free hand and twisted it until he let her go and held onto both the wounded arm and the wrist twisted back unnaturally.

Jarod could overpower her easily, but he grimaced as he forced himself to relax, knowing that he was not going to be able to overcome Jon as well and they had already showed him how willing they were to hurt or even kill him.

Gracie let him go. "Get to your feet.” She ordered, wiping her bloody hand clean on his bare chest as she stood herself and moved over to Jon. He needed to learn his place again, needed to learn how to be respectful and behave correctly.

Jarod climbed to his feet, becoming fully aware of his half-nakedness for the first time and felt absurdly embarrassed. "What did you do with my clothes?” He asked her.

"That is not of your concern." Grace said, her voice turning cold once more. Just like it was when he had first come around.

Jarod thought it was pretty much his concern, but kept that to himself.

Jon moved forward and spun Jarod around, quickly snapping on a pair of handcuffs, tightening them as much as he dared.

Jarod sighed as the cuffs went on, far tighter than was really necessary. He turned back around to face her, waiting patiently.

"Out,” She barked as Jon opened the door for him before gripping Jarod's bicep. Gracie slipped the hood back on as they moved out of the room. Being out of the hood was a privilege, and he would have to earn it back again now.

Jarod submitted meekly as the hood went back on, helpless to do much of anything else. He had been hoping to catch a glimpse of where they were, start formulating some kind of escape plan. The key was the girl. She seemed too young to be doing this, and her responses were programmed, but she was erratic too. He needed to appeal to her, get her to relax.

Gracie led them to a room. Chains hanging from the roof, tools of pain on the walls. But what she wanted from this right now was a metal box. It was the size of a medium dog cage. Solid lead, a slit on the side for fresh air. Bending down, she opened the box door and let Jon bend Jarod down and shove him in. Jarod was a big man and had to curl into a small ball to fit somewhat comfortably.

Jarod resisted whatever they were trying to do, but found himself wedged into what could only be some kind of box. He could hardly move and he started to try and fight. "No, what is this?” He demanded.

Gracie removed the hood from him before crawling out a little and squatting near the door. "This should help you remember respect." It always worked. People panicked when they were locked into something so small. And when they panicked, they learnt their lesson a lot faster.

Jarod turned his head to face her voice as he felt around the tiny space he found himself in. "You can’t leave me in here,” He protested firmly. But with his hands locked behind his back and his legs folded up, there was nothing he could do.

"I can and I will. I will come back for you when I think you have learnt your lesson. And pray to god you do learn quick.” She said, slamming the door shut and locking him in.

He was plummeted into complete and absolute darkness and silence, the only sound was his own heart beating and his heavy breathing. He could feel a full blown panic attack coming on and so forced himself into some meditations that Sydney had taught him when the SIM’s got too intense.

Grace sent Jon to go to Wil, as she sat next to the strip in the side of the box, listening to Jarod's breathing. The room was always dark, hardly ever were the lights turned on and she wished she could see the man.

Jarod listened but could hear nothing and so let himself relax, clearing his mind and slipped into a trance, almost like self hypnosis. He had used this type of escape many times over the years and it had served him well.

After a few hours hand passed, Gracie got up silently and walked to the door and switched the light on, illuminating the place up. The light would shine through the slit in the box and would let Jarod know someone was here.

Jarod blinked in the sudden and unexpected light through the tiny slit that was letting in enough air to keep him from suffocating.

Moving to sit back in her spot, she looked at Jarod, "What have you leant?"

Jarod thought about what he wanted to say and what she wanted to hear. "To respect you Miss Gracie."

Gracie nodded, "That’s right, and try to actually learn it Jarod, not just how to say it like you have learnt it." Jarod and his emotions were making her job so much easier. He may be able to hide them physically, but they stood out like a neon sign to her.

TBC...
Welcome Sydney by jacci
Jarod collected himself together, trying not to let her get to him. He needed to get out of here before his precious control of his panic started to slip and before his muscles started to cramp. She was so young, and from what he had observed, rather erratic. "Yes Miss Gracie,” He said again in a soft voice, trying to fill it with respect. He would feed her ego, and he had to admit to a certain curiosity how one so young came to be doing what she was doing, and doing it well enough to capture him.

"You will learn respect again Jarod, either through me or my boss. Maybe even the Centre might teach you again. I am sure they do not appreciate your extremely bad attitude.” She lectured him, watching his face in the dim light of the box. She wanted him to lose control a little, but the few hours he had already been in here he had kept it together. She would have to resort to more extreme measures if need be.

Jarod kept himself calm by relying on his meditations, only half listening to her. He closed his eyes again, resting his head against the wall of the tiny space and tried to ignore the burning in his arm and how impossibly uncomfortable he was.

"It is very late in the night Jarod, and I am worn out. I am going to go to bed.” She said, watching him carefully.

Jarod opened his eyes, squinting in the effort to see her. "You are going to leave me here?” He asked, trying to keep the edge of panic out of his voice.

"Yes of course Jarod.” She nodded. He was slowly losing control, which was what she wanted. It worried her how she seemed to like this one’s panic and pain. She never got like this with the others, but this seemed almost personal to her and she couldn’t quite understand it.

His breathing picked up a little as his concentration slipped. "Why?” He appealed to her.

"Because you were disrespectful Jarod. I know you are not normally like this, the shock of being taken making your manners slip, but you will not be so rude to me." He was a project, he should know the consequences of such an attitude and behaviour. He should know that it is not accepted and will be punished. He was taken as a small child, so he had had all his life being polite and respectful and obedient, yet now he wasn’t.

Jarod had to force the retort back that it was completely unreasonable to expect him to be polite. She had taken him against his will, shot him, let rats gnaw on him and she was worried about manners? He took a deep breath. "I am sorry for my rudeness,” He said, swallowing his pride. "But you are right, this has been a shock and my manners had slipped."

"Thank you for the apology, but I must be getting to bed, I have to be up early." She was exhausted and needed sleep, no matter how much she might want to stay and watch him, talk to him, find out more about him.

"Wait, please,” He pleaded with her, trying to peer through the small slit to see her properly.

Grace sat back down, "What is it Jarod?” She asked patiently, liking the sound of his voice.

"At least can you undo my hands, and leave me some water to drink please?” He asked in his softest voice. They had stripped him down to his pants but he had nothing with which to pick the locks. At least if he could get his hands free, it would be a little more tolerable.

"I will see you in the morning Jarod, and this time, I hope you do learn your lessons." Gracie said as she stood up. She went about preparing the box for his stay, it was nearly 5 am, and she wanted at least a few hours sleep, but didn’t want Jarod sleeping at all. The less he slept, the more easy he would be to manage and to get talking.

Jarod could hear her moving about now and he wondered what she was doing. He had tried to find a way to open it and had been unsuccessful, and folded up the way he was, he was unable to contort himself to at least get his hands in front of his body, rather than locked awkwardly behind his back.

She pushed the sub woofers across to the box, setting one at the back, front and both sides. Adjusting them so the bass was on maximum, she moved to the stereo and turned it on, playing the CD. The CD was made up of sounds of bombs, and gun fire, fighter jets screaming over head. The subs being on max would not only make the noise unbearable, but being up against the walls of the box, would shake the metal, making it unpleasant more so for Jarod to be sitting in there.

Jarod startled so badly at the noise that he banged his head on the low roof of the box. He could feel the noise reverberating in his diaphragm, almost rattling his teeth.

Gracie moved over and peered into the box for a moment, her eardrums nearly being blown by the loud noises and smiled at him a goodnight before moving out the room, switching the light off and locking the room door shut.

The noise and vibrations were ceaseless and only seemed to get worse as time went on. Jarod knew that it was not the case, and he measured the time by the looping of the CD. It was impossible to rest, let alone sleep. His contorted body and the constant banging made it even worse, preventing him from finding that calm place within himself. It was like the sound was actually in his body now, and there was nothing he could to block it out. The minutes dragged by interminably and Jarod knew he was in hell.

Gracie moved about the warehouse to find the boys. Smiling as she walked into the comfortable lounge room to see them sitting on the couch, coffees each. "Did you get into the mainframe yet?” She asked sitting down. It had been nearly five hours now and surely he was in.

She loved the warehouse now, when they first brought it, it was filled with boxes and was one big open area. Jon and Wil had spent along time fixing it up. She helped too when she could. They had a garage at the entrance that led to what was meant to be a house. Comfortable, homey rooms, kitchen, real bathroom. But when you walked out the back door of the ‘house’, and entered the rest of the warehouse, it looked more like a jail of sorts. If Grace knew what the Centre looked like, she would know it was pretty damn close to how the Centre was set up.

"One more firewall to go. The damned Pentagon doesn’t have this level of security," Wil muttered and then looked up at her and grinned. "Got it, what do you want to know?"

"Everything you can get. Everything on pretenders, on Jarod and this Sydney man. See if you can find anything to do with Jarod and the Parker's. They way he spoke at the start asking Parker to get the hood off would suggest he was allowed the privilege of speaking with one or more of them."

Wil nodded and started to comb through the root directory. "There are about 10000 files here on Jarod alone,” He whistled softly. "Most of them have hundreds of documents in them."

"Well, at least now we know he is important. Alright, cut the search down to anything to do with Sydney and Jarod, Jarod and any of the Parker's and Sydney alone. I want to know who he is other then Jarod's mentor." Sydney could prove to be a very useful tool.

Wil nodded around a yawn and got typing, trying to set up filters for the information she wanted. "These people have a record of everything he ever did, and I mean everything since he was four years old.” He said incredulously. Nearly every file in there was to do with both Jarod and Sydney. Sydney had apparently been his keeper for his entire life and even after his escape, was closely associated with the pursuit.

"They watch him non-stop. He hates it." Gracie said watching Wil closely, Jon half asleep on the couch already. "For now, I need a secure line and a number to contact Sydney on."

Wil found the Centre phone directory and found his home and mobile numbers. "Give me a minute and I will tell you if they have his house wired."

"Thanks Wil. I owe you big time for this. You have been working harder on this one then any of the others.” She reached over and gently took the mug out of Jon's hand and set it on the coffee table. "Poor guy is worn out.” She smiled at the now sleeping Jon. They had all been awake for a long time now and surprised Wil wasn’t falling to sleep as well.

Wil looked up for a minute and then scribbled down two numbers. "They monitor calls, but only periodically. You should be safe to call in the next few days. I will find some biographical data on him for you."

"Will it be ok to call him now do you think?" The sooner she got Sydney where she wanted him, the better.

"It’s 5am," Wil stated tiredly.

"So?” She asked. "You go to bed, wake Jon and send him to bed too. I will go make this call." Grace said standing up. She didn’t like it when she was forced to wear them out so much. It was not fair on them.

Wil didn’t argue and got up, stiffly moving across to Jon and nudged him hard enough to wake him up. "Come on, bed, we need a few hours sleep before the day begins."

Jon groaned and stood up. "Fine. Night Gracie.” He said, giving her a kiss goodnight, "Night Wil," And gave him a kiss, a cheeky smile on his face. He so loved teasing Wil. He was an easy target and it just tickled him when Wil responded. Just another way to ensure his fun while on this mission.

Wil screwed his face up at him. "He is going to get himself killed if he isn’t careful,” He grumbled to her.

Grace laughed. "Goodnight Wil, Jon." Grace watched the two men leave before she moved to the phone. Settling down on the couch, she picked it up and dialled the house number Wil had given her. She knew her lines were secure, but hoped his was half decent as well.

Sydney fumbled for the phone on the bedside table, squinting in the pre-dawn light to look at his watch. "Hello, this is Sydney,” He said, half asleep still.

"Good morning doctor." Grace said with a smile in her voice. It served her purpose just that little bit better to catch him asleep. He wouldn’t be thinking as clearly, and was more open to her suggestions.

"Who is this?” He asked, relaxing a little when it wasn’t Jarod, fearing the worst if he was calling at this hour.

"You will find out soon enough. I want you to drive the roadside motel on highway 64. Be there in an hour. I have someone of interest to you.” She said cryptically.

"What?” He asked groggily. "I’m not driving anywhere."

"Then I guess you do not want to see your pretender.” She said, shrugging before falling silent. Grace knew that would catch his interest. If he was the project’s handler, he would want to see him and bring him back to where he belonged.

"What?” He said, sitting up in bed, instantly awake now. "Who is this?” He asked again, but this time more urgently.

"Like I already said, you will find out if you meet me. Not before then doctor." She repeated herself. But she was right, it had gotten his interest. He would prove to be very useful figuring out if this man was worthy of her boss or not.

"What do you want?” He asked, reaching for a pad and pen, scribbling down the directions.

"You will not tell anyone you have received this call, or where you are going or why. You will call Parker," Gracie said, leaving it up to Sydney to decide whom she was talking about, "And give them some excuse as to why you won’t be in. We are watching and listening to you doctor, you fail us, he will be killed without thought. Am I making my self clear?" Grace asked, using the most threatening voice she had.

"Yes,” He said with worry. He knew he should tell Parker or Broots, but he was not about to risk Jarod. "I will be there.” He was already getting out of bed to start to get ready.

"Do not make us kill him doctor, I will see you in an hour. Do not bring any weapons. You have been warned." Gracie knew he would not bring a weapon. His concern of the pretender evident and she knew he didn’t want to see Jarod hurt or worse, killed.

"I understand,” He said. "You don’t have to hurt him, I will do as you say."

"Good." Grace said in satisfaction and hung the phone up, making her way out the door to the car to meet the doctor. She had a fairly long drive ahead of her, and she had had no sleep. But she would, as every other time, force herself to do it, knowing it had to be done.

Sydney left a message on Broots' answering service to the effect that he had some personal business to attend to and that he was taking a day or two. Not to worry, it was no big deal. He was not about to get Parker out of bed to tell her that he couldn’t come in, it would only arouse her suspicions. He showered quickly and grabbed a coffee to take in the car as he started the drive, that at this time of the morning he guessed would take about 45 minutes. He tried hard not to imagine who these people were or what they could possibly want.

It took Gracie two hours to get to the motel. She knew she had told Sydney to meet her in one, but knew he would be there waiting. He was not like any mentor she had known, he actually seemed to care about his project, which was a dangerous thing if the wrong person found out about it.

Sydney sat in the car, engine running to keep the heater going. She had not told him a room number, so he assumed they would come to him. After waiting for an hour, he was beginning to think that it had been a hoax and he was thinking about turning around and going back home.

She pulled her car into the parking lot. Sydney's was one of only a few cars there and she knew it was him because he was the only one sitting in the car when it was freezing cold. Parking, she climbed out and moved over, tapping on his window, looking around.

Sydney jumped at the sudden noise and rolled the window down, narrowing his eyes at her.

Gracie leant down, resting on the window frame of the door, "Good morning Sydney. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” She said with a warm smile.

"Who are you and where is Jarod?” He asked bluntly, not liking this at all. This girl couldn’t have been much more than 16 years old.

"If you would please park your car around the back and leave it. We will take my car.” She knew it was dangerous to leave his car out back. If she had to keep him longer then she wanted, his car would eventually be noticed and reported. Which was bad for her.

Sydney looked at her, trying to gauge how serious she was. "How do I know that Jarod is safe, how do I even know that you have him?"

"I am not waking my boys up for them just to put the guy on the phone. You will have to trust me on this one. Now won’t you?" She knew trust was a very hard thing to come by, but it was also over rated. In instances like this, trust wasn’t a key factor, but survival and necessity was.

Sydney nodded, not liking this at all, but put the car into gear and waited for her to move so he could park it. He questioned the wisdom of meeting with her alone, but all he could think about was her threat to hurt Jarod if he didn’t come alone. Sydney owed Jarod, and he would do anything if it meant his safety.

"Around back,” She reminded him, stepping aside.

Sydney did as he was instructed and parked his car. He got out and walked back to her, wondering just what the hell was going on here. He had already guessed it was not the Centre and he wondered if it was another enterprising individual like that Argyle had been. If that were the case, Jarod was lucky they called him this time, not Lyle or Parker or Raines.

Grace walked him over to her car and climbed in, waiting for Sydney to do the same. She could feel his worry, his concern, over the pretender and knew he wasn’t like the other mentors and handlers.

He looked at the car and got in, keeping his mouth shut for the moment.

Grace engaged the locking system to prevent him from getting out. Looking at him for a moment, she handed him a hood, "Please wear this Sydney." No one ever was taken to the warehouse without either being knocked out cold, or wearing the hood. She always preferred both, but sometimes it couldn’t be helped.

Sydney looked at the door as it locked and then took the hood in his hands. "If I don’t?” He asked softly. "I have already seen your face, what difference does it make now?"

"Oh no Sydney, it’s not my face I am worried about, it is our location I do not want you to see. That is all." The windows of the car were a black tint. Even if you stood in front and peered in, you would see nothing, so she was not worried about anyone seeing Sydney with the hood on.

Sydney looked at the windows, realising that it would be unlikely that anyone would be able to see him, they were very dark, and he guessed that she had done this before. He was a little surprise she didn’t try to restrain him, trusting him not to remove it. He fidgeted with the hood for a moment, caught in indecision and then finally put it on, hating the feel of helplessness it engendered, reminding him of his blindness after the bombing.

Grace watched him before patting his leg comfortingly, "You do not need to worry. You will not be harmed. And your pretender is safe for now." She tried to soothe. As she touched his legs, she was bombarded with images and feelings of Sydney’s past. She didn’t understand most of the images, but she got the feelings.

"For now?” He asked suspiciously. "Who are you and what do you want?"

"I can see where Jarod gets his curiosity from. You ask just as many questions as he does.” She pulled out onto the highway, speeding just a bit over the limit to get home faster.

"You are trying to deflect my question. I have done all you have asked, now you told me you would tell me."

"So I did. Though I only told you I would let you know who I am. Nothing else doctor." But she had to smile, he was right, she was trying to deflect his questions.

"That is a start,” He sighed heavily, gripping his hands tightly in his lap to avoid the urge to take off the hood.

"My name is Miss Grace.” She introduced herself. "And I am extremely sorry for the early morning wake up call." She apologised genuinely. Even though it played to her advantage, she knew how rude and disrespectful it was.

"Well Miss Grace, I don’t think you are sorry about the early wake up call at all,” He told her.

Grace glanced at him as she drove. "I am sorry you believe that Sydney, because I am sorry about it. I didn’t mean to wake you up so early, but it seemed the best time to get you over here."

Sydney nodded under the hood. He understood her reasons for making it such an early call, catching a person when they were most vulnerable, and most of their defences were lowered. He wondered how one so young would be so well versed in that kind of aspect of psychological manipulation. "So you are sorry about waking me early, but not sorry enough not to threaten to kill or hurt Jarod?” He asked, trying to figure out this girl.

"Exactly. You are smart Sydney.” She complimented him. "But I had to ensure your co-operation without you risking us, hence the threats." She couldn’t afford for Sydney to go whine to the others someone else had his toy, because if they tracked her down, her boss would be extremely angry with her.

"And us, meaning there are more than just the one of you?" But he had already known that. This girl could never have taken Jarod by herself.

"Yes of course Sydney, I already told you I didn’t want to ring the boys. I thought that would have told you there was more then just me." She started to reassess the thought of Sydney being smart. She had told him already about the boys, so why did he presume she was alone?

He had to admit she had caught him out on that one. "Very well then, can you give me a hint on how long this will be?"

"No, because when you do get back home, you will be able to work out a radius on where to look."

"I am going to be able to work out a radius anyway, and I am guessing you are smart enough to move on." But he had not failed to notice the implied idea that he would be returning home. “And if that radius is within a hundred miles, then that will leave more than 30000 square miles for me to start my search.”

"I would rather not. I like where we are right now. But I know I have not dealt with people so smart yet, and I will be forced to leave my home." She hated the idea of having to leave now. She liked where they were living. It felt real.

"Alright then, I will guess the time and the radius, but I imagine it will be about the same amount of ground to cover, I think you will be relatively safe."

"But I am still going to have to move aren’t I Sydney? Either way." Gracie all but whined to him.

"I guess that all depends on what happens next doesn’t it?” He asked her instead.

"And what do you mean by that?” She asked curiously, shooting a glance at him. This man was fun to speak with. He was like Jarod, smart and curious. Asked a lot of questions, talked to her without crying and pleading.

"I think I can safely assume Jarod has no idea where he is?” He asked her.

"No. We took him from the town he was just 'passing through', as he told me. He was out cold. has no idea. But what has that got to do with anything?"

"And I have no idea either. You have him somewhere secure?” He prompted.

"Yes of course. Right now he can barely shift a few centimetres, let alone do or try anything."

Sydney tried to hide his unhappiness at that, now having determined that wherever he was, it was not going to be all that easy to escape from, and if he couldn’t move it meant he was either hurt or restrained. "Then I would say you are probably safe.” He concluded, trying to set her mind at ease. He needed her relaxed and confident, not wound up and suspicious.

"But once you go home, you will start searching, and I know you won’t give up until you find us." Grace told him. She sped up a little, trying to get home in the shortest possible time to throw Sydney off a little.

"We have been searching for Jarod for years, with little luck, as I am probably sure you know. I am curious as to how you tracked him down, and what exactly do you want with him, and me for that matter."

"I just need you for information about Jarod is all. Simple as that." And it was true. She needed answers and information, and Sydney was just the person to provide them to her. Once she had them, he was free to leave.

"For what purpose? It seems to me you are very well informed."

"No, the Centre mainframe is very well informed. Lots of goodies hidden away in there. We are still sorting through it." Grace answered. "But it doesn’t have details about Jarod, like his motives, his morals, why he has such lack of manners and respect for his correct place in this world."

"His correct place in the world?” Sydney repeated in surprise.

"As a project. He speaks about his owners with such disgrace I found it hard not to punish him for it." She was thoroughly disgusted with his mouth. He should be thankful to them, for providing such a wonderful life full of safety and purpose.

"You punished him?” He asked, trying to sound casual, not liking her references to owners.

"He punished himself. Once for not answering me when I asked him a question, and the second time for being disrespectful to me. We told him three times about it." She shook her head at his stupidity.

New fear grew inside Sydney and he had to force himself to remain calm and seemingly professional. "I assume that you did not punish him too severely."

"Depends on your definition of severely doctor.” She said casually, “And I did not punish him, he did it to himself."

"I made that mistake myself,” He told her.

"I do not understand." Grace said, clearly confused by his reply.

Sydney sighed heavily. "I used to tell myself that exact same thing, but it is not true."

"That he brings these punishments on himself?" Grace asked. He had in these cases. She told him over and over to be respectful. And the first time was because he stopped talking, he annoyed her. If he had talked, he wouldn’t have been harmed.

"And that he is responsible, it is only partially true. You are the one who administers it, and it will one day haunt you, as it does me. Do not fool yourself into the comfortable misconception that you are doing no wrong."

"I am not doing anything wrong. If anyone is, it is my boss. He gave me the assignment.” She tried to clarify. "And this time it was him. He is a project, he should know how to act like one and he choses not to. He should have learnt while at the Centre that if he does not behave, he is punished."

"He is not a project or a file, he is a human being with a right to be treated as one, and anybody violating that is in the wrong, no matter how justified you think your reasons are."

"No. He has no such right Sydney. You should know that. Projects have no rights at all." And she knew only too well.

He caught something strange in her voice, the sound of programming, but said nothing for the moment. "Even if that were true, Jarod is no longer a project.” He wished he could see her, take note of her body language.

"He will always be a project. That is what he was born to be. That is why he was acquired by the Centre. Even if he was so disobedient to leave, he will always be one." She tried to tell him. He should know this. Jarod is and will always be a project, no matter what. And as his handler, Sydney should agree with that.

"And you are here to ensure that?” He prodded gently.

"If my boss is interested in him, I am here to take him back home. And if he doesn’t want Jarod, then he will be let go, and with any luck, he will make the right decision about his future and return to where he belongs."

"Who is your boss, or am I not allowed to know that either?"

"No, I am sorry, you can’t know that. I am not allowed to say my boss' name. I cannot put anyone at risk or I am the one that will be punished.” She informed him.

"I understand that,” He said, falling silent, trying to puzzle out who this girl was, this mystery man she worked for and why they wanted Jarod. It was obviously not for money if what she said was true, that they would just let him go.

Grace drove the rest of the way in silence. She pulled into the warehouse, parking the makeshift garage and pressing the button for the roller door to shut. Un-locking the doors, she reached over and removed the hood form Sydney. "We are home."

Sydney blinked in the dim light as he looked around. He cast his eyes down to his watch and it had been slightly under two hours of driving. When he heard the doors unlock he reached for the handle and got out of the car. Nothing here gave him any hint of the location and he sighed a little.

Grace sighed at her lack of protocol and quickly moved around and snatched the watch from his wrist. "I was meant to take this from you at the start. So the point of you not knowing where we are by wearing the hood was basically useless."

"Well, I can’t calculate it exactly, I would need to know your speed, so I am guessing I could be out by as much as 5000 square miles or so, I don’t really think you have too much to worry about. And please be careful with that, it was a gift."

"Was it? From whom?” She asked, looking at it closely.

"A friend,” He told her.

"Who was this friend Sydney?” She pushed a bit further. "Please be polite and answer the question correctly."

"The way you are being polite and asking your betters questions that are none of your business?” He asked her firmly.

Grace shrugged, "I could just smash it now if you like?” She asked. She wondered why she wasn’t getting anything from it and put it down to how exhausted she was.

"Yes you could do that, do you think it would make you feel better if you did? More in control?"

"Not really, but it would upset you if it was really a gift. Now answer me.” She barked. "Or it will be taken out on Jarod." She threatened him. She was curious and wanted to know now who gave him a gift.

"And that will be my punishment that I was asking for, or did Jarod asked for that as well?" He pushed her just a little further.

"No that would be your punishment making more of an impact on you by doing it to your project." She said coldly, not really caring either way if she smashed it or hurt Jarod, as long as she was told what she wanted.

"He is not my project any longer, and the gift was from my son,” He said softly.

"Was there a termination, or transfer file signed by the owners and yourself?” She asked him, looking at the watch before carefully pocketing it.

Sydney saw no point in arguing with her, she was as stubborn as a teenager, and she held most of the cards right now. "Where is he?"

"You did not answer my Sydney.” She told him, not moving yet.

"No, papers were not signed."

"Then he is still your project Sydney.” She said as she moved to the garage door and opened it, walking into a hallway that was carpeted, walls put up and painted fresh cream colours. It looked like a real house. She took him into the kitchen, "I need something to drink before I take you to see Jarod."

Sydney followed her, looking around the house, which seemed fairly normal to him, so he guessed that they would be keeping Jarod elsewhere. "He is still my project?” He asked her.

"Yes of course. No termination papers, or inside transfer papers. So by all laws, he has not been traded from your care."

"Then I lay my claim on him, you are holding him against my wishes and I want to take him back where he belongs."

"Then if you wanted him back where he belongs, you would have trained him a lot better in the first place so he didn’t run.” She handed Sydney a coffee and sipped on hers. "He ran, we got him. Just inside the Centre he belongs to you."

"Then why am I here now?” He asked again, trying to follow her twisted and convoluted thinking.

"I told you, to supply us with information on how Jarod thinks and works. Why did you never train him better? He is so bad behaved for a project." Gracie cringed at the memory, and still couldn’t believe how bad he was.

Sydney snorted at that as he sipped on his coffee, watching her, impatient to see Jarod now.

Gracie frowned. "It is true Sydney. He is not only disrespectful, but rude and disobedient. No project should ever be allowed to get that far. They should all be well mannered, quite, and obey all orders, no matter what."

"Like you do?” He asked her casually.

"Yes." Grace nodded with out thinking.

He put his cup down. "What information do you want? I will tell you, but I need to see him first."

"Yes of course." Grace agreed and put her mug down as well. "Please follow me. And do not do anything foolish."

"You don’t have to worry about me, I know my place."

"At least someone does. You should train Jarod better, so he knows his place too."

"He used to,” Sydney told her, trying to find some common ground with her.

She grabbed a cell phone along the way and lead Sydney out the backdoor and into the rest of the warehouse. "Then he should be retrained then.”

"It is hard to get him to work if you keep punishing him and keep him restrained.” He argued.

"I don’t want him to work, just to be behaved.” She clarified and led him to the room used for punishments. She could hear the sounds from here.

Sydney frowned when he heard what sounded like a battle zone and looked at her questioningly.

"His punishment.” She said and opened the door, flicking on the light and allowing Sydney to walk in before shutting and relocking the door. She moved over to the stereo and shut it off, pushing aside the sub that was blocking the slit in the side.

Sydney looked around the room and sighed in relief as the noise was turned off and then he realised where Jarod must be and he paled dramatically.

Sydney finds a present in a box by jacci
Author's Notes:
Disclaimer; Now, do you think if we owned these characters we would be writing these stories and not creating real ep's with the real people? What we are trying to say is we do not own them.

Authors note; Sorry for the long wait, thankyou Ann for reminding us to post. I hope you enjoy. As always, this is co-written.
Chapter four...

Gracie moved over to the box, gesturing for Sydney to stay quiet and not to move from where he stood. She moved over to the box and sat in front of the slit, "Good morning Jarod.” She said in a bright, cheery voice, glancing at Sydney, making sure he would behave.

Sydney took a step forward, completely horrified to think that she could have kept him in there, and with that horrific noise going. He forced himself to remain calm, even though it was extremely difficult, imagining what Jarod would be suffering in such a small confined space. He closed his eyes and then opened them again, watching her.

Gracie glared hate and warning at Sydney as he still stepped forward a little. She shook her head, warning him not to move again.

Jarod jumped at the sudden offset of the noise and then at the sound of her voice in the sudden silence. His head was pounding from the continual noise and his entire body felt like one massive cramp. He hadn’t slept, nor been able to relax and he looked through the slit through bleary eyes. His bladder was full and his stomach was empty.

Sydney looked at her for a long moment, fighting his every natural instinct to rush to help Jarod, but he wasn’t sure he might be endangering him further, so did as she told him and remained still.

"Now tell me Jarod, have you leant your lesson yet? Or do I need to leave you for another few hours?” She asked in a nice, calm, polite tone.

Jarod had to force himself not to snap, his patience incredibly thin right now as his body screamed at him to give her what she wanted. After a few moments to calm himself down he said slowly, forcing control of his voice. "Yes Miss Gracie."

"And do you remember what it is you are meant to be learning Jarod?” She asked, looking at his bloodshot eyes and pale face. She kept all concern over his condition out of her voice. He had deserved this, brought it on himself.

"My place and respect Miss Gracie,” He said, sounding remarkably calm compared to how he felt.

Sydney wanted to throttle her, hearing the fatigue in Jarod's voice. He could only imagine how hard it would be for Jarod to remain as calm as he knew he was trying to sound. Sydney knew Jarod's every mood, and he could hear the fragile self-control under the fatigue and pain.

"And why do I get the feeling you are not answering truthfully Jarod?” She could feel him just wanting to snap and yell at her, but at least this time he was controlling the desire so he was on his way to being respectful again.

He closed his eyes for a moment, trying to remain calm. "I don’t know Miss Gracie,” He said softly.

"You think about this for a while Jarod,” She said standing up. She was going to go to Sydney, tell him that she would get some water to give to him before letting him out but stopped as Sydney spoke.

"You can’t leave him there,” Sydney protested, moving forward, unable to help himself any longer. "Jarod,” He called out in worry.

Gracie grabbed his arm, "I thought you would have been smarter. Now out!” She ordered dangerously, stopping him from going further. "Get out of this room right now, before I decide to use some of this equipment on you."

Sydney ripped his arm from her grip. "Jarod, are you alright?” He asked, his concern for Jarod overriding everything. He was not about to stand by and watch while this little girl tortured him.

Grace pulled her phone out and dialled the boys, barking into the phone to get in here right this instant, and to bring weapons. She would not let him disobey her like this.

"Sydney?" Jarod called out, trying to listen to the muffled noises, his ears still ringing. He had thought he had heard Sydney’s voice, but was not sure that he wasn’t hallucinating.

Grace moved to the stereo, all but one sub was still next to the box and turned it back on, listening as the noises blasted loudly once more. Grace knew it was effective, knew it would stop him from concentrating which meant he could not ignore where he was trapped.

Jon hung the phone and rushed to Wil, shaking him awake, "Grace has trouble, grab your gun and let’s go." He dashed out the room. If this man had so much as touched her, he would slice his throat and watch him die. He would not stand for Gracie to get hurt.

Jarod moaned loudly as the noise started again and couldn’t hear anything else. He let his head fall back against the wall of the box in frustration and anger. He screwed his eyes tightly closed and shifted his body marginally and tried to tell himself he was somewhere else.

"What do you think you are doing?” Sydney thundered at her over the noise, moving to the wall to unplug the system.

Wil pulled himself out of bed and checked to see if his gun was loaded and followed Jon.

Grace blocked it. "You disobeyed me, Jarod pays.” She said in a dark tone, her green eyes dark with rage showing Sydney she meant business.

Jon ran through the little hallways and guessed she was in with Jarod. He burst through the door and aimed his gun at the old man. He hadn’t known she had gone out to get him, she was meant to have gone to sleep.

That pulled Sydney up short and he stopped, just staring at her, then swung around to see two men with guns pointed directly at him.

Wil winced at the loud noise, but his gaze didn’t waver from the shrink. He had dug up much information on the old man by now, and he knew that he was mostly placid, but could be dangerous if pushed too far.

"Get him out of here. I don’t care where you put him, just make sure it is secured.” She yelled over the noise, not moving from the stereo system. She was tired, and she was not in the mood for the doctor’s disobedience.

Jon moved forward, gun aim and grabbed his arm. "Let’s go old man.” He placed the gun in his waist band, knowing Wil was covering him.

Sydney looked from the two men that could only be described as sweepers to the box Jarod was in and knew fighting was useless. He shot the girl a dark look as he let the man pull him from the room.

Jon led him through the warehouse. He and Wil had spent numerus hours transforming it into something like a home plus a jail. "You had to go and piss Grace off didn’t you?” He asked, the grip on Sydney's arm a bit too tight.

"What the hell are you doing to him?” Sydney protested as he was pulled along. He guessed these gorillas were her 'boys' and he wondered how many more there might be. He didn’t even bother trying to fight him, knowing that he had no chance at all to overpower him and he would only make matters worse for himself and Jarod by even trying.

"That is none of your concern, you should only be worried about if you will be punished for pissing her off like you did. I kind of hope you do, I so like hurting the newbie’s." Jon said, his voice dangerous as he smirked.

Sydney curled his lip up at him as he was dragged down the hallway. He had been dealing with bullies like this his entire life and he knew that you had to out-think them if you wanted any chance at all.

Wil followed, his gun ready, just in case the old man tried something, but he figured one gut punch and the old coot would be down for the count.

Jon stopped in front of a door to one of their few cells and opened it up, shoving Sydney in roughly, unconcerned as he fell to his knees on the concrete floor. It was the same as Jarod's room. All metal, nothing much in it, and what was in it, was welded down.

Sydney grunted as he fell heavily to the ground and looked around as he picked himself up, only to find he was in a simple cell.

Jon slammed the door shut and locked it, shaking his head, "Stupid old fool. He will learn soon enough. But I wonder what Grace wants with him, she already has one man here."

"I am guessing to use against Jarod, or for info, he probably knows more about Jarod than anybody." Wil said as he looked at the very pissed off old man.

Sydney kept quiet as the door locked, realising too late that he may have just ruined any chance to see Jarod or find out who these people were and what they wanted.

Grace came up behind them. "Boo,” She said, trying to startling them, a grin on her face. She peered thought he reinforced glass into he little window on the door at Sydney before looking back at the boys.

"Well, he is here and not off to a good start," Wil observed dryly.

"No, he is not. I will be fine now boys, maybe you can go make some breakfast and let me know when it is ready please?” She knew Wil wouldn’t like leaving her alone, he rarely did. Normally when she suggested it, he told her flat out no, and prayed this time she would be able to talk to this man by herself.

"You be careful with him, he is an old man, but... just be careful.” He had read the more exciting parts of Sydney's file. He had kept Jarod prisoner and exploited him for over thirty years. He had planted a bomb and was still the number one suspect for attempted murder, and not just anybody either, one of the most highly ranked and senior members. The only reason he was still alive was that they had not been able to prove it conclusively and he was the resident expert on the pretender.

"Well Wil, you go make us breakfast, Jon can stay with me if it makes you fell better?” She asked gently, not wanting to worry him, knowing if she had someone with her, it would ease his fears a great deal.

Wil nodded, feeling much better about that situation if Jon was going to watch over her.

Jon watched as Wil left to prepare breakfast and took his gun and loaded it, "After you my lady.” He said politely, opening the door for her and walking her in.

Sydney looked up as the door opened again as the mere slip of a girl walked in. He kept his mouth shut this time, a little more aware of the possible consequences of acting rashly. He had misjudged her terribly already and he was not about to do it again. Despite her diminutive appearance, she had clearly shown him just how ruthless she could be.

Gracie looked at him as Jon stood guard at the door, gun ready and armed. "I expected more from you doctor. You were meant to be the one able to control yourself." She got such strong feelings from him, knowing he hid them most of the time from the world.

"What do you think you are doing to him?” Sydney asked in outrage.

"Again, I thought you knew how to control yourself. You never use to show this much emotion concerning the project.” She said simply.

Sydney got control of himself and looked at her. "What do you know about what I did or did not do concerning Jarod?"

"I do not see how that is relevant doctor. I know what I need to know and it is of no concern to you." Gracie said in a polite tone. What she knew was the bare facts Jarod had told her, and the few things she saw on the laptop before she left. Everything else she had gotten off of Sydney while in the car. He was a wealth of information.

Sydney shook his head but remained where he was. "You cannot expect me to just stand by while I see Jarod hurt and abused,” He tried to reason with her in his best professional voice, trying to get the emotional distance he so badly needed right now.

"Then why did you stand by for all of those years?” She asked. She had seen glimpses of his past while in the car and it had confused her badly. He was contradicting himself. He said he didn’t want to stand by while Jarod might be hurt and suffering, yet he had done precisely that for over 30 years.

Sydney felt the all too familiar sense of shame and trotted out the same old lie, the one he couldn’t even convince himself of anymore. "I had no choice."

Gracie shook her head and moved over to sit crossed legged on his cot. "I do not believe that.” She knew he was lying, it was radiating from him in waves.

"Neither do I,” He said softly, "Not anymore.” He looked up at her. "Please let me go to him.” He asked earnestly.

"I did let you go to him, but you blew it. All you had to do was stay quiet and where you were. It was not hard orders you know." Even the children back home could manage to obey that order. And yet a grown, aged man couldn’t. She had to wonder if Sydney was really as smart as she thought he was.

Sydney closed his eyes and got his temper under control. "Alright,” He said after a moment. "I am sorry, but please, I need to see him. He could be hurt, in shock, he could be dying in there and you wouldn’t know."

"He is not dying, and Jarod is not in shock. I would know it if he were.” She knew he was uncomfortable and in pain, but nothing too drastic. "Why do you love him Sydney?” She asked in confusion. It had hit her the minute she had seen him. The love was so strong, and she just didn’t understand it.

Sydney blinked at her in shock, moving away a little. He wanted to deny it, but he couldn’t make the words come out of his mouth. "He, I..."

Grace frowned and watched him. “I do not understand." She had never understood that emotion. She had felt for herself all others. Pain, rage, hurt, happiness, pride… but never love.

"I don’t either,” Sydney whispered in shame, "The things I did to him, forced him to do... there has to be some way for me to make it up to him. Please let me go to him.” He pleaded with her one more time.

"Why do people love each other Sydney?” She asked in confusion, watching him intently, her eyes never leaving him.

"It is a basic human need. The need to touch, to care, to be cared for. Nobody can do everything alone. We are not complete as human beings by ourselves. Compassion, love, nurture... all of these things define who we are, without them we are nothing."

"Is that why you love Jarod then? Your need to touch him and care for him?" All these two were doing was bring her life a lot of confusion. She wished she understood more.

"I have known and cared for Jarod, after a fashion, for practically all of his life. I raised him, was his only constant companion. I suppose we grew used to each other.” He closed his eyes for a minute, trying to sort through his emotions, which was difficult while he was so worried about Jarod.

"But that is forbidden. You must never get emotionally involved with your projects, or projects in general." Grace said, almost horrified that he really did care for Jarod. It was against all rules to show or even have feelings for the projects, let alone care for one with such passion as Sydney did for Jarod.

Sydney nodded his head and sighed deeply. "That may well be."

"They why did you allow it to happen doctor? They should have terminated the project instantly over this."

"He was too valuable to us,” He admitted frankly.

"Then why did they never change handlers? It should never have gotten this far, never have gotten personal. You should not love him doctor.” She shook her head, fear in her eyes. It was the worst sin of all for the handlers to care about the projects.

"They never knew, nobody knew."

"I know. This shouldn’t have gone on, I should let someone know. Everyone will be in trouble if you don’t tell them."

"We are a bit past that by now I think. Jarod is no longer a project, after his escape..."

"No, I told you. No papers were signed, no termination order. He is still a project. You shouldn’t love him, and nor him you. It’s not right.” She said, shaking her head frantically. Last person she knew that loved her had been slaughtered in front of her to prove a point. "You can’t. You have to stop right now!"

Sydney snorted laughter at the absurdity of the demand. She might just as well ask him to stop breathing. A lifetime of care and concern, even repressed, could not so easily be thrown away.

She started to breathe a little bit faster and shallower. "They will find out, they will kill you. You have to stop this insanity now Sydney, before you get in trouble.” Her head seemed to continue shaking on her own, her fear clearly in her eyes. Caring for projects only led to pain and death, it mustn’t be done.

Jon looked at her, worried about her behaviour. He wanted these two outta here ASAP, regardless if the boss took them, Jon killed them or they walked free. He did not care. He had never seen Gracie like this before. She had never been so affected by the people they took. And he knew this hit so much closer to home then any of the others.

"What do you care?” Sydney asked her, noticing her reaction, becoming more sure that she had been a 'project' of some description herself, but far more heavily indoctrinated than Jarod ever had been.

"They will kill you!” She said panicky.

"Which by the looks of things here,” He nodded to Jon who was looking at him as if he wanted dead right this very second, the gun never moving from his chest. “You are going to do anyway, so you will save them the trouble."

Jon put the gun in his pants and moved over to them, he glared at Sydney, "Do not presume such things old man.” He hissed at him and grabbed Gracie, holding her tightly. "Calm down Grace, everything is fine, no one is going to kill anyone.” He said, looking pointedly at Sydney.

Grace tried to do as she was told, try to calm her emotions down. Sydney didn’t seem to understand the dangers of loving or caring for a project. "We can’t let our boss know he loves Jarod, or the Centre, they will kill him. It’s not allowed.” She said as Jon held her tightly.

Sydney wondered at his reaction. They were the ones threatening him with a gun, imprisonment and pain, so why should they be upset at the thought of him being killed by them? It made no sense to him whatsoever.

When Jon saw her a bit more calm, he let her go, smiled at her and moved back to the door.

Grace looked at him. "Please Sydney, if you cannot stop caring for that project, please keep it very well hidden."

"And if I don’t, your friend there will kill me?” He asked, shaking his head in confusion.

"No, of course not Sydney. He wouldn’t kill you.” She said frowning at him. She much rather not kill anyone. Only when it was extremely necessary to save her sanity from their whining. But if she had a choice, Sydney nor Jarod would be killed at all.

"No?” Sydney asked sceptically. "Then I will be on my way."

"When we are finished with you, you may leave then. We will take you back to your car." Grace offered him.

"And Jarod?” He pushed gently.

"That depends on if my boss wants him or not. If he is not interested in Jarod, I will let him go. He may be taken back where we got him from, or be allowed to go with you if you want to take him back to the Centre."

"No,” Sydney said far too hastily.

Grace leant back a little at the protest, "You do not want us to let him go? Or you do not want him back at the Centre for you to work on?"

"No, I do not want you to take him and I do not want him to be back at the Centre. Jarod has his own life to live now, his own path to take. Too much has been taken from him already, I will not take any more."

"He never had a life to begin with Sydney, he is the property of who ever owns him. As simple as that, he hasn’t the right to have his own life. But you confirmed for me he is valuable, and chances are my boss would want him anyway." Her boss would find some useful thing for him to be used for. And it was none of her concern. All she was to worried about was finding people for him and finding out if he would want them.

"I am not going to argue with you about this. Will you let me see Jarod or not?” He asked her flatly.

"I don’t know why I should Sydney, you disobeyed me before." Grace knew she would let him, she knew she would have to. But she was trying to prove a point to Sydney. Although it didn’t seem to be working to well.

"Then ask your questions so I can be on my way,” Sydney told her, staring at the floor.

"Why do you not want Jarod in the Centre?"

Sydney felt like he was going around in circles and all he wanted to do was see Jarod, make sure he was alright, negotiate for his release if possible. "He deserves his life."

"But he is nothing more then a project. He does not deserve a life, he is not entitled to one." Why was it these two men did not seem to understand this? Sydney being a handler should know all this, believe it. But he didn’t. They both got screwed up along the way.

"Then we will have to agree to disagree. Did you bring me here to argue ethics and philosophy? We are wasting time."

"We have all the time in the world Sydney, there is no rush.” She could keep them as long as she wanted to. Well as long as it took for either her to contact her boss, or for her boss to contact her.

"Ask your questions then, or let me go to Jarod." Sydney had no patience for power games like this. He would give her what she wanted, hoping to get both himself and Jarod out of there more quickly.

She nodded and stood up, "Please do not be so rude doctor, there is no need for it."

Sydney wanted to talk to her about rude. Rude was being held against your will, being tortured, but he kept his temper and tried a different approach. "I am just worried you might be damaging my property then, I need to establish he is still functioning properly."

Gracie nodded, "Yes of course doctor, it is almost time for breakfast, Wil should have it ready any moment. I need to bring him out anyway." She knew he thought him believing Jarod was his project still would make her let him see Jarod. She played along with it, but was thankful anyway. It made her life so much easier.

"Very good,” He said curtly, surprised at her abrupt change.

Jon readied his gun as they approached the door and opened it. "Do not give me any trouble.” He warned as Grace led the old idiot out of his new room.

Gracie led him again back to the punishment room. She did hope Jarod was more respectful this time. She didn’t want to have to put him back in the box. Stopping at the door, she looked at Sydney, "This time, you will wait until I tell you before you approach him."

Sydney nodded, his heartbeat increasing as he saw the box again. He would force himself to remain impassive this time, not wanting to risk Jarod any further.

Walking over to the stereo, she turned it off, thankful for the noise to stop. It drove her nuts. She sat next to the slit again and watched Jarod for a moment. "How are you feeling Jarod?” She asked gently.

Jarod forced his eyes open, his head pounding so heavily that it felt like his eyeballs would pop out if he left them open for too long. His body was drenched in sweat and the smell of it was overpowering in the tiny space. He could still feel the damned vibrations, even though the silence insisted that they had stopped.

"I would like an answer Jarod, do not show me you have not learnt your lesson, or I will be forced to leave you in longer." She threatened him casually.

Jarod nodded, even that small movement sent the pounding in his head cascading again. "Tired,” He said, not sure if he had made any noise or not.

"That’s too bad Jarod. But if you behave, you may be allowed to sleep later if I am not using you.” She moved to the door and pushed the sub away, unlocking it with the key from around her neck. Opening it, she crawled in just enough to reach Jarod. "Come on, you can come out now if you like."

Jarod could not move and just flopped down as she tried to drag him out.

Sydney had to fight the desire to rush to help as she unlocked the door, but a look from Jon convinced him not to.

"Hold on Jarod,” She said as he couldn’t move. She crawled in as far as she could and unlocked the cuffs from his wrists. "You are to heavy for me to just drag Jarod, you have to help me get you out.” She pleaded with him.

Jarod's arms fell limply at his sides and he yelped a little as the blood started flowing back into them, he couldn’t shift his legs at all and he tried to use his lifeless arms to claw his way out.

Sydney was practically dancing on the spot, trying desperately to exude calm professionalism.

"Jon, a little help please!” She called out, not being able to move Jarod, Jarod not being able to move himself much either.

Jon shot a look at the man before moving to Grace and tucking the gun into his pants. Waiting for her to move out the way, he reached in and grabbed Jarod under the arm and just hauled him out, dumping him on the floor when he was fully out the box.

Jarod moaned loudly as his body unfolded finally and he just lay there for a long moment, unable to move. He saw Sydney and looked up at him, seeing the pain in his eyes, and he wondered what the hell he was doing here. Perhaps it really was the Centre after all. "Sydney,” He croaked.

Grace looked at Sydney and nodded, letting him know he was allowed over now. Turning her attention back to Jarod, "We are about to go to breakfast, there will be drinks there for you. Do you think you can hold out on liquid for a little bit longer Jarod?” She asked him, hearing his voice.

"Bathroom,” He said hoarsely.

Sydney moved over to him quickly, crouching down next to him. "Jarod,” He whispered, noticing the fresh bandage that was bloody and the sheen of sweat all over his body.

"Yes alright Jarod, but you are going to have to make your body work so you can get to it.” She said gently, wiping the sweat from his brow gently. He looked so weak, so vulnerable right now. And she had to admit this was the best power rush ever. She had never gotten a chance to play so much with one of her guests before. Always being let go or shipped out before she had a reason to punish them like this. And to do it to Jarod, a pretender. Someone that was worthy of it. It just made her heart flutter.

Jarod nodded as Sydney helped him to his feet. He crumpled as he tried to stand to find Sydney's arm around his waist, supporting him.

"It’s alright Jarod, I have got you,” Sydney said softly.

"Are you alright with him doctor?” She asked, seeing how much strain Jarod was putting on Sydney, and regardless if either man liked it or not, she climbed under his other shoulder to help support his weight. "If you would please walk this way, I will show you to the bathroom.” She said and forced Jarod to walk forward. She could feel his physical pain, felt the tension in his muscles as he forced them forward. Jarod seemed so confused as to why Sydney was here, his tired brain obviously not letting him think about it to much.

Jarod limped along as they both helped, more feeling coming back to his limbs which he knew was a good thing, but extremely unpleasant at the moment.

They got the bathroom, waiting as Jon opened the door and led Jarod in. It was a simple bathroom, a shower, toilet and basin, in white tiles. Plain and useful. She led Jarod over to the toilet and let him go, not moving away or even turning her back so he could have some privacy. He had spent his whole life being watched, even in these most private moments and she knew her would have to get used to it again.

Sydney helped him steady himself, tyring to give him as much privacy as he could while he relived himself.

Jarod sighed in relief and looked at the shower longingly. He could smell his own body and he wanted a shower badly, but didn’t push his luck right now. He also wanted to clean his wound. He flushed the toilet, washed his hands and moved slowly towards the door, his legs finally beginning to work again, although the muscles were protesting at every movement.

"Jarod, it’s alright, you may shower. I do not want you eating while you are this filthy, did the Centre not teach you any better?” She asked, looking at Sydney with raised eyebrows. Sydney should have taught Jarod manners such as this. You should never eat with dirty nails or hands, never eat while there is any dirt on you. It’s not only unhygienic, but bad table manners.

Sydney ignored her and started to take the bandage off.

"Thank you," Jarod muttered, not risking bad manners again. He slipped his pants off as Sydney undid his arm and fussed over the wound.

"This is a gunshot,” Sydney proclaimed hotly.

Grace moved over and took a look at it, "Yes Sydney, it would seem to be a gunshot." She said with raised eyebrows and a smug look on her face.

Sydney was trying to determine what the rest of the damage might be, but Jarod pulled his arm away and got in the shower.

Gracie stood there watching as he showered. She moved to a cupboard and opened it, pulling out some soap and handed it to Jarod, "Wash yourself Jarod." She sat back down to watch him in the shower. It had no screen so everything was on view to her. She studied him, was fascinated by him. She hadn’t seen a male body naked in real life before that was like this. She never saw Jon or Wil shower, or the one or two other males she had kept long enough to give them a shower.

She guessed Wil and Jon’s body were like Jarod’s. So hard and firmed. They did work out a lot. She saw these bodies in the magazines, but never in real life. The men back home were always big and bulky, but not in this sort of way. They were fat to put it bluntly. Not a toned muscle in sight.

She couldn’t help but to admire his physique. It was toned and hard and perfect. Her eyes drifted down without being able to stop herself and they opened a little wider. She wondered what the other women in his life thought about him. He seemed to be a perfect specimen of the male species.

Gracie watched as he turned his back on her and her eyes focused on his arse. Even with her inexperience with naked bodies, she had to admit he had one cute butt. She wondered how many people liked the backside the best out of the body. She would have to ask Wil or Jon that one day. Her eyes travelled up and she couldn’t help but almost drool over his back. The muscles flexing as he washed his body, the perfect line in the middle going up to his shoulders. She found herself reaching out to trace the line of his spine without realising it, only stopping when Jarod spoke.

"Thank you,” He muttered again, not worrying about demanding some privacy. Although he was not happy with the way she seemed to be staring at him, almost as if she were studying some interesting specimen that had crawled under her microscope unexpectedly.

Grace didn’t look at Sydney as she answered what he was thinking, "It was rats Sydney. His arm.” Her eyes never left Jarod's body as he washed, mesmerised by his soft, fluent moves as he washed his body of the dirt. She knew Sydney wouldn’t understand why it was done, and at this very moment in time, she didn’t care.

Sydney grimaced and had to fight the urge to strangle her again. He did not fail to notice how she was ogling Jarod's body either. But he remained still, not trusting himself to say anything right now.

She waited until Jarod climbed out the shower. "If we go back to your room Jarod, we can dress the wound again and give you something to wear." Gracie offered, her eyes still not leaving his body. She couldn’t stop looking at it. How perfect it was and wondering if he knew how to use it to get what he wanted. She knew how to use her body when she needed to, or was ordered to, and wondered if it was the same for him.

Jarod could feel her eyes on him, and even though he was used to being watched, this was different. He could almost feel her hunger and he wondered if he could use it. “Thank you,” He nodded, taking the towel Sydney offered.

She lead them back to Jarod's room and let them all in, Jon behind them, the gun always aimed and readied. "The first aid kit is under the bed, I left it there last time just in case you needed it again when we brought you back in here. Sydney if you would be so kind, please dress the wound." Jarod's clothes were on his bed, simple black pants and top, shapeless and a bit oversized, but effective. The clothes weren’t made for a fashion statement, but just to be worn as coverage.

"Of course,” Sydney said, sitting down next to him and cleaning it carefully. He wanted to talk to him, but didn’t dare with the other two there and he seemed to get the best response from her if he acted like Jarod's handler, nothing more. "You will be fine Jarod,” He said, standing up when he was done.

Jarod looked at Sydney, wondering at his attitude, knowing he was too tired to think clearly right now. But Sydney seemed colder than usual, and there was no mistaking the tension in his posture, the concern in his eyes and voice. He had to guess that she had lured him here and he cursed himself for giving away all that information.

"I assume you both are hungry and would like to have breakfast?” She asked looking at the two. She was not in the business of starving them to death. She knew what being on the edge of starvation could do to a person and their attitude, but she didn’t think it was fair on them. She would rather get them behaving and acting accordingly through other methods.

"Yes please," Jarod said. He had not eaten since lunch yesterday, assuming only one day had passed, it was a little hard for him to tell. He slipped the clothes on which were very reminiscent of Centre clothing and sighed.

"What’s the matter Jarod?" Grace asked in concern and moved over to him when she heard his sigh. He was almost depressed, definitely sad and she couldn’t quite get why.

She had not given him any shoes, so he remained barefoot, but at least he had a shirt now. "Just reminds me of something,” He said softly.

Sydney felt very badly for him, but ignored it, knowing exactly what he was thinking.

Grace looked between the three men, "Maybe I could make it better? So it doesn’t remind you?” She asked, trying to please him. She didn’t like the sadness vibrating off of him. It was very unpleasant for her to feel.

"How so?" Jarod asked curiously. This girl was a strange mix he could not figure out yet.

"Well if you tell me what is wrong, I can try to fix it for you." Grace said, talking about why he had sighed so heavily. She didn’t understand why she felt so connected to him. She knew it didn’t phase her to punish him, try to have him understand his place, be cruel to him in order for her to do her work. But seeing him so sad was hurting her.

Jarod looked at her, wondering how she could lock him in that box after shooting him and letting rats eat at him and then care because he sighed. "The uniform, reminds me of the Centre,” He said, not looking at Sydney.

Sydney shifted a little uncomfortably, knowing Jarod had worn that same styled outfit nearly his entire life.

"Oh.” She frowned, "And you do not like it?” She asked curiously. Grace wanted to tell him it was not a uniform here, at home it was, but not here.

"I like my own clothes better,” He said.

"That is not what I asked Jarod.” She scolded him gently.

Sydney hid a small smile at that. Jarod seemed to almost have established his own uniform, which was not so very different from what he was wearing now. Black jeans, black shirt.

"No, I don’t like it,” He confirmed.

"How come?” She had never minded these clothes, even right now, she would wear a pair to bed. She found them extremely comfortable.

"They have no... individuality." Jarod struggled to put into words what he felt. Nobody had ever asked him these kinds of questions before.

"But you are not an individual Jarod, you are a project." She told him for what seemed like the millionth time.

Jarod shrugged and waited for them to move out.

"I can give you one item of your clothing to wear if you like? I cannot support your twisted view of individuality, but one item will not hurt I am sure. Just make you more comfortable." Gracie said trying to please him a little.

Jarod nodded. "Thank you, I appreciate that.” He thought for a moment about what he should choose. His boots would be the most practical if he attempted an escape, and the floor was cold. "My boots please Miss Gracie,” He asked in his most friendly voice, and he smiled at her timidly.

She stole a quick look at Jon who shook his head no. Gracie knew why he had said no. Security reasons and she was not about to argue with him. She turned to Jarod sadly, "No boots Jarod.” She looked at the ground as if she would get reprimanded for it, "Your top or pants?” She asked him, feeling bad now.

"Jeans please,” He asked her. At least he wouldn’t feel like he was wearing pyjamas anymore.

She nodded. "I will get them as we have breakfast. I wish I could allow you your top as well, but that would make you think you aren’t a project still when you are. And then I would get into trouble if I reinforced your beliefs."

"I understand," Jarod said, at this stage too tired and sore really to care all that much.

"Come Jarod, let’s not keep them waiting any longer.” Sydney instructed.

Grace walked out, leading the way while Jon trailed behind them, watching them carefully. Getting to the backdoor, she opened it and led them inside the house section of the warehouse. She knew Jarod would like this, carpeted floor. His feet wouldn’t freeze.

Jarod did a double take at the abrupt change, but stumbled forward as Sydney gently urged him to keep moving.

When they got the kitchen, the smells of Wil's cooking assaulted her and her stomach grumbled. "Wil, I guess food is up?” She asked, seeing the plates set on the table.

"In a sec it will be,” He said, almost ready to serve the rest of the food.

Gracie sat down after ducking into her room to get Jarod’s jeans and handed them to him. She watched Jon place the gun next to his plate as he sat down too. She took a sip of the juice while she waited for her food.

Jarod sat down gratefully at an empty seat and watched as Sydney sat next to him, looking at Grace to wait for his cue to eat.

When Wil had finished serving the food up and sat down she looked at Jarod, "You will have to wait until your handler gives you permission to eat. You might not want to be respectful to your owners anymore, but at this table and in my home, you will be."

Sydney rolled his eyes, but played along. "It’s alright Jarod, you have permission to eat."

Jarod shot Sydney a look that told him clearly what he thought of this whole situation, but then forced a smile and said a grudging, “Thank you." He supposed it could be worse, it could be the green slop.

Grace grinned at the pair, "See, isn’t it better with your handler here to tell you what to do?" Gracie asked, really believing he would think it were better.

Wil kept a careful eye on Jarod and the shrink, not liking having the two of them here at the same time, made it harder to cope with if one or both of them tried anything, but he would not question Grace.

"Yes Miss Gracie," Jarod said softly, trying to avoid another confrontation.

Grace grin grew bigger. "Your project does learn quickly when he wants to Sydney."

"He is clever,” Sydney said in agreement.

"What exactly does a pretender do?” She asked as she picked at her food. Even though she was starving, she wasn’t interested in it right now. So many times Wil would tell her off for not eating, Jon sending her bad looks. But she just got too caught up in her work.

"Anything and everything,” Sydney answered for him so Jarod could eat. He looked like he needed it.

"I bet he can’t do what I do.” She said, knowing chances are he couldn’t. She had a gift, just like he did.

"What is it precisely that you do do Miss Gracie?” Sydney asked her carefully.

Gracie looked at Wil and Jon nervously before Sydney again, "I am not really meant to say.” She said back softly. It was not her right to tell others what she could do.

"I understand,” Sydney said, eating some toast and sipping on his coffee. "I wouldn’t want to intrude on somebody else's project, wouldn’t be professional."

Jarod had to cover his smile by gulping down some juice.

Grace shook her head, "No, it would make them mad.” She was tired from not sleeping, and the emotions running through her from these two had worn her out to exhaustion and she wasn’t really thinking clearly.

"Of course,” Sydney conceded. "You must understand what a very difficult position I am in as well then. You can appreciate that I have the same concerns and difficulties talking about my project." He knew how much Jarod would hate him for that, but he thought this was the wisest way to play the game at the moment.

"Yes I know, but it is what must be done. You will have to talk to me about him when I ask it of you."

Sydney could not believe how completely hypocritical she was being, but he just nodded in agreement.

"I am sorry if you find me asking about your project rude Sydney, but if I do not find out what I need to, I will get into trouble. I have to call my boss very soon to let him know I have someone that might be of value to him." She apologised sincerely.

Sydney didn’t think she was sorry at all. He put his fork down and looked at her. "I understand, we all have our superiors we must be held accountable to."

She nodded, glad he was understanding her position. "I like Jarod, and you too. It would be a shame if I have to hand him over." She knew once her boss knew, she had no say in anything. He wanted him, she would have to give him over. If her boss told her to kill them, she would have to do it.

"Yes a shame indeed,” Sydney said, noticing how Jarod tensed.

Jarod listened in silence as they talked about him as if he was some new piece of equipment they were thinking about buying or trading, but he kept his mouth clamped firmly shut. He had already run a SIM on going for the gun which seemed casually left on the table and he figured that there was only about a 10 chance of getting out of this room without any casualties. Then he was faced with the problem of not having any idea where he was or how to get out. He had already checked his jeans pockets, and they were completely empty and they had not given him back his belt either.

"I would like you to show me what he can do after breakfast." Gracie asked as she pushed her uneaten plate aside ad sipped on her juice.

Wil saw that she hadn’t eaten anything, but would not chide her about it in front of the others, but he was not happy.

Jarod almost protested that he would not run a SIM for them, but clamped his mouth shut again, knowing he was in no condition for another one of her 'punishments’. He had sealed his fate when he had screamed out he was a Pretender when the rats were attacking him. If he had only kept his big mouth shut, none of this would be happening now. He deserved whatever he got for his own weakness and cowardice. The rats had terrified him beyond reason, but that was no excuse. He chastised himself bitterly, it wasn’t enough for him to create this mess for himself, but now Sydney had been dragged into it too.

Jon looked at Wil then her and simply pushed the plate back in front of her, trying to tell her to eat. He knew Wil would tell her off if she didn’t eat.

Grace sighed and took a bite of her eggs before pushing the plate away, looking at both men as she did so. "Jarod, after you show me what you can do, I will allow you to sleep for a little while."

"Miss Gracie?” Sydney asked her politely.

She looked up at Sydney, "Yes doctor?"

"What Jarod does requires great concentration and at the moment he is... he is not at his best. Perhaps you could let him rest for a few hours first, then we could do a demonstration, and in the mean time, I could answer your questions."

Jarod looked up at Sydney grateful for trying, although he didn’t think she would go for it.

She looked at Sydney then at Jarod and studied him for a long time. She turned back to the doctor, "He seems fine to me."

"Very well then, I am sure Jarod will try and do his best, as he always does."

Jarod was in no mood for this kind of game, but the throbbing in his arm reminded him to keep his 'place’.

Gracie smiled and nodded, "I hope so.” She looked at Jarod before getting up and grabbing some painkillers. Walking over to him, she handed the tablets to him and refilled his coffee. "It might help with your arm and your headache I am sure you have.” She said kindly and smiled a little at the man.

Jarod nodded and took them with a genuine smile. "Thank you,” He said to her, looking up at her. The food and coffee were already helping, but nowhere near enough. He doubted that the painkillers would take off anything more than the edge of his pain, but at the moment, he would take what he could get.

Grace smiled back and brushed his hair from his brow, "You are welcome Jarod. You just let me know if you need any more for your arm, ok?" As she looked down on him right in this moment, he reminded her of a small boy. Upset and hurt, needing to be looked after.

"Yes Miss Gracie,” He said, careful to mind his manners.

"Are either of you two hungry still? Do you want anymore food? Coffee?” She asked as she sat back down.

Sydney shook his head, knowing what Jarod needed more than anything right now was rest.
The Phone Call by jacci
Author's Notes:
Don't own them.

Authors note: As always, sorry for the long delay and that this is co-written. Hope everyone enjoys.
Jarod looked at Sydney for a moment, as if to check for his permission and then shook his head as well. He could see the pretend Sydney was doing and for the moment it looked like their safest course of action. He hated everything about this situation, but for now, the smartest move was to do as they were told, play along until he could come up with some way out.

"Then I guess it is time for Jarod to work. Show us what he has got if Sydney doesn’t want anymore.” She stood up. "Wil, Jon. Can you please help me with them? I do not know what I should be really expecting from the outcome of Jarod's little bit of work and I know you know more then me Wil with what they do."

Wil nodded at her. "From what I understand, he probably won’t need much help, just to be left alone.” He had sat through some SIM’s he had found in the massive digital archives the Centre kept. He was impressed with their technology. They had digital imaging years before it hit the general market and he wondered if Jarod might have had anything to do with it, the results sold off so somebody else could take the credit and the billions that came with it. But as far as he could tell, Sydney was just there as a sounding board more than anything else, somebody for Jarod to throw ideas around with, and to make sure that Jarod kept his focus.

Jarod stood up a little shakily wondering if he would be able to manage a SIM right now and thought that perhaps it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if he didn’t perform so well. She might lose interest in him and let him go.

"Come on Jarod, the sooner this is done, the sooner you can rest,” Sydney told him, moving to help steady him on his feet. The painkillers and fatigue would slow him down a little, but Sydney guessed he would still have no trouble performing a basic SIM.

"Excuse us, Jon watch them.” She walker over to Wil, "Can I speak with you a moment please?" Grace asked formally.

"Sure Miss Gracie,” He said, moving away from them, but keeping an eye on Jarod.

"What exactly is it a pretender does Wil? I have no idea. Haven’t had the chance yet to look at what you found yet."

Wil frowned at her and whispered. "As far as I can tell, he can do just about anything. It seems he is a problem solver. He can be a doctor, a scientist, a lawyer, anything he wants to be. Anything at all. His IQ is off the scale. He studies a problem and then just knows about it." Wil wasn’t quite sure himself. "The only thing I can tell you is that he is their Golden Boy, and they want him back big time. Spent millions trying to catch him over the last few years."

"Oh really?” She asked, wondering if she could sell him back and her boss might be happier. "So what do we do? Do we have what Sydney will need for him to perform for us?" She asked, knowing how grossly unprepared they were for Jarod to be working.

Wil shrugged. "I guess you can ask him to do anything, but we need to be much more careful of this one. He has a reputation as a bit of an escape artist too, and he has killed before." Wil was worried that he could be a threat to her. He may put on that nice boy act, but he had seen what he was capable of and didn’t trust him for one second.

Grace nodded, "We will get them in a cell to start work. I want you to set up security once they are locked in. Electrify every exit door, vent, roof, anywhere he could get out of. And not just a little tingle shock, make it hard enough for him not to do it again. Change the codes, on any door that doesn’t require our hand prints." Grace ordered. This was something she was used to. She knew how to run her little warehouse, and knew exactly what would have to change to accommodate each new guest, and what had to be altered to keep a difficult one in.

"Yes Miss Gracie, I will get right on it once he is secure again." He knew she loved this part of it, running her little kingdom, and if they could keep a guy like Jarod, it probably meant that they could keep anybody.

Jon had gotten up as Wil and Gracie moved across the room and stood over Jarod, he ran the gun down his jaw line before gripping his hair tightly, "You will behave for her.” He warned. He would not have this arsehole making trouble for his Grace. He would beat him black and blue if he had to.

Jarod hissed in a breath as he looked up at him, trying to keep the resentment out of his eyes. "Yes,” He ground out. He could see the violence in this one’s eyes, simmering just below the surface. It was the same kind of hunger that he had seen time and time again, and it was always the same, no matter where he went. The desire to hurt, to control, and no matter how many times he saw it, studied it, he never understood it.

"That is not necessary,” Sydney protested hotly.

"No, its not. But I so do enjoy it." Jon smiled down on Jarod coldly, "I am waiting for you to slip up. Even the smallest thing out of line and I will be on your arse so hard you won’t know what hit it." And to emphasise his point, Jon yanked on his hair a few times, not letting go.

Jarod's head snapped backwards, but he kept his calm. He was too outnumbered, and he was injured and he did not want to risk Sydney. He would wait until Sydney was gone, which hopefully would be soon. If he could do a party trick for her, then perhaps she would send Sydney back, happy she has gotten what she wanted.

"This is unacceptable,” Sydney said loud enough for the two across the room to hear.

Jon completely ignored the old fart and shoved the gun up underneath Jarod's jaw, grinding it in deeply, knowing chances were he would be left with a mighty bruise. "Do I make myself clear boy?"

Grace turned around at Sydney's voice and saw Jon and sighed. "I wish he wouldn’t do things like this," But she made no move to stop it yet. He would finish on his own time, and with any luck Jarod would not be harmed.

Jarod's head was tilted uncomfortably far back, and he looked into the man's eyes, his gaze not wavering. He could see that this man enjoyed his work, and would not hesitate to hurt him. He wondered if this was the man who had shot him.

"I will not tolerate this,” Sydney said as calmly as he could, moving over to her. "If he is to work, he needs to be calm, not frightened half out of his wits. It will be hard enough to get him to focus between his injury, the meds and his fatigue."

"Well I would suggest to you to tell your project to answer when he spoken to and Jon might back down." Gracie said casually, watching them. Jon hated disrespect as much as she did, but unlike her, he would not hesitate to kill one if they were being rude.

"Yes," Jarod ground out.

Sydney shook his head, letting her see his displeasure.

"Yes what boy?” He asked, yanking his head back further, his hand still gripping his hair tightly and the gun still pushed deep underneath his jaw.

"Yes sir," Jarod tried, hoping that was what he wanted. In his experience, Jarod found that these people all wanted the same thing, the feeling of power and the ability to demand respect. He was nothing more than just a bully.

Jon let him go and slapped him hard over the back of his head. "Make sure you use those manners of yours, now get to your feet. You will perform for Miss Gracie, whatever she wants. And you will do it damn well." Jon ordered him. He hated seeing Gracie disappointed when things didn’t work out how she had hoped.

Sydney moved to his side quickly, wishing for just a few moments of privacy to talk with Jarod, but they had not yet left them alone. "Come on Jarod, I will help,” He said letting Jarod lean on him. If they played this right, Jarod could get some much needed rest. Sydney could see it in his eyes how worn out he was, how tired and sore, and heard it in his voice.

Gracie moved over to them, "Please come with me,” She ordered and took them to Jarod's cell. Jon and Wil training their guns on them at all times.

Jarod followed her with Sydney down the halls.

Opening the door after she had unlocked it, covering the code as she typed it in and scanned her hand, she led them in. "Now work for me."

"On what?” Sydney asked before Jarod could.

"Does it really look like I care?” She asked crossing her arms, showing her annoyance. She just wanted to see him working, see what he was capable of. She had never in her life met a pretender before.

Jarod sat down on the bed and looked around at the empty room, no idea what she possibly wanted from him. SIM’s and pretends took preparation, time, research, and he didn’t really think he should demonstrate the current SIM he had been running since he had regained consciousness tied to the chair. He thought it would be best to keep his escape scenarios to himself.

Sydney looked at the room in disgust and then turned to face her. "I mean no disrespect Miss Gracie, but what exactly is it that you think Jarod is going to be able to do for you in here?" There was no equipment, not even so much as a pencil and piece of paper.

"You said he can do anything and everything. And I want you to prove that to me."

"We need to assign him a specific task, and we need to do some research, preparations. We need a problem or a scenario.” Sydney tried to explain to her, not sure what she expected him to do.

Jarod was growing more resentful by the second at they way they were talking about him, but he kept it to himself, keeping his head lowered, like the well-behaved project she expected him to be.

"Well if you defined what a pretender is a bit more clearly, I might be able to help you out. But as it stands, you are reluctant to inform me on his work." All she had really been told was he could do anything and everything, Wil telling her if he wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer or anything he could. But it really did help her to much.

Sydney looked at her in exasperation. "A pretender is literally what I told you, it is hard to define. If you want to test him, you need to ask him something specific. For example, if you wanted him to perform knee surgery, you would have to let him read books about it, learn about it, then he could perform the surgery after the research. It is not just a matter of performing a magic trick. He assimilates knowledge at an extremely accelerated rate, and then becomes proficient at it, as if he has been doing it for years."

"So he assumes identities then? Becomes the person he reads about?" She asked, thinking she might understand it a little now.

"In a manner of speaking, yes."

"Can he become someone with little knowledge on them and work out their motives?"

"It is much harder for him if there is little to go on, but to a certain degree, yes. He can do it with much less information than you or I could."

She looked at her boys. "Then I want him to become one of the men. Tell me about them."

Sydney nodded. "Which one?” He asked her.

"They both have a disliking to your project Sydney. But since Wil is just about to go and do a job for me, let’s make it Jon." She didn’t know much about either boy before their life with her, and would be interesting to see what Jarod could tell her about them.

Sydney sighed and nodded. He knew how badly unprepared Jarod was, and he was exhausted too. He only hoped he could give her what she needed. He moved to sit next to Jarod. "She wants you to pretend to be Jon,” Sydney told him softly.

Jarod had heard, it was impossible not too, but he appreciated Sydney talking to him as if he was a person again. He had been observing all of them, making judgements and conclusions, but he still didn’t know enough to do this properly.

Jon wasn’t sure he liked this idea at all. The thought of this idiot becoming him was just way too creepy for his liking and wished he had had Wil's job so he wasn’t the one being pretended.

As Wil left and locked the door after him, she turned to Jarod, "Get to it.” She snapped.

Jarod closed his eyes for a moment and assembled together what he knew about this man. He forced his breathing to even out as he concentrated.

Sydney watched him closely, seeing all the telltale signs that he was concentrating and he put his finger up to his lips.

Gracie stood closer to him, arms crossed. She wanted to know what he was feeling when he did this pretend and made herself concentrate as well. She wondered if she would feel Jon’s feelings since Jarod was trying to become him in a manner of speaking, or if she would still get feelings from Jarod. She stayed quiet as Sydney had asked.

When Jarod had reached that calmness, he let himself slip into the man he was trying to pretend to be. He had so little to go on, but he would do the best he could. After a few moments, he opened his eyes and looked at Grace.

Grace looked at him expertly, "Is that all?” She hoped not. She was expecting a lot more, and her voice let them know how disappointed she was.

"He has worked with you for a very long time," Jarod started, ignoring her. "He enjoys his work, worries about receiving another assignment and being removed."

Grace nodded, confirming it. But so far wasn’t impressed, and she let it show. It was obvious to anyone that met Jon that he enjoyed his work. He had such passion for it.

"Yes, since you were very young, thinks of you as family, cares for you deeply, might even consider betraying those he works for to protect you." Jarod said slowly, trying to piece together a profile. "This is his entire life, and he enjoys the power rush from it, wishes he was allowed to hurt people more often.” He closed his eyes, concentrating hard.

She knew that was true. He whined often about not being able to do more damage and she knew Jon was hoping this one would slip up just enough to warrant a punishment. And so far he had been let down. Jarod had been punished twice so far, and Jon only played a very small part in it.

"There is no family, no friends, outside this circle. He resented this assignment at first, missed his old one, thought of it as nothing more than babysitting, but slowly changed his mind over the years. He wants to kill Sydney, and he is hoping that you decide that I am not the 'one' and let him have some time with me." Jarod told her impassively, as if it were no big deal at all.

She looked at Jon who seemed to be staring unblinkingly at Jarod. "Go on. I want more of his past, tell me what you can." She was being hit with such mixed emotions she found it hard to keep them hidden. She got Jon’s disappointment that so far he wasn’t allowed to hurt them, and was nearly bowled over by Jarod’s fear they would kill Sydney.

Jarod shook his head, he didn’t have enough to go on. "Recruited young…” He struggled to see it. "They saved you from something or someone, trained you, earnt your loyalty, taught you that your desire to hurt could be productive, that you could flourish and never be judged here.” He opened his eyes and looked past her to Jon. "That you would fit in with them, that you would belong."

Jon was unnerved by this all, he didn’t like how Jarod was looking at him. "You shut up. Don’t tell her anything more.” He ordered, but his voice was weak. He didn’t want this freak to tell Gracie of what happened in his past. Had managed to keep it a secret for so long. It scared him so far he was right on everything. He hated this job at the start, having to watch over a two year old baby, but she grew on him. He had taught her how to hurt with out being affected by it, but knew she still would rather not hurt anyone.

Jarod closed his mouth and then looked at Grace, hoping Jon's reaction would be enough. He had had to guess a few things, but he would say that he had hit pretty close to the mark.

Gracie nodded slightly, wanting a little more, curious now that she might get some answers into his background. He never spoke of what came before work, of his childhood. She had tried to read him, always touching him when he least expected it to try and pick something up. But Jon knew what she was, since he first saw her on his first day on his assignment. And she had to guess he had built a barrier around himself so she couldn’t read him.

When Jarod could see she wanted more he sighed. "He likes his companion, trusts him, as far as he trusts anybody, but would not hesitate to kill him if he thought he had to."

Grace had to keep the shock from her face, "I want his past Jarod, now give it to me.” She hissed. She hadn’t liked that piece of news. Not one bit. She would have to talk to Jon about that. He should know Wil was to be trusted, they both had been together for years now.

"I am not a mind reader,” He protested.

"Does it look like I care? You said you could do it, now do it.” She snapped.

"It doesn’t work like that. Jarod can’t give you specific details about events he has no knowledge about. He is not a psychic.” Sydney said, seeing how much trouble Jarod was having.

"Then he has failed.” She said coldly, standing tall watching the two. "And I do not like failures."

Sydney looked at her, fear blossoming in his heart. "I am sorry,” He said softly.

"Jon escort Sydney back to his room, then come back for Jarod. You may have some play time with him." She did not want a failure, her boss wouldn’t want one. And if this little bit of play would help him realise she would not accept any sort of failure, so be it.

"You can’t do that,” Sydney said in alarm.

Jon's face lit up at that, "Yes ma'am.” He aimed the gun at Sydney, "Move it."

"Let him go, and I will do what you want," Jarod said, looking at Sydney sadly.

"You just failed doing what I wanted Jarod." Grace said, arms crossed, her voice showing her displeasure.

"There is no need to keep him then. If I am not the one you seek, just let him go, please," Jarod pleaded with her.

"Take him Jon.” She ordered, her eyes not leaving Jarod’s.

Jon gripped his arm and unlocked the door, hauling him out, locking the door after him.

Jarod stood up, although he was too late, they were already gone and he heard the door lock. He looked at Grace, trying to hide his contempt. "Don’t hurt him please, just let him go. You have what you want."

"I am far from having what I want Jarod. He will not be harmed, but I am not releasing him as of yet.” She said in a flat voice, no emotions. "But you will be punished for not preforming correctly."

"You don’t understand,” He protested. "I am not a mind reader or empathic. I deal mostly in mathematics, physics, logistics."

"For some one as smart as you are meant to be, becoming Jon should have been an easy task." She argued back.

"I have interacted with him for about ten minutes. Even I can’t pull the details and specifics you want out of thin air. He has a secret, something he doesn’t like to talk about, but I cannot possibly know what that is. Not without learning more about him."

“That is not my problem. My problem is I had someone worthy of my boss and now I don’t. Now I have a frightened and worried man that wants to hurt you for saying what you said, and I have a shrink that seems to think I believe he thinks you are his project still."

Jarod wanted to tell her just how little he cared for her problems right now. "Since your boss doesn’t know about any of this yet, perhaps it would be easier to write this whole thing off as a mistake."

"Oh no Jarod, you may yet to prove useful to my boss. Even if it is for making some money off of you. I am sure there would be a nice auction at the black market for someone like you." She had heard about these auctions, seen the products her boss gets from them. And she knew they were not pleasant. They treated them as if they were slaves in the 1800’s.

Jarod closed his eyes at the sheer horror of that notion. He could never allow that to happen, shuddering at the thought of who might want to get a hold of him. "You do that, and the Centre will find out, and there will be no place on earth where you or your boss will be safe."

"They might be thankful you know. Having the chance to get you back. You are a very useful piece of flesh Jarod. And someone out there will want you."

"Please don’t do this,” He whispered to her.

"It is my assignment Jarod, I have no choice."

He was so sick of hearing that. "There is always a choice."

"No there isn’t Jarod, I know my place, and you should learn yours.” She said sadly, "It would be easier for you."

"You mean easier for everybody else?” He asked tiredly.

"It would help us too but if you accept it and stop fighting, you will have a safe life. You were safe before you got disobedient and left your home."

Jarod was about to argue that it was not his home, that safety at the Centre was very relative. He had had the same argument with Sydney and Miss Parker time and time again and he was too weary to go over it yet again.

She looked at Jarod for a long time. "I am sorry you don’t believe this is your fate Jarod. And for what it is worth, I do wish you weren’t taken from your bed when you were young." With everything coming from him, she knew how much he believed he was meant to have been with his family, and not a project like fate had intended for him.

Jarod shook his head wearily, not even trying to figure out yet another contradiction in her. He had wished so many times that very thing, but wishing got you nowhere. He lay himself down on the 'bed', though that was a generous description. There was no mattress, or pillow, just the cold metal surface. But at least he was stretched out and after spending time in that box, he was grateful for that at least.

Gracie startled when her phone rang as Jon walked in. She grabbed it from her pocket and grimaced at the number, "Jon stand guard outside please." And waited till he obeyed her before answering the call, "Hello sir."

"Progress?” He demanded abruptly.

"We have someone of value, but I am not sure if you want him for yourself sir.” She said in a meek tone, looking at the ground as he spoke to her. She was so scared of displeasing him, and hoped he was happy about this one.

Jarod noticed the change in her posture and guessed this was the 'boss'.

"Who is he, and why would I be interested?"

"He is Jarod sir, a pretender.” She whispered, knowing he probably would want him for some reason or another, sell him, keep him, breed him.

He hissed in a breath. "A pretender? You have confirmed this?"

"Yes sir,” She nodded. "We have his handler here at the moment, he just ran a pretend for us.” She relaxed slightly at his excitement. Maybe she had done good after all.

"His name is Jarod?” He asked, hardly believing his luck.

"Yes sir.” She nodded, she had just told him that.

"Secure him, don’t touch him. I want him back here in one piece, do you understand?” He was almost too excited to think straight. Not only a pretender, but THE pretender. He knew it had been a good move to set up so close to Blue Cove. Years of trawling and they had finally netted the ultimate prize.

"Yes of course sir. Would you like me to bring him home straight away?” She asked. He must be more well known then she had realised. This must be whom she had been sent to find.

He softened his tone. "You have done extremely well Gracie, it is time for you to come home."

Grace's face broke into a grin, "Yes sir, thank you sir. I will bring him home and not disappoint you sir. I promise." She was giddy with the idea she was going home. She couldn’t believe it!

"See that you do. I will send a team to make sure he does not escape."

"Yes sir, but sir?” She asked hesitantly, not wanting to spoil her boss' good mood.

“But what?” He asked, indulging her. If she brought him in a genuine pretender, she would have proved her value once and for all.

“His handler sir?” She didn’t know if he wanted Sydney to come home with them or not. Though she prayed he would tell her she could let him go. She didn’t want to have to kill Sydney.

Jarod listened to her half of the conversation and knew that grin did not bode well for him.

"The old man?” He mused thinking about it for a moment. "Cut him loose, we don’t want any ties with his old life now."

Gracie sighed in relief, "Thank you sir.” She would wait for the team, another 24 hours then let Sydney go. She needed him just in case Jarod tried anything to ruin her chance of being allowed home.

"Gracie, you bring him back to me in one piece, make me proud of you."

"Yes of course sir. I won’t let you down.” She said, smiling broadly again as he disconnected the call.

"Good news?" Jarod asked sarcastically as she put the phone away.

"I can go home. Finally I am allowed home again.” She squealed and jumped on top of him excitedly. "I haven’t been home for years now." She was grinning like a kid at Christmas, and couldn’t seem to wipe it from her face.

Jarod didn’t know how to react to her excitement, so he remained very still. He thought for a moment about using her as a hostage, but they had Sydney and he couldn’t get out of this room. He also knew that he wouldn’t be able to bring himself to hurt her, not even now, she was just a kid after all, and in many respects, just as much a victim as he was.

"Once you are on a plane home with us Jarod, Sydney will be free to go home too. I don’t have to kill him. I’m so happy. He is a nice guy, I didn’t want my boss wanting him dead.” She rambled, grinning like stupid kid.

"Where is home?" Jarod asked, trying to get some information out of her. He was very relieved to hear the news about Sydney, although he was not certain he really believed her. The one thing he was certain about however, was if he pissed any of them off anymore, it was Sydney who would likely pay.

"It doesn’t matter. Aren’t you happy?” She asked, her smile falling and she stoped bouncing and sat next to him on the cot.

"If you let Sydney go, I will be happy,” He told her softly. But the idea of being put up for auction or returned to whomever this boss of hers was held little appeal for him and he could not allow it to happen.

"He will be let go Jarod, I promise you. But only after we are in the air." It was the best security they had to ensure Jarod’s co-operation.

Jarod nodded at her, not really believing her.

She looked at him seriously. "He will be left in his cell, I can put in a camera so you can watch while we are on the plane. We will set up a timing device to unlock the doors at a certain time. You can watch him walk out.” Gracie offered him, hoping to reassure him Sydney would be safe and free to leave.

Jarod closed his eyes as he realised how prepared they really were. "Thank you,” He said, remembering to be careful this time.

"Your welcome Jarod, and I should thank you. You are the only reason I am allowed home again."

"My pleasure," Jarod said sourly.

"Don’t be like that Jarod.” She scolded him gently. "You will like where we are going."

"I am sure my new cell will be just as homey as this one." He would never adapt to being caged again. Even though in the real world he was not really free, not like normal people, but he could not survive spending his time underground and in a cell.

"Maybe at the start they might put you in a high security cell. But the rest of the rooms are just like mine here. Soft and comfortable. They have a bed with a mattress and blankets and even have your own light switch." She exclaimed excitedly.

Jarod knew what a big deal it was to be able to control when the lights went on and off, but he couldn’t get excited about the thought of being locked in a cell again, any type of cage, comfortable or otherwise. He wouldn’t cooperate with them and he knew things would not go well for him.

Gracie climbed off the cot and sat on the ground near his head. She watched him, reading all his emotions. "You are sacred. You don’t want to go home with us. You want to be free even though you know you can’t."
Jarod, door and Parker by jacci
Author's Notes:
Thanks for the feedback guys! As always, this is co-written. Hope you all enjoy.
He was too tired for this right now. He had gone for much longer periods of time without sleep but his body was protesting that he needed rest now, and the painkillers were making him a little drowsy. He didn’t want to argue with her, and he was extremely worried about Sydney.

“You should not sulk so much Jarod, your new boss will not tolerate it." And she knew, she had learnt her lesson there.

“He is not here right now, and I am not sulking, I am exhausted. There is a difference." Jarod tried to explain to her but he was fast realising the futility of arguing with her.

“Not when it comes to your boss there won’t be any difference Jarod.” She said gently. "I want you to sleep, but I can’t allow you to leave us now and I am afraid I might have to restrain you."

Jarod forced himself to look at her trying to follow her logic. "I did not expect you to allow me to leave,” He told her frankly. "But I do not understand what that has to do with me sleeping at the moment."

“The way we would restrain you in order to guarantee you not leaving us would be too uncomfortable and unpleasant for you to even think about sleeping."

Jarod closed his eyes and then looked at her again. "I think it is safe to say that I can’t get out of this room, and I don’t need to be a pretender to figure that out. At the moment I don’t even have the energy to try. Restraining me would be unnecessary.” He tried to reason with her.

"I understand why you are saying this Jarod, I know how badly you want sleep. But if I fail now, after giving my boss such good news, I would be killed, I am sure of it. And I can’t allow that to happen. It was so nice to hear him praise me for once, that I couldn’t stand it if I lost you now and had nothing to give him."

He nodded, quickly understanding that he was not going to win this argument by resisting her. He hated the thought of being restrained, in any form, but he also understood there were degrees of restraint. “Why don’t you cuff my leg to the bed then, I won’t be able to get out and still sleep and while I am sleeping, I am not escaping.” He tried to flash a smile at her.

She titled her head and frowned at him. “Why are you trying to manipulate me Jarod?"

"I just want to sleep, even for a few hours, please."

She looked up at him from where she knelt next to the cot. "Do you understand what would happen, not only to me, but my boys, and unfortunately to your handler if you were to leave us?” She asked seriously, needing him to understand how bad the repercussions were if he left.

"I understand,” He said to her. “The room is secure, you have Sydney, anything else is plain overkill."

"Do you promise me not to try and leave Jarod?” She pleaded with him.

Jarod nodded, it was an easy promise to make at the moment. He could do nothing while they held Sydney, and he knew that he would not be able to get outside of this room, not without help from outside, or taking a hostage.

Gracie sighed. "Alright. Will you be alright if I left you to sleep now? Or would you like some water, or to use the bathroom first?" She offered him.

“Sleep,” He told her quickly.

She smiled at him gently and reached under the cot. She pulled out the shackles linked to the chain that was secured to the bed. There was a cuff linked to each of the corners of the bed. Bringing it up, she cuffed Jarod's ankle tight enough that he wouldn’t get out of it but not tight enough to do any damage to him.

Jarod sighed again, hating the feel of the metal around his ankle. When he had suggested that, he didn’t think she would actually do it. He had only offered in the hope it would relax her enough not to worry about it. It was so redundant. But he told himself he should be happy, because whatever else she had in mind was probably much worse than this.

She sat up near his head again and watched him. “You are a curios project Jarod."

He looked at her again. “How so?” He asked, trying to sound interested.

She shrugged. “Your passion, your lust for life. Your need to help those you believe you have done wrong by. I have never met a project like you. Or even most normal people."

"I hurt a lot of people, was responsible for death and pain,” He whispered. “The very least I can do now is try to help."

“That is one thing I disagree with. You did not hurt anyone. You did as you were told, the consequences are of no concern to you. If anyone should feel guilty, it should be your handler and owners. Not yourself."

Nothing would ever take away that guilt. They could say what they liked, rationalise it away, but Jarod knew. People died because of what he thought up. It was as simple as that.

Grace stroked his cheek. “You shouldn’t pain yourself like this Jarod. You are such a wonderful man, it is not right. You need to put that pain into your work. Ease it that way." She tried to give him something to help with his guilt.

Jarod nodded, that was precisely what he had done, and it helped a little. It kept him going through the long and lonely days, that sense of purpose of righting the things that nobody else would or could. That driving sense of purpose that gave hope to him that it might all mean something.

"I will let you sleep now Jarod. But only for an hour or two. There are things to be done.” She stood up and watched him for a moment. She had no intentions of letting him sleep that long. The less sleep he had the better.

Jarod hated to think what kinds of things, but he let his eyes close. He needed even just a few hours so he would have his wits about him. He could not let her take him wherever she was planning to.

Gracie walked out, letting Jon lock the door firmly after her. "In half an hour, I want you to start playing the CD's, loud enough to wake him.” She said in a cold voice.

“Yes of course Grace.” He nodded, a smile on his face. This was where Wil had come into it. He had prepared some files he had found on the mainframe, and burnt to disk. Jarod would have one hell of a wake up call.

"I need to speak with both you and Wil, come along.” She said, trying to hide her excitement as they walked to the security room, seeing Wil fiddling around trying to do what she asked. She was ecstatic about going home, and she had to admit to herself, she was fearful and worried as well.

Jarod finally let himself relax fully as the door closed. He rattled the chain attached to the cuff, but didn’t bother checking to see if he could get out of it. He tried to get comfortable on the metal surface and allowed his mind to turn off for a little while. His arm was down to a dull throb and he slipped into the mediation routine that would help him rest at least if he couldn’t sleep.

Wil looked up, but continued to work. This place was incredible and he had struck gold. There wasn’t anything they couldn’t find out now if they were patient enough to sift through it all. He had isolated what he thought were the most critical files and prepared them for her.

“Wil, stop for a moment please,” She said as she sat on one of the chairs. “We need to talk." She said in a serious voice. Her shoulders were back, head high, voice strong. But knew once she muttered the words, her cool façade would disappear.

“Sure Grace,” He said, closing his file and looking at her expectantly.

She looked at Wil and Jon for a long time before her face broke out with a grin, “We are going home!” She squealed with excitement, her eyes sparkling like they haven’t in a long, long time. Both of them, she knew, missed home just as much as she did, even if they never admitted it verbally.

Wil smiled broadly at her and picked her up, swinging her around in a hug. “You did it?” He asked her. “He is the one?"

She laughed happily. “He must be. Our boss called, and I told him we had Jarod, a pretender. He got excited over having a pretender, then asked again if his name was Jarod and I said yes. We need him secured, and in one piece. He is sending out a team. So in 24 hours or less boys, we are going home!" She couldn’t stop smiling, couldn’t stop wanting to laugh. She was beyond happy she, they, were finally allowed to come home. After so many years in this place, she wanted nothing more.

Jon hugged Grace and gave her a kiss before giving Wil a quick hug. “Well done Grace. We are both so proud of you.” He said with a huge smile on his face. He would miss this place, having been his home for the last few years. But he missed his real home, his few other friends from previous assignments. He missed everything.

“Yes we are," Wil agreed, still smiling. "It will be good to get home again, it has been a long time. And don’t you worry about a thing Gracie, we won’t let him go anywhere." Although Wil was a little worried. He had gathered everything on Jarod's numerous escapes from the Centre, and from the custody of sweepers. He had even gone in and out of the Centre with impunity it seemed.

"I have his leg chained to the bed for now, but we need to focus on Sydney. Jarod won’t go anywhere without his mentor. As long as we keep an eye on Sydney, so if Jarod did get out, he couldn’t get to him, I think we might be ok." Gracie was forcing herself not to think about Jarod being able to leave too much, knowing if she did, she would have a panic attack. So many things were riding on Jarod’s obedience to come home with them. And she knew, Jarod wasn’t very obedient, nor did he want to come home.

Wil nodded, thinking. "24 hours?” He asked. “Much can happen in that time. You be careful around him Miss Gracie, he is very clever, sneaky too."

“Yes I know. Once he is awake, I am thinking about locking him in the box for the rest of the time. Just so I know he can’t get out." Grace knew he would never be able to get out of the box. Houdini himself couldn’t do it. But she also knew the high risk’s to Jarod’s emotional, mental and physical self if he were locked in there for so long.

“That is a long time for something so extreme, might be enough to send a person crazy."

“Then what can we do? We cannot afford to lose him now. We would not survive." And none of them would. Having lost such an important and worthy project, would guarantee the death of herself and her boys. And that is something she would not ever allow.

“Maybe just chain him up. Lock his wrists and ankles so he can’t move, but isn’t cramped up like he is in the box?" Jon suggested to the two. Just chain him up in his room. It was hard enough to get out of this place, let alone when one was trussed up.

“The building is secure, he won’t be able to get out, but better safe than sorry." Wil mused.

“So you finished what I asked? All new locks and codes? All exits and vents electrified?"

"A fly couldn’t get in or out now without getting zapped or us knowing about it. If he touches anything he is not supposed to, he will be zapped hard enough to sit him on his arse, but not do too much damage to him."

"I want the vents in his room and his door electrified right now too please.” She asked. She knew if they put the right code in and scanned the right hand print to enter, they would be fine, but Jarod touches that door and he would be in for an unpleasant surprise, and the sheer thought of it sent a smile to Grace’s lips.

“The vents aren’t much bigger than his hand, so there is no escape there, but I can if you want. I will make it so.” He said, standing up and logging back into his own mainframe, setting up the new lockdown protocols.

“We will go in after Jon wakes him up and undo the shackles, see if he will try anything with the door once he is left alone."

"And if he does?" Wil asked, wondering if she would punish him beyond the shock he would get.

“Then we put him in the box for a few hours.” She said shrugging, but she had to guess the shock from the door would be enough punishment for him to know not to do it again.

"I bet you fifty bucks he tries," Wil grinned.

Grace smirked, "I am not taking that bet, because I am sure he will try anyway.” She laughed and watched as Jon went about setting up to wake Jarod in a few minutes. “Wil, come to his room and watch through the door to see how he wakes up."

He had never seen her this animated and excited before and he guessed she missed home much more than she probably realised herself. He wondered if they would give Jarod to her to retrain or they would take him and do whatever they were going to do with him. If that were the case, he wondered what would become of this team. Wil got up and followed them.

They got to the door and peered in through the reinforced glass, careful not to touch it. He was sound asleep on the bed, quite as a church mouse. But all of a sudden, the noise started. She didn’t know quite what it was from, but she was filled with sadness, pain, terror so strong she almost collapsed and had to fight her own tears. “No, let her go! They are hurting her!” She heard a young boy’s voice cry out, followed by a girl’s crying out for her Momma. It was followed by crying, the girl asking why she left. Jarod's young voice crying refuge. She listened as the sounds were played over and over loudly into Jarod’s room, knowing it had a bad and sad meaning for the trapped man.

Jarod came awake with a start, frowning in confusion. He tried to sit up, forgetting about the chain at his ankle and pulled on it painfully. It took him a moment to realise the sound was not from his dream but was playing in the room. It was the DSA from the day Catherine had died. He could hear the anguish in Parker's wails and he put his hands over his ears. “Why are you doing this!” He shouted in anguish.

Gracie grinned darkly, trying to hide her weakness as she was assaulted by both Jarod’s and the girl’s emotions, as she watched him, “Keep it playing, see what he does in a few moments of it blasting into his head.” He was exhausted, more so than Gracie herself. Both had not slept, but Jarod had been through a bit of bad stuff and had worn him out terribly.

Jarod couldn’t see the speakers, but they were loud and he reasoned that that had got into the archives. He clamped his hands over his ears, trying to block it all out, his tired mind replaying every instant as clearly as if he were watching them on the screen. He started rocking back and forth, his knees drawn to his chest, his back against the wall.

Wil watched passively, his only concern at the moment to make sure he didn’t escape. He would leave the 'fun' stuff up to Jon.

They had a few disks ready to use. Each time a painful memory for Jarod and she knew exactly which one she would use next. "Cut it!” She shouted out and waited a few minutes until it was turned off. Immediately she pressed the codes in, scanned her hand and unlocked the door, walking in. “Good morning Jarod. Enjoy your sleep?” She asked innocently.

It took Jarod more than a moment to realise it had stopped. He looked up at her, his eyes brimming with unshed tears. “Why?” He asked brokenly, appalled at the level of her casual cruelty.

"Because I can Jarod and I will do what it takes to assure you do not leave us.” She lied slightly, watching him with fascination. She knew she had to do anything to make sure he did not escape, but it was protocol to put them through this, and she was not one to break the rules. “That hurts you to hear her cries. You were close to Miss Parker, no?"

"Once,” He said softly, tugging on the chain at his ankle, tyring to prove the point as to how unnecessary this was. She kept telling him it was to prevent his escape, but he was sealed in a room, and chained to the bed. He wasn’t going anywhere any time soon by the looks of things.

Ignoring his movements completely, she watched him. “Why would the chairman allow such a thing as yourself near his daughter? I do not understand it." And she didn’t. Jarod was a project, a lab rat, an experiment, a piece of meat for the owners to enjoy themselves with. Why would such a respected man such as the chairman, let his daughter near such a lower class thing?

Jarod tried to ignore the insult and looked at her slowly. “She means nothing to him."

"And you mean nothing to her." Grace said back causally, watching him closely.

Jarod hissed in a breath at that, shaking his head, needing to deny it.

"Don’t fool yourself Jarod. Everyone can see it. They all know it. She has used you so many times for herself. She used you for comfort, for fun, for pleasure. Used you to teach her things for school. She used you to further her career. There was never any real feelings towards you Jarod."

“No,” He said hotly, moving as far from her as the chain would allow. “No, that is not true. We were friends."

She laughed in his face. “No you weren’t Jarod. Can you tell me one time you saw her as a child that didn’t involve her wanting something from you?" She asked genuinely interested. These were the best times to find out the smaller details of her guest’s relationship with others.

Jarod dug through his memories, trying to find one, just one, there had to be one time. “We were friends,” He protested feebly, not prepared to deal with this kind of assault. He had prepared himself for more jumper cables and coercion, not this.

"Point proven Jarod. Not one time did she ever in your life came to you to be a friend to you. To give you something, to help you. Every time she wanted or needed something from you. You are smart enough, you should know how easily she had played you, and still does.” Grace told him emotionally, fighting to control herself. He was trying to deny it to himself, trying to hold onto the one thing in his life he used to help him through dark times. “You risked your freedom for her, got taken back to the Centre for her. And did she care? No."

“That is just her way,” He defended her.

“So her way to show you she was thankful and cares was threatening to bring you back in. As I know it, as soon as she was out of the hospital, she went into a building, gun armed, sweepers at her side, with all intentions of bringing you back in to serve your life as a project. And this was right after you saved her life. Strange way to show your gratitude and friendship wouldn’t you say Jarod?"

Jarod shook his head in mute denial. She had to act that way, but she would never really have brought him in. “She was just upset because of her father, I don’t blame her."

“You are so naïve Jarod," Gracie said, shaking her head, her voice holding its disgust. “She has you so wrapped around her little finger all she has to do is bat her eyes and you come running, no matter the danger. You gave her all these truths about her mother, and yet she still hates you, despises you, wants to hurt you."

“That's not true,” He told her.

“Why didn’t you ever ask her then?" She asked with raised eyebrows, crossed arms.

Jarod shifted uncomfortably, and refused to participate in this conversation any longer. She was only trying to hurt him, for some spiteful reason of her own he was unable to fathom at the moment.

“Well? Why didn’t you ask her? All these years... Why didn’t you ask her to leave the Centre and come with you? Why didn’t you ask her how she felt about you? Why didn’t you ask her if she loved you like you love her?" Gracie asked curiously, really interested in his answer. The love and affection for Miss Parker shined from Jarod every time anyone just mentioned her name, and she hated she had to do this to him.

Jarod's eyes opened wide at that. He snapped his mouth shut, refusing to give her the satisfaction of a response.

"I will tell you why Jarod, because you know the answers. You know she would never leave the Centre for something like you. You know she would never love you. You know she would tell you she hated you, was disgusted and disgraced by you. All you have ever done was hurt her, all she has ever done was use you."

“No,” He whispered. "I never hurt her, I just wanted to help, she deserved the truth, she deserved a real life, we both did."

"And look at what that real life has done. She lost her mother, then with your 'truth' made her lose her father. You tried to help, and give her a man. Thinking you were doing the right thing, and she lost him too. Every time you tried to 'help' you hurt her. You humiliated her in front of her father and work associates and bosses. Why would she ever want to be with someone like you?"

“No, I have never hurt her, never humiliated her. I wouldn’t do that,” He whispered.

“No, you won’t admit you have done that. How many times has she tried to tell you what you have been doing to her has been hurting her, humiliating her, disgracing her. And you never listened. You gave her an ulcer Jarod, nearly killed her!" Gracie exclaimed loudly, animatedly. He just didn’t seem to comprehend how much his helping was hurting.

“Why are you doing this?” He pleaded, not even Lyle was capable of this kind of cruelty.

“You nearly killed her Jarod, did you never realise how much you believing you were her friend hurt her?” She asked, ignoring his words, trying to get him to understand this.

“No,” He whispered in weak protest.

“You have these delusions Jarod. You refuse to listen to what she tells you, believing she will change. Even as a child, you refused to acknowledge she was just using you. She was bored, you were a welcome plaything for her. And because you were so desperate for human contact, you took that ‘friendship’ regardless of the fact you were getting the bad end of the deal."

Jarod hugged his knees closer to his chest, wanting nothing more than to just run away.

She watched him, refusing to smile at him, “She wants nothing to do with you. If she knew you were dying, and she was the only one that could save you. You know she wouldn’t do it. You know she wouldn’t care."

Jarod had wondered sometimes, if their roles had been reversed that day on the airfield, would she have gone back for him, tried to save him. He knew the answer, although never wanted to admit it to himself. He remembered her face the night Kyle had died. He wasn’t even cold in his arms and she had her gun in his face telling him it was time to come home.

“You know I am right, admit it. Stop pretending she cares for you when it’s only you caring for her." Gracie begged him almost.

“Why? What difference does it make to you?” He said spitefully.

"I want you to understand the truth. So many things in your life you lie to yourself about. I know you know what I say is the truth, yet you still seem to want to hang onto the stupid lie."

That 'stupid lie' was one of the reasons for his entire life. “No, you are wrong about her. She showed me what it was like to really be alive. She brought light into my life."

“How Jarod? Explain to me how?" She pushed him, genuinely wanting to know.

“She taught me to have fun, she showed me there was more than just SIM's and Sydney. She gave me my first kiss, she showed me how to smile again."

"And how many times when she came to you was she bored? Was just looking for something to occupy her as she waited for her father? And this kiss,” She laughed, "Did you realise she was interested in a boy? That she kissed him the next morning at school?"

“No,” He hissed at her, trying again to move further away. That was his most treasured memory. It was what sustained him in his darkest hours.

Gracie laughed at him. “You didn’t know? You seriously didn’t know? As I have been informed, his name was Mark. She had liked him for a few weeks. But was too scared to kiss him because she didn’t know how to kiss. And she saw you alone one day and thought it might be good to practice first." Gracie said easily, her voice smooth, soft, strong.

“You’re lying,” He told her. “You can’t know that."

“You know the school she went to when she was a child, has security cameras every where. It was very high profile school.” She smirked.

Jarod shook his head, refusing to listen to any more. He withdrew into himself, into his safe places, blocking her out.

"Can’t handle the truth can you Jarod? I bet you didn’t know how she watched as you got punished one time. You know, when she showed you a way to get out to one of the biotracts when you were about 19. When she was on spring break. You snuk out with her. Got caught as soon as your feet touched the dirt outside. She sat in her father’s office, watching the DSA of you being beaten senseless. She was laughing at you. She found it so amusing."

Jarod would never believe that, never in a million years. He refused to look at her, trying to block her out. None of it mattered anyway, he told himself. The past was the past, and he was slowly coming to accept that their futures were on different paths. He consciously accepted that the day he thought that Thomas might be able to make her happy and went about pairing the two of them up.

She nodded to Wil to go get the disk they had fabricated. There was no possible way you could know it was a fake. Everything about Parker was real. Her voice, her laugh her face her body. Only they had changed where she was, what she was smiling and laughing about, changing the pitch of her voice so it wasn’t a high, happy laugh. But more of a dark, cruel laugh. Jarod wouldn’t know the difference, and would believe he was watching what really had happened.

Wil rushed off to grab his notebook, but he was worried about Jarod's reaction. So far he had reacted pretty calmly to everything, including the box, but after seeing that, he didn’t think he would just lie down for this one, and he didn’t want Gracie within striking distance of him.

She waited silently as Wil got it for her. She grabbed it from Wil and thanked him. She sat the notebook on the floor, out of the range of Jarod and played the disk. She stood watching and listening as you saw Parker watching the DSA of Jarod’s punishment, laughing, calling him a stupid fool, an idiot naive lab rat. You saw a few clips of the screen she was watching, seeing Jarod being punished before it would pan back across to her.

Jarod watched it in dawning horror, remembering that day clearly. He had been so excited that she was back, had missed her terribly and the thought of going outside made him giddy with anticipation.

"Do you see why I am trying to get you to understand she is not your friend Jarod?” She asked him gently, making her eyes look sad and pained. “She just uses you to amuse her, help her when she thinks you can. That’s all. She doesn’t even like you.” She kept her voice soft and gentle, knowing what this was doing to Jarod. Grace had to stop her own tears at the heart wrenching pain Jarod was feeling over such a betrayal.

Jarod wanted to smash the computer, knowing how irrational it was, the only thing stopping him was that he knew he couldn’t reach it.

Wil moved in closer, sensing an explosion about to come, ready to stop him if he tried anything.

“She saw you the next day. And she pretended to be sorry she had gotten you into trouble. Do you remember? She lied to you. She had sat there watching it the night before, then the next day acted as if she were actually concerned."

Jarod turned on her, his eyes a mix of pain and fury and before he had even moved, he found himself in a headlock, hardly able to breathe.

“You weren’t thinking of hurting Miss Gracie there were you Jarod?" Wil asked coolly, tightening his grip.

Both of Jarod's hands came up to pull at the arm at his throat, struggling to breathe.

“Wil, loosen the grip a bit please. He is just hurting, angry that I am trying to show him this. He wasn’t going to hurt me, were you Jarod?" She asked in a sickly sweet voice, letting Jarod know the answer she wanted to hear from his mouth.

Wil loosened his hold marginally, letting Jarod breathe freely, though not enough for him to really move or try anything. He knew he was dangerous. For all of his quiet acceptance of everything so far, underneath was a dangerous man who had nothing to lose at the moment.

“Were you Jarod?” She asked him again, looking into his eyes. He was hurting so much right now, but if it helped him accept his life as a project, she had to do it to help him.

Jarod wasn’t sure what he had been about to do, but he gave her the answer he knew she wanted. ”No,” He whispered.

While Wil had a good grip on Jarod, she moved to sit next to him. "I am sorry it hurt you so much Jarod. But you needed to know about it. Lying to yourself about these things will never do you any good."

Jarod looked at her dully, not wanting to believe it, but his treacherous mind had already run the SIM and he knew how likely it was that she was right. He sagged in Wil's grip, all anger and fight draining from him at the realisation.

"I’m sorry Jarod,” She whispered. "I really am." And her voice eyes and body language would tell Jarod she was.

Jarod didn’t want to hear any of this. He didn’t want her pity or her false sympathy. "Just leave me alone,” He told her softly.

"Jarod,” She sighed, "All right. Wil let him go, remove the shackle. He won’t need it.” She picked up the notebook and moved to the door and look at him. Right now she was feeling sorry for him, but this was her job, her assignment, and she would be damned if she would not complete it because she felt sorry for him.

Wil let him go, undoing the shackle and watched as he curled on the cot, hugging himself tightly, staring at her dully.

"I’m sorry.” She said again and shut the door after Wil left, locking it, automatically re-engaging the electricity running through it. She had to hide her excitement over see what Jarod would do when he was free and alone.

Jarod lay there for a long time, listening to his own breathing, wrapped up in his own misery before finally deciding that enough was enough. Whatever they wanted from him, they were not going to get, it was that simple. He slowly forced himself to pull it together and looked for any weakness in the cell. He remained still on the bed after giving it a thorough visual examination. Now he was no longer shackled, he could move freely in the small room. Not that there was much to examine, but the locking mechanism was worth a look at.

Gracie and Wil re-entered the security room and watched the TV, watching as Jarod slowly got to his feet. She leaned in closer, waiting for it.

“He just can’t help himself," Wil observed. "But he is careful, methodical, not rushing to the most obvious, patiently checking it all out first."

“He is a genius Wil, what did you expect?” She laughed, but knew it was a bad thing what Jarod was doing. He was eyeing ever single millimetre of the room, looking for some way out.

“Well we will see if he anticipated this."

Jarod finally got around to the door. He looked through the glass, seeing that it was reinforced and tapped it with his knuckle to confirm it. He snorted, guessing even a bullet probably wouldn’t be able to penetrate it. He couldn’t see anybody standing guard as he looked through it, scanning his limited field of vision. He guessed that they were pretty confident he couldn’t get out.

Grace watched. "Come on Jarod, touch the door, touch the metal for me honey." She whispered, a huge grin on her face, just waiting for it. She knew he would touch the door, he wouldn’t be able to help himself.

Jarod followed the line of the door with his eyes, the hinges were on the outside, so no help there and the crack at the bottom was very small, so it was extremely well fitted. He put his hand over the locking mechanism, knowing it was electronic by the sounds of it and yelped in surprise as he was thrust backwards, slamming his back into the opposite wall.

Gracie laughed, “Gotcha Jarod.” She grinned, watching him. "I wonder if he will try again. You know, thinking it was a once off.” She spoke mainly to herself, but knew he wouldn’t. But she oh so loved seeing his reaction.

"I doubt it," Wil snorted, even the dumb ones don’t go back for a second taste of that.

Jarod sat there, totally stunned, his hand and arm numb from what he guessed had been a pretty severe electric shock.

"I’m going down there." Gracie said and got up suddenly, running though the hallways to Jarod's room.

Wil chased after her after a moment, not trusting Jarod not to hurt her. He was fast realising how hopeless his cause was and the more desperate he became, the more dangerous he would become too.

Gracie unlocked the door, knowing it was safe for the moment and walked in, about to shut the door but found Wil behind her, and let him do it. “Hey Jarod.” She grinned like a kid who just saw the best movie of the year.

Jarod looked up at her, curling his lip in distaste, not moving from his position on the floor, still a little winded. "Enjoy the show?” He snarled, knowing she had watched and was the only reason she had taken the shackle off, and like a fool, he had performed exactly as she had wished.

"Very much so.” She grinned, "But seriously now Jarod, how are you?” She asked, noting him cradling his arm, concern now in her eyes.

"I’ll live,” He grumbled.

"Come show me your arm please Jarod.” She said kindly, knowing Wil was there in case Jarod tried anything.

Jarod got up slowly, moving back to the bed. He sat next to her, not offering it to her, but not holding it away either. "I was shocked, there is nothing to be done for it."

She took it from him, running a gentle hand over it. She looked at his fingers. “You have brunt them slightly Jarod. We might have some burn cream somewhere to help.” She offered him but knew he was right, there was little to nothing she could do to help him.
Let's Have A Little Look by jacci
Author's Notes:
Disclaimer: Not ours...

This has parts that are not suitble for the younger readers, so please be warned. If anyone has a problem with this chapter, please, please, PLEASE, let us know and it will be removed straight away. It is not meant to offend anyone, but it might, so please let us know your thoughts so if there is any problems, it can be fixed. Thank you.
“Why?” He asked her dully, too absorbed in his misery at the moment to care about his hand or his arm. She was happy to lock him in that damned box and now she was pretending to care. She could have told him the door was electrified he thought bitterly.

“Why what Jarod?” She asked, gently letting his arm go, knowing it was really pointless to try and help to fix his arm. It was an electrical shock, give it a few hours and it will be back to normal, a little sore still, but workable.

“Why bother,” He said as he pulled his arm back to his body protectively.

“Don’t sulk Jarod, I already told you not to.” She scolded him.

“Or what? You will put me in the box, fry my other arm?” He didn’t look at her, and he was NOT sulking.

“Hey, you fried your own arm Jarod. Simple as that. And you put yourself in the box with your disrespectfulness." Gracie said disinterestedly.

Jarod didn’t bother answering, knowing how pointless it was to argue. Right now it was probably best to let her think she had beaten him, that he had no fight left in him. “Whatever,” He said, having heard that incredibly annoying expression from teenagers in the hospital he had just been working at. At first he hadn’t understood it, but he soon got the picture and realised just how irritating it was.

“Wil,” She beckoned him over as she stood up, “Chain him.” She nodded to the cuffs hanging from the ceiling, the shackles on the ground.

“Yes Miss Gracie," Wil said with a smile. “You going to give me any trouble here Jarod?” He asked casually as he eyed the man off. He had taken a few nasty blows, to his body and his ego, but he was a long way from out of this particular fight.

Jarod didn’t move, but he didn’t resist either, he just sat there.

Grace grabbed the wrist on his dead arm as Wil got the other and hauled him to his feet, quickly locking him in the cuffs, forcing him onto his tippee toes. His arms stretched high above his head, his muscles pulled tight.

Jarod stared at her as he was strung up from the ceiling, stretched out painfully, the metal cutting into his wrists. His dead arm was useless to him, so he didn’t even put up a token struggle, knowing the futility of it. He tried to stop himself from swinging as he stared at her.

She locked the shackles onto him, “Well at least now I know you won’t electrify your other arm," Grace said, an amused undertone in her voice. It had been a ball to watch, knowing he was too damn curious for his own good. Even if they hadn’t have electrified the door, he would have still gone over to try to open it.

“Too bad, I bet you found it entertaining,” He said sullenly.

“Very much so.” She grinned broadly. “Was kinda hoping you tried it again." She knew he wouldn’t, but there was no harm in hoping.

Wil shook his head at his stupidity.

“Bit hard for me to try now."

“Yes I know. But I am sure you will do something else that will amuse me, won’t you Jarod?"

“Not if I can help it.” He shook his head at her. “This is all just a game to you inst it?"

“No Jarod, this is work, this is an assignment, but you do make it entertaining for me." No other person that had stayed here had ever been this fun and amusing. Always crying, and begging and pleading. Never had they been able to have a conversation with her, challenge her this much. And she found herself wishing she didn’t have to tell her boss about him, so he could stay here with her and keep her amused.

He took a deep breath, trying to find the optimum balance point that would minimise the pull on his wrists, but not stress his leg muscles too much. He had no idea how long she would leave him here for. “And what did I do to deserve this? Or is this just for fun?"

“This? As in you hanging by your wrists?” She asked in confusion, he could mean so many things by saying this. He could have meant if he deserved to be here in the first place, deserved her playing with him, deserved his punishments.

Jarod was about to say a smartarse comment, but a quick glance at Wil made him rethink that option. “Yes."

“That was yourself Jarod, you were sulking and being rude.” She said watching him carefully.

Jarod nodded at her, realising from all of her previous behaviour he should have expected it. She was a child that was drunk with her own power, petulant and moody and he was going to have to be very careful.

She smiled at him and stroked his face. “You shouldn’t be sad all the time Jarod, shouldn’t frown. It will give you wrinkles." She had been given permission to watch an hour of television once a day by her boss, if she had nothing work related left to do for the day. And they as always were saying if you frown, it will give you wrinkles. And then try to sell a face cream for those wrinkles gained by frowning. She didn’t understand why peopled cared so much.

He forced himself to remain calm and looked at her, hiding his anger and resentment from his eyes. “What have I got to be happy about?” He asked her, genuinely interested in her response.

“You are coming home with us!” She said excitedly. “You will love it. When they let you go outside Jarod, and watch the sunsets, ohhh it’s to die for.” She said in a dreamy voice. Not often did they let you outside, but sometimes if you had preformed beyond even their high expectations, they would let a guard take you out. It was a beautiful sight, the colours, the atmosphere, and a lot of the projects worked so hard to earn this one simple reward.

“I watch the sunsets every day now, and I go outside whenever I want, I don’t need somebody's permission. What you call home will be prison to me."

She looked at him in confusion, “You will not be happy there will you Jarod? No matter how nice it is?" Her voice held a hint of pain to it, disappointment. Her home was her life. And it hurt her to think Jarod would not like it there at all.

“A prison is still a prison. Even a cage with a nice bed and a light switch is still a cage.” He sighed heavily, shifting his weight slightly as his body started to protest at this new uncomfortable position. “I will never be happy unless I am free. And you shouldn’t settle for anything less either."

“And why Jarod, should I settle if I know my place?” She asked curiously. What was there to settle? She liked her home, she liked her place, she liked being a project for the most part.

“If it makes you happy then,” He told her softly.

She shrugged simply, watching him wide curious eyes.

Jarod didn’t understand this strange girl at all. Every time he thought he had her figured, she did something to completely throw him off. At the moment his position seemed completely hopeless and he wondered how he had allowed himself to get so careless to find himself in this predicament.

“Wil, strip him of his clothes please.” She asked, her eyes never leaving Jarod's. She remembered him in the shower, and now was the perfect chance to see him again, be able to touch him and study Jarod’s perfect body.

Wil moved forward and looked at him and then at Grace. “Do you want me to cut them off or unchain him?” He asked, not really caring one way or the other.

“Cut them off I guess. Just as easy." Gracie really didn’t care how the clothes came off, just as long as they did.

Jarod made a face and screwed his nose up at that.

“Sure thing Miss Gracie," Wil said with enthusiasm, and started cutting the shirt from him, slowly, dragging it out.

Gracie winced as Wil sliced his skin a little as he went about removing the clothes, “Please be a bit more careful. I don’t know how our boss will react seeing he is damaged more then we already have done." But she knew as long as he could work, he wasn’t damaged. A gun shot wound, a few bruises, a few nicks and cuts would mean nothing to him.

“Sorry,” He muttered, although it was easy enough to tell by his tone that he was not sorry at all. “Shame to ruin such a nice pair of jeans,” He observed as he finished.

Jarod stood there naked, feeling rivulets of blood trickling down from a various number of cuts, which he guessed were probably just shallow ones.

Picking up the cut up shirt, she used it to wipe the trickles of blood away with such tenderness, it surprised even herself. She ran her eyes over his naked body. “You are very impressive Jarod." Grace said as she dropped the shirt.

Jarod kept fit, more a matter of survival than vanity. He was not unaware that he was considered to be attractive, and he had not been above using that from time to time either. He watched her, not saying anything more. His vulnerability at the moment frightened him.

She reached forward and ran a light finger over his chest, feeling it. “You are so hard.” She whispered in surprise. She had seen him half naked when she had first gotten him, but too caught up in work to really pay any attention. She still couldn’t get over how different this body was to the men that liked to touch her. And she wondered how many women would have drooled over him.

Jarod tried not to flinch from her gentle touch.

She trailed down lightly to his stomach and felt his six pack. “Women like this sort of body don’t they?” She asked, getting glimpses of two women touching him with love. She could see them both, feel how deeply they cared for Jarod, and wondered if Jarod had the chance, would he go back to them.

Wil watched her, wondering if she would like to do a little bit more with this one. He had watched over her for all of her life, and she was like a daughter to him. It made him uncomfortable to watch all the sexual innuendo going on here.

“Some women I guess," Jarod said, trying to sound calm. He really had no idea why people were attracted to each other. He knew that good looks helped, but they usually weren’t enough to keep the other person interested for too long.

“Why do they go for looks so much?” She asked, not understanding. Always getting everyone’s emotions running through her, she just assumed most people went for personality, when she knew most of them went for looks first.

“I don’t know,” He said honestly. He had given it much thought, and had found on his gigolo pretend that the woman, although they were pleased with his appearance, were more interested in talking to him.

She trailed her finger down a little lower, playing with his pubic hair, “Some people, for both sexes, though more for women, have this hair removed. Is there any reason for it?” She wondered if Jarod knew anything at all about this, considering most of his life he was in the Centre doing what he was born to do.

Jarod was fighting the own stirrings in his body now and had to concentrate very hard to keep his body from betraying him. “It is a matter of aesthetics, as I understand it,” He told her, running mathematical algorithms to keep his mind occupied.

“Is it just like some people preferrer the same sex, while others would rather the opposite sex?” She asked, slowly making her way down to look at his penis, holding, it touching it, studying it.

Jarod gasped as she touched his penis. It had been a very long time since anybody had touched that besides him. “I guess,” He said in a voice pitched higher than usual.

Wil watched, not liking this at all. But he knew it was not his place to tell her not to do it. He knew she was fascinated with Jarod, the key to her going home, and the first person to maintain a conversation without resorting to begging and pleading. Most of them were quivering wrecks within the first few hours and nothing sensible could be gotten out of them after that.

She run a fingernail up the underside of him, watching him with curiosity. She knew the biological side of this. About the nerves and the muscles and how each body worked. But since the only way she had ever been touched was with rough, hard hands, she never understood how one could gain so much pleasure out of being touched.

Jarod fought the flicker of arousal as she kept fondling him, ashamed at himself. Not only was she his captor, but she was still a child.

She got on her knees and leant in and licked him up and down before taking him in her mouth. Grace knew exactly how to make a man come to life, it was expected of her, and she was enjoying being able to do it to Jarod as well. She moved on him for a few moments before pulling back, watching him and his body.

Jarod gasped loudly as she took him in her mouth, all thoughts of his math problems gone. He was blushing furiously at his growing erection, keeping his eyes tightly closed.

She looked at him, felt the arousal coming from him. “You enjoyed that no?” She asked with fascination.

Wil shifted uncomfortably as he watched, torn between desire and disgust at himself for wanting that too.

“No,” He ground out, not opening his eyes.

“But your body tells me differently, so does your heart, and please look at me, do not be so rude." She didn’t understand how each part of his body could tell her such different things.

He forced his eyes open to look at her, his face blushing deeply, his erection sitting against his flat stomach now. He forced himself to remain still, trying to think about something, anything else.

“Why do you like it Jarod?” She asked as she did it again.

Jarod was finding it increasingly difficult to remain calm. He hated how his own body could betray him so easily, how little power his mind had over his own reactions right now. He told himself that it was just a natural biological reaction, that something would be wrong with him if he didn’t react this way. But at the moment it offered him little comfort. He had had a few sexual experiences since he had escaped, and he was not completely naïve anymore. “I don’t know, I am a man, it is a natural reaction. That doesn’t mean I want it, not like this,” He tried to reason with her.

“So your body can say you want to be touched, but your mind can tell you don’t want to be?” She asked frowning, still touching him with light, soft touches.

“Yes,” He gasped out as his need was becoming more intense.

“Oh, well that would complicate things for people on a regular basis wouldn’t it?” She asked as she withdrew her hands from his penis to move onto his balls. Cupping them in her hand, she gave them a gentle squeeze. “Are these just as sensitive?” She asked as she played with them just a little.

“Ohhh," Jarod sucked in a breath, trying to free himself from the chains, breathing heavily now.

“Jarod, that doesn’t answer either one of my questions.” She said annoyed as she pulled away and stood up.

“Yes,” He whispered.

“It looks to me like your body is telling your mind it badly wants to be touched Jarod." Gracie said with a frown as she moved behind him. She sighed softly as she traced the lines of his muscles and spine. “I saw your back in the shower. Even I know it is just beautiful." Gracie didn’t know if every one liked what she liked, but she was positive with the fact that Jarod’s back was god damn beautiful.

He was torn between wanting her back at his balls and erection to bring him off, but he would die before he asked her. He could feel the glare coming off of Wil without even looking at him, and again he felt shame at his own erection. She was nothing more than a child, and he didn’t even want to begin to catalogue how wrong this was.

She ran her flat palms over his back. “Why don’t all men look like this?” She asked him as she felt every inch of his perfect back.

“I don’t know, genetics,” He mumbled.

She ran her hands down ever so gently to cup his butt, and squeezed it gently, “Why is it Jarod, that some people prefer bigger backsides, more round and fleshy, and some prefer smaller, more tight ones?” She asked, her confusion clear.

“I don’t know,” He muttered, comparative physiology the last thing on his mind at the moment. He tried to force himself to think. “Personal preference, the same as some people prefer spicy food and others don’t."

“Is it that simple? All of this?” She asked tracing a finger over his hip as she moved to stand in front of him again. “Just simply liking one aspect of a person better then other traits?" She wondered if it was really that simple. If it just came down to a person liking their own things and not what they were told to like.

“I guess so,” He said, never really having understood it himself.

She stroked his hard penis once more, “Oh. I guess it is their own prerogative.” She shrugged and stepped back to sit on the bed, watching him.

Jarod was losing the battle with his body, and now it came down to a matter of pride. He knew that the erection would flag by itself eventually, all he had to do was concentrate on something else.

“What do you best like in a woman Jarod? Do you have preferences?” She asked him as she watched him struggle for control. He had to have preferences. He had just told her some people like things others don’t, and the same would hold for him.

“I like... kindness, gentleness, fun…” He told her, thinking about both Nia and Zoe. Nia had been so kind and loving and gentle. Zoe had been so very different. Full of energy and fun. He closed his eyes and thought for a moment of what might have become of them.

“What about looks? Do breast size really matter to men?” She asked. As far as she knew, well over three quarters of the male population on earth, of all races and nationalities, seemed to worry about the size of women’s breast. Most of the time wanting bigger ones.

“To some, yes, and to women too, very much so.” He remembered his stint as a plastic surgeon, and many men and women seemed to define the worth of a woman by her breast size.

She stood up and pulled her tops off and unhooked her bra, taking it off. She stood in front of Jarod in only her jeans. “What about mine? Would most men like them or not?” She asked, un-phased by her lack of clothing.

Jarod blinked and then looked at her breasts critically. He tried to sound completely professional. "They seem very nice,” He told her, unable to comprehend just how surreal all of this was.

She looked down at them. “Do you like them?” She asked. She didn’t really know why she was asking Jarod if he liked her breasts, but it seemed appropriate at the time.

He nodded at her. “Yes, I like them just fine. Are you not happy with them? I was a plastic surgeon once."

Wil was fuming by now, debating with himself whether he should interrupt. He took a step forward towards her.

“It does not matter what I think of them, only what the men do.” She shrugged. “Why do people want to alter their appearance?”

"Miss Gracie," Wil said softly.

She looked at Wil, “Did I do something wrong?” She asked, hearing his soft tone, the disapproval. It wasn’t often he used that tone with her, and when he did, she knew she had done something wrong.

“Perhaps Miss Gracie you should put your clothes back on.” He made a show at looking at his watch. “It is getting to lunch time now."

She looked at the ground as she nodded, “Sorry.” She apologised as she put her bra and tops back on.

“No need for an apology Miss Gracie," Wil said soothingly, glad when she was fully clothed again.

“Can you make lunch please Wil? I will be out in about ten minutes. Will Jarod and Sydney be eating with us? Or just Sydney?” She asked, looking at him as if she had been told off. She knew Wil was the father figure in all this and hated when she disappointed him like this.

“Jarod too, we don’t want him fainting on us when the team get here,” He said, hoping to discourage her from any further sexual playing.

She nodded. “I will let him down. So maybe come get us when you are ready? Send Jon to get Sydney."

“You touch her Jarod, or try anything at all, you will be running for that box, happy to spend the rest of your life in there. Do you understand me?"

Jarod nodded, understanding the threat.

“Good," Wil huffed and then turned to her. “Will get you when everything is ready. You be careful Miss Gracie,” He told her quietly.

“Yes I will Wil. I promise.” She said softly, still looking at the floor.

Wil nodded again and left, closing the door quietly behind him, not at all happy.

She looked at Jarod. “I don’t think he liked what I did Jarod.” She said sadly, upset at it.

Jarod didn’t much like what she had done either. "That is because it is wrong to use another person like that, against their will. It is called rape."

She looked at him, her big green eyes wet with tears. “But I did not use anyone. I was just looking, trying to understand." Grace protested weakly.

Jarod almost felt sorry for her. "Maybe so, but when one person has power over another, and they don’t ask permission, it is exploitation.” He explained to her gently.

“So even though I was just looking. Trying to understand what people think and what they do, it was exploitation? Rape? Wrong?” She asked, looking at the ground as she was being told off. So many times did she screw up like this, because she simply did not understand the outside world still. She hardly ever interacted with the people out there, and because of it never learnt how the correct way was to act.

“Yes, a person’s body belongs to them, not to other people. If you touch someone, especially in a sexual way without their consent, it is wrong. When shared, it can be a wonderful experience, and most people enjoy it very much. But when you force it on a person, against their will, it is very different."

She looked up at him as a tear made it’s way down her cheek. “I didn’t mean to do anything wrong Jarod.” She moved over and removed the shackles and the cuffs, letting him down. “I just don’t understand."

Jarod slumped down and tried to cover his erection to satisfy his modesty. He picked up the shreds of his shirt and tried to tie it around his waist. “I know how hard it is to understand some things. They taught you so much, prepared you for what you had to do, but they never taught you all of the rest did they?” He asked her gently.

She shook her head, moving to sit on the bed. “I don’t understand but. When they touch me, they don’t think it is wrong, so when I touched you, why is it wrong?" She knew how unprepared she was for the outside world, and how little she had still learnt. She was never taught the slang, or the rules or how society worked. They had expected her to learn that herself.

“When who touches you?” He asked, his mind immediately assuming the two men with her, and then quickly dismissing that. He had observed them enough to know that it wasn’t like that between her and them. They seemed more like family, and judging by Wil’s reactions, Jarod could see how uncomfortable he had been.

“The men back home.” She said, looking up at him as she cried silently. “I don’t understand how it is different." It was just so frustrating to her. Even after three years out here, she still made such stupid mistakes.

He took a deep breath and looked at her sadly, all his anger forgotten at the moment. He pulled her close to him, wrapping an arm around her shoulder. “It was wrong for them to do that, to touch you like that, especially if you did not like it."

“I don’t have a choice. I know my place. I know I can’t stop anything.” She said, “Why is this touching different to what I did to you?” She asked, looking at his arm wrapped around her.

“Do you want me to stop this?” He asked her seriously.

She shrugged, not caring either way, though it was making her fell a little better and she risked leaning into him a little, “Why is it different Jarod?” She asked again.

“This is about comfort. About one person offering touch to help the other person, to comfort them. The other kind of touching is about pleasure, their own pleasure. It is about taking, not giving."

She looked down to his half covered erection. “I wasn’t taking anything, I made your body enjoy it as I looked.” She argued back in a small voice.

“That may be so, but I did not want that. That was about your power over my body.” He shook his head, trying to find the right words. “There are many ways people like to touch each other, and they mean different things in different situations. Do Wil and Jon ever kiss you?” He asked.

“They kiss me goodnight sometimes if I have had a hard day.” She answered, showing her confusion. “Is that wrong too?" Because if it wrong she didn’t care. It felt good for them to do it, nice, welcomed. It made her feel wanted and safe.

“No, not at all. How does it make you feel when they do that?"

“Safe, happy. They look out for me. Is that why Wil made me put my top back on? Was it wrong I took it off in front of you?” She asked.

“I think it worried him yes, he is trying to protect you. Now when the other men, back home, when they kissed you, was it different? Did it make you feel different?"

She nodded. “Wil and Jon kiss me on my head, softly, with love. They don’t.” She looked at her hands in her lap as she leant into Jarod’s embrace, the arm around her shoulder feeling nice.

“That is the difference, it is in the way it makes you feel. You know one is because they care about you, and the other is because they care about themselves, or they are using it as a weapon against you, another way to hurt you, on the inside, to hurt your feelings."

“But you are always hurting inside Jarod. Even before I touched you in the wrong way.” She whispered, knowing he was telling her off in a subtle way.

There was no point in denying it. “That is true, but there are also degrees of hurt. Some hurt becomes a part of you, and it will always be there."

"Like Miss Parker?” She asked, looking up at him with sad eyes and tear stained cheeks.

He didn’t want to talk about Miss Parker now, the new wound was too fresh. “Yes, like Miss Parker,” He whispered.

She wanted to tell him now, the DSA was fake, but knew what his reaction would have been. “She didn’t hate you for one time. If it helps. Was grateful to you.” She whispered, trying to make up a little for what she had done.

“It makes no difference,” He sighed and gently pushed her away. “Would it be possible to get some more clothes please?” He asked her, forcing a smile. “I seemed to have had an... accident with mine."

Gracie's bottom lip began to tremble as he pushed her away from him. “I am sorry I did that to you, showed it to you. I thought it would help you. That’s all.” She whispered, moving away from him to sit on the floor near the door.

Jarod doubted that that was her motive at all, and wondered now if this was not just a spoilt-child routine to guilt-trip him. “It doesn’t matter. Parker has her own life and I am a fool, and if you take me to this 'home' of yours, wherever that is, I will never see her again anyway."

She looked at the floor in front of her. “That wasn’t what I wanted. I didn’t want to have to force you apart from Sydney and her. I didn’t want to show it to you. But I thought it would help you understand you are a project, that it would help you when you got home when you didn’t fight them so much.” She whispered, telling the truth.

“You have been a project, just like me haven’t you?” He asked her gently. "This is your first time out."

She shook her head, “Not have been Jarod, I am a project just like you.” She whispered, looking at him in shame. “And I am not a very good one lately."

“Why not? You seem to be doing just fine,” He said, a little sourly.

“I know I have done good getting you. But,” She sighed, “I am getting to attached to people. And that is against the rules. I am not allowed to do it." If she got attached to people, to her guests, it was so much harder to give them up, and she knew he boss didn’t like her getting to close.

“Have you ever thought of leaving then?” He asked casually.

“No!” She almost screamed, shaking her head in fear, trying to push herself further into the wall. “You can’t do that. Never."

“Alright,” He soothed her. “You don’t have to, it is only talking, that is all we are doing, only talking."

“I can’t leave them Jarod. That is a sin. Never.” She whispered at his gentle voice.

“I understand, I really do. I thought that way for a very long time. When I was your age, I would have never even considered the possibility of leaving, in fact I had only ever been outside the Centre one time in my entire life at that stage. But it changed over time."

“It may change Jarod, but I would never leave. Ever. It’s not done. Maybe at the Centre it is but not my home.” She said softly rocking a little against the wall. She would never leave.

He decided not to push her any further. She was too heavily programmed for an appeal to stand any kind of chance. “I understand,” He repeated. If he had a few months, he might be able to undo some of the damage to her psyche, but time was his enemy here. He looked at her for a long moment and then decided to tell her what possibly would condemn him in her eyes, but she might even just let him go too. “I do not want to go back, and I will never submit to being a project again. I would rather die than work for your boss and be treated as if I am nothing more than some lab rat, or criminal. I will fight them with every breath.” He said it softly, with conviction.

She looked up at him and climbed to her feet. Walking over to him, Gracie reached up and gently stroked his face. “I know. It radiates from you so strongly. But they will be here before you know it. And there is nothing you can do. When we get home, if you decide to fight, not only will they punish you, but will probably use you to breed. And when they are satisfied they have enough new projects from you, sell you to someone else."

“I cannot allow that to happen,” He said softly but firmly.

“I know you can’t, but what you want does not enter into the picture Jarod. Like it or not, you were born a project, and you will die one too. By their hands or your own."

“No, I wasn’t,” He protested. “I had parents who loved me, I had a life. They stole it, took it from me, and I won’t give them, or anybody else, any more of my life."

“What was that like?” She asked in a whisper. She knew he must have had parents, she saw him being taken from a kid’s bedroom. And didn’t think another organisation would decorate a bed like that.

Jarod closed his eyes, fighting off the emotions that came with that question. “I can’t really remember,” He admitted in defeat. “Just snatches, like a lost dream, sometimes I don’t even think it was real at all."

“After breaking the rules and leaving them, did you ever find your parents?” She asked, wishing she knew if she had parents herself, though she was almost positive she was a lab experiment that worked.

"My father for a short time." The joy of that meeting he still carried with him, along with the bitter acid of his capture immediately following.

“What was that like?” She asked, "Knowing someone loved you enough to want you?"

“It was wonderful,” He said wistfully, remembering his father’s arms around him for the first time. The way his father's voice caught just a little when he called him son.

She nodded, “I am sorry we are taking the chance for you to see him again away from you."

Jarod nodded, but he would not accept that this was defeat. He had gotten out of worse situations than this before, and he would find a way again.

“You really don’t like being a project, do you Jarod?” She asked in confusion. Grace didn’t know how to function not being one, let alone out on her own in the world.

“What's to like? They treat you like property, keep you caged, exploit you, work you beyond exhaustion. They take away free will, desire, fun, they take everything, leaving you alone and empty. They take away your hope."

“You have routine, the pleasure of making your owners happy. Purpose.” She said back, moving to sit on the cot again. "Rewards and praise when you do well."

“It’s not enough. The rewards are negligible, the punishments severe. You are a person, with a soul, with hopes and dreams...” He trailed off, looking at the wall. “People, any creatures, were not meant to live in captivity."

“We are all captives in our lives Jarod, just in different ways. Women being abused by their partners, they are just as caged as projects. People in finical debut are just as trapped. A lot of people have lost their hope and dreams for a better future."

Jarod had to admit she was right, and perhaps not as naïve as he had first thought, unless that was the 'party line' she had been fed all of her life. He knew that they would only keep going around in circles and so decided simply to agree with her. "Maybe you are right."

She looked up as the door opened and Wil entered and forced a smile to her lips. "Lunch ready?"

“Yes it is,” He told her, seeing that Jarod was out of the chains and it was hard for him to tell which one of the two looked more miserable.

She stood up and moved over to him, “Come on Jarod, let’s eat. We will get you some clothes along the way."

He stood up, his body aching, but he forced himself to ignore it, for Sydney’s sake. He would be worried enough as it was, Jarod didn’t need to add to that.

She led the two men into the house section and into the laundry. Grabbing a fresh set of clothing from the clean pile, she handed him the baggy, oversized clothing.

Jarod slipped into it, glad to see that his erection was finally gone, although he bet his balls were going to ache for a while. “Thank you,” He said at the last moment, remembering to mind his manners.

She smiled at him. “I am staving.” She said walking them into the kitchen. She hadn’t eaten at breakfast, and hadn’t slept since the night before. And was looking forward to some food. Getting there, she saw Jon and Sydney seated, Jon's gun on the table as always.

“Jarod,” Sydney said as soon as he saw him, standing up to move over to him. He had spent the morning locked in his cell and thankfully left alone, but his mind was running all kinds of things that he just couldn’t shut off.

“Hey Sydney," Jarod smiled at him to show him he was fine.

When everyone was seated and Wil had served lunch, Gracie dug into it with a vengeance. She looked at Sydney and between mouthfuls said, “Did you know it is wrong to touch people when they don’t want it?" She blurted out suddenly.

Sydney blinked at her in surprise and shot a quick glance at Jarod, who looked tired, but otherwise unharmed. “Yes, it is wrong to touch people when they do not want it. It is not accepted in our society and there are punishments under the law for those people that do.”

“Why?” She asked, shovelling more food into her mouth. There seemed to be a rule for everything in this country.

“It is a matter of human rights. Every individual on the planet has basic rights, rights that they are entitled to and that nobody else may take away from them.” Sydney knew he had spent the better part of his adult life violating those very same rights and he looked up at Jarod guiltily for a moment.

“Then why does over half of the world not follow these rules Sydney?” She asked. What use were rules if no one followed them?

“I wish I could answer that Miss Grace. But we have laws to try and enforce it, and fortunately human rights violations are no longer as rampant as they used to be."

“Why did you break those rules Sydney?” She asked, looking him in the eye.

"Vanity, ego, the lure of science. The misconceptions of youth. The desire to do better, to make the world a better place.” He had argued many times this very thing with Jacob, and looking back now, he could see what Jacob could see, even back then.

She shrugged and went back to her lunch. Eating everything on her plate. When she was done, she looked back up at Sydney, “I touched Jarod when he did want it.” She told him, knowing she did wrong.

“You did?” Sydney said, knowing that she had tortured him, shot him and did god only knows what else to him. But from her tone, it sounded like her and Jarod might have had a little chat. If nothing else, Jarod always seemed to have a huge impact on people. It was too bad that it was always so extreme. They either end up loving him, or hating him.

Gracie nodded. “I wanted to look at him, understand why people enjoyed being touched, why they like certain things about people. So I touched him, made his body enjoy it and I showed him my breasts, seeing if he liked them, he said most men like women’s breasts. But I upset Wil and he made me dress and when he left to make our lunch and I let Jarod down. I didn’t understand I had done wrong. But Jarod explained to me if you touch someone when they don’t want it, or use your power over the other’s body, it is exploitation and rape. I didn’t know, I didn’t understand but."

Sydney shot a worried glance at Jarod, whose eyes were fixed so intently on his plate he thought that he might be boring holes into it. “Yes, it is wrong to touch people in that manner without their permission. It is a private thing that can be a wonderful experience if both people want it. But if one person doesn’t want it, it is wrong for the second person to force them."

“So he told me. He explained the difference between different touches. I didn’t know Sydney, I really didn’t mean to do something so wrong.” She tried to apologise to him, not sure why.

“It’s alright Miss Grace,” He tried to placate her, Jarod still pointedly ignoring everyone, eating his food slowly. “There are many things that we don’t understand, and we need experience to help teach us and guide us. Nobody expects you to understand everything at your age, and it is natural to be curious."

“He has a very nice body though Sydney. I like his back. The lines and muscles.” She complimented him about his project.

Sydney coughed in his surprise at her frankness and looked at Jarod, who was a distinctly darked shade of red than usual.

Gracie frowned, “Why is he embarrassed? Shouldn’t it be a good thing?" She asked in confusion.

Sydney rubbed his face. “It is not considered polite to talk about someone right in front of them as if they were not even in the room, and to talk openly about their body like that."

Wil was having a difficult time keeping himself from bursting out in laughter.

“Why? There is nothing to be ashamed about. I can show you my body if it makes him feel better." Gracie said and stood up as she started to strip, not phased at all.

“No," came simultaneously from Jarod, Wil and Sydney.

Jon looked at them all, enjoying this immensely. Gracie was always so good to watch when she got so confused like this. But he didn’t want her showing herself to these men and told her no at the same time as the others did.

Gracie frown deepened. “I do not understand what the big deal is."

"Let us just say it violates protocol and leave it at that. You understand protocols?” Sydney asked.

“Oh yes.” She nodded. “But that is not our protocol at all." Gracie’s uncertainty was evident. She knew every single protocol and procedure there was to know.

“It is a new protocol now," Wil added, hoping that would stop the strip-teasing once and for all.

“Are you allowed to add new protocols Wil? Would the boss like it?” She asked, but slowly sat down.

“I think he would probably agree with this one Miss Gracie," Wil said shooting a look at Jon, letting him know he wanted some backup.

Jarod listened to the banter, but he was surreptitiously watching the gun, running the SIM's again, trying to find a way out of this. He could not allow them to take him to wherever she was talking about, but he could not risk Sydney either.

“He wouldn’t want you showing your body to those that aren’t authorised Gracie. He would want to keep you safe and protected by not tempting any men that shouldn’t be near you.” He said gently.

“Oh.” She said and nodded. “Jon, take the gun off the table please. You know I don’t like it in view while we eat." Jarod’s glances at it may have been discreet, but his thoughts were not.

Jon sighed and put it back in it’s holster. “Now the gun is gone, you have to promise me to follow the new rule. Not to remove your clothes like that. Ok?” He asked her smoothly.

She nodded, “You know I won’t break the rules." And if she did, Grace only broke them once.

Jarod tried not to react, but realised that what he had suspected must be true. She was some kind of empath, or perhaps even telepath. He finished his meal in silence, not looking at anything but the plate.

The rest of the meal was finished in silence. She still didn’t understand the big deal about people showing their bodies, but left it alone now. She stood up, “Can one of you guys take Sydney, the other help me with Jarod please?"

“Sure Gracie, I will help you with Jarod.” Jon wanted a minute alone with him.

“Come on Sydney, back to your room for you," Wil said, getting up.

Jon got to his feet and moved to Jarod, grabbing his arm and pulling him to his feet, not being at all careful with him.

Sydney looked at them. “Can’t I stay with Jarod please?” He asked, not yet having had a chance to speak with him privately.

“No, you may not Sydney. You must go to your room. I may allow you sometime with him later on if I am pleased by his and your behaviour."

Jarod looked at Sydney and shook his head, telling him not to make trouble. Jarod's first priority was Sydney’s safety and freedom. Once he knew Sydney was safe, escape was next on his list.

"Let’s go," Jon said, yanking Jarod forward as Gracie led them back to his room, leaving Wil to deal with the old man.

Jarod stumbled forward. “Just do as they say Sydney,” He called out.

Getting to his room, Jon shoved him in, “Gracie, why don’t you go speak with Sydney. You haven’t really had much of a chance yet."

She looked at the two men before nodding. “Yes alright Jon.” And she left them be, shutting the door behind them.

When he knew she was gone, Jon turned on Jarod, pushing him across the room in rage. “Did you touch her?" He would castrate this man if he so much as laid a finger on his Grace, then let him bleed to death slowly.

Jarod looked at him nervously, backing up into the corner. “No,” He said instantly.

“You better not be damn lying to me boy.” He seethed, grabbing his hair and yanking him to his feet, shoving him against the wall and pushing his forearm into Jarod's throat.

“I was chained,” He choked out, looking to the cuffs still hanging from the ceiling, his hands trying to push the arm away.

“Did you get enjoyment, pleasure, out of seeing her with out her tops on?” He asked, pushing his arm into his throat further wanting to get the truth.

“No," Jarod tried to say. He had been mortified. "For god sakes, she's just a kid."

Jon glared at him before stepping back, letting him go. “That’s right boy, she is just a kid. She shouldn’t even be here doing this assignment. If I find out you even think of her in any fashion other then worrying about what she will do to you next, I will slit your throat, screw what the boss wants you for. Am I clear?"

Jarod nodded, rubbing his throat, not taking his eyes from Jon. There was no way Jarod would ever touch her, she was a child, and he could never do such a thing.

“And next time she wants to touch you, I do not want to find out you drilling stupid things into her head like you did today."

“What stupid things?” He asked in confusion, still rubbing at his throat.

“That it is wrong.” He hissed. “You are a project, a piece of meat for your owner’s enjoyment. And right now, she owns you. And if she wants to touch you, fuck you. She will do it without you making her believe it is wrong because you are a person, when you're not."

Jarod swallowed his retort, knowing it would more than likely earn him a beating. He forced his breathing to calm down as he stared at the man, flabbergasted by his logic.

“Am I understood?” He barked.

“Yes,” He said under his breath, sick to death of the attitude that he was some kind of possession. He had run from that before, and he had no intentions of ever going back to that kind of lifestyle.

“Good.” He nodded, “Get over to the chains and cuff your left wrist.” He ordered in a strong voice, leaving no room for arguments.

Jarod looked from him to the dangling cuffs, not wanting to do it. He didn’t move for a moment, and then took a grudging step forward.

Jon waited until Jarod had cuffed his wrist before going over and cuffing the other, checking both, making sure they were tight and he wouldn’t get out of them. “I want you to tell her you were wrong about her being able to touch you the way she did. I want you to tell her she is allowed to do it to you."

“You want me to encourage her to molest me?” He asked incredulously. His arms were tightly stretched again, but at the moment he was too shocked to notice them.

“She has every right to if she feels like she wants to do it. You don’t seem to be understanding boy, you are not a person that has basic human rights, you are not human. You have no rights. What’s best for you, is what Gracie wants."

“She is a minor, it should be your job to protect her from this sort of thing, not encourage her." Jarod ignored most of his statement, only worried about how he could be encouraging this sort of thing.

“I am protecting her." Jon said, throwing a punch to Jarod's stomach. “But she owns you right now. And there is a good chance she will be made your handler when we get home. And if she wants sex, you will give it to her."

Jarod doubled over as far as the chains would allow, coughing and spluttering, completely winded from the punch, his shoulders nearly pulled right out of their sockets form the force of the blow.

Jon pulled out his phone, dialling Gracie, asking if she could come back for a moment, Jarod had something he wanted to tell her. Hanging up the phone he looked at him. “You will tell her this, no tricks, no hidden messages, I want it plain and clear."

He shook his head, still unable to speak.

Jon grabbed his jaw and held it tightly. “If you don’t, then I will make you regret it. I am bi by the way, and if your stupid project head doesn’t know what it means, it means that I like both men and women. And though I don’t like Sydney, way too old, I will not hesitate to go to his room now and have a bit of fun with him." Jon threatened Jarod with a rape of the old man, knowing how much he cared for Sydney.

“No," Jarod shouted at him. “Don’t you touch him.” He jerked frantically in the chains, trying to get to him.

“Then you will do as I tell you. You will tell Grace you were wrong. It isn’t wrong for her only to touch you how she wants. But make sure she understands it is wrong for people to touch her like that. Got me?"

Jarod stood there fuming in impotent rage, staring at him, breathing shallowly.

“Am I clear boy?” He asked him again

Jarod closed his eyes for a minute, trying to clear his thinking. An attack like that would destroy Sydney, he would never get over it. Finally he nodded.

Jon let him go and tapped his face. “Good boy.” He smiled at him as Gracie walked in.

“What’s the problem? Why is he back in the cuffs?” She asked in confusion.

“He was being a little difficult, weren’t you Jarod?"

Jarod jerked his head away from him and grunted.

“Jarod just admitted something to me, didn’t you Jarod?” He asked, not hiding his smile, his eyes holding his threat. “Why don’t you tell her?"

Jarod looked at him, already having run the SIM about what it would do to Sydney and nodded. “Yes I did,” He said in a strained voice. This went against everything he held to be true, and it was like bitter acid in his throat.

Gracie stood in front of him. “What’s that Jarod?” She asked him in a kind voice, wondering what was going on here.

“Just that...” He started, not being able to look at her.

“Just what?” She asked, “I don’t think you need to be in these cuffs Jarod, do you want me to let you down?"

“Please,” He said quickly, not wanting to lose this opportunity and glad for the change in conversation as well.

She went to reach up but was stopped by Jon, "Listen to him first Grace please." Gracie nodded and dropped her hands. “What is it you were going to say Jarod?"

Jarod realised that he would not be able to get out of this and cast another look at Jon. “I may have been mistaken about some of the things I said before. I was upset, and not thinking clearly."

Gracie frowned, “What do you mean Jarod? What things?” She asked looking into his eyes.

Jarod took a deep breath, loathing himself for doing this. “About the touching,” He forced out.

She nodding, “Touching like I did is wrong. You shouldn’t do it if they don’t want it.” She knew this now, they had made her understand touching with out permission was wrong. Though she still wasn’t quite sure what touching was ok.

“Yes, nobody should ever be allowed to touch you like that, not if you don’t want it, not ever.” He told her, trying to put off the second part for a moment longer.

"Except the men at home.” She whispered, “Is that it?” She asked, thoroughly confused.

“No, that wasn’t it,” He said, trying to calm himself down.

“Then what?" She pushed him a little.

He closed his eyes, trying not to think about what he was just about to tell her. It was so fundamentally wrong that it made him feel sick. “I was wrong in telling you about not touching me.” He hoped that would satisfy Jon.

“I don’t understand Jarod, you told me it was wrong, you shouldn’t ever touch anybody if they don’t want it."

Jon stood behind Grace with arms crossed, anger in his eyes.

“Yes," Jarod agreed, “But that doesn’t hold here. It is not the same for me. I am a project,” He almost choked on the word, “And the rules are different for projects, as you know."

“But you are so adamant you are not a project Jarod. I’m so confused.” She all but whined. One minute she was told it was wrong, the next it was wrong for people to touch her, but not him.

“I guess while I am here, I am.” He told her.

Grace closed her eyes and shook her head. He was sending her so many mixed signals. “But you said you didn’t want it. And that was wrong Jarod. Why change it now?"

“I didn’t want it, I don’t want it, but that doesn’t matter. What I want makes no difference."

“Jon, can you leave us for a minute please?” She asked him gently.

“Sure Gracie. And remember the new rule, no taking your clothes off.” He reminded her.

“Yes I will.” She said as he left, locking the door behind him.

Jarod watched him go and swore to himself he would kill him if he touched Sydney.

Grace moved over to Jarod and let him out of the cuffs. She stood in front of him, arms crossed.

Jarod rubbed his sore wrists and then his stomach, were he had taken the punch. He moved over and sat down on the bed gingerly.

“What is going on Jarod? Less then an hour ago, you were telling me it is wrong, you were not a project. What happened?" All she wanted was the truth right now. And she was getting too many different emotions and thoughts from Jarod to be able to read it from him.

“I was wrong to tell you that, I realise now."

“What did Jon say to you Jarod?” She asked, her voice telling him she wasn’t in the mood for this.

“That I had better start to understand my place and behave accordingly."

“That I believe.” She mumbled. “Then what about Sydney? Why did he say it was wrong too?"

“Sydney still lives in the real world, and it is wrong there. But this is not the real world, and things are very different for people like me."

She moved to sit next to him and touched his leg, getting flashes of what Jon had said to Jarod. She looked at him and ran her hand up to sit on his crotch. “So I am allowed to touch you here?"

He closed his eyes and softly said, “Yes."

She leant in and kissed him before pulling back, “And I am allowed to touch you like that?

He nodded, “Any way you like,” He said in a voice devoid of any emotion.

She moved to straddle Jarod's hips and ran her hands up under his top, pulling it up with her and played with his nipples with her mouth for a moment or two. Biting down on them a little before sucking and licking away the harsh pain.

Jarod tried not to move or respond to her in any way, but it was very hard for him. He was still unsatisfied from her last exploration and he knew he wouldn’t be able to maintain control for too long. But he also swore to himself he would not initiate anything or do anything he wasn’t specifically instructed too, Jon's warning ringing clearly in his ears.

She pulled back and looked at him, "That is allowed?" Grace asked innocently, twisting her nipples between her fingers as she asked him. She could tell he was lying to her, and she wondered just how far she could go before he would tell her not to do it. But he seemed pretty determined to let her do this and Grace had to wonder why.

Jarod nodded, guessing that whatever the hell she wanted was allowed now.

She pulled him down a little on the cot so she could run her hands down his pants to his arse and gave it a hard squeeze, digging her nails into him.

Jarod lay perfectly still as she explored his body.

She watched him as he lay there impassively and smiled, "So I am allowed to do this?" She asked as she forced two fingers into him.

Jarod closed his eyes, his face screwing up and forced himself to nod, his fists clenched tightly at his side. It was no worse than his regular medical exams he had had to undergo on a regular basis, and he reminded himself of that.

She slowly pulled them out of him after moving them around inside of him for a moment or two and brought it to his lips and running her dirty fingers over his mouth. "So I can make you clean my fingers too then?" She asked, hinting it as she traced his lips non-stop.

He nodded, sighing heavily, finding that safe place inside himself where none of this could touch him. Any sympathy he might have had for her, any connection had just been destroyed and he did what she wanted, barely aware of what he was doing.

While he was cleaning her fingers, she reached into his pants again and gently stroked his penis, "Am I allowed to be soft?" She asked before moving to give his balls a tight squeeze, "Or should I be rough?" Grace asked as she pulled her fingers away from his mouth.

Jarod's eyes rolled back in his head at the gentle touch and then the brutal squeeze. He could feel his arousal again and he tried desperately to fight it, disgusted at how easily his body could be manipulated against his will. "Whatever you wish," He forced himself to tell her.

“And I am allowed to know you are lying to me.” She said, pulling back from him

He opened his eyes and looked at her in fear. "I am not lying," He protested.

“What did Jon threaten you with Jarod?” She asked, looking at him.

“He would hurt Sydney,” He saw no reason to deny what she probably already knew anyway.

“Well the best thing right now is to pretend I understand Jarod. If he knew I made you tell me he would go play with Sydney anyway. And I am not willing to have Sydney traumatised or harmed." He was not who she needed, and Gracie was not going to hurt an innocent in all of this.

“Thank you,” He whispered in relief, although confused why she would do that.

“The way you told me it was wrong Jarod. There was no way you could have lied. I know you are a pretender and all, but there was so much passion and conviction when you told me. I understand it is wrong. But I also understand projects do not have a say in it. I will not be able to stop anyone else touching you, I haven’t got the right, but will not touch you like that again."

Jarod nodded in understanding. “Thank you for that at least,” He said softly.

She smiled gently at him. “But I am allowed to touch you if you give me permission right?" Gracie tried to clarify.

“Yes,” He said, dismissing the idea of trying to explain that coercion was the same as force.

“I’ll keep that in mind for later if ever I feel like a hug.” She nodded, happy with that. Gracie sometimes felt like she needed one of those hugs Jon and Wil gave her when she was really sad, but a lot of the times, no one was around to give it to her.

Jarod laughed a little at that, relieved enormously that she didn’t want to ask him if she could explore her sexuality with him. The idea of going back to wherever it was that she was proposing to send him was bad enough, but the idea of becoming a teenager’s sex toy was too much for him to cope with.

When she heard the lock on the door being opened she quickly pushed Jarod to lean against the wall and stuck her hand down his pants. “Sorry,” She whispered to him as Jon walked in.

Jarod gasped in shock, but otherwise remained perfectly still.

Jon looked at Gracie playing with Jarod and grinned coldly at him. At least he made her understand Jarod had no rights and she could touch him if and when she wanted to. “Gracie, I just wanted to tell you, I am going for a bit of a sleep. I will have my phone next to me, call me if he becomes a problem ok?"

Gracie made out like she was fondling Jarod quite a bit. She nodded, hand still down his pants. “Sure. And Jarod told me he was wrong. I get to play with him now.” She grinned.

He smiled back, before glaring at Jarod, “I’m glad you are happy Grace. Remember to call me if you need me.” He said again as he left, locking the door behind him.

Jarod remained still, his eyes downcast, concentrating on his breathing, his face flushing brightly again.

She nodded as another hand went up his top and watched him as he left. When she knew it was safe, pulled away quickly, “Jarod, I am so sorry.” She apologised quickly.

“Don’t worry about it,” He said and offered her a weak smile as he straightened his clothes. “I don’t want to get you into trouble, and I just want to make sure Sydney is safe. If you let him go now, I promise I won’t give you any trouble."

“I can’t do that Jarod. You know I can’t. We need him as a safety net in case something does happen.” She said in a strong voice. “And I am really sorry about just then. It just if Jon believed you told me and I believed it, he would lay off Sydney completely."

Jarod sighed and nodded. “What now then?” He asked, trying to get some kind of idea what to expect.

“We wait.” She said simply. “The team will be here by midday tomorrow at the latest, depending on what transport they decided to take. But I would like just to spend some time in here with you if you do not mind."

“I don’t mind,” He told her, surprised by the fact that she asked.

She smiled. “You are so different to every person I know Jarod. I don’t know what to make of it."

“Is that a good thing or a bad thing?” He asked her.

“A good thing... I think.” She frowned. “As far as my experiences go, it tells me it is a good thing."

“I guess we are different from other people."

“Not really. Not all that much. Who we work for just happens to be a lot stricter, harder rules to follow. That’s all. Or do you mean us, as in why we are projects?” She asked as an after thought.

“I guess a bit of both, we have our... talents and our lives are very different from other people. Very lonely."

She nodded. “They don’t have to be. I could be your friend Jarod.” She whispered. She had never had friends before, Jon and Wil wouldn’t be classed as friends in anyone’s books. They were her sweepers, protectors, family.

“Jon tells me if they decide to keep me, you are likely to be assigned as my handler,” He told her, although the idea of his superior being so young struck him as a little absurd.

“They could do. So far, since we are not taking Sydney, I will be the only one to have had spent time with you. Would that be so bad though? Because I can always ask not to be your handler if it is assigned to me."

“It would make a friendship... difficult don’t you think? It would be hard to punish a friend, people who are friends don’t do those kinds of things to each other."

"Maybe.” She got up and moved to the door, standing outside and was ready to shut and lock in case Jarod went nuts at her. Hiding behind it, her head poked into the room a little. “I have to tell you something. I have been feeling bad about it." She was not used to such strong feelings of guilt and didn’t quite know how to handle it. When she was guilty at home, she would tell her boss she did something wrong and she would be punished.

“What?” He asked her nervously, not liking this at all.

“The disk of Miss Parker, we faked it.” She said watching him carefully, waiting for him to explode.

Jarod looked at her for a minute as the news sunk in. His first feeling was relief, and then a coldness settled into the pit of his stomach that she could so brutally toy with his feelings like that. “I see," forcing himself to remain calm.

When he didn’t yell she stood a little in the room, still holding the door for a quick escape. “I am sorry Jarod. But it is something we must do when my boss tells me he wants the person we have. Either kill them or make the person not want to see them. And it had a double purpose, make you more aware that you were a project. I didn’t want to do it Jarod. But I needed to stop the connection with Miss Parker. And I needed to do Sydney next.” She whispered.

“No, I imagine you don’t want to do any of this, but you don’t let it stop you. Just make sure Sydney is safe, that is all I care about right now."

“Jarod please. You must understand the punishment if I had failed with it.” She whispered, moving into the room again and shutting and locking the door behind her. She sat next to him, but not too close. “I feel so bad, so guilty about it. And how I had to do it. But I didn’t want to kill her."

“You have me now, you leave them alone."

“I want to Jarod, but it is not that simple. If my boss thinks your feelings towards anyone at all will affect his merchandise, he would have them killed himself, and it isn’t pleasant. He makes us take them and torture them to death, knowing how much I hate seeing people killed."

“And this is the man you are loyal to? The man you are eager to get back to? The man you wish to deliver me to?"

“He is my owner Jarod!” She said in exasperation. “I want to go home. And to do so I have to do as he tells me.” She looked at him. “You don’t think what I did was right.” She stated.

“It is no longer a question of right or wrong now. It is a question of survival.”

“Give me your hand please Jarod.” She ordered him.

Jarod gave her his hand, looking up at her tiredly. If he escaped, he knew that the blame would fall on her, but he couldn’t let her take him back either.

“This is why I did what I did. I shouldn’t have even told you. All I had to do was make Sydney not worthy of your love anymore and they would have been safe. I took this lady. She was so very smart Jarod. Could offer my boss a lot of things. I hated taking women, but I have no choice. I couldn’t get her to stop wanting her family but my boss wanted her anyway. She had ten year old son and a husband. They tied me to a chair and forced me to watch, so I would learn my lesson.” She closed her eyes and concentrated, allowing Jarod to see the memory of them being killed. Gracie couldn’t stop the tears or her emotions, her remorse, guilt, shame she had allowed it to happen, from going over to Jarod.

Jarod watched in horror and knew that he could not allow this to happen again. He would pretend that he cared for nobody, and that should be easy after all, but he would also seek not only an escape, but a way to bring these people down.

She let is hand go and quickly wiping her tears away. “Now do you understand why I did what I did over Miss Parker?

“Yes,” He nodded at her slowly, becoming more desperate by the second to find a way out of this. He took her hand back in his own. “Come with me, I can look after you, show you what it is really like to live your life."

“I can’t Jarod.” She whispered. “I can’t leave."'

“Why not?” He urged her.

“Because I belong to them. And it breaks all the rules to leave Jarod." She told him yet again.

“You don’t belong to them, that is just their indoctrination, you are your own person, and you can be free if you have to courage to take it. All of this will stop, and you will see how good it feels."

“They have my little sister Jarod.” She whispered. “I can’t leave."

That stopped Jarod cold. “I can help you, we can bring them down, save her, save them all. If you send me to them, you or your sister will never be free."

“I am not going to risk her Jarod. Once we are there, I will tell you how to get out. But be warned, once you are outside, that’s it Jarod, I will have to leave it up to you.” She knew Jarod had no idea how bad it was trying to escape from her home. More to the point how relatively easy it was to get out, but how hopeless it was to get away from the facility once out.

“Thank you,” He said, not really sure he believed her or not. “Where is 'home'?” He asked.

“A long way away from where we are right now." A long, long way away.

“Where?” He pushed her, he needed information badly. Right now he didn’t even know where here was. He knew where he had been taken, but he had no idea how long he was out for, how far away they might be.

“You will know as soon as we get there Jarod. Trust me on it."

Jarod gave up in frustration. “This boss of yours, he runs the place?"

“He is 2ic. His main project is me and my sister. But he has a lot of others on the side. And he deals with a lot of the customers."

“Customers that pay for our talents?” He asked, guessing whatever it was, was probably set up similar to the Centre.

She nodded, “Yes. But also ones that pay for our body, our fertility." Grace said in an emotionless voice. She had been paid for a few times, and it was unpleasant.

He closed his eyes at that. Apart from the clone, at least they had left Jarod's body alone, only interested in his mind.
Plane Ride by jacci
Author's Notes:
Don't own nothing.

Sorry for the wait guys, hope you enjoy.
“You won’t be permitted to sleep until we are on the plane Jarod. The more out of it you are, the easier it is to get you up in the air, and the happier my boss will be."

"Plane?” He asked warily, wondering where they were going. “You said I could sleep after my demonstration.” He told her, trying not to sound like a petulant child but he was tired and sore and in no mood for any more games. The news of a plane trip was not encouraging. It meant that they could take him just about anywhere in the world, and if he was sleeping, he wouldn’t have a clue where he ended up.

“And you did Jarod.” She agreed, though he didn’t need to know it was only for half an hour. The point was that Jarod was allowed to sleep, just not as long as the pretender had hoped for.

He shook his head. “That was not sleep. What difference does it make if I sleep now or on the plane. I don’t appear to be going anywhere for the moment, one way or the other."

“Because once you are on the plane, there is no way for you to escape.” She sat next to him and sighed heavily. “It is protocol Jarod. You cannot have more than an hours rest before we transfer you."

He sighed heavily again and looked at her. He figured it was late afternoon and he was already exhausted. He had heard her say they were not expected until about midday tomorrow. That gave him an incredibly wide radius of possible destinations and really was of no use to him whatsoever.

“With any luck Jarod, they will be here tonight. Then you can sleep sooner." Grace wanted the team to arrive ASAP, eager to get back home.

“Yay,” He said sourly.

“Do not be rude Jarod.” She scolded him once again. It didn’t seem like he would ever learn his manners, but she would keep trying until he did.

“I am sorry, I am tired and it is certain you are not catching me at my best."

“I am tired too. I have not slept in nearly 48 hours and I am not being rude." Gracie shot back at him.

“No, not at all,” He said, trying not to snap, or point out that torture and imprisonment, not to mention sexual assault would not be considered rude at all.

“I will leave you to it Jarod. There is someone watching you at all times. So if you fall to sleep, you won’t like how you are woken up." She all but threatened. She still wanted to use one of the other disks they had made up. She wanted to see Jarod’s reaction to the next one when he was woken having the sounds blasting into his tired mind. But she didn’t think Jarod was going to go back to sleep, despite how tired he was.

“Can I at least talk to Sydney please?” He asked her. "He will help keep me awake for you, and some coffee and sugar will help too."

“No you may not talk to him. And you have had lunch, you will have to wait till dinner." He would have to learn how to live on three meals a day again, not snacking in between.

“What difference could it make if I spoke with him?”

“A lot of difference." Gracie said getting up to move to the door. “Do not sleep Jarod.” She warned again and walked out, shutting and locking it, knowing it was electrified again.

Jarod stared at the door and then stood up, pacing around the small room, careful not to touch anything and ducking under the cuffs dangling from the ceiling. He tried to work the kinks out of his body with some gentle exercise, and it would help keep him alert.

It was three am in the morning when she got the call. The team was outside waiting for her. Yawning, Gracie got dressed in simple clothes and woke Wil and Jon up.

“Why is it that everything always has to happen at such unholy hours?" Wil grumbled as he attended to the security so that they could get in. Not that he was sorry to be going back, but he would miss this place too and the relative freedom that came with this assignment. No boss breathing down your neck, monitoring your every move.

“They like to annoy us Wil. While you are at it, please set up the timer to unlock this place for about 5 am. I’ll go let the team know we need this all packed and shipped back. And not to touch Sydney."

He nodded and put the shrink's cell on a time delay lock. When he woke, he would find the place abandoned and make his way back. No doubt he would start a search, but he wouldn’t get very far. Wil had left a worm in the Centre mainframe which would tell them of any activity that might put them in jeopardy.

She moved to the team as the entered after Wil unlocked the doors. "Good morning sir.” She said politely to the head in charge.

“Where is he?” He brushed past her. A pretender was a great achievement, a wonderful asset.

“Follow me please sir.” She said, dressed quickly in jeans and a jumper after the call. She followed them into the back of the warehouse to Jarod's cell and contemplated stopping the man from going to open and watched with a smug look in her eyes as he flew backwards from the shock. Ignoring him, she typed in the code and scanned her hand before she even dared to touch the handle on the electrified door. Knowing it was safe now after she had unlocked it, she moved in to see Jarod on the floor, trying to stay awake. "Jarod,” She looked at him. “It is time to go home now. The team is here a little earlier then I expected."

Steve flew backwards with a loud grunt, cradling his arm and glaring up at the girl, wanting to kill the bitch. But he knew it wouldn’t be worth his life if he did. He picked himself up and tried to regain some dignity and composure.

Jarod looked up at her from his position in the far corner of the cell, his legs hugged tightly to his chest. He had been running every piece of information about her and these people, trying to find some way to manipulate her, or to find a way out. He had given up on getting out of the cell, and now she had new goons with her, he thought there would be little chance there either. He climbed to his feet and moved away from the wall.

She watched as one of the team cuffed Jarod's hands behind his back, slipped a hood on. “Not long now and you can sleep Jarod.” She took his arm and led him out, smiling sweetly to Steve.

Steve gave her a dark look and then got back to supervising his team. It had been made crystal clear to him that they would not tolerate any mess ups on delivering this package, whole and in working order.

Jarod didn’t bother struggling, concentrating on fighting the panic as the hood went on. He felt strong hands gripping his arms as he was pulled blindly forward. He thought about Sydney and only hoped that she would keep her word.

“I will take him. I need three men to come with me to make sure nothing goes wrong. I need someone to pack and ship everything in this place back home. And do not touch the doctor in the other cell. He is to be left alone. Do not open the door, do not try to get to him. Am I clear?"

“Yes Miss Grace,” Steve said reluctantly, and split his team up to do what she wanted.

Jarod relaxed a little as he heard her instructions about Sydney and prayed that the goons were well trained.

She nodded her head at Steve before leading Jarod and her three men to her car. She knew the plane would only take her, Wil and Jon. The pretender as well. The rest would catch a commercial flight home after everything here was finished. Gracie knew it would only take an hour before the rest of the team was out and it left an hour left before Sydney would be released. Watching as Jarod was pushed into the car, she got into the passengers seat and sighed as they drove off to the private airstrip. Not long and she would be home.

Jarod guessed they were going to an airstrip and he knew there was no chance of escape once on the plane. He almost wished they had sedated him, it would be easier than continually fighting the urge to try and make an escape.

They pulled up not ten minutes later and she climbed out, watching as Jarod was hauled out and shoved up the stairs and into the plane. She knew how scared he was, how hard he was trying to fight the panic. But Grace knew it didn’t matter in the end, he was going home with her and that was that.

Jarod stumbled up the stairs, his bare feet cold on the tarmac and stubbing his toe a number of times. Why did they always have to use a bloody hood? It wasn’t as if seeing was going to help him any at the moment.

When he was seated and firmly strapped in, the men stood guard as they waited for Wil and Jon to arrive. “Not long now Jarod and you can sleep." She tried to offer him something, no matter how small.

Jarod shifted in the seat, pleased to note it was at least comfortable, except for his hands pressing into his back. He would see if they could cuff him in front, or perhaps to the arm of the chair so he could rest a little more easily. It wasn’t like there was anywhere for him to go once they were in the air. And with the three of them, plus whatever crew there was, he didn’t think it was likely that he would be able to overcome them to gain control of the plane. Both Wil and Jon were vigilant, and very professional, not having let their guard slip for even a moment.

It was only a few minutes before the boys arrived. Gracie was giddy with the thought of going home. "Ok, you guys can leave.” She told the men that were standing guard as Wil and Jon sat down. “We are going home!" Grace exclaimed in excitement.

Jon grinned as he buckled in, listening to the announcing to please stay seated while the plane took off.

Wil placed himself next to Jarod, just in case, smiling at Gracie and how excited she was.

She didn’t like flying much and sat back in the seat as the plane took off into the air, sighing when it was safe to remove the seat belt, though she didn’t. You never knew what could happen, and to be on the safe side, she would keep her seat belt on basically the whole time.

Jarod closed his eyes as he felt the thrust of the take off and sighed heavily. He tired to get as comfortable as he could and prayed that it would only be a short flight.

Gracie stayed silent for a long time, looking out the window, watching the early morning fly by. Though she smiled when she glanced at her watch. 5 to 5.

Jarod had finally drifted off to sleep, although it was fitful, full of strange dreams and he moaned softly as he moved underneath the restraints, trying to escape from demons he couldn’t quite make out.

“Wil, set up the surveillance quickly please. I want Jarod to see Sydney leaving.” She asked him before shaking Jarod, “Wake up." She had taken the hood off of Jarod not long ago, and saw him sleeping. She wasn’t going to let Jarod miss this.

Jarod came to slowly, blinking his eyes in the unexpected light, his head swivelling around to see her.

“I have something you might want to watch.” She said to him as Wil set it up and turned the monitor on. As it flickered to life, you saw Sydney sleeping in his cell before a noise sounded, and the sound of the door unlocking itself.

Jarod watched as Sydney awoke, clearly startled by the noise. He looked at the open door suspiciously and then moved through it when he was certain it was no trick. He searched the abandoned house and warehouse until he seem satisfied that they were really gone. He then made his way outside.

Jarod watched intently and when Sydney passed out of the scope of the cameras, he finally looked at Grace. “Thank you for keeping your word."

She nodded, "My pleasure Jarod. I told you I wasn’t going to let him be harmed and once we were in the air, he was free to go." And that was exactly what she had done. Not one person had laid a hand on the innocent man, and now they were safely in the air, he had been freed.

He nodded and looked out the window to see the dawn light and yawned, trying to stretch, only to be brought up short by the belts and cuffs.

She looked at the two men back to Jarod before undoing his belt, "Lean forward and I will remove the cuffs."

Jarod sighed as the pressure was released from his thighs and chest and did as she asked, giving her access to his wrists.

Wil was not sure about letting him roam free, but didn’t contradict her either. There was not much he could do in mid-flight.

She unlocked them from one wrist and snapped the free cuff onto the chair. “You try anything Jarod, try to get out of that cuff, and I will simply kill Sydney. The rules have changed slightly, too much is riding on your behaviour. Too many lives. And don’t think if you play up now I won’t kill him. I know where he lives, where he works, his hobbies, everything. And I will terminate him if you force me to." She warned, not liking the idea she might still have to kill Sydney.

Jarod nodded and stretched his body as much as he could. “Any chance of the bathroom?” He hadn’t been since breakfast and it was becoming urgent. He also wanted to see if he could lie down. He was beyond tired, and since there was nothing he could do here anyway, rest would be the most prudent course of action.

“I'll take him." Jon offered standing up and unlocking the cuff from the chair and snapping it around his wrist without thought, “This way.” He hauled Jarod to his feet and shoved him forward towards the bathroom.

Jarod hated that, he was not four years old and could manage to go potty all by himself, but he offered no complaint or argument, just glad they had not refused. As long as he kept his manners civil, she seemed to be as accommodating as she could.

Jon stood guard by the open door as he let Jarod use the toilet, “You will behave for her. Do not make me hurt you in front of her."

“I won’t do anything,” He said tiredly.

"Good boy.” He praised him and waited as he flushed the toilet and washed his hands. "Get back out to her.” He ordered, marching him back to his seat and re-cuffed him to the arm of the chair.

Jarod sat down without saying anything and then turned his attention to the window and the new day that was dawning, although they were heading east and he frowned. "East?” He finally asked.

“Yeah, tends to be opposite of west." Grace said casually, looking at him. She knew that little bit of information would confuse the tired man.

That could mean Europe, Asia or Australia. He was narrowing his options down, but he guessed it didn’t really matter where he ended up, one place was as much like any other to him at this point in time. “Any chance I can lay down?"

Grace reached down to the side of Jarod's seat and pressed a button, letting the chair decline to a full laying position. “Better?” She asked, doing hers as well.

“Thank you," Jarod said quietly, although she had not taken the cuff off. He got as comfortable as he could, closed his eyes and waited for sleep to come.

Gracie threw a blanket over to him before covering herself and getting a pillow to use. “I’m going to sleep. I’m so tried.” She told Wil and Jon, not waiting for an answer and closing her eyes.

Wil watched as she snuggled down and hoped they both slept for a while. It was a long flight and the longer they were asleep, the happier he would be.
Welcome to Gandi by jacci
Gracie moaned as someone shook her awake. "Gracie, you have to put your seat in an upright position we are about to land." Jon said gently to her before moving to Jarod and punching him in the back, "Wake up." He ordered in a deep voice.

Jarod groaned as he tried to move away only to be pulled up short by the cuff. He blinked, trying to clear his head and realised that they must have drugged him. He looked around, blinking.

Grace groggily sat her seat up and yawned loudly. "We are home already? We only just left a few hours ago.” She asked in absolute confusion. Her head was fuzzy, and she felt slow and tired still. She remembered having some juice on the trip and that it tasted a bit metallic and she guessed Wil or Jon had knocked both of them out.

Jon looked at Wil back to the two waking passengers. "You were real tired grace.” He tried to explain.

"I think you needed the sleep honey, and the flight was pretty boring after all. Now you will be all refreshed and at your best for your meeting." Wil used his most fatherly tone.

Jarod sat up, trying to ignore the dull throb radiating from the blow to his back.

She nodded and smiled. "Yes, I must have needed the sleep.” She reached over and strapped Jarod back in tightly for the descent and gripped her seat nervously. She hated take offs and landing. It scared her so much, and she simply did not understand why.

Jarod didn’t even put up a token fight as she buckled him in, hoping they would believe he had admitted defeat to himself. An opportunity would present itself, and he would need to be ready, and he also needed to be relatively undamaged.

Grace squeezed her eyes shut tightly as they hit the runway, bumping a little. She kept them shut until the engines turned off and Jon told her it was safe now. Grace opened her eyes and looked outside before quickly slipping the hood over Jarod before he caught a glimpse.

Jarod sighed as the hood went back on and he knew that she didn’t want him trying to guess their location. He waited for them to let him out of the seat, needing to stretch his legs.

Jon climbed to his feet and let him out of the straps and the cuff chaining him to the seat. Pulling him up, he snapped the other cuff behind his back, locking his hands. "Let’s go.” He ordered, walking him off as Wil and Gracie followed. He was hit with an intense heat the minute the door opened to let them out of the air condition jet, it was almost like a wall of fire closing around them. He had forgotten how hot and dry the outback was, and he almost felt sorry for Jarod as his bare feet hit the burning tarmac.

Jarod felt the heat hit him like a furnace and knew he had to be in the desert. It was that dry kind of heat, all the moisture sucked from the air. That ruled out Asia and Europe, which left the middle-east, Africa or Australia. When his feet hit the ground, he screamed in pain and surprise trying to pull back to get off the burning tarmac.

“Don’t be such a baby boy, get moving.” Jon said, hauling him forward. They would walk the ten minutes back to the home, no need for a car. He still wished for the comfort and coolness of a car though. Ten minutes in his heat after having been in such a cool country for three years was like walking inside an oven.

Jarod was hopping from foot to foot as they dragged him forward, trying not to stumble. "Please, it’s so hot,” He begged, his feet being scalded. Hitting the hardpan was only a minor improvement from the tarmac which felt like it was melting.

Gracie followed them off of the tarmac to make the short walk back to her home. She watched as Jarod tried not to touch the ground, and listened to his pleas. "Jon, come on, it won’t do any good if he can’t walk.” She said gently as she stopped the pair. She slipped out of her shoes, taking her socks off before quickly slipping the shoes on for protection once more. "Jarod, lift your foot for me.” She asked him, standing in front of him, sock ready. It wasn’t much, but would help a lot more then being barefoot.

Jarod tried to stay still as she slipped it on. "Thank you,” He said grateful for the small protection the socks offered. Only a few minutes and his body was drenched in sweat already and he wished for clothing that wasn’t black, though he was thankful for the long sleeves. The only heat he could ever remember that had been this brutal had been when he had taken that camel safari in the Sahara.

"Won’t take long Jarod. It’s only a short walk. Inside is nice and cool.” She said, taking Jarod's other arm and slowly leading the blind man forward towards the little shack that was their only visible entrance. Her home was so big, nearly the size of the Centre. You could drive half an hour in one direction and find a hidden entrance.

Wil followed her forgetting just how hot it could be out here. He fumbled with the lock, which was more for show than any real security, but the bastard thing was boiling hot and it took him a moment to get it undone.

Gracie looked at the open door, leading down to home and didn’t know if she could walk through. Her hands were sweating as she held Jarod's arm, but not because of the heat. "What happens if he doesn’t like Jarod? He would be disappointed in me for getting his hopes up. What if they don’t want me anymore? What if he sends me back out on assignment so I can’t stay home? What if he doesn’t want me? Will trade me now that I might have brought him something worthy?” She asked, scared of being taken from her only home.

Wil turned to her and grabbed both of her hands, pulling her away from Jarod. "Grace,” He said very seriously. He did not call her that very often. “I want you to listen to me.”

She looked up at him with wide green eyes, knowing Wil would make it better for her. He always did.

"Everything is going to be just fine. You know Jarod is the find of the century, and even if it turns out he can’t make use of him, I am just betting the Centre will pay enough to get him back to make this a success either way. You know deep down that he is the one they want."

She bit her lip and nodded. "He will be happy won’t he?” She asked in a tiny voice, sounding like the unsure child she was years ago.

"Yes he will, he will be proud of you. You were the only one that found a real pretender for him, nobody else could have done that."

Grace smiled a little at that. "We best not keep him waiting then.” She said happily and led Jarod down the stairs and into the facility. Once they passed the secured and manned doors she removed the hood, "Jarod, welcome to Gandi."

Jarod sighed loudly as they entered the air-conditioning, guessing that they were probably below ground now. He blinked in the harsh fluorescent glare and looked around.

"Isn’t it just beautiful?” She asked as she led him through the corridors to the lobby. Gracie would take him straight to her boss.

"Yeah,” He agreed half-heartedly, just glad to be out of the heat, as his eyes scanned everywhere, trying to absorb as many details as possible. He didn’t know when, but sooner or later he would try to escape, and this might be his only opportunity in a while to see the layout of this place.

She stood nervously in front of her boss' door and hesitantly knocked, gripping Jarod's arm tightly in nervousness, Jon holding his other arm.

"Come," Marcus said, without looking up from his computer.

Grace stomach knotted as she opened he door to walk in. Seeing him, she sighed in relief and smile broadly, "Good morning Sir."

Jarod guessed that he was being presented like a prized trophy to her boss, and he could feel her nervousness.

"Grace, what have you got for me there?"

"This is Jarod.” She said with unmistakable pride. "He is your new pretender." She was grinning proudly, hoping she made her boss happy too.

Marcus looked at the man and there was no mistake. "Welcome Jarod,” He said with a cold smile.

Jarod looked at the man and noted the Australian accent and guessed he was somewhere in what was known as 'the outback'. He kept his mouth shut, looking around the room.

Gracie looked at him, fearful he would get her in trouble, "Manners Jarod.” She scolded him, holding his arm tighter, trying to plead with him to be respectful. If Jarod ruined it for her now, she would kill him.

"With a name like Gandi, I expected an Indian accent, not an Australian one," Jarod observed, ignoring her tug on his arm.

Gracie looked between her boss and Jarod with wide eyes. "Sir, please forgive me, he is just tried and worn out. He does not mean to be so rude."

"I should hope not. This is not a conversation Jarod, it would behove you to remember your place." Marcus said casually, ignoring Grace for the moment, watching Jarod intently.

Gracie looked at her boss back to Jarod, "Sir, may I have a word with Jarod please?" She asked, wanting to plead and beg and order Jarod not to be like this.

"He needs to be taught his manners, his place in the new scheme of things, you think you can teach him Grace?” He asked her with a curious look.

She looked frantically at Wil and Jon. “If it pleases you Sir, I can.” She said back in a soft voice.

Jarod was fuming as they talked about him. He was used to this of course, but it didn’t make it any easier to cope with. He had always hated it, and even more so now.

"We will see,” He stated non-committal. He could see her nervousness, her desire to please him, and he could use that to help her keep Jarod in line. He had no illusions about the difficulties he expected to face with Jarod.

"What will happen now Sir?” She asked curiously, though fearfully. She had no idea about the new rules for her now. And she wanted to know what would happen to Jarod.

He steepled his fingers in front of his face, leaning back in his chair. "I would be curious to hear your thoughts on that girl. What do you think we should do? You caught him, if you want him, I might consider it."

"I would do whatever would please you Sir. Jarod can be taught his place. Just takes a bit of time, and the right methods. I would like to see him back at work, but he seems to have a problem with wanting to work for anyone Sir.” She apologised. She knew Jarod was going to cause huge amounts of problems.

"But we know how to deal with recalcitrant projects, don’t we girl?” He grinned at her, and then looked significantly at Jarod.

"Yes Sir.” She said, lowering her head. She knew all too well of their methods.

Jarod had heard all of this before, of course, but he got that sick feeling in his stomach, guessing that he was in far more trouble here than he first thought. This seemed to be a tight operation, and he had noticed the cameras everywhere. They were well hidden, but he was rather adept at finding such things.
Jarod Eats Grubs by jacci
Author's Notes:
Authors note: SORRY for the wait, so very sorry. Thanks for all the feedback we have gotten for this. Also this has a warning for implied rape, though nothing is actually really said or done.
“Sir?" Grace asked hesitantly.

“What girl?" Marcus asked patiently. He wasn’t sure if she was ready to be a handler yet, but he would give her a chance if she played her cards right. She had proved herself today.

“I am a project Sir. I do not know how to look after another project full time. Not to mention, I don’t know how he works. I don’t know how much help I would be.” She said quietly, looking at the ground, waiting for her reprimand for contradicting him asking if she could do it for him.

He nodded, pleased with her honesty. It could not have been easy for her to admit that. “I understand Grace, you would not be working alone. This might be your opportunity to further prove your value to us, if you work hard that is, and learn from others."

“Yes Sir, I always like to please you. I am just worried I might screw this up if you offer me such a big opportunity and I do not want to displease you Sir. Jarod is very important, and maybe you should put someone that is qualified to handle him Sir." She knew how important Jarod was, but she was also very scared if she were made a part of the team she would ruin it. She was only a project after all.

“You won’t screw up Grace, and don’t you worry, I know how important Jarod is, and we will be assigning a team to his maintenance. But if you do not want to be part of that team, tell me now."

Jarod was silently fuming as they planned his 'maintenance' as if he were some kind of performance car that needed specialist care.

“No Sir. I would love to stay with Jarod. Help you with him Sir. I’m just scared I will do something wrong with him Sir.” She said, glancing up at him.

“We all make mistakes girl, but don’t worry, if you do, we will correct them, and you won’t make them again.” He smiled at her again, a cold calculating smile. Mistakes did happen, after all it was natural, but not too many ever made the same one twice after corrective measures had been implemented.

Grace shrunk into herself and took a step back. “Yes Sir.” She whispered, knowing the price if she did screw up with Jarod, but also knew how he was talking, he was most likely going to put her on the team anyway.

“Good,” He said, looking her up and down. If she was going to be a primary with Jarod, then she was going to have to learn to be a little more assertive now. She had proved herself, now it was time to move her up in the food chain. “Take him down to his new room, and see he is settled in, make sure he is fed and watered. I will introduce him to the rest of the team this afternoon, once we are all fully set up."

“Yes Sir, of course Sir.” She nodded, she wanted to ask him about what she would do now, and her boys. If she would be going back to her old room, but didn’t want to now after he had given an order.

"Very good.” He turned to Jarod. “You are not happy about this I see." It was not a question, but a statement. Everything about the man's posture screamed he hated this situation that he now found himself in. Marcus preferred if his projects were happy, within reason. A happy project was a productive one. An unhappy project required much higher maintenance and a decidedly higher cost ratio. More staff and was generally bad for moral all the way around. But he knew Jarod would need time to adjust, accept his new position in life. In time he would behave, but for now, Marcus expected nothing but trouble from him, and judging by the scowl on his face, he wasn’t going to be disappointed.

“And they say I am the genius," Jarod drawled at him.

Marcus put his hand up to stop Grace's words.

Gracie gasped at his rudeness. She bit down on her lip at her boss' signal and ducked her head, praying Jarod didn’t get them into to much trouble. Her boss had been happy when she spoke with him on the phone, and wanted to keep it that way.

“It's alright Miss Gracie, Jarod does not yet understand our ways. But he will learn soon enough, or pay the price if he does not. Look around Jarod, this is your new home. It can be as pleasant as we can possibly make it for you... Or as unpleasant, if you choose."

Jarod took a deep breath and stared at him, saying nothing. This was not his home, it never would be, and he would never accept it. They could bribe him with treats and privileges, but he would not sell his soul to them, not for a mattress and a light switch.

Gracie looked at her boss, “Sir, before we go, may I please have permission to ask a few questions?" She asked nervously.

It seemed Jarod had nothing to say, and that suited him just fine. He could see the resentment in his eyes, but he would not be able to hold out forever, and if he became too troublesome, they would simply harvest his DNA and then sell him back to the Centre. "Of course,” He nodded his head to her.

“Thank you Sir.” She smiled at him a little “What will happen now, to my team and I? Will I get to go back to my old room? Or new quarters? Do I get to see my little sister?” She asked, the last question more of a plea. She couldn’t survive here if she knew how close she were to her sister, yet not be allowed to see her.

“We will see about that later. If you are moved to the Jarod project, then if you like, you may choose your sweepers, or keep the ones you have if you prefer. Your room assignment will be different, most likely a supervisor’s room, with your new position will come new privileges. And as for your sister, you may go to her after you have escorted Jarod down to his new room. You will be free to fill in your time as you see fit until the meeting, which will be scheduled for 4pm in the main conference room."

Gracie smiled broadly. “Yes Sir, thank you Sir. And if it pleases you Sir, I will join the team and do my very best for you Sir." Grace promised with a huge smile on her face.

“I expect nothing less."

“Yes of course Sir.” She said as she turned to Jarod, “Come along now Jarod, I will take you to your room and get you something to eat and drink."

Jarod looked at him one more time and then to Grace, not at all sure how he felt about her now. Her fear was so obvious, yet she was very prepared to use him, regardless of the consequences, to climb up the corporate ladder. In many respects she reminded him of Lyle. Yet when he thought about her little sister, he felt guilty for such thoughts. He took a step towards her, knowing that if he didn’t, she would call in the others who would be more than happy to 'help' him.

She smiled at him when he moved towards her and took his arm tightly, more for show and led him out, Wil and Jon following. When they were out of sight of the office, she loosened her grip. “I get to see my sister Jarod. I haven’t seen her in so long. And I miss her terribly." Anyone could tell how thrilled she was to be able to see her.

“I am happy for you,” He told her, and it was true as well. This whole situation was impossible and he still had no idea what he could possibly do about it. Listening to that pompous asshole prattling on, it began to sink in that it might be some considerable time before he would be able to do anything at all. But there was still hope, and he was determined to find a way out, maybe for all of them. He had to think of this as a big pretend, just a little more intense than most.

“I want you to meet her Jarod, see what you think of her, but I am not sure how Sir will like it. She is a beautiful girl, so well behaved and she cares a lot. They let her play nurse to a sick animal every now and again if she does well with her work." Bailey loved helping the sick animals. It was normally babies that had lost their mothers. She would nurse them back to health, keep them until they were big enough to be let go back into the wild.

Jarod was beginning to see the critical differences between the techniques used here and back at the Centre. These people were smart enough to realise that you had to give them something, anything to feed their souls, and guarantee their loyalty. That is where the Centre made their biggest mistake. Jarod had nothing to stay for. Nothing he felt like he was really giving away.

She rode the elevator to level 20, one of the lowest levels and led Jarod off, Wil and Jon being quiet and proper. Walked through the residence wing, she opened a door to one of the more high security, plain cells. “I am sorry it’s not a very good room. But Sir will want you to earn it."

Jarod looked around and sighed. Not so much as even a bed. It was so narrow he could touch both walls with his outstretched arms. He noticed the ubiquitous camera and not a single useable air vent. “Guess I have to work my way up to the more luxurious ones."

She nodded and sat on the ground. “I will try to get permission for a pillow and blanket for you. It’s not that cold here, but it will still be something for you,” She had never had to stay in a room like this, Grace couldn’t imagine sleeping on a ground this hard would be comfortable at all.

Jarod sat down next to her and half turned, wiggling his hands. “Any chance of taking these off?” His arms were aching and he guessed he had been cuffed in some form or other for more than 24 hours now.

“Yes of course.” She leant over and removed the cuffs, handing them to Jon. “Do you think it is a good thing I am a part of the team to look over you? I will probably screw up and that will get both of us into a lot of trouble." She was very worried about doing something wrong if she were involved with this project.

Jarod grimaced as he brought his arms forward to massage his wrists. He looked at her sadly. “I cannot do what they want, I will not allow myself or my work to be used again, I can’t do it."

She nodded, “Then they will just breed you and sell you back to the Centre, but not before trying to get you to work for them,"

“Then that is what will happen I guess,” He said heavily looking around the room. "But at least I am going to get fed and watered, it is nice to know they look after their animals around here,” He said bitterly.

"Jarod,” She snapped, “That is enough of this attitude. Do not be so rude. I know you don’t like what has happened, but that doesn’t mean you have to be so disrespectful."

“I am not being rude, just stating a fact,” He said gently, trying to show remorse. That man had talked about him as if he were stabling some kind of animal.

She turned to Wil, “Can you get someone to bring down some food and drink for him please? Once he has it, I can go.” She turned back to Jarod. “That may be so, but it was your tone of voice Jarod."

He looked at her dully. “Where are we? Somewhere in northern Australia? The desert I am guessing."

Gracie nodded, knowing there was no reason not to tell him. “We are in the middle of the northern territory. What is known as the red Centre, or the outback. And by the way, Gandi, is not Indian, as your statement about the accents made me think you believed it was. It is aboriginal, from the Wagiman tribe."

"Oh," Jarod said, bluffing a little at his faux pas. “What does it mean? Is it a local dialect?” He was very interested in learning about new cultures and languages. He knew practically nothing about the Australian aboriginal.

“To take.” She said, knowing Jarod would see why it was name Gandi, “And yes, it’s a local tribe. They are one of about 350 tribes with their own dialect nation wide, and they like to live a bit more traditionally unlike some others."

“Why am I not surprised?” He muttered under his breath.

“Manners Jarod.” She scolded him.

"How much worse can it possibly get?” He asked, wanting to know what he might be up against. Solitary in a cell so small it made his old one look huge was fairly harsh, nothing to sleep on, or relieve himself in.

“As bad as you want to make it Jarod. These people are far worse then the Centre, make the punishments and living conditions you had at the Centre seem like you were living in a palace, and I’m not exaggerating."

“What do you know about my 'living conditions' at the Centre?” He asked her, needing as much information as he could get.

“I saw some of the files in the Centre’s mainframes. We also retrieved your DSA's from the apartment last night while you were in the cell. I had a chance to watch some of them. Including the one were you disobeyed and they killed the man in front of you." Grace said more as a warning then anything.

Jarod closed his eyes, thinking about his DSA's and then Kenny. That was the day he had decided to leave, that was the day he fully realised that they had been lying to him. That was the day that changed everything in his entire life. He could no longer fool himself, or hide in his ignorance any longer. His heart still ached thinking of his friend Kenny sometimes, and he only hoped that something like that would never happen again. He was very different from the naïve man-child he had been then, had seen the best and worst that the world and mankind had to offer and there were just some things he would no longer tolerate. He should have known that she would find out about the DSA’s and there was little chance he would ever get them back again. If he ever got out of here, he had made copies, so it was not the end of the world, but he doubted he would be looking at them anytime soon.

Gracie looked up as the food was brought in. “Thank you.” She said to the sweeper and handed it to Jarod. “They have a tendency to do this.” She looked at the food. “It has become an inside joke for the new people. Local grub.” She handed the plate to Jarod with the witchetty grubs and assorted berries, there was cooked snake and a few beetles. Luckily the drink was only water.

Jarod looked at it suspiciously. “What the hell is it?” He asked, screwing his face up.

"Local grub.” She said again, stealing one of the worms looking things and eating it. “It is surprisingly nice Jarod, go ahead, try some." Grace urged him.

Jarod picked it up and looked at it. "High ratio of protein,” He said contemplatively. He had tried just about anything that was edible. He ate it and was quite surprised at how succulent it was. “Not bad at all."

She smiled, “See. They eat them a lot up here. The locals and aborigines have hunted for them for years and years. It’s almost like a delicacy, though they are nicer when they are alive. The beetles are specially gathered for their more fleshy bodies, and the shell gives it a nice crunch, and the snake, it’s like eating the best chicken of your life."

He skipped over the beetles and picked up the snake. “I had snake in the everglades, and it was very good."

“Yes I find them quite nice too. Most people don’t dare try them. You will find you will eat kangaroo and Emu a lot here. They are many around and cheap to use as a food supply."

“They eat their own national symbol?" Jarod asked in surprise. He knew little about this continent, never having had the need to research it before.

“It was the white people's decision to make those two the national symbol. Long before this land was settled, the natives use to hunt and eat them. They still do, and now, it is becoming more popular among every one else. Slowly but surely. They are very nice, and Emu meat and oil are extremely good for the body." Gracie said, stealing some of his beetles and munching on them. “Try some of the berries Jarod."

Jarod looked at them and then dismissed the idea that they would try to poison him. He popped a few in his mouth and looked at her in surprise. “These grow out here? In this heat? How does anything survive?"

“A lot of things survive Jarod, just as plants grow in the snow and in the water. Over time, plants and animals evolve to suit the landscape." Just because it was hot, didn’t mean it was barren.

"Just how far in this 'outback' are we?” He said munching on the berries. It was certainly an unusual meal, but he calculated that they had been in the air for at least 24 hours, perhaps as much as 27 and this was the first food he had received in all of that time. His arms were still sore and as the feeling started coming back, so did the throbbing of the gunshot wound.

"Far enough Jarod, you will have to eat everything on your plate, including the beetles, and I assure you, they are nice."

He had tried grasshoppers, so he supposed this wasn’t all that different. He popped one in his mouth and crunched on it, expecting it to be unpleasant and bitter, and was surprised yet again. He was curious to find out more about these aboriginals, and he wondered how much they had in common with the native Americans. “What happens if I don’t?” He asked, washing it down with some water. He was hungry enough now to make it a moot point, but it would be good to know for future reference.

“They will starve you for a week. And still expect you to work and do your normal routine. And because you are new, they will most likely punish you severely as well."

“And the regular food? What can I expect?"

“It will be similar to the food in the Centre, high in vitamins and minerals. But the cooks here take pleasure in preparing it. So not only will it be good for you, but will taste nice. And on good days you will have a meal like this. Or if you do something extremely good, maybe some roast, or a meal of your choosing."

Jarod wanted to say something sarcastic, but instead, finished off the meal, admitting to himself it had been pretty good, although nowhere near enough to satisfy him. “You had better get going then. I imagine your sister is waiting."

“Yes of course. And I know it is not much considering what you were forced to give up, but thank you Jarod."

He nodded at her and watched as she got up, hoping that things were well with her sister. “What is her name?"

"Bailey.” She smiled softly at him.

“That’s a pretty name."

“I got to choose it.” She said with pride. She had thought for days and days over the decision, and had finally come up with Bailey.

“It is nice, I like it."

She grinned happily, “Thank you. I will go see about those blankets for you.” She said as she took the plate and glass and gave it to Jon to take back to the kitchen. “We will see you soon Jarod.” She told him as she walked out with the boys, locking the door after her.

Jarod moved over to the corner under the camera and sat there, staring at the narrow space. It took him a few seconds to conclude that there was no way out. The locks were electronic, and activated from the outside, with not even a keypad of a plate hiding electronics for him to play with. The vents pumping in the air were far too small and the light was the diffused kind, behind what looked like sturdy perspex.

“I'll see you boys at the meeting.” She said, knowing they had things of their own right now to do. She moved back up to level one to Marcus' office and knocked on the door.

“Come,” He barked, not looking up.

Gracie walked in and stood submissively in front of his desk, “Sir, permission to ask a question?"

“What?” He said softly, putting his pen down. He wanted to encourage her to accept this new level of responsibility, knowing how difficult it would be for her at first, but she had huge potential.

“I was wondering Sir, if I may be allowed to give Jarod a blanket and pillow. I have placed him in one of the highest security rooms. He doesn’t even have a bed to be able to use to try and get out."

“And what has he done to deserve such things?” He asked her with a steady gaze.

“Nothing since he has been here. But if you give him something that he would be grateful for Sir, he may become used to being here quicker. This place is a good home, and I want him to realise this. I want him to love it here just as much as I do, not want to leave. And I can’t do that if he is stuck in a room where he can’t even have something to sleep on, or keep him warm.” She was scared at how condescending her voice was during some of her speech and looked at the ground, “I’m sorry Sir, I did not mean to be so disrespectful to you."

He laughed out loud at her. “You are ambitious aren’t you?"

She looked at him when he did not yell at her, “I want him to love this home as much as everyone here does. I do not want him thinking it is as bad as his last home. It isn’t. And I hate how rude he is. You do not deserver that kind of disrespect Sir, not ever."

“No I don’t, and I think I will make you personally responsible for that aspect of his training, seeing you seem to be so passionate about it. You have seen him, interacted with him, so right now I guess you are our resident expert, but I hope you are not naïve enough to think that a blanket and pillow will buy him that quickly."

“No of course not Sir. And I do not want to buy him, I just want to show him it is good here. I want him to want to work for you, earn you your money so you can make it better for everyone in this facility." But she just wanted to thank Jarod some how for being here. Now she could be with her sister, she was home.

Marcus nodded at her and wanted to see how good her instincts are. “You understand the restrictions that are necessarily placed on him until he earns his way up to the next level of trust? Just as you have earned your way up?"

“Yes of course Sir. He will have to earn even the basic privileges. But I just thought giving him a blanket and pillow might help him to see it’s not at all bad here."

"Very well then, do as you think is best, just be careful and mind you don’t inundate him with too many privileges he as not yet earnt.” He warned her.

“Yes Sir. And thank you.” She smiled gratefully, "One more thing Sir." She knew she was pushing her luck now.

“Yes?” He said patiently. He would probably need her on this project, if Jarod was as difficult as he suspected. He would need her skills and insights.

“May I take Bailey to meet Jarod?” She asked him, thinking he would say no. Bailey was his second pet project, only to her.

“No, not yet.” He said. "Remember Grace, too much too soon and you will spoil him. The only people he sees are the people on his team, that is all. Not until he is really a member of our family."

“Yes Sir,” She said in disappointment, “I wanted him to meet her for more my sake than his, but I understand." Gracie said, trying not to sulk.

“All in good time Grace. Everything in it’s own time, and it is all the more sweeter for the wait is it not?"

“Yes Sir.” She mumbled looking at the ground. All she wanted was for Jarod to meet her and was extremely disappointed she was not allowed to take Bailey to him. "But maybe Bailey could help a little just this once?” She tried again, knowing she was heading for a punishment. Three years away from home and her training had slipped a bit.

He looked at her dangerously.

Gracie shrunk into herself. “I’m sorry Sir, I just really want this.” She whispered. “I’m sorry.” She apologised again, “I will leave you now Sir."

He nodded at her and resumed his paperwork, making it clear that she was dismissed. He would give her what she wanted, after she had earnt it.

Gracie sighed softly and turned to leave sadly. As soon as the doors shut behind her, a man had grabbed her arm.

“So nice to see you are finally home Gracie. I have missed our little sessions. Please come to my office, we have some things to catch up on.” He said coldly, pushing her forward.

“Yes Mr Mathews.” She whispered, knowing what was about to happen and silently walked with him.

She left the office, tear stains on her face, holding her ribs. She made her way down to Jarod's cell, more than confused, and hurting badly. Walking in to see him in the corner, she looked at him. Her arm still wrapped protectively around her ribs, her face already bruised, her right eye almost swollen shut. Her lip split and still seeping a bit with blood.

Jarod was on his feet in an instant, moving towards her, hissing as he saw the damage. “What happened?” He asked gently, although he could guess the answer to that.

“I told Mr Mathews it was wrong. He shouldn’t touch me or anyone like you said. He didn’t think I was right.” She whispered, swaying a little. She didn’t understand how Jarod, a project knew it was wrong, but an owner didn’t.

Jarod closed his eyes and then looked at her again. He took his shirt off and gently started cleaning the blood away. “I am so sorry,” He whispered miserably.

Grace hissed and pulled back. “No reason to be sorry, I did wrong by Mr Mathews, I deserved the punishment.” She tried to soothe his guilt. It was coming off of him in waves, even someone more normal would feel it.

“I didn’t want... I didn’t mean to make trouble for you, I was trying to help,” He finished lamely.

She knew right this instant, if she had not told him she fabricated the DSA of Parker, she could have used this in her argument, that helping Parker was just hurting her. He tried to help Gracie and ended up hurting her too. “I know you were trying to help. And one thing you said while trying to convince me that you were wrong was right. This isn’t the real world here, we are different, we don’t have that right."

He had to accept the harsh reality of that truth, but it should not be that way.

She hissed at the pain as she slid down the wall, gripping her ribs tightly, “I got permission to give you a blanket and a pillow.” She told him, not looking anywhere but the floor. She knew she had been in the wrong. She was here to please others, and she had tried to deny one the owners his pleasure. She got what she deserved.

Jarod pulled her shirt up a little and looked at the bruise already blossoming. “May I check it? I will be as gentle as I can."

She nodded, "Please do not be gentle, I do not deserve it.” Grace told him. She needed to feel pain, so she would not forget and make the same mistake next time.

“Do you people have an infirmary in here?” He asked her as he prodded as gently as he could, checking for broken ribs, wanting to get his hands on the bastard that did this.

Gracie nodded slowly. “I was outside for too long. I let their rules get to me. I forgot my training Jarod.” She said sadly.

“I am very sorry,” He apologised again. “You should go and get this wrapped, and some ice for the bruising. And can you report him to your superior?"

She looked at Jarod as if he had just pulled a gun out of his arse. “And get myself into more trouble?"

He put his hands up in a gesture of surrender. “Sorry,” He muttered.

“They are the owners, they can do with me as they see fit. I have no right to argue with them, as you can see,” She gestured to her body. “And even if I did tell Mr Marcus, I don’t think he would really care.” She whispered. That had hurt to admit that. She was always trying to please her boss, and when she got beaten like this, she knew deep down he didn’t care.

Jarod was beginning to understand, only too well. “I am sorry,” He said one more time, not knowing what else there was to say. He looked at her sadly. "How was your sister?"

“I didn’t get to see her yet. I went start to Sir's office to ask for permission to give you your blanket and pillow. On the way out, Mr Mathews took me."

“Don’t get yourself into trouble for me, I don’t need any special favours, I will do just fine by myself.” He wondered who this Mathews character was.

“I did not get into trouble for asking Jarod. This is the only thing I am allowed to give you, the rest you will have to earn. I only got into trouble for trying to say no to Mr Mathews."

Jarod nodded again, trying to think of a way of explaining to her it was still wrong, but she was going to have to accept it. It made him sick to think somebody could hurt her so callously, or use her body without any consideration for her feelings.

"Jarod, they will come for you. You are their new toy, they will want to play with you like they just did to me. And I am afraid there is nothing I can do to stop it if they decided to do it."

“I don’t expect you to even try.” He told her gently as he looked at her sadly.

"But like I promised Jarod, I won’t touch you. Not ever. I just hope they don’t want me to breed with you if you do not work." She didn’t think she would mind breeding with this particular male, but she hated to think what it would do to her body.

Jarod looked at her in pure horror. When she had said about the breeding, he had assumed some kind of DNA manipulation, the harvesting of his semen to be artificially implanted, not actual 'breeding'.

She looked at him sadly, “I should get going.” She whispered, and tried to get to her feet.

Jarod helped her up. "Please be careful. I do not want you hurt or at risk on my account."

"Jarod again, this wasn’t your fault, it was mine for not remembering my place. Like you and the box. That was your fault for being disrespectful.” She said, grateful for the help to get to her feet. She slowly walked to the door. “I’ll bring the gifts down later."

"Just be careful,” He told her in worry.

She nodded and moved out. Before she went to the infirmary, she would ask Mr Marcus if it was ok for pain killers. For the third time within 2 hours, she knocked at the door. She didn’t want to hold her ribs, didn’t want to displease him anymore, but she couldn’t move her arm away, they hurt too much

“What?” He asked in exasperation. He was trying to get things organised for this afternoon, finding the right personnel, the right cell, the new room placements, the obstacles needed to be overcome, the assessments made.

Gracie walked in slowly and stood in front of his desk, head down. She had to also apologise to him for her bad behaviour, hoping not to get into more trouble.

He looked up at her. “What happened?"

“I displeased Mr Mathew Sir. I wanted to apologise. He wanted to have me, and I let something Jarod told me get in the way, I forgot my training Sir.” She apologised, not looking up from the ground she wasn’t sure if he knew about how the other owners took pleasure from her, and hoped he did, otherwise she was in a lot of shit when the others found out she had told him.

Marcus took a deep breath and took in her injuries, nothing life-threatening, but if might slow down her efficiency. “And you came to me because?"

“I wanted to apologise Sir, for my disrespect and lack of training towards one of your staff. I wanted to come to you for my punishment Sir, instead of letting you hear it from someone else and come to me.” She said in a sad voice, head lowered.

“Mr Mathew has punished you?” He asked slowly.

“He has beaten me Sir, but I am not sure if it was because he was annoyed with me, or it was my punishment Sir," Grace said truthfully, not wanting to get into any more trouble.

“Since he has not logged a complaint with me, I am assuming the matter is closed. Get down to the infirmary and have them attend you. I want you ready for the meeting this afternoon. And if I see your face in this office once more today before the meeting, you will be moving down to the cell next to Jarod.” He let her know the conversation was over by getting back to his work.

“Yes Sir,” She whispered as the tears fell down her cheeks. She was only trying to be a good project by saving him the hassle of running after her, and she was only screwing up more.
Jarod Eats Vegemite by jacci
Author's Notes:
Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry. I know this took a long time, and I will try harder to get the next one up soon. As always, this is co authored. Hope you enjoy
Gracie silently made her way to the infirmary and let the doctors go over her, refusing any pain killers. She did not deserve them. She was in trouble, and that was all there was to it. She hadn’t been told not to take them, nor had she been given permission to have some. She thought to be on the safe side she would decline the offer. And if she was told off, ask for forgiveness. When Gracie was allowed to leave, having had her rib's taped and her face fixed up a little. She didn’t know what to do with herself. Wil and Jon off on their own and she didn’t want to bother them yet. Deciding to go see Jarod again, she made her way slowly back to his cell and let herself in, seeing him back in the corner underneath the camera. Gracie knew he hated it here, but she was going to change that if she could.

Jarod looked up as the door opened and he saw her again. She hadn’t been gone all that long, although it was hard to gauge the passage of time with literally nothing to do.

She forced a smile to her face, wincing as she pulled on the cut on her lip. “Good afternoon Jarod." Gracie said formally.

“What's good about it?” He asked her, curious to see what she would say. He could see plainly that she was not happy and wondered what she was doing back down here.

"Nothing right now, but I am sure that will change.” It was the first time she had been so pessimistic around Jarod. Grace was normally so optimistic about everything. She slid down the wall and sat facing him, watching him.

He shook his head. Nothing was going to change for him that he would welcome. He had been thinking about the repercussions of what he had said to her before, and knew he had to be much more careful. He would resist them with everything in his being, not caring what they did to him or how much they hurt him, but he did not want to be responsible for any pain for her. He had thought he had been helping her before, but he realised how naïve that was now. The only way to really help her, would be to get her and her sister out of here and show them, teach them, how to lives their own lives again. He was also coming to understand just how difficult escape might prove to be. Sydney was likely to be back at the Centre now, having delivered a full report. They would be searching for him, and a rescue by the Centre might be his only hope. Although that was out of the frying pan straight into the fire.

“You resent me bringing here don’t you Jarod? And you will never like it here no matter how good I make it for you.” She said, it was not really a question, more of a statement.

He shook his head. How could she understand so much, but not understand that? He could never ever be happy being held against his will, his talents exploited for other's benefits, with no choice in anything. His work used to hurt and kill. He could never accept enslavement. “It will never be any good here,” He said softly, looking around the tiny cell again.

“I can make it good here Jarod. Make your work good. So you like it. Don’t want to leave here,” She said, "Or me.” She whispered. Grace didn’t understand why she felt the need for Jarod to like her, it was so different from anything else she had ever felt.

Despite everything she had done, he did feel sorry for this girl. “I don’t want to leave you, but I cannot accept this imprisonment, I just can’t."

“But it’s not imprisonment Jarod. It’s an honour to be here. It really is. I wish you could see that.” She said looking at him sadly. Other then Wil and Jon, Jarod was the first person to really speak to her like she mattered. And she could hold up a conversation with him.

“The door is locked, this is a cell,” He stated the obvious.

“Yes, this is, but most of the rooms are not." She tried to tell him.

“So if you decided to leave, you could just go?” He asked her flatly.

"Of course not Jarod. We need permission to leave the facility, but we are most of the times free to roam around.”

Jarod shrugged. “Then I am happy for you, but don’t ask me to accept it or like it. I cannot, it is that simple."

“Then I will be forced to make you do as you are told Jarod if I am on the team.” She said in a cold voice, the pain in her eyes.

He nodded. “I understand,” He said very softly.

Grace sighed heavily. “This isn’t fair. I know we are just projects, and we have no rights, but I also know that you really, honestly do not want to be here. I can feel it coming off of you so strongly. I wish I could make things right, but I have to do as I am told." Even saying it wasn’t fair went against her training, but she had found recently that she had been doing a lot of things that were classed as bad.

“I understand how the game is played. You must do what you must do, as I must as well.” He had no doubt she would hurt him, and despite her apparent reluctance, she had seemed to enjoy doing it well enough before. “Do not get yourself into trouble on my account."

“I won’t, I seem to be managing to do that fine on my own.” Grace tried to joke. “He isn’t happy with me anymore, isn’t so proud.” She said miserably. All she wanted was to make her boss happy, but she failing it terribly. Not even a ‘well done Grace’ when she had brought Jarod in. She wanted a simple ‘you did well’ or something along those lines. Not him starring at Jarod, cold smile and half mumbling she would get new quarters.

“I am sorry, maybe I am not the one he was after at all. But that is hardly your fault.” Jarod told her, trying to offer her some kind of comfort.

"No, I do think you are the one he was after. As I understand it, you are THE pretender and he is ecstatic you are now one of his. Maybe I didn’t bring you in soon enough, or didn’t offer him more suitable projects over the years. Maybe he doesn’t even want me anymore now he has you.” If she had known, she would know what she was feeling was jealousy. She had never felt like this before, always having the lime light from him, and now it had moved to his brand new toy.

“The fact that you still have access to this cell and are the only person I have been permitted to see tells me that is not the case. I imagine your 'talents' make you all but invaluable to him, and he would be a fool to ignore such a resourceful asset.” He hated thinking about her in those terms, but he knew that was what she would understand the most.

She looked at Jarod and offered a weak smile, “You think so?” It was one of the nicest things anyone had said to her in a long time and it made her still feel wanted and needed here.

“If he wanted to get rid of you, don’t you think the first thing he would do is deny you access to me?” He asked reasonably.

She nodded, “Most likely, yes. But he knows I have the most experience with you.” Gracie countered.

“That in itself should guarantee you don’t you think?"

Grace nodded and smiled broadly. “So you think he still does want me then? He isn’t disappointed in me?" She asked in hope.

“I don’t know, but you are down here, so I am guessing that he is happy with you. If I am so important to him, then wouldn’t he put one of his most important people he trusted on my case?” He couldn’t believe what he was saying.

Gracie nodded and her grin got even bigger, she crawled across the small room, ignoring the pains she felt and wrapped her arms around him tightly.

Jarod froze and then forced his sore body to relax as he let her snuggle into him. This was the most incredibly bizarre situation he had ever found himself in. He was comforting his captor, the girl that had delivered him into slavery and had already admitted that she was going to keep hurting him.

She pulled back quickly and looked at Jarod remorsefully, “I’m sorry, I should have asked first. I didn’t mean to touch you.” Gracie still didn’t quite understand what touching was allowed and what wasn’t. And Jarod had just helped her see she was still wanted and she might have just gone and broke her promise.

“That is alright,” He told her. “Can you understand the difference between the way we touched just then and what you did before? How different it was, for both of us?"

She sat back a little in front of him and nodded. “You were scared last time, even if your body enjoyed it. You didn’t want it. And even though I was just looking, was curious, it come out as though I was using it as a power play over you." Gracie told him formally.

“That's right, but this was different, this was about comfort and need. Two people offering something to each other, it was sharing. And how did it make you feel? Nice?"

She nodded, “Warm.” Gracie told him. “I was happy, you showed me I was still wanted, and it is what I do with Wil and Jon when I am happy."

“That is a very different type of touching, it is not about exploitation, and it is you thinking about the other person's feelings too. Many forms of touching can be very pleasurable.” That was something Jarod had craved all of his life. To be touched with gentleness and care.

“Pleasurable like how I stroked your penis Jarod? I know you found that pleasurable, despite not wanting it.” She said innocently, looking at him with her green eyes, wide and curious, starving for new knowledge.

"No, that was a biological response. I am not talking about sexual pleasure, but the pleasure of the warmth of a touch.” He picked up her hand and held it gently. “Like holding hands, it is an expression of friendship, of caring."

She looked at his hand holding hers and snatched it back, getting way too many images and emotions from him at one time. Gracie was forced to close her eyes to control them. His emotions were so strong and it was a bit overwhelming.

“I am sorry,” He said in surprise, looking at her in worry. “I didn’t mean to hurt you."

When everything was under control she opened her eyes and smiled, "No, you didn’t. Just...” She trailed off, shaking her head. “Doesn’t matter. But I think I might be understanding what you mean now."

Jarod nodded, not really understanding and watched her, trying to understand. He had tried to SIM her and had had little success. He had never come across a more frustrating individual as she was. He could not get into her head at all. He understood her training, her programming, but he had been unable to understand anything else about her at all. It was more than disconcerting for him.

“I understand by how you always wanted Sydney to touch you. Like the hand on your shoulder, picking you up when you were little and upset over a SIM. How...” She frowned for a moment as she chased the image, "Nia? Held you when you cried. How your father held you when you found him. Those are good touches."

“Yes,” He said softly, the images and memories running through his head as she listed them. “Yes, good touches."

“But how I touched you, how Jon threatened to touch Sydney, how Mr Mathew touched me. Those are bad touches.” Gracie said nodding her head in satisfaction. She was still a bit iffy on some touches, but thought she had it worked out now.

“Yes,” Jarod said, worried that he might be doing her more harm than good with this kind of knowledge.

“I understand.” She smiled. Grace glanced at her watch. “I must get going. I need to try and shower, and get changed and grab something to eat before the meeting. Sir will not be pleased if I turn up like this." Grace said, looking down at her clothes.

“What do I do... About the bathroom?” He asked her, not knowing how long he might be left in here.

Gracie looked around the barren room and shrugged, “I have never been bad enough to be put in one of these rooms. I guess hold yourself until, or if, someone comes to take you to the bathroom.” She said as she struggled to get to her feet.

He helped her to stand up, grimacing at his own aches and pains. That was not really what he was hoping to hear and wondered why he had been placed in what seemed like their most severe cells.

“Thank you Jarod,” Gracie said as he helped her. “I severely doubt you will be joining us for the meeting. And if not, I will be back afterwards sometimes to inform you on what is going on.” Grace said formally as she moved to the door. She was beyond nervous about this meeting, not really knowing what to expect from it, never being permitted to sit in on one before.

He sighed heavily, wishing for something to do, to distract him from the bleakness of this place and to stop him from thinking about his immediate future. He was not yet ready to give up hope, but he knew that there would be no easy fix this time. He had survived a month under Lyle's tender care, and he would survive this too.

Gracie was very nervous after the meeting. Having such a big responsibly put onto her. She was not only just a project now, but a handler. She was dying to see her sister and decided Jarod could wait about his fate for a while longer and made her way to Bailey’s room. She let herself in to see her sister on the bed, with one of her animals. She was scared Bailey wouldn’t remember her after three years, regardless that they spoke on the phone often.

Bailey looked up as her door opened, she never really got any visitors and looked at the girl standing there. She frowned for a second and then her face broke out in a sunny smile. “Gracie?” She whispered, carefully putting the little possum down.

Grace smiled and nodded, bending down and opening her arms, “I have missed you so much Bailey." She said with so much emotion in her voice she almost choked on it.

“You got so big,” She said and rushed over to her, throwing herself at her. “You look different."

Grace held her tightly, stroking her hair. “So have you. You are double as big as you were when I left.” She whispered, pushing her away a little to look over her. “You have gotten so grown up." Gracie was struggling not to cry at see her baby sister for so long.

“And you have gotten hurt,” She said in clear disapproval, touching the new bruise gently.

Gracie smiled sadly, “Don’t worry about that Bailey. I did something I shouldn’t done. But I learnt my lesson and won’t do it again. So who is your little friend over there?” She asked, pointing towards the baby possum, wanting to change the subject. She had not seen Bailey for three years, and her punishment was the last thing she wanted to talk about.

“This is Walter,” She said proudly, “He is only a baby.” She was a natural with animals and when she was good, they let her tend them, said they might even let her keep this one if she was really good.

Gracie walked over, wincing as she stood to her feet and moved over, sitting on the bed and carefully picking Walter up. “He is very small. What happened to his mummy?” She asked, checking the baby over.

“Don’t know,” She shrugged, not caring about that. “Do you like him?” She asked nervously, sitting down opposite her, still smiling. “I missed you Grace.”

Gracie wrapped an arm around Bailey's shoulders and pulled her close. “I missed you more then anything Bailey. But I am not going anywhere for a long time. I have just been made a handler over a new project. So I’m stuck here with you for a while yet.” She smirked, kissing Bailey's head. “And yes I do like him,” She said, thinking she meant the possum, but one was never sure with Bailey. She was an extremely strong empath, and because she was only 7, never really explained her questions too much.

“That's good,” She stated firmly. “I wish you were my handler too,” She said in a small voice after a moment of silence.

Gracie put the possum carefully back on the bed, and lifted Bailey to sit on her lap, ignoring the pain from her ribs. Wrapping her arms around her shoulders lovingly, knowing even more so now what Jarod meant about good touching, “I wish I could look after you too Bailey. But you know you have your own handler. And you have to do as she tells you. I have been told my project duties have been suspended for a little while. So when I am not working on the new project, the time I have spare is my free time. So I can come see you so much more often now. And I am allowed to take you outside when I want, within reason. So we can look at the plants and animals. How does that sound to you?"

Bailey looked up at her with narrowed eyes, sensing any tricks or if she was just telling her this because she was going away again. After a moment, she smiled and hugged her back, having decided it was not a bribe after all. “That is so good. We can have some fun together and Walter can come too.” She nodded happily to herself now that was all settled.

“Yes, Walter can come with us too.” Gracie smiled happily, glad Bailey was happy with this. “How did the Joey go? Was he released back into the wild?” She asked her, last month when they spoke, she was almost ready to released her baby Joey, that wasn’t such a baby anymore.

“Yes,” She said sourly. “They said I might be able to keep him too, but then they said he was too big. It wasn’t fair."

“You know it’s not fair to keep them down here Bailey.” Gracie lectured in a gentle voice. “They are wild animals they should be living out with others like them. And you don’t think a male red kangaroo when he got all grown up might really just be a bit too big to keep in your room?” She asked with a grin, her voice patronising slightly.

Bailey's bottom lip started to tremble as she pouted. “You think you are so good now you are a handler."

Gracie laughed out loud and gave her a big hug, "No, I think I’m so good because I am your older sister.” She looked into Bailey's green eyes, exactly like her own. “I brought back a few gifts for you from America. You can have them when my bags arrive. Do you think you would like some gifts to make you all better after having to let your Joey go?"

“Presents? For me?” She asked excitedly, all thoughts of her Joey gone. "Really?"

“You don’t think I would spend so long away from my little angel and not bring her back some presents now do you?” She laughed at the enthusiasm. “They should be here by morning, I’ll give them to you then." All thoughts and worries over Jarod and what she might have to do to him vanished form her mind, just enjoying herself with her baby sister, having missed her so incredibly much.

"Only one sleep?” She asked, not believing they would come so soon.

“Yes, only one sleep Bailey.” She smiled even more, giving her another kiss. “I have some work to do, but I want you to come with me. I want you to meet my project.” She offered, wondering if Bailey would come with her.

Bailey looked at her for a minute, not sure if she wanted to. But if Gracie was a handler now, she had to do what she was told. “Walter, I will be back in a little while. You be a very good boy now and mummy will be back to look after you and talk to you again. Don’t be scared being all by yourself. Gracie?” She asked as she took her hand and followed her.

“Yes Bailey?” She asked, “Why don’t you bring Walter too? I don’t think this project has seen a possum before." Not only would it interest Jarod to meet a new animal such as Walter, but it would make Bailey feel safer.

She ripped her hand away and rushed over to him and picked him up with infinite care. She held him close to her chest and offered Gracie her hand again. Her question forgotten.

Gracie smiled softly and took her hand, “What is you wanted to ask Bailey?” She asked her as they started to make their way to Gracie’s new room. She hadn’t had the chance to look at it yet, going straight from the meeting with the owners to Bailey. She had asked the new team members to meet her in her room in 20 minuets and for the boys to bring Jarod, and she hoped to get there before the rest, so she could have a quick look around.

"Now you are a handler, will you have to punish me too?” She asked, watching her possum, trusting Gracie to guide her.

Gracie stopped and sighed, she knelt down and forced Bailey to turn to her, tilting her chin up. “I will never lay a hand on you Bailey, not ever. I would rather be punished myself then hurt you. I am still a project, I still have to follow the same rules, do as I am told, receive punishments myself if I am bad, just like you. I am only looking after one project because I have the most experienced. But I am not your handler, I won’t punish you. You only have to do as I say because I am your older sister, not because I am a handler. And I hope you behave for the owners so you don’t need to be punished.” She said sternly, “I know you are such a good girl, and I know you rarely need to be punished, but just remember, if you ever do anything wrong, it will not be me that has to teach you your lesson. Do you understand me honey?” She asked gently, yet firmly. She needed Bailey to understand Gracie would NEVER harm her.

She nodded. “But you are laying your hands on me now,” She said, a little confused.

Gracie laughed, “Yes I forgot, I picked up a few expressions and terms while I was outside. I mean I will never hit you.” She clarified.

She nodded seriously as she thought about it. “You are very different Gracie and you talk funny now."

She stood to her feet and took Bailey's hand as they started to walk again. “It’s been a long time since I have been home Bailey. I have picked up the American accent, learnt some of their expressions. I have grown up just like you have."

“I think you grew up more than I did,” She stated with certainty. “What was it like out there? Was it scary?"

She nodded, “It was at first. There were lots of people. More people then what there is here. And they do things so differently. I didn’t venture out of my home very much, only when it was needed for the assignment.” Gracie told her as they found her new room. It was fairly close to Bailey's and was grateful to that. She opened the door and walked in. “Wow. Look at this room.” She said in amazement. The bed was huge, there were couches and a TV, a little office set up. And her own bathroom and chest of draws. There was bookshelves filled with books, a table and chairs to eat at, it was wonderful.

"Ohhhhh,” Bailey said, everything else forgotten as she turned around slowly to look at it.

Gracie walked in and took a look around. She went to the draws and opened it, finding clothes in there. There was a mix of project and hander clothes, and three draws were empty, guessing it was for her own clothes from overseas. She grabbed a singlet and went to Bailey, “Wrap this around Walter, he might get cold. It is a lot hotter outside where he was with his mummy, and you can’t let him got to cold or he will get sick." Grace was just itching to look at the bathroom and left Bailey for a moment and checked it out. It was full of soft towels and bath products and even had a bathtub.

Bailey plopped down on the bed and put Walter on it gently. It was much bigger and softer than hers. “This will keep you nice and warm Walter,” She told him absently, her eyes still wide as she looked at the room, bouncing just a little on the bed. She wondered if they would let her sleep with Gracie again sometimes, even though she was all grown up now.

Gracie heard the knock at the door and it open, “Gracie?” Jon called out as Wil walked in with Jarod tightly cuffed. He stopped as he saw Bailey, “Hey Bailey,” He said warmly, not sure if she remembered him, it had been three years since they all saw her last.

Gracie moved out quickly and took Jarod roughly, duping him on a chair at the table, “Stay,” She ordered and moved back to the boys.

Jarod looked around at the room, not saying anything just yet. They had made it perfectly clear to him that he had better not screw this meeting up for her or they would make him regret it.

“Who are you?” Bailey said, moving to hide behind her sister.

“It’s alright Bailey, this is Jon and Wil. You might not remember them. You were only little when you first met them. You haven’t seen them since I left. They have been looking after me since I was a baby."

She peeked around Gracie and looked at them for a moment, her brow furrowed in concentration and then nodded, but not moving from the safety. “What about him?” She whispered, tugging on her sister's sleeve.

"Never mind him for a moment Bailey.” She said, hearing another knock on the door. ”I need you to go sit on the bed and be quiet for a little while please Bailey. You look after Walter. I will tell you about the other man very soon. Can you do that for me please honey?” She asked, turning to face her as Jon let the rest of the team in.

She nodded, not saying anything, but not taking her eyes from the man she knew was Jarod. She moved over to the bed and picked up Walter protectively, talking to him softly.

Jarod guessed the girl had to be her sister, the resemblance was striking, and he could see her fear. He remained still, just watching them all, and offered a smile to the girl.

Gracie moved Jarod over to what seemed like the lounge room section of her massive room and sat him on the couch, as far away from Bailey as she could. She watched the other people walk in. “Please over here.” She called out to her boys and the new ones. She looked down at Jarod smiling at Bailey, “Don’t.” She warned. “Don’t look at her, don’t smile, don’t talk. Not while these people are here. I won’t give them something to use against me or you. Am I understood?” She hissed in a cold, quite whisper as everyone moved over to the lounge area. She would rip Jarod’s throat out with her bare hands if he caused any harm to her little sister.

Jarod understood perfectly and decided for now to play the role of submissive project. He didn’t need to be an empath to feel the nerves coming off of her. He cast his eyes down to the floor, found an imperfection in the carpet and locked his gaze on it, while he carefully listened to all that went on about him.

She stood up and looked at the new people in her room. She moved to her new desk and grabbed the file she had and flicked through it coming back. “Alright, my name is Miss Gracie, this is Wil and Jon.” She looked at the two new sweepers. "Jackson, Shane, you will have a briefing with Wil and Jon in the morning at 0900. Am I clear?” She asked in her old voice.

Bailey focused on Walter, knowing that this was grown up stuff, handler stuff and it had nothing to do with her. She knew how nervous Gracie was and she was only allowed here because she was so important now.

“Yes ma'am.” They answer in unison.

“Good, you are dismissed. Wil, Jon, make sure you have their assignments ready at 0900.” She said as the other two left. She turned to the nurse. "Nurse Jane, Jarod is your new charge. I will expect you to be available regardless of the time of day or night if he needs medical attention. He is very important, and I know from experience how good of a nurse you are.” She knew technically she should have been given a doctor, but her boss apparently thought a nurse was better.

"Of course Miss Gracie,” She said looking at Jarod, thinking it wouldn’t be a hardship at all. She could barely wait to tell the others that she had landed the best looking project she had ever seen.

“I will need a full medical done of him in the morning at 0800, the report will be sent to me by 0930.” She gave the orders, feeling weird about this. It was different before, she was the boss but here she was a project with a big task, bossing around those that normally bossed her around.

Jarod had listened, his heart sinking as his future was arranged and scheduled out. He wondered if this was where they were moving him to and he thought it was a significant step up. It was almost like his old room at the Centre.

She dismissed the nurse and turned to the shrink, “Mr Collins, you will be helping him perform his simulations. You are the best shrink we have, and his last handler was a shrink too. I have some DSA's for you to study to understand what you will have to do. You have until midday tomorrow to try a very basic SIM."

Jarod listened and he vowed he was not going to do it. But he kept his eyes on the ground and made no response that he was even aware they were in the room.

“Yes Miss Gracie, I will be prepared."

“Good. I am not really expecting much from him for a while, so you have plenty of time to understand everything. He will be ready to pick up from his cell at 12.” Gracie said in a way of getting rid at him.

Walter was asleep and Bailey was bored, eager to talk to her sister that she hadn’t seen in so long. She was getting a bunch of weird stuff from Gracie's new project and she was scared of him a little. She sat very still on the bed, used to having to sit still for prolonged periods of time.

When he was gone Gracie sighed and dumped the file on the couch. Grace had already had the big meeting, just before going to Bailey, this was just for her to get use to handing out orders and to see who her staff were. She left Jarod alone and took the cuff key from Wil, “Can you two stand guard outside me room? I’ll call you when I need you or if Jarod gives me any hassle." She asked then, giving them a small, tried smile.

Jarod finally looked up. “I won’t give you any hassle,” He told her, not with the child in the room and he wondered if that was why she brought her.

“Good.” She nodded in relief. She couldn’t handle having to hurt Jarod in front of Bailey.

“We will be just outside Gracie.” Jon said, walking Wil out with him, shutting the door gently and standing guard.

Gracie moved to Jarod and removed the cuffs, freeing his arms that were trapped behind his back. “Thank you for not talking Jarod, I appreciate it.” She said before moving to sit on the bed next to Bailey.

Jarod rubbed his wrists and watched the two of them intently, not really sure what was expected of him now. He didn’t move, not wanting to scare the little girl who was clearly frightened of him.

Bailey moved closer to her, looking at him timidly.

“Bailey, I want you to meet my new project.” Gracie said gently. She could feel Bailey was scared of him easily and didn’t really blame her, she rarely met new people. "Jarod, why don’t you come over here for me please?"

He didn’t want to do anything to frighten her further and so moved slowly. “Hello, my name is Jarod, what is yours?” He asked in his friendliest voice. Jarod crouched down to make himself smaller and looked up into her frightened eyes.

Bailey shook her head no and huddled closer into her sister.

Gracie wrapped her arms around Bailey protectively, “Why are you scared Bailey? Tell me what you are feeling.” She said gently, as she did every other time she got like this.

“Lots of stuff, good stuff and bad stuff,” She whispered loudly, not taking her eyes off of Jarod.

“I am not going to hurt you,” Jarod promised. “But do you mind if I look at your little friend there please?"

“Yeah, good luck Jarod.” Gracie laughed. “Bailey only lets me, her handler and herself touch her little friends.” She was so very protective of her animals, playing mother to them.

“How about I don’t touch, just look then?” Jarod tried to appease her. “I have never seen an animal like that before.”

She wondered if Bailey could feel Jarod's caring and protective side, and might just let him go near her animals. Bailey always did amaze her.

“His name is Walter,” She said softly, still trying to figure this guy out. He hated it here and wanted to go, but he liked Gracie and Gracie liked him too. So he must be not too bad then.

“Walter?” Jarod asked with a smile, crossing his legs as he sat on the floor. “What is he?"

“A possum,” She declared proudly. “How can you not know about what possums look like?"

"Jarod doesn’t live here Bailey, he is from America. You know they have different animals over there don’t you?” Grace asked. She tried not to laugh at the shock in Bailey’s voice about Jarod not knowing of a possum.

She nodded, and then pulled her down so she could whisper in her ear. “He talks funny too."

Gracie laughed, “Yeah he does doesn’t he? I bet he sounds like me. Do you think it would be alright if Jarod sat on the bed to get a closer look at Walter?"

She screwed up her face, still not sure about him and then nodded after a moment, not taking her eyes off him.

Jarod got up and sat on the other side of Grace but not too close. “And for the record, I don’t talk funny, you do,” He grinned at her.

“Do not, I talk normal.” She protested hotly.

"Ok, Bailey, Jarod that’s enough.” She said, knowing if Bailey got started she wouldn’t stop. She took Walter from her and unwrapped the possum, giving the baby back to her sister. “Why don’t you tell Jarod a bit about what Walter is?"

Bailey sulked a little and then looked at Walter. “He is a baby possum, and I am going to get to keep him,” She stated even though she wasn’t really sure about that yet.

“He is very nice,” Jarod said softly, looking at him. “We have a raccoon which is a bit like that.” Jarod was watching him closely, curious to learn more about them.

“That's cos he is a brush-tail, native only to us."

Gracie grinned. “She knows just about everything on any native wildlife we have. Don’t you Bailey?” She said proudly. They tried to give each project something to do in their spare time, and Bailey had taking an instant liking to animals. She looked after them and researched them, and learnt as much as she could.

“I know lots, I have been studying.” She beamed at Gracie. “And I know even more now than before you went away.”

Gracie's eyes widened, "Really? I don’t believe that, you knew tons before I left. Why don’t you prove it and tell me what sort of food he eats when he is off his milk?

“He eats leaves from the trees, but some of the pygmy possums…” She paused for a minute to look at Jarod. “Pygmy means real small, they eat insects and spiders too."

Jarod made a face and shuddered to show her how grossed out he was by that.

Gracie laughed at that, not only was Jarod disgusted by that thought, but her 7 year old sister was telling probably the world’s smartest genius what pygmy meant. “Well done Bailey, I am impressed.” She praised her.

Bailey glowed at the praise. “I learnt heaps of other stuff too while you were gone. I know so much now,” She said very matter-of-factly. “Did you know we have lots of plants and animals here that you Americans don’t have?” She asked him, her voice full of pride.

Jarod had to bite back the laugh and smiled at her. “I just bet you do too. And I bet you know all about them."

Gracie watched her sister, a happy smile on her face and held her closer. She would do whatever it took not to be sent away again. “Hey Bailey, wanna know something?” She asked in a stage whisper.

Bailey nodded at her. "Of course, knowing stuff is good." It was obvious that she thought that Gracie should already know that.

“Yes it is,” Jarod agreed.

Gracie grinned at her, “Did you know, Jarod ate local bush tucker when he arrived. He was grossed out by the witchetty grubs and the beetles. He tried them and he liked them. I never thought an American would have the guts to try our yummy food."

“They are good for you,” She said as if it was no big deal. She had eaten them all of her life and couldn’t figure out why he wouldn’t. “Don’t Americans like good food?” She had no idea about Americans really. They looked the same but they talked funny, and they had different animals. “Maybe they have different food over there."

“Yes they do, but we don’t want to give this naïve American the impression bush tucker is all we eat here do we? What do you think he would think of vegemite?” She asked, grinning broadly, wondering how he would like that.

“Miss Gracie,” Jarod interrupted.

Gracie looked at Jarod, “Yes Jarod, what is it?"

“We never ate any bushes,” He said sceptically. And he had no idea what tucker was either.

“That’s my favourite,” Bailey squealed in delight.

Gracie closed her eyes and rubbed her head, sighing, not only was she going to start having to explain American slang to Bailey, but now Australian to Jarod. “I know it is Bailey.” She smiled at her before turning to Jarod, "Jarod bush tucker is just slang really. It is food gathered and hunted. You normally only hear the phrase in the outback, on the coast and inland were it’s farm and rural communities, you won’t hear it."

Jarod nodded, assimilating all of this. It was English, but not quite like he was used to. “And this vegemite? What is that? And what do that call that on the coast?” He knew that Australia was primarily populated in the coastal regions and that the majority of the centre of the country was nothing but a huge desert, which is where he guessed they must be now.

Gracie shook her head, “Can you believe this guy? He don’t know anything does he Bailey?” She asked, trying not to laugh. It would be a very interesting conversation between Bailey and Jarod if she ever left them alone.

“Hey,” Jarod protested. He had been laughed at frequently for his lack of knowledge on things like popular culture.

Bailey pulled Gracie down again to whisper in her ear.

Gracie leant over and waited.

“We should give him a vegemite sandwich, but put it on really really thick,” She giggled. Nobody liked it spread thick, it made it yucky.

Gracie grinned and sat up, "Now you're just being cruel.” She laughed. Too much and it burnt your lips. She knew Jarod probably wouldn’t like it in the first place, but if it was spread thick… "Jarod, vegemite is a spread, and it is called vegemite on the coast to. It is basically just yeast extract and the world’s best known source of vitamin B."

“Sounds just charming,” Jarod said, not thinking he would like it at all. It sounded a lot like some kind of nutritional supplement. Perhaps that is what they used here instead of the wheatgrass and hearts of palms. “So some foods are called the same and some foods are different?” He tried to clarify. “How do you know which ones?"

Gracie rubbed the bridge of her nose. “Bush tucker is known Australia wide, but you normally only hear it where we are. It’s just the same as America, same food every where, same names, just sometimes there is slang for it." She turned to Bailey, “Let me take Walter, while I get you to run to the kitchen and ask real nicely if I can have three vegemite sandwiches. And do not spread it thick Bailey, no games.” She warned, knowing what she was like.

Jarod nodded, but really did not understand at all.

Bailey nodded, too excited by the thought of an extra snack to want to risk it. She handed Walter over to her. “I promise." It was going to be cool now that her sister was a handler. There might be all kinds of stuff she could get and do that she couldn’t before.

“Good girl.” She smiled and took the possum and watched her leave the room.

Jarod watched her go and looked up at Gracie, terribly sad to imagine her spending her entire life in here, never really knowing what it was like to live freely.

“Here Jarod,” She handed the possum over to him gently. “He is only a baby still, chances are his mother was killed."

Jarod took him carefully and watched his huge eyes as he looked around. “He is very cute,” He smiled. “Will he grow very much bigger than this? And will he survive upon release?"

“If Bailey does it correctly, yes chances are very good he will survive. Most of her animals do. He will roughly triple in size, but being male will probably get just a big bigger then triple. And please don’t be so sad."

“I am sure she will do a wonderful job with him, he is not even frightened.” He looked up at her. “Sad about what?"

“About me, us, being here. Living our lives here.” She stated, taking Walter back before Bailey came back so she didn’t chuck a fit.

He handed the tiny animal over, surprised it was still alive. He didn’t know anything about possums, but it was a testament to her skill that she could keep it alive. Most animals if they lost their mother that young would be sure to perish. “I can understand Bailey's attitude. This is all she knows, and she seems happy, but you have been outside, how can you not want more than this?"

“This is my life Jarod. All I know to do is take orders, perform to my best. I was made to please those that own me. And I really do like it here. It’s not as bad as you seem to think." Gracie told him again. If she told herself that it wasn’t that bad, she could almost believe it. As long as she had her sister, could see her, she would put up with everything bad about this place.

Jarod sighed heavily and dropped it, there was no point in arguing with her, but it made things much more difficult for him. “Why did you bring me here?"

“I was given permission after the meeting that I could let Bailey meet you." She said as though it was obvious.

“But why? You didn’t need me for that meeting, and why did you want me to meet her? So it would be easier for you to try and manipulate me?"

Gracie's eyes hardened and she slammed him across the face. “I would never use my sister like that. And you will not think about her in that manner. A tool to control you."

Jarod brought his hand up to his face and looked at her. “Then why? I don’t understand."

“You don’t need to understand Jarod.” She said harshly before softening, feeling his utter confusion. “Despite my training and me trying to control myself, I like you Jarod. After I had hurt you, you still tried to comfort me. You are a good man. And there are not many people like that around here. I want to show Bailey not all men will boss you around, hurt you when you are bad. Not to mention if she didn’t meet you after a few days with me spending time with you, she would start to bug me about who you are." And Grace knew personally how annoying that could be.

“I am sorry,” Jarod said genuinely. He was normally much better at reading people, but he was having an inordinate amount of trouble with trying to figure her out.

Bailey wandered back to the new room happily with a plate full of sandwiches. She was well liked here by the staff and they had been happy to slip her the treats once they knew she had a handler's permission. They all knew Grace had just been given the hottest new assignment, and although she wasn’t Bailey's handler, that was a minor technicality they were glad to look over.

Gracie looked at him. “It’s alright, I should have realised you would think I was up to something letting her meet you. But understand this Jarod, I don’t care what goes on, Bailey is my number one priority. I will keep her safe and out of harms way. I will not use her, not even to save my life, or yours." She told him deadly serious.

He nodded again, impressed with her level of commitment to her little sister. He could hear the integrity in her words, but at the same time, he just knew the own hole he was in just got a lot deeper.

She looked up as the door opened and a smile came to her face naturally. “I hope you used your manners Bailey.” She said, placing the possum on the bed gently and got up and took the plate from her.

“I did,” She said, rushing over to check on Walter. “I am not four anymore Gracie, I know how to behave."

Gracie smirked, “I should hope so.” She climbed onto the bed and put the plate between them. “Do you think Walter might like some?” She asked as she took once for herself and bit into it, “Man I have missed this.” She said handing one to Jarod, “Chances are you won’t like it."

Jarod took it, sniffing at it. He watched the two of them eating it with obvious relish and Bailey fed a small piece of bread to the little possum. He took a bite and had to fight not to spit it out. His hand came up to cover his mouth, his face twisting in a grimace.

Gracie watched him struggling with it and reached over, opening the bread, "Not spread thick, it will do you good to swallow that Jarod." Gracie ordered him in a gentle voice.

He forced it down, swallowing heavily. “That is just awful."

Bailey giggled and munched on her sandwich. She knew Americans must be different. Everybody loved vegemite in this country.

"Oh come now, it’s not that bad. But I should have known you wouldn’t like it. Pretty much anyone from overseas that tries it doesn’t. It’s an acquired taste, like red wine. You have to be raised on it." She said, trying to keep the smile from her face.

"Red wine is very nice, this stuff is... it is horrid.” He looked down at the sandwich and shook his head.

Gracie snorted. “You're right Bailey, he doesn’t know good food.” She watched Bailey eating hers, loving it.

“You want mine?” Jarod offered her.

Bailey looked at Gracie to see if it would be alright.

“Go ahead honey. I know you love it. You will have to get used to it Jarod, it’s a regular meal they give you."

“I think I prefer the... what did you call them? Grubs?” It would take some getting used to, this strange language.

Bailey shuffled forward and snatched the sandwich from him and then scooted back with her treasure.

“Witchetty grubs.” She grinned, “I’ll give you a live one next time. And Bailey, please do not snatch, it is rude, now apologise to Jarod.” She chided her for her rudeness.

Bailey hung her head and whispered. “I am sorry."

“I know you like these sandwiches, but it is not polite to snatch Bailey, you know that."

She nodded again. “I’m sorry Sir. I did not mean to be rude.” But she was still a little scared of him.

“That’s alright Bailey, I understand."

“Come here Bailey,” Gracie said patting her lap and waited while she shifted over to sit with her. Wrapping her arms around her little sister and holding her tightly. “I don’t mean to tell you off Bailey, but if you did that around your handler or an owner, you would be in lots of trouble and I don’t want to see you in trouble."

She nodded again and offered him the sandwich back.

Jarod shook his head. “You keep it, I can tell you are hungry.” He said with a soft smile, trying to show her she had nothing to be afraid of.

“Go ahead Bailey and have it, mine too if you are still hungry.” She said looking at the plate with the rest of the food.

"No, you should have it, I know you want it. We can share his.” Her voice dropped dramatically at the last word.

Gracie stroked her hair back. “Thanks honey.” She said and took a half of a sandwich and munched on it, it was getting late. Her meeting had gone for two, nearly three hours going over the security and new rules for Gracie and a lot of other boring stuff. It was just past 830 by her watch and now Bailey had to be in bed soon and she had to get Jarod back, “Why don’t you finish those sandwiches, we need to get you off to bed soon."

Bailey nodded happily, watching Jarod. She knew he was going to make trouble for all of them, but he seemed nice so far.

"Jarod, Mr Marcus seems to find it necessary to keep you in the cell you were placed in for now. Until you earn your privileges."

Jarod realised instantly that this was probably her room. He thought about that miserable little space and he sighed. “I understand.” He wasn’t sure he would ever 'earn' his way out of it, but at the moment would just have to accept it, having no other choice.

“I have taken a risk. I know I was allowed to give you a pillow and blanket, but I have given you quite a few blankets so you can lay on and cover yourself to make it a little more comfortable." She knew it was not much right now, but it was better then nothing.

“Thank you,” He said to her as he slowly got up. “It was very nice to meet you Walter, and you too Bailey."

Gracie grabbed the last sandwich and got up, “Grab Walter Bailey, I will take you back to your room."

“Yes Gracie,” She said, picking up Walter and casting a look at Jarod.

She walked them both to the door, “Wil, Jon.” She called them in, “Can you take Jarod back to his cell. Jarod, you have a medical exam at 0800, I will be there for it."

Jarod just nodded, moving towards the centre of the room, showing them he wasn’t going to offer any kind of resistance, hoping to keep himself out of the cuffs.

Jon moved over and pulled his arms harshly behind his back and snapped the cuffs on, “Let’s go. Night Gracie.” He said, kissing her good night.

"Night Jon."

Wil held his arm tightly as he smiled at Grace and Bailey. “Goodnight my two favourite girls."

Bailey giggled at him and blew him a kiss.

“Good night Wil,” She said, smiling down at Bailey, “Go home and get some rest. I will see you both tomorrow after your briefing with the new boys." She watched as they took Jarod out and led Bailey to her room down the hall. “How did you find Jarod Bailey?” She asked as they walked.

“In the room when they brought him in." It was kind of a dumb question Bailey thought, Gracie had been right there too. They didn’t find Jarod after all, it wasn’t like he was lost.

Gracie shook her head, "No Bailey, I mean did you like Jarod, what feelings did you get from him? Do you think it would be safe if I left you alone in his care?” She asked curiously as they got into Bailey's room.

“He would never hurt me,” She stated calmly, “But he is very mixed up. He hates it and he feels sorry too. He is thinking about so much stuff I had to turn off cos it was starting to get hard to sort it all out."

“Yeah I got that too from him.” She nodded, thinking. “Come, climb into your pyjamas. Finish this if you want it.” Gracie handed her the last sandwich as she took Walter, placing the baby possum in the box of blankets and the stuff toy under the heating lamp, she made sure he was safe and warm before turning back to Bailey.

Bailey climbed into bed, glad Gracie was back. Nobody tucked her in at night and she knew she was way too old for it now, but she still liked it.

Gracie stroked her hair back, watching her with love and warmth and kissed her head. She fixed the blankets up. “I will see about getting you to be allowed to sleep with me some nights. But for tonight, you will have to sleep here." She would love to be allowed to have Bailey sleep with her once or twice a week, just to be able to hold her and watch over her.

Bailey nodded, happy for the vague promise. “Will you stay until I fall asleep?"

“Yes of course.” She said, sitting on the side of the bed and kept brushing her hair back, “Would you like me to sing you to sleep?” She asked gently.

She nodded eagerly. “And do I get my presents in the morning?"

“If they are here, yes you do. Now close your eyes and sleep.” She told her gently and started to sing an aboriginal lullaby she had been taught at a young age.

Bailey closed her eyes and listened to her voice, relaxing in the feeling of love she received from her. Lots of people liked her here, but nobody loved her like Gracie did.

When Gracie knew she was sound asleep, she gently got up and switched off the lights, shutting her door and moving to her room. She had to study the briefing file she was given before she could sleep.
Medical Exam by jacci
Author's Notes:
Sorry about the wait. Was good this time, had everything edited and ready to put this chapter up so everyone could read but... Fanfiction wouldnt let me up load it, so this time, it wasnt my fault. lol. As always, this is co-written, hope you all enjoy.
Gracie had received her bags when she woke early. She spent the better part of an hour putting things into her draws and around her room, the little odd and ends she had collected over the years. But what she was most interested in was the arm load of presents she had bought and wrapped for Bailey. She couldn’t wait to give them to her.

Bailey was awake and washed, ready for the day much earlier than usual. She was so excited about her presents, wondering what they could be. She didn’t get presents very often and figured Gracie must have been really good if they were going to let her bring things back with her. It had been hard without Gracie here, but she was a big girl now and had to 'adapt'. She didn’t really like that word, they only used it when things were going to change, and change in a bad way. But all of that was forgotten as she sat on her freshly made bed, staring at the door as if her sheer will could make Gracie come faster.

Gracie struggled with the door and finally opened it. She smiled as she saw Bailey changed and ready for the day, her bed made, room cleaned up. She was also so good when it came to things like that. She moved over to the bed and dumped the arm loads of presents, “Morning Bailey." Though she wasn’t expecting much of a response when there were presents involved.

“Oohhhhhhhhh," Bailey said as she walked in and she saw all the presents. She jumped up, almost too excited to speak.

Gracie sat down, “Come on Bailey, calm down for me.” She handed her one of the presents, it was hard and heavy. She had found this book on American animals that would tell Bailey what they were, showed the pictures of what they looked like, how they lived, where they lived and what they ate.

“Gracie,” She said with a huge grin, hardly paying attention to what was in her hands. "Is ALL of this stuff for me?"

"Yes, everything. Why don’t you go ahead and open them. See what they are.” She would die to be able to celebrate Christmas with Bailey, now knowing about it. And she wished she knew both of their birthdays.

She took a deep breath and started to unwrap the first one with infinite care. She knew it was a book, but didn’t know what it was about. She had thought about cheating, but this was too much fun, so she shut herself off from most of Gracie’s thoughts so as not to ruin the surprise.

Gracie watched anxiously, hoping Bailey would like it. She had gotten her a stuffed animal, it was meant to be an American icon. She had given her a yogi bear, finding it not only cute but funny. She had some nice jewellery and I Love New York t-shirt.

When the book was finally revealed, Bailey looked up at her with a huge smile. “Ohhhh Gracie, this is soooo good. Thank you.” She put the book down on the bed carefully and then threw herself at her sister, all the other presents momentarily forgotten.

Gracie almost fell backwards and bit back her scream as Bailey collided with her sore ribs. "You're welcome honey, go ahead and open the rest.” She wasn’t going to let a bit of pain stop her from enjoying such a wonderful sight.

“Sorry,” She said instantly when she realised that she had hurt her. She had forgotten all about it in her excitement.

“Don’t worry about it Bailey, go on, I want to see if you like what else I got for you."

She nodded and picked up another one, unwrapping is just as carefully to find a large stuffed animal that looked like... She wasn’t sure what it looked like. She frowned in concentration. "I will call him Albert,” She said. "But Gracie, animals are not supposed to wear jackets."

Gracie laughed, "Yes I know they aren’t. But this is a cartoon character Bailey. His name is Yogi Bear.” She told her with a smile, her confusion a nice sight to see, glad she wasn’t the only one confused all the time.

"Yogi?” She asked. "He doesn’t look like Yogi to me, he looks like Albert."

“Well you can call him Albert if you like. He is yours." Bailey always seemed to come up with the most old-fashioned names for her pets. And she had to wonder where they came from.

She thought about it for a minute, her face turning serious before she sighed. “No, if his name is Yogi, then it is Yogi, but that sounds like a strange name, but I like him,” She declared formally.

"Bailey, you call him what you want. There is no reason you can’t change his name. Come on, open the rest." Gracie said, not sure who was more excited.

She worked her way through the pile, ohhh and ahhing over them all. When she found the t-shirt, she pulled her own off and put it on. It was way too big on her. “Gracie?” She asked. “Why do I love New York, and who is it?"

"It is a city in the US Bailey. People buy these things while they are holidaying. It’s called a souvenir."

“Ohhh,” She nodded, thinking about the new word. “Why?” She asked, looking at the shirt, wishing she had a mirror so she could see herself in it.

"I don’t know why Bailey. They just do. A reminder I guess. And I thought you might like it is all.” She shrugged. She picked up the necklace and put it on her. “This is an emerald, to go with your beautiful green eyes." Bailey’s eyes were an even deeper shade of green than her own.

"It is beautiful Gracie,” She said fingering it. She didn’t understand that it was worth a lot of money and was more interested in the book really, and the weird looking bear named Yogi.

"I’m glad you like it.” She smiled and kissed her brow. "I have to get going. But I am planning on going out after Jarod's SIM, I will see about taking you with me for a ride." Grace offered.

“Outside?” She asked in a whisper.

"Yeah. It won’t just be how we use to sit near the door and watch the sunset, I need to go into town to see someone.” She had only sat outside with her a few times, before she left on her assignment and Bailey was very young and probably couldn’t remember.

"Into town?” She asked, her eyes opening wide at the thought of it. It was scary but exciting too.

"Yeah.” She nodded and climbed to her feet. "I will be back after the SIM to let you know what is happening."

Bailey nodded happily, hugging her Yogi to her chest, clad in her new shirt. She would play with Walter for a while and read her book until they came for her. When breakfast came, Walter would need to eat too.

She gave Bailey a kiss, "I'll see you later Bailey, be a good girl for me.” She told her as she walked to the door.

“Always," Bailey said as she opened the door. “Thanks Gracie, I love everything."

"I’m glad you do.” She smiled at her and walked out. She was so happy Bailey liked her gifts and walked to the medical wing with a grin on her face. She saw Jarod enter just before for her and followed in. “Good morning."

“Morning," Jarod said quietly. He was tired, having had some horrendous dreams last night and the concrete floor had not done anything but aggravate his sore and abused body.

Grace moved over and stood next to him, “Good morning nurse Jane. We need a full medical, body samples too.” She knew the blood test would be fine, but she also knew this nurse would be a bit more... personal when taking sperm samples from Jarod. And would probably enjoy it immensely.

Jarod stiffened a little at those words and looked at her sharply.

“Don’t look like that Jarod, show some respect.” She scolded him. “This is a medical exam. You don’t think we won’t need body samples?"

“What kind of samples?” He asked, already guessing the answer to that.

“Never you mind,” She said ignoring him. “Nurse Jane, please start the exam.” She turned back to Jarod, “Strip."

“Can I get some privacy?” He asked in the vain hope she would leave.

“So now you are shy?” She asked him with raised eyebrows. “Now I told you to strip.” Gracie barked at him. She wanted this done as soon as possible, not put up with Jarod's silly behaviour.

Jane stood by and watched, wondering if he was going to cooperate or she was going to have to call the guards in. She would have much preferred the time alone with him, she could make it fun for him.

Jarod shook his head and crossed his arms across his chest, letting her know he was not going to cooperate with this any further.

Gracie sighed. "Jarod, I am not in the mood for these games. I just had a nice morning with Bailey, and I will not let you ruin it. I need the best report I can get from everyone involved with this project so I am allowed to take her outside for a while. And before you say it Jarod, I am not trying to manipulate you. I am just asking a favour. Be stubborn tomorrow for all I care. But not today. Today I want to take her outside and won’t be allowed if Mr Marcus hears I can’t even get you to go through a medical without a fight.” She said softly, pleading.

Jarod scowled at her. She had told him flatly she would not use her sister, and here she was, less than a day later, using her against him. He knew that she knew he would want her to be allowed this, and he also realised that there would always be the 'just not today' excuse. Every time he dug his heels in, she would find some way to link her sister's privileges to his continued cooperation. He could see his future stretched out clearly before him.

“Excuse us nurse Jane.” Gracie said, not taking her eyes off of Jarod, waiting for her to leave.

“Of course,” She said and slipped out. This one was going to be trouble, and he would be in here lots she was guessing. But she could cope with that, knowing that they would keep hurting him until he gave in, but never enough to do any kind of real damage. And if he were in here frequently, it would certainly brighten up her days.

When she was gone, she looked at Jarod. “I am not using her against you, no matter what you think Jarod. I just don’t want to disappoint her when I go back after your SIM and say she isn’t allowed out. I know this will seem bad to you Jarod, but honestly, its not. I am just asking for you to behave, just today. Submit to this exam, do your SIM, which I promise will only be a basic problem solving one. It will not be used like the others. And the only time I will ask for you to behave like this instead of just forcing it, is on the rare occasion I can take her outside or give her something.”

Jarod shook his head, fuming silently. She could protest all she wanted, but it came down to the exact same thing. Behave or the little girl is hurt and it is your fault. Not trusting himself to speak, too angry and hurt and disappointed at the moment, he simply pulled his shirt off wordlessly and then his pants and underwear, standing naked before her.

Gracie took both his hands in hers and gasped at such strong emotions from him and forced herself to ignore him. “Jarod, listen to me. Today you be the good little project I know you were trained to be, and not say no to anything so I can do this for Bailey. Tomorrow, for all I care, you can be as stubborn as you like. Bailey will not be brought into it. I know how hurt you are right now that I am using her in your eyes. And I am sorry for that. I really am.”

He refused to look at her. “Why don’t you bring in the nurse?” He asked flatly.

“No.” She said, dropping his hands. “Not till you understand I am not using her against you.”

"Fine, I understand, now let's get on with this. And what do you care anyway, I am just your project. It is wrong for you to care about such things."

She looked at him with her green eyes, “I know it is wrong, I know the punishments if they find out. But it seems to me you have been making me do a lot of things lately that go against my training. And I am not sure if it is good or bad. I care because I can tell how hurt and upset you are over this. I never even stoped to think how you would see me asking you to behave would look like I’m using my sister against you.”

"Just call in the nurse, you are not using time efficiently, allowing emotions to interfere with your job. You have my cooperation now, accept it and be happy."

Gracie looked at him sadly and stepped away, “I’m sorry.” She whispered at his harsh tones. She was used to Jarod’s soft, friendly and quite tones, not flat emotionless ones. “Nurse Jane, can you come back please?”

Jarod understood the desire to see the outside world, and what an important day this was for Bailey and it would break his heart to take this from her. He also knew just how effective she was being used to manipulate him as well. He could still refuse, but then the sweepers would be called in and he would be subjected to the exam anyway.

Gracie waited as the nurse came back in. “He is ready for the full exam.” She said sitting on the chair to supervise.

Jarod stood perfectly still, his eyes on the ground, awaiting instructions. He had suffered enough medical exams at the Centre to know what to expect.

Jane did all the boring things first. Checked his eye sight, his heart, breathing, reflexes. Writing everything down on the chart. She got him to do some balancing tests, and checked his ears. “Is there any allergies that you know of that you have?” She asked him scribbling yet again on his new file.

"Pistachios,” He answered dutifully. The nurse seemed professional enough, and didn’t seem to want to hurt him, being gentle, but efficient.

“I will make sure your cook knows not to give you anything with nuts in it then.” She looked at him. “Any medical conditions or disease we should know about?” Jane asked in a professional voice.

“No, nothing. Only condition I have now is a gunshot, but perhaps you should test for rabies, hepatitis...” He rattled a list off to her of every possible disease that he had SIMed he might have gotten from those rats.

Jane nodded and moved to look at the wound. “Just let me clean this and stitch it. I need to take some blood as it is, so I will run a test for you.” She said, removing the blood bandage and going about cleaning and stitching it with care.

Jarod remained quiet as she tended the wound, refusing to look at Grace at all.

When it was done and freshly wrapped, she got out the syringe taking his arm, she tied the tube around it and found a vein and went about taking out a few vials of blood and marking each one.

Jarod hated this, hated being treated as if he was nothing more that something to be tested an examined.

Jane snapped on some gloves and put lubricant on her fingers. “Touch your toes please Jarod.” This was where things got fun for her and the other nurses.

He took a deep breath and closed his eyes, bending down, grabbing his ankles, awaiting the inevitable.

Jane pushed her fingers into Jarod as gently as she could and felt around for a few minutes. “Have you ever had any problems here before Jarod?” She asked as she checked him out.

“No,” He grunted, trying to remain calm. The only problems he had ever had was when people like her wanted to stick their fingers up there.

“Good to hear.” She nodded and withdrew from him. Throwing the used glove in the bin, “You may stand up.” She ordered him as she scribbled a few more notes down.

He steadied himself as he stood up, trying to pull the last shred of his dignity together.

Jane snapped on some more gloves and greased her fingers up again, she knelt in front of him and checked his penis out. “Do you have any STD’s?” She asked him professionally, loving the nervousness coming from Jarod.

“No," Jarod said, forcing himself to remain calm, looking up at the ceiling which seemed to have the most fascinating imperfections.

“The owners will be pleased to hear that.” Jane said and stood up, grabbing a container. This was what she loved the most, but she hid it well. “We need some samples from you Jarod.” Some of the nurses would let them do it themselves, but not her. She wrapped a hand around him and started moving it up and down.

“Oh no," Jarod said and backed away quickly. He would put up with many things, but not this.

Jane sighed and called in the two men outside and watched as they grabbed his arms roughly and held him still. “You do not have a say Jarod, I am just trying to do my job.” She said and started again as Jarod tried in vain to struggle in the tight grips.

Jarod had to fight the tears from falling at this latest violation. They were harvesting his right to have his own children, if he so desired and he wondered if they would use his sperm to impregnate women, if there would be his children raised their entire lives in a place like this. He finally stopped fighting and just let them do what they were going to do. Not even the Centre had been this cruel in taking what they had wanted.

Jane brought Jarod to life and kept at it until he had deposited his sample into the container. Setting it aside, so the lab techs could take it and store it, she took the gloves off. “We will need a few more samples, but that will be done next time. Miss Gracie, I am finished with your project.”

“Thank you. You all may leave us now.” She said, watching as the nurse took the blood and sperm samples and her file and left with the two sweepers. “Get dressed Jarod.”

He refused to look at any of them as the nurse finished him off, trying to fight the inevitable. He picked his clothes up off the floor and dressed himself quickly. He wanted to say something mean to her, but he kept his mouth shut, knowing it wouldn’t help the situation.

“Have you been fed yet Jarod?” She asked as he dressed, watching him carefully.

“No,” He answered dutifully. Food was the very last thing on his mind at the moment. He had been trying to ignore his hunger for a while now and guessed he had just found a really good way to take his mind off of it. Now he just felt hollow and numb, trying desperately not to think about this latest violation.

“So I am to presume you have not been allowed to use the bathroom either yet?” Feeding and bathroom trips always came hand in hand.

“No,"

“Let’s go then. Bathroom first, then food and drink.” She said, standing up. Grace walked him out of the room, watching as he was gripped tightly by the two men. “We are going to the bathroom.” She informed them, walking with the three men to the public bathroom. Gracie looked at the open showers and toilets in the clean room.

Jarod didn’t resist as he was pulled along behind them. He felt the dull ache of what it was like to be treated as a possession again, to be so dehumanised. He had lived most of his life that way of course, but it was such a terrible shock to him now. He had become too accustomed to his life outside of the Centre, and even though he never took his freedom for granted, he didn’t really think he would ever have to give it up. He played a game with them, always half a step ahead. This had just been incredibly dumb luck, and now he was even worse off than he had been when Lyle had caught him.

“Wait outside.” She ordered the guards, “Jarod, you may wash and use the toilet,” She said, though more as an order. There were no cubicles in this room. The shower roses on one wall of the tiled room, the toilets on the other. All open for anyone to see what you were doing.

Jarod waited for the sweepers grips to be removed and then he pulled his clothes off, washing himself quickly, being careful of his freshly bandaged arm. He was not surprised to see that the showers were cold.

Gracie looked up as she heard the bathroom door opened and a girl of about 16 walk in. She watched as she ignored both people in there and stripped and stood next to Jarod’s ‘shower’ and turned her own tap on and washing herself.

Jarod saw the girl and felt like he was some kind of pervert exposing himself to her. He understood that was not the case, but it just felt so wrong. He finished up quickly, looking anywhere but at the naked girl. “Do I get a towel?” He asked, standing there dripping.

She looked at the girl’s towel back to Jarod, “Not yet. You haven’t earnt it yet. After you complete the SIM successfully, I think that will be the next step. A towel.”

He sighed and leant down to pick up his clothes and used them to start drying himself off, guessing he would have to wear damp clothes all day.
Bailey Goes Outside by jacci
Author's Notes:
Thanks for the reviews guys, they are wonderful. Hopefully it didnt take me as long to update this chap as it did last one. Hope you all enjoy! As always, this is co-written.
"I will see you in the SIM Jarod.” She said, calling in the sweepers to take him back to his room to wait.

Jarod didn’t bother responding as they dragged him away. He was fully capable of walking by himself, but they seemed to take a perverse delight in grabbing him. It was extremely difficult for him to stop himself from fighting them, but he reminded himself how pointless it was and just went along with them.

Gracie moved to the testing rooms on level 17 and saw Collins outside watching Jarod sitting at the desk through the glass on the door. "Is he ready?” She asked without bothering with small talk. "Are YOU ready?” She asked as well.

He looked at Jarod, not really sure. "I don’t know to be honest. I have watched the DSA's and as far as I can tell, all Sydney really did was be there for him to talk to, keep him focused and relaxed. Sydney had no real expertise in anything, just manipulating his emotions, trying to keep him balanced. He doesn’t know me, probably won’t like me, I may not be able to do anything for him, not until he gets used to me.” He turned to face her. "But I will try." He needed time to adjust and Collins would be viewed as nothing more than a replacement, and a resented one at that. He was expecting hostility at worse and apathy at best.

"That’s all I ask.” She nodded and opened the door, walking in. "Jarod, after this you will be allowed to have lunch." Gracie told him. She wondered how bad the food was at the Centre, thinking either way it was pretty good here. Lunch today was sandwiches and fresh fruit salad. Healthy but tasty.

Jarod looked up at her, wondering what had happened to breakfast. He saw the man by her side and guessed he was going to be the SIM manager or whatever they might call him.

"Jarod, I am Dr Collins, pleased to meet you." Collins said to him in his most pleasantly professional voice.

Grace moved over and sat on the corner of the desk, watching them. She listened as Jarod's stomach growled loudly, almost in response to Collins greeting. She knew a man of his size would have to eat quite a lot, but he had only just been feed a couple of hours ago.

"What do you want me to do?" Jarod asked looking up at the man with disinterest.

Gracie frowned. "A SIM. As far as I am aware it is a basic problem solving one. But I am more concerned about your stomach. Breakfast was only a few hours ago.”

"For some of us with special privileges. Guess I am going to have to earn that too."

"Now Jarod, we can’t do this if you are being so hostile, you need to relax, nobody here wants anything but for this to go well." Collins wanted to work with him, but if he wouldn’t cooperate, then he was more than happy just to observe. He would give in eventually and Collins would be there, prepared and ready.

"What are you talking about Jarod?" Gracie asked, ignoring the man behind her. She knew he was doing what he thought was right, trying to calm Jarod down. But right now she was more worried with the fact that he hadn’t been fed.

He looked at her, trying to decide if she was toying with him again. "I guess breakfast is on my 'to earn' list, along with things like towels, warm water, bed, bathroom privileges... the list is pretty endless." Jarod made no attempt to keep the animosity out of his voice, he wanted it clear to everybody that he was not happy here and he would resist them with everything he had.

"No Jarod, it’s not. You don’t earn basic food, they will always feed you. I already explained how food went. You get fed, if the cooks are in a good mood, it will be something a bit more special and if you do extra well, you may be allowed to tell them what you want for the meal."

He sighed, the animosity running it’s course. His moods were swinging and he didn’t really care to try and control them. Anger swung from anger to depression to apathy, and he did nothing to try and stabilise himself, just allowing himself to wallow. He did not really care about the intricacies of the internal politics of this place. "What do you want me to do?” He repeated, just wanting to get it over with.

Collins saw his attitude and thought that this did not bode well. It was so much easier with projects born and raised here than those they had nabbed from the outside, there was always such a long period of attitude adjustment.

Gracie's mouth dropped a little as she realised why he had this attitude over food and earning it. "You didn’t get breakfast did you?” She asked not caring about anything else right now, wondering what had happened to his morning meal.

"No, what are we doing?" He wanted this over and done with, he was not about to be their performing seal for breakfast. He would starve to death rather than be manipulated like that.

Ignoring his question, she shook her head. "They must not have gotten the order you are here still. Last meal was a little thing we do for the newbie’s. I will talk to the cooks after this and make sure they remember to send your food. I am sorry Jarod.” She apologised sincerely. She may do many things to him, but starving him was one thing she hated to do and would try to get out of it if it were possible.

"Thank you,” He told her and then looked at her companion. If she wanted him as a project, he would be one, she couldn’t have it both ways. "What do you want me to do?” He tried directing the question to him instead. This girl was hard for him to deal with. He felt sorry for her, and then she did something completely callous and he wanted to hate her for it, but he just couldn’t bring himself to do it. He knew she was a victim of her upbringing, programmed to do what she was doing. He was torn alternately between wanting to save her and bringing her to his special form of justice. It would be just easier to deal with the man.

Gracie clicked her fingers for the file and gave it to Jarod. "We need you to perform this for us please."

He took the file and flicked through it. He looked at it and wondered if they were joking. It was just a simple series of mathematical problems. "Alright, I will need some time, and something sweet to eat, helps me concentrate."

Gracie snorted. "Nice try Jarod. We know how it worked in the Centre. You were never allowed anything sweet, let alone food while you worked." She couldn’t blame the guy for trying though. Had to give him points at trying to manipulate them into giving him sweets.

"I know but that was years ago. It has been a long while since I worked like that, I am used to it now. If you want this quicker, if not... I don’t really care."

"As long as it is done, and done correctly Jarod, I don’t care how long it takes you. And we know this sort of thing would be done within no more then an hour and a half, and that was when you were ten."

"I need a pen and some paper, and some quiet,” He looked at the two of them pointedly, making it clear he didn’t want either of them there.

Collins looked at her, wondering what she would do. They couldn’t just leave him in here alone to work.

Gracie got up and retrieved a pencil and some paper and handed it to him and sat on the corner of the desk again, watching him. She made it very clear no one was leaving Jarod alone, and that he had to live with that.

When he realised she wasn’t going to leave, he leant back in the chair, picked up the pencil and paper and got to work without a word, working slowly and methodically, as if he were unsure of what he was doing. After he had ascertained that there was no way for them to use this in a negative way, he had decided to do it to make it a little easier on himself. He had to pick his battles and this would be foolish to waste valuable energy on earning himself a punishment. They already knew what and who he was, so it wasn’t like he was giving them anything they didn’t already know.

When Jarod placed the paper back on the table, Gracie smiled. He had only been 45 minutes. Picking it up she looked through it and frowned. "This makes sense to you?” She asked, the maths looking like a LOTE.

He shrugged. "Yes. Was that it?"

She narrowed her eyes at the paper and looked closer and it still made no sense to her. Grace finally handed the results back to Collins to go have them checked out. "Yes, that’s all of the work today." She told him, glad he had done it.

Collins took it, flicking through it, it meant nothing to him as well, it had only been a test, the first step in what he guessed was going to be a slow and lengthy process of teaching Jarod to cooperate. But if even half of what he had heard about him was true, it would all be worth it.

"I'll have the sweepers take you back to your room now Jarod, and I will bring some food down soon." She did not want him to miss yet another meal and it was not fair on him. He had done the exam and his work, he shouldn’t be punished like this.

Jarod stood up and moved towards the doors without a backwards glance, waiting for them to take him. He knew he was behaving poorly, but at the moment he just didn’t care. He was sore, tired, cold and hungry. His clothes were damp and he had just had a 7 year old girl used against him effectively, which did not give him much hope for any kind of real resistance. He had expected more torture, the threat of physical violence and pain, not little girls.

Gracie watched as Jarod was grabbed and led back down to his room, "Make sure Mr Marcus gets that after it has been checked over.” She told Collins as she walked out.

"I will,” He told her distractedly, on his own way out.

Gracie went to the medical wing and grabbed some pain killers before getting some hot food from the kitchen. Just like her little sister, she was loved in this place and the cook had no worries about giving her a nice big hot meal and some coffee and dessert. Walking, balancing the tray, she made her way to Jarod's room and let herself in to find him sitting back in the same corner. The 6 or so thick blankets and pillow still on the floor like a makeshift bed.

Jarod looked up at her, trying hard not to resent her. He understood completely and he even believed that she believed that she wasn’t using her sister. He was grateful when he saw she had made good on her promise and brought the food and he promised himself to try and be civil. "Thank you,” He said, not moving from his spot. It was the least visible spot in the room from the camera and that offered him some small comfort.

Gracie sat down next to him and offered the tray. "We have a small bowl of spaghetti Bolognese, a roast dinner with gravy, a cup of coffee, and I thought about you wanting something sweet, so I got some ice cream.” She said, pushing the tray in front of Jarod.

"Ice cream?” He said with genuine interest, pushing everything else away.

"Yeah. I didn’t know what flavour you liked so just got vanilla, hope that’s ok.” She smiled seeing how the hot food, which to most people would have been a comfort was pushed aside. She dug into her pockets and brought out three pain killers. "I also got you those, thought it might help."

He took them from her and put them on the tray. "Thank you,” He said once again, digging into the ice cream, closing his eyes as the taste, texture, everything about it took him away to someplace else. Jarod had experienced many wonderful things since he had escaped from the blandness of the Centre, but nothing was as close to his heart as ice cream. He still remembered that very first taste, it was one of the premiere experiences of his life. And no matter how bad things looked, he could always lose himself from his reality for a few moments eating ice cream.

Gracie sat there watching him, amused at the pure pleasure on his face as he ate the ice cream. "Thank you for behaving. I should be allowed now to take Bailey outside. And she will just love it. She is rarely allowed out."

He nodded, reminding himself that she did not see this from his perspective. That she was only young and didn’t know anything different. "I am sure she will have a nice time.” He started eating the main meal slowly once the ice cream was all gone.

"I know she will. We are going in town, getting some medicine from someone I know to help heal these bruises. I can bring something back for your arm. I’ll get enough to use each day, and there won’t be a scar left form the stiches at all." Grace said, trying to please him, unsure why. She thought if there wasn’t a scar left, it would make him happy his body wasn’t ruined.

"I don’t really care,” He told her. It was just another testament to the abuse he had suffered in his life. One more scar wasn’t going to make any difference to him one way or the other.

Gracie sighed heavily. "I guess I’ll leave you to it then.” She said sadly as she stood up, mindful of her ribs. She was upset Jarod hadn’t been more appreciative over her trying to lessen, or even get rid of his scar.

"Thank you for the food, and the tablets,” He told her, taking them and washing them down with the coffee.

Gracie simply nodded and moved to the door, "Someone will be in in a few minutes to collect the tray, anything uneaten will be taken. Good day Jarod."

"Have a good time,” He said as she closed the door.

Gracie went to her room first and got changed into a short skirt and t-shirt and a pair of thongs before moving to Bailey's room and walking in. "Bailey? You here?” She asked looking around the half decent room.

When Bailey wasn’t in her room, seeing Walter asleep in the box, she left and went in search of her sister. Finding her in a testing room with her handler, Gracie didn’t bother knocking and just walked in. She quite enjoyed being here with the perks of being a handler.

Bailey smiled when she saw her, but didn’t dare get up.

"Miss Jones.” She said politely, nodding her head, moving over to Bailey and taking her hand, making her stand to her feet.

"Miss Jones?" Bailey asked softly. "Is it time to go yet?"

"No, it’s not Bailey.” She said watching them with disapproval, "Gracie, what do you think you are doing? We are working," Of course she knew Gracie had the best new assignment, good for her for being promoted but how dare she come into a lesson and take her project from her.

Bailey sat back down on the chair, taking her hand back and looking at the floor.

"Come on Bailey, we are going.” She said, picking her up on her hip, hissing at the pain. "Miss Jones, I have permission to take her from Mr Marcus, you can check with him."

"I’m too big for you to carry now,” She whispered to her, knowing she was hurt.

"I will do that Grace. I do no appreciate you interrupting us, let alone taking her in the middle of working." She said in clear disapproval.

"No you're not Bailey,” Gracie said gently. "You can finish your work when we get back.” She said, turning and walking out with Bailey.

"Will I get in trouble for this?” She asked very quietly, torn between fear and excitement. Gracie was a handler now, so things were different.

"No, we have permission Bailey. I wouldn’t take you unless I was allowed.” She walked back with her on her hip to her room and put her down. "Go get changed into going out clothes we are heading into town.”

Bailey didn’t know about going out clothes. She had never really gone out before but she put her New York t-shirt on and left her normal pants on.

Gracie sighed and led Bailey to her room and searched through her clothes. She found a skirt she had brought when she first was out and slipped it onto Bailey, removing her pants and used a belt for it to keep it up. It was way too small for Grace now, since she had hips and a butt, but Bailey didn’t, so it would fit her a lot better, albeit, a little too big. "There, that’s better."

She fidgeted for a moment, and then forgot about the clothes as the realisation that she was going to go outside sunk in, and became very nervous.

"Come on. We need to get the car and get going. We only have two hours.” She took Bailey's hand and led her out. It took 15 minutes alone to get to one of the exits to a car park.

Bailey looked around, drinking it all in, too excited to do much of anything but gape. Even the clothes felt so different. She was going outside, and that changed everything, although, deep down she was very scared, and she hoped Walter would be alright all by himself. She had seen outside a few times but had never really GONE outside. Outside was almost like some kind of mythical place that other people came from or went to. It was scary but exciting too.

Getting to the car park, she spoke with the guard and he handed the keys to her assigned vehicle and she walked Bailey over opening the door and letting her climb in. "I know you haven’t been in a car before Bailey,” She said as she pulled the seat belt across her, "But this is called a seat belt, in case we got into an accident and the car crashed, this will keep you safe.” She told her before walking around and climbing in herself.

Bailey doubted that very much, but she was too busy gaping at the car and the car park to argue with her. This could not have been more exotic for her than if she was going to the moon.

Starting the old Ute, she drove out to the exit and up the ramp. She waited until the trap door roof rose up and she pulled out into the open. Grace stoped the car and watched in the rear view mirror as the huge door slowly closed and became invisible again before heading off to where she needed to go.

Bailey’s jaw dropped completely. She knew about outside of course, had been on the edge of it, but being in it was so different. Lots of people that worked there come from 'outside' but it was so big, it went on forever and it was so bright and very hot.

Gracie glanced at Bailey a few times as she drove. "You don’t remember when you were out last do you Bailey? You were only small. About 3 years old I think.” She said, watching her smile. It wasn’t anything special, at the moment just endless red grounds, a few gum trees and shrubs every now and again.

"No,” She whispered, “I was just a baby then. Oh Gracie, is this what it is like in New York too? And where you were?”

Gracie laughed, "Oh no Bailey. You won’t find any place on earth like it is here. Nowhere. New York was a city. Do you know what they are?" She asked, expecting Bailey to tell her off for asking such an idiotic question.

"Places with lots of people. I am not completely stupid Grace,” She said, giving her a stern look.

"I’m sorry Bailey.” She apologised, trying not to smirk. "Well New York has lots and lots of people. Millions and millions. It has more people in that one city then we have in all of Australia."

"No way,” She said in disbelief. "How can one tiny city have more people than our whole country?" But she didn’t take her eyes from all around her. Although, she was a little bit disappointed. It was all pretty much the same, just lots and lots of it.

"Because it’s not one tiny city Bailey. It’s very big. Most people that have lived in New York their whole lives don’t even know 1 tenth of it.” She promised herself she would take her there one day, take her to the city that never slept.

"Ohhh," Bailey said and then turned to Grace. "Gracie?"

"Yeah Bailey?” She asked, glancing at her between driving on the ground, no roads were around here.

She let out a breath and frowned. "I thought it would be... more exciting. It's just more of the same stuff over and over and over again Gracie, and it’s really, really hot too."

She smiled. "It’s very, very hot because we are in the middle of the country Bailey. There is no ocean breeze and the sun is hotter here. And I know it’s not very exciting. We are in the middle of nowhere. Maybe it will be more exciting when we get to one of the small towns. I promise Bailey, one day I will take you to a city. To the beach and waters." And she swore to herself one day she would. She wouldn’t let Bailey spend her whole life here. She would get permission to take her to one of the coasts and show her around.

"I hope so Gracie, I don’t think I like this very much."

"Very few people actually like this part of open land.” She told her as they made the 45 minute drive to one of the closer towns.

She nodded, hoping that this town they were going to was nicer. She hoped they had environmental controls as well. This being hot was not good.

Grace had been thinking how unfair it was on Bailey not to be allowed out more often. She was always so well behaved. She wanted to take her to Broome's beautiful beaches, Cairns tropical rain forests, Sydney's perfect city. Gracie wanted her to see her country, she wanted to take her back to America and show her what New York City was.

"I don’t think I like this Gracie, it is sticky."

Gracie reached forward and turned the air con on and wound the windows up. "This should help a little.” She said, feeling the cold, acritical air blowing into the car.

"Why didn’t you do that already?” She asked petulantly.

Gracie looked at her sister as she was told off. "I didn’t think we needed it. It’s not really that hot." But Gracie had forgotten she was used to the hot and cold weathers now, her sister wasn’t. Not to mention, Grace had spent a lot more time out in this heat then Bailey ever had or will.

"It’s not hot?" Bailey cried in exasperation staring at her sister in disbelief.

"You are just used to the cold air back home is all.” She said as they started to enter the town, a house here, a car there, slowly life began to show.

She looked at the small amount of activity. The houses all seemed very dirty and very small and she just bet they were hot inside too. "Why don’t these people come and live with us, I bet it is nicer there than here."

"Because this is their home. They like living here. They like their jobs. I don’t think they will like living underground being projects like we do. Each to their own Bailey."

She tried to imagine life differently than it might be back at home. It was nice and clean and cool there and people were nice to her and she was good at her job. She didn’t really like this place at all, and she hadn’t seen a single animal yet.

As they pulled up to the town centre and parked the car, people walking around, shops open and doing business, cars driving passed she turned to look at Bailey. "No speaking about home or what we do ok Bailey. These people are not authorised to know." If any of the wrong people were told by Bailey, all hopes of being allowed to bring her out again were gone.

Bailey understood that and although this was a bit more exciting, it was still too hot and she was afraid now, she didn’t know any of these people. "Gracie,” She whispered.

"It’s ok Bailey.” She climbed out and walked around to her side and opened the door and unbuckled the belt. "There is nothing to be scared about. These people are very friendly."

Bailey took her hand, and moved close to her. Her palm was sticky, just like the rest of her, and she was blinking in the brightness. "I won’t be scared,” She promised.

"I know, you are a brave girl.” She said, lifting her up to her hip, blocking out the pain and holding her close. She had Wil go change the rest of her American money for Australian yesterday when he went home. Grace had about $700 on her. "Why don’t we go get what I need first, then look quickly in some of the shops?” She suggested.

Bailey nodded, looking around, trying to take in everything at once.

She walked to one of the small shops and walked in. She looked around and saw no one so Grace sat Bailey down on the ground. "Stay here Bailey, don’t touch anything or walk off. I’ll be back in a second.” She said as she walked through the back to find who she was looking for.

She smiled as she moved closer to him, "Hello Enyeto,” She said warmly, forgetting how banged up her face was. She hadn’t seen this old man in years and missed him. But time was short, this was a simple in and out. She could catch up with him another time.

Enyeto looked up at her and shook his head. "Miss Gracie, you been getting into trouble 'gain."

"Sure have.” She smiled and stood in front of him. "I am sorry. I can’t stay, I have to get back quickly today, but I was wondering if you had some ointments for these bruises to get them down quicker?” Grace asked, knowing he would have something here that smelt bad enough to actually work.

He stood up and looked at them critically. "Is bad Miss Gracie,” He said slowly, "But don’t you worry none, old Enyeto will fix you up. Most as good as new."

"Thanks.” She smiled at him. Gracie wouldn’t show him her ribs, all she wanted right now was to get the bruises off of her face so she wasn’t a walking information board of what happens when you are bad.

"You have be more careful Miss Gracie, you gone and got yourself right banged up.” He got what he needed and handed them to her, looking at her critically.

"Yes I know. I promise not to come back in here looking like this again. One more thing. I need something to heal up a wound so there is no scar. Got anything left?" Jarod had told her he didn’t care about it, but she did.

He shook his head at her. "A girl so young and pretty as you should not be worrying 'bout such things Miss Gracie.” He rummaged around in his things and gave her a jar of smelly ointment. "Use this, is miracle cure,” He laughed.

"Thanks.” She dug into her skirt pocket and took out a $50 note and handed it to him. "You're the miracle cure."

"This gonna buy me some miracle cure too,” He grinned, looking at the note, thinking about the bottle of whiskey it would buy him.

"Stay away from the drinking.” She warned him. "I'll see you next time.” Grace said and walked out the door and into the front of the shop. "Hey Bailey, ready to go have a look around?" Grace asked, the bag of smelly ointments and creams in her hand.

Bailey nodded, having looked at everything there was to look at in here already. It was hot and dusty and there was nothing to do.

Taking her by the hand she walked her though the small town and into the lolly shop. "Pick anything you want Bailey."

"Ohhhhhhhhhh,” She said, looking at all the treats on offer. "Anything?"

"Anything.” She nodded and watched with a smile, trying not to laugh at Baileys eagerness.

Bailey didn’t know what to get really so she picked a little bit of lots of things that looked good, making numerous trips to deposit things on the counter.

She watched Bailey happily and asked the lady to all of her lollies in a separate bag. She added a small pile for herself, then another pile for Jarod. Grace paid for them and took the plastic bag and gave it to Bailey to hold, taking her other hand. "You ready to go home now?"

"Is that it?” She asked, wondering if this New York was much bigger. She still didn’t believe MILLIONS of people could live there, Gracie was just teasing her.

"There isn’t much to do in this town. And we are almost out of time, we need to get home and that takes 45 minutes.” She said, walking her to the car and letting her in, buckling her up. Gracie placed her items behind the seats and started the car, making her way back home following the invisible roads. She was careful not to run over any animal that might run in front of her while they drove through the wild land.

Bailey chatted on the way home, but soon grew tired because of the heat. Even with the air-conditioning on, it seemed unbearably hot.

Finally parking the car underground again, Gracie grabbed the bags and moved to Bailey and lifted her out gently, she was fast asleep and Gracie struggled to carry her and shut the door and locked the car. Making her way inside, dropping the keys off to the guard, she carried Bailey to her room and lay her down gently on her bed.

"Gracie?” She asked as she was laid down, all nice and cool again.

"Mmmm?"

"I think I like it better in here."

Gracie stroked her hair back. "That’s alright, you can like it better in here. You have a nap before dinner.” She said, watching her.

"Yes Gracie, thanks for showing me outside Gracie,"

"I'll show you better places next time.” She said standing up, putting Bailey's lollies on her dresser. "See you later honey.” Grace blew her a kiss, and walked out, dimming the lights so she could go to sleep.

"Bye Gracie,” She whispered, drifting off to sleep still in her outside clothes.

Grace dumped her lot of things in her room before going to Jarod's cell with the bag, and his certain little goodies. She didn’t think he would like the ointment for his arm much, she knew how bad some of these things could smell. Opening the door, she walked in, Jarod in his usual spot. Gracie was dirty with red dirt from her trip bit didn’t care, even though Bailey had whined about the heat, she had enjoyed the trip.

Jarod looked up, glad at the moment for any respite from the boredom. "I see you got to go, did you take Bailey with you?” He asked her.

"Sure did. She didn’t like it much thought,” She said, sitting down next to Jarod.

"She didn’t?” He asked in surprise. "I suppose it is pretty frightening.” He was remembering the first time he had snuck out, how exhilarated and scared he had been.

"Not so much that. It was boring." She couldn’t blame her much, it was quite boring out here.

"Oh," Jarod said, eyeing off the packets she had, and sniffing experimentally.

"And she thought it was way too hot. She asked why the people that lived in the houses we saw wouldn’t rather live here."

"It would probably be quite a shock to her system but I am glad she got to go.”

"Me too. I will try to take her to more exciting places next time.” She moved over to sit in front of Jarod. "I brought you back a couple of things." Grace said, hoping he liked them.

"I hope I don’t have to eat it,” He said, unable to hide his disgust at the smell any longer.

"Depends on what I give you.” She pulled the jar out. "Come sit next to me Jarod, take your top off please.”

Jarod prayed that this wasn’t going to be another lesson in how she could touch him however she wanted.

When his top was off, Gracie removed the dressing on his wound and opened the jar, using the paddle pop stick to get some of the thick, sticky ointment out and put it onto Jarod's wound. She winced as she heard it sizzling and the atrocious smell. She knew how well these medicines worked, but god damn it, why couldn’t they make them smell nice?

"Ohh," Jarod moaned, not sure what was worse, the stinging or the smell. "Let me guess, some kind of tribal remedy.”

Gracie nodded, "You think this is bad, you should see the stuff I have for my bruises.” She mumbled and put the ointment away and rewrapped Jarod's arm with tenderness.

"Why are you even bothering?" Jarod asked her curiously. He was much calmer now he had had a couple of hours to do nothing but stare at the wall and try to ignore the camera. He was slowly finding his balance again, adjusting to being imprisoned once more. But it was a very difficult struggle for him.

"Does it really matter Jarod? You are getting some extra attention and help. Why must you question that?"

"I am just curious about your motivation. It will heal in time if it is permitted.” He wondered if she was feeling guilty over it.

"Yes, but now it will heal in less then half the time, and will leave no scar.” She informed, sitting back a little to watch him. Why couldn’t he just accept the help and not question?

"Why should it matter if it leaves a scar? Since I am never to leave here again, and my body is no longer my own, as you demonstrated so clearly this morning, why should I care?"

"You shouldn’t care because you are right, it isn’t your body anymore. It is mine.” She told him with a calm professional voice. "I am your handler and if I don’t want a scar, then I won’t permit a scar on you."

"My mistake," Jarod snorted at her. "I guess you can put them there too, as you wish."

"Yes of course I can Jarod. Any one can.” She said, sensing his anger. "Wanna see what else I got you?” Gracie said, not hiding her excitement, trying to get Jarod to forget about his anger and his displeasure of this situation.

"What?” He asked, not really caring again. She just had a certain way of just pushing his buttons.

She reached in to the plastic bag and pulled out a smaller, paper one. It was filled with all sorts of lollies. Gummy bars, banana's, old fashioned hard candy. Anything they had she had gotten a bit of for Jarod. She handed the bag over and waited, hoping he liked them.

He took it from her and opened it, smiling despite himself. "Are these for me?” He asked in honest surprise.

Gracie smiled broadly and nodded, "Yes they are. I saw your reaction to the ice cream ad thought you would enjoy them."

“Thank you,” He said, looking through them, trying one. "It is very good,” He said, offering her the bag.

"No thanks, I have my own in my room. Sir said not to give you too many privileges at once. It would spoil you. But I couldn’t help it, I knew you would like them.” She said, happy that she had made him smile.

"I appreciate that,” He told her, putting another one in his mouth.

"Now before you work, if you work. Or late at night or just after lunch, or whenever you really feel like some sugar. You have some." Gracie grinned happily.

"You say ‘if I work’ as if there is some choice open to me."

"There is choice. You can decide not to work, but it just means there is a punishment after wards anyway.”

"Tell me about these punishments?” He asked her, wanting to know what he might be getting himself in to.

"These punishments all depend on me Jarod. What I decide is relevant to your disobedience.” She said with a shrug.

"Such as? Or do I have to guess?”

Gracie shrugged. "Beatings. Removal of food, water. Sleep deprivation." It was all pretty basic, but she knew it was very effective.

"If you employ any of those techniques, you must realise that they will certainly prevent me from being able to work for you. Isn’t it kind of defeating the purpose?"

"No, because you will still be expected to work, and each time you say no, it’s just another punishment. Even if you are weak and sore, we will ask you to work."

"You can ask," Jarod said under his breath.

"And you can deny Jarod. And it seems to me it will just be one big vicious circle."

"Seems so," Jarod agreed. "Everybody getting nowhere."

"There is never a nowhere here Jarod. After a few weeks or months of not working, all depending on Mr Marcus, he will just simply decide to breed you and then sell you to another organisation. And it will all start again for you. But we will have something that is of value."

There was nothing he could do to prevent that at the moment, but he still could not accept the notion of cooperating with them. His apparent helplessness here was infuriating him, but no matter how hard he tried, he had not yet managed to come up with a viable escape plan. He had so little information to go on and he knew that time would be both his ally and his enemy. He needed time to garner the knowledge required to launch a successful escape attempt, but time also acted against him, the longer he was here the harder it would be for him to continue to resist, and if the diet of beatings and starvation she had laid out for him was used, he would only become weaker and more susceptible to their methods of coercion.

"Come on Jarod, it will be so much easier for you to just work.” She pleaded. "If you do not like the use of your work, I can try to influence the choice to go in humanitarian ways."

Jarod barked out a short laugh. "There is no money in that."

"There is enough to keep you safe for now.” Gracie said looking at the ground. "I plan on keeping my promise Jarod, I just need time."

"Do not risk yourself on my account. I am not a naïve newcomer to this game, and I know how it is played."

"I will risk myself if I want to Jarod, it is my choice.” She shuffled to sit in Jarod's corner. There was no sound in here, but she knew people could read her lips. "I will offer you a way out but you must work on what is given you in the mean time. To get the focus off of the new toy."

"A way out?” He repeated, not believing her.

"Get out of the view of the camera you idiot.” She hissed harshly. "They can read your lips."

He turned his head. "Why don’t they just put sound on?” He asked her, wondering at such a gross oversight.

"There is no need for sound in here. Normally whoever is staying in here won’t get visitors and the cameras are not equipped with sound."

"You can get me out?” He asked her quickly.

She got up and slapped him hard over the face before grabbing his arm and pulling him back in the corner out of the sight of the camera. "What did I just tell you Jarod about them reading your lips? The camera was right on you damn it. You're going to get me killed."

He didn’t bother arguing with her that his head was turned. He had precisely calculated the angle.
Jarod Is Brought Back Home by jacci
Author's Notes:
Sorry about the delay, and as always, this is co-written. Hope you all enjoy!
When he was safely out of view of the camera, she stole a candy from the bag and popped it into her mouth. "I can get you out, tell you how to get out. But be warned, once outside, you will have to fend for yourself."

Jarod nodded, leaning in close to her. "Why are you doing this?” He asked, thinking it could easily be a trap, although not wanting to miss this opportunity either.

"I told you Jarod, back home. I would tell you how to get out and you should know from how I let Sydney out, I keep my promises. Despite my training, I have become attached to you, and I can feel you really believe you are not meant to be in here."

"And what about you?” He asked urgently.

"What about me?” She asked, watching him curiously. "You are not sure if you trust me are you Jarod?"

"I can’t just leave you here." He looked at her urgently, his need to leave warring with his responsibility that he felt towards her, and especially her little sister.

"Yes you can Jarod. And you will. Bailey just told me she likes it here, didn’t want to ever leave. And unless I am forced to do anything, I am going to keep her here if she wants it."

"There is so much out there, a real life for the two of you, how can you just expect me to abandon you?"

"Jarod, listen to me and listen well. I am giving you this one chance to get out of here. To go back to where you came from and live your life that you believe you have. We are safe here. Bailey likes it here. We are looked after and liked. I am not going anyway, nor is Bailey unless it is life threatening. But you are if you want to."

He closed his eyes and thought for a moment. If he got out, he could always come back for them, he reasoned. He could do nothing in here, and he wasn’t going to SIM for them, no matter what and the idea of being 'milked' so they could 'breed' him was intolerable. "Alright, I can respect that. How do I get out of here then? Out of the cell even? They have cameras everywhere.” He knew that given time he would figure something out, but it would take time.

"Before I even tell you anything, you must understand how hard it is to get away from here. Getting out is easy, but getting away is hard. And you will have no assistance once outside to help you." Grace warned him.

"How far are we from the nearest town?” He asked, guessing that they were pretty isolated.

"Far enough not to rouse any suspicion. It’s your choice Jarod."

He nodded, trying to think about anything he knew about the Australian outback and it was precious little. "Which direction, and what is the distance? Is there water between here and there?"

"All I can tell you Jarod, is how to get out. The rest is up to you to figure out." If she were found out, then it was a safety net for her. Saying she let Jarod out to prove a point to him. He can’t escape.

He was woefully unprepared for this, but he had to give it a shot. He knew how to survive in the desert, could go for days if he had to. "Alright then, I understand.” He nodded at her. "How do I get out of here? I assume we are deep underground?” He knew there was an airstrip about 10 minutes walk, and he wondered if there would be a chance to steal a jet, or perhaps a helicopter.

"You will need to make yourself throw up in about 2 hours. There will be a guard checking the area. Get his attention, he will take you to the showers. Mr Marcus nor his boss likes any of their projects dirty. There are no cameras in the showers, and there is a vent above the door. Use that, it will lead you to one of the very few ducts above ground."

Jarod nodded, still guessing this might be a trap, but at this point he had very little to lose and it was worth a try, no matter how long a shot it might be. "Any chance of getting something for my feet?” He winced, they were still tender from just 10 minutes out there.

"No. It will be too suspicious. I suggest either you let your feet fry, or your torso. There is nothing I can do to give you protection for your feet, other then tell you top take your shirt off and use that." Grace would rather give him some real shoes, but if anyone paid any attention and realised, everyone was in hell of a lot of trouble.

He nodded again, his mind running SIM's at a million miles an hour. It would be worth any suffering, which would heal soon enough if he could get out of here.

"I best be going. I need to be with one of the owners during the time you leave, that way no eyes fall on me for it." She would try all she could to make this look like Jarod’s idea not hers.

He held her eyes for a moment, pushing aside all the things she had done to him. "Thank you, I won’t forget this.” He said sincerely.

"I will hate you forever, that’s a promise, if I see you back here again Jarod.” She reached over and gave him a tight hug, pulling back to kiss his forehead. "Good luck.” She smiled at him before mumbling, "I ain’t ever going to get emotional with another project again.” She promised herself, it only led to trouble.

Jarod smiled sadly and looked at her, wishing he could bring her, but she was right. Neither of them were ready for it. She had been outside for years and in all that time, she had not apparently thought of leaving once. Whatever they were doing here, they were much better at it than the Centre ever was. "I will see you in the next life then.” He told her. It was another expression he had heard and rather liked it.

She smiled and stood up, moving back in front of the cameras. "Enjoy your sweets Jarod. I'll leave the ointment with you. Put it on every couple of hours.” She told him and moved out of the cell, locking the door.

Jarod stared at the door, wondering if this had even half of a chance of working. He knew far too little about everything, but the alternative was even less attractive. He took a look at the ointment and made his decision, scooping some of it out, and forcing himself to swallow it. He had no idea what it was, but he was pretty damned sure it was going to make him violently ill. It wasn’t long before Jarod did indeed start feeling very bad, and it took little effort to induce vomiting. He doubled over, clutching his stomach, throwing up the sweets and his lunch.

It had been a couple of weeks now since Sydney came rushing back in a frantic panic, rambling on about something to do with Jarod and a Gracie. It had taken Parker a while to get out of him, a girl who was calling herself Miss Gracie, and two of her men took Jarod, then Sydney to a warehouse. It took her a bit longer to get the details out of the old man, he was just going on about how worried and concerned he was for the lab rat’s safety. They had been searching non–stop for him, but so far nothing. Sydney had given them all the details possible, and still, they had no clue as to who these people were. What they wanted with Jarod was a given, but who they were...? They had no idea. Looking up as there was a knock, Parker barked a ‘what’ out, very tired from all the extra hours they were putting in. Seeing Sydney, Parker closed the file in front of her with an exasperated sigh. They were doing all they could to find the still missing monkey, Sydney demanding him be found every hour was not helping anything.

"Parker, anything?” Sydney asked for the thousandth time, getting more and more worried about Jarod. There had been no ransom demands, which he had fully been expecting once they figured the value of Jarod. There seemed to be nothing but dead ends and despite his descriptions, they couldn’t find anyone in the database to match the three people he had seen. The fact they had allowed him to see them, and let him go testified to either their stupidity, or their confidence. Sydney feared it was the latter.

"Nothing. You sure you told us everything? The rat boy has gotten himself into some deep shit." And now it was Parker who had to go save his sorry arse.

"We have been over this a hundred times Parker,” Sydney said tiredly. "I have told you everything I know. And it is hardly Jarod to blame here.” He said, reprimanding her gently.

"Jarod is always to blame, when will you realise that?” Parker snapped at him. Everything in her life since he escaped has been his fault. Jarod was always to blame for everything around here, always.

Sydney stopped himself from snapping back at her with a great amount of effort. "It is like he has dropped off the face of the planet." How could there be no trace of him, of them? It didn’t seem possible.

“There was nothing to indicate who these people were?" Parker asked, ready to kill the bastards for stealing her project away. How was it, years of hunting the monkey boy and they only managed to get to him a few times, and this… teenager managed to fully capture him. Parker hated that for the simple fact, it made her look really bad at her job.

"Nothing,” Sydney told her, slumping down. "I am very worried for his safety Parker."

“You just can't help yourself to play mummy can you?" Parker snapped, not caring much about his safety. She just wanted their property back.

"How can you not be worried about him Parker?” Sydney snapped back, tired of her attitude.

"I am worried about him Freud, just not in the same as you are.” She was worried about him as a Centre asset, she needed him back and working. Her father was gone, Raines was god only knows where, so that left her as acting chairperson while Lyle was off wherever the hell he was off at. Parker needed him back and working now.

“These people could kill him Parker, don't you understand anything I have told you?” His worry for Jarod was making him very short tempered with her.

“They have Jarod, they would damn well know what he is. From what you told me, they do know what he is. He will not be killed." Parker said with all certainty.

“You don't understand Parker, this girl, she is, out of control.” Sydney tried to explain yet again. "I don't think she cares."

"He is a pretender, they will not kill him. If anything, they will keep him alive to get him to work." Parker snapped. "Start thinking."

“You are not listening to me Parker,” Sydney said in exasperation, shaking his head.

"Maybe if you had more information to go on, I might listen to you."

Slumping down in the seat, Sydney sighed. "We have to find him Parker.” He whispered, worry weighing him down.

“Your precious little experiment will not be killed. I can't promise he won't be hurt, he is damn annoying and will piss someone off, but he will not be killed. He is too valuable to kill."

"He is not a piece of property Parker, he is a human being." Sydney said shortly.

"That is not how they see it or the Centre sees it. You know that. He’s a project, something WE own to use and generate money from. We will get him back Freud, to the safety of the Centre." Though no one in the right mind could call the Centre safe.

"Safety being a very relative term in this instance," Sydney scoffed, getting more and more angry with her and her attitude.

"Why don't you stop harassing me about it Syd, and go talk to someone who actually cares about the rat being a person." Parker snapped, too stressed for this.

Sydney got up, shaking his head in disgust and went to find more amenable company. "Perhaps Broots has something," He muttered on his way out.

"Perhaps." Parker agreed as he walked out and got back to work, going through the details of the search, trying to find a clue as to where Jarod was.

Max was doing his rounds and moved past the new project’s room and looked in, seeing him doubled over throwing up. Sighing in annoyance, he opened the door, "What do you think you are doing?" This just had to happen on his shift didn’t it?

Jarod didn’t even look at him, just continued to clutch at his stomach. It was pretty damned obvious what was happening after all.

Max moved closer to him and screwed his face up at the smell. "Look at this mess.” He growled, pissed off, but glad he wasn’t the one that would have to clean it. "On your feet."

Jarod obeyed quickly, still clutching at his stomach, pretending he was much sicker than he was, but the last thing he needed now was a beating for disobeying.

Max held his arm tightly and led him upstairs to the bathroom and pushed him in, following him. Shutting the door behind him, "Strip and wash that stuff from yourself." He ordered, looking at the disgustingly smelly vomit over his clothes.

Jarod did, jumping into the shower quickly and washing the vomit from his face. He groaned and made a big display of being weak and in pain. When the guard relaxed a little, he turned around and ran into him, tackling him to the ground and delivering a knock out blow to his head. He stood up, naked and wet and looked at the guard in satisfaction. He knew he would have little time and he saw the vent. He soaked his clothes and then dressed in them, taking a long drink before looking at the unconscious guard again. He leant down and took off his shoes and socks as well as his shirt.

The shoes were far too small for him, but if he cut the toes out, they would be better than nothing. He wrapped his small amount of supplies in the shirt and then got to work on the vent. He had no idea how long he would have before the alarm was raised, so he moved as quickly as he could, steadily through the system.

Gracie was alerted to the escape an hour later. The guard having woken up from being knocked out cold. She was in with Mr Hill and she swore loudly, ignoring the rules. She stormed out and went to the tech lab. "I want someone out there tracking him.” She ordered before storming into her boss' office, putting on somewhat of a show. She was worried that Jarod would be caught.

Marcus looked up at her. "Seems your bird has flown away,” He stated coolly, but with steel in his voice.

"Seems that way. He tricked one of the guards. Got out from the shower as he told me. I have the techs getting some of our guys out to track him.” She said, pacing angrily, putting on a believable show. But she didn’t apologise for her rudeness and tone of voice.

"I want him back, or I want his body. Heads are going to roll if he is not back here in my office in chains in 24 hours.” He struggled to maintain his calm. They had warned him that Jarod was a bit of a Houdini, but he had not expected something on his first day.

"No.” She said strongly. "I am not bringing him back in 24 hours. No one is. He is staying out there."

"What? Are you insane?” He asked her, standing up and staring her down.

Gracie simply folded her arms. She was used to being the boss, being in control and she fell back on it now. She glared at her owner defiantly. "He is staying out there. It will take at least a week for him to get to any town that will accept him. The closer towns know of this place and do not take kindly to strangers and will not offer him help in any form. I have people on it, they will find him and discreetly track him. A few days in this heat, regardless if he is a so called pretender, he will offer himself back. He will stay out there, no food, no water, no protection. When it is reported in he is on the brink of dying from dehydration and or heat stroke, we will offer him a choice, die or come back. If he choses to die, let him go and black out then bring him in."

He looked at her for a moment, considering it. The psychological ramifications if he offered himself back to them could save them months of retraining. He sat back down and drummed his fingers against the desk for a long moment as he considered. "And if he chooses death and we bring him back, you know we will never be able to break him. It is a big gamble."

"Does it really look like I care? You gave him to me. This is my decision not yours.” She growled angrily. She didn’t want to bring him back in, but Grace didn’t know if he would get away now, or even survive.

He looked at her dangerously. "You really think so do you?” He asked her, deceptively calm.

Gracie cocked her head. "Yes I do. You had faith in me when I brought him in, and you will damn well have faith in me now."

"One more word out of your mouth that doesn’t include the words sorry and disrespectful will earn you a permanent position on the lower levels."

Grace was pretending to be pissed off, but now she was. She had spent the last three years outside, the one in charge, ordering others around. She may know her place here, but it was big change from going from being fully in control to not having any control. Gracie glared at him angrily before backing down. "Sorry.” She mumbled resentfully.

"No you are not,” He said. He could feel the anger and frustration coming off of her in waves, but he simply would not tolerate that kind of level of gross insubordination from a project, not under any circumstances.

"No, I am not. But I do not want to be disrespectful.” She said, trying her hardest to stay calm and behaved. Getting herself locked up would do no one any good.

"Well that is an interesting admission. I suggest girl you get yourself under control this very instant and speak to me in a civilized manner, or you will regret it."

Grace's fists clenched tightly and she closed her eyes, steadying her breathing and turned herself off as Bailey called it, blocking out all the emotions. "Yes sir.” She said in an even voice.

"That is better,” He told her, sitting back watching her as she struggled with herself. He knew what pressure she was under, but that was no excuse. If she did not remember her place after so long away, she would be re-educated, it was simple.

Sighing heavily she looked at him, "I am sorry sir for my disrespect and lack of manners. I just got infuriated sir, just so angry and I am not used to feeling such strong emotions of those sorts." Gracie tried to apologise, knowing what was expected of her.

He looked at her and her half apology. He would have preferred it without the excuses, but for now, he thought that was enough. "Very well girl. But if you ever speak to me like that ever again, and I will punish Bailey instead. Do you understand?"

Gracie head snapped up and shook it wildly, "No sir, please don’t. I promise never again. I just lost control. And I know you don’t want to hear my excuses. I am sorry sir, please don’t hurt her because of me.” She begged him. She would do anything to keep Bailey safe.

"Hmmm.” He watched her. Her biggest weakness was the sister, always had been, but he could not remember a time when she had been so poorly behaved. Perhaps three years was too long a time to have his projects out there. He weighed up his needs with Jarod now and what she had said with his own desire to punish her for her unbelievable rudeness.

She looked at him with regret. "I am sorry sir again for my utter rudeness. I will not do it again. But I still believe it will work best with what I said to do with Jarod sir."

"You may be right girl, and that is the only thing that has saved you from months down on the bottom level in a cell next to your project, with all of your privileges removed, including access to your sister. We will give your idea a try with Jarod, but if he slips through, you will spend the rest of your life down there, never seeing her ever again. Have I made myself clear?” He watched her carefully, deliberately pushing her to see if she would lose control yet again.

Gracie looked down to the floor and nodded, "Yes sir, I understand. But my I have permission to ask a question?" She knew she was in deep trouble because of her mouth and she knew how the repercussions of it was her own fault.

"Ask your question girl."

"What is my punishment for such disrespect sir? And may I please receive it after Jarod is back home with us?"

"I will have to think about that,” He told her, not taking his eyes off of her. "You bring Jarod in, and you might mitigate your punishment but for the moment, you will not see Bailey until Jarod is back, and do not try to go behind my back on this, otherwise she will find herself in isolation, to serve as a... motivator to keep you focused on your goal."

"No sir, I deserve a harsh punishment regardless if Jarod is brought in sir. So I do not be so rude to you again. And I will not go near my sister until you are satisfied with me sir.” She said staring fiercely on the floor.

"Do not contradict me girl. I see your training has slipped dramatically. We will have to rectify that when this current mess blows over."

"Yes sir, of course sir.” She said slumping her shoulders. "I was just trying to please you sir by letting you know I realise I deserve a harsh punishment for what I have done.” She whispered. Nothing she did at the moment seemed to be right.

"I will be the one who decides what you do and do not deserve. I appreciate this may be a difficult adjustment, but do not forget your place, and do not presume."

"Yes sir.” She nodded before looking up at him with sad green eyes. "I just want to make you proud of me sir. When I told you I had Jarod you were so happy. And I am upset at myself I can’t keep you happy and pleased like that.” She said in a soft voice. She had been over the moon when he had said he was proud of her, now she only got reprimands from him.

"I don’t want to hear anything more out of that mouth until I see Jarod in here in chains. In fact, I don’t even want to see you again, not until you have him. Is that clear? Just nod."

Gracie dropped her head and nodded, but she transferred some of her feelings over to her boss. He didn’t seem to understand how much she lived to hear him saying he was proud of her. And how hurt she got when he was angry at her.

He was assaulted by her need and he looked at her for a long moment. She was trying to manipulate him now in her desperation. "Stop that this instant and get him back.” He picked up his report to indicate the meeting was over. She had better not be back in this office without dragging Jarod behind her.

She nodded and turned and left, she had to get Jarod back, no two ways about it now. She hoped Jarod could get away, but now she couldn’t afford not to bring him back. She had made a huge mess of things.

Jarod made his torturous way through the vent system, heading onwards blindly. His injured arm was throbbing before too long, but he was determined not to turn back. He dragged the shirt bundled up with the shoes and meagre supplies he had taken off the unconscious guard. He pushed his fear aside, along with all of his other emotions and moved forward. When he finally came to the end, he pushed against the vent, blinking up into the dusty light and for a long moment he didn’t think it would give. He pushed with all of his might and it finally gave way with a screech.

He pushed himself out into the sweltering heat and looked around. This was his first look at Australia and he was not very impressed. He had known it was hot from his trip in and he sat down, trying to fix the shoes, not wanting a repeat of the short journey from the plane to the entrance. He used the shirt to cover his head, like a makeshift turban as he surveyed the surrounding terrain. It was pretty barren, with barely even so much as a shrub or bush growing. It stretched on endlessly, the horizon shimmering in the distance. He stood up and shielded his eyes with his hand, trying to make an educated guess on which would be the best way to go.

If he actually was in the middle of the country, he guessed it didn’t really matter at all which direction he headed, he would hit something or somebody sooner or later. But that is what he was worried about, if it was too much later, he wasn’t sure if he would be able to survive out here for very long.

He picked a direction that he thought was probably north, guessing from his limited knowledge of Australian geography that it would be the most likely direction to head. He set out slowly, pacing himself, his eyes scanning the ground for any signs of tracks, human or animal, or any sign of an actual road. If he could find a road, then all he would have to do was follow it. But of course, that would also most likely be the first place they looked. He looked around again, and decided since there was no evidence of any kind of road whatsoever, he would worry about that if it became a problem. But he was so exposed out here, the only single living or moving thing, he didn’t really think they would have any trouble tracking him at all. But one thing was for sure, he wasn’t about to just lay down and wait for them to come and collect him.

Hours after starting, Jarod could not see any discernible change in the landscape at all, and if his feet weren’t protesting so much, he would have sworn he hadn’t made any distance at all. The sun was finally sinking and although it was a blessed relief, he guessed it was going to get pretty cold pretty quickly. At the moment his biggest fears were heatstroke complicated by hypothermia mixed with a good dose of dehydration thrown in just for fun. The smart move would be to keep walking during the night, if there was a moon, and then rest up during the worst of the heat. The problem was that he had not seen so much as a tree to use as shelter. He pushed on into the night, ignoring the pain in his body and the thirst. He was committed now and there was no turning back. All day he had run every survival technique through his mind, and he knew that stopping now would be a fatal mistake. The human body could withstand much and still survive, but he also knew that if he didn’t get some water soon, he wouldn’t last very much longer.

Finally, when his feet refused to take another step, he let himself sink down onto the baked surface. He was shivering, and he knew it was as much from the cold desert night as it was from the heat stroke he was suffering from. There was not even enough loose sand for him to dig a hole and bury himself, to offer some protection from the cold and the heat that he knew would be back again in probably less than an hour after sunrise. He would have killed for a drink right now, even a drop, but there was nothing usable, nothing to help him out here in this god-forsaken place. Finally, he let his dry eyes slip shut and his body pulled him down into the exhausted rest his mind had refused earlier.

Jarod awoke, screaming, feeling as if he had ripped his vocal chords right out of his throat. It was already hot and blindingly bright. The nightmare slipped away from him as the pounding of the headache forced its way in. Forcing himself, to his feet, Jarod knew that he had to go forward, if he was going to die out here, he would die trying, not just lay down and wait for the end like a miserable defeated coward. He had not let anything in his past beat him before, and he was not about to let this defeat him either. He pushed on all through the day, his eyes becoming swollen, making it hard for him to see, not that there was anything to see in this furnace blasted wasteland. He had not come across a single track of any description, and nothing more than a stunted bush here or there that was so dry and acrid, that he knew it would do more harm than good to try and eat it.

The day wore on interminably and Jarod moved forward, one miserable step at a time, telling himself that with each new step, he was one step closer to freedom. He was surprised that there had been no pursuit and he thought that if he survived, he might actually get away. He started muttering to himself sometime around midday, trying to convince himself that there was going to be shelter, or a track or somebody to help him. Failure was not an option, he simply could not accept it. He had survived trials as bad as this before, and he would survive this one too. He had to get back home, needed to set things right with Miss Parker, with Sydney. He still had to find his family.

By the time his feet refused to work any longer, he was too exhausted and dehydrated to care anymore. He had given up any hope of finding water or anything to eat hours ago, his eyes too dry and full of dust to work properly anymore. He sat himself down, with his back to the slowly sinking sun, telling himself he would just rest for a little while before going on again.

It had been two days since Jarod's escape and she knew he was pushing himself now. He had no water or food, not knowing how to find anything in this land. Grace had just got a report he had collapsed and in an instant she was in the helicopter that was called in going to his location. She hadn’t informed her boss she had known where Jarod was every single minute of his escape, she had been tracking him with her talents and feared for his life greatly. He wasn’t in good shape.

The helicopter touched ground and Gracie ordered them to stay where they were as she moved to Jarod laying on the ground. She knelt next to him and shook him awake, "Jarod."

Jarod opened his bleary eyes and knew he had gone insane. He looked up at her and tried to laugh, but there wasn’t enough moisture left in his mouth to make any sound.

"Do you want to come back home Jarod?” She asked, touching his blistered face. "Get some water." She didn’t worry about asking if he was alright, knowing he wasn’t. She wanted him back inside where it was cool and safe as soon as possible.

His eyes hurt, everything hurt. He closed them again and laid back down, too weak to do much of anything else. The word home ringing through his head like a siren song.

"Jarod. Come on, look at me.” She tapped his face until his eyes opened. "Come home with me?” She asked again. "Get some water. Have a nice cold shower?" She knew how tempting water and a cold shower would be to him right now.

"Water?” He rasped, his throat too dry and sore to make the sound properly. He had been dreaming about it. He had thought the desert was bad back home, but this place was brutal. And it was endless, without any means of relief.

"Only if we go back home now. If you say yes to wanting to come home.” She said softly.

That wasn’t his home, even in his delusion he knew that. But he knew he would die if they left him here. He was hopelessly lost and too weak to move. "Home?” He whispered, not opening his eyes.

"Yes home Jarod. I need an answer now. Do you want to come back home with me?” She asked again, trying to get through to him. She needed him to say yes, so her boss was happy.

Jarod didn’t think he could do it, but if he died out here, there would be no hope for rescue or escape. They had to be looking for him. Sydney, Miss Parker, Broots, somebody would find him and save him.

"Ok Jarod, I'll take that as a no.” She sighed heavily and stood up slowly, taking a few steps back and turning around, giving him a chance to answer her, hoping he did.

"No,” He croaked out. "Don't leave me here.” He let his head drop, and if he had had tears to cry, he would have cried them.

Gracie stopped and turned around to face him. "Then I need you to tell me you want to come back home, make it nice and clear." Either way he was going back with her, but it would please the owners so much more if he wanted to come back. She could already feel how this was affecting him.

He tried to work his dry mouth, nodding to himself as he admitted bitter defeat. "Please, take me."

She smiled and moved back to him. "Ok, that’s good Jarod, real good.” She waved over to the helicopter waiting for her, turned off so as not to make a sand storm. She brushed his sticky hair back and leant in. "I'm sorry you couldn’t get away.” She whispered her apology, letting him know how bad she felt over this, how truly sorry she was.

Jarod gave up the fight and let himself drift into the welcome blackness. He had held on for so long, longer than he had thought possible, and it had all been for nothing. He had never experienced failure like this before and he cursed himself.

Gracie stepped back and let the guys pick him up and chain him up. She didn’t see the need for them but her boss had made it plain as day he was to be chained up. Grace climbed into the helicopter next to the limp form of Jarod and made their way back home.

When they landed, she allowed the men to take Jarod back into the air-conditioned facility and she told them to take Jarod down to Marcus’s office and followed. She walked in, Jarod being held up by the two men. He was out cold. Grace didn’t know what to expect from her boss. Would he be angry Jarod was damaged, or happy that he wanted to come home?

Marcus looked up and put his pen down, observing Jarod's condition. He looked like he would probably die if not given the right medical treatment. "Did you get what you wanted from him?"

Gracie nodded, "He asked me to take him back, not to leave him. He wanted to come home."

"Mnnn, then you were right.” He smiled at her to let her know that she had done well.

Gracie's face lit up at the first smile she had seen in days from him. She knew he was happy with her, regardless of Jarod’s current state of health. "Thank you sir. May I please take him to the medical wing?"

"Do that Gracie,” He said, using her name again. She would still pay for her former disobedience, but he had to admit she had done well on this. If Jarod was manageable after this, he would see about lessening the punishment. “I want him on his feet as soon as possible, and maximum security. I don’t want him pulling this stunt again."

"Yes sir. Of course sir.” She grinned with pride at her name. He only used it on very rare occasions. Her face was glowing as she nodded. Gracie turned to the men holding Jarod and nodded, walking out and down to the medical wing where Jarod was put onto a bed, chains removed before being cuffed to the bed. She watched as nurse Jane put a saline drip in to help him.

"I knew he wouldn’t get very far," Jane muttered as she took in the shape he was in. She got the fluids going and then started tending the massive sunburn. "He is going to be off his feet for a few days, are the cuffs really necessary?"

"Mr Marcus wants maximum security. I know we don’t need them not with Jarod this weak, but it was an order. I need him on his feet tomorrow. Even if it is just to get him back in his cell." She knew it would never happen, but it was more for her sake if sir watched the footage. At least he would know she was trying to get him working again as soon as she could.

She sighed. "I will see what I can do, but I am betting the doctor will say a few days of care if you want him to recover quickly."

"Yes I know but I am not sure how sir will like it if he is in here for that long. I will go see what I can do about getting permission for him to stay in here as long as possible. I am sure he would agree if it meant Jarod will be able to work sooner.”

She nodded, "I will tend him as best I can, and when he wakes, the doctor will see him. I think about 7 hours or so."

"Can I give him a sponge bath in the mean time? To clean him up?” She asked, watching him carefully, feeling bad now she had offered him a chance out. He was filthy, and he just didn’t look right. He needed to be clean, just like his soul.

"I was going to do that, but if you want to do it...” She stepped back, not wanting to contradict her, at the moment she seemed to be the one in charge of Jarod.

"Please.” She nodded, "Can you go get me what is needed?” Grace asked as she stood up and grabbed a scalpel to cut Jarod's clothes away. She would rather touch him then let someone else do it. After Jarod explained how he felt about being touched like that without permission, she wasn’t about to let the nurse touch him.

Jane went to get everything she needed, telling herself that there would be other chances. "There you go, just be gentle with him. I have dissolved some burn gel and aloe in there to help with the healing.” She handed her the tray and stepped back again. She felt sorry for poor Jarod. He was a foreigner, and they should have told him that there was no way to escape on foot, it was impossible.

"Thank you.” She said, picking up the wet sponge and gently started to wipe his dirty and burnt face down. "He will be ok won’t he?” She asked in concern, taking extra care. He was badly burnt on his face, neck and hands and Grace didn’t want to hurt him anymore then she already had.

"If they let him get the care he needs. A few days to get his fluids back up and to get his strength back. His skin, that is another matter, maybe a few weeks before it is back to normal, but hopefully his lips and throat won’t take as long. I will also need to put drops in his eyes every few hours as well."

"Yes of course. Don’t let me get in the way of doing anything you need to make him better.” She said as she resoaked the sponge and slowly made her way down his throat.

"Just be gentle with him," Jane said, but already knowing she would be.

Gracie nodded and paused for a moment. "That will be all thank you nurse Jane. If you need to do anything else, let me know if I am here and I will move out of your way." She didn’t want to be a hindrance to them.

"I appreciate that, but now it is just waiting, giving his body a chance to heal, then we will see about his mind."

Gracie looked up at her with tears in her eyes. "I warned him before we got here, that he can’t escape from here. Not ever." And it was the truth. She had told him back in the US but also more recently how hard it as when she told him how to get out.

Gracie had dozed off, but woke as she heard a soft sound and thought it almost sounded like a moan. She looked at Jarod, watching his eyes flutter. "Jarod?" She asked in hope. It had been a long seven hours waiting.

"Where am I?” He asked in a dry whisper. He felt terrible, with a pounding headache and his body was too heavy to move.

"Back home. Medical wing.” She told him, wishing she could remove the cuffs. "Nurse Jane!” She called out, grabbing some water from the jug and offering him the straw to sip on, holding his head up.

Jarod took it gratefully, wincing as his sore lips cracked at the slight movement, but it was like heaven going down his throat. He drank slowly, barely able to get his throat to swallow.

Jane rushed in and smiled as she saw he was awake. "I see you decided to stay with us after all. We thought we might have lost you to the heat."

Grace pulled the water away and lowered his head back down. "He is a fighter.” She knew that personally, it was hard to get him to do anything he didn’t want to. Stubborn. But right now, she couldn’t be happier about that certain trait of his.

Jarod looked around and guessed where he was and tried to lift his hand, to get out of bed as the memory came crashing in on him. He became aware of the metal around both of his wrists and he sighed softly. He moved his legs gingerly to find that they were free and that came as a surprise, not that he would be going anywhere anytime soon, and even if he did, he had just had a very thorough demonstration in the futility of escape.

"Yes, I guess he is." Jane agreed.

Gracie pushed his body back the small distance to lay on the bed again. "Don’t try to get up. You won’t be able to. Just lay down and rest up.” She dug into her pockets and pulled out the lip balm she had retrieved from her room while he was sleeping. "This is called blistex. It will help your lips.” She opened the small container and dipped her finger in, smoothing the clear thick gel like balm over his lips generously. It would sting like a bitch with how cracked they were, but it would help heal them.

Jarod moaned softly as the greasy but heavenly cool balm went on. It seemed cold and to burn at the same time. He tried to bring his hands up again to rub at them, forgetting that he was restrained. He also finally realised he was completely naked.

"Nurse, can you get the doctor in please.” She asked, hinting to leave them alone for a while so she could talk to Jarod.

Jane nodded and went off to get the doctor to report he was conscious and seemed to be stable.

Gracie reached down and pulled the sheet up to his waist, covering him a little. "I am sorry it didn’t work out.” She said in a whisper, not sure if they were listening or not. Not wanting to let them know she let him out.

He forced himself to look at her, trying to judge her sincerity. "I think I learnt my lesson, if that is what you are worried about."

"Answer me this Jarod. Do you really believe I let you out for you to nearly die and be brought back in?” She asked in a soft voice, making a shooting at glancing to the camera before looking back at him.

"I don’t know, it doesn’t matter,” He said back, his voice still only a whisper. He closed his eyes for a moment, trying to come to terms with waking up here. Right now he didn’t care about her, or her feelings, he just wanted to be left alone.

"Yes it does Jarod. I want you to tell me if you think I did this on purpose or not. It matters a great deal to me." She didn’t want Jarod thinking this was a deliberate act to break him. She really did want to help.

Jarod wasn’t sure, but he knew what she wanted to hear. "No, not on purpose."

"No Jarod.” She said. "Honestly. I know you aren’t telling me the truth. Just tell me what you think, regardless of how it might affect me."

He forced his eyes open to look at her. "I don’t know,” He said brokenly. "I can’t SIM you.” He had never met anybody he couldn’t sim before.

"Is that good or bad?” She asked in confusion. Not sure at all if it was good or bad.

"I don’t know, never happened before."

Gracie's eyes opened a little wider. "Well, I know I am a first in many things, but to be a first for the great and all mighty pretender to not be able to SIM. Well I think that’s an honour.” She joked. It was quite fascinating being the first person Jarod couldn’t SIM.

He closed his eyes again and rested his head. "Water please?” He asked softly. He didn’t know if she was teasing him or not, and at the moment didn’t really care. He was too tired and in too much pain to try and figure her out at the moment. It no longer seemed relevant to him if he could or he couldn’t. He was here now and he didn’t think he would be getting out again any time soon. He had given up on trying to find a way to appeal to her, or manipulate her. If she let him go in the hope he might escape or just to show him how easily she could break him.

"Sure." Gracie nodded and grabbed the cup, refilling it and lifting Jarod's head up and offered him the straw once more. "Take it easy Jarod." Too much too fast would be a serious mistake, his body would reject the much needed liquid.

He sucked on it slowly, enjoying the coolness of it, even the smell of it. He had never seen such a god forsaken place as this outback. "Dead heart,” He whispered, understanding that term now. That reference had come to him during his trek, from some half remembered article he had read one time.

"Pardon?" Gracie asked as she put the empty glass back on the night stand, she barely heard the whisper.

"That’s what it is, a dead heart.” He felt a little better after more water, but still terribly weak. He knew he had been utterly defeated, by them, and by this country.

"Yes, it’s the Dead Heart. The Red Centre. You know, it’s not all like that. There are national parks and towns and tourist destinations in the outback." Kakadu National Park was filled with trees and animals, and water. Ayres Rock was a major tourist destination, shops and people and relief. Too bad they were too far away from both and in the middle of absolute nowhere.

Jarod made a noise that might have been a laugh or a sob thinking about where these places might have been. The irony that he had was trapped yet again in the Centre, albeit a red one this time had not escaped him. He closed his eyes again, wishing now that she had left him to die out there.

"Do you remember asking to bring you back here Jarod?” She asked him gently. It would be pointless if he didn’t remember submitting to coming home, asking to come home.

He nodded his head, unable to say the words.

"You realise now, even if I did find another way to help out, you can’t leave?” She asked, knowing how he was hating himself. She knew he would hate her as well after he moved on from the self loathing.

He knew he was defeated, knew that he couldn’t outthink thousands of miles of the most unhospitable terrain in the world, about which he knew so little, and he didn’t think they would furnish him with that information, nor ever relax their security again to give him another opportunity. His mind wasn’t going to be enough this time. He would need help if he was ever going to leave here. It was a bitter pill to swallow, but it was true.

"You know you are going to have to work for us now don’t you? No ifs, no buts." She said to him ever so gently, hoping this would make him see fighting was useless.

He may be trapped, but he wasn’t completely destroyed, not yet. But right now that was too hard to think about. "No ifs, no buts,” He agreed.

"Good Jarod, that’s really good. Working is good, keeps you safe, keep you out of harms way doesn’t it?” She asked, grabbing the sponge and wiping down his face with the tinted water, speaking to him as if he were a small child that didn’t know any better.

Jarod relaxed and let her tend to him, there was nothing he could do anyway. But he had to admit, it felt good.

She slowly made her way down to his chest, washing him down again but paused. "I washed you down last time Jarod. But I want your permission for this bath.” She asked, not willing to touch him if he didn’t want it.

"Please,” He said to her softly, needing whatever was in the water. He could almost feel his cells drinking it in.

"Ok.” She nodded and went about slowly, gently washing down his chest and arms, not going sparingly on the water. Grace paused at his waist that was covered with the thin sheet. "Jarod?” She asked again, her voice showing her nervousness about washing him where she knew he most definitely didn’t want her to go.

"Yes?” He said, already guessing what she was about to ask.

"I don’t want to touch you if it is wrong.” She whispered, not knowing what to do. He seemed to like the sponge bath, but last time she and touched him down there she had been told off.

He tried to look at her and waited until she caught his eye. "Please Miss Gracie,” He nodded to her, letting her know she should do it. At this point he was beyond being embarrassed about his nakedness and he only prayed that she didn’t want to try to play with him again.

Gracie nodded and pulled the sheet back. Dipping the sponge in the water, she went about gently washing every inch of his body down with the cooling water.
Jarod's First Real SIM by jacci
Author's Notes:
Thanks for all the reviews :D As always, sorry for the delay and this is co-written. Hope you all enjoy!
Jarod stayed very still as she bathed him, even though the air down here was blessedly cool, he still felt as if he was burning hot. He knew that they must be feeding him nutrients and fluids through the drip, he already felt better, but his lips and throat were still parched and it felt like he would never have enough to drink ever again. He had suffered extremes temperatures before, knew what to expect, but the sheer brutality of this outback had been too much for even him. The water on his body was blessed relief, and he was beyond caring about his nakedness.

When Gracie was finished, happy when he was cooled and clean again, she looked at his slightly wet body, "Do you want me to dry you or just dry naturally?” She asked nervously, now in unfamiliar territory since she was told all of this was bad.

He couldn’t cope with the thought of a towel or any fabric touching him. "Just let me dry thanks,” He whispered. Even though it was really only his face and neck and hands that were badly burned, his whole body seemed so brittle and devoid of moisture that he might snap. He knew they were hydrating him and that in a few days, he would be feeling much better, but right now he felt terrible.

Gracie nodded and put the water aside and sat back down. "I did warn you Jarod. I guess you didn’t find any food or water if you are back here.” She said in a soft whisper again, not able to get past the guilt.

"Not enough,” He shook his head, remembering the meagre findings he had managed to scrounge up. He was amazed that anything or anyone could possibly survive out there.

"You need to know where to look is all.” She shrugged. She had done survival training, they had sent her out and left her for a few days. Mr Marcus told her it was in case anything ever happened to her home, she would need to be able to survive outside until one of the owners could find her and bring her back to safety.

He had looked and came up empty time and again. He had never before been so utterly defeated by a situation. He knew survival techniques, had been in the desert on foot before, but this 'outback' had thoroughly beaten him. As much as he hated himself, he was glad to be back here. He knew that there was a town but without any kind of direction to head, he was walking blindly. And his luck had not held. He might have easily been wandering for hundreds of miles before he came across any civilization. He knew that if his bearing was out by even a degree, he could walk right past a town, missing it by miles and just keep going, not even aware it was there.

Gracie looked up as the doctor walked in, "I'll leave you guys to it.” She stood up, "Rest up Jarod, I'll be in to keep checking on you." Grace didn’t bother to hide her concern over his situation, or her worry about how he felt right now.

Jarod nodded, not lifting his head to see her go.

Gracie walked into Jarod's room. He was still cuffed, but only by one wrist now. She had just spoken to her boss, who had been informed Jarod was well enough to be returned to his room after spending three days in the medical wing. Despite her pleading, he had refused to give Jarod a more comfortable room until he had earnt it. "Good morning Jarod."

Jarod looked at her, having decided that he would not aggravate his only current ally. He had argued with himself long and hard about how to react to her now he was feeling somewhat better. She was the only person that had so far treated him with anything close to kindness, the nurse looking at him as if she wanted to consume him. He was aware that his ‘saviour’ was also the one responsible for his current situation. Sydney would be having a field day with the psychological ramifications of that. "Morning,” He said, without much enthusiasm, but as much as he could muster. He knew that he should not give in, but at the moment, he just couldn’t face the future with his usual optimism and hope. Despite how dark things looked, he could always find that light at the end of his never-ending tunnel, but this time, that light seemed just too far away to be anything but a cruel illusion.

She moved over and un-cuffed his wrist. "You are allowed to go back to your cell now Jarod." On one side, Gracie was glad he could go back to his cell. It meant he was healing nicely. But on the other, it meant Jarod had to leave the open room, the half decent hospital bed, and the sounds of people around him, machines, objects being moved, sounds of life. His cell had no bed, no toilet, nothing to look at, to talk to, nothing to keep him occupied, even slightly.

Jarod sighed, thinking he would have preferred to stay here. Even cuffed to the bed would be more comfortable than lying or sitting on the concrete. They had been scrupulously efficient in keeping any kind of equipment away from his seeking hands, not leaving so much as a biro within his reach. He had finally given up on getting out of the cuffs and decided just to lie back and rest. He knew they would not leave him forever down here in this relative comfort, with a constant companion. Even though she was rather predatory, it was better than just staring at the walls of the bare cell with nothing to do but try and stay out of the view of the camera.

"Come on Jarod.” She said, stepping back and getting him some clothes. He had been naked since getting back, the doctor preferring the cool air to be able to get to his skin. It seemed to her that Jarod hadn’t mind all that much either. He was always gently sponged down by her, the cool air on his wet skin feeling extremely good to his burnt body. She had asked every time if Jarod wanted to be dried, and each time he had declined.

Jarod flexed his free hand, the first time it had been free since his return, not being allowed out of bed for any reason, despite his numerous appeals to the nurse. He knew she wanted him, and he had laid on his best charm, but it got him nowhere. He sat up slowly and swung his legs around, feeling strange. He would be glad to be clothed again, but now they were releasing him, he was worried about punishment. Everything she had told him led him to believe it would be severe.

She gave him his clothes, steadying him when he swayed a little, "Are you still weak Jarod?” She asked in concern. In Gracie’s mind, Jarod needed some sugar. He was not used to having such a healthy diet anymore, and had barely any fat or sugar since his return.

Jarod nodded and slowly put the shirt on, glad for its loose shapelessness at the moment.

Gracie's mouth slowly formed into a mischievous smile. She glanced around before digging into her pocket and pulling out a chocolate bar. "Eat this before we go, sugar will give you some energy." She whispered happily, knowing how he liked sweets.

"Thanks,” He said, but not with his usual enthusiasm when faced with something sweet. "I appreciate that, and all the time and effort you have put in over the last few days.” He took the chocolate and ate it quickly, feeling a little better for the sugar rush and then gingerly slipped into his pants.

Gracie looked at him sadly, "Did you not like it Jarod?” She asked with disappointment. When she had given him the lollies and ice cream, he had been over the moon. She hadn’t even received a smile for his one. Maybe he wasn’t big on chocolate, more of the real lollies. "Did I do something wrong?"

"No, I am sorry,” He sighed heavily. "I do love it, its just...” He looked up at her. "It was very good.” He forced a smile.

"It’s just what Jarod?” Gracie asked seriously, she didn’t need to be gifted to tell something was majorly wrong with him.

"I am just not myself,” He tried to explain to her. He was more depressed than he had ever been in his life, and he wasn’t coping with it at all.

"Let’s go Jarod.” She said gently, leading him to the door where two guards gripped him and took him back to his cell. Grace didn’t see the point in him always being manhandled like this, it wasn’t like he would go anywhere. When they finally got back to Jarod's cell, Jarod not strong enough to walk at a normal pace still, the sweepers let his arms go. She looked at the bare cell, "I had to remove the blankets and pillow. I am sorry." Gracie apologised sincerely.

Jarod looked at it before stepping in and muttered. "It doesn’t matter."

"We have a SIM due later today Jarod, but that depends on your punishment and when it will be given to you." She doubted that Sir would give the punishment before the SIM if Jarod might work on it, but one never knew.

"I won’t do it, I already told you I won’t cooperate with them.” He said, moving slowly to sit in his spot under the camera.

"You now have no choice Jarod, no ifs no buts.” Grace reminded him, “You WILL do it regardless, and I am afraid of the measures I will be forced to take in order to make you do it."

"I am afraid of them too,” He said softly, but knowing he had little choice. He didn’t have much fight left in him at the moment, and right now he just didn’t care what they did, one way or the other. But he wasn’t going to give them what they wanted.

"I will be back later, either to take you to your SIM, or for the punishment Jarod, get some rest.” She ordered him gently, knowing how badly he needed it still.

Jarod sighed again and let his head rest against the wall and watched her.

Gracie closed and locked the door, making her way back to Sir's office. Knocking she waited to be allowed entrance. She was very worried over Jarod, she was getting so many mixed feelings from him. He just wanted to do what they asked, so he didn’t have to fight anymore, to hurt anymore. But he still wanted to refuse to work for them and it was conflicting within him extremely bad.

Jarod looked at the door before closing his eyes and trying to meditate, with nothing else to do. He needed to find his emotional balance again, but days after trying in the medical bay, he had been unsuccessful in finding that place inside himself he used to hide from the world and reality. Instead, he settled for just closing his eyes, regulating his breathing and remembering his exercises Sydney had taught him.

"Come," Marcus said without looking up, knowing it was Grace.

Walking in, she stood in front of his desk. "Sir, Jarod is back in his cell. I have removed the blankets and pillow. He will need to earn them back." If she were able to get any more special privileges for Jarod, she had to stay in her boss’ good books.

"Yes he will. Is he fit to work?” He asked, putting his pen down. "Why don’t you take a seat?” He offered her.

Gracie looked around the room in confusion before looking back at him, "Me?” She asked. She had never in her life been offered a seat before. She had done nothing extremely well to be offered such a reward, nothing that she knew of anyway. But maybe it was because she was a handler too now, maybe this is what handlers did, they sat while talking instead of standing like a project.

"No, the person behind you,” He said snidely.

Gracie turned to look behind her and frowned even more, "With all due respect Sir, there is no one behind me." She said, shaking her head in bewilderment that her boss might be seeing people that went there.

“Just sit girl,” He said, trying to hide his enjoyment of his teasing.

"Yes Sir.” She said, sitting down as fast as she could, brow still creased as she contained to look around to the person what was behind her.

"Is he fit for work?"

"Yes Sir, but nothing too serious. He is still weak but I don’t see why he can’t do basic simulations or some breeding if you so desire Sir."

“What about his mental state? I have read the doctor's report on his physical condition, what I am more concerned with is his emotional and mental health.” He knew he could have shrinks look at him, but none of them could tell him what she could tell him.

"Well, he admitted to me he is not himself right now. But he is depressed, sad. He couldn’t believe how badly he failed. He doesn’t fail, and this time he did. And not just failed a little, but a lot. Not only did he not get away, he was caught and he ASKED to come home. Being a pretender Sir, he is used to doing things and doing it right. He was running for his misbelief of his so called freedom and he failed. It has hit him hard, he has no fight left to disobey, not much anyway."

"Do you think we can use his current state of mind against him? Or will he just dig in his heels?” He did not like new projects, not knowing enough about them. He preferred those raised here, every aspect of behaviour programmed and reasonably predictable.

"He already has his heels dug in Sir. He is still adamant he won’t work but he is weak, upset. It won’t be too hard to get him working. All I need to do is find that one single weakness of him and exploit it, and I have a fair idea of what I need to use."

"Good," Marcus smiled at her and then remained quiet for a while, pondering his next decision. He needed to know if she could handle this assignment or not. "And his punishment? What should be done about that? An escape is a very serious infringement."

"I would personally make him go outside again Sir." Grace said way too casually for her liking. Her logic was now since there was no escape for Jarod, she had no choice but to make him work. By Jarod working, he would get privileges and would most definitely make his life a lot better living here with her and Bailey.

"Are you trying to kill him?” He asked, his eyebrows raised. "We usually try to keep them in."

"I know. But I want him outside, on the burning tarmac. Undress him and tie him down. Its only a few more days in the medical wing Sir, and it should teach him not to go outside again." And Grace knew it would work. The first days outside had done so much damage to his mental state, failing so badly, but being forced outside and laid down on the burning ground should force him physically not to want to go outside again. Every time he did something wrong, she would suggest he go outside. Jarod would soon come to seriously dislike outside, would fear it, wouldn’t want to go near it. Gracie didn’t want that at all, she wanted Jarod happy, not morose and depressed and miserable. Jarod had proved however, he couldn’t escape, so Grace might as well do what she could to get him working and get him all the privileges he deserved.

He almost snorted in laughter at the sheer brutality of it. He nodded his head slowly. "For how long do you suggest? And who will monitor him, make sure he doesn’t die?"

"I will Sir, if you wish it.” She said obediently, "And it will go on as long as necessary to learn his lesson. I will not allow him to be damaged permanently, but only enough to let him know outside is dangerous, it is harmful. That if he stays inside he is safe and protected from such harm.”

"Very well then, I will leave that in your hands then. Just be sure that he is not permanently harmed, or you will suffer the same fate."

"Yes of course Sir and speaking of my fate Sir, have you decided my punishment Sir?” She asked looking at the ground. The worst of this punishment was not knowing when or what it was. She had had ample of time to run each punishment she had ever received or heard of through her head and did not like not knowing.

"I am not sure what I should do with you. I have decided against a physical punishment for now. If you are to work with Jarod, I need you fit, not laid up. So I have decided to remove all privileges and you can move into the bottom level for a while. I understand it is hard for you being back, and you lost control, but that is no excuse. You will think about your behaviour and ponder it, and when I think you are ready, you may return to your room, and have your privileges reinstated."

Gracie nodded, "Yes Sir. But if I am to work with Jarod, how will I get out of my room to be with him?” She asked in confusion.

"You will be collected when you are required, don’t worry about that girl."

"Will I be allowed to take Jarod to work now and then his punishment first?" She had never really been punished in this fashion. She understood his reluctance to hurt her physically, she needed to be fit to control Jarod. So Grace figured this was more to remind her how nice he was being to her, giving her such a great room, rights to see her sister, freedom to do basically as she liked. He wanted her to appreciate it, to learn not to take it for granted. He wanted to remind her what it could be like again if she lost her control once more.

"Yes, I want that dealt with first. You will have all of your normal duties, but the time you would normally be allowed to yourself will be spent in solitary now. I will not have this punishment interfering with your work. It would defeat the purpose of it now wouldn’t it?” He smiled at her. "And then the only person being punished would be me."

"Oh no Sir. We don’t want you punished, you have done nothing wrong. I will do as you asked then go down to one of the rooms on the lower level. Is there any one in particular you want me in Sir?" Gracie asked, no longer willing to presume and make yet another mistake.

"No, you may choose if you wish. I will alert the staff to the new arrangement, but this will not interfere with your work, they will understand that. And if I ever hear you speak with such disrespect again, nothing will save you.” He informed her coolly.

"Yes of course Sir. I will use this time to practice the control techniques you taught me as a child. I will not do it again Sir, that is a promise." Gracie said bowing her head a little in respect to his wishes. She normally had such great control, Sir was a hard man to please and she had learnt at a young age to put 300 into everything he asked of her. So when she was small, losing control a lot and he taught her these techniques to channel and control the emotions and she had practised them relentlessly, in every spare minute she had.

She had worked so hard she had become their best ever empath. Not only could she read people around her effortlessly by age 5, knowing what every single emotion meant to the person and situation, but by the age of 6 she could manipulate those feelings, change the way people viewed things by playing around with them. A few months later, she had worked out how to transfer her feelings to others, and ‘transplant’ her feelings into the other person’s soul. Grace had mastered this to such a fine point, that right now if she wanted to, she could send happy emotions to Jarod and his depression would leave instantly and he would be on a high from her emotions. She could, a split second later, send him hate, hurt, pain and it would instantly become his own.

But these control techniques also had helped her in her telepath skills. She had taught herself how to not only talk to another using their mind, which was extremely easy, but how to read their thoughts. It went side by side with her empathic skills, which pleased her owners enormously. Her telepathic skills were a fluke mistake, they had not been trying for that at all. Some where along the lines, they screwed her up in the lab, and this was the result.

"Excellent,” He smiled at her. He knew how agitated she had been, but if he allowed that to slide, it would be chaos before he knew it.

She beamed back when he smiled at her, "All I want is to make you proud Sir. And I will do all I can to make up for my atrocious behaviour towards my owner.” She said with conviction.

"I know you will girl,” He said in his most encouraging tone. "I understand how hard it is for you, and this Jarod is not going to be easy, but I have confidence in you."

She grinned broader. "Thank you Sir, I will do you proud.” She nodded, "May I please be excused to tend to Jarod Sir?"

"Yes, I think that is an excellent idea. Just remember, do not damage him too much. We need him working, and soon."

"Yes of course Sir.” She got up and looked at him before smiling coldly, darkly. "I have learnt quite a few tings on how to make a person suffer without damaging them to much."

He looked at her in surprise, wondering if it was a snide remark, but then realised she was only thinking about how to get Jarod to work.

"Though I cannot promise he will not be badly damaged, but he will be able to work still Sir.” Gracie informed him. She never had problems using her talents to manipulate someone into doing what she wanted, but for some reason, she couldn’t bring herself to do it with Jarod. She felt like he had been violated to many times on that front that she had no right to play with him in that manner.

"As long as he is fit, that is my only concern."

"Perfect.” She smiled and moved out. It was hard pretending like this, but it had to be done. Grace made her way slowly down to Jarod's cell and walked in, shutting the door and sitting down next to him out of the view of the camera. "You're going to have a next door neighbour Jarod."

"I am?” He asked, opening his eyes to look at her. His voice was almost back to normal, but was still raspy.

"You sure are.” Gracie told him. She knew she had to accept this punishment, or things could get a lot worse for her. But Grace also had to admit, it wasn’t really such a bad punishment. So she had to sleep on a cold hard floor like Jarod for a while, she couldn’t see her sister for a bit. But it was certainly a lesser punishment then she had been expecting.

"Who?” He asked, not knowing anybody here and thinking that whatever poor bastard was next door wouldn’t make any difference. The walls were thick and he doubted sound would carry beyond his own cell.

"Me.” She said, looking at him, looking for the world like she was un-phased by it all.

"You?” He asked in a small amount of surprise, then it hit him that they must have known she had told him how to get out.

Grace nodded. "After you got out, I went to Sir's office. I was mad at everything, mad at the world, at this situation. I talked to him in a disrespectful manner. All privileges have been removed until he thinks I have learnt my lesson. I am going to use my time down here to remember my place, to learn how to control myself once more."

"I see," Jarod said, thinking about it. He did not want to be the cause of any trouble for this girl, yet he knew that his continuing refusal to work was going to cause plenty of trouble, and he wasn’t sure how to handle it.

"We have to go to work now Jarod, and you will work for me.” She said, leaving no room for arguments. "Then I will take you for your punishment."

"Why don’t we skip the work and go straight to the punishment?” He offered, having no intentions of SIMing for them.

"Come on Jarod, you can’t do this. Mr Marcus knows you are still weak, but can work. I have chosen a very basic simulation. It will do no harm, quite the opposite actually. But you are not the only one going to get into trouble this time if you do not do it.” She said softly.

He looked at her sharply, although he had been expecting it. "Who else then?” He asked, having decided to go through the song and dance anyway.

"It doesn’t matter.” She said gently, thinking about the order Sir had given her the other day about how to handle him if nothing else worked. "But I don’t really want you thinking about anyone else, want you doing it for them. I want you doing this for yourself Jarod. The punishment you have received is going to weaken you tremendously, and you probably won’t survive a punishment for not working as well." Grace said softly, trying to let him understand how serious this was.

He looked at her dully as he climbed to his feet, wondering what the punishment was that he was about to undergo. Maybe he would get lucky and they would just kill him out of frustration.

Gracie got up and grabbed his arm to stop him from going anywhere, staying under the camera. "I am so sorry about this Jarod, I thought you of all people would have been able to get away."

"So did I,” He whispered. "It is not your fault, don’t worry about it. I tried, and I failed. It is over now."

"Let’s get to work Jarod.” Gracie said softly letting him go and walked out the cell. "You are not used to failing are you?” She asked as they walked. She didn’t really need to ask, she already knew. But it was still a bit of surprise he was taking it so hard. And it wasn’t so much him being back here, but the point that he actually couldn’t accomplish something he had set out to do.

Jarod followed her, but had no intention of 'getting to work'. He looked at her sharply, his brow creased and then sighed. "No I am not."

"It must be frustrating to you then.” She said, watching as the sweepers walked closely behind them but for once didn’t grab Jarod.

"Humiliating,” He whispered under his breath. "Yes it is,” He admitted loud enough for her to hear.

She didn’t need to hear his words to feel what he felt. "There is nothing to be ashamed about Jarod, to be humiliated about. You are only human. You fail sometimes." She was an extraordinary person and Grace had failed many a times.

But that was the thing, Jarod had only failed so very few times, and it always seemed to be when it mattered the most. He failed to save Jacob, and although he knew the chances were slim to none, he thought he might have been able to help him. He had failed to save Kyle and now had failed to save himself. It was a bitter defeat. And the worst of all, his first failure of Annie. That still haunted him to this very day.

She looked at him as they walked, "You should not be so hard on yourself Jarod. So you're a genius, a pretender, THE pretender. You are human and human make mistakes. They fail, you fail. No big deal." You fail, you get punished and you learn from it. It was just a part of life.

"People died because I failed. That is a big deal.” He argued back, although without too much conviction.

"It’s life Jarod. Plain and simple. Officers in the bomb squad fail and it kills people. Doctors preforming emergency surgery fail and people die. You're not the only one that can’t save everyone. You can’t save the world, or yourself some times. You just have to live with it." Grace told him, her voice sounding harsh to her own ears.

He laughed softly to himself, and shook his head.

"What’s so funny?" Grace asked in bewilderment. This wasn’t a funny talk.

"Nothing really, it’s just that Sydney told me almost the exact same thing once."

"You didn’t believe him, just like you don’t believe me.” She stated the obvious.

He had been taught all of his life that failure was not acceptable, and he failed so infrequently, that he wasn’t really emotionally or psychologically prepared to deal with it. "No,” He admitted. "I don’t."

She opened the door to the testing lab and led him over to the table. Collins already in there. Gracie took the file from him and gave it to Jarod, sitting on the edge of the table, praying he just did it this time.

Jarod took the file and slowly laid it on the desk, without even looking at it.

"Come on Jarod.” She said, opening it up. "Just do it for me. What will be the harm of you doing something so simple? Something that would be, and could only be, used for good?"

"The harm is it is taking the first step on a journey I am not prepared to undertake. I am not unaware of the principle of baby steps. You get me doing small innocuous things, I get used to saying yes. Sooner or later it is the next step up and it seems just that much easier for me not to refuse.” He looked at the shrink that had been assigned. "Is that an accurate assessment of your policy to 'manage' me?"

Collins almost spluttered in shock and tried to recover himself and looked at Grace, wondering what he was supposed to do.

"Jarod,” She growled harshly until he turned to look at her. "You need out of that cell. It will do nothing but harm having you sit in there all day long. So what if it is a baby step? I thought you wanted to help people. This SIM would be used to help the people of the community not far from here, people that are my friends Jarod." Grace said passionately, her eyes wide, pleading for his help. “They are my friends.” She repeated.

Jarod looked at her, wondering if she was lying. People like this didn’t do things to help, they did things to make money and consolidate their power bases. He knew they were likely picking humanitarian projects simply to get him started. "What harm is it having me in my cell all day long?” He countered.

"Nothing if it isn’t that cell Jarod. I have seen stronger people then you go insane in there. And you are weak at the moment in a cold cell. It will only make you sick. Jarod, just look at the file, read it. Then if you still refuse fine but at least read it for me first please." Gracie pleaded.

"So?” He shrugged. "I have lived in a similar cell nearly my whole life."

"Read the damn file Jarod.” She barked, slamming her hands on the table in frustration and anger. Grace shook her head. "I really do need to practice my control. Look, just read it for me Jarod, then refuse. But at least read it to know what it is for."

Jarod calmly looked at the file and folded his arms across his chest. He knew what she was trying to do, and he wasn’t going to fall for it.

Collins was getting more and more nervous. He was not used to this, never having dealt with a project who so flatly refused. He wondered what it would take to crack Jarod's facade.

"Fine, I will read it to you.” She picked it up, opened it and read the start of the briefing. She read how it was meant to help improve the living and working conditions for the aboriginals in the town she had visited to get both hers and Jarod's medicine. Gracie read how a private company was paying for this, wanted to fix the town up. It also stated how the government kept ripping children from their parents, sending them away to a foster home because they did not believe it was suitable for the children to live how their ancestors did. Gracie told him how this SIM was going to be used to help the families, the community, to stop children being taken from their home, make the living conditions suitable so nothing would happen again.

Jarod looked at her for a long moment, trying to tell if she was lying. The idea of stolen children was something that struck the deepest chord in him.

She laid the file down open on the table. "I know one of the kids taken Jarod. She was two years old. Would be about 6 now. They sent her to South Australia, and the government refuses to give her back, its not 'safe' for her there. They don’t only do this to this one town but all over the country." She said gently. She used every skill she had to hide the fact that she was lying from Jarod, and she knew she successful.

Collins knew that she was lying about the children being stolen still. The government had not done that for many years, but she certainly had his attention now and he kept quiet.

"The government cannot do this,” He protested in outrage. He wasn’t sure if he believed her or not. "Maybe a hundred years ago.” He knew in America, the relations between their indigenous people and the government was not good, even today. But this was a civilized country and surely no government could still propagate such blatant abuses of human rights.

"Why do you think we are trying to stop Jarod?” She asked, leaning back slightly at his fury. It was so sudden, so strong, that it hit with the force of a semi trailer and Grace had to stop from falling off the table. "What do you think this SIM is for? And this is a baby step for the country. People have been protesting over this for many years now."

He started looking through the files, becoming more angry with each piece of new information. These people lived in appalling conditions, with not even the basic amenities and services. They seemed to have no rights at all.

Collins knew he was hooked now, and that the SIM would probably proceed without any further problems. He smiled at Grace and sat back in satisfaction.

She felt Jarod's hate and rage and disgust so easily. "Jarod, these people live how they do because they choose to most times. But the children are always healthy and safe. The government just does not like that they choose to live like their ancestors did. And this is their way of making sure the next generation grow up proper and 'civilised'."

"What do you think I can do to stop it? From here? I know nothing about this government and its policies beyond knowing they are closely allied with the US."

“Closely allied my arse, try sitting right up their arse,” Grace said in obvious disgust. "Everything you need to know is in there Jarod. Run a few SIMs, give us a few ways we can help them. Use the US laws as a guideline. The supplier will be able to modify it enough to stay with in our laws and do this correctly."

Jarod was reading and absorbing everything already, barely listening to her, running what he knew through his head, for the moment, everything else forgotten.

Collins watched him and become increasingly bored after an hour had passed. He could see that Jarod did not want or request any help, just working steadily, scribbling notes down and pacing around the room sometimes, although slowly, due to his condition.

Gracie kept a very close eye on him as he worked. When he finally finished, putting the pencil down she smiled. "See, that wasn’t so hard was it?"

"I don’t know if it will help. I am too uninformed. I know next to nothing about this country, it’s politics. I cannot work in this vacuum,” He fretted. At one time, this had been the only way he knew to work, but things were different now, and he needed to know about implications, ramifications. He needed to see the larger picture to function effectively. He couldn’t unlearn the last few years.

"That’s fine Jarod.” She soothed him, looking through the results. "We can modify this to suit our laws but I am almost positive it will help those people. Thank you Jarod. You have done extremely well on this."

He was not at all happy. It felt half finished and he wanted to be able to follow it up. Despite nearly all of his life performing in a vacuum, with no idea about the results, things were very different now. He waited for closure on his SIMs. He could see the positive impact on people's lives. He needed that like he needed to breathe. Not just some vague reassurance that he had done well. He knew she had outmanoeuvred him on this and that it was a significant psychological victory for them.

Gracie picked the file and results up and walked to Collins. She handed it to him. "Take this to Mr Marcus.” Her boss would know what was to be done with it.

He took it and logged the completion time in at just under 4 hours. "I will get it to him straight away."

"Good.” She nodded, watching him go. She turned to Jarod, "You are not happy with the end results. Why not?” Grace asked, wanting to see if Jarod said anything about certain parts might not work.

"It doesn’t matter," Jarod said, picking the pencil up and toying with it. He wouldn’t be able to use it to help him with the locks, but he might be able to bury in someone if he needed to. He was toying with that idea while he twirled it.

"Put it down Jarod.” She said softly, moving over to him. "And it does matter. What are you not pleased with?" She pushed him ever so gently.

"I don’t know enough to complete it properly. There wasn’t enough preparation or research materials.” He didn’t put the pencil down, just to prove to himself that he could still refuse.

Gracie held her hand out, "Thank you Jarod.” She said, wanting the pencil, but not expecting much. "I am sorry, that is our fault. We are not used to doing this, we are still not to sure how it all works."

He looked at her hand and continued to twirl the pencil, being deliberately belligerent. It was a small rebellion after he had just caved so completely, but he didn’t care.

Jarod give it to me now, do not make me ask you again in front of the cameras. Gracie said to him, her mouth not moving. She knew Jarod must have known she was empathic, but she wasn’t sure if he knew the rest about her. And she thought to herself if he didn’t, he was in for a bit of a shock.

Jarod blinked in surprise as he felt her voice in his mind and made the connections quickly. He handed it to her more in sheer shock than obedience.

"Thank you.” Gracie said, putting the pencil down. "I want to try something with you please Jarod.” She told him sitting on the corner of the desk, "Talk back to me please."

"And say what?” He asked her dully. All the passion and energy gone from him now the SIM was done. He just felt hollow again. Even the notion of her telepathy didn’t really excite him, just made him realise how easy it was going to be for her to 'push his buttons'. It also explained why he could not sim her, or get any kind of accurate prediction on her behaviour. He had tried time and again to predict her response to a carefully considered statement, and she surprised him nearly every time.

I am going to be very bored in my cell for a while until Sir decides I have learnt my lesson, and if I could talk to you like this, not only is it safe, but it will keep us both occupied. Now I need you to concentrate just a little and think of a response, Gracie told him. It would be so much easier if she could talk to him like this while in their cells.

Jarod closed his eyes, torn between how vulnerable this made him, and how much difference it might make as well. He could not deny the excitement of just the very idea of the possibility of it. How long is he liable to keep you there? He sent back, after he had forced his mind to calm down somewhat.

"Don’t concentrate so hard. Just think like you do when reading silently, as if talking to yourself. I can tell how hard you're concentrating from here and you will wear yourself out.” She said gently, trying not to laugh. "And as long as he wants to Jarod."

I cannot do this for them, not even for you. He sent back, forcing himself to relax.

Open your eyes Jarod. Gracie laughed at him and waited till he did. I understand, but we will talk about this later. "I need to take you to your punishment Jarod, and I need you to strip first please."

"What?” He asked in absolute surprise at the shock in the change in subject and her demand.

"Now please Jarod, don’t force me to get the sweepers in to do it for you." She threatened seriously.

"Why?” He asked her, growing very nervous.

"Last chance Jarod.” She said sternly.

He glared at her sullenly, not being able to cope with these swings from apparent caring to cold hostility and cruelty. He had never been so unsure of anybody in his life. He still had no idea if her concern was genuine or all some ploy to undermine him and try to get his cooperation. He slowly took his clothes off and stood before her.

"Let’s go.” She said, calling in the sweepers to cuff him and watched as they grabbed his arms and hauled him forward. She knew Jarod would fight on this, she expected nothing less.

Jarod didn’t resist, knowing that there was zero point in it, but his heart was beating hard, fearing what they might do to him.

Gracie led them to the lift and rode up to the top level. Walking out, she walked the three men to the manned and secured doors and waited for them to be opened. Taking them up the stairs, she opened the door and led them outside. About 20 meters from the old shack like door were ropes hammered into the ground, ready for Jarod to be tied down. She had decided against the tarmac, knowing an hour on it would end up giving him third degree burns and thought the ground would be hot enough.

"No," Jarod started protesting as he realised that they were going outside. Whatever her plans were for him, he wanted no part of it. He was completely naked and had not yet recovered from his last adventure. He struggled to escape the grips of his captors, contorting his body and refusing to walk.

"Just pick him up.” She ordered, watching as they did. Grace moved over to the ropes and waited till Jarod was put down, sitting on his chest while the other two tied his legs down firmly.

"No, you can’t do this,” He protested weakly, his voice already suffering from his screaming. "Please, you can’t leave me out here please. I did your damned SIM, you can’t do this.” He was becoming frantic, bucking and trying to free himself.

Gracie stood back as her new boys lifted Jarod a little and removed the cuffs, one sitting on his chest pinning one arm while his free wrist was tied tightly, then the other. When he was secured, spread-eagled, unable to move, the men left, leaving Jarod and Grace by themselves. "Jarod, this isn’t about the SIM."

He pulled frantically on the ropes, already sweating in the oppressive heat. But he was tied firmly and as he swivelled his head to look at the knots, he knew he would not be getting out until they let him up. He had exhausted what little energy he had in the useless struggle and finally let himself slump, fighting the tears.

Grace knew his body would already be burning on the hot ground, it had only gone midday and was just getting to the hottest part of the day, a few hours out here should be more then enough. Gracie sat down next to him, being slightly burnt through her clothes. "This is about you running Jarod. I know it is my fault, I shouldn’t have offered you a way out, but this must be done." No one was around and that left them to talk openly. “I don’t want to punish you for something I suggested, but I have been ordered.”

Jarod squirmed futilely on the ground, his eyes squeezed tightly closed against the dry heat and brightness. They still had not yet fully recovered. "Why don’t you just kill me?” He asked pitifully. His brain providing a list of all the damage that was about to be done to his body.

"I wouldn’t hurt you like that Jarod.” She said a little offended. Not to mention her boss would kill her if she did. Grace didn’t even want to be punishing him. It had been her suggestion, but it was not something she took joy in. Not right now anyway.

"But you don’t seem to mind this,” He spat out at her in disgust, trying to keep his body off the scalding ground. He could feel his skin burning again already and in less than an hour he knew he would have some severe sunburn, any longer and it would be bordering on a real burn.

"I have to do this Jarod. There is no choice in the matter.” She told him, "And do not take that tone with me Jarod, I could just leave you out here for the rest of the day you know if you really want me to."
The Threat by jacci
Author's Notes:
Only a little one this time, but hope everyone likes.
Jarod closed his eyes, concentrating on the ropes. His body was slick with sweat and he started trying to work his way out of them, ignoring the pain as they chafed his skin. It was too hot and he knew he wouldn’t last very long staked out here.

"The only thing that will achieve Jarod," Gracie said, placing a hand over one of his wrists, "Is damaging your skin and giving yourself scars.” She said gently.

Jarod did not stop his efforts, ignoring her and trying to block out the feeling of his tender skin burning. His face, neck and hands were not yet fully healed and the rest of his body was not used to this kind of exposure either. He was literally going to fry if he stayed here too long. He didn’t care about scars on his wrists or ankles and wondered why it would concern her at all.

"You won’t get out of those ropes Jarod, and even if you do, where do you expect to go? Kill me and run off into the outback again? Its suicide for you.” She tried to reason with him. There was no point in trying to get free of ropes if there was no where to go.

"That would be better than this, dying, staked out like some kind of sacrifice. I know there must be a town here within walking distance, just in a different direction. I would rather die trying."

"You are not going to die staked out here like this Jarod. Not only would I not allow it, but neither would sir.” She gently wiped the sweat from Jarod's brow. "You will be back inside before you even loosen one of the ropes and then you have only hurt yourself more for no good reason." Grace said gently, trying to get Jarod to understand the uselessness of it.

He refused to acknowledge her any further and closed his eyes, letting his head rest on the ground, feeling like his back was literally being baked. This was the most inhospitable country he had ever seen and he wanted so badly to go home. To sit on the beach and look at the endless ocean, the waves crashing gently against the shore. He conjured the image up in his mind, trying to transport him out of his current reality.

"Jarod just say you did get away, run off and find a town. Which would be very hard in itself considering how far apart they are, what would you expect to do once you get to the town?” She asked out of curiosity.

Jarod tried to ignore her, wanting to stay in the fantasy he had constructed.

“Do not be so rude Jarod and answer me. There are plenty of things I could do to make this worse for you if you be so disrespectful." She warned, every intention of doing so if he pushed her.

He reluctantly opened his eyes, pulled back to his reality and laughed hollowly. "Really? I would be curious to know how." At the moment, his overactive imagination was failing to come up with any way this situation could degenerate any further. He was too far beyond anything to really care at the moment.

"Very well." Gracie said and got up, "If you so wish." She said in a disinterested voice.

"I didn’t mean a demonstration,” He said, but guessing it was too late to change her mind now. He didn’t know why he felt so compelled to push her like this.

Gracie ignored Jarod as she moved the short distance to the door that led down to Gandi and opened it, finding the two sweepers standing guard waiting. She asked one of them to go and get what she asked and to bring it out to her. Grace waited in the harsh heat and sun, watching Jarod while she stood there. When he came back and gave them to her, she moved over to Jarod.

Jarod looked up at her, not even trying to imagine what she might do next. He had given up trying to read her and it was just too damned hot to concentrate. He could feel his skin burning, especially the tender area around his inner thighs and genitals. He was stretched tightly, his muscles aching at the unnatural position, spread to their limit.

Gracie knelt down on the hot sand and forced Jarod's back to arch the small amount he could and slipped two ropes under him. She positioned one over his chest, one over his lower torso and clipped the end of each single rope together so Jarod could not get them off. She sat back, watching him, each rope had four round metal plates. They would soon heat up and as they did, burn his flesh. She tightened each of the two ropes a little, so if Jarod tried to thrash about, they would not move.

Jarod tried to squirm away from them, but only managed to do more damage to his mangled wrists and ankles. He swallowed his pride and after forcing his body to still itself, he opened his eyes again to look at her. "I am sorry Miss Gracie for my earlier rudeness." He hated himself for submitting so quickly, but it seemed ridiculous now to fight after he had already given in earlier and simmed.

"No you're not Jarod, but you will be soon.” She said as she leant back on her hands enjoying the sun, even thought it was extremely hot.

He refused to succumb to the urge to fight the ropes again. He was weak already and what little energy he had he had used in the original struggle, and the rest had been sucked out of him by the heat. He could feel something trickling down his arms and didn’t want to look to see if it was sweat or blood. The metal was heating up quickly and becoming increasingly more uncomfortable. The heat was bad enough without this intensifying it.

"As I have already said Jarod, I am sorry I got you into this much trouble for offering a way out, and I apologise once more. But this,” She touched the plates, already getting hot, "I will not apologise for. You need to learn not to be rude, you have proven to both yourself and I you can’t get away, you will now have to start learning your place." If he just could be good for them, he wouldn’t have a bad life here. He couldn’t escape, Grace was naïve to think he could in the first place.

"My place?” He asked her softly, trying to keep the edge out of his voice. It was too damned hot at the moment, and he was struggling to keep the contempt for this whole ‘keeping his place’ from his face and voice. He would never be able to accept his life here, or the life she had outlined for him.

"Yes. You are a project. You do as you are told, as I tell you. You will do what ever medical exam we wish, you will work regardless, you will not be rude and disrespectful." Gracie told him yet again.

He swallowed dryly, no moisture left in his mouth. Talking was still difficult from his last excursion outside. "I will not be rude and disrespectful,” He intoned for her. That much at least he could work on, it was only his pride after all. If he was to survive this, he needed to be smarter than he had been so far if there was to be any hope for him at all.

"I should hope not. But Jarod, you will work. I have no choice now. Before you left, I could have gotten away with you not wanting to work most of the time but I can’t now. Mr Marcus will get strict and demand results and I will have to give him what he wants.” She touched Jarod's chin, turning his head to face her, looking at him in misery, "I can’t apologise enough for getting you into this, I should never have told you how to get out.” It was a mistake to think anyone could ever leave here, no one ever had, and no one ever will.

“Don’t be sorry for me,” He told her. He was sick of hearing her apologies as she just did something further to hurt him. Right now it was all just too much for him and he seriously contemplated doing something to make her mad enough to just kill him right now.

“How long do you estimate you can be out here before you are damaged?” Gracie asked, watching as the plates seem to shimmer slightly red. She didn’t know if it was because they were getting really hot now, or just the reflection of the red soil around them. Maybe if she got Jarod thinking about something technical it would help him ease into it. He would have to run through all the knowledge in his head to answer her. It wasn’t a SIM, but she was getting him there.

He ran some calculations, but only half heartedly, finding it very hard to concentrate. "A few hours before serious burning, maybe as much as 6, given my current condition before dehydration causes serious problems.”

Gracie nodded. “This is more for show than discipline. I do believe nearly dying out here was a lesson learnt much more strongly then any punishment.”

"I think you have proved your point,” He ground out, his body starting to try and escape from the metal plates that were getting increasingly hot. They would start searing right through his skin soon if she didn’t remove them.

“I don’t think I have Jarod. You still won’t work, are still rude to everyone including your owner.” She reprimanded him. He would learn, sooner or later.

"I won’t work, but I will be polite from now on,” He promised her, deciding on a compromise he could live with.

“That is not good enough Jarod. I can’t afford for you not to work. Two SIM’s, each you had to be forced to do. One was to help, the other was simple maths. I can’t do this much longer. They are going to want real results from you. On simulations that will earn your keep.”

He shook his head. "You knew before you brought me back here I would refuse. You will have to kill me, but I won’t do it. I can be civil if that makes it easier for everyone, especially me, but I can’t kill for them, I won’t. My work will never again be used against innocents."

“Then that is settled. I am sorry for everything that is about to happen to you Jarod. Sir will not tolerate you not working.” Her voice warning him of how bad it will get.

"Why don’t you just kill me now?” He whispered to her.

“Because they would rather kill your family first and let you suffer,” She said in a miserable voice.

Jarod shrugged. "Even I don’t know where they are, that is an empty threat."

“We don’t view family the same way as you do apparently. To sir, Sydney would be apart of that family.” Grace told him, knowing how he would react. That was the whole point. They knew Sydney was Jarod’s ‘father’ and they had no problem using it against him.

"No,” He screamed hoarsely, renewing his struggles futilely. Pulling violently on the ropes at his wrists and ankles. "No, don’t you touch him."

“I have no choice now Jarod, you just told me you would rather die then work. And Mr Marcus will not allow you to die, or not work. So next best thing in his mind is to make you suffer and if that means torturing Sydney slowly to death for you to work, then that is what will be done.” Grace told him, making her voice cold and cruel. She needed Jarod to work no matter if he wanted to or not, and although she did not like having to use Sydney, if she had to she damn well was gonna.

Jarod shook his head miserably. "No, please, you can’t do that. Please don’t touch him.” He begged her, struggling against the ropes with the very last of his energy. His body finally gave up, panting against the heat and the burning on his chest and abdomen.

“Then work Jarod. It’s that simple. Work or it is Sydney that will suffer. I told you earlier today they would hurt someone else if you refused didn’t I?” She asked him, remembering back to a little while ago when he had refused to do his SIM and she had told him they would hurt someone else if he didn’t.

He listened to her, his heart filling with despair. "And if I still refuse? You can only kill him once." Jarod said, although he didn’t know if he could sacrifice Sydney so easily.

“Yes but there is no reason why they can’t bring him over and make you watch it.” Grace informed callously. “Each time you say no, something will be done to hurt him. And they know how to drag it out over weeks. Slowly and painfully.”

Jarod's chest was hitching up as his breathing become more and more laboured as he looked into the abyss that was his future. He seemed doomed every way he turned. There was no way out for him, no escape, no hope and he gave into the despair as it settled in on him. He had fought so hard for so long, and for it to end like this was almost too much for him to comprehend. Jarod had never suffered such a comprehensive defeat before.

“Will you work Jarod, or force me to get Sydney here?” She asked him gently. His sadness hit her hard as he let all of this finally get to him.

He could not stop the tears leaking from his eyes as he nodded in absolute defeat, finally admitting to himself that she had won.

Gracie softly wiped his teas from his cheeks. “Thank you Jarod. Now would you like to go back inside? It’s a bit hot out here.”

He didn’t bother answering her, just kept his eyes closed as his world crashed down around him. Even after his brother had died, he had not felt despair this deep. He had clung on to the hope that he would find his family and that even in death, Kyle lived on. His legacy in every beat of that young boy’s heart. But now there was no hope, they had taken it all.

Gracie got up and moved to the door, opening it to see the two sweepers, “Go get him, bring him in.” She ordered, watching as they moved over to undo Jarod, leaving the metal plates on him and hauling him to his feet, holding his arms tightly and brought him back inside. She felt extremely mean for having to do this to him, but Grace had her orders, had a task to complete and she had to do what she was told. Simple as that.

Jarod didn’t resist, just flopping in their arms. He honestly didn’t care anymore what they did to him.

She took them down to the medical wing and watched as nurse Jane and the doctor went about removing the plates and putting him into a cold bath to cool him down.

Jarod sunk gratefully into the cool water, shivering already from the sudden change from extreme heat to the air-conditioned halls of this place. The nurse clucked over his condition and his stupidity. Jarod paid her no attention as he kept his eyes closed, just letting the cool water soak into his body. He turned himself off, not paying any attention to anything said to him. He had given in and there was no fight left in him now. The days passed and Jarod remained morosely silent, answering questions when pushed, but not otherwise engaging in any conversation. He was here and he wasn’t going anywhere, but he wasn’t going to pretend he was happy about it. He didn’t even ask if they could remove the cuffs so he could move about, just spent the days and nights staring at the ceiling, barely sleeping and only eating when they pushed the issue. When it was time for them to take him back to his cell, he let them take him without comment or complaint.

Gracie stood up and walked out the cell that she was now in as her punishment as the door was opened. Jarod had been brought back to his room last night, after another three days in the medical wing, and she had not bothered to talk to him, giving him time to himself. Moving to the next door, she opened it to see Jarod curled into a ball under the camera. “Its time to work Jarod, come along.”

Grace knew you didn’t need to have any empath skills to tell what Jarod was feeling. He had barely spoken or eaten. When left alone he was curled into a ball, trying to isolate himself. He hadn’t slept much either, in his cell or the medical wing, bags under his eyes. His face was drawn and pale and he was deeply depressed.

Jarod looked at her, having barely said two words to anyone in the last few days. He had figured, the more time he spent in the infirmary, the less time he could SIM. He needed to find out what he could do to get himself back there as frequently as possible, but not often enough for her to make good on her threat to bring in Sydney. He stood up slowly, still not fully recovered, and moved towards the door.

She walked forward, Jarod following, two large man either side of him. Taking him back to the same testing lab she had the other times, she asked him to sit and took the file from Collins. Grace had gotten a hard SIM, knowing the chances of Jarod rebelling against it. There was no way it could be used for good, it had only evil purpose.

Jarod sat down silently, ignoring the two guards flanking him, waiting.

Collins moved back, it had been made clear to him that he was not to interfere. His job was to observe, learn as much as he could and help if it was asked of him.

She took her seat on the corner of the desk and pushed the folder in front of Jarod, “Let’s get to it please Jarod.” Grace said in an even voice. She would not be kind, plead with him to do it, would not swap it for a humanitarian SIM. She needed to see if Jarod would do them now or if she really did have to bring Sydney over.

He took the folder without comment and read through it slowly. His eyes were still sore and his headache was down to a dull throb only. He knew that he could not do this, that they had picked it deliberately to test him. The further he read, the more he knew that he couldn’t live with himself if he did it.

Gracie picked the pencil and held it up for Jarod. “Come on Jarod, do not make me do what we talked about the other day outside.” She said threatened in a quite voice.

He took it from her without looking at her eyes. "Thank you,” He intoned politely, but with no emotion in his voice. He had done a lot of thinking during his stay in the infirmary, once again cuffed to the bed. He had nothing to do but think and he had come to the horrifying conclusion that he was going to have to cooperate with them. The Centre would find him sooner or later and try to mount a rescue, and if they didn’t, he needed time to prepare, learn everything he could about this place and it's people. He had planned his escape from the Centre for months, and had only just gotten out. His attempt here had been foolhardy and if there was any hope for him, he was going to have to be patient, and play along.

“You are welcome Jarod.” She said softly, knowing what it had cost Jarod to agree to do this. She sat on the desk, watching silently as he worked. Grace knew no matter how hard she tried now, Jarod would no longer want to talk to her other then talking when she asked him a question. She had done too much emotional damage to him to ever want to be her friend and that hurt her deeply. But she wasn’t meant to have friends anyway, so it might just keep Jarod safer.

He ignored her and started working through the SIM, taking it slowly, working methodically. He did not like Collins and refused to talk to him. He was used to running his SIMs alone now, and he preferred that just fine. He would answer questions, but nothing else. He tried to pay no attention to the two of them and felt like telling her he would work much better if she wasn’t breathing down his neck. He ignored the moral and ethical ramifications of what he was doing and just lost himself in the problem.

Hours later she was glad when Jarod was finished, placing his pencil down obediently. “I assume this will work Jarod?”

"I assume so,” He agreed.

“Do I need to tell you what happens if it doesn’t?” She asked him hoping that she didn’t need to threaten him yet again.

"No,” He said dully, looking up at the camera.

“Good.” She picked up the folder and all the notes Jarod had done and held it out to Collins. “You know what to do.” She said, waiting for him to take it.

He got up, stretching and took the folder from her. Running these SIM’s was mind-numbingly boring for him, and he knew Jarod was never going to depend on him the way he did Sydney, and seemed to be doing just fine on his own. "I will take them up for analysis and then to Mr Marcus."

“Good.” She said not looking away from Jarod as he left. “How are you feeling Jarod?” She asked him gently. Even if he didn’t want to be her friend, Grace would be damned if she would let him get so bad he would never have a chance at being the man he was before again.

"Tired and sore,” He told her frankly. His head was pounding again and he wanted to lie down. He would prefer the infirmary, at least there was a bed there. He wondered briefly if he attacked his two watchdogs if they might land him back there.

Gracie brushed his hair back softly, “Let’s get you back to your room then.” She got up and nodded for the men to come and get him, watching as they grabbed him and led him back to his cell.

Jarod walked back as slowly as they would allow him, his head down, eyes on the ground. He hated himself for what he had just done and he guessed that there would be plenty more to expect. He wondered, but hadn’t bothered to ask her, not believing that she would tell him the truth, if he had told her to leave him in the desert that day to die, if she would have done so.

Gracie followed them and watched as Jarod was shoved into his room and the door slammed and locked shut. Moving next door, she walked in and shut the door to her cell. She hoped she would be allowed out soon, it was boring in here and she had gone over her control techniques serval times already. She sat in the same spot as Jarod was in his cell, hiding under the cameras. Sighing heavily, she touched the wall between the cells Jarod, how are you coping? She asked him silently.

Jarod tried to shut his mind off, not wanting to talk to her at all, and especially not having her violate his mind as well. It wasn’t enough that they had broken him so quickly, but now she wanted to own his very mind as well. He concentrated as much as his headache would allow, trying to block her.

Come on Jarod, it doesn’t work this way. I can feel you trying to ignore me and it will not work. now stop being so rude and answer the question please. Gracie ordered him softly.

I am not coping at all. He told her, hoping that she would be satisfied with that. There was an ache in his soul that made the aches in his body seem insignificant.

Grace sighed heavily. I am sorry to hear that Jarod, I really am. Is there anything I can do to help you?

Leave me be.

Gracie nodded sadly, For now, I will do as you ask Jarod, but things will get easier for you.

Which will make things easier for you and everybody else. He thought bitterly. He knew that given enough time, he would make the necessary adjustments, adapt and accept to a certain degree, but right now, he wanted to wallow in his misery.
The Escape by terri_tpfan
Author's Notes:

Hi guys! Thanks for all the wonderful comments you have given us, means a lot. Hope you like this chapter! :D

 

 

Grace walked into Jarod’s cell, seeing him on the bed he had pulled over to hide under the camera. He still didn’t like them, didn’t like the constant watching. She moved over and sat on the end of the cot, “Good morning Jarod.” He had been behaving since the day he performed the first SIM, the day he knew if he didn’t Sydney would be hurt and killed. It pained her to see him so depressed, so miserable, but he was working and that made her boss very happy.

"Good morning,” He responded dutifully.

“How are you going today Jarod?” She asked, folding her legs underneath her.

"Fine,” He said with a heavy sigh.

It had been three weeks since the first SIM he had done without argument and fine was the last thing he was. “Did you enjoy the warm shower this morning?” She asked, not only had he earnt himself a bed and bedding, but towels for after his showers. The simulation he performed yesterday had earnt him the warm water. With each passing day, with each SIM he performed, with each million he brought in, he was being treated better. If this kept up, soon he might be allowed out of this cell and into one that has a permanent bed, desk and a chair.

He hated that his SIM's were buying him creature comforts. It just made him feel even more guilty about what he was allowing himself to do. What was expected however, was gratitude. "Yes, thank you, it was very good." He felt like he was whoring his soul for things like blankets and warm water. Refusing the privileges however, would border on rudeness, and these people seemed obsessed with manners.

Gracie grinned broadly. “I thought you might like it. Since all your burns have healed, a warm shower would have been very nice.” There was no doubt that Gracie thought she had done well getting him the warm water and she showed it in her eyes and smile. It had been a bit of a saga trying to get the warm water on for when he was allowed to shower, but it was well worth the effort. She knew that after a month of ice cold showers, a warm one would be pure luxury.

He was more or less fully healed now, but the wounds inside were still fresh, and he had nightmares every night about what he was doing, what would happen if he didn’t do it. He barely slept anymore, only just enough for him to survive, and he was having constant nightmares of dying in the outback now, which just added to his usual repertoire of night-time movies he enjoyed oh so much.

“Come on Jarod. Let’s get to work. Lunch will be served after you have completed it.” She said getting up, speaking softly and sadly. She hadn’t meant for him to get so disheartened like this.

He stood up and straightened up the little bed that they had given him, barely big enough to fit his lengthy frame. He missed Sydney terribly, being able to talk to him, have his reassurance that he had made the right choice. He knew she wanted to try and help, but he could barely bring himself to look at her anymore.

“Come on Jarod.” She said softly, a hand on the small of his back and leading him forward. “Do you want to see Bailey after work today? She wants to show you Walter. He has gotten big since the first time you saw him.” She tried to get something out of him, a smile, a happy word, anything. She had been trying so hard to make him happy and just couldn’t. Each time she gave him something special, made a lame joke, told him about what happened with Bailey that made her smile, he just said the perfect thing back a project is meant to say.

"Sure Miss Gracie, that would be just fine,” He told her softly.

Gracie stopped him just outside his room and looked him in the eye. “Tell me how to make it better for you Jarod.” She pleaded. She found herself waking up depressed in the morning, continually getting Jarod’s emotions and knew how bad it was here for him. But whatever she did, nothing worked. He just got worse and worse each day that passed.

"You already know the only answer to that question, and there is no point in talking about it. I am here, I am working, it is enough. Do not ask anything else of me." If he remained here for the next 50 years, he could never be 'happy' or learn to like it the way she wanted him too. She wanted him to accept it, like it, and that was something he knew he could never do. In time, he knew he would learn to accept, but he could never, would never like it here, no matter how nice and comfortable they made it for him.

Gracie looked sadly down to the ground. “Yes of course Jarod. You are right, it is enough that you are working. I shouldn’t want to try to make you happy or even to see you smile even once.” She mumbled, upset now even more then she was when she first entered the cell.

He forced a smile for her. "Happy now Miss Gracie?" He tried to behave as she wanted him to.

She looked up at him and blinked back the tears. “Don’t be sarcastic Jarod.” She sighed heavily. “I just miss seeing you how you were before. I never knew how much working would change you. I know I never knew the real you, but I caught glimpses of it. I can feel, see what sort of person you normally are and I miss not having the chance to get to know you better.”

"I am not being sarcastic Miss Gracie, I am trying to do what you want, be the good project you want me to be. You wanted a smile, I gave you one. Projects obey owners and handlers, there was no sarcasm involved."

Gracie looked at him and shook her head. “Forget it.” She said in a harsh whisper and started to walk, knowing Jarod would follow because of the men behind them.

The group moved forward and Jarod knew he had upset her, but couldn’t bring himself to care. He knew that people were most likely dying because of what he was doing, and hurting one girl’s feelings seemed insignificant, considering she was the girl that was making him do so much of this. There was conflict within her, he could feel it, but he simply did not have the will to try and do anything about it at the moment. Escape still seemed like an impossibility, and he had seen so little of the structure that he had been unable to come up with any kind of plan at all.

Collins was no longer needed on the project, it was waste of money since Jarod never spoke to him. She sat on the desk, watching him as she did every other day. She watched as the horror spread over his face at what was asked of him, watched as his mind and soul fought, logic over feelings. Do it, kill these innocent people or lose Sydney. She watched as feelings overtook and he did as he was told and performed the SIM, desperate to keep Sydney safe. When he had finished, she read it over. “I’ll send this out. The sweepers will take you back to your cell for lunch, I’ll come collect you afterwards if you would like to see Bailey.”

Any break from the boredom of the cell was welcome. "Please Miss Gracie, that would be good." Although he half suspected this was some kind of move on her part to manipulate him again. He hated the time just after the SIM’s. He was morose and full of self-loathing for what he had just done, so any respite would be a welcome relief.

She nodded and got up, taking the file, knowing he would be back in his cell as soon as she left the room. There was never any mistake on his food anymore. After his first breakfast he was not given, Grace had spoken with Jarod’s personal chef to make sure each meal was to get to him without a doubt. Jarod barely touched his lunch half the time, being vegemite sandwiches, still thinking they were horrid.

Gracie dropped the files off as she had been doing for the last fortnight and went to see Bailey. She opened the door to see her on her bed crying, “Bailey, what’s wrong?” She asked. Grace was instantly worried and afraid, seeing Bailey crying. It was a rare occurrence with this child, and when it did happen, it normally meant something bad had just been done.

"Grace,” She said, her bottom lip quivering, as she scooted back up the bed, away from her sister.

“Honey.” Gracie aid softly, slowly moving over to her and sitting on the bed, not touching her, wondering why she was so scared. It hurt her deeply that her little sister seemed so scared of her. Bailey was a better empath then she was, only in the way of reading another’s emotions, and knew how to keep things hidden. “What’s wrong? What happened?”

She moved further away from her, having changed her mind now about talking to her. "Go away Gracie."

“No.” She said gently, “What happened?” She asked her again, letting her face and voice let Bailey know hoe much this was worrying her, scaring her.

Bailey shook her head and hugged herself. "No,” She whispered, trying to make herself smaller.

“Bailey, I am not leaving you alone if you are this upset. You know you can talk to me. It’s ok to tell me what is wrong.” She pushed gently. She didn’t want to read Baileys mind, but if she didn’t tell her, Grace would.

"Nothing is wrong,” She told her, trying to stop the tears. She wasn’t supposed to tell, and she wasn’t going to.

“Don’t make me read you Bailey. Please sweetheart, you can tell me, I won’t say anything. Did you get into trouble?” She asked, trying to guess what was wrong. But something was nagging at the back of her mind. This all seemed familiar to Grace.

She shook her head and then nodded. She wasn’t really sure if she was in trouble or not, but it had sure felt like a punishment.

“Did you do something wrong?” She pushed ever so gently, shifting slightly towards her.

"I don’t know,” She wailed miserably.

“What happened?” She asked Bailey yet again, worried sick over her behaviour. Bailey had never not spoken to her when she was upset, she always told her straight away.

"Not supposed to tell. I promised,” She whispered, her breath coming in shallow hiccups.

“Bailey, you can tell me. I won’t tell any of the handlers or owners. You know that, you can trust me. I want to make it better for you. I don’t like seeing you upset like this.” Grace pushed gently, her fear evident now as she begged Bailey to speak with her.

She shook her head frantically, and backed away again.

Gracie had had enough and reached forward and grabbed her, holding her tightly. If she wasn’t going to tell, that was Bailey’s choice, but she would not let her be this upset without some sort of comfort.

Bailey flinched at the touch, trembling but not pulling away. It was forbidden to pull away.

Gracie held her tightly, rocking her slightly, brushing her hair back and whispering words of comfort to her. She was terrified and Grace just didn’t know why. She knew she had promised Bailey never to use her talents on her, but she didn’t know what else to do. So she closed her eyes for a moment and got a small glimpse, hoping if she could start, Bailey would talk to her. Grace gasped when she saw Bailey in a room with Mr Mathews watching as he ordered Bailey to undress. She shook her head no, that one small image was enough to tell her what must have happen, “Did Mr Mathews touch you?” She asked in a whisper, her eyes burning brightly. She was going to castrate that son of a bitch.

She shook her head weakly. She wasn’t supposed to tell.

“Don’t lie to my Bailey.” She told her, still rocking her. She was struggling to keep her emotions in check and locked away from her little sister.

Her eyes filled with tears at the gentle command. She had never lied to her before, and she didn’t want to now. "He said I can’t tell Gracie, and he is an owner, you are only a handler."

“But if he has touched you Bailey, you must tell me. I am your sister, you must do what I say above all else.” She told her gently, looking down into her eyes.

Bailey knew that wasn’t true, and shook her head again.

“Bailey, I need you to do what I tell you right now. Go get changed into some clean clothes. Grab a bag, put a few changes of clothes in and put Walter in, nice and safe. Stay in here and wait for me, you mustn’t leave this room. Am I understood?” She asked urgently.

It scared her to no end Bailey would not talk to her. She was lying black and blue to Grace, and she had never done that. She had always done what Gracie had told her before anyone else. She would not let anyone touch her sister how they had been touching her all these years.

The audacity of Mr Mathews to touch her sister like that was beyond Grace. And even if it took her ten years, she would make him pay for all he was worth. Her mind was speeding along, a million thoughts a second. She had to get Bailey out of here, get her away safely. Jarod’s words of wrong and right touching echoing in the back of her mind, and right this instant, it couldn’t be clearer about what was wrong.

"Yes Gracie,” She said, wiping her nose. "Am I in trouble now Gracie?"

“Oh no darlin’. You are never in trouble with me.” She gave a kiss on the head and wiped the tears away. “Just do as I say, make sure Walter is nice and safe in your bag and wait till I come back for you ok?” She asked, letting her go and getting off the bed. “I need you to be very grown up for the moment Bailey and do everything I tell you to do no questions asked.”

She looked up at her, knowing that Gracie knew she lied, and lying wasn’t allowed. "Yes Gracie, I will be good for you,” She sniffled, worried that she had upset her. Normally she could tell, but was too upset now to even try to read her.

“Good girl.” She said, “Go get changed I’ll be back real soon.” She said and stormed out of her room.

Going into her room, she packed a bag with the few things she needed and loved the most, setting it aside, not sure if she could even get her bag out. She walked out of her room the bag by her door and walked as calmly as she could to Jarod’s cell.

Yanking open the door, she stormed in, her rage on her face, her fury in her voice. “On your feet now!” Grace barked loudly, knowing that he would not disobey her right now. He had never seen her this angry before, and she hoped he knew to stay out of the line of fire or he would be severely damaged.

Jarod looked up at her and jumped to his feet as quickly as he could. He didn’t dare ask what was wrong, but he knew somehow he was at the centre of it. Standing before her, he wondered if the SIM had gone badly. He was doing his best to stretch them out, take longer than was required, not putting in his best effort by a long shot.

She moved out of view of the camera, “We are going.” She said, grabbing his arm painfully tight and hauling him forward.

His depression, his obedience, his pain had been weighing heavily on her since he was first brought in. Since the day she had taken Jarod, he had comforted her when she was upset, talked to her like a real person. He had tried to get her to see how bad it was in here, how wrong it was for these people to keep her and her sister in captivity. But Grace had been stubborn, had relied on her training. But after this brutally cruel act on such an innocent small child, she would not stay here a second longer.

"Going where?” He whispered back. He was not about to let her stake him outside again.

Gracie ignored him, hand tightly wrapped around his, she led him up to her room and paused just long enough to grab the bag. She knew it was risky, but she just couldn’t part with her things. Photos of Wil and Jon and her, some clothes, and small things she had kept that Bailey had made her when she was a small child. She stormed down the hall, bag over her shoulder and resting on her hip, and stopped outside Bailey’s room.

Jarod balked as he realised they were going to her sister's room. Something was terribly wrong, and he didn’t think this would turn out well for him. It seldom did.

She left him standing at the door and walked in quickly, “Did you do what I asked?” She asked Bailey, seeing her changed and was glad for it. She didn’t want her wearing the clothes he had touched her in. Grace wanted to burn them but didn’t have the time.

"Yes Gracie," Bailey whisperer, very afraid now.

“Grab your bag, careful not to hurt Walter and come with me.” She said, grabbing her hand after she picked up the bag and walked her out, “Come.” She barked viciously at Jarod.

Bailey held her hand tightly, very afraid now. She was very careful of Walter, but had never seen Gracie this upset before.

Jarod followed nervously, wondering at the lack of guards. Even now, weeks since his escape attempt, he was never out of the cell without his two shadows. "Miss Gracie, what is happening?” He asked softly, not liking this.

“Shut it.” She snapped at him, in no mood to be comforting him, especially after how he was before the SIM. She led them to one of the rarely used stair cases and walked in, and started up the steps.

Jarod looked around as they made their march into unfamiliar areas to him. He had never seen her this upset before and he wisely decided to keep his questions to himself for the moment.

Bailey was still too upset over her meeting with Mr Matthews to be reading anyone properly, all she new was she had upset Gracie and that they were doing something they shouldn’t be doing now.

She walked up the flight of stairs, not stoping her quick pace for one second. It was so rarely used that there was dirty and dust about, half the lights no longer working. It was so unused she doubted even most of the owners knew it led to an exit. Getting to ground level, she opened the door and walked them out, not stoping once.

It always surprised her how easy it was to walk out of this place. If you knew of the less used exits then it was a piece of cake. The security was nowhere as high as other competing facilities, mainly because the owners knew once you got out, you could never escape to safety. The terrain was too harsh, too cruel for anyone to survive if they didn’t know what they were doing.

Jarod shook his head at the blindingly bright light and the blast of heat. He had learnt his lesson last time and was not falling for this again. "No,” He said softly, fighting his natural urge to run.

"Gracie?" Bailey asked in confusion. "Why are we outside? Is it time to let Walter go?

“No not yet Bailey. He is still too little, you should no that.” She said softly, turning to Jarod, “Let’s go Jarod, I do not have time for this, none of us do.” She ordered, grabbing his arm with her free hand and pulled him forward. She wasn’t prepared for this, Jarod’s feet had no shoes on, Bailey or herself not properly dressed.

"I know that Gracie," Bailey said hotly, she was not stupid, but she couldn’t figure out why they would be outside with Jarod all by themselves.

Jarod pulled from her grasp. "Are you insane?” He hissed, finally moving out of his depressed stupor.

“Door is right there Jarod, you can go back inside and live the life you so hate. Or you can come with us, but I do not have the time for your stupid little hissy fits.” She growled ruthlessly, trying desperately hard not to take too much of her anger out on him.

"You are running?” He asked incredulously, looking at the little girl by her side.

“No. WE are.” She said turning to face him. “I am not waiting for your decision. They will realise we are gone very soon and we need at least half an hour head start.” She took the bag from Bailey and slung it over her shoulder, being careful of Walter and her own bag. “I don’t really care if you stay or come. I am worried about Bailey but either way we are going NOW.”

He was completely unprepared for this, looking down at his bare feet and remembering with horror the last time. But he knew he would rather die trying than to willingly go back. "Why don’t you give me that then, we will move much faster." He didn’t ask her yet why she was going, or what Bailey had to do with it, he guessed there would be plenty of time for questions later.

“No, you take Bailey. We are going to go for a nice little run.” She said, passing Bailey across to Jarod.

He bent down and scooped her up. "You up for a horsy ride?” He asked her, trying to put her at ease while he kicked his mind back to first gear. He had been losing himself in a stupor now for weeks, trying to shut out the reality that his life had become, trying not to remember all that he had lost or left behind.

She didn’t know what a horsy ride was but knew that Gracie wanted them to hurry up so she agreed.

"Alright then," Jarod said, "Hold on tight around my neck, and I won’t let you go."

She let him pick her up and she wrapped her legs around his waist and her arms around his neck, terrified of touching him. But the feelings she was getting from Gracie told her that she just better do it.

Jarod waited until she was positioned and looked at Grace. "Lead the way." He looked around, wondering how far he was now from where he had made his first attempt. He scanned the horizon, and could find no discernible features to tell him he was either far or close from it. He only hoped she knew what she was doing, or they were all going to die out her, wandering around like idiots.

“Let’s go.” Gracie ordered and holding the bag carefully she took off in a sprint. She knew exactly where she was going, she just needed to get there before anyone realised they were gone. The soft breeze would blow away their footprints, helping to hide their location.

It was hot and dry. None of them were dressed to be running across the desert in the middle of the afternoon. Grace barely had enough energy to keep her legs moving, more so with the extra kilos from the bags. But she didn’t stop once, ignoring the burning on her skin and of her muscles, ignoring the desperate need for a drink and just a few minutes to rest.

Jarod followed behind her, ignoring the burning of his feet. He would have to worry about that later. "Hold on tight honey,” He told Bailey as he made his way forward. He hoped whatever she had in mind was close by, because neither of them would be able to keep up this pace for very long.

Bailey nodded and leant her face against his back, trying to keep it from the bright light, her eyes squeezed tightly closed against it. She didn’t like the hot and she didn’t like the brightness either. But she held on, not wanting to fall.

Just over half an hour later, Gracie could barley stand up and dropped to her knees. “Here stop here.” She panted heavily. She wasn’t far enough away for her liking but here was going to have to do for now.

Jarod dropped down beside her, not in any better shape, letting Bailey climb off. "Please tell my you have water in that bag,” He panted. His feet were burnt badly and he knew that they would be in bad shape pretty soon. He started to rip the lower part of his pants off to wrap them in to offer some kind of protection.

“Don’t worry about water yet.” Grace said still breathing heavily, her whole body covered in sweat.

"Gracie?" Bailey asked timidly.

She gently put the bag down, checking on the possum quickly, glad to see it was alright. Brushing the sand away a little, she opened the trap door all the way. The sun light would light the stairs enough to get down to the first room and the light switch. “Get her down there now Jarod.” She ordered, handing him the bags. She knew once the door was shut it would be invisible from land and air, sand having been glued on to the trap door years ago so it wasn’t visible. She looked at Bailey, “Not now Bailey,” She said gently.

Bailey nodded, trying to fight back her tears. She wanted to go home. It was hot and sticky out here and she didn’t like it at all.

Jarod did as he was told without argument, taking Bailey's hand. "Come on, we can talk later,” He soothed her, moving down the staircase carefully, thankful to be out of the blistering sun.

Gracie waited until she saw the light switched on and looked around and in the air. When she was satisfied no one had followed her yet, she walked down, shutting the door and dead bolting it. She moved into the small first room with Jarod and Bailey and crouched down in front of her, “What did you wan to say Bailey?”

Bailey hung her head. "When are we going home?” She asked in a pathetically small voice.

“We’re not Bailey. Not ever. That is not your home now.” She whispered, knowing exactly how she felt.

Jarod's heart broke for Bailey as he heard her. He did not understand what had happened, but he would spend the rest of his life if he had to trying to show her how to live in the real world. What it was like to be free.

"Was I bad Grace? Don’t they want me anymore?"

“Oh honey.” She said softly, pulling her into a hug and holding her. “No you went bad Bailey. Of course they want you, but I want you even more, your my sister, and I won’t let what happened today happen again.” She picked her up on her hip, “Jarod get the bags.” She said, leading them through another door and into the old house she had had fixed up.

Jarod lifted the bags, careful of the animal and followed her in. If he had known about shelter like this, they never would have caught him the first time. "What is this place?"

Bailey buried her face in Gracie's neck and held onto her tightly.

It was an old underground house, one of the few out here. She had found it one day when she was younger, had stumbled quite literally on the trap door hidden in the sand that led down underground. They had let her out for the day to wonder around, after her having completed her work better then anyone could have thought. She had kept quite about it, researched it. It wasn’t on any recent maps, only the ones dated back to the 1930’s. Grace had slowly been paying for people to fix it up for her, from out of state so there were no links and it could be used one day if she needed it.

“My house. No one knows it even exists.” She said leading them into the kitchen. She had had every part of the old house redone, so it all worked again. She had never believed when she was told stories of people living under the ground in houses that were buried like Gandi, instead of above ground where the house could be seen.

She sat Bailey down on the chair, “You want some water Bailey? I bet Walter would like some and a big hug from his mummy.”

Bailey nodded, very thirsty and moved to take Walter from Jarod. "Are you okay Walter?” She asked, holding him carefully, trying to soothe his trembling as she held him against her chest, whispering to him.

Jarod looked around in amazement. "You planned this the whole time?” He asked her. All her talk about home and belonging, and she had been planning this the whole time. He was so furious with her at the moment that he could have easily strangled her.

Gracie moved to the cupboards. She hadn’t risked running water, or electricity, not wanting anything to be tracked back, the lights running on batteries. She pulled out three glasses and a 20 litre bottle of water and poured three glasses and handed one to Bailey and Jarod. “No Jarod.” She shook her head. “If I did, it would have gone a lot smoother.”

Bailey took it and drunk it down quickly, spilling some down her shirt. She left a little bit of water for Walter and settled down to make sure he was okay, ignoring the grown ups for a little while.

"This house, the supplies, you must have known you would need it." He took the water and sipped on it gratefully, taking it slowly.

“Yes, but not like this. I have had this place for easily 7 or 8 years.”

"Why, if that was your home and you were so happy there?” He asked totally confused by everything.

Gracie shrugged, “Always helps to have a back up plan doesn’t it?” She asked drinking her drink and pouring another one for Jarod and Bailey, handing Bailey the new glass of water. “Are you alright to stay in here for a moment Bailey? I don’t want you leaving that table alright?” She ordered her.

"Yes Gracie," Bailey nodded, glad to be told what to do. She was hot and tired and most of all scared, but it was important that she looked after Walter because he was scared too.

"So what is this plan?" Jarod asked when she came back. "They will be looking for all of us by now. They found me quickly enough."

She walked Jarod out of the kitchen and down the hall slightly into the lounge and sat on the sofa. “We always knew where you were Jarod, you are a foreigner, you stood no chance despite me making myself believe because you were a genius you could do it.”

He closed his eyes at that revelation and then followed her, sitting down next to her. “Do you have something for my feet?” He asked. They were swollen and bleeding. "How long can you stay here for? And how do you propose to get out?"

“Stay there for a moment.” She said, getting up and moving down towards the bathroom. She had a full stock of supplies, collected over time. Grace grabbed the first aid kit and came back, handing it to Jarod. “No one knows about this place. The last time it was on a map was in the 1930’s, Gandi hasn’t been here for that long. They don’t know of it. There is too much land to do a full sweep inch by inch, so chances are of them finding this is buckleys. Not to mention we come out on the south side and the main used entrances and exits are north. They will start looking at that end, thinking we got out there. And you cannot see the trap door on foot unless you were looking for it and air surveillance doesn’t stand a chance.”

He took the kit from her, wincing as he examined his feet. "I need to clean them. I know water must be scarce, but I have sand in them. What is this place, some kind of old mine shaft?” He asked, but was incredibly grateful for how cool it was. He didn’t know what 'buckley's' meant but he guess she thought she was safe.

“I don’t know what it was before, but when I found it and last time on the map it was a real house.” She looked around, “I can fill up a bucket with some water. We have enough water to last a few weeks.”

"A few weeks? Then what? What happened today to change your mind? And why did you bring me?"

“Let me get the water first.” She said standing up.

"Thank you,” He said, investigating his feet with a grimace.

Gracie grabbed the bucket from one of her storage rooms that she guessed use to be a bed room and took it into the kitchen, filling it up just enough for Jarod to be able to clean his feet. “How you going Bailey?” She asked gently, setting the bucket down and grabbing a box of saladas from the cupboard and giving them to her, “Have some of these to eat, Walter might like some too.”

Bailey took the biscuits from her, not hungry, her stomach in knots from all of the drama, but Walter would be hungry.

“I’ll be back in in a minute alright, you are being a brave girl.” She kissed her before taking some biscuits and the bucket of water to the lounge and handing them to Jarod.

"Thank you," Jarod said as he slowly sunk his feet into the bucket, hissing slightly. "What happened?” He asked her again. "Why are you doing this? I can’t believe you did it for me."

“I didn’t do it for you, not just for you. When I went to see Bailey, see if she still wanted you to visit, she was on her bed crying, wouldn’t tell me what was wrong. So I took a little look. I know she hates it but was so worried. I saw Mr Mathew telling her to undress in his office.” She said, knowing Jarod would know what had happened. The image she saw from Bailey’s mind replaying over and over, making her nauseas.

Rage flooded through Jarod as he took that information in and he took more than a few moments to calm himself down until he could speak reasonably. "So you took her away?” He asked softly. Every last one of them were going to pay. He would find some way, once the girls were protected, to make that bastard sorry he was ever born.

“They can fuck me all they want Jarod. But I will NOT stand by and let them touch her like that. Not ever.” She said darkly, her rage returning with a vengeance. “Not her. Not my sister.”

Jarod nodded at her, forcing himself not to lose his temper now as well. "I understand, but why me? Or did you just need someone to carry her?"

“I know you must hate me for what I have done. I know I had orders, but I see now it was wrong. I couldn’t stand seeing you so depressed. The man I took was so passionate, so caring and look at what I had turned him into.” She said in shame, her eyes on the ground. “If we were going, I wasn’t going to leave you there unless you wanted to stay.” Grace said, not looking at him. So many emotions were swirling through her, and for once, all of them were her own.

Jarod listened to her and then nodded slowly. "Thank you,” He said sincerely. "But you know that you have no idea what you are in for now, especially with Bailey. I am willing help you as much as I can, but they aren’t going to stop looking."

“They can look all they want Jarod, they won’t find us. More so when we leave here. If it wasn’t an order for me to find you, they wouldn’t have until you were dead. I am the one that tracks. How do you think I got you in the first place?”

He had thought about that long and hard during the past month or so and he knew it was true. "But you cannot stay here forever. How do you go from here? Where? And what are you going to do about Bailey? Life on the run is not something for a little girl. She needs stability and security. To rip her away from the only thing she has ever known... it is going to be hard on her, you too I think."

“We will be fine. We need to stay here for a couple of days until the search of the immediate are is over and they move onto towns further away. I have a friend, owes me a favour. He’s a helicopter pilot. He will take us as far away as he can.” Grace hoped he would anyway. She had helped him tremendously a few years back and prayed he could help her now.

"You trust him? You haven’t been home in years.” He pulled his feet out of the water and started to disinfect them.

“Yes I do and he owes me a BIG favour. The only other choice is to call in the Centre.” She said knowing which one he would choose

"No, that won’t be necessary," Jarod said quickly.

“Then we have to call him Jarod.”

Jarod Draws Walter by jacci
He hated being this out of control, but there was little choice at the moment. "Then I guess we are going to have to trust him,” He said slowly.

"Is there any other way of getting out of this area that you can think of Jarod?” She asked. She could feel his unease and didn’t blame him. It was hard to trust someone you had never met with something as important as saving your life.

"I don’t even know what 'this area' is,” He whined. Lack of information had hampered him on his first attempt too. It was strange to be the one depending on another to get him out of this, being the one that didn’t know anything.

"Fair enough then. You are just going to have to learn to trust me, no matter how much you don’t want to."

"It's not that I don’t want to trust you, but I have so little reason to.” He tried to explain. She had given him nothing but grief and pain since he had met her, now she was asking for his trust. At the moment Jarod didn’t even trust himself, or his own judgement.

Gracie sighed and nodded, "I know Jarod, and I understand. I don’t blame you for one second.” She looked up at him, "I was trying to be good, to do as I was told, but I never wanted to hurt you like I have." She apologised for the millionth time and found herself wondering why she was. It was her job, he was her project. She had no reason to say sorry for anything she had done to him.

"I don’t think now is the time to get into this. You have a sister in there who is no doubt very traumatised and will not understand this at all. She is going to need a lot of help through this, it will be a difficult adjustment for her.”

He was doing it again, he always changed the subject when it was to close to home, when he didn’t want to talk. "I’m sorry.” She said sincerely as she got up to go back into Bailey.

"It's alright," Jarod said softly as she left. "Just look after Bailey,” He told her.

Gracie put on a smile as she saw Bailey still at the table with Walter. "How is your little boy doing?” She asked, crouching in front of the pair.

"He is scared,” She told her, her own eyes brimming with tears again. "But I think he is going to be alright. Are we going to be alright to Gracie?"

Gracie nodded, "We are going to be fine. I am going to take you to see the beach and the cities, even New York if you want.” She smiled gently at her. "Bailey, none of this is your fault. And I’m not angry or upset with you alright?" Grace said softly to her, wanting her to understand.

She nodded miserably. It was somebody's fault and it happened right after Grace had come to visit her. All of this was because of her. She might only be 7, but she wasn’t stupid.

"Bailey,” She said firmly, lifting her head to look into her sister eyes. "The way Mr Mathew touched you was very wrong. Even an owner isn’t allowed to do that. This isn’t your fault, if it is anyone’s it is his, and mine for not protecting you well enough. But never think any of what has and will happen is your fault."

Bailey wanted to believe that, but owner's could do what they wanted. She hadn’t liked the way he touched her, or the way it made her feel, but she knew he was allowed to do it. But she was upset and scared and didn’t want to fight with Gracie right now. She put her arms around her neck and hugged her tightly. Since she had come back, Gracie liked to touch her a lot more than she used to and Bailey liked that.

Gracie held her and stood up, picking Bailey and Walter up along with her. With her sister on her hip, Gracie holding her tightly she moved slowly into the lounge room. "Bailey, promise me never to think any of what has happened is your fault.” She asked gently.

"I promise,” She agreed quickly.

Jarod looked up at the pair and smiled at them. He knew it would be a long slow recovery, for the both of them, but with the right care, it could be done. He wanted Bailey to have a real life.

"Good girl.” Gracie praised with a smile, kissing her check. She got into the lounge to see Jarod still tending his feet. "How are they Jarod?” She asked, sitting down on the couch, shifting Bailey to sit on her lap. She didn’t let her out of the hug, holding her tightly. There was a lot of work to be undone with the both of them, but Gracie would make sure Bailey was always safe and felt loved.

"They will be fine, but I won’t be going anywhere for a few days,” He said, brushing it off. "How you doing there kiddo?” He asked Bailey. He had met her a few times, and she was still very wary of him and after the headlong flight through the desert, he was worried she would be even more scared of him now.

Bailey didn’t look at him and mumbled. "Fine,” She whispered.

"You know Bailey, that is the exact same answer Jarod gives me when is anything but fine.” She said softly, a smile playing on her lips. She had only asked Jarod that question today, and his answer was a mumbled ‘fine’ too. Same as most of the other days she asked him.

Jarod had been a child psychologist before, and this was something he knew a lot about. He also knew how terrifying being outside was. When he had first escaped, underneath all the exhilaration had been constant fear. He looked at Bailey and Grace for a long moment, thinking about what to say. She would be scared of him as a man who might touch her in new and frightening ways, and he needed to gain her trust before he could begin to help her. "Bailey,” He started, guessing the girl wasn’t going to look at him, but he had to start somewhere.

Bailey tried to move even closer to Gracie, not wanting to talk to this man. She had closed herself down from all the emotions she had been getting, it was too much for her and she was in such bad emotional shape herself, she just couldn’t deal with anybody's else’s at the moment.

Gracie wrapped her arms tighter around Bailey as she snuggled into her a little more. She could feel her shaking slightly and looked at Jarod in worry. "Bailey, Jarod won't hurt you. You said that after the first time you meet him. You were 110 positive I could leave you in his care and he would never touch you. It is the same now. Jarod won’t hurt you, neither will I.” She said gently to her.

"Your sister is right Bailey. I know how scared you are now, of me, of being outside, of everything. I know you miss your home and this place is hot and horrible but we are both going to help you. I promise I will not leave you until you want me to, and I will help Gracie look after you so you will always be safe."

Bailey knew that what Gracie said was true, Jarod would never hurt her, but she was still scared. Jarod was different from anybody she had met before and she didn’t understand who or what he really was.

Gracie sighed softly when her sister stayed silent. "Would you like to go to sleep for a while honey? Keep Walter with you so he is nice and safe too?"

Bailey nodded. "But Gracie, I am dirty,” She whispered.

Jarod tried not to smile at her, keeping very still and quiet, not wanting to upset her any further. She would see in time that he wasn’t going to touch her in a bad way. It seemed they were going to be stuck here for a while and they were going to be forced to get to know each other.

"I know honey, but we can’t have showers here. The best I can do is give you a bucket of water like Jarod and you can just wash yourself down with a cloth and get into some clean clothes.” She knew why Bailey was reluctant, sleeping before showering was forbidden but there was not much they could do.

Bailey bit her lip and nodded.

"I can read you a bedtime story if you like," Jarod offered, hoping to help soothe her into sleep. He could feel how disconcerting this was for her and he wanted to try and make it less traumatic for her, and he hadn’t met a kid yet that didn’t like a bedtime story.

Gracie grinned, "You hear that? A bedtime story. Might be almost as good as me singing you to sleep.” She laughed a little, "Think Jarod knows any good bed time stories?" Grace asked, teasing Jarod, trying to lighten he mood.

She finally looked at him with narrowed eyes, trying to assess him. "I don’t know,” She admitted after a long moment.

"I happen to be an excellent bedtime story teller,” He told her, keeping his voice light. At least she had looked at him now.

"Well, I guess there is only one way to settle it. Jarod will just have to tell you a story and let you decided if he is any good.” She said, "Should we do that Bailey?"

She finally nodded reluctantly wondering what kind of story he would tell her. Curiosity overcame fear.

"Then that is settled, I’ll get some water and a sponge so you can have your bath of sorts. Do you want any help Bailey?” She asked, expecting Bailey to snap and say she is to grown up for help during shower times.

She nodded, tears filling her eyes again, feeling like a big baby.

"Why don’t you two lovely ladies get ready, and I will see what I can scrounge up in the kitchen for a bedtime snack," Jarod said, standing up, trying not to wince.

"Oh honey.” Gracie said seeing her tears and holding her tighter. She brushed her hair back from her face, trying to soothe her. Gracie turned to Jarod, "You stay seated Jarod. You can’t be on your feet.” She told him off.

Bailey brightened a little at the thought of a snack, never having had a bedtime one before and then she slumped in disappointment when Gracie told him to stay still.

Jarod sunk down automatically, slipping back into the mode of obedience without even thinking about it.

"I'll help give Bailey a wash then get some food. I don’t want to see you off that couch until it’s time to come in and read Bailey her story." Gracie said, getting to her feet, not letting Bailey go. “Why don’t you give Walter to Jarod to look after while we get you ready for bed?” She asked, knowing if Bailey handed him over, it was a good step towards her trusting him.

She looked at her possum and then to Jarod, finally opening herself to let her read him. "You won’t hurt Walter will you?” She asked timidly.

Jarod put his hand on his heart and looked at her. "I promise,” He swore.

She hesitated a moment longer and then handed him over. "Please be careful with him.” She intoned seriously.

"Don’t you worry Bailey, I was a vet once." Jarod said, taking the possum.

Her eyes opened wide at that. "You were?” She whispered in awe, everything forgotten.

Gracie laughed, he had her attention now, knowing that her animals were being looked after by a 'vet'.

She had had to leave her new book on American animals behind, it was too big and heavy and might have hurt Walter. "Can you tell me a vet bedtime story?” She asked in hope.

Gracie's eyes were pleading from where she looked at Jarod, hoping he said yes, more importantly, that he knew a vet bedtime story. It would do no good to agree to it, only at bedtime not know any stories to tell her.

Jarod had to fight not to laugh. "Of course Bailey,” He told her very seriously. "I can tell you lots of vet stories.” He bet she was the only kid in the world that wanted a vet story instead of a fairy tale. When he had first learnt about fairy tales, he had been very confused about their appeal. They were usually full of scary and horrible step mothers or witches, but he supposed they all lived happily ever after at the end and that is why people liked them so much. Hansel and Gretel had horrified him and he had had nightmares about it for weeks after reading it.

"Come on Bailey, lets get you washed and changed and Jarod can tell you a vet story.” She said with a smile, "Jarod don’t move an inch, keep your feet off the ground.” She ordered him, knowing he would not disobey her.

Jarod nodded, not looking forward to standing up. He knew if he walked, it would slow down the healing, but he couldn’t be bound to the lounge either. He wondered if she had ever had chocolate milk, or Twinkies or PEZ and wanted to introduce her to the wonders of the world. To all the flavours of ice cream that he loved.

Taking Bailey into the bathroom that didn’t really work, she sat her down, "Get undressed for me please Bailey, I’ll go get some water so we can get you sparkling clean for bed. Then you can have a snack and have your story."

Bailey looked around the new room and then slowly took her clothes off. "Gracie? Will Jarod touch me like that too?” She asked in a tiny voice. Mr Matthews had told her that it was natural for men to touch like that, that as all children got older, that is what happened. It just meant that she was almost a grownup now.

Gracie stopped and knelt down in front of her. "Not ever Bailey. He isn’t like the owners. I did something very wrong when I first met him. I touched him like you were touched. I didn’t know it was wrong but he told me it was, explained how it was a wrong touch and he didn’t like it. Jarod knows how bad it is and would never in even his worst nightmares even think for a slipt second of ever touching you like that." Grace told Bailey, her voice deadly serious, her eyes telling her it was the truth.

Bailey nodded, not knowing how she felt about Gracie touching like she was an owner. “But you touch me all the time Gracie, especially since you came back.” She stood there naked before her, trembling a little. Scared now Gracie would touch her like that too.

Gracie grabbed a towel for Bailey and wrapped it gently around her so she wouldn’t freeze waiting for her bath. "Yes I do, I like touching you a lot. But it is a different sort of touch. This is what Jarod explained to me. How Mr Mathews touched you is wrong because it makes you feel bad, dirty but the way I touch you is good because you like it, I like it. The way I touch you is because I love you, I am comforting you, touching like I do with hugs and kisses makes you feel good, like you are loved. That’s why I do it. To show you how much I do love you,” She didn’t know if she was really explaining it the right way and hoped she wasn’t making things worse.

“You don’t hurt me Gracie,” She said, trying to understand. She had hurt Jarod though and Jarod was afraid of the way she touched him, but she kept that to herself. She hugged the towel around her. “We can’t ever go back can we?” She whispered softly, thinking about her book and the necklace Gracie had given her.

"No, we can’t, or we will be in lots of trouble and I can’t protect you from Mr Mathews. I won’t let anyone hurt you Bailey, or touch you like that.” She said softly. "But it will be good out here. We will get away from this heat, go somewhere cooler, wherever you want.” She told her with a soft smile. "You stay here for a moment Bailey, I’ll go get some water."

She nodded at her, clutching the towel, trying to figure all of this out.

Getting up, Gracie moved out and got a bucket before moving into the kitchen to fill it with as much water as she thought they could spare. A few days here was fine, but she didn’t know when her friend could come out to get them and couldn’t risk running out of water. She got a nice sponge and moved back into the bathroom and shut the door. Kneeling down she took the towel away and put it aside. She looked at Bailey's long thick wavy hair, "We are going to have to tie that up, we don’t have enough water at the moment to wash your hair too.” She said gently, apologising, and took a hair tie out of one of the draws and gently tied her sister’s hair back.

Bailey remained still as she let her sister wash the dust and grime from her body. She hated it here, it was not like at home. It wasn’t hot though, nice and cool underground, and she was happy about that. She didn’t know where she wanted to go, maybe New York.

When Bailey was nice and clean, she got the towel and dried her off before wrapping her in it. "We will be able to have a real shower in a few days with any luck Bailey. I am sorry for this, it is not right for me to make you wash using a bucket and sponge. But I couldn’t leave you there knowing you were being hurt.” She told her, leaving the bucket with the dirty water in the bathroom as she picked her up.

“But he is allowed to hurt me, and they hurt me before, when I was bad.”

"Yes, he is allowed to hurt you if you are very bad Bailey, they are owners, they are allowed to punish. And I understand that, no matter how much I hate seeing you punished. But this isn’t hurting you like a punishment is. I bet you didn’t even do anything wrong before he touched you.” She sighed trying to explain it. "You are my little sister Bailey, my whole life. And I won’t let anyone ever touch you like that again, even if it means we have to live on the moon." Gracie told her walking her to her new room and putting her down. She had put the bag in here on the way back to the bathroom ad reached in and took out some of her clothes and helped her dress.

The first thing when they were safely away from here would be to buy Bailey real clothes. Real clothes and more animal books. Get her some shoes and jewellery. Get her toys. Anything a child of age 7 would want or need.

“You can’t live on the moon Gracie, you are just being silly,” She smiled for the first time as she let Gracie dress her, like when she was little.

Grace grinned, "Yeah, I guess, what about Mars then? Can you live there?” She asked, teasing her.

“No, Grace, it would be too cold. And besides, there is no atmosphere, how would you breathe?”

"Space suits?” She asked, "And first you whine about it being hot, and then you don’t want to move to Mars because it is too cold?” She asked, playfully, teasing her.

“It’s not too hot in here,” She looked around the room and sighed.

Gracie pulled back the covers on the child’s bed, "Come on, climb in. I'll go get your snack and bring Jarod in so he can tell you your story."

She climbed into bed and yawned loudly. “He won’t hurt me will he Gracie?” She asked one more time.

"No he won’t. And if you block out everything expect Jarod, his emotions will tell you that for yourself." Grace told her, knowing if she did it, it would ease her fears a great deal.

She shook her head, not wanting to read anybody right now. She pulled the blanket up to her chin to protect herself.

"I'll be right back.” She told her moving out to the kitchen to find something to snack on.

Grace grabbed some canned fruit and opened it, draining it before serving it out in three bowls. She grabbed three cans of soft drink and set them on the bench ready before moving to the lounge to see Jarod sitting there still and smiled at him.

As Grace came out, Jarod looked up. “Do you have any paper and pencils I could use?” He asked her, not having moved from the couch.

She sat down next to him, "Why?"

“It’s a surprise,” He told her. “I am hardly going to use them to escape now am I?”

"There is nowhere to escape from Jarod. You want to leave, you can walk right out of here. Simple as that. You are not obligated in the slightest to stay here with us."

“I know that, now can I please have them?” He asked her.

"Why do you presume I even have any?” She asked, already moving over to a cupboard.

“That is why I asked,” He said in exasperation.

Gracie grinned broadly as she came back with some lead pencils, pens, paper and a box of colouring pencils, "Here." It was so fun to tease him, it was so easy too. He was too worked up, too stressed out which made it all the more enjoyable for Gracie.

“Thank you,” He said taking them from her. “Tell Bailey I will be in in a few minutes,” He said as he got to work, ignoring the coloured pencils.

"I want you to walk in on your knees Jarod, that why you can move around without hurting your feet. Also, there is a can of soft drink and a bowl of fruit on the bench for you." Grace told him, expecting them to be eaten.

He looked up at her in surprise, but had to admit she was probably right. The less he used his feet, the quicker they would heal. “Very well,” He agreed.

"Good, don’t forget your snack. I’ll see you in her room, don’t be to long." Grace ordered him without thinking about it.

He nodded, getting back to his drawing. When he was happy with it, he got up and made his way to the bench on his knees and grabbed the drink, ignoring the bowl for the moment. He picked up the drawing on his way through and knocked on the door to Bailey’s room before entering.

"Come in Jarod," Gracie said sitting on the bed next to Bailey, eating their fruit.

Bailey had to smile at Jarod on his knees. “He looks silly,” She whispered to Gracie.

Gracie laughed, "He does doesn’t he? But he has to walk like this, so his sore feet will heal a lot faster." She explained.

She thought about her own feet running out there and was glad he had carried her and then felt guilty. “You can sit on my bed if you like,” She offered.

“Thankyou Bailey,” He grinned at her. “I have something for you,” He held the piece of paper up so neither of them could see the drawing.

“For me?” She asked and then saw a bit of paper and lost some of her enthusiasm.

Gracie shifted aside, sitting Bailey on her lap so there was room for Jarod, the blankets covering both Grace’s and Bailey’s lap.

Jarod handed her the drawing. It was an almost perfect picture of Walter, with his name in embossed letters underneath.

Gracie took Bailey's empty bowl and sat it on the ground so her sister could take the drawing. "Wow, look at that Bailey." She smiled broadly, looking at the perfect picture before looking at Jarod, tears in her eyes, "Thank you.” She whispered to him over Bailey's shoulder. She had not ever expected such a kind and generous act from him after all she had done.

She took the bit of paper and looked at it in awe. “It is just like a photo, but not,” She said quietly.

Jarod nodded. “I like to draw,” He explained.

"It’s beautiful isn’t it Bailey? Don’t you think Jarod deserves a thank you for his gift to you?” She asked gently, not wanting Bailey to forget her manners.

“Thank you,” She said, forgetting her manners completely and then blushed. “It is beautiful.”

“You are very welcome,” He told her. “You can teach me all about Australian animals and I can teach you about American animals.”

"How about you two teach each other in the morning, Jarod, can you tell Bailey her story? It’s getting late and its time for her sleep." She knew it wasn’t late at all, but it had been a big day and was almost time for Bailey’s bedtime anyway.

“Of course,” He said, taking a sip on his drink before dropping his voice low. “Once upon a time there was this vet, and he helped lots of sick animals...” He watched as she fought her tiredness, lulled by his voice and finally slipped into sleep.

When Grace knew she was sound asleep, she shifted so Bailey was on the bed and laid her down, tucking her in. Planting a goodnight kiss on her forehead, she grabbed the bowls, and walked out, Jarod following on his knees.

He climbed back onto the lounge, feeling like an idiot walking around on his knees, but he had seemed to make a breakthrough with Bailey and he was happy about that. It was going to get very boring for her in here, so he had thought he might make a file of animals for her, to help pass the time and keep her occupied.

"Do you think we, Bailey and I, should live in the Centre?” She asked Jarod suddenly. "She likes underground and likes being told what to do." It made perfect sense to Grace. They both liked that kind of environment, and it would be the perfect place for them.

Jarod jumped back as if he had been stung. “No!” He said, making sure to keep his voice down.

"Why not?” She asked in confusion. "We both like that sort of life and I know the Centre would never touch her like she was here."

“But they would crush her soul just as surely. I cannot let you take her there,” He told her, expecting an outburst. “I will help in anyway I can, find her a family if that is what you want for her, but I will not let you give her to those people. She will adjust in time.”

"I’m starting to think all of this was a bad idea. I acted on impulse, had nothing planned, never even thought of how Bailey would react to being ripped away from her home.” She admitted sadly. All she had been thinking about was getting Bailey away from those men so they couldn’t touch her again.

“It will be hard, but she has you, and she is young. She will adapt. I can set you up somewhere safe, all the money you will need. We get her into school, give her some structure, she will make friends, she will manage somehow. She is bright and charming, she deserves a full and rich life.” Jarod said with conviction. He was drawing again, this time a picture of Bailey with Walter in her lap, Grace looking over her shoulder.

"But what if she doesn’t? You know how well we are trained. She won’t see having friends as a good thing, we are not to get attached to any one other then out handlers. For us two, there is a small exception of being allowed to get attached to each other. You know me, 3 years outside and free and never once even thought of running away. And I was already in another country set up in a place they didn’t know the exact location on. How do you propose to undo all of this programming in her? In me?" Grace asked, genuinely curious.

“I think you have already taken a huge first step. She is much younger than you, and with the right environment and care, she will learn to accept her new life. It won’t always be easy, but it is the only acceptable alternative. You take her to the Centre, the very first thing they will do is separate you both. The only time projects were ever allowed to associate caused trouble for them. You will never see her again. Is that what you want?” Jarod knew he was being harsh, but he had to dispel that idea from her once and for all.

"No, of course not, but she would have Sydney I am sure, someone like her and me would have to be given to him. She would like him a lot." Gracie’s face light up. "That’s how we can do it without bringing a third party in you don’t know." She knew it probably wouldn’t work, but she was exhausted and hot and sore and wasn’t thinking straight.

“Maybe she would, but Sydney is not well liked by those in charge. What?”

"Sydney. I know his attachment to you, he would have no trouble coming over, or even just organising someone to pick us up and take us somewhere safe, more so if he knew you could go back home."

“Yes, Sydney would be happy to help, but it is dangerous, they will be watching him closely. This is something we should talk about, but not right now. We need time to plan properly, see how she reacts. Decisions do not have to be made this very second.”

"I know it is safe here, but we are still way to close to Gandi for my liking. It’s only a 10 minute drive from here to there. We need to get away from here as soon as we can Jarod. No two ways about it."

“I am aware of that, but don’t you think a helicopter landing here is about to raise suspicions?”

"Yes of course, but by the time it lands and we take off, they would have only just noticed." Grace sighed and curled onto the couch miserably, "I have done the wrong thing again. I shouldn’t have left."

“No, you should have left. The idea of the two of you in there...” He shook his head. “You did the right thing. We just need to take some time now and think it through properly. I want to learn everything about this place, I will get you both out of here safely, I promise.”

"Jarod, if you haven’t already realised, I don’t need you to get us out of anywhere, I am more then capable of doing it myself. At the moment you are not. Not only are you hurt, but you failed the last time you tried." She reminded him of the bitter failure.

“I am well aware of that,” He said, blushing hotly. “I am just suggesting that we pool our resources to minimise the risk, for all of us.”

"So we have one of the worlds strongest empaths, another extremely strong empath that is also telepathic that knows more about this land then anyone around here, and we have a genius that is THE pretender. Now explain to me why this should even be the slightest bit difficult to get out?" Gracie said sarcastically, staring at him.

“I am guessing that they have satellite tracking systems, and unless they have the worst security in the world, they will now about your helicopter long before it lands, and if we are only ten minutes away, they will be here before it even sets down.”

"Yes, you are right.” She sighed, not having thought it through before about getting a helicopter in, "So then what? How are we going to get away from here?"

“Don’t worry, you have done the hardest part, we will work it out.” He soothed her, handing her his new drawing of her and Bailey cradling Walter.

Gracie took at it and looked at it sadly, running gentle fingers over Bailey's face. "I know how to get you and Bailey out of here, give you a chance to escape to somewhere safer.” She whispered, not knowing what else to do. If it meant sacrificing herself to save Bailey, Grace would do it without even blinking.

“How?” He asked, not liking the sound of her voice. “You can’t go back, it would kill her.”

"If they find us, we are both dead and you won’t ever get out. I can get in, find Wil and have him disable the security, all of it. So we can get the helicopter in and get you two out. Since they will know I am back, they will stop the search long enough for you to get away.” Grace said emotionlessly. She didn’t want to lose Bailey, but this could get her out, safe and unharmed.

“No,” Jarod said flatly. “We are all going. We just need some time to think it through. Do you have a short wave radio in here?” He guessed she had some way of communicating with her pilot.

Grace grinned mischievously, "Come with me Jarod.” She said, getting up and walking off.

Jarod stood without thinking and winced as his feet took his weight. “Give me a second,” He told her lowering himself to his knees.

Grace waited for him and then led him down to the back of the house into one of the bedrooms, she opened the door and grinned, "Will this do?” She asked, he had wanted a short wave radio, and she had given him security for the Pentagon. It was set up with computer stations and some of the best equipment in the world here. Anything and everything you would ever need. It helped to have friends like Wil. Grace had no idea how to use almost any of it, it was no use to her but on a off hand conversation with Wil, this was the result.

“This will do nicely, very nicely indeed. You have a satellite uplink?” He asked, looking at it all.

She shrugged, “That’s something you have to ask Wil, but I guess with all this, he would have put something in." She knew how to play games on these computers, anything else she was at a lost.

“I think this might be the answer to all of our problems. I can hack into their system from here, shut down their surveillance, even wipe all record of us from their computers, make it much harder for them.”

"Mr Marcus will not like that Jarod,” She said in worry, not able to help it. She was too heavily programmed to stop all of a sudden.

“I frankly don’t care what Mr Marcus likes or does not.” He decided it was best to keep his plans to himself about trying to bring these people to justice.

"He will be mad with us. He doesn’t like it when people ruin his equipment.” She knew he would be a lot madder about her leaving than this, but she just couldn’t help it.

“That is too bad.” He said absently. “I will look at it tomorrow, see what we can do. They will be on full security alert right now, and I don’t want to trip any alarms until I know what I am doing. I will need a little time to prepare, I don’t want to rush headlong into this. And I think a few days to calm down, adjust, especially for Bailey is important. We have enough supplies to last a while?”

"Yes of course. I told you, a few weeks if we go easy on them." Grace said in a patronising voice. He was starting to lose his memory if he couldn’t remember already asking this question.

“Then I think we should slow down, think it through, take the time.” He told her, looking at all the equipment, he saw a real chance now.

"I’m just worried Jarod, if they do find this house by some chance, we are all in so much trouble and I would have risked Bailey for nothing, this isn’t fair on her."

“No, none of it is fair, but we need to be smart about this.” He turned to look at her, feeling responsible for much of this, but not sorry for it at all. “You did the right thing bringing her here. Nobody should ever touch her, or you like that. Never. Don’t worry, we will work it out. I promise you.”

"Jarod, they have all rights to touch me. But they don’t have any rights to hurt her like that not ever.” She sat down on one of the chairs and sighed. "I wish I knew what to do. I wish we had parents. She needs a real family. Not some screwed up sister that can’t even tell right from wrong most of the time." Grace muttered to herself.

“We can find a family for her if that is what you want. But she has family, you, and you need to trust your instincts about what is right for her. And if it is wrong for them to touch her, don’t you think it is wrong for them to touch you as well?” He prompted gently.

She shook her head, "Why would it?" Grace asked, the confusion evident in her voice and on her face.

“Because you both deserve the same respect, the same rights.”

"We may deserve it Jarod, but we do not have them. I am a project, have been for all my life. I don’t have rights but she is my sister, and I have decided she does, if it will protect her."

“And I have decided that you do too. You are no longer a project, do you understand that? All of that stops now, and if you want to protect her, you can’t think like that anymore.”

Gracie frowned, "Can you even do that?” She asked in amusement, "I am not your family, I don’t think you can tell me I have rights now."

“I believe I just did. The trick will be getting you to believe it.” Jarod smiled sadly at her and offered her his hand.

Gracie hesitantly took his hand, blocking out his emotions. "Why do you even care?"

Jarod laughed softly to himself. “I don’t know, but I can’t sit back and watch, it just isn’t in me, and now I have much to make up for. This might be just the start I need.”

"Why but? I hurt you, made you do things you didn’t want to do, I threatened to follow out on sir's order about Sydney. I don’t deserve you to care." Grace said sadly. After all the things she had done to him here, not to mention in the US, she didn’t deserve anyone even wanting to think they care.

“You deserve a second chance, we all do.” He told her softly, holding both her hands, not letting her pull away.

She shook her head, "Bailey and you deserve a second chance, I don’t. I have done too many bad things. I know I was following orders, but I still did them.” She said shaking her head, tears in her eyes. "I have screwed everything up so badly. I never wanted to hurt you like I did, I never wanted to take Bailey from the one place she felt safe and liked. I never wanted to have to hurt Sydney." Grace said her voice weak, her hands trembling in Jarod’s grip.

“I know that, and I want you to listen to me. What is done is done. Now you have a very scared little girl in there who is going to need you. You can’t afford this kind of self-loathing right now, not if you care about her. You need to be strong and stop this kind of thinking. You must look to the future, not the past, that is the only way to move on. And it can be wonderful. If you give me the chance, I can show you that.”

Gracie rocked gently back and forth. "What if I screw this up even more, what if Bailey hates me for taking her from her home? What if I can’t keep her safe out here? What if she doesn’t want to go to school, doesn’t want to be a civilian? What if she just keeps wanting to come back here and I can’t stop her?"

“Then we deal with that as it comes up. Look Grace, I am not promising this will be easy, nothing ever is, but would you prefer her to stay to be molested?” He asked her bluntly.

Gracie tried to pull her hands back but couldn’t, Jarod was too strong. Her face grew cold, "Of course not, how dare you suggest I would." She snarled at him viciously, yanking on her hands that he wouldn’t let go.

“I am sorry, but you need to face the reality Gracie, and that is the alternative. You will question yourself a million times over this choice, but always remember that, no matter how bad things might seem at any given moment, they could always be worse, and you should never question what you have done here today, it was a good thing. The right thing.” He let her hands go, watching her carefully.

"I don’t seem to do the right thing often do I?” She mumbled, wrapping her arms around herself.

“You did this time,” He reassured her.

"The only other time I seem to have done something right was offer you a way out and look at how badly I screwed that up." She mumbled, remembering how close to death Jarod was.

“I should not have done that, so totally unprepared in a country I know nothing about. But I am not looking back, right now that is pointless, we must look forward.”

"Where should I take her? I would love to stay in our own country. It is our home, but it might be too dangerous."

“It might be, but again, decisions we don’t have to make right now. The world is a big place, full of wonders. Who knows where you may end up, but that is part of the excitement, discovering new things, learning.”

"Do you hate me?" Grace asked in a tiny whisper. Changing the topic suddenly.

He looked at her, all past animosity gone. “No, I do not hate you. Why don’t you come here?” He offered her, looking so forlorn, she needed a hug. “I will look after both of you.”

Gracie got up and moved over to Jarod, unsure of herself like she had never been before.

He folded her into an embrace. “Don’t you worry, we will find a way out of this, for all of us. It is going to be alright, just have a little faith.”

Grace melted into him as she started to cry. "It’s not fair. I have been so loyal to them, done everything they asked of me. They know how I feel about her, why did they have to hurt her like that? She didn’t even do anything wrong.” She sobbed loudly, clinging to Jarod as her body shock with the tears.

He smoothed her hair back continuously, soothing her with gentle rocking. “I know how unfair it is, and you never did anything wrong either.” He needed her to see herself as she saw her sister, then she might be able to begin to heal, to move on.

"I did lots of things wrong and I feel so bad about it.” She cried, "They didn’t really care for me, for us. Just wanted to use the gifts we were given, that’s all." They were never wanted as any sort of people, just as money makers.

Jarod sighed heavily. “They did, but you two have each other, and that is all that matters now. You can fix all the wrong by being strong for her now.”

"I have been strong for her all of her life Jarod. I don’t know if I can do it anymore. It isn’t just looking after her, helping her learn about her animals. This is keeping her alive, away from being hurt again. It’s so much to do, and I don’t know how to even look after myself. I’m only 18, I don’t have the experience.” She said as the sobs lessened, not letting Jarod go.

“I won’t leave you, not until you want me to, I promise, alright?”

"I can’t ask that of you Jarod, you need to look after yourself first.” She whispered, scared he would leave them but.

“I am used to doing that, have had lots of practice.” He was about to add, until recently, but changed his mind.

"But you have never had to look after a screwed up stubborn teenager and a little girl that is terrified." Grace countered.

“I wouldn’t count on that,” He told her, thinking about Parker's moods, when she was a stubborn girl, teenager, adolescent and adult.

"Do you think Sydney would let us stay with him for a few days?” She asked quietly refusing to move from Jarod's arms, feeling safe in them. "He doesn’t like me either, and I understand but it might help Bailey to have someone that is a handler."

“I think it would be too dangerous to go there, but perhaps he can come to us. I don’t think he has taken a holiday in years, and if I am off their radar completely, he might be able to manage it. But if he comes, I know he is unlikely to agree to that. He will want to de-programme her as much as possible, if anything, he will try and be a grandfather figure. But that is a little down the track. We need to concentrate on the next few days before we plan that far ahead. You need to show her touching is not a bad thing, have a talk to her about the different kinds of touching.”

She nodded, "I used what I did to you as an example. Told her I touched you and explained how it was wrong. I told her that you let me know the way I touched you, and Mr Mathews touched her was bad, it isn’t allowed. But how I give her hugs and kisses all the time is, because I’m showing I love her and want to comfort her and keep her safe. I hope I said it the right way, I was scared of making things worse."

“You will mess up Grace, don’t fear the mistakes, learn from them. There will be no punishments here, not like before but mistakes can cost you, the best we hope for is that they don’t cost too much and we are wise enough to learn from them.”

"You are not making any of this easier you know Jarod.” She whined snuggling down into his chest. She didn’t want to think that it was normally Wil or Jon that would have held her like this, knowing if she thought about them to much she would go running back to them both.

“I am?” He asked in worry.

"No you're not. You're not suppose to say if I screw up it could cost me and her. You're meant to say I’ll keep you safe and help fix up any mistakes you make. That kind of thing.” She scolded him lightly, needing to hear him lie to her. It wasn’t often she agreed with lying, but in this case, lies meant it would make her feel better.

Jarod laughed softly. “Well of course I will try and fix them up, but I won’t lie to you Grace, it won’t always be easy, you should be prepared for that. But it will all be worth it, I promise you. Never regret what you did today. Never.”

"Do you think Bailey will be happy away from home?” She asked needing reassurance. "Do you think no matter where we go, as long as I am with her she will not hate me for taking her away?" Grace knew she was worrying big time, but the thought of her baby sister hating her for trying to protect her was terrifying.

“I think that in the long run, yes she will be happy, and no she won’t hate you. As long as you have family, nothing else matters.”

"Will you be our family Jarod? We have no one else. And I know you don’t need us hanging around you and all, but Bailey likes you because you know about American animals and it will help.” She rambled knowing she shouldn’t have said anything. But he was here, was a nice guy, knew about animals. He would be perfect as a role model for Bailey.

Jarod looked at her sadly, smiling. “I would like that very much.” But it almost felt like an admission to himself that he had given up on finding his own family. He smoothed her hair down again. “I will try to keep you both from harm.”

"I really am sorry Jarod. For everything.” She whispered, clinging tightly to him. "I tried to make you happy, make up for everything by giving you those lollies and the towels and the occasional ice cream. I just didn’t know what to do." She whined, head on Jarod’s chest.

“I know, we are not going to worry about any of that now. It is all behind us now, and anything you have done is forgotten. I am out, and that is all I care about. Okay?”

She nodded slowly. "I don’t understand how a life as a project could create such a wonderful person.” She whispered, listening to his heart beating. No other project had she met had such a big heart, a beautiful soul. He was caring, generous, forgiving, compassionate, protective. He was just so different.

“I am not all that wonderful Grace. I have done many things, things that were very bad, and now it is time to try and make up for them, my penance, as Sydney calls it. It is such a wonderful feeling to help someone instead of hurting them, to know you made their life a little better. To do good instead of bad.” He dropped into his familiar rant.

"Like how happy I felt giving you those sweets? I know it wasn’t really much but I made you smile and I was a good sight." Gracie said, remembering the look on his face, the pure surprise she had brought him the lollies.

“Yes, just like that.”

"I think we might have a few sweet foods in the kitchen and you need to eat your fruit, you need some food." She reprimanded him gently for not eating them. He was no good to them if he didn’t eat and became weaker then he already was.

“It was too hard to carry and I didn’t want to ruin the drawing.” He defended himself.

"Sure.” She teased him and reluctantly pulled away, "Come on then, let’s grab something to eat."

“How about I go to the bathroom first and then I get settled on the couch for the night, then I will eat?” He countered but was pleased to see she was feeling a little better.

She nodded, "Sure, but wouldn’t you rather use a bed for the night?" Graced asked with a frown. “I find beds are always so much more comfortable to sleep in, especially if you are injured.”

“You have a spare?” He asked in surprise. It would be pure luxury to sleep on a real bed again.

"I'll sleep with Bailey. She won’t mind, I doubt she will even wake." Grace knew once Bailey was sleeping it was fairly hard to wake her.

“Are you sure?” He asked. “I am more than happy on the couch.”

"Get in the bedroom now.” She ordered in a bark, "Two doors up on your right."

“Yes Miss Gracie,” He teased her, shuffling along on his knees, feeling like a fool.

When Jarod left, Gracie wiped the tears from her cheeks and moved into the kitchen. She prepared some snacks, grabbed Jarod's bowl of fruit and went to him, seeing him on the bed, looking happy.

“Thanks,” He said softly as he placed them on the bedside table. “Grace, it is all going to work out,” He reassured her once more.

"I hope so.” She mumbled, sitting on the floor, taking some of the food. "I want you to eat your fruit first, then we have some Tim Tams I found. They are very nice."

“Tim Tams?” Jarod asked, tilting his head. “Is that Vietnamese?” He was curious to find Asian cuisine in the middle of the Australian desert.

"I don’t think so.” She said, handing him the bowl of fruit to eat, the biscuits on the bed side table. "They are chocolate biscuits."

“Ohh,” He said, picking one up and sniffing it before taking a bite. His face broke out in a broad grin. “It’s very good,” He told her.

"I know.” She said, taking the treat from him. "Fruit first, treats after.” She told him off, setting it aside on the plate.

“Hey,” He protested.

"Think of it this way Jarod, fruit is dinner, Tim Tams are dessert, you never get dessert until dinner is finished. Regardless if it is the Centre, or Gandi Jarod, or even a normal home. Dinner always comes first.”

“Not the way I run things,” He muttered but was happy to eat the tinned fruit anyway. It was sweet and full of sugar, so he couldn’t be happier.

"That may be Jarod, but this is my house so we do things how I run them.” She said with a small smile at him sulking.

He nodded and ate his fruit, wanting something a little more substantial, but didn’t ask, not until he knew what their inventory situation was.

When Gracie was happy, she let him have the biscuits again, eating one herself. "The best we got for dinner right now is baked beans and soups. Sorry." She apologised, she had never intended using this place as an escape refuge and wasn’t very well prepared with the food.

“That is fine,” He told her munching on the biscuits. “These really are very good.”

"They come in a lot of different flavours. The newest in is chilli or black forest.” She informed him, watching him from where she sat on the ground.

“Chilli in chocolate?” He asked suspiciously.

"Yeah I’m not sure how nice it would taste." Grace said more to herself. She had seen them but hadn’t been game to try them as of yet.
The End by jacci
Author's Notes:
This is it folks, this is the end of the Fic. Thank you all so much for all of the reviews and the feedback. We have loved it all. I hope you all like this chap as well, and look out for our next Fic. It will be called At What Price, and as soon as I finish editing it, it will be posted. With any luck, with in the week. Thanks again for all the wonderful reviews. (As always though, this is co-written but Jaccione and Onisius.)
Jarod nodded. "You should get some rest, I bet Bailey will be up early tomorrow, and I think it will be a difficult day for her."

Gracie nodded in agreement. "I will leave you the Tim Tams. Don’t eat too much, you might get a tummy ache.” She said in a motherly tone, talking to him as if he was a small child, as she stood to her feet.

Jarod took another biscuit and reclined on the bed. He was bone tired, from more than just the run today. Everything that had happened to him emotionally had been pushed aside, and he could feel it finally taking its toll now that he had lowered his guard a little. "Thank you Grace, for not leaving me there." Despite everything, he couldn’t bring himself to hate her. Deep down he knew she was as much a victim as he was, she was only doing what it took to survive, like he was.

Gracie bent over and tucked him in the queen size bed, the bedding soft and warm, she brushed his hair back and smiled down, "It was my pleasure, I just hope I haven’t gotten you into more trouble then this is all worth.” She planted a soft, tender kiss to his forehead, "Go to sleep now Jarod, you're exhausted. I'll watch over you for a while.” She said softly, warmly. Gracie knew if they found out about this place, if it wasn’t as well hidden as she had thought it was, and they were caught, Jarod would be in so much trouble. The only reason he had gotten out was because of her, and Gandi would take it as such a betrayal to them that he did run again. Gracie couldn’t even comprehend how much trouble she would be in, there was just no way of her to imagine it. The only good thing was Bailey most likely wouldn’t be in trouble. They would see it as her just following an order from a handler, having no choice in what had happened.

He was about to argue with her and decided not to. He closed his eyes and relaxed a little, truly let himself relaxed for the first time in what had to be at least a month.

Gracie settled on the side of the bed and kept smoothing back his hair relaxingly, comforting him. She watched as he slowly drifted off to sleep and when Grace was sure he was dead to the world, slowly got up and left the room.

Jarod allowed himself to almost float away under her gentle touch, falling into the first real sleep he had had since this all began. In the past month or so, he had only managed to catch a few hours sleep at a time, but was always haunted by terrifying dreams. The only half decent sleep he had managed had been in the infirmary, where despite his protests, they had drugged him.

Gracie was playing mother not only to Bailey but now Jarod as well. She was always cooking what she could, cleaning, making sure both of them bathed before bed. She would help Bailey to brush her teeth and get ready, Jarod as well if he forgot to do his teeth because he was too caught up in the computers. She tucked Bailey in, Jarod as well, waiting until both were sleeping before going to bed herself. Grace wasn’t too sure if Jarod liked being mothered like this, but she couldn’t help it. Jarod's feet had healed now, still tender, and she would reprimand him if he did too much, stood to long on them. It had been an exhausting week, organising transport, going over different escape routes. She had helped Jarod pick an area that they would be safe in until they could fly out to America, believing it was best to stay over there until Bailey was used to her new life before shifting her again if it was needed.

Breakfast was ready on the table and she went to wake Jarod up first, she had been slipping him mild sleeping tablets to help him sleep after realising how bad his nightmares were. The first night he had woken both her and Bailey screaming in terror. Grace had tried to calm him, but only seemed to make it worse, and in the end just grabbed a hold of him and held him tightly while she changed his emotions, taking away his fear and pain and replacing it with calm and reassurance.

Jarod woke feeling refreshed. He was sleeping better here than he ever had and he wondered if it was because of the girls or because this was the closest thing he had ever had to a real home. "Good morning,” He smiled as she came into the room. He had grown very fond of little Bailey very quickly, and even Grace.

"Good morning Jarod.” She said softly, the light on, "How did you sleep tonight? Any nightmares?” She asked, knowing the answer. She knew if Jarod was aware of what she was doing, he would throw a hissy fit, but she could not have him waking up each night screaming. Bailey had been scared all morning after hearing his screams on the first night.

"No nightmares,” He said in wonder. It was so unusual for him not to have bad dreams. He sat up and swung his legs around. Tonight was the big night when everything was set for them to leave. He had still had a few things to take care of, but he wanted to spend most of the day in 'class' with Bailey.

"That’s good to hear." Gracie said happily and knelt down, checking his feet. She touched them gently, "Still sore?” She asked him in concern, she knew they were a little but nowhere near as bad as before.

"They will be fine,” He said, hating her fussing.

"Excellent.” She smiled standing up, "Breakfast is ready, go brush your teeth then you may eat." Grace said, thinking she sounded like a mother would. It gave her a purpose if she was looking after both of them. Watching them, making sure they were clean, feeding them.

He had given up trying to get her to stop ordering him around and he teased her gently about it. "Why thank you Miss Gracie,” He said, putting on his best southern accent, which he knew always cracked Bailey up.

"Cute Jarod,” She said, ignoring his grin, "Get going."

He smiled to himself and made his way to the bathroom, chuckling to himself along the way.

Grace walked past the bathroom and poked her head in glad to see him brushing his teeth before she moved into her and Bailey's room and turned the light on. "Bailey, its time to get up." Gracie said gently as she sat on the bed.

Bailey stretched and yawned and rubbed her eyes. "Do I have to Gracie?” She whined. She had sat up late last night with Jarod as he told her all about the animals from all around the world again. He had drawn so many pictures for her and wrote down information that she could almost make a book out of it.

"If you don’t want to miss breakfast you do," Grace told her as she pulled the covers back.

She nodded, something on her mind, but she was scared to ask.

"Come on Bailey,” She said as she sat up, "Breakfast is waiting." Grace liked sharing meals with Bailey, it made them feel so much closer then before.

"Gracie?” She asked hesitantly as she started to get up.

"Yeah?"

"You like Jarod don’t you?” She let Gracie help her to dress, even though she was big enough to do it by herself now. She liked how Gracie fussed over her all the time now, it made her feel wanted.

"Yes of course I do Bailey, why do you ask."

Bailey had been scared of him at first, but now she never wanted him to go away, not ever. "Will he leave us today, after we go? He wants to go home."

"Yes he does, he wants to find his Mummy and Daddy. But he won’t leave us until we ask him to.” She said gently as she finished dressing her and started to brush her hair. She had the most lovely hair, just like Gracie, only hers was wavy, Grace's was dead straight.

"I know how to make him never want to leave us,” She whispered nervously. He had taught her lots of things that nobody else had taught her before and he said he would teach her how to be a vet too.

"And hows that honey?" She asked curiously.

"He couldn’t leave us if he was our Daddy,” She said even softer, losing her nerve now.

Gracie tied her hair back and sighed, "Bailey, you can’t ask someone that just so they don’t leave. That is a very big thing to ask of him.” She said gently.

"Why not? You took him without asking. He said he likes us, said he wants to look after us.” She had learnt the basic dynamics of a family. "He doesn’t have any family, we could be his family and he could be our Daddy and if he got married to a lady, she could be our Mummy." It all made perfect sense to Bailey, and if he was her Daddy, he couldn’t just leave them.

Gracie sighed and looked at her for a long time. "No I didn’t ask before I took him, but I knew it was the right thing to do." Jarod was making slow progress with her about what was right and what was wrong, taking him and Bailey out was right. "He does have family Bailey, he has a brother and sister, Mummy and Daddy. He just doesn’t see them.” She had already asked Jarod about being their family the first night they were out and not sure at all that he would say no to Bailey asking him to be her Daddy. "You can ask him but.”

Bailey thought about it for a moment and then nodded, reaching her decision. "I will ask him later then."

"You can ask him at breakfast ok Bailey? Now come on, let’s get those teeth brushed so we can eat." Grace said, wondering what Jarod would say to her.

She nodded, happy with that. She still missed home, but there was so much to do here that she hardly noticed. Jarod even let her help him on the computers, but she knew he was just doing that to make her feel good because her typing was so bad, but she was getting better. She rushed to the bathroom so she could hurry up and eat. She was looking forward to all the foods Jarod had told her about, especially something called PEZ, but he wouldn’t explain what it was.

Jarod was already seated when they came in. He was waiting for them both, a smile on his face, wondering if he would get a good morning kiss from his favourite girl.

Grace followed her, a smile on her lips at Bailey's enthusiasm. She watched her, making sure she brushed them correctly before walking her into the kitchen. Grace had the small bar fridge on, using a lot of the little amount of power from the batteries to run it. When they knew it would be a week, she had eased up on the food and water and power. Gracie had set out the bowls and cereal already and grabbed the open bottle of long life milk and sat it on the table. She filled each of the three glasses with juice before putting the juice back in the fridge. "Hands.” She asked, wanting to check they were clean, as she did every other meal they ate. She knew it drove Jarod crazy, and it always amused her.

Bailey let Gracie inspect her hands, making faces at Jarod while she was doing it.

Jarod poked his tongue out at her and then looked serious again when Gracie glanced his way.

"Manners at the table Bailey please.” She told her off gently as she checked to see if her hands needed to be washed again. When she was happy with Bailey's hands, she let them go and turned to Jarod, "Hands."

Jarod had given up the argument with her and presented his hands to her. He was a grown man and knew how to wash his hands, but he submitted to it to keep the peace.

She checked the over before sighing, "Go wash your hands again Jarod.” She told him, letting them go, "And scrub under your nails this time."

"Grace,” He protested. His hands were perfectly clean and he had no idea why she was so obsessed about this.

"Just do it Jarod," Bailey advised sagely.

"You will go wash them again or you will not be allowed to have breakfast.” She said in a stern voice, knowing how much this annoyed him, loving it to death.

Jarod shot a long suffering look at Bailey and then sighed dramatically and made his way to the bathroom slowly, as if it pained him to walk.

Bailey giggled and put her hand over her mouth and cast her eyes down quickly before Grace said anything.

"You think it is funny when he sulks don’t you Bailey?” She asked with a smile. "Because I do.”

"He is a terrible actor,” She told her with a grin.

"For a pretender, you would think he would be better.” She laughed a little, knowing he exaggerated to make Bailey laugh.

"You are bad Gracie,” She said, wanting Jarod to hurry up now the fun was over. She was hungry.

Grace just smiled at her little sister.

Jarod came out of the bathroom and presented his hands for inspection before sitting down.

Gracie inspected his hand and smirked when she let him sit down. “Perfect Jarod.” She poured the cereal and milk for them all and started to eat, “Bailey, why don’t you ask Jarod what you asked me?”

Jarod looked at her and then Bailey, eating his cereal.

Bailey didn’t stop shovelling food in her mouth, she usually didn’t have much time to eat so she always ate quickly, not used to company and talking during meals. “Would you be my Daddy?” She asked him between spoonfuls.

Jarod almost choked on his current mouthful as he gaped at her. "What?” He whispered in pure shock.

Grace bit down on her lip at his reaction. “She wants you to be her father Jarod. She likes you so much. She doesn’t want you to leave.” Grace tried to explain, hoping Jarod’s reaction wasn’t going to upset Bailey.

Jarod looked at her and then back to Bailey who was still eating. "I... ahh... I...” He was at a complete loss for words.

Bailey finally looked up at him, her eyes wide. "You don’t have to if you don’t want to,” She whispered.

“Bailey, why don’t you go feed Walter for me please?” She asked, wanting her to leave so Jarod and her could discuss this.

Bailey looked from Jarod to Gracie, knowing it was one of those times that was for grownup talking. She skipped away from the table, confident that Jarod would say yes. She had learnt to read him pretty well over the past few days. "Walter, are you hungry?” She asked as she left the room.

Grace looked at Jarod, “I’m sorry Jarod. This is not the kind of thing you need right now but she is afraid that once we are safe, you will leave her. She said if you were her Daddy, you could never leave.” She told Jarod in a soft voice.

Jarod almost cried as he looked at her, thinking about how quickly Bailey had opened up to him, how much he had grown to love her in such a short time. "I won’t leave her, or you.” He told her softly. "But she needs a real family Grace, not someone like me, leading only half a life."

“She doesn’t want a real family Jarod, she wants you. No one has ever treated her how you have, and she never wants you to leave.” She said softly. “Say no Jarod, don’t feel like you have to do this. if you don’t want to, Bailey will get over it.”

Jarod didn’t know what to do, the very idea of leaving these two to fend for themselves was beyond comprehension, but his life was not the kind he wanted them having. They needed stability and kindness, not a life on the run. And this was the kind of commitment he had never have to worry about. His only concern had been himself but they were in danger now because of him and he could not turn his back on them. "I will not leave you,” He stated again, softly but with conviction.

Gracie nodded, “But that doesn’t answer Bailey’s question of being her Daddy.” Grace all but chided him.

"You have to understand Grace, I have never had a family, I don’t know if I would know how to be her father.” He said bluntly. He had failed so miserably lately, and this was something he could not mess up if he agreed to it.

“And I don’t know how to keep her safe without screwing her up. We all make mistakes Jarod,” She shot back at him.

He nodded slowly, surprised at how natural it felt to say yes to this.

The End.


This story archived at http://www.pretendercentre.com/missingpieces/viewstory.php?sid=1416