Michael T. Weiss as Jarod
Andrea Parker as Miss Parker
Patrick Bauchau as Sydney
Jon Gries as Broots
Jamie Denton as Lyle
George Clooney as Valentine
Valerie Bertinelli as Faith
Susan Gibney as Kim
Paul Dillon as Angelo
Richard Marcus as Raines
George Lazenby as Major Charles
Ryan Merriman as Jordan
Ben Browder as Kodiak Brown
William Petersen as Dr. Behr
He was groggy at first, then instantly awake when two sweepers dragged him from bed and pinned his arms, pulling him with them down the darkened corridor. He was barefoot, and the floor was cold. Dressed only in his pajama pants, he felt almost naked, terribly vulnerable.
This wasn't the first time. He knew what was coming, what they would do to him. He fought them, jerking on his trapped arms, nearly tearing them from his shoulder sockets. He shouted and pleaded with them, but they drew him inexorably toward that awful cryogenic machine, and strapped him down onto the sliding tongue that would take him into its mouth. He barely felt the needle slide into his arm, but the medication took effect almost immediately. He felt sluggish, his heartbeat slowing from its terrified tattoo. He could hardly hold his head up, but still he fought, his arms jerking weakly as they slid him into the metal tube and turned on the cold.
He was fighting for his life, and losing. His eyes slid closed, rolled open again as he struggled to stay awake and alive. Then they closed again, slowly his struggles ceased, and he died.
Jarod's head jerked upright as he woke suddenly, the scream dying on his lips before he could utter it. Looking around, he realized he was sitting at the table in the motel room he had rented, his laptop in front of him. Working. He had been working, and he had fallen asleep in his chair.
He hadn't intended for that to happen. Maybe stopping at the motel was a mistake, but he had needed to get off the road for a while. Bradford boasted that it was home to the Zippo lighter factory, and under different circumstances he might have been interested in a tour. It would have been a fun, completely frivolous thing to do. Zoe had once told him he needed to take more vacations. But what had actually enticed him into stopping were the road signs, offering the promise of a clean, comfortable room where he could rest.
Rest was what he needed, though not in the traditional sense. Jarod had no desire to sleep. Every time he closed his eyes, the dream was there, waiting for him. Knowing his limits so well, he had thought a brisk swim in the indoor pool and a few hours of quiet activity would be enough to refresh him; apparently, it wasn't.
He thought he knew why this particular nightmare had returned. Luther Ecksley's death was bringing up shades of his own mortality, reminding him what it was like to feel helpless, to have life forcibly taken away. He had let this particular episode from his past lie unresolved for more than four years now, waiting on Sydney's promise to investigate it fully. Maybe it was time to take the initiative and look into it himself.
That would have to wait a while longer, because for now he had plans -- plans he should probably tell someone about. Checking the digital clock next to the bed, he realized it was early, but still possible that Sydney might be in his office. Deciding to take a chance, he punched in the number.
His mentor answered on the second ring. "This is Sydney."
Instantly, the voice on the other end perked up. "Jarod, it's good to hear from you. I've been worried."
He took a slow, deep breath, running a hand through his hair and thinking idly that it was time for a haircut. "I called to let you know I'll be out of touch for a while. I'm going on a kind of trip -- something called Walkabout." He paused, remembering his time with Lauren Taylor and her friend John. "It's an Australian concept."
"Yes, I've heard of it."
"They say if you walk long enough and far enough, you'll eventually meet up with yourself." He sighed deeply. "That's what I need, Sydney, to find myself. I don't know who I am anymore."
The sun was barely up, and Sydney already had his psychiatrist's hat on. "This has something to do with Luther's death, doesn't it? You still haven't come to terms with what happened."
"It has to do with a lot of things," Jarod replied. "I just need to get away for a while." He was reminded why as a memory of the inside of the cryochamber flashed through his mind in frightening detail, and he shivered involuntarily. "I've been having nightmares again, about the freezing experiment."
"The one Raines and Lyle conducted on you."
"Yes." He took another breath, and let it out. "You promised to look into this for me, a long time ago. Have you found anything?"
Sydney hesitated, and Jarod wondered if he'd forgotten, and was too embarrassed to admit it. "Nothing of any significance, but I'm still looking into it, I promise you. And I will let you know when I find something of import." He paused, and his tone changed. "Please be careful, Jarod. You're still in a precarious place right now."
A pained smile flashed across Jarod's lips. "Is that your way of telling
me I'm losing my mind, Sydney? I already knew that when I came to your hotel
room in Columbus." He rose, phone still in his hand, and started packing
up his meager possessions. "As I said, I'll be out of touch for a while.
No e-mail, no calls. I'll get back to you as soon as
as whatever's waiting
down the road manages to find me. Goodbye."
He turned off the phone before his mentor could reply, and then realized what he'd done. He never used that word when ending his calls. Instead, he would simply hang up, because he didn't like the finality of farewells. Well, he told himself, there was nothing he could do about it now. But perhaps it had been a Freudian slip of sorts, because this did feel very much like the end of something.
He finished gathering up his things and headed for the stairs, intent on leaving the Comfort Inn behind. He had found no comfort here at all. In truth, he was beginning to wonder if there was such a thing, for him -- and if he would find it, anywhere.
* * * * * * * * *
He placed the receiver back in its cradle and stared at the ceiling for several moments. Now, it was his turn to feel guilty. Jarod was right to question him. He should have honored his promise, and worked at solving this mystery long ago.
They stopped my heart. Why?
I don't know. Why does Mr. Raines do anything he does?
It was a flippant answer, one Jarod hadn't deserved. Raines might have been an evil man, but he never did anything without a reason. Sydney wasn't sure why he hadn't taken the incident more seriously. True, Jarod had already remembered most of it on his own, but that didn't mean there weren't questions still to be answered. Perhaps that was the reason his nightmare had returned -- a demand for closure.
I won't let this go; I promise you that.
But he had let it go, four long years without further investigation. His negligence was finally catching up with him; now, more than ever, Jarod deserved to know why during that three-week period he had been repeatedly killed, and then brought back to life.
The question was where to look for information. Simply going to the archives, where many had traveled before, was unlikely to reveal anything new. And Broots had enough to do as Morgan's second-in-command without being asked to conduct yet another computer search in his "spare time."
The man in charge of the experiment had clearly been Raines. His private files would be the ones to check. The problem was that Raines was dead, and his office had completely burned out months ago. Everyone seemed to believe his files -- both past projects, and those still in progress -- had gone with it, but Sydney had always suspected otherwise. He noted that Lyle, in particular, had been very nonchalant about the whole thing; most unusual for a man who had a stake in some of those projects. Sydney couldn't help wondering if he had found a way to get at least some of the files out before they were destroyed.
There was only one way to be sure.
He checked his watch. Lyle wasn't usually an early riser, so there might still be time for a trip to his office before he arrived for the day. It was a dangerous proposition, with a high probability of being caught, but Sydney couldn't allow that to stop him. If Broots, one of the most timid yet courageous men he had ever known, could do such a thing -- on multiple occasions -- then he could expect no less of himself.
* * * * * * * * *
Jarod had promised himself there would be no distractions from now on. He needed to think, needed to come to some understanding of who he was and where he was headed, before he could ever hope to carry out Catherine Parker's plan.
To keep himself honest, he left his cell phone, laptop, and Halliburton locked in a secure storage facility. The Centre would never find them, he was certain. They'd probably never know he'd been to Bradford in the first place, since Miss Parker was cutting him a fair amount of slack these days. Having divested himself of everything but a few changes of clothes, he got in his car and headed south on Route 219, not really sure where he was going but hoping he would know when he'd arrived.
The scenery, at least, was pleasant. He drove in and out of small boroughs and townships, down roads that showed him panoramic views of the countryside. After a while, a sign informed him that he was entering the Allegheny National Forest. Trees along both sides of the road began to multiply after that, many of them tall pines that partially blocked the sun and made sunglasses unnecessary.
Jarod liked having the road mostly to himself. He knew he was tired, his reaction time slowed as a result; driving in heavier traffic might not be safe right now. Equally unsafe, he feared, would be to stop the car, give in to his need for sleep, and allow the memories to torture him. He'd had enough torture, real and remembered, to last him into the next life.
It was at times like this that thoughts of Aurora came to him most clearly. Even now, after months had passed, he still heard its siren song in his weaker moments. Seems like I've had a lot of those lately, his own voice whispered. Under the drug's influence, he never had nightmares, never worried about who he was or what his ultimate purpose in life might be. Everything was so simple, so clear -- or at least, that was the way it seemed.
Without Aurora to keep his life serene, he was frequently bombarded with doubts and questions about his half-remembered life. Uppermost in his mind now was the Experiment, and why it had come back to haunt him after so long.
Jarod had no answers -- but perhaps, somewhere down the road, he would find them.
* * * * * * * * *
Sydney brought a folder containing Seraphim evaluations with him, in case he should be asked to justify his presence in the Tower. As the elevator doors opened, he saw no one, including sweepers, to block his path. Quickly, but as calmly as possible under the circumstances, he made his way to Lyle's office, and let himself in.
Lyle had recently received a promotion, though no one he'd spoken to was quite sure of the reason. At the Centre, such things were often handled behind closed doors, and it was unwise to ask too many questions. Decorating for the new office was obviously still in progress, as two of the walls remained blank and the desk itself was free of the usual accessories. Still, the man had already put his stamp on the place: an oriental silk tapestry hung prominently behind his chair, reminding everyone who might come to visit just where his interests lay.
Thankfully, Lyle had a sense of order, a fact confirmed during a clandestine visit to his apartment several years ago. Sydney was certain he would find all of the stolen files in one place, which made the search somewhat easier. He ignored the obvious targets of the desk drawers and filing cabinets; Lyle had a penchant for hiding things, and would no doubt have placed his cache behind a secret lock or recessed panel of some type.
Slowly, Sydney made his way around the room, freezing once as footsteps could be heard outside. If anyone came in, there was no chance of avoiding discovery, since he had neither the youth nor the agility of his colleague. Broots might be able to squeeze himself into small places for hours on end; Sydney, unfortunately, could not. Explaining away his presence probably wouldn't work, either. Lyle hated Sydney because he was Jarod's mentor, and was unlikely to let him off the hook for any transgression.
Eventually, the steps faded, and he went back to his task. The desk itself captured his interest -- it seemed to be one massive piece of wood, flat on top and curved at both ends to form the legs. The dimensions weren't quite symmetrical, though; one side was slightly thicker than seemed necessary. On a hunch, he got down on his knees, ran his hands along the side, and felt the faint lines of a hidden panel, all but invisible in the wood's grain. He pressed on it, and it popped open, revealing a recessed hiding place that was definitely worthy of Lyle.
Inside, the files were stacked neatly on their side, color-coded blue and red according to the Centre subject they concerned. Sydney paused momentarily; no doubt there were enough secrets here to keep Morgan busy for weeks. If they all disappeared at once, though, Lyle would undoubtedly come after her. For now, he contented himself with flipping through the red files, until he found one called "Resurrection" which seemed to concern Jarod.
A quick glance confirmed that it was almost certainly what he was looking for. Knowing he'd already overstayed his welcome, Sydney closed the panel and got to his feet, taking care to leave everything just as he had found it. He buried the red file inside his yellow one, and poked his head carefully out one of the doors. For the moment, the coast was clear, and he took the opportunity to made his way to the stairs, not even waiting for the elevator, and heading back to his own office and freedom.
* * * * * * * * *
The trees lining both sides of the road gradually thinned, and became a clearing as Jarod reached a crossroads. Four flashing lights stood guard over the intersection, one in each direction. Pulling to a stop, he was faced with a choice: continue heading south, or turn onto Route 6 and wherever it might take him.
Something about that number sounded familiar, and he thought for a moment before it came to him. The town of Corry was on Route 6. It was there, at the Starlight Motel, that he had finally regained his memories of Eclipse, and all the baggage that went with them.
Everything seemed to lead back to Eclipse: his connection with Faith; his dark side, represented by the "justice" he meted out; the train wreck that was his relationship with Morgan Parker. He would never be free of its influence, any more than he would ever be completely free of Aurora. The only chance he had was to try to put bookends around the incident, give himself some form of closure. The road where it had all started would undoubtedly be appropriate for that.
Another car pulled up behind him and beeped its horn, pulling him out of his momentary reverie. The decision made, Jarod turned right and began heading west, toward his destiny.
* * * * * * * * *
The more of the file he read, the more concerned Sydney became. "Resurrection" had been no ordinary experiment, even by Centre standards. Raines and Lyle had outdone themselves coming up with it. Even though it hadn't been completely successful, he had no doubt there would be far-reaching consequences.
He put the folder down for a moment, and rubbed the bridge of his nose in an attempt to ease the discomfort there. He could feel a headache starting; it would probably be a nasty one -- maybe even a migraine, though he had never been prone to those before. Hoping to short-circuit the process, he dug a bottle of aspirin out of his desk drawer and swallowed a couple, washing them down with what was left of his morning coffee.
Jarod needed to know what he had found; but, since the Pretender was temporarily out of touch, that would have to wait. In the meantime, Miss Parker also needed to see the information he had dug up. Perhaps it would help her in the same way he hoped it would eventually help Jarod.
He felt extraordinarily weary as he rose from his desk to make the trek to the elevator. In the corridor, he stopped, momentarily forgetting where he was headed. The sequence of events seemed unfinished somehow, as if he'd forgotten something important, but he shook it off and stepped into the elevator car. As the doors slid open on SL-3, pain shot through his head, momentarily halting him. He ignored it once it had passed, reaching for the handrail to hoist himself onto the first step toward the balcony. By the time he reached the top, he was breathing hard, barely able to drag himself into Miss Parker's office.
Broots was there with her, which was to be expected. Sydney all but ignored him. Instead, he placed the folder on her desk, barely managing to let go of it before he turned and collapsed onto the sofa.
He heard someone call his name, and after that everything began to blur. He struggled to catch his breath, and the pain seized him again with a vengeance, making him clutch at his head. He could hear worried voices mumbling words he couldn't quite catch, felt hands loosening his tie and collar and helping him to lie down.
Not now, he pleaded silently, aware that something was terribly wrong with him. He thought he heard Miss Parker's voice from a distance bellowing something about the infirmary.
He struggled to speak, and it was more difficult than he could ever have imagined.
"Not the Centre," he managed to say. To become a patient within these
walls would be a fate worse than death. It was death for someone like him, someone
with enemies who would see this as an opportunity to remove the obstacle his
presence represented, once and for all.
Miss Parker leaned down close to his ear. "It's all right, Sydney. Broots called 911. They'll come and take you to the hospital."
He relaxed slightly, trusting her to do what was right. Morgan had never lied to him, not when it counted. He was glad now that they'd had that discussion in the car on the way back from Columbus. She had seemed much more comfortable around him since then. Sydney only wished he'd been able to do the same for Jarod. Both of the people he kept watch over deserved to know how he really felt about them.
I should have told you, Jarod, he whispered to himself as he drifted away and out of consciousness.
* * * * * * * * *
Her office was awash with bodies, first the personnel from the infirmary, then the paramedics as they arrived. Morgan knew she was walking on dangerous ground by summoning them. The Centre hierarchy didn't much like having outsiders in the building; but in a case like this, what they wanted went right out the window. Sydney had seen to it that she received hospital care when she had a perforated ulcer, and by God she'd do the same for him now. He deserved that, and much more, for the way he'd looked after her all these years.
When the paramedics had him ready to transport, she shooed the others out, and sent a message to her lieutenants that she would be gone for a while. Picking up her purse and keys, she prepared to escort them out of the building, planning to follow them to the hospital in her own car.
"I'd like to go with you," Broots piped up. "Is that okay? I want to be with him."
She put her hand on the tech's shoulder. "I know you do, Broots, but I really need you to stay here and put Sydney's office in Lockdown. We don't want any of his private data to wander away, while he's gone." She gave him a look to convey her full meaning, and he nodded.
"O-Okay, Miss Parker. But please, make sure they take good care of him." He looked over at the psychiatrist, with his face so pale and various wires and tubes sticking out. "I don't think I could stand it if anything happened to him."
She followed his gaze with her own, understanding exactly how he felt. "Oh, they will. Because if they don't, they'll have to answer to me."
* * * * * * * * *
Lockdown. It was standard procedure when the Tower or any of the higher-ups went on an extended trip, got sick, or was fired. Broots wasn't sure he'd seen many examples of the latter, at least leaving the building in one piece. While Sydney was in the hospital, though, it was a definite necessity.
He spied the long, deep silver box sitting on top of the desk almost immediately, and wrinkled up his nose quizzically. It was unlike Sydney to leave something so obvious just sitting there, and then walk away. It had to have been shortly before he'd gotten sick, though, so maybe his brain hadn't been working just right.
Broots knew he probably shouldn't open the box; but then again, if he was going to figure out what level of security this thing needed, he'd have to see what was there. Relieved at having found a logical reason for behaving like a spy, he went behind the desk and reached for the lid, gently opening it to peer inside.
He stood there looking at the plastic toys, origami figures, and drawings, and knew almost instantly whom they had come from. Feeling a bit like a voyeur, but unable to resist the temptation, he sat down in Sydney's chair and pulled out the items one by one with a sense of reverence, then carefully put them back into the box. The last was a Father's Day card, drawn in pencil and signed with a childish hand.
A slow smile spread across the tech's face. He'd never have guessed the old guy was so sentimental, but these things obviously meant a great deal to him, or else he wouldn't have kept them all these years. He shook his head as he closed the lid. Keeping private mementos could get Sydney in a lot of trouble, and would be better hidden away; until he discovered their usual hiding place, he'd take them to Miss Parker's office for safekeeping.
Turning his attention back to Sydney's office, he took the files and other papers sitting on the desk and placed them in a file drawer. Then he took everything else that could possibly be of concern to anyone and put those items away as well, locking the desk and cabinets with the master keys he had gotten from the SIS office. When he was finished, he picked up the box, turned out the light and left, locking the door behind him.
* * * * * * * * *
From inside the vent, a pair of bright blue eyes watched Broots go. Angelo could still get into certain parts of the ventilation system, and he had other ways to get into and out of someone's office without being seen. His empathic sense understood what had happened to Sydney, and what he most needed to get well. The box would make its way to him; Sister would see to that. Then, hopefully, it would just be a matter of time until another of the Secrets Kept Too Long would finally be revealed.
* * * * * * * * *
When Broots was finished, he went directly to Miss Parker's office. There, he placed the box on a chair in the corner out of direct sight of the door, so that anyone coming in wouldn't immediately see it. No one besides himself had the authority to be in her office when she was gone anyway, and few others had the nerve. Still, he had seen Valentine with his own two eyes; it was best to be careful.
His task completed, Broots wondered if he should go to the hospital. Maybe it would be best to call Miss Parker first. He reached for the phone on her desk and dialed her cell number. It rang half a dozen times, and he wondered if perhaps she had turned it off; finally, she answered. "What?"
"Miss Parker? I -- I just wanted to know how Sydney's doing."
"I'm not sure yet," she replied. "So far, no one's told me a damn thing."
Broots could hear how worried she was, and he shared her concern. Maybe it would help to have a distraction, if only for a moment or two. "You'll never guess what I found in Sydney's office."
"The Empire State Building," she returned without thinking.
"Well, yes, but I left that on the floor," he told her in all seriousness. "I don't think it's a security risk. But I found this box full of well, stuff I think you should see. Unusual stuff. I've got it secured in your office until you get back."
"Keep it there," she told him. "Baby-sit it, for now. As soon as I know that Sydney's stable, I'll be back to do a proper lock-up, and then you can come with me to the hospital."
That sounded reasonable, and held the promise of keeping him in the loop. "Okay, I guess I'll wait for you, then."
"I'll call you when I know anything."
She hung up, and he began idly looking around, hoping to find something to keep him occupied while he waited. Running a glance over the desk, he spotted the red folder. In all the excitement, it had been forgotten, but apparently Sydney was bringing it for Miss Parker to look at.
Broots decided it wouldn't hurt to take a little peek. "Resurrection. Hmm." He opened to the first document, and began reading.
She paced, head down, phone clutched uselessly in her hand. She had been in and out of the ER for well over an hour, calling the private number Jarod had given her, but without a response other than voice mail. It was unlike him to be so unavailable; besides, he usually had a sixth sense about these things. She had half-expected him to hear from him before they'd even reached the hospital, saying he was on his way. At the very least, he could have left her a message. The fact that he hadn't made her wonder if something really was wrong.
As she went back inside after yet another attempt, a gray-haired man in a lab coat approached her, carrying a clipboard. "Are you Miss Parker?" he asked brusquely.
"Yes, I am." Her eyes went to the embroidered name sewn onto his coat. "Do you have news for me, Dr. Behr?"
He smiled warmly. "Dr. Ritter's doing well, considering. He's had a stroke, and we're still assessing the damage."
Morgan's knees wobbled, and she sat down on the nearest empty chair. "Oh, my God." She covered her face in her hands, her insides quivering, knowing that this could be bad, indeed. The doctor's hand on her shoulder made her look up, blinking back her tears.
"Dr. Ritter named you on his health care proxy some months ago, in the event of his incapacitation," he told her. "We'll be bringing you any papers to sign or decisions to make, until such time as he's able to speak for himself."
She sat for a moment, dumbfounded. Months ago? That meant Sydney had to have made this decision well before they'd cleared the air between them. Fresh tears flooded her eyes as she realized how much faith he really had in her. When it came right down to it, he had trusted her with the most precious thing of all his life.
"We're admitting him to the ICU," the doctor added. "There isn't a lot you can do at the moment. If you'd like to get something to eat "
"Is he going to die?" she asked suddenly. "Just tell me that much, is Sydney going to die?"
"Not if we can help it," he assured her. "He reacted well to the drugs he's been given; the most immediate danger is over, but he's not out of the woods. What's needed now is time, to let him rest and for us to see what damage may have been done."
She wiped delicately at her eyes and tried to smile. "Thank you, doctor. Please take good care of him. He's very important to a lot of people."
"We will, Miss Parker. I promise."
* * * * * * * * *
The town was called Kane.
The moment he said the name out loud, Jarod knew it was perfect. It reminded him of another Cain he had read about -- spelled differently but pronounced the same -- whose name stood for chaos and destruction. That suited the way he had been feeling lately.
Cain and Abel. Light and dark. Good and evil, both in one package, bound together and struggling for dominance. That was the essence of him; at least, it had been since the moment he escaped from the Centre. The only real question left to answer was which side would win.
Jarod felt his mind drifting, and knew he should get off the road. Besides, the point of Walkabout was to walk, not drive, and he hadn't done much of that so far. Walking would force him to stay on his feet, and to stay awake. Kane, with its fateful-sounding name, would be as good a place as any for that purpose.
The Kane Motel had rooms available, and offered him a small unit tucked at the end of a row of six behind the main building. It provided him with a parking space, and a place to retreat to when the sidewalks rolled up at night. He had a feeling that happened fairly early in a place like this.
With his accommodations settled, Jarod decided to start walking and see what, or whom, he could find.
* * * * * * * * *
Her empathic sense was nagging at her again, as it always did when someone she cared about was troubled. Faith had tried ignoring it for a while, thinking perhaps it would go away on its own; instead, it kept growing, becoming so strong that she could no longer push it aside.
The distress was coming from three people now, all in different locations, but she was having a little trouble sorting them out. Wondering if perhaps someone had tried to contact her, she pulled out the laptop Jarod had sent her as a belated Christmas present, and logged onto her e-mail.
One new message was waiting, from a familiar sender. C.J., she knew, was Angelo's favorite alias, named after the Cracker Jack he loved so much. He'd brought some to share with her over the years, and when she tasted the sweet crunchiness for herself, she understood why he liked it.
Sydney in hospital, the message said. Dover. Jarod missing.
That explained the emotions she felt coming from two of her friends; both Angelo and Miss Parker were in Delaware, worried about Sydney. She managed to partition them off for the moment, but Jarod's case was different. For one thing, he was some distance from the others, and he wasn't worried; more than likely, he didn't even know about Sydney. Jarod was in a different kind of emotional pain, the like of which she hadn't felt since the memories of Eclipse had broken free in his mind. Aurora's one benefit had been to calm him for a time -- but now he was on the brink, with it all threatening to come crashing back.
Jarod needed help. He needed Sydney. But before she could give him either, she had to find out for herself how the others were doing.
Knowing she had to move quickly, Faith packed up her things, made her way to the bank and withdrew every penny she had. Then she went to a car lot, made a down-payment on the cheapest car she could find, filled up the tank with gas, and hit the road, heading east.
* * * * * * * * *
Visiting hours in the ICU were limited, so Morgan took advantage of them as best she could. After Sydney was settled, she sat with him for a while, watching him sleep and saying half-remembered prayers she'd learned in childhood. When the nurses politely shooed her out, she found Kim waiting for her on a bench outside the unit.
"You asked for me, Miss Parker?"
The sweeper's voice and posture were crisp, but Morgan could see a glint of uncertainty in her eyes. Her uncle was there in the hospital, and she couldn't help but be worried about him. Having to hide that worry behind a professional façade at a time like this would be agonizing. Morgan knew something about that kind of agony.
"Yes, I did. I have some things to take care of back at the Centre, and I need someone I can trust to keep watch over Sydney when I'm gone."
Kim straightened her spine. "You can trust me, Miss Parker. I'll look after him."
I know you will." Her tone softened a bit, and she moved closer, lowering her voice. "Sydney told me you were his niece. That information isn't going anywhere, but it's the reason I chose you. It will give you a chance to be near him without raising anyone's suspicions."
"Thank you," Kim whispered, relaxing her guard for just a moment as she searched the other woman's face. "How is he, really? I heard the talk that's going around, but--"
"He's stable," Parker assured her, momentarily placing her hand on the other woman's shoulder. "He's had a stroke, but the doctors think he'll make it. We just don't know the extent of any damage yet."
Kim nodded. "I understand."
"I want you to stay right here by this door. Don't leave for any reason. And don't let anyone from the Centre except Broots or myself into the ICU. Got that? No one, especially Lyle or Cox."
Kim frowned in concern. "Do you really think they might try something?"
Parker sighed. "Honestly? I don't know. But we have to be prepared, because if they do show up, you may be the only thing standing between Sydney and oblivion. Remember that."
* * * * * * * * *
There hadn't been a sign of Faith in far too long, and Lyle had gotten suspicious. He had sent Valentine on the Centre jet to Vancouver, had him drive the rest of the way in, and sent him stalking through the woods to visit the cabin they knew she had used as her quarters. After watching it for most of a day with no signs of life, Valentine ventured had inside.
According to him, she hadn't been there for at least a week, possibly more; it was difficult to tell because everything had been spotlessly cleaned and stored before she vacated the premises. He had personally visited each of the sweepers assigned to watch for her, and they had seen nothing in that time frame. Knowing her personality as he did, Valentine was certain she had slipped away, probably on foot through the woods, out the proverbial back door.
Lyle had been furious when he received the report. Valentine knew how bad it made him look, and understood the resulting anger that he had been bested by a mere woman. That embarrassment had resulted in his request to mount an all-out effort to find her, which pleased Lyle immensely.
It took a great deal of footwork and canvassing to find the dealer who had sold her the car she was traveling in, but with adequate persuasion, Valentine soon had the car's description and license number. After returning to the Centre, he also had a couple of sightings under his belt to report to his boss.
"I know she's heading east," Valentine told him, "but without a specific destination in mind, I can't get ahead of her. That will mean more research, but I'm willing."
"I've given you everything we have on Looking Glass," Lyle shot back angrily. But he knew that wasn't entirely true, and so did his sweeper.
"All right, but I can't work in the dark," Valentine returned casually. "If I don't know important details, I can't predict what she'll do next. She might even be on her way back here, for all I know."
Lyle knew Valentine was playing him, but the thought was unsettling nevertheless. He decided to swallow his pride for the moment, and give the sweeper what he wanted. He might not completely trust Valentine, but he knew that any secrets revealed would stay between the two of them. With a sigh, he headed for his safe and withdrew a DSA for the sweeper to watch.
"This doesn't leave my office," he told the other man. "Not even by word of mouth."
Valentine nodded. "Of course."
He put the disc into the machine and let it play, explaining briefly what the Eclipse simulation had been meant to produce. This DSA showed only the aftermath, what had happened during the retrieval phase. Still, it didn't show everything. Much of their experience had taken place in the landscape of the subconscious, and that wouldn't show up on the video.
He smiled, knowing that some of his secrets were still safe.
But as he wandered around his office, waiting for the recording to end, his thoughts turned back to the recent invasion of his private space. Sydney had been there, he was sure of it. The cameras watching the corridor had picked him up, coming and going. Undoubtedly, he had taken something, some piece of information meant to remain private, but Lyle had yet to discover what it was.
That it had something to do with Jarod was a given. That was always at the root of Sydney's quests. Lyle resented Sydney's protectiveness, always playing the sympathetic advocate. He was fatherly toward the Pretender, in a very real way.
Lyle felt an unfamiliar surge of emotion, sadness fading into jealousy, as he thought about the two of them. No one had ever gone to the mat for him. Not even his real father, once he discovered the relationship between them. Mr. Parker was always somewhere on the outside, watching, waiting to see if his progeny would fall on his face or stand on his own two feet.
For a moment, Lyle indulged in the fantasy. It would have been nice to have someone care for him the way Sydney had cared for Jarod. If he'd had that, who knew what he might have become .
But that sort of fondness made people weak, unable to do what needed to be done in tough moments. Lyle was strong. He could handle anything that came his way.
"I think I have a better understanding of your Looking Glass," Valentine announced, his grin filled with secrets. "I'm going after her, boss. And this time, I'm going to find her."
"Be careful," Lyle advised. "She'll locate whatever emotional weakness you have, and exploit it."
Valentine stood, removed the disc and handed it back. "What if I don't have any?"
Lyle smiled. "Then that would be the greatest vengeance of all, my friend."
The sweeper chuckled darkly, and left on his new mission.
Sydney would have to be dealt with, Lyle mused, secure now in the knowledge that Faith would have to go through Valentine to get to him. But this wasn't something he could do publicly. He needed assistance, but in this case, he knew just who could handle it for him.
He strode out of his office, intent on his task, with a memory of Zoe fresh in his mind.
* * * * * * * * *
When she finally got back to the Centre, Broots was waiting for her. After describing Sydney's condition to the best of her ability, she headed straight for the desk, glancing around for the promised booty. "Well, where is it?" she demanded.
"On the chair over there," he told her. "I sort of put it in the corner out of the way, just in case." She went to get it, and placed it on top of the desk. "You'll never believe what's in here," he added. "Looks like Sydney's got a soft side we didn't know about."
"Which makes me wonder why he'd leave it sitting out where anyone could find it," she replied, peering into the box. As Broots had done, she pulled the items out one by one, sorting through them and stopping to examine a few. The Father's Day card received special scrutiny, as did a drawing of herself that was more recent. "Jarod's always been a pretty good artist," she said, smiling faintly. "Pity he's used his talent mostly to annoy me over the last five years."
"So, what do you think we should do with it?"
She closed the lid, and hefted the box back onto the chair. "I'll take it with me when I go back to the hospital. That will get it out of the Centre, and maybe it will help to lift Sydney's spirits once he's awake."
"That sounds like a good idea." Broots watched as she began to go through the paperwork on her desk, occasionally dropping a folder into her briefcase and filing the others away. Belatedly, he remembered the red file, sitting on a corner of the desk, and held it out. "Miss Parker, there's something else I think you should look at."
She glanced at the folder. "What's this?"
"Sydney left it," Broots admitted. "We were so busy getting him help that we didn't pay much attention to why he was here. I think he wanted you to see it."
Parker took it from him, flipped through it quickly without really looking, then handed it back. "I'm sure you had a peek while you were waiting," she said, watching as he turned slightly pink. "So, why don't you tell me what's in it?"
Broots lowered his voice. "Okay. The file is called Resurrection, and it's a record of the experiment Raines and Lyle performed on Jarod back in 1995, a few months before he escaped. You remember, those missing three weeks in October? When they stopped his heart, and then started it up again?"
She did remember. Morgan nodded, and went back to shuffling papers, while continuing
to pay attention.
"Well, there's a log of how many times they did that -- over a dozen! According to one of the memos, they were trying to get at some kind of information. I didn't really understand that part. But it wasn't just torture for the sake of torture. They definitely wanted something." He sighed, and sank into the chair opposite. "You know, I saw this movie once it was called Flatliners."
Miss Parker didn't look up from the papers she was shuffling. "You live in the video store, don't you?" she asked mildly.
Broots continued. "See, it was about these medical students who wanted to know what it's like on the other side -- you know, when you're dead." He shuddered. "So they took turns stopping each other's hearts for as long as they could, and then bringing them back."
She paused momentarily, and looked at him. "You think they stopped Jarod's heart because they wanted to ask whether he made it to the Pearly Gates?"
Broots sighed in frustration, but persevered. "The point is that after they were revived, they were different people. They were haunted, by these dark spirits that came back with them. It was really creepy."
His last two sentences brought Miss Parker's head up. Dark spirits. "Give me that file." He handed it over, and she skimmed through it, looking for a particular reference. "It says the experiment was connected to Project Eclipse."
Broots nodded. "Yeah. That's the part I don't get. It was twenty years later; what could they have hoped to gain after so long?"
For the first time since Parker had seen that chilling DSA almost five years ago, it was all starting to make sense. "I think I know what they were looking for." She hesitated; this was a story Broots hadn't completely heard. "Jarod was considered the only true survivor of Eclipse. You know that. But he came back with part of Kodiak Brown's personality buried inside his own. That was potential the Centre wouldn't have wanted to waste."
"You mean -- they thought that if they killed him, then brought him back, he'd be different?" His eyes widened as he digested the information. "So, they stop Jarod's heart, wait a few seconds for good measure "
" then revive him," she chimed in.
"And presto change-o, dark pretender," Broots whispered. "Man!"
"It obviously didn't work quite the way they intended," Parker added, "but the experiment jarred something loose. And the people Jarod's been punishing ever since he escaped have taken the brunt of it."
She pulled out her cell phone. "You did not see me do this," she snapped as she dialed. "And whatever you do, don't tell anyone about any of this stuff. It could get us all killed." She sighed as the call was picked up by his service, just as it was when she tried to reach him at the hospital. "Jarod, call me ASAP. Life or death," she added before hanging up.
Broots nodded, feeling the blood drain from his face. He tucked the folder into the box with Sydney's other belongings. Things certainly were different. A year ago, he couldn't have imagined that she'd want anything more than to catch Jarod and drag him back to the Centre kicking and screaming. Now, she was doing her best to help him. Help Jarod, and watch over Sydney.
Maybe Lyle had been right all along. The world really was changing.
Morgan was tired, and desperately needed some sleep. For more hours than she cared to remember, she had been on her feet at the hospital, sitting by Sydney's bedside whenever possible and waiting for more information on his condition. Exhaustion had driven her home for some rest, but as soon as she was refreshed, she'd be back in Dover to stand watch over her friend.
The moment she came in the front door, she knew she was not alone. Instinctively drawing her pistol, she stalked from room to room, looking for the invader. She found the woman lying on her bed, curled up beneath an old, threadbare coat.
"Faith! What are you doing here?"
Her adopted sister yawned. "It's good to see you, too," she replied with a wry smile. Pushing up to a sitting position, she explained. "I knew you would eventually come back here. I came to ask about Sydney -- what happened, and how is he?"
"He's had a stroke, but he's holding his own." Morgan sighed, and put her hand to her head. "I won't ask how you knew."
"Angelo told me -- but I had to see you, to make sure you were all right."
"I'm holding up."
"And Angelo? How is he?"
Parker shrugged. "I haven't seen him for a while. He's probably worried about Sydney, but as far as I know he's fine."
"That's good." Faith eyed the other woman uncertainly. "Have you heard from Jarod?"
The brunette shook her head. "I've been trying to reach him, to tell him about Sydney. Usually he's at least one step ahead of me on these things, but I haven't been able to get in touch with him. I've left messages, and he hasn't responded. I'm starting to get worried."
Faith nodded in agreement. "Something's definitely wrong. I can feel it."
Sudden realization dawned in Morgan's eyes. "That must be why Sydney was looking for the file. I'll bet he talked to Jarod about it."
Faith frowned. "What file?"
Morgan sighed, and sat down wearily on the bed. "An experiment the Centre ran on Jarod the October before he escaped," she said softly. "I wish I could show you the DSA of what they did to him. It was brutal." She started to explain, but stopped when Faith put her hand over her mouth, her eyes wide.
"I knew something was happening to him back then, but I didn't know what," the empath told her. "Night after night, I could feel his terror, his struggle to get away from whoever was hurting him. Then, he would just -- disappear from my radar. I couldn't find him, anywhere. After a minute or two, he'd reappear. It was the same cycle, over and over. Then it just stopped."
Morgan held her breath for a moment, eyeing the other woman. Then she nodded. "Sydney came back, and they couldn't torture Jarod any more without him knowing about it, without word traveling through him to the Triumvirate, who might be concerned about their precious cash cow. And Jarod didn't remember any of it himself." She sighed, and smoothed back her hair wearily with both hands. "I'm sure his mind just blocked it out. Something that traumatic "
Faith was staring at the floor. "That's where it started," she whispered. "The crack in the wall I built around Eclipse in Jarod's mind that's when it happened." She sighed and glanced at her trembling hands. "I thought it was my fault somehow, but if they had left him alone, it might have held up, even now. He might never have known might not have become the way he is now." She sniffed back tears. "God, Morgan, he's so torn up inside! I can feel it " With a touch of embarrassment, she looked away and collected herself, pasting on an expressionless mask that hid her own emotional upheaval.
"Sydney and I saw him a few days ago. He was in pretty bad shape then."
Faith nodded. "He's in serious trouble. I've got to go to him." She stood up. "He needs to know about that file. And he needs to see Sydney."
Morgan knew she was right, but couldn't help feeling powerless to aid her. "Yes. He'll want to see Sydney. But how can you find him, if he won't answer his messages?"
Faith smiled sadly and patted her chest. "I just follow the pain," she answered slowly. "I always know when he's hurting. No matter how far apart we are, the connection between us has always been there, ever since Eclipse. When I when I helped him that time, it was like I left a part of me with him, and took part of him with me. I think maybe we'll always have that between us, whether we want it or not."
Silence stretched between them for a moment.
She could see it then, in Faith's haunted eyes. She felt it tugging at her heart. "You want there to be a connection, don't you?" Morgan asked softly.
Faith lowered her gaze. "What I want doesn't matter. What is, is." She sighed and took a few steps away, head down, thinking. "Lyle will be hanging around like the vulture he is, waiting for an opening. He'll probably have sweepers stationed at key points, keeping watch for Jarod. We'll need a distraction." She lifted her chin. "I can provide that."
Parker heard the logic in her suggestion, but couldn't help the fear wrapping itself around her own heart. Faith could get caught, setting the bait for a trap. "What if they catch you?"
Faith offered a fragile smile, something dark glittering in her eyes. "I can take care of myself. I've already proven that."
Parker reached for her, met her halfway in an embrace that expressed their mutual affection for each other. "Then I guess it's up to you to find Jarod and get him here. The rest " She hesitated, drew back and met Faith's steady gaze. "This connection -- do you have one with Lyle, too?"
Faith drew back slightly, turned her face away as the terrible memories stabbed at her consciousness. "It's different not as strong but it's there."
"What happened between you and him during Retrieval?"
Stepping suddenly backward, Faith felt her insides curdle as the images seared through her. She struggled to swallow, to push them back in that dark place where she kept them. "If " She heard how thick and choked her voice was, and struggled to clear it. "If you had seen what I saw in his soul, you wouldn't ask me that."
Morgan nodded. "I guessed as much." She leaned closed, kissed Faith's cheek, and led the way through the living room, and out the front door. She glanced around at the landscape, then stepped aside so Faith could leave. "It's clear. And you were never here."
"Take care of Sydney," Faith ordered gently.
"I will. Be careful."
"You, too." Faith darted out the doorway, disappearing into the trees at a fast jog.
Morgan knew her sister would be taking an enormous risk, leading the pack of Centre dogs on a false trail, taking them away from the hospital. She thought about the mysterious connection Faith had mentioned, and marveled at the strength of will she seemed to possess when it came to Jarod. That strength was there for herself and Angelo as well. She didn't doubt that. But there was something about Jarod .
She stepped back into her house, locked the door, and prepared to go to bed and get some rest.
* * * * * * * * *
Jarod made his way back to the motel room. It felt as though he had walked a thousand miles over the last couple of days, covering most of the town, but without any real progress. He felt no closer to understanding the person he'd become than before all this started. Identity was more than just a name but he didn't have a clue to who Jarod really was.
He could be anyone he wanted. Had been, over the years. But underneath it all, the man traveling in his footsteps had become a stranger.
The bed called out to him, but he resisted its siren song, at least for the moment. It had been days since he'd had any real sleep, and he didn't want to slide off into psychosis from lack of it. He was already dangerously close to that, but he needed just a little more time, a little more thought, before he gave himself up to the nightmares.
Stripping off his clothes, he left them on the bathroom floor and stepped under the hot spray of the shower, hoping it would revive him. The water felt cold at first, before his skin decided on the proper temperature, but that one instant was reminder enough to get the undercurrent flowing. He tried to ignore it, tried to dodge the images, flinching as they came at him, but he was weak. He was tired, and they won.
He leaned forward against the wall, his forearms and palms against the cold ceramic tiles. He closed his eyes and tried to brace himself.
"What is this?" he had asked Raines the first time.
"Nothing you have to worry about, Jarod. Just lie down and it'll all be over soon."
"In a heartbeat," promised Lyle with a grin.
He had seen the gauges on the machine, noted the temperature and pressure ranges, and felt the first twinge of fear. He was barely dressed, and it was chilly in the room. The floor was cold beneath his bare feet. He was still a little drowsy from having been awakened in the middle of the night.
But that machine was meant to get very cold, indeed. Too cold.
He felt the prick of a needle in his arm, and flinched away from the shot Raines had tried to give him.
"What's in that?" he demanded, edging toward panic. His eyes flew to the vial sitting on a nearby surgical tray, and he knew instantly what it was.
He turned and ran toward the door, his heart thundering in his chest now. Sweepers came out of nowhere and tackled him, dragging him back, pinning him down to the floor. The needle slid in with expert precision.
"Nooooooo!" he screamed, fighting now for his life, knowing it was futile.
They had killed him.
And then they turned on the cold
He felt as if every muscle in his body had been turned to liquid. Staggering out of the shower stall, he struggled to remain upright, though his knees made no promises. His insides quivered with remembered terror as he tried desperately to quash the awful memories and think of something else. Anything else, but that.
With trembling hands, he reached for a towel and dried off his face. Then, hauling out his shaving gear as he recited a series of mathematical formulae meant to hold his attention, he quickly scraped away the day's growth, cleaned the razor and packed it back into the kit. Still dripping, he stepped back into the room, intending to finish drying off, have some of the coffee he'd brought back with him, and get dressed again. Instead, he found someone standing in the middle of the room.
"Took you long enough to find me," the man told him.
* * * * * * * * *
Lyle was in a foul mood when he arrived at the hospital. He had spoken to Cox, assuming the man he privately nicknamed "Dr. Death" would be eager to have another chance to practice his skills. Instead, Cox had turned him down flat. Sydney is a resource, he'd said in that measured voice of his. He's very good at keeping the Seraphim caregivers in line. In Cox's eyes, it made no sense to eliminate a resource while it was still useful.
Usefulness, Lyle reasoned, was in the eyes of the beholder. Whatever Sydney had taken from his office would be discovered eventually, but he wanted to avoid any inquisitions into his private roster of projects until he was ready to unveil them himself. And past deeds, if that was what the old man had been looking into, were best buried in the past.
That left the solution to the problem up to him. Lyle knew his way around the Centre labs well enough to find the drug lockup and help himself to whatever he wanted, with no one the wiser. He loaded a powerful cardiac drug into a syringe different from the ones he used to deliver his own medication, and packed it into the kit he kept in his breast pocket. The drug would quickly and efficiently stop Sydney's heart, yet be virtually undetectable in a toxicology screen during an inevitable autopsy. All he had to do was disconnect Sydney from his monitoring devices, deliver the drug and wait the appropriate amount of time to make sure he couldn't be brought back before connecting the body back up to its monitors, and that particular problem would be solved.
Until he got to the hospital and found where the Belgian was being kept. The ICU would be particularly difficult to get into without being noticed, so he appropriated a disposable gown and some latex gloves, and headed for the door. Stationed outside it was one of the Centre's new sweepers, a woman he had seen in the halls on occasion, following at Sydney's heels like a trained puppy.
She eyed him as he approached, but confident the translucent gown and mask he had borrowed would hide his identity, he ignored her and headed straight for the door to the ICU room.
The woman stepped directly in his path.
"Excuse me, Mr. Lyle, but you can't go in there," she told him coolly.
How she had recognized him, he didn't know. Then he glanced down at his left hand, and the empty thumb in the latex glove. He sighed. "What's your name?" he demanded, running his gaze up and down her Centre security uniform as he slid the mask down.
"Well, Kim, since you obviously know who I am, you know you can't keep me out if I want to visit my esteemed colleague." He glared at her, the barely suppressed anger in his eyes offsetting his cold smile.
"On the authority of the director of SIS," she shot back without batting an eyelash, "I can, sir. You may not enter. I have my orders, and until Miss Parker tells me differently, I will carry them out, sir."
He backed off the hostility, and tried charm instead, warming up his smile. "Look, I work with Sydney, Kim. He and I are old pals, and I just want to spend a couple minutes with him, see how he's doing."
"You can check with the nurse at the front desk for a report," she told him formally. "But you can't go in."
Rage boiled up and consumed the attempt at urbanity. He stepped close, nose to nose with her, staring intently into her calm brown eyes. "Get out of my way," he ordered. "You don't want me to have to hurt you."
Something brushed lightly against his crotch, and instinctively he flinched back. Her knee had come up just enough to touch him there, just enough to get his attention.
"I should remind you, sir, that I'm conversant in seven different styles of martial arts," she told him coolly, her voice barely above a whisper, meant for his ears only. "I know of at least four ways to rip your face off and hand it back to you with very little effort on my part." She cocked her head. "Did you know your face would peel right off?" When he didn't answer, she shrugged and then straightened to attention. "I will drop you where you stand if you try to go into that room, until Miss Parker says otherwise. Do you understand, sir?"
Lyle's insides went cold as he stared into her eyes. "Oh, yes, Kim. I understand perfectly."
"I'm very sorry, Mr. Lyle, but I have my instructions."
He turned and stalked off down the corridor. He would keep an eye on that one, and plan something very special for her later on, as a gift for her loyalty to her boss. But first, he would go back to the drawing board, and try to figure another way around her, to get to Sydney, before any further damage was done to his career. Things were going well for him right now, and it wouldn't do to have that old man or any other mess things up.
* * * * * * * * *
Jarod recognized the man's face from somewhere back in his memory, but was too tired to place exactly who the guy was. He reached into the bathroom and grabbed for his towel, wrapping it around his waist and tucking it into place so it wouldn't fall off, before addressing his visitor. "Who are you?"
The man grinned, his bright blue eyes gleaming with amusement. "Don't recognize me, buddy?" he teased. "Why, I'm your closest companion. We've been together for damn, when was that? I dunno. A long time. Only you can't seem to see me. You just keep looking away."
There was something unpleasantly familiar about his mannerisms, his voice. Jarod reached way back into his memory, recalling the image moving on grainy film, something recorded. He'd never met this man in person or had he?
For an instant, he envisioned his visitor with wrinkles on his face, decades older, grinning back at him from behind an impregnable cage door -- and suddenly Jarod knew. The man before him was his model for the Eclipse simulation: Kodiak Brown.
"You're not real," the Pretender said softly. He shook his head, but the vision persisted. There was no way Kodiak Brown could be there in the room with him, thirty-odd years old and free as a bird. The real Brown had been imprisoned at that age decades ago. That was where Jarod had seen the footage of him, from interviews after his incarceration. He had studied this man in depth, prior to the simulation. Prior to the drugs. Before he went into Hell and became him.
"Well, yes and no," Kodiak replied flippantly. "Yes, I am a real person. I do exist, in that maximum security facility in Peltier Island, right where you left me. But am I here, now? Only in your mind, my friend. And that's exactly why we need to talk."
"I need to sleep," said Jarod aloud. "That's all." He dropped the towel, no longer concerned for his modesty, and reached for his clothes.
"I could've done a lot with a body like that," Kodiak observed. "You've got a good six inches of height on me, probably as much more in reach, maybe another 40 pounds of muscle. Yes, siree, I could've done a lot with that." He snorted softly, an unpleasantly malicious sound. "And the women would have loved it! But then, they always did love what I could do."
"I know what you did," Jarod snapped. He shook his head, willing the apparition to go away. He shouldn't be talking to it. It wasn't really there.
He turned around, and the other man was standing right in front of him, almost right in his face.
"I can still help you, if you'll let me," Kodiak offered, his voice soft, almost seductive. "I can make you truly powerful, if you just let me out."
"You're staying in prison," Jarod promised, and stepped aside as he headed back for the bathroom to pick up his dirty clothes.
Kodiak chuckled. "Oh, I wasn't talking about getting out of there." He stood in the bathroom doorway and poked Jarod in the chest when he tried to step out. He grinned. "I was talking about you letting me out of here. Right in here."
Jarod looked down at his chest, at the man's finger jabbed against his sternum. He could feel it, as real as if the man was solid muscle and bone. But worse than that was the fact that he could feel it inside his body as well, his heart answering with a yearning pull of recognition.
He was afraid. He raised his eyes to those chilling blue ones, that brightly inviting smile, and knew that this was what he had always feared. This was the darkness calling to him, the evil that he had not been able to escape when Faith brought him back from Eclipse.
His moment of truth had finally come.
* * * * * * * * *
Faith didn't feel the wind in her hair. She barely noticed the speed as she zoomed down the highway. Somewhere in her consciousness, she felt the surge of excitement as a highway patrol officer caught sight of her speeding car and started up after her.
"Not this one," she said aloud, glancing in the rearview mirror as the Mars lights flashed at her. "This one's going somewhere important. Got to let it go."
The patrol car dropped back, and after another moment, the lights turned off. She watched it pull back off the highway, and almost smiled. It was easy, getting out of trouble like that. It was almost fun, except for the pull she felt in her soul, leading her onward.
Jarod was afraid, and so was she. She hadn't felt anything like this for a long time, and wasn't sure exactly what was happening to him. Something inside him was changing, coming forward, getting stronger, and she didn't know if that was good or bad. But the urgency in his soul commanded her, and she pushed the gas pedal down to the floor, demanding all the beat-up old car could give her. She glanced at the gas gauge, and hoped she had enough to get her there.
If not, she'd make somebody stop and drive her right to him before she let them go.
Sometimes, she told herself, being different was a good thing. The connection she shared with Jarod was like that. She just hoped she arrived in time.
* * * * * * * * *
Miss Parker smiled when she saw him open his eyes. She leaned over the bed and laid her hand on his right arm, stroking it gently. "Hey, there. How do you feel?"
His lips moved, working to form words, but it took a while to get them out. "Like a truck hit me."
Her grin broadened. "Not your usual erudite phrasing, but I get the picture. Do you need something for the pain? I can call a nurse."
He didn't smile at her tease. Instead of responding, he turned away and glanced down his left side. His hand was curled into a tightly flexed claw.
She watched him struggle to relax it, panting with effort. "Hey, just relax, okay? It's going to take some time, but you'll be all right," she assured him. "Dr. Behr's a good guy. He really knows his stuff." She winked at him. "I checked him out."
"Can't lift my arm," he wheezed, then coughed a little.
Morgan pulled a tissue from a nearby box and blotted his brow with it carefully. "Just relax, Sydney. That's an order. You've had a stroke, and you don't want to push yourself right now."
He stopped fighting instantly, and stared at her, surprise in his eyes. "Stroke? How bad?"
"Bad enough." She smiled warmly. "You really scared me, you know? So you do whatever the doctor says, and get well. For me, and for Kim. She's right outside, watching your ass when I can't be here."
His face fell. "Kim Is she all right?"
Miss Parker nodded. "Scared, just like me. Broots, too. He's holding down the fort for me, but I'm staying here till you're out of the woods."
"Want to see her." He struggled to sit up.
She held his shoulder down against the mattress and cautioned him to be still, then reached for the bed controls and raised the head to a more upright position. "Hold on, there, cowboy. She's taking a break for the moment. She needs to eat and sleep, too. They're planning to move you to a regular room, and I'll have her come in to visit you after that happens. Okay?"
He nodded, and lay still, staring down at his arm. "When can I go home?"
"When the doctor says you can. You're going to have to be patient, Sydney. Let people take care of you for a change."
Tears glistened in his eyes and were blinked hastily away. "I'm old," he said gruffly. "I've gotten so damned old lately."
She read the crossness correctly, understanding that he wasn't angry. He was depressed. An event like this made people think in ways they often avoided, emotions rising to the surface. Sydney was getting older, but his general health was good. He would have to make some adjustments in his lifestyle to prevent more such occurrences, but he was hardly finished. There was still a great deal for him to do, great good he could accomplish
Morgan remembered the box, and lifted it out from under the bed to balance it on the bed rail. "Broots found this in your office during Lockdown. I thought you might like to have it close, maybe help me figure out a safe place to keep it, till you get back on your feet."
"Found it where?" He eyed the box, and slowly lifted his right hand, entwined with intravenous tubes, to touch it reverently before letting it fall back against the blankets.
"On your desk," she answered quickly. "We both knew you wouldn't leave something like this out in the open, so it must have been someone else, maybe Angelo--"
"Angelo. Yes." He almost smiled. "He knows all the secrets."
She set the metal box onto the bed beside him, where he could touch it without the effort of moving his arm. Lifting the lid, she took out the Father's Day card and pretended to examine it, where he had a good view of it as well. "This isn't the sort of thing an objective professional keeps in the records," she mused thoughtfully. "In fact, it looks a little wrinkled, like it might have been thrown away."
He gazed up at her from beneath his gray brows suspiciously, but said nothing.
Smiling as she lifted out the origami figure of Onysius, she flapped the wings a little. "This is actually a pretty complicated piece. It's certainly too pretty to throw away." She pulled out another item and commented on it.
"Stop," he ordered gently. "It was wrong to keep them."
She laid her hand over his, and gave it a squeeze. "No, Sydney. It wasn't wrong. It was exactly the right thing to do, and you know it. Don't you?"
He held onto her fingers lightly. His eyes filled as he looked at his treasures, and he smiled. "Yes. I only wish "
" you could have told him," she finished for him. "Maybe, one day, you can."
* * * * * * * * *
"You're not real!" Jarod shouted. He shoved at the hallucination, dashed past him and ran out the door of the motel. Down the street and across the railroad tracks he ran, needing to get as far away as his legs could carry him.
But his body had reached its limit, and his knees were getting wobbly, threatening to collapse. He slowed to a jog as he reached Evergreen Park in the center of town, then finally to a staggering walk. Shadows were long in here, and he stepped off the path, heading blindly into the trees. Trunks stood close together, the branches high up forming a canopy over him like living lace, all but blotting out what was left of the setting sun.
"I'll be here, wherever you go, Jarod. You can't run away from yourself," Kodiak advised casually, leaning against a nearby pine, from which the park drew its name.
Jarod whipped around to face him, panting and perspiring, dancing on the verge of panic. "Leave me alone!" he wailed. "I don't want to be like you. I don't want to be you. I want to be me, just me, just Jarod!"
Kodiak seemed as fresh as ever, and strong. He shook his head. "Boy, you just don't get it, do you? For a genius, you sure are slow." He sauntered closer. "You can't be you if you don't know who the hell you are, now can you?"
Jarod's knees gave way, and he fell on them. "No," he murmured, bowing his head in defeat. "But I don't want to be you. Not you Please."
The specter got down on his haunches and patted Jarod's shoulder paternally. "You know, it's just sad, begging like that. You begged Raines, and he didn't listen. Don't you think it's time you learned to stand up for yourself and fight back? Wouldn't you love to just stick it to them--" He stood up swiftly, punching the air with his fist as his voice deepened into a passionate shout. "--like they stuck it to you?"
"No." Jarod held his head in his hands, bending over to touch his forearms to the grass. The smell of rich earth filled his nostrils. Hot tears stung his weary eyes. "No. I don't want to hurt people."
"Oh, come on!" Kodiak shot back impatiently. "Look at what you do when people piss you off. You scared a surgeon right into a heart attack making him think a drunk was gonna operate on him--"
"He didn't really have a heart attack," Jarod argued, unable to look up at his accuser.
"But he did have a heart condition, and that wonderful little cocktail you gave him in his drinking water could certainly have done some real damage to his old ticker, now, couldn't it? You knew the risk, and you were willing to take it. You know why? Because you wanted him to feel that fear. You wanted him to know who had the power. You wanted all of them to know who had the power." Kodiak bent down close to his ear. "You did. You loved it. And do you know where that power came from, Jarod, old buddy?" His voice dropped to a gleeful whisper. "It came from me!"
"No, noooooo!" Jarod shook his head, trying to dislodge the apparition.
Kodiak was laughing now. "Yeah, you know it. You know I'm right. I'm the backbone in your pathetic, pansy little soul, genius. I'm what makes you strong. I pull the strings." He shoved Jarod backward with his foot, onto his back. "And I think it's damn well time we admitted it. Don't you?"
Jarod couldn't move, couldn't think. All he wanted was for this new torture to stop. He wanted to rest, but Kodiak wouldn't let him. He let his head fall back against the ground and closed his eyes. Maybe it was time to stop fighting. Maybe .
The sound of that familiar voice made him open his eyes again. He was alone in this part of the park, off the beaten track, where no one could see him. The trees kept his voice from traveling, so no one had heard him screaming. Yet, there she was.
Faith had arrived.
Jordan's head sank slowly forward, then jerked upright as he caught himself dozing off.
"Keep moving," he told himself aloud, rising from the stool where he had been examining a cross section of orchid stem beneath his microscope. He was perspiring in the humid room, and thought a change in scenery might help him stay awake. Stumbling wearily to the door, he left the workstation light on, intending to come back to it when he was refreshed.
As he neared the major's room, he eased off his slippers, feeling the cold from the permafrosted ground beneath the station's foundation seep up into his bare feet. His grandfather would be asleep now, if Jordan's observation of his circadian rhythm was accurate. There were no windows in the station, so it was difficult to tell day from night, but they had been there long enough to have fallen into a regular pattern of waking and sleeping that somewhat reflected the sun's passage through the sky.
Only Jordan had not slept in far too long. He couldn't, his dreams disturbed by savage nightmares that could only have one source. Jarod had not called him in days, and their last conversation had been filled with long pauses and distinct unease.
"I'll be out of touch for a little while, son, but don't worry about me. I'll be all right."
"What's wrong, Dad? I know something's going on. I can feel it. Remember?"
Sharp pain, cutting right into his heart, filled the silence between them.
"I can't talk about it now, Jordan. I have some things to figure out. I'll call when I do."
Then the nightmares had come. At first, Jordan attributed them to the psychology book by John Douglas that he had been reading, but the images were too vivid, too real, and not connected to any of the psychopaths the former FBI profiler detailed in his book. Jordan had given up sleeping after the third night, and now the visions were coming whether he was awake or not.
Sometimes they were just foggy snatches, filled with echoed screams. Sometimes he could smell the blood, feel it on his hands. It didn't seem like anything his father could have experienced, but to have that much detail, to be that clear, Jordan suspected that it was memory rather than imagination.
The thought made him ill. Had Jarod gone off the deep end and gone on a killing spree? The teenager remembered his visit to his grandmother months earlier. Margaret's mind was troubled, so much so that she barely had any hold left on reality, when he had seen her. Could the same thing have happened to his father? Could it be a hereditary weakness to which they would all be prone?
He had tried to call, tried to raise his progenitor via e-mail, but there was no response.
Jordan wandered to the front of the weather station, now a comfortable but isolated home. The anteroom that led to the outside was perpetually chilled, and in his pajama pants and bare feet he felt especially vulnerable. He hugged himself against the frigid air, and closed his eyes.
Men held his arms so hard it hurt. A needle jabbed into his arm, and then the cold came, colder than anything he'd ever felt before. He sucked in a gasping breath and screamed it out as his heart began to slow. He was dying, and he knew it.
Jordan jolted back to wakefulness, and found himself kneeling in the open doorway. In seconds, the arctic cold would freeze his skin if he didn't get back to warmth immediately. He slammed the door and ran back toward his room, bumping blindly into this grandfather in the hallway.
"Jordan! What's wrong? I heard you--"
"Something's wrong with Dad," he sobbed. "We've got to help him, Da. We have to find him." He buried his face against the man's chest, his knees barely able to hold him up. "I think someone's killing him. Oh, God! I don't know what to do!"
The older man wrapped his arms around him in a fierce hug, his face grave with worry. "You're cold as ice, Jordan. Let's get you warmed up, and then we'll see what we can do to help your dad." He all but carried the weeping teenager into his room, got into the bed with him, pulled the covers up around them both, and held him tightly until the boy's shivers subsided and he slid into a troubled sleep.
* * * * * * * * *
Seeing Faith standing over him, Jarod wondered if he had finally gone insane.
"Get rid of her," Kodiak ordered. Then he smiled and raked the woman with his eyes. "Unless you want me to do it. All you have to do is let me take over--"
"No," Jarod snapped. "You leave her alone."
Faith knelt down, her hands lightly clasping her knees. For a moment, she just stared, studying him as he lay on his back on the grass. "Who are you talking to, Jarod?" she asked quietly.
He looked up at her, afraid, hardly daring to hope she would understand. "Kodiak Brown," he whispered. "Can you -- can you see him?"
She shook her head slowly. "No. But I feel him, in your soul. He wants out, doesn't he?"
"I said get rid of her," the apparition growled.
Jarod looked beyond Faith to see the figment of his imagination standing with fists clenched, right behind her. He watched Kodiak bend over her, eyes intent and hungry.
"Stop it!" he cried. "I said to leave her alone!"
Faith never flinched, but sat down beside him, taking his hand. "I know how troubled you are. I've been feeling it for days. You're exhausted. When was the last time you slept?"
"Four, five days. Maybe a week. It's kind of hard to keep track."
She nodded. "Then you're probably hallucinating. That would make sense. Are you lucid enough to listen for a few minutes?"
"Hell, yeah. Go for it." His brow furrowed. That was more Kodiak's speech pattern than his own. He forced himself to his feet, bringing her with him and ignoring the debris that began to fall off both of them.
"Did you talk to Sydney recently?"
"I think so. It's hard to remember."
"He found something. A file, with notes on an experiment Raines and Lyle performed on you shortly before you escaped. They called it Resurrection."
"The cryogenic experiment." Jarod leaned against a tree and closed his eyes. "I've been seeing it everywhere. I can't get away from it, Faith. I don't understand why it won't leave me alone. Why he won't leave me alone."
"Because I'm part of you," replied his nemesis, suddenly leaning against the same tree. "We belong together. She knew that years ago, but I guess she just forgot to say anything. That's a woman for you."
Jarod turned away and began walking, a bit unsteadily. Faith was instantly by his side. "It's the last of your memories from Eclipse, Jarod. That's why it won't go away." She swallowed hard, and sighed as she towed him along. "I never told Raines or anyone else about the wall I built in your mind, but they must have suspected it when the memories never surfaced. They were hoping that, with the trauma of the repeated resurrections, they could revive the darkness they had seen in you that day, and make it permanent."
"They wanted a dark pretender," he said slowly. "Someone with my talent, but without a conscience." He laughed suddenly, but his laughter had an edge of hysteria to it. "And that's exactly what they got. Isn't that rich? Raines succeeded, and he never even knew it."
Images began coming to him, flashing in front of his eyes: snapshots of things he had done, the results of his carefully planned and executed stings. A virologist who believed he was dying of a Level Five virus a college professor in a coffin of Jarod's own making, being buried alive a psychiatrist, desperately afraid of water, only seconds from drowning a kidnapper, nearly choking to death with Jarod's hands wrapped around his throat .
"None of this matters," Kodiak insisted. "You could still be a powerful man, master of your own destiny, if you'd just stop listening to this -- this -- woman "
"Go away!" Jarod screamed, stopping to lean against another tree and covering his ears. "Just go away!"
Other images came through a woman on an autopsy table, alive but unable to move a woman under the influence of a light dose of anesthesia, fearing that some of her skin might be harvested for use on a patient a woman standing in a pit filling with quick drying cement, terrified that she might be imbedded in it .
That was all his own work. Jarod's, not Kodiak's. Or were they?
Luther Ecksley. That had been a mission of mercy that went horribly awry. Jarod had forcibly removed Ecksley's kidney to benefit his son, and then Luther had died in terrible pain some weeks later.
Jarod stopped suddenly, slipping to the ground and burying his face in his hands. He hadn't understood the source of those stings, hadn't wanted to understand; but the evidence was there. He thought back to the innocent he had been before Eclipse, and knew that man would never have been capable of doing such things to other people, no matter what the provocation. He had been kind, gentle, forgiving, thanks to Sydney's training and his own nature. But after Eclipse, after Jarod escaped from the Centre and went about righting wrongs he saw being covered up, he knew where that need for revenge had originated.
He had been feeding a murderer's fantasies with his own twisted desire for justice.
His hands dropped limply to his sides. "I'm a monster, Faith," he whispered hoarsely. "Eclipse made me into one, and there's no turning back."
"No, you're not," she argued. She came down beside him and reached out to touch his face with her hand, her eyes more intense than he's ever seen them. "Listen to me, Jarod. You're could never be a monster. You're a victim of great evil, but you can't let it rule you. You can't let them win. It's a conscious choice you have to make, over and over until it becomes second nature. You can be strong without going too far. You can find justice without hurting others in the process."
"But what about the people I've already hurt?" he asked helplessly. "What about the damage I've already done? There are so many, I can't even count them--"
"Let it go," she said simply. "Understand that it wasn't you who did those things. Put the blame where it belongs, on Kodiak Brown and the Centre. Forgive yourself. Then move on. I realize it won't all happen overnight. But I have faith in you, and I believe you can make it work."
He wasn't sure yet exactly how to go about it, but he recognized the truth in her words. "Yes," he told her with sudden decision, seeing a glow of satisfaction in her eyes at his response. "That's what I want." He sighed, feeling exhaustion sweep in on him. "But I also need to sleep. I need "
"There's someone you need to see, too. Sydney's in the hospital."
Jarod's head came up. "Why?"
She hesitated, watching his eyes, measuring how much he could take. "He's had a stroke, but he's stable, and the doctors are hopeful that he'll be all right."
Jarod knew the medical details well enough to understand what could happen. The doctors would be giving him blood thinners to try to dissolve the clot that had attacked his brain. The potential for further strokes of a more devastating nature was increased now. He could have a massive one at any time, and die before Jarod could get there.
Things needed to be said between them. Things needed to be finished and laid to rest, and Jarod knew that couldn't happen if Sydney died. He stood, and started walking again in the direction she had been leading him, taking over now, directing her, his soul filled with purpose. A good purpose.
He knew then that Kodiak Brown wasn't coming back anytime soon.
"Come on. We've got to get there, fast."
"I'll drive," she told him brusquely. "You sleep."
He nodded, his mind clearer now than it had been in days. "Take my car," he suggested, pulling the keys out of his jeans pocket. "It'll be better than the junker you brought."
"How do you know it's a junker?" she shot back with half a smile.
"Well, isn't it?" he answered lightly, meeting her eyes.
She sighed resignedly. "Okay, genius. Which car's yours?"
"Dark green Beamer, parked at the Kane Motel." He reached into his hip pocket, pulled out his wallet, extracted a silver credit card and handed it to her. "Keep this. If you ever need gas money, food or a place to spend the night, there will always be money attached to that card."
Faith stared at the Platinum card for a moment as they stepped out of the trees and into a clearing with more level ground. There was relief in her eyes when she turned them back up to him. "Thank you, Jarod. There have been a lot of times I could have used this."
He touched her cheek fondly with his fingertips. "I know, Faith. Same way I knew what kind of car you were driving." He smiled. "Take me to Sydney, old friend. And I promise to get some sleep on the way, if you'll promise not to get a speeding ticket."
She grinned, a twinkle of mischief in her cobalt blue eyes. "No tickets," she promised. "But I can't promise not to speed. You know how I like to drive fast."
He kissed her on the cheek and led the way back to the motel, his attention focused now on someone else in need, rather than on his own troubles. For the moment, at least, he would be all right. And with time, he would find a way to permanently address the issue of good and evil in his own soul.
* * * * * * * * *
There was still no answer on Jarod's private number. Morgan left yet another voice mail and headed back to Sydney's room to wait, but just as she turned the corner of his hallway, she spotted Lyle approaching from another direction. She refused to hurry her step, but felt a surge of panic to get there first, even though Kim was still on duty outside the door.
Morgan was a step behind Lyle when he stopped at the door, and she pushed past him to put herself between him and Sydney's room. "What the hell are you doing here?" she demanded crossly. "Visitors are the last thing he needs right now."
Lyle sneered. "Well, aren't you the motherly type all of a sudden?" He glanced in the door she had inadvertently opened, and saw Broots sitting by the bed where Sydney lay, then nodded toward the hallway. The tech didn't move, but he did look worried. "I said get out," Lyle snapped.
"I didn't hear anything," Parker shot back.
"Neither did I," Broots echoed. His eyes were afraid, but he held his ground.
"Since when did you grow a backbone?" Lyle asked the tech irritably. He crossed his arms over his chest and glanced at Sydney over Miss Parker's shoulder while the tech's fear melted into something resembling anger.
"We don't need you here," Parker told him in a low growl.
Kim stood by at attention, her face impassive, detached, just doing her job.
"You can't exactly look for Jarod while you're stuck here, either," he reminded Miss Parker brightly. "Put a couple of sweepers on the old man and concentrate on your work, sister." He grinned. "Unless, of course, you want me to take over the hunt while your pal here is indisposed. I'd love to have catching Jarod on my resume, since things are going so well for me at the moment."
She chose not to say anything about his recent rash of successes. It seemed he had Blue Files coming out of the woodwork now, and other projects he'd been piloting were coming to fruition, boosting his prowess in the hierarchy. He had his job in the Tower back, and if she wasn't careful, she knew he'd be angling for the Chairmanship.
"I can handle it," she promised hotly. "As soon as we get a sighting on Jarod, I'll be out of here."
Lyle eased closer to her and whispered in her ear. "You know, it wouldn't do if Sydney spilled his guts to the hospital staff."
She got the unspoken reference to endangered security, and glared at him down her nose. "That's why I'm here," she said between clenched teeth.
"Loose lips sink ships," he reminded her, and drew away. "Keep me posted on his condition, will you? We'll move him to Renewal if it becomes necessary."
"Over my dead body," said Broots as he stood up and ambled slowly toward them, his eyes glowing with anger.
Lyle didn't say a word. He just smiled and nodded, and tugged on his glove. His eyes shifted down the hallway, and he stepped back as Valentine came trotting up, eyes gleaming.
"There's been a sighting," the sweeper told him, slowing to catch his breath. "Not far from here."
"Of Jarod?" Miss Parker shot back, reaching for her pistol.
"Not Jarod," Valentine corrected. "Looking Glass."
Parker stretched her arm across the doorway to prevent either of the men entering. "Faith?" She stared at Lyle, then re-holstered her gun with a wry smile. "This one's all yours, little brother."
Lyle suddenly looked nervous. Reaching into his jacket pocket, he pulled out a photograph with unsteady fingers, showing it to Kim. "Have you seen this woman recently?"
Kim studied the photo and shook her head. "No, sir. What do you want me to do if I she shows up?"
"Put a bullet between her eyes," Lyle snarled, and quickly headed down the corridor to catch up with Valentine.
Broots stepped out of the room, closing the door firmly behind him as he grinned sheepishly down at Kim and stuffed his hands into his trouser pockets with a nervous shrug. "That went well."
Miss Parker heaved a sigh of relief. "Thanks, Kim. I owe you one."
"No, you don't," the sweeper answered gently. "This one was for Jarod, for helping me find my family." She gave a nod toward the door.
Parker smiled. "We're taking good care of your Uncle Sydney. Don't worry about him." She leaned against the wall beside the other woman. "How long do you think they'll be?"
Kim sighed. "As long as it takes," she replied evenly. "Jarod and Sydney have a lot of ground to cover. All we have to do is give them the time they need to finish the trip."
* * * * * * * * *
Jarod had come into the hospital in a body bag, courtesy of the Coroner's office, so no one watching the entrances would see his face. From the silence of the morgue, he had stolen into the doctor's lounge and appropriated the necessary scrubs and lab coat. Clipping a previously manufactured ID tag onto his lapel, he checked through Sydney's charts at the nurse's station, made notes for additional medications that he wanted administered, and then headed straight for his room, offering a smile of recognition to Kim, standing guard at the doorway.
Just as he stepped inside, Miss Parker had gone out to distract any pursuit that might have been coming, and Broots had given him the last bit of cover he needed as he hid behind the door while Lyle was in the hallway. Jarod turned his full attention to the man in the bed, confident that the trio outside would keep them safe as long as they could. The sight of Sydney lying there, hooked up to various tubes and monitors, had shocked Jarod a little. The man looked older somehow, weary and worn.
"Hello, Sydney," he said softly, as soon as he saw that the older man was awake.
The Belgian jerked his head toward the sound of the familiar voice, his eyes wide with alarm. "Jarod! What are you doing here? You'll be caught!"
He grinned. "Not with Miss Parker fielding the goons for me," he assured the older man.
That seemed to calm Sydney somewhat, and he relaxed against the pillows. "She said she couldn't reach you. How did you know to come here?"
"Faith found me," Jarod answered simply. "She has a habit of doing that. We had a long talk, about a lot of things. He smiled. "And then she brought me here to see you."
Sydney's expression softened. "She loves you, you know."
"I know," the younger man agreed fondly. "I'm one of the few positive connections in her past." He changed the subject. "Looks like you're doing all right, considering."
Sydney shifted uncomfortably on the bed. "From outside my body, I suppose you could say that. However, looking at things from my vantage point, I can assure you that I'm not doing well at all." He held up his left arm, his hand still crooked and cramped. "I'm to start physical therapy in a few hours, to try to repair the damage from the stroke." He sighed and let his arm drop. "But I really don't want to. I'm tired. I just want to rest."
"Now, Sydney, listen to your doctors," Jarod chided. "You have to obey them if you're going to get better."
Sydney turned away slightly, pretending to watch the television. "Maybe I don't want to get better."
Jarod moved to the chair Broots had so recently vacated, and lowered the rail on the side of the bed so he could get closer. "Maybe not. But there are a lot of people who depend on you. Trying to recover is something you do for them, as much as for yourself. Sometimes even more for them than for you." He hesitated. "I saw Kim out there."
Smiling, Sydney shook his head. "She has her father's stubbornness about her. At first, I couldn't convince her to leave the Centre. Now she won't leave the hospital." He sighed, and his smile faded. "You look terrible, Jarod. What have you been up to?"
"Wrestling with the devil," Jarod replied honestly. He rubbed his face wearily. "I've been thinking a lot lately, especially on the way here, about what happened between us. I've walked in your shoes now and then, and I know how hard it was for you, doing what you did. I know, now, how you shielded me from bad things, as much as you could."
Sydney's brown eyes darkened with pain, more mental than physical. "But not as much as I wanted, Jarod. You were special. You should have " He shook his head and looked away. "I wasn't there when it was most important."
"I don't blame you for Eclipse, Sydney," Jarod assured him. "They told you it was just another simulation, didn't they?"
"I wasn't told about the drug they'd given you, or about Kodiak Brown. It was supposed to be an uncomplicated simulation, nothing more."
Jarod nodded. "I figured as much." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a DSA disc. "I know the truth about my addiction. Miss Parker made me a copy of your disc." His voice became almost tearful. "You insisted that they put you on the same drug regimen they gave me to enhance my intelligence. You went through the withdrawal on your own, all by yourself, while I had help. That's why you weren't there for me then. Because you couldn't be."
"You were just a boy," Sydney murmured gruffly. "You couldn't have done it alone."
"But you did, Sydney."
"I had to, Jarod. Don't you see? I had to beat it, so I could go back
to protecting you."
Jarod nodded. "I know." He smiled then, almost happy with his discovery. Almost.
"There's something you need to see," his mentor told him gently. "Something else you need to know. Look under the bed, Jarod."
The younger man lifted the blanket hanging off the side of the bed, and pulled out a silver metal box. He set it on his lap and lifted the lid. Stacks of drawings, plastic toys, and other items greeted him, all familiar reminders of the years that had passed between the two men. At the top of the stack was the Father's Day card he had made and given to Sydney as the only father he had known.
"You kept it," he whispered, lost in wonder and confusion. "You kept them all." He picked up one paper, slightly crumpled from when Sydney had crushed it and thrown it in the trash. Tears misted his eyes. He couldn't hope, didn't dare. "I thought you threw it away."
"I couldn't. Nor could I let you know I kept it. It wasn't my place to give you that."
"But it was!" Jarod insisted, grasping the other man's hand, careful of the IV tubes. "You were all I had, Sydney. You knew how important you were to me, how I needed you." He blinked back the tears suddenly blurring his vision, desperate not to lose sight of the older man's face. "You said you never thought about being my father, but this " He glanced at the lovingly preserved card. "What does it mean, Sydney? Help me understand."
For a moment, the Belgian was silent, considering. "It was a necessary lie, Jarod. If anyone knew you felt that way about me, we'd have been torn apart -- you'd have been reassigned to someone who could keep their objectivity. I couldn't afford to let you know the truth for both our sakes. I've always regretted that."
Jarod's voice hitched. "Then tell it to me now. Please. I need to hear it."
Sydney swallowed hard, and a single tear escaped to stroll slowly down his cheek. "I have two sons, Jarod. I have always loved you, and always thought of you as my own."
The Pretender's last vestige of reserve broke. He put his head down against the blankets, and wept. His shoulders shook, and he clutched at the blankets with both hands, squeezing until his knuckles turned white.
Sydney reached out with his right hand, intravenous line plugged into the back of his wrist, and gently stroked the young man's dark hair, offering what comfort he could.
"It's all right, son," Sydney assured him warmly.
Jarod made no attempt to stop his tears, letting his emotions flow freely. When he had exhausted his tears, he wearily lifted his head and tried to smile. "I love you, Sydney. I always have."
Carefully, Sydney stroked the backs of his fingers across the young man's cheek, wiping away the tears. "You have always been a source of great pride and pleasure in my life, Jarod," Sydney assured him. "Especially since you've been out on your own. I have envied Major Charles his place in your life, though I had no right to."
"You had every right," Jarod told him fervently. "You raised me. You made me who I am." A painful memory flashed across his mind. "Well, mostly. You gave me all the good things I can claim."
Sydney frowned slightly and gently shook his head. "That was already in you, dear boy. I just helped it along."
Jarod grasped his hand and rose, setting the box aside as he stood and leaned over the bed. Carefully, gently, he touched Sydney's forehead with his lips. His heart felt like it might explode. "Get well, Sydney. Please?" He sniffed. "You have to be okay, because I still need you. I'll always need you."
Sydney caught at Jarod's hand, held it to his chest. "You have your real father, now, Jarod. You don't need me anymore."
Jarod held onto Sydney's hand and brought it to his lips. "You have always been my father, in my heart. Now I have two fathers, just as you have two sons. I need you both."
"Take care, son," the older man said softly.
"I'll be all right now, Sydney. I promise."
He headed for the door and opened it a crack. Miss Parker gave him a nod, and he slipped out into the hallway, and was away in minutes, back on the road and driving down the road to a safer place in the next town. He stopped at a service station to fill his car with gas, and pulled an envelope out of his pocket that Faith had given him before zipping him up in the body bag that had been his entry into the Dover hospital.
He opened it, and began to read.
If I'd told you what we were planning, you wouldn't have gone along with it, and I knew how badly you and Sydney needed to see each other. A distraction was required to keep the sweepers busy, so I chose to be the bait to lead the hounds away. Don't worry about me, though. I'm a survivor, just like you are. I'll be fine.
Jarod lifted his eyes to the horizon, hoping she was right. And then he remembered Sydney's words.
She loves you, Jarod.
He considered that simple statement, and how casually he had answered it. He thought about Morgan, and the wall she had put up between them. He knew it would never come down, no matter how he tried to find a way around it. Maybe there was such a thing as Fate, after all. But if that was true, what comfort did life offer him down the road? Would he always be alone?
He glanced down at the neat handwriting with big loops and an even slant, unconsciously analyzing the style. He had never seen an indication of anything more from her than the bond they had developed as children, yet she always seemed to be there when he was in greatest need. Still, he couldn't bring himself to hope that it was anything more than that. His heart had been through too much lately to deal with new questions such as this, and he needed time to heal.
Jarod folded the letter away, tucked it into his jacket pocket, and finished filling the tank so he could continue on his way.
Once on the road again, he pulled out his cell phone and dialed a familiar number.
"Hi, Dad. How's Jordan?" He yanked the phone away from his ear at the shouted chastisement he had been dreading, and prepared himself for a long, but necessary conversation with his father and his son.
* * * * * * * * *
Miss Parker sighed and smiled as she lay down on her bed. She snuggled the pillow close and whispered, "I missed you." Pulling the covers up over her, she settled into place and closed her eyes, ready for her first good night's sleep in days.
The phone rang, and with a growl she tossed the pillow off the bed, swinging her arm around in an arc to land hard on the phone and jerk it to her ear. "What?" she demanded in a frustrated roar.
"How's Sydney?" asked Jarod calmly in her ear.
She could almost see him smiling, and that annoyed her further, but she answered the question honestly. "Much better. He'll be going home soon, and I've arranged for Kim to stay with him as bodyguard and nurse during his recovery. It'll be good for both of them. And apart from a slight limp and some weakness in his left hand, they think he'll be okay." She pushed the hair back from her face and sighed heavily, calming down. This was information Jarod needed to know, and she shouldn't resent keeping him informed. But she was damned tired of him calling her at the most inopportune moments. "He might never be quite the same again, Jarod. He's going to need help getting around, at least for a while, and will be doing physical therapy, which he hates. But he'll be okay."
"That's good to know."
She remembered how Jarod had looked the last time she'd seen him. "How about you? How are you doing?"
"I'll be okay. In time."
She hoped he would have the time he needed. "We didn't have a chance to talk."
"I know. Maybe soon. We should get together again soon."
She closed her eyes and thought of Barrow, of a man both sinfully beautiful and innocently sexy at the same time. Then she remembered something else, another dear face that had been haunted, blue eyes filled with shared pain that Morgan knew she would never feel.
"Got away clean. She's a smart lady."
Morgan sighed, swallowed, and let the words come out effortlessly. "She loves you, you know."
"I know. She loves us both. And Angelo, too. We're all the past she has."
Her throat closed up. She couldn't go any farther with that, couldn't push him any closer. He didn't see it yet, but perhaps in time. And when he did, she had to be ready to let him go.
She just wasn't sure she had it in her to do that. Jarod had already laid claim to her heart when they were children, but the Centre had come between them and damaged them both beyond repair, possibly beyond even love's capacity to heal. He had given Tommy to her as a gift of love, to help her in a way he couldn't manage himself. He had been wise enough to see it even then, living on the run as he did.
But now that he had slowed down, now that she wasn't really chasing him, he had lost sight of the shadow that lay between them, and was trying to pretend it wasn't there. He was a Pretender, after all. He was good at that sort of thing. Only she couldn't ignore the truth.
Maybe, one day, in a more perfect world where the Centre didn't exist, she
could learn to trust him again. If she couldn't, though, she had to be prepared
to be as generous with him as he had been with her. And out there somewhere
was someone she thought might just be able to heal his wounded heart.
She snuggled back down to her pillow, wished him a soft good night and set the phone gently back into the cradle. Then she pulled the covers back over her, closed her eyes, and let the emotional storm of the past few days wash over her.