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Long limbs, an eerie silver in the moonlight, entangled themselves in his, and a cool cheek brushed the side of his face. There were cold lips, and an icy breath tickling his skin as it danced past ear.

‘Gotcha,’ she murmured, and that was when he captured her mouth with his own.

He couldn’t remember when it had started, or even if it had ever had a beginning. She was there with him so he pretended like it was a fairytale.

Pretended that when he woke in the morning, she would still be there beside him.

‘Jarod?’ Miss Parker asked, lying on her back and staring up at the ceiling. She had the sheet pulled up to her underarms because the night air was slightly chilly. ‘What are you thinking about?’
‘Us,’ he admitted.
‘There is no us,’ she sighed, rolling on to her side to look at him.

He sighed as well.

‘OK,’ he mumbled, and then he kissed her again.

In a few hours, the sun would come up.

- - - - - - - -

‘Jarod?’
‘Hi,’ he offered weakly.
‘What’s going on?’
‘I’m sorry.’
‘Sorry for what?’
‘For this. For everything. For you, for me, for everyone -’

Her eyes widened slightly.

‘I don’t understand.’
‘Maybe you don’t. Maybe you do. Maybe… maybe this has all gone wrong or maybe it’s supposed to be this way. Maybe my whole life has just been one big joke, and somebody’s been sitting there laughing at me.’
‘Jarod, please, you’re scaring me -’
‘You should be afraid of me,’ he said quietly, voice trembling. ‘I’m a horrible person, with dark places inside of me…’
‘Don’t say that.’
‘Why not? It’s true.’

- - - - - - - -

When he’d arrived home a few months ago, she’d been there. Sitting on her suitcase with a tangle of red curls and that summer’s day smile that reminded him of the good things in life.

‘Zoe,’ he said.
‘Hello Jarod,’ she replied.

It had been a jumble of excuses and memories and apologies and thank yous, because neither were quite sure if it was actually going to be goodbye. She’d placed her palm to cup the side of his face and he had looked at her with the eyes of chocolate that told his story if anyone really wanted to know why.

‘Maybe... we could still take that vacation some day.’
‘I’d like that,’ she said, smiling. ‘But I think you and I both know it’s probably never going to happen. I owe you a lot, Jarod. Let’s just… leave it with the good memories.’
‘Are you sure?’ he asked, torn.
‘I’m sure,’ she said, standing on the tips of her toes and pressing her lips to his forehead. ‘Just don’t forget me, okay?’
‘Never,’ he vowed.

And just like that, she’d been gone.

- - - - - - - -

‘Are you really going to do it?’

Her eyes were wide and fearless. Her tone did not shake and she held her head high as she met his gaze.

‘Yes.’
‘Why?’
‘Because I don’t have a choice.’
‘Maybe,’ she said, turning her head to the side; she couldn’t bare to look at the resignation in his features. ‘Or maybe you’re just not willing to admit the real reason. Maybe you just can’t look me in the eye and say she means more to you than I do.’
‘It’s not about her.’
‘Everything’s about her. It always has been.’
‘That’s not true,’ he argued. ‘Not just… there was you. There was her, she’s always been there, but I was always looking for -’
‘I never meant the world to you, Jarod. Don’t search for things that have never existed. Don’t give me excuses.’
‘There’s nothing else to say.’

- - - - - - - -

‘What are you smiling about?’

For a moment, Jarod mistook the woman for another.

And what, exactly, do you think you’re smiling about, Wonder boy?

‘Em,’ he greeted, straightening up from his previous position, with his head resting in his hands, elbows on his knees. ‘I was just… thinking about how wonderful it actually feels to be able to have someplace to call home.’
‘Home,’ she repeated, glancing around. ‘It has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?’
‘Yes. It does.’
‘Mind if I join you?’ she asked.
‘Not at all.’

They sat in silence for awhile, but it was imbued with warmth and utter happiness.

‘Belonging,’ Jarod whispered, with awe.

Belonging.

- - - - - - - -

There was fearful anticipation in those eyes. Wide and soulful, and full of sorrow of what they knew was about to happen.

‘I’m sorry.’
‘What for?’
‘That you have to do this.’
‘I’m the one that should be apologizing,’ he said in pained voice.
‘Why?’ she laughed, although there were tears in her eyes. ‘I’m the one with the easy way out. You’re the one that has to do it. That has to live with it.’
‘Things weren’t supposed to be this way.’
‘I know.’
‘I just wish… wish you could understand why… at least know why…’
‘I understand,’ she whispered.
‘You don’t. And that’s what makes it hurt so much.’

- - - - - - - -

There was a shadow, practically silent and decisively stealthy, sneaking through the house, but it didn’t go undetected. Jarod sensed the intruder almost immediately and narrowed his eyes, pressing up against the wall, ready to ambush the interloper when they wandered through the door.

Only he found himself face to face with his half brother.

‘Ethan!’ he exclaimed.
‘It’s good to see you again, brother,’ Ethan offered. ‘And I’m sorry about the lack of notice.’
‘It’s good to see you, too. Though I hope this is a spur of the moment thing, and not because of an emergency situation.’
‘I’ve been spending some time with Miss Parker.’

Jarod stiffened slightly.

‘Oh?’
‘She seemed well.’
‘I’m glad.’

Jarod had a feeling Ethan knew more than he was letting on, but said nothing.

- - - - - - - -

‘Don’t do this,’ she begged, tears staining her cheeks and her voice the sound of ominous despair. ‘Please… Jarod, it’s me, please, you can’t do this -’
‘I have to.’
‘No!’ she sobbed. ‘You don’t! You don’t have to do this, please…’
‘Don’t cry. I never meant to make you cry -’
‘What did you expect? You’re mad! Why are you doing this to me?’
‘Please,’ he said, torn at her shaking form. ‘Please, stop crying.’

He touched her cheek, and she stiffened at his touch, but her crying stopped.

‘You’re scaring me.’
‘I know.’
‘I don’t understand. Is it to do with them? Tell me, Jarod. I don’t understand -’
‘It’s always to do with them,’ he growled, turning away and clenching his fists.

‘Always…’

- - - - - - - -

‘This is Sydney.’
‘I can finally say it, Sydney,’ Jarod said. ‘I can finally say… it feels good to be home.’

The doctor smiled and swivelled in his chair, glancing around before picking up the phone.

‘Congratulations on finding your family.’
‘It’s like something out of a dream. We have a fence, and a front door… and a dog. Have you ever had a pet, Sydney?’
‘When I was younger, I do believe Jacob and I each had a cat. I can’t recall their names, but if I’m not mistaken, they were both strays that we befriended.’
‘His name is Charlie,’ Jarod commented, then sighed.
‘You sound happy, Jarod, but I can sense something is bothering you.’
‘You know me too well.’
‘Do you want to talk about it?’
‘It’s not safe, Sydney. One half of me wants to stay, but the other half is telling me to run.’
‘I can’t make the decision for you, Jarod, but I can warn you to be careful. Mr Lyle isn’t pleased after your latest antics, and if I’ve learned anything these past few years, it’s to be wary of Mr Lyle exacting revenge. If he ever did find your family, you and I both know the consequences would be great.’

- - - - - - - -

Jarod tensed, eyes locked with those of the young man standing in front of him. A man who had a whole world of happiness ahead of him if only he could succeed in putting his past behind him. He knew exactly what was going on. And perhaps that only made it harder.

‘I’m sorry.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘No. I don’t know. Should I be?’
‘The fact that you had to ask is answer enough. But I understand why you chose this way. I don’t hate you for it. It’s your decision -’
‘The only decision I’m not qualified to make. I didn’t want this. Believe that, please.’
‘I know you’d change things if you could. I can’t blame you for being truthful with yourself.’
‘I don’t know what the truth is anymore.’
‘You always have. It’s in your heart.’
‘Maybe,’ Jarod whispered, ‘I don’t have a heart.’

- - - - - - - -

‘Mom,’ Jarod uttered, hardly able to believe he had finally found her.

‘Thank God,’ she whispered, wrapping her arms around him and hugging him tight. ‘Thank God for bringing my baby home…’
‘I never stopped searching, mom.’ He moved back slightly. ‘Kyle…’
‘I know,’ she said, pulling him close again. ‘But none of that matters now. I’ve got you back. I’ve got my baby back…’

So this, Sydney, Jarod thought, this is what it feels like to be hugged by your mother.

Belonging.

- - - - - - - -

‘What are you doing, Jarod?’

Curiosity, confusion, and a hint of wariness.

‘Nothing I want to.’
‘Is there something wrong?’

Concern.

‘There always has been. Nothing ever goes right anymore.’
‘Please tell me you’ve thought this through. That you know what you’re doing.’
‘I don’t know what I’m doing. Maybe I never have. The Centre made sure of that.’

Bitterness, and distance would make it easier. If he could only further the distance…

‘Then I can only say this; do what you need to do.’

- - - - - - - -

‘You’re too full of hope, Jarod,’ she said bitterly. ‘It’s going to get you killed. Stop believing in things that can never be. You’re living in a dream.’
‘Don’t go,’ he whispered into the darkness, and he could barely make out her silhouette as she crouched to pull on her clothes.

She didn’t say she’d stay, she didn’t say goodbye and she didn’t say when she’d see him again.

‘I hope you find your family.’

- - - - - - - -

The gun was heavy in his hand. Fully loaded; the click of the bullets sliding into place still fresh in his mind. His hand was on the trigger, and he lifted his arm to aim.

All that was left to do was squeeze.

- - - - - - - -

‘Stop it,’ Lyle hissed, pressing the metal bar harder into his throat. ‘Stop simming everything. Make your decision now, Jarod, because believe me, in a minute you’ll be saying goodbye to everyone that ever meant anything to you.’

How much is your happiness really worth to you? What are you willing to do when I put your whole world on the line?

This is revenge, Jarod.

- - - - - - - -

‘Jarod?’
‘Hi,’ he offered weakly.
‘What’s going on?’
‘I’m sorry.’
‘Sorry for what?’
‘For this. For everything. For you, for me, for everyone -’

Her eyes widened slightly.

‘I don’t understand.’
‘Maybe you don’t. Maybe you do. Maybe… maybe this has all gone wrong or maybe it’s supposed to be this way. Maybe my whole life has just been one big joke, and somebody’s been sitting there laughing at me.’
‘Jarod, please, you’re scaring me -’
‘You should be afraid of me,’ he said quietly, voice trembling. ‘I’m a horrible person, with dark places inside of me…’
‘Don’t say that.’
‘Why not? It’s true.’

‘It’s about her, isn’t it?’

The question made Jarod’s heart ache for more reasons than one.

‘You two are so incredibly alike,’ he whispered. ‘Did you know that? You despise each other so much. I wonder if its merely because when you look at each other, you see yourselves.’
‘I’m nothing like her, Jarod.’
‘You are, mom. You are. Maybe that’s what makes… choosing between you… so difficult…’
‘Do you love her?’
‘Don’t make this about her.’
‘Why not, if it always has been?’ Margaret asked softly.
‘I love you, mom, I always have and I never stopped searching for you. Make it about that.’

He squeezed…

- - - - - - - -

‘Why?’ Jarod hissed. ‘Why them? Why not me?’

‘It is all about you, Jarod. You just haven’t figured out how yet.’

- - - - - - - -

‘Are you really going to do it?’
‘Yes.’
‘Why?’
‘Because I don’t have a choice.’
‘Maybe,’ she said, turning her head to the side; she couldn’t bare to look at the resignation in his features. ‘Or maybe you’re just not willing to admit the real reason. Maybe you just can’t look me in the eye and say she means more to you than I do.’
‘It’s not about her.’
‘Everything’s about her. It always has been.’
‘That’s not true,’ he argued. ‘Not just… there was you. There was her, she’s always been there, but I was always looking for -’
‘I never meant the world to you, Jarod. Don’t search for things that have never existed. Don’t give me excuses.’
‘There’s nothing else to say.’

She nodded, he swallowed.

‘Look at me,’ he requested, and she glanced up in shock.
‘Don’t,’ she said. ‘Don’t make it about the truth. Just pretend, Jarod. Just pretend it isn’t me and -’
‘There’s never been any lies between us before, Miss Parker,’ he said with more resoluteness than he felt. ‘Don’t change that now.’
‘Family,’ she laughed bitterly. ‘Everything has always been about family. Searching for what was taken from us. This shouldn’t be so hard.’
‘What makes it hard,’ he replied, struggling to keep his voice from breaking, ‘is realizing for the first time that in order to regain the family I lost, I have to destroy the only one I ever truly had.’

He squeezed…

- - - - - - - -

She liked being in control. She’d push him back on the bed and he’d let her, fighting occasionally because he knew she liked the struggle.

Struggle was what they were about.

He pinned her beneath him and pressed his lips to her eyelids.

- - - - - - - -

‘I’m sorry.’
‘What for?’
‘That you have to do this.’
‘I’m the one that should be apologizing,’ he said in pained voice.
‘Why?’ she laughed, although there were tears in her eyes. ‘I’m the one with the easy way out. You’re the one that has to do it. That has to live with it.’
‘Things weren’t supposed to be this way.’
‘I know.’
‘I just wish… wish you could understand why… at least know why…’
‘I understand,’ she whispered.
‘You don’t. And that’s what makes it hurt so much.’

‘I know enough,’ Zoe said quietly.
‘You don’t,’ he said, shaking his head. ‘Not even I know enough…’
‘But I do know one thing, Jarod. You’re a good person.’
‘How can you be so sure?’
‘I’m still talking,’ she smiled weakly. ‘You’re still searching for a way out of this. I can accept it, Jarod, knowing you tried. It’s because I don’t know enough that I understand why it’s me and not one of them.’

He nodded, throat constricting.

He squeezed…

- - - - - - - -

‘I hate you,’ he growled.
‘Then kill me. Go ahead, Jarod. Do what you’ve always wanted to do.’

- - - - - - - -

‘Don’t do this,’ she begged, tears staining her cheeks and her voice the sound of ominous despair. ‘Please… Jarod, it’s me, please, you can’t do this -’
‘I have to.’
‘No!’ she sobbed. ‘You don’t! You don’t have to do this, please…’
‘Don’t cry. I never meant to make you cry -’
‘What did you expect? You’re mad! Why are you doing this to me?’
‘Please,’ he said, torn at her shaking form. ‘Please, stop crying.’

He touched her cheek, and she stiffened at his touch, but her tears stopped.

‘You scare me.’
‘I know.’
‘I don’t understand. Is it to do with them? Tell me, Jarod. I don’t understand -’
‘It’s always to do with them,’ he growled, turning away and clenching his fists.

‘Always…’

‘Jarod,’ Emily said quietly. ‘Tell me why. At least tell me why -’
‘I think you know.’
‘I need to hear it from you.’
‘The truth hurts, Em. Sometimes we’re better off just not knowing. Some of the answers only destroy you.’
‘It does hurt,’ she admitted, lowering her lashes and turning away. ‘Knowing that you could choose her… but I don’t know you. You’re my brother, and I know nothing about you.’
‘Maybe, it’s better that way.’

He squeezed…

- - - - - - - -

Everything was about a fight. Waging a war against each other and attempting to gain the upper hand.

They fought each other for it, and they’d yet to realize neither of them had it in the first place.

‘Give up.’

‘Never.’

- - - - - - - - -

‘I’m sorry.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘No. I don’t know. Should I be?’
‘The fact that you had to ask is answer enough. But I understand why you chose this way. I don’t hate you for it. It’s your decision -’
‘The only decision I’m not qualified to make. I didn’t want this. Believe that, please.’
‘I know you’d change things if you could. I can’t blame you for being truthful with yourself.’
‘I don’t know what the truth is anymore.’
‘You always have. It’s in your heart.’
‘Maybe,’ Jarod whispered, ‘I don’t have a heart.’

‘You don’t believe that. You know as well as I do that it’s your heart that’s making you hesitate.’
‘You don’t deserve this, Ethan,’ Jarod said, and he was angry. ‘Nobody deserves this, but -’
‘I understand, brother. If you’ve made your decision, then it’s mine too.’

And Jarod said nothing to that, as there was nothing more to say – so he nodded tightly.

He squeezed…

- - - - - - - -

‘What would mommy say if she saw you now, Jarod?’

‘I don’t care anymore,’ he returned in a dangerous tone.

- - - - - - - -

‘What are you doing, Jarod?’

Curiosity, confusion, and a hint of wariness.

‘Nothing I want to.’
‘Is there something wrong?’

Concern.

‘There always has been. Nothing ever goes right anymore.’
‘Please tell me you’ve thought this through. That you know what you’re doing.’
‘I don’t know what I’m doing anymore. Maybe I never have. The Centre made sure of that.’

Bitterness, and distance would make it easier. If he could only further the distance…

‘Then I can only say this; do what you need to do.’

‘I wanted to…’ He paused. ‘I wanted to apologize to you, Sydney. But I’m standing here before you and I can’t find the words. What is there for me to apologize for?’
‘Absolutely nothing,’ the doctor replied simply. ‘It is I that should be apologizing to you, Jarod.’
‘I could have hated you.’
‘Perhaps,’ Sydney agreed. ‘But the fact that you didn’t is what makes you, you. You’re a beautiful person, with an enormous heart that you offer out to everyone you meet. No one else has a soul quite like yours.’
‘You brought me up, Sydney.’
‘And it is I that taught you; once you have exhausted all options, you do all that you can do. You make your decision based on necessity. When there’s no room left for reason, resort to instinct.’
‘How can this be wrong and right all at once?’
‘It is my opinion that life always has, and always will be, intentionally that way.’
‘Thank you, Sydney.’
‘Whatever for?’
‘For all the things that never warranted an apology.’

He squeezed…

- - - - - - - -

… he squeezed, and five rang true. One hit the wall and missed its target. Jarod leapt forward and knocked the gun out of his hand because he couldn’t take it anymore.

For a few seconds he could see her again, buttoning her shirt, and something hit him. Hard.

‘I hope you find your family.’

- - - - - - - -

‘Why, Jarod?’ Lyle asked between blows. ‘Why – couldn’t you – kill her? Why not her, but – them?’
‘Because,’ Jarod hissed, slamming him up against the wall, hands clenched around his shirt, ‘I loved them. I hated them.’ He stopped for a moment, his face close enough to Lyle’s so that he could see the danger glittering in the pretender’s eyes. ‘But with her… there was nothing.’
‘You had every reason to hate her,’ Lyle groaned, as Jarod’s knee connected with his stomach.
‘Which is precisely why I couldn’t.’
‘You had every reason to love her.’
‘It never could have worked.’
‘What is she to you?’
‘Nothing. Reason. Life. My existence. She is me, Lyle,’ Jarod growled, his hands closing around his neck, and for the first time, he believed he could enjoy what he was about to do.
‘So,’ Lyle rasped out; his final words, ‘killing her would be nothing more than…’
‘…suicide,’ Jarod whispered, exerting pressure with finality.

The struggles ceased. The breathing stopped and the head dropped back.

But the blue eyes were still wide open.

‘Stop… Jarod…’

And it was the dying words of another – his own name – tumbling from vibrant vermillion lips. It was the quiet hiss of an extinguished flame and he watched with horror as the fire in those eyes went out.

I hope you find your family.

‘No…’

You’re living in a dream.

Angry red marks tinting pale alabaster skin, his hands and his alone, embedded in the soft curve of her throat. Tears on her face and the sudden sting of the scratches on his arms, made by her panicking fingers.

‘No,’ he choked out, stumbling backwards, resisting the urge to vomit and his feet telling him to run.

And then, the echo of footsteps, and a voice that was mixture of fear, disbelief, anger, despair and disgust. A voice that had once been a lullaby but was now the cold stab of realization as the image of her body, limp and motionless, imprinted itself on his eyelids.

‘Jarod…’

As he staggered away, trying to block the picture out, the words of his mentor whirled around in his head, and he knew they would haunt him for the rest of his life.

‘… What have you done?’

- - - - - - - - -

He never did find his family.











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