Big Top Jarod

 

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Prometheus Building
Residence Apartment 1788

Jordan stepped out of the shower, dried off and finger combed his short, dark hair into place. He stepped into a pair of pajama pants, pulled on a T-shirt, and brushed his teeth. Taking a soft baby washcloth from the towel pantry, he dampened it in warm water, wrung it out and went into the bedroom. He sat down gingerly on the specially ordered air bed where Jacob lay, and coaxed the child to open his mouth. With great care, he cleaned the boy's teeth with the cloth, knowing that a toothbrush would cause too much pain and damage to the little one's gums. They had given up brushing his teeth a week ago, and Jordan had come up with this cleansing method instead.

"There. Does that feel better?" he asked softly.

Jacob smiled. "Yes. But I miss the minty toothpaste taste afterward."

"Got an idea for that. Be right back."

A moment later, Jordan returned from the bathroom with a tiny bead of toothpaste on the cloth, and gently rubbed it onto Jacob's tongue. "How's that?"

"Yeah. Now I feel clean."

"Cool. Time for bed, then." He ruffled Jacob's hair, and took the washcloth back to the bathroom before climbing into his own bed. With a weary sigh, he picked up a book and glanced at Jacob. The boy's book lay against the covers, his hand too weak to lift it. "Want me to read to you for a while?"

"Oh, yeah! That would be great." He wiggled to one side of the bed, making room for his much larger progenitor.

"I'm not sure I should…" Jordan stopped himself. Jacob loved him, loved being with him more than anyone else. Jordan had hardly touched the child, afraid to hurt him, yet here he was silently asking for contact, to be cuddled. Jacob needed that, regardless of what pain might come of it.

The teenager eased carefully onto the bed, letting Jacob snuggle close against him. He felt the warmth from that tiny body, felt the peace in Jacob's soul so plainly. He was happy. He radiated with it, and that touched Jordan deeply. As much as he tried to distance himself from the thought of being a father, it kept stealing into his consciousness and making itself at home.

He began to read, until he felt Jacob's head lean over onto his chest. For a moment, he just lay there quietly, enjoying the feel of the child beside him. He closed the book and let his arm drape around Jacob's frail shoulders.

"Some of the other kids…" Jacob began, his voice soft and high-pitched, filled with uncertainty. "They call Sebastian daddy. Gabriel has a daddy. Raffi and Uriel have new daddies. I think daddies are good to have."

The unspoken plea sliced right through Jordan's heart. He knew what Jacob wanted, and only he could give it. He had been resisting this commitment for weeks now, ever since the biological progression had been firmly established. Jordan knew how the boy felt. He had felt the same way toward Jarod, longing to make peace with the man he had been copied from, and understood how necessary roots were. This child was made from him, not from Jarod. Jacob was his son, not his father's.

"I love you, Jordan," the boy breathed, and turned his pale, beaming face up to look into his progenitor's eyes.

That was it. Even if he couldn't give him what he wanted, Jacob was still willing to give his whole heart, and Jordan could no longer deny it. "I love you, too, squirt," he teased, and bent down to kiss Jacob's dark hair. Something in his heart gave way, and he felt an incredible lightness in its wake. It was if a burden had been lifted, and he smiled back. "But you know what? I'd really like it if you called me 'daddy' from now on. It's kind of what I am to you, after all. Would you like that, Jacob?"

"You bet!" the boy cried, and flipped over, throwing his arms around Jordan's neck. He hugged as hard as he dared, and then lay gently back against the inflated bed, a cushion of air constantly pumping through the dense weave of the mattress. It took him a moment to catch his breath. "I have a daddy! You're the best ever, Daddy. I love you so much!"

"Love you, too, son. Now, get some sleep. You've got to tell your news to all your playmates tomorrow." He kissed Jacob's hair and carefully removed himself from the bed. Helping to settle Jacob in place, he felt an odd sense of peace fill him, and knew he had made the right decision.

Fatherhood wasn't something he wanted, not as young as he was. What the Centre had done to him, to Jacob and to Jarod was tragic. But this child was also a gift, and he would no longer waste a moment wishing he hadn't been born. Time to enjoy Jacob was too short, but he wouldn't waste any of it. School could wait. So would Merritt.

Jacob was all that mattered now, and he would do everything in his power to make sure the rest of the boy's life was packed with joy.

That was what fathers did, after all.

* * * * * * * * * *

Trader Vic's Campground and Emporium
Rural Blue Cove

A battered, aged pickup truck pulled up to the trading post that served as offices and general store for the campground. Only a handful of mobile homes and three RVs were set up on the concrete pads, leaving lots of open space available for newcomers. Two men piled out of the truck and stretched after their long drive, then lumbered up the steps into the building.

The proprietor, a retired merchant seaman, eyed the men with dollar signs in mind, wondering if they were just passing through, or on their way to the place up the road. They didn't look like the brainy type, and were too rough-cut to be the sleek muscle they used at the Centre. He leaned over the counter, chewing the stub of his cigar, and watched them case his store.

"Can I help you gents?" he asked at last.

The tallest one sidled up to the counter. "Looks like you've got a right nice place here, mate," he said with a friendly grin in a distinctly Australian accent. "How many spaces you got out there? How big's the property, all told?"

Vic arched a gray eyebrow and considered what the Australian might be after. "Why you askin', son?"

The African-American man beside him, stylishly dressed in neatly pressed designer blue jeans and a crisp new white T-shirt, placed his arms akimbo and smiled politely. "Because we're bringing in a whole boatload of business to you, sir. The circus is coming to town, and we're the advance crew, here to locate the right place to set up. It's a small private circus, just starting the northern leg of our tour. We need a little practice time before we start out on the summer circuit."

Vic's mouth sagged slowly open. His cigar fell onto the counter. His steely blue eyes got round. Then his brain clicked into gear, and he smiled. "I've got 35 spaces on the lot, an' 20 acres o' land on top o' that. How many people comin'?"

The two strangers argued casually about the number, but when they finally agreed, Vic backed up and sat his tall, lanky frame down on the stool he kept behind the counter for his rest breaks. They hadn't asked about rates. He knew that operations of that size were likely to pay bottom dollar, but considering that his grounds had never been full, he stood to make more money off these people than he'd ever dreamed.

"How long're you stayin'?" he asked breathlessly.

"Depends on how long it takes us to get our act together," said the Aussie. "Maybe a couple of weeks. Maybe a month. Maybe two. We've just put this crew together and have a few bugs to work out before we hit the road." He pulled a wad of cash out of his jeans pocket and handed it over. "We're going to need plenty of supplies available, mate. You might want to hire some runners to keep the place stocked with tucker."

"That's food to us Americans," the black man translated with a wink. "Now, let's talk business…"

* * * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Building
Residence Level
Apartment 1789

"I want to go with you," Jordan growled unhappily, arms crossed over his chest.

Jarod sighed and hung his head. "I know you do, son. But you're needed here far more. Jacob needs you with him." He looked up at the teenager, his heart aching for what was to come in the boy's life. The irrevocable breakdown of Jacob's systems was already starting. The child was beginning to bruise far too easily, sometimes even without any kind of a bump or accident to cause the damage. Jarod saw instantly the hurt in Jordan's dark eyes, so like his own. He had even started to grow the little mole beside his right eye, making him look even more like his adult counterpart.

"All right," Jordan agreed with a nod. "When will you be leaving?"

"Soon. But I'll be back and forth for a while. Gabriel needs to see me as often as we can, before…"

"Yeah. Meanwhile, I'll be working on those supplements for Jacob. Can you keep in touch via email? We can share research. If you have time for it, that is."

Jarod heard the pain, the resignation in Jordan's voice. "I'm always thinking about it," he assured the youth. "Learning my part in the circus won't take that much of my attention. Namir's in charge of training everyone else, so I'll have time to help you. Make sure you keep your notes current on the website, and I'll match them with mine from my laptop. We'll beat this, Jordan. If it's possible, we'll help him. We have to."

He saw the tears in his son's eyes, knowing the teenager was aware how slender that thread of hope really was. They didn't have time to research the necessary medications and dietary adjustments that Jacob needed to survive. Unless they just got lucky and stumbled on the answer, it was unlikely they'd beat the finish line stretching out before them. And even with regular sessions with Namir and Joseph, Jacob didn't have a lot of time left. The men had kept death at bay for weeks now, but they couldn't do it forever.

Jordan needed his father to get through this difficult period, and Jarod was painfully aware that he couldn't be there for him. He had missed every important event in this boy's life, had spent so much time on the run that he hadn't been there much at all. That would change soon, but not until the circus was over.

And by then, it would be too late. They both knew it. Both of them accepted it, but that only made the pain that much greater.

"I'm sorry, son," Jarod whispered. The corners of his mouth quirked up into a bitter grin. "I guess it doesn't really help to be able to be in two places at once, does it?"

Sad humor softened Jordan's expression, but he didn't smile. "No, it doesn't." He swallowed hard, tears brimming. "I love you, Daddy."

Jarod rose and crossed the distance between them in a heartbeat, pulling the boy into a fierce embrace. He cradled the young man's head in his hand, the other smoothing over his muscular back. "My son," he sniffed. "You're not me. You're my son, Jordan, and I love you. God, I'm so proud of you! Do you know that?" He kissed the boy's hair, fighting back the tears.

The teenager's reserve broke and he began to sob, weighed down with all the dark possibilities looming in his future.

"Don't leave me, Daddy," he wailed softly, his voice breaking, fingers clawing at the older man's back.

"I'll stay," he promised. "Just a little longer. Just for you. But I still have to go."

Jordan clung to him tightly. "I know. I know. I'm sorry I'm such a baby."

"You're not," Jarod assured him. "You're a man, Jordan. You're the man I always wanted to be. You're my hero."

He held his young clone, whispering to him gently, assuring him of all the things he already knew, arming him with the weapons Jordan would need to face his future alone, in case he needed them. That was what fathers did, and Jarod didn't need anyone to teach him that. It was already in his heart.

* * * * * * * * *

Circus Center
San Francisco, CA

"I thought you were training for the high wire act," said Rick. "I've spotted you at the animal training center, the offices, clown school, everywhere but there. When did you plan to get started?"

Jarod smiled. "I've been working on it. I catch glimpses here and there, and I'm going to have a whole circus to run, so I needed to know what a real one looks like. And I did watch the Panzinis for a good half hour yesterday."

Rick laughed and shook his head. "Come on, pal. You've got years ahead of you before you're ready to perform. Let's see what skills you do have, and we'll go on from there."

The Pretender shrugged. "I don't have years. But I am a quick study."

The two men strolled over to the high wire training area, permanently set up with long cables only ten feet off the ground, with a net underneath to catch any performers who fell. Jarod climbed up the ladder attached to the tall pole with lithe grace, tested the cable with his right foot, and then casually strolled across it without using a balance pole.

"Okay, that's a good start," called Rick from the ground below. "Now try it backwards."

A specially made bicycle with no tires was parked on the platform on the far side, and Jarod unhooked it, set it on the cable and prepared to mount it.

"No!" Rick shouted from below, running toward the ladder. "Don't try that! Jarod, dammit, get down from there!"

But the Pretender wasn't listening. His face grim with concentration, he mounted the bicycle, bobbled a little, and headed across the cable slowly. On the second pass he pedaled backward, stopped in the center of the line, and held his arms out with a big grin.

"How's this for a beginner?" he called to his teacher.

Rick had climbed up and now stood on the platform, his face revealing his astonishment. "How long did you say you've been doing this?"

"Less than a week," Jarod answered brightly. "It's basically body mechanics, which I know well. I've got good balance, so it wasn't really that hard. Want me to try a dismount? I've been studying the trapeze artists, too."

Rick's stomach flipped at the thought. "No, that's fine. We can start you working with a partner, namely me, but don't get your hopes up. I still think it'll be a while before you're ready to perform."

"Okay. I've got about a week. Will that be long enough?"

"If you don't break your neck or kill yourself before then, sure. Why the hell not?"

Jarod dismounted carefully onto the cable, lifted the bicycle slowly onto his head and balanced it for a moment by the handlebars with one hand. After three steps it fell off, landing in the net below, but the Pretender kept his perch on the wire.

"Oops. Looks like I need a little work on that." He trotted the rest of the way to the platform, grinning at his trainer. "That was fun! Let's do some more."

Rick shook his head in wonder. "Either you're the most natural talent I've ever seen, or that was just beginner's luck, buddy. But you can be damn sure I'm not letting you on the wire with anyone but me till I'm sure you're not a show-off. I won't endanger my people with some cowboy who thinks he can do anything."

Jarod nodded. "I'm always careful with other people," he assured the man. "I only take risks with myself these days."

"We'll see," Rick assured him. "We'll see."

* * * * * * * * * *

The Centre
SL-24

Mr. Parker looked through the window into the specially prepared holding room. The head count revealed 47 people in various positions on the staff had been working under the influence of Aurora. Each one had willingly pointed at the person who had addicted them, in exchange for additional doses of the drug. And each of them had pointed to someone else in the room, which led the investigation into a closed circle. The odd man out, the one who had started the chain reaction, had turned up dead the previous day, apparently by his own hand.

But now the Chairman was forced to decide how to deal with these people. They couldn't continue working for the Centre under the influence, even if ownership of their Aurora doses shifted to the Centre itself. They could no longer be trusted in any capacity, and setting them free would be an instant death sentence. That left few options.

He could have them all executed and buried in the Blue Cove cemetery. He could have them all cremated, their ashes scattered over the biotracts as fertilizer. Or they might be used as guinea pigs for some of the other drug testing that needed to be done.

Parker frowned. There was a lot of talent in that room. Some of their own scientists had fallen into the group, though most of the users were relegated to Security. His secretary was also among them, which saddened him greatly. The woman certainly knew everything that passed through his hands, which presented an enormous problem in itself, but he had genuinely liked her.

Pamela looked back at him through the glass complacently, just waiting. She didn't care what became of her, as long as she had Aurora. And he had never noticed the artificially calm expression on her face until now.

He turned to the security chief standing nearby, awaiting orders. "See if the labs can use any of them," he ordered. "The rest can help the plants grow in the biotracts. I'll have the orders written up and sent down by my new secretary in a few minutes."

Daniel Pyne nodded, his dark eyes saddened. "What a waste," he said slowly. "What a damn shame."

"Just find out how all this got started," Parker growled. "I don't want it to ever happen again."

He stomped off toward the elevator, disgruntled at this latest fly in his ointment.

Lately, it seemed, there were more bugs than cream.

* * * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Miss Parker's office

"I saw the trucks coming into town myself," Broots told his boss excitedly. "The caravan went on for miles. I don't know how many people there are, but I know it's huge."

"Who are they?" Morgan asked distractedly, reading an email on her computer as he talked.

"The signs on the trucks said Angeles Family Circus. I checked them out when I got here, and they're a new outfit, privately owned. But that's all I know. Do you want me to investigate further?"

She pulled her eyes away from the screen and studied him for a moment. "I'll do it, Broots. When's the first show supposed to be?"

He shrugged. "I don't know. I haven't seen any flyers or announcements. I was gonna check that out when I went over."

She sighed. "I'll go shake 'em down, and if they check out, you can take Kim over later to watch a show or something. But don't move on them till I okay it."

Broots nodded. "Are you all right, Miss Parker? You look kinda tired."

Offering a weak smile, she leaned lazily back against her chair. "Yeah, I am. And I miss Gabriel. But I'm working on getting him back."

He looked a little uncomfortable, and sad. "I'm sorry. I know you were really fond of the little guy--"

"He's not dead, Broots," she snapped. "He's just… visiting someone else." She sighed, wondering if she should tell the tech the baby's true heritage, and decided against it. Things would go better for him if he didn't really know what was going on behind the scenes. If she failed, she didn't want to take everyone else down with her. The less he knew, the better for him.

He bumbled through an apology and she shooed him grumpily out of her office. Shortly afterward, she was driving off Centre grounds, down the narrow, winding road that led into Blue Cove, and then past the sleepy little village to the campground. Taking up her digital camera, she photographed the scene as she found it, checking before she snapped a single shot to see if she recognized any of the faces.

Some of the people were in costume. Others were dressed in street clothes, but she could honestly say she didn't recognize anyone. She looked specifically at the taller men wandering about, those with the right build, and none of them looked familiar. Smiling to herself, she continued to take pictures, and then got out of her car and wandered up to the nearest tent.

It didn't look like a circus tent; more like someone's personal habitation. "Hello," she called to a passer-by. "Where's your office?"

The bearded blond man pointed her toward a small trailer set up on the campground, emblazoned with the Angeles Family Circus logo, and she headed for it. Knocking on the door, she was greeted by a blonde woman in an exotic looking outfit, her face heavily made up. "Hi. I'd like a word with your manager, please."

"Right this way," she said congenially.

Miss Parker stepped into the dimly lit interior, and the door closed behind her.

"I see you came alone," said Sumi, gesturing her into the back of the trailer. "Sebastian's waiting for you."

"Thanks, Mrs. MacKenzie."

"Please, call me Sumi." She smiled. "After all, we're in this together. I guess that makes us family, in a way."

Morgan chose not to respond, and went into the back, where the bedroom area had been turned into a sort of office with a bed in one corner. "How are things shaping up?" she asked him.

He glanced up and flashed her a smile. "No worries, Parker. We're all here, and no one suspects a thing. There are enough real circus folk to make us look like we know what we're doing, and the rest of us are hidden in plain sight. I think we'll be okay, even if we're watched round the clock by your security people."

"Good, because you will be," she promised. "How long, do you think, before we're ready?"

He glanced at his laptop. "Soon. Maybe a couple of weeks. Will you be ready then?"

She almost laughed. "Hell, I'm ready right now." Then she shook her head. "I will be. Just let me know when you have a firm date."

"Count on it. And watch for the flyers. The date of the evening performance will reflect a morning showtime, if you get my drift."

She nodded. "I'll have everyone in place and accounted for. But you be careful. No slip-ups, or I won't be able to cover them. Understood?"

"Plain as day," he answered gravely. "You be careful, too, lady. Your son needs you."

She swallowed hard, tears springing into her eyes and hastily blinked away. "Yeah. Where's Jarod? I'd like a word with him before I go."

"He's become a bearded blond, for the moment," Sebastian told her with a rakish grin. "I don't think you'd recognize him, the makeup job's so good. He's a wonder with that sort of thing."

"He's a wonder with everything he touches," she returned flatly, and turned to leave, wondering if he had been the man who gave her directions. She doubted that, certain she'd have recognized his voice if it had been Jarod.

"Oh, and Parker…"

She glanced over her shoulder at the Australian and paused in the doorway.

"I'm glad to know I was wrong about you."

She didn't have to ask what he meant. She had pretended for so long to be cold and unfeeling that she often wondered if she had truly become that way. Then Gabriel had come into her life, and soon enough she found that she had a soft spot left after all. And as much as she longed to lay down her burdens and just be herself for a while, she knew it would be a little longer before that came to pass.

Morgan wandered about the grounds, taking pictures here and there, looking for the tall blond man she had seen earlier, or any other potential Jarod-in-disguise. Her attention was caught by a group practicing their routine on a cable stretched a mere ten feet or so off the ground. Beneath them was an inflated bag in case anyone fell, but the group seemed to be in competent control of their balance.

At the back was a man in a spandex jumpsuit that showed off his physique nicely. His eyes were trained on a pair of women in matching spandex, who were perched at the top of a twelve foot pole, balanced on the forehead of the man below them, seated on a bicycle moving slowly across the cable. The man on the bike carried another long pole across the small of his back to help him balance, but all eyes were on the women.

As they reached the far end of the cable, one of them began the precarious climb down to the support man's shoulders, onto the bicycle and then onto the cable behind the bicycle. The other woman reached for a hanging rope from a taller pole and easily slid down to the platform while the man on the bicycle removed the pole with panache and handed it to the woman. A scattering of applause went up around them, and she saw the support man smile beneath his neat blondish-red beard. He caught her eye and offered a gallant salute.

She just smiled and shook her head, then gestured for him to come down.

He dismounted the easy way after handing off the bicycle to one of his teammates. He spread his arms and fell in a graceful arc, flat of his back onto the inflated pillow below him. Rolling off it, he trotted over to her, grinning from ear to ear. His dark eyes were covered with light gray contacts, and she was astounded at the difference in his appearance.

"I hardly recognized you, and I was looking," she assured him. "Looks like you've spent some time at the Big Top, or did I miss my guess? Sebastian directed us to LA, but we didn't find much there. I'm guessing you stayed just long enough to leave an impression, and then headed straight for the Circus Center in San Fran."

"You've learned to anticipate me," Jarod mused thoughtfully. "I'll have to watch that in the future."

She shook her head. "No need. I won't be chasing you for much longer. Will I?"

He sobered. "No. Soon, now, everything will change."

She swallowed hard, and nodded. "I'm ready for it. How's Gabriel?"

A tiny smile smoothed across his lips beneath the strawberry blond mustache. "He's wonderful. He misses you."

She flashed a tight smile up at him. "Same here. Anything else I need to photograph to make this look like a real investigation? Anything of interest to the suspicious?"

He shook his head. "It's all above-board. The illusion is quite real."

"Not just pretending this time, eh, Jarod?"

"Well, yes and no." He guided her around the camp, pointing out things he wanted her to photograph, including circus people with recognizable faces that would show up in the research that would ultimately follow. "I hired in enough genuine talent so we'd look right and pass any cursory tests. I guarantee this will fly."

"Even you can't guarantee that," she shot back quietly. "Genius or no, there are bound to be holes. It'll be up to me to cover them for you. And I can't do that for long."

"We can't be here for long, either. The show, as they say, must go on."

She nodded. He reached for her hand and gave it a squeeze. "Gotta go," she told him hurriedly, turning away. The trek back to her car seemed somehow longer than it had going into the campground, but she knew that was just imagination, just the emotional turmoil seeing him again brought up. She put him out of her mind and thought about the circus ruse instead, about how she would report it to the Chairman. When she arrived back at the Centre, she gave the camera to Broots and had him do ID searches on some of the stars, then sent Sam out to do guard duty from the perimeter, watching the circus people ostensibly for any activity reportable to the Triumvirate.

* * * * * * * * *

Three days later, the preliminary report was handed in to the American Triad, assuring them that the circus had, indeed, come to town. There was evidence aplenty to support that claim, and interest in that subject quickly waned. The Centre had more important things to do than stand guard over a bunch of clowns, she told them, and it would be best if they got on with their lives and left the newcomers to their own devices. The officers bought her line completely, and all attention was turned away from the nearby swell in Blue Cove's population when she promised to keep sweepers on duty around the clock on the campground's perimeter.

Miss Parker went home triumphant that night, aching to hear Gabriel's voice on the phone, but she dared not call him. If things went well, she'd be seeing him soon enough. And if they didn't, she didn't want to upset him with false promises.

She made herself a cup of chamomile tea sweetened with just a touch of honey, and carried it to the sofa in the living room. Setting the saucer onto a nearby table, she bent down to take off her boots and heard a noise behind her. Getting to her feet as she turned, she found a tall brunette man coming out of her bedroom, and heaved a great sigh of relief.

"Jarod, if I asked you not to do that, would you?"

"What? Sneak up on you?" he grinned. "I didn't exactly want to make my presence known. And I had to make sure you were alone before I presented myself to you."

"Why do I even ask?" she grumbled softly, and returned to her seat on the couch to remove her shoes. "To what do I owe this late night visit?"

"To details," he answered briskly. "I needed to tell you the whole plan, and discuss your part in it. Are you ready, or would you like something to eat first? I took the liberty of making you dinner. It's in the refrigerator, but I can heat it up in the microwave. I'm glad I thought of that little invention."

She shot him a glare, irritated with his glibness. "This is hardly the time for levity," she snapped.

He shrugged off her grouchiness and smiled warmly. "I wasn't joking. Didn't you know I invented the microwave?" He shook his head. "One of these days, we'll have to talk about the things I came up with that I'm proud of. But not now. Hot dogs with my special homemade chili await." He gave a dramatic gesture toward the kitchen with both hands.

She groaned with pleasure as she wiggled her toes, sans boots, and let her feet relax. "I'll find something on my own, thanks." She got up and headed into the kitchen.

He fought her playfully at the refrigerator door, trying to keep her from getting out the salad she wanted, insisting she at least try what he had cooked for her. In the end, he won and she was laughing, and they teased each other while he regaled her with tales of the circus, his new friends and the child they shared. She asked questions, and before long she found herself indulging in the most delicious meal she'd ever eaten, spiced just right. And then, as she ate her second helping of chili, he began to talk about Catherine's plan in earnest, and it was a long time before she spoke again.

Jarod had put a lot of thought into it, she knew. It had every chance of success, but she didn't know yet how far her own power reached, and that was a major question that would need to be answered. There were things she couldn't ask of all her people, but those she trusted had to know what to expect. Without those answers, things could go very badly for them, and they both knew it.

It was late when they finished talking, and she walked him to her back door, just off the kitchen. He had his arm around her shoulders, and hers was around his waist. It had been a good night, a good visit. She had enjoyed herself, with the walls she kept so strong every moment of her waking life now bending like fading flower petals. It felt good to be with him, to enjoy this unhurried space, and she looked forward to a time when they would be able to spend time together with Gabriel. For a moment, she could dream of a future with him close, a constant part of her life.

But they weren't there yet. She couldn't afford to be too comfortable with him, and as she stood on the doorstep, he bent down to kiss her goodbye. She gave him her cheek, instead of her lips.

And then he encircled her with his arms and just held her close.

The next thing she knew, he had disappeared out the door into darkness, vanished from sight, as if he had never been there at all.

She loved him, and he loved her. She wanted that promise of a future with him. But as she let herself dream, walking toward her bedroom, she felt that nagging little intuition inside that told her it couldn't be. She remembered Faith's eyes, standing in her own living room when Sydney had been ill, and knew what she had to do.

Jarod had given her Tommy as an act of selfless love. Now it was her turn to set aside what she wanted for someone else. Faith had no one aside from herself, Jarod and Angelo. This was the right thing to do, this offer of happiness to someone who had none.

It was then that she finally understood what her inner sense had been trying to tell her. This gift wasn't for Jarod at all.

It was for her sister.

END EPISODE TWENTY
Big Top Jarod
Counting Down - 3 episodes to go!

 
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