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Disclaimer: All characters and events in this story are fictitious, and any similarity to a real person, living or dead is entirely coincidental and unintended by the author. "The Pretender" is a protected trademark.

This idea had been drifting in and out of my conscience for a while now and just did not want to let go. Yes, I know, I have three other stories lying in wait, but somehow I just can’t get this one out of my head. SS11 will just have to wait for now. My ideas are there but is failing to realise in anything more. As for SOA, moving towards the last few chaps and my little comedy feature should be finished in two or three chaps. So, there is now real choice for me, but to give in to my muse and start writing. ;-)

P.S. This is my first attempt at a love story…so be generous in your reviews. Just a reminder, although this is a love story there will be action as I tend to lean towards adventures. ;-p

A winter’s tale

By

Whashaza


Zero degrees


First meeting, the Centre


“What are we doing, Sydney?”

“An experiment about sexuality.”

Jarod turned from the glass to look at Sydney with confusion.

“Reproduction?”

“That’s one aspect of it.” Sydney answered.

“I read the biology manuals”

“Reading isn’t quite the same as feeling,” Sydney said as he indicated to someone behind Jarod to come forward. Turning his attention back on Jarod he continued, “I’d like you to meet someone, Jarod.”

Jarod turned and saw another person his age enter the room. The sound of his heartbeat increased involuntarily as he stepped closer to the glass. Rising his hand, he placed it on the surface while a small smile lingered on his face. She looked sideways to a man standing in the shadows. When he nodded, she turned back and placed her hand on the surface. They would have touched had it not been for the barrier. He was happy and he didn’t know why. He wasn’t sure on what to do next so he said the first thing that came to mind.

“You’re…a girl.”

She nodded to his statement. He decided to introduce himself.

“My name is Jarod. What’s your name?”

Again she looked towards the man in the shadows. This time he shook his head. She turned her gaze back to him and said, “Miss Parker.”


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Present


The landscape was sculptured in white. Stark branches reached for the gray leaded sky, twisting and groaning underneath the pristine layer of snow that enveloped them like a blanket. The creak of a branch breaking underneath the weight sounded loud in the tense atmosphere, jerking the head of a man lying behind a tree stump upwards and towards his left. His eyes bored into the surrounding stillness, trying to decipher any movement from between the dark bark. Five minutes were spent until he was satisfied that the noise had only been that, a fallen branch.

Darkness was now quickly descending. He shivered, bringing his hands closer to his body. A small shift in light froze the action. Eyes shifted until they met the dark ones staring equally frightened back at him. He grinned, relief edged briefly into his body when the rabbit bounced away, behind the rows of tree trunks that surrounded his hiding place.

The cold was creeping up his fingers. He didn’t want to look, didn’t want to see the bluish tint that he knew would by now be evidence of his choice of clothes and the reason why he had not had a chance to dress appropriately. Carefully, he blew on them, ignoring the painful tingle that ensued before pressing them inside his jacket and the warmth that was slowly spreading from his side inwards.

He knew he should try and keep moving but the darkness that now surrounded him pressed him down and held fast. He remembers another darkness that had done the same so long ago.

Why couldn’t he forget? Why did he remember in the first place? If only…

His thoughts were interrupted when a startled owl flew past his hiding place. Alerted, he looked the other way from where the bird was disappearing too, focusing on the trees and the darkness. He thought he saw a shadow move, a darker image against the backdrop of bark and snow. The pulse in his throat stilled for a few seconds. Squinting, he ignored the cold around him and the terror that threatened to close icy fingers around his warm heart. All his attention was on the darker gap between the trunks.

There, again. The darker glint of metal against the white background of a snowy branch. Another shadowy movement drew his attention away from the first image toward that one’s left. A second gun man stepped from out the shadows moving stealthily towards his hiding place.

He pushed the sleeve of his left wrist in his mouth to keep his teeth from chattering and giving his position away. He heard the crunch of snow, indicating that one of the men was slowly moving towards his position. Burrowing further into the soft drift that lay behind the stump, he ignored the stabbing cold as much as he could. He shivered, his body temperature dropping dangerously closer to hyperthermia. He pushed his face into the snow, holding his breath so that the white cloud that formed in front of his face would not give him away. He heard the man whisper into his hand held radio before indicating to his partner to move forward. He went limp with relief when the steps moved past his position and further down the path. He lifted his head, looking at the receding back of the man. Something tucked at the edge of his conscience, something he knew he had to remember but the increasing cold was driving his body to shut down.

Every inch of him froze when the snap of a branch behind him indicated what he had seemed unable to remember. The second gunman. He slowly turned, his body protesting because despite the cold and despite the fact that he had been lying in snow, he had managed to somehow create pockets of warmth against his skin. These pockets were now exposed, cooling him down further.

The man had his gun pointed at him, a cold smile failing to reach the flints that gazed at him. A moment of despair settled in his stomach. He had failed. Tears of frustration and regret froze on his cheeks as he watched the man take a firmer stance, the dark hole of the barrel staring unerringly at his body. He had known this day would come, just never this soon.

His wife…he barely knew her. Barely touched her.

The gun moved slightly, indicating that he needed to rise. His body was frozen, seemed unable to follow his commands. He could hear the crunch of the feet of the other gunman coming closer to where they were. His thoughts were wisps on the cold air, he couldn’t think of anything but what they would do to her when they found her. His hand steadied him on the stump of the tree he had hid behind, helping to keep his trembling body balanced.

Then a small whisper of hope flirted around him. He was careful to keep his gaze on the soulless eyes of the other. Please, he appealed in his mind, please don’t look. He carefully shifted his feet, doing it slowly. He didn’t want to die, not just yet.

The noise was mounting, building in an ever-rising crescendo. The white cloud that had first drawn his attention now made the gun man turn. The gun moved, slightly, giving him the chance he had never thought he would have. He jumped, using the trunk he had been leaning on to pivot his body around it. Another sound echoed in his mind bringing with it a sharp jerk to his lower body but he was already so intent on reaching the safety of the trees that stood like a wall before him that he ignored the blossoming pain.

He made it past the second line before the avalanche folded its deadly embrace around and in between the sturdy trunks that had stood firm for years. He threw his body behind an old, gnarled trunk, pushing his body into a crevice and held on for life. It seemed like hours but it must have been minutes. When he opened his eyes and looked out he was met by an eerie silence. The trees were unperturbed by the violence that had pervaded their sanctimony. The snow was soft, full of debris that lay scattered around the area.

The gunmen were gone. He swallowed, thinking again how close he had come. He wandered out of his hiding place, his feet sinking ankle deep into the drift. He moved forward, his toes frozen popsicles. He didn’t care. He had made it.

His relief was short lived. A noise startled him, sending him stumbling forward. His foot sank into the snow and his tired mind took three seconds to take note that it didn’t end at ankle height. It kept descending, ever downwards till gravity pulled the rest of his body afterwards. A shout left him when he tumbled down the embankment. He rolled, branches scraping at his exposed skin. A boulder sticking like a table out the snow brought his tumble to an abrupt halt. Another scream was ruptured from his body when the bone in his arm snapped in two. Simultaneously pain engulfed his chest and head and he couldn’t breathe. Stunned, he waited until his breath was back before he tried moving. He dragged in a pain-filled breath, gritting his teeth as he shifted his body around and cradled his broken arm. His back rested against the boulder while he surveyed the area.

The snow was clear of any footprints. Behind him a small tributary flowed from the main river not too far away. Something trickled down his forehead. It was maddening and he brought his other hand toward the irritation, wiping at it. His fingers came back slick with blood. His vision clouded a dim red and he leaned his head against the boulder, closing his eyes. He felt strangely warm and a stickiness he couldn’t describe was slowly spreading on his stomach. He knew he had to move, had to change position or he would be caught but he somehow couldn’t get his legs to respond. He tiredly looked towards the sky and was surprised when a small snowflake drifted into his view. Others followed and he watched them fall. He felt strangely fuzzy.

He closed his eyes to focus on one image – his wife.


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