anticipate that this will work the same way as our hypnotic sessions have,"
Sydney explained. "I'll be here to guide you through a controlled retrieval
of your memories, while Faith monitors your emotional reactions."
They all settled into their respective positions, with Jarod on the bed, and Faith beside him. Sydney had pulled up one of the chairs so he could sit directly opposite his protégé. Off to the side, Miss Parker had taken the other chair. Her participation would be limited, but when given the opportunity to leave, she had declined. They'd come this far, and she wasn't about to let Jarod out of her sight until they got the whole story.
"Are you positive this is the right thing to do?" Jarod asked. He sounded so unsure of himself -- so unlike the confident, in-control man they all knew -- that Sydney felt a sudden urge to take the younger man into his arms, comfort him, as he had sometimes done for the child Jarod had once been.
In fact, he had doubted the wisdom of this himself, at first. If Jarod were unable to deal with the memories, there would be no going back. After some discussion, it was Faith who had convinced him… Faith, who apparently had a better understanding of Jarod than either he or Miss Parker would have guessed.
"Yes, it's the right thing," he said finally. "You need to understand what happened, view it with some perspective, instead of in pieces."
"I suppose I'm ready, then," Jarod answered.
"Very well. Let's begin." He watched as first Jarod, and then Faith closed their eyes, concentrating. After a moment, he asked his first question. "Jarod, do you remember what made this simulation different from the others you had participated in?"
"I was afraid," Jarod replied after a moment's pause.
"What were you afraid of?"
"Not coming back. Forgetting who I was. I'd never thought about that during a simulation before, but this was… scary."
"Why do I need an injection, Dr. Raines?"
The older man scowled at Jarod. "Because I say you do." He took the cap off the needle, and plunged it into Jarod's arm, making him wince. "It's designed to take you deeper into the simulation, and give us a better result."
He had sim'd a serial killer once before, and knew what was required. "But, if I go deeper into his mind, doesn't that mean--"
"Enough!" Raines bellowed. "Concentrate on the simulation. Concentrate on Kodiak Brown."
Jarod didn't like Kodiak Brown. He was an evil man, one who tortured and killed women for no other reason than because he enjoyed it. But his case had been solved, and he'd been in prison for over a year. No good could possibly come from rehashing this man's deeds now.
He had wanted to tell Sydney, but his mentor wasn't in charge this time; Dr. Raines was. Jarod didn't like Raines, either.
The drug was starting to take effect. He began to feel dizzy, detached, as if he were leaving his body. But instead of floating up near the ceiling, he was drawn down into a whirlpool, somewhere inside himself. Whatever Raines had put in that shot was trapping him inside his own skull, and as he watched in horror, someone else stood up to take his place. The part of him that knew Kodiak Brown -- had studied him, had read his case files over and over -- took control.
He was still Jarod… and yet, he wasn't Jarod. There was no way back, and no way out.
"It felt like I was drowning," Jarod whispered. "Drowning in a deep, black sea somewhere inside my head, being tossed around by the currents."
Beside him, he felt Faith gently squeeze his hand. She understood.
"Do you know what happened while the Kodiak Brown personality was in control?" Sydney asked.
As they were released, the memories began to flow toward him. "Yes. I remember the sim lab, the windowed room where they put us. And I remember Natalie…"
He smiled as he approached, deliberately allowing it to reach his eyes, warm them. "Hi, Natalie. My name is Jarod."
She smiled back, completely unaware of what was about to happen to her. "It's nice to meet you, Jarod."
* * *
The point of the knife danced over her face, her neck, her bare chest… and all the while, Jarod described the violence he intended to do to her. In seductive tones, he whispered his plans for her eyes, her arms and legs, her breasts, her heart…
* * *
She struggled underneath him, and it excited him. He teased her with the blade, letting her get away just once, so he could knock her down. There were people watching, in the darkness outside the windowed room where they had given her to him…
* * *
Natalie screamed, and beat on the panel that had once opened to admit her tormentor. "Let me out, please! He's going to kill me!"
Jarod rose from the floor, blade in hand, and stalked toward her, reminded of his purpose. "That's just what they want to see," he growled. "Let's give 'em a good show, shall we…?"
"No! I can't take this any more!" Jarod's eyes flew open, and he stood, withdrawing from Faith's grasp.
"Jarod, please. I know how difficult this is, but we can't stop now."
Jarod looked at Sydney incredulously. "Don't you understand what I've done? I hurt someone, a young woman who trusted me, and I took pleasure in it!" His body fairly shook with emotion. "It makes me no better than those who hurt me -- no better than Raines, or Lyle. How am I supposed to live with that?" he demanded hoarsely. "How?"
"By understanding that it's not who you are," Sydney insisted. "It was a misuse of your Pretender abilities, Jarod. They misused you. What happened during that simulation is not your fault, because you were not in control."
Eyes glinting dangerously for a moment before clouding, Jarod shook his head. “I was never in control for a single moment during my time at the Centre. But it doesn't matter. I learned that I have it in me to derive pleasure from someone else's pain. That knowledge will never go away.” At his sides, his hands balled into fists in a display of impotent rage and despair.
“But it's not the end of the lesson,” Faith reminded him softly from where she sat. "There is more you need to know, before you judge yourself so harshly."
The room fell into a hushed silence, save for the rhythmic breathing of its occupants. Jarod stood, unmoving, attempting to allow the memories to process; the others simply waited, unable to do more.
The passage of time seemed to slow the longer they waited. Finally, Jarod’s head lifted, and he faced Faith once again. “Help me,” he whispered, his voice raw.
She reached out a hand, silently imploring him to take it. When his fingers touched hers, she guided him back to a seated position. She gripped him tightly as he looked from her to Sydney and back again, his expression lost, pained.
There was more to remember, and he didn't want any of it.
Taking hold of the girl, he wrapped his arm across her shoulders, body pressed against hers. He trailed the knife along the column of her throat, scraping the full length of the blade over her flesh, tracing the tip against her rapidly beating pulse. Her whimpers and cries of terror excited him further, as the struggle in her body ceased to near-nothingness, in order to avoid the knife accidentally pricking her skin.
Shifting his hold on her, his hand moved from her shoulder to curl around her throat. “Are you ready?” he whispered, inhaling her scent, drawing the essence deep into his lungs. At the slight shake of her head, and the tormented, whispered “no,” he laughed, lowering the knife.
Her body relaxed slightly as it moved away from her neck, only to tense once more as the blade suddenly pierced the flesh at her side, drawing itself in toward her stomach as her breath escaped in a painful scream.
From the other side of the windows, he heard sounds of a scuffle, and a voice shouted "Stop this, Raines! End it now, or I will!"
Moments later, two black-suited men burst into the room, hauling him off the girl and pinning his arms behind him, forcing him to drop the knife. She lay on the ground where he left her, crying and moaning softly. Jarod kicked and punched, putting up the best fight he could; they had promised Natalie to him, and he wanted, needed, to finish the job.
Then a third man entered the room, pulling a syringe out of his pocket. Jarod fought harder than ever, yelling obscenities, until he felt the needle go into his arm. A warm numbness began spreading through him, and he slowly dropped to the floor as the world went black.
"I didn't kill her, did I? Please, tell me I didn't kill her."
Sydney shook his head. "You didn't. She was left with physical and psychological scars, but as far as I know, she did survive."
Jarod was silent, and for a moment it seemed as though they had gone as far as they could. Faith knew better. "Retrieval, Jarod," she told him. "You need to remember what happened after they brought you to me -- when I searched for, and found, the real you."
He was drowning, the black water sucking him down into its depths. No matter how he struggled against the tide, it continued to overpower him. He was weakening, losing the fight, and he knew if that happened, nothing would ever be the same. The part of him that still knew how to laugh and love, the part that cared about others, was dying.
"Jarod!" called a high, soft voice. "I'm here! Let me help you!"
Hope surged up inside him, buoyed him to the surface, and he reached for the slender hand held out to him in friendship. New strength filled him, and he struggled into the tiny boat that he instinctively knew represented a return to consciousness. He looked up into that young face, so fair and so familiar.
Faith! She was alive! As he struggled to understand, his attention shifted for a fraction of a second. In that instant, the black water sucked at him, loosening his grip on the boat, and began to carry him back down again.
"No!" he cried. "Help me, Faith!"
She grabbed his arm and pulled him back with tremendous strength, more than her slender body had any right to possess. "Come on, Jarod!" she shouted at him. "Fight it! You have to want to survive."
He did, more than anything. With his last ounce of strength, he grabbed for her with his other arm and gave a last mighty heave. The waters released him, and his body crashed into the bottom of the boat. One foot dangled into the ocean while he caught his breath, and Faith rowed them both to shore. At last, the boat skidded onto the white sand beach. Faith stepped out over the prow, and Jarod followed her.
Something squished when he walked, and he glanced down at his feet. One of them was stained black, and as he watched, the substance absorbed quickly into his skin. He could feel it inside him, moving with his blood into his heart, his mind, his soul. It was part of him now, something he would never lose. He turned to look back at the hungry ocean, roaring angrily for its missed meal, before the scenario dissolved completely.
Slowly, Jarod's face took on a haunted look as he finally realized what Faith had known all along. "I didn't… come back alone, did I?"
She looked at him sadly, and her voice was hushed. "No."
"I brought -- him -- with me."
"A small piece of him, yes; there was no other way. The others didn't make it back at all. You were my -- our -- last hope." She squeezed his hand, willing him to understand. "Your dark side, Jarod. This is where it came from."
"The part of me that likes to… punish." His eyes closed, only to be forced open again at imagery he still wasn’t ready to face. "So, I'm still hurting people. I'm just doing it under a different guise, in the name of justice."
"None of this is your fault," she emphasized. "As long as you blocked the memories of Eclipse, you couldn't acknowledge that part of yourself. You didn't know what you were doing, or why. Now, finally, you have a chance to understand."
Into the silence that followed, Sydney said, "I think, perhaps, we're finished now."
"Not quite," Faith murmured softly. She looked over at Miss Parker. "There is one secret left, and we all need to hear it."
Sydney seemed to understand what she meant. "When you talked about the 'damage that's been done,' you didn't mean just to Jarod, did you? You were referring to Miss Parker as well." He turned to her. "Something has been bothering you since before we left the Centre. It's connected to all this, isn't it?"
She closed her eyes, trying to hold back the emotions that threatened to overwhelm her. "Yes. When I saw the DSA that Faith gave me, I remembered… that I'd seen it before. It was a long time ago, in my father's office. I was fifteen."
"I need you to see something, angel," he said, his face grave. "I hadn't wanted to show this to you, but for your own protection, I must."
The suitcase held some kind of electronic device. Her father took a small, shiny disk and inserted it into a slot. Pictures appeared on the small screen in front of her, like a little movie, and she began to watch.
The scene, which unfolded before her, was terrible to see. Jarod straddled a dark-haired young woman, his free hand pinning her shoulder to the floor. He traced random patterns with the tip of his knife into her skin, not deep enough to cut, but to allow her to feel the weapon as it moved against her. The point danced over her face, her neck, her bare chest… all the while with Jarod describing the violence he intended to do to her. Parker turned away, sickened.
"I'm sorry, angel," her father repeated, "but you needed to see this. It's important for you to understand that Jarod is not the sort of person you seem to think he is."
Tears began to form in her eyes as she considered how terrified that poor girl must have been. "But why, Daddy? Why would he do something like that?"
Mr. Parker sighed. "Jarod is what we call a sociopath. He can be gentle one moment, and, without warning, become violent. He's a very sick young man. That's why we keep him here at the Centre."
Miss Parker sniffled, doing her best not to cry. "Then… Sydney is his doctor? That's why they spend so much time together?"
"Yes, that's right, Sydney is his doctor." Mr. Parker put his hands on his daughter's shoulders. "You've been lucky so far, but I don't want to take any more chances with your safety. It's important that you cut all ties with Jarod right away. Do you understand?"
Never see Jarod again? Never talk to the one person who truly understood her? "But… Jarod's my friend. I can't abandon him."
"Sweetheart, Jarod can't be friends with anyone in his state. He doesn't know the meaning of the word. Now, I want you to promise that you won't see him anymore. Promise me."
She had to believe in her father. He was all the family she had left in the world. "I promise," she whispered.
He beamed at her. "That's my girl. Now, since you're here, how about going down to the cafeteria and having lunch with your old man?"
"And you believed everything he told you," Sydney stated flatly.
Instantly, she became defensive. "He showed me the DSA, Sydney. I had to believe what was in front of my eyes. I didn't know about Eclipse." She stopped, and her voice twisted slightly. "I didn't know…"
He nodded, understanding. "That's why, when we first started working together, you called him a sociopath, a monster. You truly believed he was. But your inner sense knew it was a lie. And the stronger it became, the less you believed."
Miss Parker looked over at Jarod. "I'm not sure, but… I think maybe a part of me has been waiting all this time, expecting you to turn on me the way you did on that girl. It never happened."
"You were my friend," he told her simply. "You trusted me with your first name. I could never hurt you, Miss Parker. Never."
Squaring her jaw, Parker nodded once in reaction, unwilling to allow her emotions free reign with so many people watching. Her eyes were her only betrayal, as she watched the nearly broken man in front of her. Standing, she took a step toward the bed, her hand extending just a fraction, as if to reach out to him. Then the thoughts in her head began to swirl, making her dizzy, and instead of continuing her advance toward the person who had, at one time, been her best friend, she turned and slipped out the door into the gathering darkness.
Jarod’s eyes followed her as she left, and he blinked as the door shut behind her. Shoulders slumped, he turned away from the door, from the others in the room, and picked a pillow up from the head of the bed.
"You should rest," Sydney agreed. "We'll be here; if anything happens, we'll wake you."
Wrapping himself around the pillow, Jarod lay back, his head finding the other. His eyes remained fixated on a corner of the room for only a few moments before exhaustion forced them closed.
"He loves you, you know," Faith said quietly. "If you ever doubted it…"
“I… don’t,” Sydney replied. He looked into her eyes, and smiled sadly. “Not anymore, I don’t,” he amended before she had the chance to correct him. Her knowledge beyond herself unnerved him a bit, and he took a moment to watch Jarod, rather than continue to meet her gaze.
Faith stepped away from the bed, to look out the back window. “I’m sorry that I can’t be of more comfort,” she told Sydney in a slow, soft voice. “It isn't exactly something I was taught to do.”
There's still compassion in your soul, Faith. I see it whenever you look at him. "You were there when he needed you. That's the most important thing one friend can do for another." Exhaling a slow breath, he looked over at her. Ensuring the shrink's hat was firmly in place, he continued to speak. "I know you must feel as though you failed Jarod somehow --"
She cut him off before he could say anything else. "Sydney… don't. I've lived with this choice for twenty-five years, and one therapy session isn't going to purge it now. I'll deal with the consequences of my actions in my own way."
Sydney watched her for a moment, before turning back to the man sleeping on the bed. “He shouldn’t be left alone, not now.” His voice was weary, but determined. He was exhausted himself, yet prepared to stay up all night, at Jarod’s side.
"It's all right. I'll keep watch over Jarod," she asserted. "I promised someone that I would."
"Promised who? Angelo?" he asked.
She turned to him, and there was a strange light in her eyes. "Gabriel."
* * * * * * * * *
It took all the strength she had left to keep herself on an even keel while she went back to the office and registered for a room. But once she was behind a locked door, Miss Parker stretched out on the bed and let loose the flood of emotions she had been holding onto for nearly two days.
Why had she come here? Why had she felt compelled to investigate Eclipse, to find Faith, and to risk her career, perhaps her very life, to help Jarod? Was it simple curiosity? Or was it, as Sydney had said, a signal that her growing inner sense knew what needed to be done?
Maybe this was a signal that it knew the truth about the Centre, and about her father -- a truth that, until now, she had refused to face. He had lied to her so many times, and each time she had forgiven him. After all, she was a big girl, and she knew the score.
Now, she was suddenly fifteen again, a lonely young girl with only one true friend in the entire world. Her father had taken that away, used the agony he had unleashed on another to make his point. Eventually, she had moved on… found another friend, like Laura, here and there. But the memories of her time in the Centre, with Jarod, had never faded.
"Daddy," she whispered into the pillow, "how could you do that to me?"
She thought about what she had learned, about the consequences of Project Eclipse. Jarod would probably pay for them the rest of his life. The part of her mother that still lived in her heart knew it was wrong. For the first time, she let herself acknowledge that. And for the first time, Miss Parker truly allowed herself to feel the compassion she had stubbornly pushed away for so long.
"How could you do that… to him?"
She took those thoughts with her down into the depths of an exhausted sleep.
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