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Disclaimer: All characters and are the property of NBC and TNT. I don’t own them, I just borrowed them.

All the King’s Horses
part 2
by Charlatan

The Centre (the present)

Nothing ever seemed to go right at the Centre, unless of course, one's sense of "right" was very twisted. At least Debbie was ok. What were the odds that the little girl would try to sneak out in the middle of the night, and get hit by a car? Miss Parker groaned. She wouldn't bet on those odds. It had Centre "doings" written all over it.
Unfortunately the little girl could not remember how the incident happened, and both Parker and Broots were left only with their imaginations. Broots was convinced the mishap was a warning to him, but a warning for Broots always translated into a warning for her. The Centre did not like failure, and a potentially fatal amount of time had passed since the retrieval trio had had any success.

After the incident at Little Bo Peep's there had been fewer and fewer clues to Jarod's whereabouts, and even less evidence of him performing any new pretends. Those that were reported always included one element that annoyed her: he was wearing his red hat. Miss Parker had returned to the cheesy motel in order to question the gift shop about the hat. After viewing a picture of Jarod and hearing the jaded "escaped mental patient story", the hat vender retrieved a cap from under the counter that said "I'm the evil duck", and depicted a yellow bird with red eyes. Jarod had anticipated her return. Miss Parker was not amused, and one well aimed glare had sent the man scrambling to relate the tale of the "lovely young lady" who had purchased a sheep hat as a gift for friend, with whom she was "clearly, very much in love." That "friend" was the man in the picture. The news had not made Miss Parker happy. Maybe the reason Jarod had been out of touch was do to this woman, or maybe they had finally pushed Jarod over the edge. "He's a pretender." Sydney had once said. "A human chameleon. If you push him too hard he'll disappear forever." She hated to admit it, but maybe only Jarod's masochistic willingness to be chased had kept the hunt alive this long.

She walked along the pathway to her office. She was exhausted after the last two days of dealing with Debbie, who had been placed, at Lyle's insistence, in the Centre infirmary. She felt sick as she recalled the ashen appearance of the little girl's face. She could not help but feel responsible, and a whirlwind of unbridled frustration and guilt threatened to consume her. The strong-willed woman was determined to not let any hint of her treacherously weak emotions show. Emotions were liabilities at the Centre.

Miss Parker could feel the visually imperceptible movement of her manicured hair brushing against the nape of her neck. Normally she took comfort in her impeccable grooming, but today her appearance seemed to act as a barrier between herself and the rest of the Centre players. She passed Lyle without even a glance, but she could feel his eyes bound off her impenetrable shielding. He couldn't read her, but she couldn't read him either. She moved gratefully into the comforting realm of her office. She sat down on her desk and viewed the main occupant with disgust. The embossed evil duck returned her glare. 'You've got the story backwards Jarod,' she thought. 'The goose chases the duck, evil or not. The duck never chases the goose.' She frowned at his misinterpretation of the nursery rhyme. 'Some genius," she scoffed.

Swiping the hat into the trashcan, she glanced at her desk, and groaned. 'Another one, Jarod?' She slit open the letter:

There was a man and he had naught,
And robbers came to rob him;
He crept up to the chimney pot,
And than they thought they had him.

But he got down on t'other side,
And then they could not find him;
He ran fourteen miles in fifteen days,
And never looked behind him.

There was a package attached to the letter, inside there was a hat on which was embossed your average friendly squeaky duck bath toy. The only problem was that its eyes were glowing red. A note attached to the hat read: things are never what they seem. She threw the hat in the garbage.

The phone rang. "What!" she said, her voice lacking in some of its usual venom.

"Miss Parker." Came the familiar voice. "You sound tired."

Leave it to Jarod to break through her shields. "I'm not too tired to chase you. Where are you?" she offered in the same repetitive jargon, that always started their dead-end conversations. This time, however, the pretender wasn't biting.

"Did you get my message?" She did not reply. "I meant what I said. I'm not looking back anymore."

She ignored the pain in the pit of her stomach, and focused on the situation at hand. "Is this the 'Leave them alone' part of the game, Jarod." She smiled predatorily, "If that's all this is, than I'm happy to wait until you come to me, tail wagging."

The pretender laughed. "Is that how that one ends?" he asked in delight. "I couldn't remember." More soberly he added, "I can guarantee you that the rhyme's not going to end that way this time. I'm done playing games."

He was serious, she realized. "You can't be serious," she said allowed. "No more games, Jarod? No more thumbing your nose at us, no more helping the little guy? What has changed? Did you find your family-your fellow sheep?"

There was a lengthened pause on the other line. "I guess I have," he said strangely. "I know I have," he repeated with confidence gaining in his voice.

"Who is she, Jarod?" Miss Parker asked quietly.

Again, there was a pause. "Someone the Centre will never know-will never hurt, and neither will you! There won't be any darker side in my version of the rhyme!"

"Don't underestimate the Centre," Miss Parker said, angry that he would feel the need to threaten her; that he would think she would hurt an innocent. "We never give up."
"Bo Peep would be wise to hang up the crook, because I don't think she can find any more sheep, no matter how long she searches," the pretender replied with a edge in his voice.

"So if you're rewriting the whole rhyme, Mother Goose, than how does it end? Everyone lives happily ever after-except the witch of course? She gets left behind in the cold darkness."

The pretender shook his head. He was tired of this silent fight. "Listen to yourself. You're the only one who can tell how the story is going to end." The line went dead.

"Listen to yourself."
"You may not like what I hear," she replied, but his words echoed along the cold panels, seeming to tell her, "he's gone" and "you've lost-you've lost him." As they rippled, the waking nightmare came to her.

Miss Parker was left alone in the office with only the ghosts of herself and her mother whispering, "Stop it; end it; please, stop it." Beyond her office walls a figure darted away. Miss Parker's eyes widened as she caught site of a new apparition in the crowd. Chanting along with her other tormenters was the slender, battered form of Debbie Broots.


Jacksonville, Florida

"Jarod, it's beautiful."

He grinned with delight at her obvious joy. He leaned forward. "Let me put it on." The pretender slipped the delicately styled ring on the radiant woman's finger. A frown passed over his face. "It's too big," he said with annoyance. "I can't believe I made your ring too big."

His attractive companion smiled. "This ring is perfect, Jarod." She pulled off a gold chain from her neck and slipped the ring onto the length of metal. "That solves that problem." She examined the ring from where it hung.

"Did you see the inscription?" She nodded and read it again. Then she stepped forward and hugged him tightly. "I'm never going to leave you again, Jarod."

The pretender smiled. "Well, I might have to leave you."

He watched her face fall. "Where are you going?" she demanded. "And I'm coming with you." she insisted, without waiting for a reply.

"I have some unfinished business," Jarod returned soothingly, "and I'd rather have you someplace safe."

The woman stared at him suspiciously. "You can't let her go-can you?"

The man shook his head. "I just have some loose ends to tie up. This has nothing to do with her." Jarod gave her a kiss on the forehead, "You'll be fine, and this is the last time I'm going to leave-I promise." He pulled on his leather jacket and his red cap.

"Hey!" she called after him. "Don't forget you promised to get me a replacement hat for the one I lost." He smiled and waved, before getting in the car.

She watched him go, fighting back the feeling that she would never see him again.
Broots' Space

"Miss Parker, what are you doing here?"

"I'm your boss, Broots," she replied testily.

"I-I know, but I thought you would be with Sydney."

She let the air hiss out of her lungs. "I would be if I could locate the absent minded professor. He left three pairs of triplets twiddling their 18 thumbs in the sim lab today-. Broots, what is it?" she asked seeing his reaction.

"Don't you know?" the tech said, surprise evident on his face. "Sydney's at the hospital-."

"The hospital?" she repeated in shock. "What's happened to him?!"

"Sydney's fine, I mean he's physically fine. Mentally, well that's another-"

"Spit it out Broots!"

"It's Sydney's son, he's been in a car accident!


The Centre

"Have a good day...Miss Parker?!"

The woman stopped dead in her tracks. "What," she paused, "Gary, right?"

The man nodded dumbly. He had believed she was scary when she was several feet away. Over time he had grown accustomed to the danger, but now, with her inches from his face, the immunity was lost. He should have kept his tone of voice under control, but he had never seen her leave the Centre at this hour. It was way too early. He became dimly aware of the fact that she was still waiting for an answer. "Uh, I guess it's just that time of the month," he said stupidly.

"What!?" she practically roared.

'She was going to devour him-right here on this floor, in full view of the cameras! Why would that matter, she was, after all, the chairman's daughter, wasn't she?' Gary did the only thing a self-respecting person caught up in Miss Parker's line of site could do. He sold someone else out. "Well," he rapidly corrected himself. "It's just that lately people have been coming and going at odd times of day."

She took the bait. "People?" she said with interest in her voice. "What kind of people?"

'The lady or the tiger?' he debated to himself. 'Clearly,' he concluded, 'the lady is a much larger threat.' "Mr. Lyle," he revealed.

"Lyle?" she hissed. "When?"

He shrugged noncommittally, "I don't know. The other day, I guess, and today as well."

"Two days ago?" She practically spat venom.

The man nodded. "Yeah, late at night-I mean early in the morning. He rushed in here a little after you trying to look all nonchalant. He did the same thing today. It was like de ja vu, except for the fact that this time his acting had improved-slightly."

"Well, they say practice makes perfect." Miss Parker mused. "But anyone who claims perfection at the Centre, doesn't have long to live. Perhaps, it's time I remind my brother of that key point. He shouldn't go jumping over fire. No matter how nimble he is, one can never guess whose controlling the flame."

She patted the man's cheek lightly before stalking off, and the security guard slid gratefully back to his post. He had survived the dragon, and this would make a great story at lunch.
Centre Recreation Area

She watched the swimmer approach her side of the pool. His lean muscular arms churned the water, as he approached the side, where the Fury was waiting for him. After watching discreetly for several laps, the fiery woman had learned exactly where he would surface for air. She wasn't going to let him.

Lyle sputtered to the surface as the foot-applied pressure was removed from his head. "Parker!" he exclaimed as he blinked water out of his eyes. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

"Lyle?!" she asked innocently. "Is that you? I really should watch where I'm going."

"Yes," he replied in a neutral tone as he pulled himself out of the water. You should, or you're libel to find yourself floating in uncharted waters."

She forced a smile, "Well, anything is better than at the wrong end of an automobile."

He stood up. In her Italian leather pumps she towered over him. "I don't know what you mean by that."

Miss Parker stepped closer to him, forcing him to shift his head to the side, and therefore preventing him, or perhaps saving him, from her icy gaze. "If one more of my people happens to mention cars to me, whether in jest, fun, or just because he or she saw a neat one the other day, someone is going to pay." A grin stretched across her face. "I'm the expert on car games. I hear there is extra points if you hit someone who is handicapped." Her voice softened, "If you don't quite fit that bill physically, I'll make an exception for mentally." She turned to go.

"I don't know that game." The deranged man called after her. "I do know that the triumvirate doesn't like failure, and they're willing to mow down anyone or anything to get what they want. I can't be held responsible for the "vehicle" on which they push their agenda."

She turned to glare at him. He stood there with that infuriating half-sardonic grin, and his ever-present air of superiority that only seemed to vanish when Jarod was around. She had wanted to wipe that smile off his face for ages. So she did. A swift kick to the gut sent him head over heals into the swimming pool. The thumbless man came up spitting fire. She smiled down at him. "Of course, I can't hold you responsible. I will let you know though, that I love uncharted territory, but I bet you don't." She glanced down at the depths of the water. "and while you're there, watch out for the sharks." She turned to go, and had the satisfaction of seeing the paranoid man's quick peek at the water churning below his feet. After all, stranger things had happened at the Centre.

Sydney's office
"I'm worried about her, Sydney. Something's wrong and not just because they're saying she actually kicked Lyle into the swimming pool on sublevel 14. I've been trying to hack into the archives to gain the footage of that, but there's been way too many other people trying to do the same thing." He noticed the older man was beginning to go comatose. He cleared his throat in embarrassment. "Anyway, I was talking to Clare in payroll. You know--the woman with the five-inch long fingernails! I'm not talking about fake ones, I assure you they're real!"

Sydney listened patiently as Broots' story ran its course. He nodded and smiled at the points where Miss Parker would have strangled and maimed. Finally, the technician got to his point, "So then Clare tells me that she saw Miss Parker talking to someone that was standing around the corner, but when Clare approached she realized there was no one at the receiving end of the dialogue. She said she heard Miss Parker, begging, pleading with someone to stop."

The psychiatrist nodded. "I observed a similar incident that occurred in Miss Parker's office. I think she actually thought that she was speaking with my son! She seems to feel responsible for both Debbie and Nicholas's accidents, although there is no evidence linking them to the Centre. I can only conclude that Jarod's break with the Centre is getting to her. If he's gone, truly gone, Broots, than she has to accept that which most scares her."

The technician looked grim. "What's that? Her feeling's about Jarod?"

The aging man inclined his head, "Perhaps, but there's a far more obvious answer; if Jarod disappears, she loses her only hope of ever leaving the Centre. Without him, she's stuck here, in the darkness, forever."


Miss Parker's House

"Stop it, end it, end it!" Miss Parker sat up in bed. She found herself gazing into the depths of her mother's eyes. The picture had kept silent guard over the dark-haired woman her entire life, but not even the photograph's potent charm could repel the nightmares that threatened to consume her. Instead the glossy image served as a reminder that Catherine Parker wanted her to stop Jarod. She had told her so, every night for a month, but the message never lost its power. 'I thought you wanted to save Jarod,' Parker thought in confusion. 'So why are you so desperate for me to stop him now?' A vision of Debbie Broots and Nicholas flashed before her eyes. This pursuit had to stop. There were too many innocents that would be hurt. Too many were suffering for the freedom of one man. And yet, wasn't she just as eager to trade his freedom for her own? This was why the dreams never failed to wake her.

As usual, she padded out into the kitchen, and reached for a bottle of pepto bismo. It didn't have quite the same effect on her, but her ulcer was terrible. As she swallowed the thick liquid the phone rang, startling her. Thick pink globs ran down her hands and spread over her clothes, pooling under her bare feet. She picked up the phone furiously. "What!"

"Miss Parker." Came the professional voice. "This is Dan." She raised an eyebrow. Dan was one of the low-grade sweepers who had been sent back to one of Jarod's last lairs in order to search for clues to his whereabouts. That is how desperate she had become; she was actively searching cold leads. "Do you know what time it is, Dan?" she ventured dangerously. The pepto bismo was beginning to stain.

The sweeper ignored the question. "I have him, Miss Parker."

She practically gasped. "You have Jarod?"

"Well, I don't exactly have him, but he's here," the sweeper amended nervously. "I thought I should wait for backup."

'Translation: You weren't expecting to have to think for yourself on this mission, and now you're scared shitless.' "Give me your position," she said aloud. "I'm on my way."

She hung up the phone and moved toward her room, leaving a trail of thick goo in her wake. In the darkened corner of her room she thought she saw the fading form of the ghosts from her dream, and she heard Debbie Broots offer a fading "end this." She smiled grimly, "Don't worry," she answered, "this time I will."


Little Bo Peep's Hotel

Miss Parker leaned against the cold wall. She could no longer see the sweeper team.

"Well-dressed morons," she murmured to herself. Armed to the teeth, deadly, suave, and yet unable to carry out a simple order to stay put. The old cliché 'can't judge a book by its cover' floated through her mind. She smirked bitterly; nothing was ever what it seemed at the Centre.
Her foot kicked an object out of the alley and into the dimly lit parking lot. She started as a brief quack erupted from the yellow piece of plastic. The dark haired woman reached forward and scooped it up. A duck with friendly eyes stare back at her. Was it her imagination, or did they seem to plead with her? She tossed the toy aside in disgust. 'Evil ducks, my ass." She grumbled.

Across the hallway, a door opened and a dark-clad figure darted out.

'Through the front, Jarod?' she wondered. 'Isn't that a little obvious?' Maybe he was getting soft...or maybe it wasn't Jarod. She caught the glint of a familiar leather jacket and the telltale red hat. Ironic, really, that in the end it was his fashion sense that finally caught up with him. A labrat in sheep's clothing.

Bang! Bang!

From the other side of the motel a gunshots rang out. For a moment Miss Parker's attention was diverted from her prey, who used the opportunity to take off, and than the chase was on.

The brunette raced around the corner, her high heals stabbing into the pools of greasy water, and unmindful of the havoc it reeked on their soft leather straps. At the end of the alley she could just glimpse the familiar red hat bobbing around the corner. She surged forward in pursuit. As she moved deeper into the maze of darkened streets she could barely see the silhouette of her quarry, and the pounding of her heart filled her ears. Was she actually gaining on him?

She threw herself around another corner. She was catching up! The red cap called to her like a target at a shooting range. Suddenly the unwelcome ghostly visions flew before her eyes. "End this! Stop this! Please! Please!" they chanted. She ignored them. "You're not real!" she hissed.

The red hat turned another corner. Miss Parker flew around only steps behind. A dead end loomed before the predator and the trapped prey. The rat had been free too long, and had forgotten how to navigate a maze. End game.

Miss Parker slowly approached her panting prey with her gun drawn. "It's over, Jarod." She stated harshly. "Time to go home."

The dark figure flinched, and than took off towards the chain link fence blocking the way.

"Stop, Jarod! Stop or I'll shoot!" she screamed. There was no response. Instantly she was back in the chaos of her dream. The faces swelled up before her, and she could see one image of herself after another, begging, pleading "Stop this, stop it!", as the paradoxical women stretched their hands after the vanishing shadow. She could see her mother's face again. "Please, my darling daughter," the apparition begged pointing at the vanishing shadow from her dream, "End this."

"Mama?" Tears welled up in the brunettes eyes, her finger tightened on the trigger. "I will." As quickly as the vision had come upon her it dissipated, and she was left with only a moment to act as the leather clad figure prepared to drop on the other side of the fence.

"Stop," she whispered softly and fired.

The figures gasped and for a moment seemed to fall, almost float back to earth.

The body hit the ground heavily, with a thud that jarred the psychically saturated woman back to earth. She strode forward, and almost staggered as blood pooled out from the expertly applied bullet hole in the pretender's leather jacket.

"Jarod," she moaned pathetically like a wet kitten. "What had she done?"

She bent down to turn him over, and her hands sponged off blood from the drenched leather. The body rolled over with surprising ease, and at that moment a sweepers car pulled up behind her illuminating the darkened alley. Miss Parker stared down at her catch and gasped. Red curls spilled out from the blood stained cap, and the body contained a sleek body, not the compact muscular one she had expected. Her hand tingled as another hand covered her own, and she glanced up painfully into the ghostly eyes of Catherine Parker. "Mama?" She pleaded.

"What have you done?" the eyes returned. "I tried to stop you, but you wouldn't listen. You wanted to kill."

"I'm a killer," she murmured sadly, "The Centre made me that, just like they made Lyle." Her confusion suddenly vanished as cold realization dawned on her. "What a silly, comical misinterpretation! It was almost funny. The ghosts wanted her to stop, they hadn't wanted her to stop the fleeing shadow! She wanted to laugh, to run, to scream!

The ice blue eyes ranged wildly over the body before her, unmindful of the approaching footsteps. They caught on a glint of metal clenched in the woman's hand. The vision of the fallen gleaming object from her dream flashed before her eyes. Miss Parker reached hesitantly for the gold object. It contained the answer, the truth to this nightmare that she had forced herself to live. Who was this woman that her mother had wanted to save? Why made her important enough for Catherine Parker to return from the grave? She scanned the inscription and gasped. The metal fell from her hands as though it were on fire.

Rain began to fall softly around her, and the bravest sweeper addressed her. "We have him, Miss Parker." She nodded numbly. 'She had taken his freedom, and destroyed his future all in one fell swoop. Jarod was right, fairytales, nursery rhymes did have a gruesome side unfit for children.' The sweeper was still hovering over her. He glanced at fallen woman, and took stock of the situation. "I'll get a cleaner team here right away."

"No," she said hoarsely. "I'll take care of this." Random bits of rhymes flashed through the distraught woman's mind: 'All the kings horses and all the kings men..."

He nodded, and glanced at the discarded trinket. "To my darling love, on our engagement day. I will love you forever, Zoe. Zoe?" he repeated aloud. "Who's Zoe?" There was no answer. The normally composed woman's eyes glinted maniacally, and her tear-stained face fixated strangely on her bloodstained hands. The sweeper's coat was getting wet. Clearly, this Zoe person was no reason to ruin a nice jacket over. He slopped back to the limo, leaving his still kneeling boss, to be drenched in the rain and consumed by the surrounding darkness.

The End

Author's Note: This story is a little different from my last one, but in this case my goal was to kill off Zoe in an interesting way. I'm afraid her presence on the show irks me. No offense Zoe fans. If you enjoyed it, let me know. There may be a sequel.

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