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"I always thought you'd be my first."
Not the best way to start this conversation. He saw the shock in her face. He wasn't quite sure if it was the fact that these were his first words since he came to her house and tied her to the chair or if was it the meaning of his statement. Truth be told, he hoped it was the first because she must have known... she must have... she should have.
Suddenly a thought hit him. What if she didn’t know? What it would be like if that were the case? Maybe things would be different; maybe there would still be a chance?
'Ah,' he thought, annoyed with himself. 'Who am I kidding anyway?' This wasn’t the time to go into "what if" scenarios, although he was certainly an expert in that department. No, he was...no, they were here because he was going to put an end to their nightmare.
On one of his Pretends he had met a very interesting man. He intrigued Jarod and they ended up becoming friends. In fact, Luke was the best friend he had since...well, since his childhood. He was the best that his current situation could offer. He was the kind of person who wouldn't have been able to stop giving free advice around to everyone he knew if his life depended on it. And after he'd met Jarod, Luke had a blast. He'd finally found a guy who could really use some good advice.
Most of the time he didn't take too much notice of Luke’s words, but once he had said something that Jarod did notice. Not only had he noticed it, but he remembered, contemplated and finally decided to act upon it.
"Would you like some tea?"
"What has gotten into you, Jarod? You know I never drink tea! Besides, it's a little hard to drink anything when you're tied up.
"Coffee then," he said calmly and, ignoring her frustrated outburst, began filling the pot with water.
He was trying to buy himself some time to think. He wasn't at all happy with the way things were going. He'd barely started this encounter and he was already starting to doubt in himself. He hadn't expected that to happen until much later in the conversation. Maybe this approach wasn't going to work. She was used to him being cryptic and holding back what he knew, not being straightforward and blunt like he was planning to be.
"What the hell do you want from me Jarod?"
"Actually, I don't want anything from you. I'm just here to inform you of a decision I've made that will affect everyone; you, Sidney, the Centre. In order to do that I have to explain it to you. And because I'm sure you wouldn't let me finish before you pointed your gun at my head and called the cavalry, I was forced to take appropriate precautions."
"Have you forgotten about telephones? Are you finally losing those precious brain cells of yours? It's a hell of a lot easier than going to all the trouble of making----appropriate precautions."
She was being very sarcastic and poisonous, of course, which was only to be expected. This was Miss Parker after all.
The only thing that made her vulnerable in any way was her clothes. The silky pajamas and bare feet were a real distraction for Jarod. They inspired a lot of different thoughts in his mind, none of which went along with her tone of voice.
Maybe this was a mistake.
He forced himself to look away from her and concentrate on his next words, trying to draw on the vast store of anger inside him to help him ignore his desire for her.
"Are you interested in what I have to tell you or not?" His voice was sharp and loud, surprising her. Always before when they'd spoken he had been very patient and calm, even when he was sad or upset.
"Of course I'm interested. Everything that affects the Centre is of interest to me. But I would have gladly left the privilege of being part of this "tÍte-a-tÍte" to someone else... Sidney for example."
She was quiet for a moment and when Jarod didn't seem to be ready to respond she continued.
"Yes, Sidney... Now that's a good idea. Why don't you go and talk to him? He's undoubtedly expecting your daily report on how your life on the outside is going. A confession, few comforting words and you'll be right back on track to being your old annoying self."
Her words were getting to him; his jaw was clenched, and a vein in his neck was throbbing wildly. It made her feel better for a moment. She still had some power over him! She wasn't sure how far she could go in his current frame of mind before he became a threat, although she still couldn't imagine him ever to be a threat to her, not really, so she just couldn't resist probing a little harder.
"Really, a phone call would be much better!"
She wasn't sure what reaction she expected to her "if you want a fight I can give you one" attitude but she wasn't prepared for the sad expression that finally settled on his face after a procession of every other emotion imaginable. His eyes were rested on her with the empty, lost look of someone who had lost the battle before he even started fighting.
'Why is he here? What does he want from me?' Her frustrated mind was screaming, while her heart screamed something completely different.
'What's wrong? What has happened? Why are you hurting so much?' And, surprisingly, 'How can I help you?'
'Where did that come from?!' She wondered dazedly.
Today was her day of mourning; the only day she was vulnerable, and he knew that. He never "pissed her off" on this day, it was sort of an unspoken agreement between them. Besides, she had gotten used to his yearly phone calls. Hearing his voice in the evening, when she was already in bed, made this day tolerable. So why on earth had he broken into her home to meet her in person this time?
She was still trying to sort out her conflicting feelings and convince herself to ignore her traitorous heart when all of a sudden he spoke again and another shiver coursed down her spine. In an instant her feelings and her mind crashed together like two express trains. Her head was in no better shape than the trains would have been after colliding.
"I'm sorry Parker. I had no right to snap at you like that but I really have something important to tell you. Well, maybe it isn't important to you, but it's very important to me, to my peace of mind." He looked apologetically into her eyes and his voice was packed with sincerity.
"I'd very much like to untie you, but I need your promise not to hurt me the minute you're free."
'He's apologizing! My God, he's apologizing to me. He, to me!' Anger swamped her. 'How could he do this to me? How dare he... No, stop!' She realized that she was angry with herself, not him. She was angry at her life and, most of all, she was angry at her malicious and cowardly behavior toward the man standing in her kitchen apologizing to her.
Jarod just stood there and watched her like he was expecting something.
'What?' She questioned silently. She was totally confused. 'What did he ask me? Oh, no, I'm was losing it; I definitely am. Why, now I can't even think straight in his presence! This is not the way a good Centre employee is supposed to act in the presence of a lab rat.'
That was true of course, but she was not an exemplary Centre employee and Jarod certainly was not a lab rat! Her strong reaction to Jarod being called a lab rat shattered her to the core. She had been one of the strongest supporters to calling him that, and now just the thought of degrading him this way made her sick.
"Do I untie you and trust you, or..?"
"That is something you'll have to decide, isn't it?"
Why was she being so mean to him? There's no Centre here, no witnesses, just her and him. Why couldn't she just be herself and be nice to him like she had always wanted, but never dared to do?
"Okay, yes...You can untie me. I won't hurt you." Like she ever could! "You can trust me."
She snorted scornfully at herself at the same moment as Jarod. They hadn't been aware of the synchronicity of their thoughts until then. At that moment they were both sorry for lack of trust that characterized their relationship. They'd trusted each other a long time ago, but it had gotten lost in the midst of growing up. They stared at each other, assessing their options. And, simultaneously, they both decided to give their childhood trust another chance. Their eyes lit up for briefest of moments and an understanding began to be renewed between them. It wasn't quite the trust they had shared in their childhood, but it was a beginning.
While he was untying her he said, in the strongest tone of voice he could manage, "I will trust you tonight Parker, so please do me a favor and listen to me without sarcastic interruptions. It took me quite some time to sort my thoughts and feelings out and get the courage to come here and say this to your face."
She nodded her head, agreeing to his request, and that encouraged him to continue.
"Ever since my escape from the Centre I've been travelling around and trying to make the bad people pay for their crimes, lies, and the hurt they've given to others. I didn't do that because I have some sort of a twisted revenge complex; I did it to help the ones who needed to live their lives in peace, to reconcile their past. I wasn't even aware of how personal it actually was----helping others. I just never thought about it that way.Imagine my surprise when one person I was helping told me I should stop thinking about everybody else and help myself for a change; really help, not just ask others to do it for me. You must admit I have always asked Sidney for advice when I needed some answers or bothered you with my dead ends, trying to make you feel like you were somehow responsible for them, too.Being dependent on you two made my chances of finding my family even smaller than they already were."
'Yes, yes, yes! You bastard, you did it on purpose just to make my life miserable! You wanted me to feel guilty for failing you, for not being able to help you...' she thought angrily.
"You might have noticed the lack of stunts and tricks I've pulled on you lately. I only called Sidney a couple of times this month, too. That's all due to the fact that I decided to act upon my friend’s advice and leave it all behind---leave my past to the past---burn my bridges, so to speak."
'What?! What did he mean by that? Is he saying...' Her heart started pounding, but not because of rage or fear she'd never catch him; it was because of the fear, the enormous fear, that she would never, ever speak to or see him again. The one person in the world that she had never imagined would leave her or fail her. He was her constant; a rock in her messed up life, her friend no matter what, her Jarod. Didn't he realize what it would do to her if he left?
"I've found my family." He paused. She needed some time to adjust to this new peace of information.
He wasn't aware that it was not this part of his little speech she was trying to cope with. And there was more, much more that he wanted to tell her this late summer evening.
He knew himself well enough to know that he could not afford to make his little pauses too long or he'd have time to look at her, and then he would lose his hard won coolness and concentration.
"You didn't now that did you? It was the first thing I achieved after I decided to break away from the Centre, from my past completely."
'Oh, my God! He really is leaving.' She knew he was capable of disappearing forever if he just set his mind to it. Actually, she wasn't so very surprised by his words; she had often wondered why he hadn't made this decision much earlier. What stunned her was the force of her emotions when he told her of his choice. But there had to be more to this than reuniting with the family he had so desperately sought.
"It happened some time ago; that I found them, but I couldn't let go of my past. Not yet, not until I was prepared to leave a part of my heart behind as well. It's the corner of my heart that I have you in, Miss Parker." His voice became softer, but she noticed his sudden formality, and sensed he was trying to distance himself from her.
'I know, Jarod,' she thought, her emotions growing harder and harder to control. 'But you’ll be taking a corner of my heart with you instead.'
"As I said before, I always thought you'd be my first...my everything...my best friend, my first little love, my light at the end of a dark tunnel, my..."
There was a long silence.
My first lover...and only love forever were the things he had referred to when he had shocked her earlier. The courage to be totally honest with her had disappeared along with his determination to share his thoughts with her no matter how much it would hurt either of them. She didn't need to know about his most secret wishes and desires; they weren’t something she could be blamed for. She had done everything possible to prevent those wishes and desires in fact. He wasn't even so very disappointed anymore that she would never love him back; it had been a fantasy, which didn't have any basis in reality anyway.
No, what saddened him beyond anything else was the loss of their friendship. To break his ties to his past meant breaking his hopes for their friendship ever to return, not for something they never shared - love. Laughing bitterly he shook his head, angry with himself for having such a weakness, such crazy fantasies. He was glad he had changed his mind in time.
"I can just imagine how pathetic I must seem to you right now."
'No you aren’t! You never were; never will be to me.' Why couldn't she just say this aloud?
'It's because you’re a coward,' a little voice inside her jeered. She had learned to hide her feelings from everyone, especially from him, and force of habit is so much stronger than most people realize.
"I assure you it's true. Everything I'm telling you tonight is true, no misleading, no little half truths this time." He affirmed suddenly.
"When I first saw you was like a light suddenly entered my miserable little life. You were bright and warm and everything a lonely ten-year-old child could have wished for a friend. I’ve often wondered if your denial of our unspoiled friendship didn't come from the idea that it wasn't a real friendship in the first place. You were wrong if you thought that! Yes, I was desperate for someone to notice me, as a person not only as a lab rat but it didn't mean I wasn't able to respond to someone’s attention with honest emotions. It makes me feel sad that you still think I’m not capable of any kind of normal emotion. I had feelings before, as a child, and I still have them. You're probably not even aware of how much you can hurt me. For God's sake I am a human, too!!!" His voice cracked and his eyes glittered with moisture from the force of his emotions.
Afraid to be rejected by her once again, he didn't want to look into her eyes. He was afraid he’d find them filled with contempt and indignation.
If he had looked he wouldn't have seen contempt; he wouldn’t even have been able to see her face. She had her head bowed so he couldn’t see the emotion he’d drawn out of her heart, tender emotions that she considered a weakness. The pain she felt hearing his assert of his humanity, no matter what she thought to the contrary, made her hands shake and her first tear slide down her cheek.
If either of them was inhuman, it was she. What had she ever done to deserve the classification of human? Nothing. She was a machine, a well-oiled machine that worked day after day in that hellhole and didn't give a second thought to her actions.
Jarod not a human! That was the fantasy of the millennium. He was not only human; he was superhuman. Even if no one else saw him that way, he certainly was in her eyes.
"They were so good at convincing me I was nothing more than an object, a thing, that I almost yielded under their influence. You were the one who saved my soul back then and you were the one who destroyed it later."
"You probably didn't even notice me, but we passed each other a few times when you returned to work at the Centre. When you looked at me it was like you were looking at a chair, your eyes were cold and uninterested. I didn't exist for you anymore.
"For some time I told myself that you just didn't recognize me, after all it had been several years since we had seen one another last. But then days, months have passed and with every further encounter my hope of getting my best friend back grew weaker and weaker and finally it simply died.
"Now I knew they were right, I was a thing, I was dead. Several very disturbing and cruel things had to happen before I awoke again. I was determined to escape, find my family and help those who were unable to help themselves. I don't know, maybe that is how I tried to get love and acceptance from people. That's what makes us human, being able to feel and have your feelings returned.
"The outside world really taught me some good lessons. I found out that not everything is black and white---especially not the actions people take when they are provoked by strong emotions. That gave me hope again. It made me think of you and your cold behavior towards me. What if you were trying to protect me somehow or yourself for that matter? But I was only fooling myself, and I knew it the minute I found out who was going to hunt me down like an animal and try to cage me again." His voice became even more bitter when he sadly added, "I really was a fool!"
Parker was desperately trying to stop the tears from flowing down her face. The overwhelming waves of guilt, loss and sorrow had destroyed her customary control and little sobs escaped her tightly compressed mouth. Her hands were so tightly fisted that her knuckles were white.
She never believed for a moment that Jarod was doing this to make her feel guilty or make her feel sorry for him. No, he was just being honest. He needed to unload the burden of his past so he could get on with his future, a future that didn't include her. On a conscious level she understood that, understood it perfectly, but that didn't make it any easier to accept, particularly when her emotions were so raw that she couldn’t seem to exert the tiniest bit of control over them.
Every single word he spoke was one stab more into her aching heart. Would it make him feel any better, would his pain be any less if he knew how much pain she had to endure over those years just to survive her betrayal of him? He wasn't aware how many sacrifices she made, how many nights she cried for him, for their friendship, for their love. Yes, it was love.
Her entire adult life had been spent searching for someone special to care about, to love and to be unconditionally loved back. She had never allowed herself to believe that Jarod could be that person; it was impossible. But was there anyone in the world, who knew her better, who touched her frozen heart as Jarod could?
Her dreams of finding her soul mate had always been defeated by her fear of trusting someone too much, of opening her soul too widely for hurt and disappointment. Her life taught her a lesson, too. Tears, regret and sorrow made people weak and vulnerable and she knew better than to show such frailty in the world she lived in.
Her childhood tears had slowly dried, replaced with makeup, and her emotions had been hidden under a mask of loyalty and duty. The memories of her happy childhood were buried six feet under with her mother. Every weakness she had, every emotion that could be stepped on or used to hurt her, every person that she wanted to love, but had taken away from her had been buried in that grave. Her mother, Faith, Thomas, Jarod; they were all ghosts for her.
Once a year she let herself grieve, not just for her dead loved ones, but also for the living, and the chances she had seen and never dared to take. How ironic. Jarod was leaving her on her day of mourning, on the same days he let herself dream the impossible dream of their friendship, maybe even love.
Feeling sorry for herself wouldn’t do any good. Jarod would never believe her even if she could express her feelings. At best, her pain would only be absorbed into his and hurt him even more. Even if he hadn't come here tonight to tell her, she had always known that he cared about her. She didn’t want him to take the burden of her pain upon his shoulders too, not when he was there to ease his hurt, not to take hers away. If she told him he would probably try to make her pain disappear, that was in his nature--to be human.
"But I'm not a fool anymore. I’ve learned my lesson. Trust. Now, that's a thing you never were privileged to experience. I tried to give you the opportunity but you refused; I wasn’t good enough for you. You have a talent for trusting in people who doesn't deserve it. I hoped you would achieve it with Thomas, but the people you want so desperately to trust and cling to in spite of their betrayal took him away from you."
He knew his words were hurting her. It isn’t easy to hear the truth out loud when you’ve hidden it inside you for so long.
"I tried; I honestly tried everything I could think of to help you overcome your fears. You never let me. I still want you to find peace with yourself. I beg you, for your sake not mine, to stop chasing me around and do something good for yourself-- find the answers you are looking for and leave. You'll argue that that is something you’ve been doing all along, but I think you’ve been afraid of what the answers might bring, so you haven’t searched as hard as you’ve chased me. I don't mind being the scapegoat for your troubles as long as in the end that will bring you to the right solutions. I’ve always been convinced that the path you take is more important than the goal you achieve, especially if you are reluctant to find the answers awaiting for you in the end, anyway.
"That's why I was giving you only little clues about your past, your family. You knew most of the answers to begin with, you were just afraid to ask the questions leading to them. I believe now is the time to give you everything I have left of those clues. Mostly they are just that, clues, nothing more, but it will help you in search for those answers since I won’t be here to help you anymore."
Lifting her head slightly she saw the red book he took from under his jacket. Her mother's diary! She would have been furious at him for keeping such an important part of her past from her if it was any other day. Momentarily she was simply stunned by her line of thought and the confusion it brought. She was nothing more than a wreck inside and her trembling, crying body couldn't hide her it. She loved him; she loved Jarod!!!
Putting Catherine's diary on the table Jarod walked towards the back door to leave. Suddenly he stopped and thought about how wrong it would be to leave this way, not letting her know he still cared despite all of his harsh but truthful words.
"My settlement with the past doesn't mean I'll forget you and the friendship we shared---ever. You are a part of who I am. In my heart you will always be that precious little girl who gave me my first kiss."
Silently standing by the door he waited for her response, for any kind of reaction to what he had said tonight. He hadn't come her to ask for her forgiveness for the tricks he pulled on her or his "find the truth dance" he played with her; his hopes and expectations hadn't been so high. He just needed to know that she had understood him. But the response never came.
Loving Jarod wasn’t the reason she was feeling so numb; her love for him had always been there, in the back of her mind. How else could she have survived all those years? No, it was the awareness of that it was too late now to do anything about it. He had given her so many chances to acknowledge her true self and feelings for him that she wondered how he had managed to put up with her denial for so long.
Now it was time to let him go, to absolve him of his guilt and pain. It was time to be noble and do something good for him for a change. Yes, she’d been strong enough to let him go before, there shouldn’t be any problem in letting him go again.
Years of training helped her to begin thinking coherently again, and the strength to ignore her aching heart. She was making the right choice---she was!
Wiping the tears from her face she lifted her head so she could she him once more before he left for good. He was waiting for her response, she knew that, and as much as she wanted to give him one, she knew her willpower would go down the drain in a second if she spoke. She was glad he wasn’t facing her, he knew her so well he had undoubtedly guessed what state she was in.
His hand was already on the doorknob when he suddenly turned around, as if he wanted that last sight of her, too. The move was so quick she didn’t have time to turn her head away.
He was trying to conceal his love her and he would have succeeded if he hadn’t came on this day. Today her mind was open and her soul was receptive to the waves of emotion he was emitting.
Their eyes met for the longest of moments, his sadder than ever but affectionate still, hers glittering with tears and loss and something more… He wasn’t able to think straight, let alone move when he identified that previously hidden, but now so obvious sparkle in her eyes. It was love, love for him!
The question in it was apparent and she had neither the power nor desire to deny what he saw in her eyes the moment he looked at her. Knowing she couldn’t fool him any longer she nodded her head, a hint of a smile appeared on her lips as she said,
"So who's pathetic now?"
He crossed the room in a few fast strides never answering her question and kneeled in front of her. He slowly raised his hands to her beautiful face and gently wiped off the remaining tears. She put her fingers over his softly caressing palm, slowly took it to her lips and gave it a soft little kiss never breaking eye contact. For the first time without his surprised, questioning expression he smiled, an adorable, happy smile that made her sink to her knees and forcefully embrace him. His body tensed by her sudden action but quickly adapted to her closeness, his arms automatically encircling her, pulling her even closer.
They didn’t know exactly how long they embraced on the cold kitchen floor. They wouldn’t have minded the cold even if they had noticed it, so happy were in the secluded world of trust, safety, and peace that they had temporarily created.
He could hardly breathe, so strong was her grip on him, but he wouldn’t have complained about it if his life depended on it. Deeply exhaling, for she had been holding her breath the whole time, she lifted her head, cupped his face between her hands and looked into his adorable brown eyes:
"I love you Jarod." She admitted aloud, finally able to be honest with herself as well as him.
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