27 by TLM

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Story Notes:

We start halfway into the story and flashback a day at a time, to see the events leading up to Jarod's current predicament. Each chapter will continue chronologically from where the last two segments left off.

Disclaimer: The Pretender is not mine. I'm simply borrowing the characters of a great TV show for my own desperate entertainment.

Day 1

Her voice was softer than warm butter. It didn't match the intensity of the words she used. That's what he would always remember about that night.


Jarod grinned, nuzzling the phone tighter between his shoulder and ear. "Happy birthday."

Parker sunk deeper into the pillow between her and the headboard, "Midnight on the dot. You must have been sitting by your phone just waiting to call. Seriously, Jarod, you might as well make some friends while you're busy do-gooding. I'm sure there are some Helen Kellers out there who nobody else will take the time to bond with."

"Tempting," Jarod played along. "But I enjoy my conversations with you far too much to ever spare a free moment for any woman named Helen."

"I'll bet you do," she groaned, raking her fingers through her dark hair. "So what is it this year, Jarod? Another dug up clue to my past, perhaps a sentimental piece of jewelry my mother might have worn one day in her life, or some other three ring circus you've concocted for the big hurrah?"

"Well, I did consider all of the above, but after thinking about it for a long time, I came to the conclusion that for your birthday I should give you the one thing you want more than anything else."

She feigned a high pitched voice of gratitude, "That's so sweet, Jarod. I guess you really are a genius after all if you've figured out how to hold a phone conversation whilst lying tied up and gagged at my doorstep."

It wasn't funny, but he couldn't help but smile slightly, "Better than that."

"There's nothing better than that." It was simple. It was a fact.

"Not even your freedom?" Jarod let the last word sink in, a thousand thoughts flying through his mind as he waited for her voice. The hesitancy to her response didn't go unnoticed.

Alone in her room she shook her head, "You know the deal, Jarod. You are my golden ticket out of this rat maze."

"That's what I'm hoping," he answered. "Don't shoot."

"What?" But he had hung up. "Damn it, Jarod."

Parker allowed her head to lean back against the wood of her headboard and she closed her eyes. She could feel her muscles unclench as she tried to wipe the conversation from her mind. He was cryptic as always, but it was midnight and, as he'd pointed out, her birthday, so she wasn't about to deal with this right now.

The deep voice at her half-closed bedroom door caused her to bolt upright in her bed and clutch the sheets around her.

"I hope you're decent," Jarod donned a crooked grin that infuriated her to no end.

"You've got some nerve." Her posture grew more rigid as she tucked her legs under her, sitting up on her knees with the sheet pulled in front of her.

Jarod's lips parted, "I- I didn't really think you weren't wearing clothes I can just-"

"Ugh," she groaned and let the sheet drop. "I'm wearing clothes. I just wasn't prepared to kill a labrat in my night gown."

"Oh," Jarod nodded as though this was completely reasonable, closing the door behind him and blessing the silky black chemise she was wearing simply for its existence. "What the hell are you doing here, Jarod?"

He hesitated. It wasn't fear in her eyes, but a sort of strange anxiousness that made no sense to him.

Jarod took a deep breath, "Parker." The word was so purely stated. "Let me help you."

"Excuse me?"

Exhaling, he cautiously moved closer toward her, "I run. You chase. What if... we didn't?"

Miss Parker rolled her eyes, "If this is another pathetic plea to get me off your ass, it's not going to work-"

"This isn't about me, Miss Parker." His words were stern and authoritative. "I'm here with a proposition. The only reason you're playing the game is to get out of the Centre's clutches. Bringing me in is the job. It's what will please your father. Business."

"I'm glad you understand. What's your point?" she answered.

"What if you could get what you wanted," he paused, mulling the words over in his head. "Without turning me in."

"That's impossible. There's no-"

Jarod held up a hand to silence her and surprisingly she conceded, "But what if you could?"

The pining in her haunted blue eyes wasn't lost upon him as she slumped backward with her legs tucked underneath her, sitting on her ankles, "I try not to live in fantasy worlds, Jarod."

"I can do this for you, Miss Parker." He sat on the bottom corner of her bed almost as if he'd forgotten the proximity rules, speaking quickly in excited tones. "I can create a whole new life for you, wherever you want to live as whoever you want to be. They'll never find you and you can live the life you've dreamed about since you were a little girl."

"Right, because you've been doing a great job of hiding from me these past years."

"Not to lower your self-esteem, but I'm fairly certain I leaked a few important clues as to my whereabouts."

Miss Parker tilted her head, "And why did you do that?"

Shaking his head, the pretender broke the thick eye contact they'd been forming, "Doesn't matter. What does matter is that I could disappear if I wanted and you could, too. So why don't you?"

"Why don't you?" she responded immediately.

Jarod lowered his voice, "I told you this wasn't about me."

"Seems to be," she went on. "It seems to me that if something is ever about me, then it automatically leaps right back to you."

He was nodding, "Always connected. I know."

They were silent, letting the implications waft through the air awkwardly.

Finally Jarod spoke, "Please, Miss Parker."

"This is just ridiculous. You can't do this and I couldn't let you even if you could. Wha- Why are you even doing this?"

The answer to that was difficult. "Do I really need to explain that?"

"Oh not at all. I understand completely," Miss Parker folded her arms defensively. "This would be your greatest triumph. Doing the ultimate favor for poor defenseless Miss Parker who gets tossed around by the Centre and her family. Kind of automatically knights you into the noble deeds hall of fame while at the same time getting your most worthy opponent off your ass."

"That's not it at all."

"Yes it-"

"No! I just," Jarod was completely flustered as she always seemed raise him to emotional peaks. "I just want to help you. You've suffered as long as I have by their hands and if anyone could ever know how," He paused. "Lonely you feel, I think I do."

It wasn't the response she had expected.

He continued, "You are the most likely to bring me back. I'm not denying that. It simply isn't relevant." Still, she said nothing. "If you want me to leave, I will. We can pretend I never came here."

Jarod's last words came out in a defeated tone that signaled his surrender to her will. Her throat closed slightly as she realized the decision he'd left in her hands.

"I can't leave, Jarod, for the very same reason you can't. We still have unfinished business, our ball and chain. If you were to give up for good, your answers about your family would die. Well so would mine. Haven't you even considered that?"

"Of course I have," he picked at the bed comforter by his knee. "Which is why I'm going to help you to answer those questions. If you think that your happiness isn't reason enough, then remember how obviously connected our lives have always been. Digging up your family skeletons will probably lead to a few of my own."

Miss Parker sighed and pressed her hands into a prayer lock at her lips, "Doesn't seem worth your time. Why not just find what you need and get out? Why haven't you done that all along?"

Her last frustrated sentence came out in an almost inaudible mumble.

"Parker, please stop trying to find a selfish motive in this. Can't my affection for the only two-sided relationship I've ever had be enough?"

There was hesitancy. "I just know that your faith in me will end unfortunately."

"It's not my faith in you," he said confidently. "It's my faith in us." 

Day 28


Jarod leapt up from the ground and clung to the bars that separated him from his mentor. His mouth was barely opened as he looked at the older man with expectant eyes.

"Jarod, thank God you're all right," he whispered in response. The instant the words slipped out of his mouth, Jarod felt the relief that only Sydney's accented voice could provide.

A grimace bent Jarod's face and he arched one brow, resting his forehead against the bars, "You call this all right?"

It was true. The pretender looked nothing close to all right in the dimly lit room. Room was an exaggeration as this was clearly a cell intended for prisoners, one specifically. The Centre had taken no chances this time. There was no air vent within the caged area, no sewer hole, no drainage grate. Just concrete and metal everywhere. The walls, the floor, the ceiling, concrete. The door and the one barred wall currently separating Jarod from Sydney, metal. Even his clothes were minimal; Jarod donned the same baggy pants he'd been forced to wear during his last stay in Lyle's funhouse. There were similar bruises dispersed about his skin as well. A particularly vivid purple and green mark under his jaw caught Sydney's attention and he had to avert his eyes to the floor to hide the guilt. The sight of his shoeless pretender provided him with less solace than he'd anticipated.

Jarod sighed, glancing at the camera across from him, noticing how it had shifted as he'd stood. "What did they do to her?"

"To who?" Sydney cocked his head curiously.

The expression on Jarod's face seemed to scream 'what kind of question is that?' but he answered shortly, "Miss Parker."

"Miss Parker?" he drew the words out like a haunted melody. "I was told by her father himself that she's vacationing in Europe now that you're..."

He drifted off and fierce lines darted across Jarod's face in sharp angles. "Sydney, you don't honestly believe she would ever take a vacation do you?"

Sydney shook his head, "She's wanted to get away from The Centre as soon as she returned you for years now, Jarod."

The metal door Sydney had entered the room through opened then and in strode Mr Lyle.

Jarod knew his time was precious and that Sydney was his only hope now. He glanced at Lyle and then quickly back to Sydney, "But she isn't the one who did this to me."

Sydney took a step backward, his face in deep concentration.

"I think you've had plenty of time to reassess his cognitional abilities, doctor," Lyle said in a low voice.

"Not at all actually," Sydney folded his arms, turning away from Jarod. "I'll have to run through some procedural questions and issue some mental examinations."

"You mean you weren't just doing that?" Lyle waved his finger between the two men innocently. Jarod didn't even bother to hide his contempt.

Clearing his throat, Sydney spoke louder as if indicating the questions were unnecessary, "I might have been able to begin except I was distracted by the obvious physical abuse Jarod's been suffering at someone else's hand. I'm sure you have no idea who authorized that though."

Lyle's shoulders jutted up and he answered with an air of faux casualness, "Not a clue." His hand suddenly whipped forcefully toward the bars where Jarod's fingers were curled around the cold steel. Crushing the fingers beneath his knuckles he muttered under his breath as if it were the fiftieth time he'd told him. "Get back."

Jarod pulled his throbbing hand back with a soft groan. This was child's play compared to a few hours ago.

"Lyle! That is not necessary."

"Listen, Sydney. I'm going to level with you," Lyle began.

"This should be good," Jarod muttered.

"That's enough from you," Lyle hissed back before returning his attention to the psychiatrist. "We don't need you. We have Jarod and he's never going to leave The Centre again. Your usefulness, well, it's just incredibly slim. It makes you..."

"Expendable?" Sydney offered boldly.

Lyle recontorted his face, "Now that you say it, yes, exactly."

"You obviously don't know Jarod or myself as well as you think you do, Lyle."

Not a dash of worry entered Lyle's face, "I'll keep that in mind. Now you go play Dominos with some twin dwarfs or whatever it is you do around here. Jarod and I have our own games to attend to."

Fighting would be useless, but Sydney shot one last glance back to Jarod, before stepping toward the door.

"Just consider your source, Sydney," Jarod hollered before he didn't have the chance anymore.

Sydney hesitated and then left.

Lyle folded his arms and Jarod could see the predatory sheen to his blue eyes. Jarod took a deep breath and shifted his gaze to the wall, refusing to make eye contact with the man who killed his brother.

"Aw come on, Jarod. Don't you want to play with me? I can hook the hose up in no time, fire up the old cables, give you a nice jump back into Centre life"

"What have you done with her?" Jarod asked softly, his eyes never shifting.

With an exaggerated pause Lyle replied, "Just why doesn't it surprise me that you care so much?"

"And why won't you answer me?" Jarod fixed his attention on Lyle, "Or tell anyone else the truth."

He shrugged, "The truth is so overrated, don't you think?"

Jarod could only shake his head, "You're making a huge mistake, Lyle."

"Somehow I doubt that."

"You shouldn't doubt her. That's exactly where you're going wrong."

"Right." Lyle laughed and left the room with a continued chuckle.

And that was that. Lyle wasn't going to tell him where she was and Sydney had no idea. The only thing Jarod could do now was wait and hope. Hope that Sydney and Broots would figure something out. Hope for a miracle.

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