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Greenville, South Carolina
Jarod's Apartment

Jarod rolled over in bed and came in contact with another warm body. He smiled sleepily as he threw his arm over the figure next to him and hugged it. Long, dark hair landed in his face as the person lying next to him shifted and found a comfortable spot to rest on top of him. He cracked open his eyes slightly, then winced and let them slide shut again when the light from the large windows hit them. His new teddy bear smelled familiar--kind of like Miss Parker. Groggily, he decided that he must be dreaming--Parker would end up in a bed with him when hell froze over.

Jarod smiled again and decided to enjoy the dream while it lasted. While he'd had more than a few erotic dreams about Parker--especially before he'd escaped the Centre--he'd never before dreamed of the contentment he was dreaming of now. It was the bliss of simply holding her close to him because he loved her… and in this dream, she at least cared about him as well.

Jarod buried his face in her hair, enjoying the scent of her shampoo. He smiled sleepily; even Nia's or Zoe's hair hadn't smelled as good as Parker's did. He tugged her closer to him and hugged her tightly, relishing how her soft form felt in his arms. He twitched his nose as some of her hair tickled it and reached up to pull some of the thick tresses out of his face, accidentally bumping Parker with his elbow. She grunted softly and rolled away from him as he drifted back into sleep.

****

Parker smiled in her sleep. For once, her dream was good--she was dreaming of her mother.

"Momma?" a younger version of her said as her mother brushed her hair.

"What is it, baby?"

"I'm gonna marry Jarod when I grow up."

Her mother laughed softly. "You are, baby?"

"Yes, Momma, I am!" she insisted. "He's my best friend, and I love him."

"That's nice, baby." Catherine said with a soft smile.

Evening morphed to day and she was chasing Jarod again. Her eyes grew wide with horror as Lyle and Raines appeared, grabbed Jarod, and shot him. She fell to her knees to cradle his broken body as they started to laugh. "It--doesn't hurt, Parker," he whispered as blood began to form at the corner of his mouth. "So... bright." Jarod drew in one last breath and his eyes closed for the last time.

"Jarod, NO! Don't leave me!" she sobbed.

Lyle grinned at her. "So, sis, *that's* how the labrat managed to evade us for so long. You two had a thing going and *you* were helping him." he turned to Raines. "So, Dad, what should we do with the traitor? It's not like we can't just create a new one--we have enough material left to create a whole new generation of labrats, after all."

"Kill her," Raines said, his lips turning up into a smile that gave her the chills. "We can make another--she's useless to us, now."

Parker screamed and sat up, her heart pounding. She drew in a deep, shuddering breath and looked down at the man sleeping beside her--Jarod. She hated how it always came down to him. First he was the focal point of their childhood. *Jarod* had meant more to her father than she had, he had meant more to Sydney and to everyone else for that matter. For the past six years she had hunted him; her life now depended on catching him. Somehow, Jarod had managed to worm his way into the center of her life as well.

Parker closed her eyes against the knowledge of what she had done--gon haring down the coast to take care of him lest Lyle catch up when he was sick and unable to run. Jarod. It still came down to him. The past few years, he'd pulled her, kicking and screaming, out of ignorance and showed her more of the ugliness that existed in the Centre than she cared to know of.

Jarod. One of the few people who still cared what happened to her. She had no doubts that if she were in serious danger that he'd come and get her. He was just that type of man; he didn't abandon his friends.

Parker sighed and carefully disentangled herself from him. Quietly, she slipped out of bed and started towards the door. "Parker?" the pretender's sleepy voice assaulted her ears.

"What?" she snapped, suddenly angry.

"Where y'goin'?"

"Away from you, ratboy! I'm sick of you being the be-all and end-all of everyone around you. Jarod, the special, Jarod the *wonderful*, Jarod the MARVELOUS!" she yelled. "Didn't you know that you were more important to Daddy than *I* was?"

Jarod sat up, now fully awake. "Riiight," he snorted. "I was only important as long as I produced *results*; as long as I made them *money*. You didn't have to come, Parker--nobody forced you. I can take care of *myself*! I've been doing it since I was four *freaking* years old, if that's the age I really was!"

"Oh, yes. Trot out that, again," Parker sneered. "*Saint* Jarod. The martyr. Poor baby, doesn't know who he is. The perfect one. Do you have *any* idea how it feels to be second best? To know that you're never going to be good enough?"

Jarod started to answer, but a violent fit of coughing overcame him, and sent him tumbling out of bed. Parker rushed to his side and winced as she saw the phlegm that he was bringing up. She pressed a tissue in his hand and rubbed his back soothingly. As soon as the coughing fit passed, she helped him back into bed. "I'm sorry, Jarod," she said quietly, sounding just like the little girl who had come seeking her best friend years ago in the bowels of the Centre.

"It's okay," he said hoarsely. "We've been fighting for so long that it's hard to remember what it was like when we got along. Come back to bed, Parker. I sleep better with you here."

Parker pushed him back against the pillows. "In a minute." She disappeared out the door, and reappeared a few minutes later with a mug. She walked over to his bedside and handed it to him. "Drink this," she ordered, then grabbed the bottle of Tylenol off the bedside table. As Jarod began to obediently sip from the mug, she shook out two pills and handed them over.

"And take these," she said, handing them over.

"Do I have to?" he asked petulantly.

"Yes--and take some cough syrup, too," she said sharply, reaching for the bottle of Nyquil.

Jarod glared at the pills, and the dose of medicine that she was pouring for him, then looked back up at her. "I'll make you a deal," he said, a slow smile creeping onto his face. "I'll take the medicine, if you come back to bed."

Parker rolled her eyes. "All right," she grumbled. "If it'll keep you quiet."

Jarod grinned, then finished the soup and took the medication. He set the mug on the nightstand and held his arms out to her. "C'mere," he said. "I need my teddy bear."

Parker groaned, and stopped herself from kicking his ass. He *was* sick, after all. She reminded herself that if he pissed her off too badly, she could always haul him back to the Centre… for a little while. Then, of course, she'd break him out. Lyle and Raines weren't allowed to hurt her Jarod. She crawled into bed an allowed him to give her a hug. No matter the circumstances, she'd always felt safe with Jarod, and now was no exception. She felt him press a kiss into her hair.

"Parker," he whispered. "Yesterday, you said that I'm yours--if that's true, then you're *mine*. Ownership goes both ways; and you're the only person who’s given a damn about me for me, and not just what I can do."

Parker didn't answer, she just reached up and ran a gentle hand through his hair, then down to rub his back. Slowly but surely, his breathing evened out and he fell asleep. She lay quietly, and allowed herself to revel in the feeling of safety. It had been a long time since she'd allowed him to hold her. Part of her insisted that she should be angry for his last statement, but it was true. Jarod owned a piece of her soul that nobody else was allowed to have, or even see.

It was Jarod who'd comforted her after her father's bouts of abuse. Jarod who'd kept her safe from her father's unwanted advances. Until she'd had to leave to protect him, Jarod had been the center of her world after her mother's death. It wasn't surprising that he'd been able to get past her protective shell, for in a way, he'd always been there. Even Tommy hadn't known her as well as he did.

For better or for worse, Jarod had been her best friend for the better part of thirty years. It was something that Parker doubted would ever change--and she wouldn't have it any other way.

*****

Blue Cove, Delaware
The Centre
SL 26 RM 210A

Morgan huddled in the corner of her bed and drew the blanket up around her to hide her tears. Gut-wrenching sobs overcame her as she cried for her hurts. Never before had anyone raised a hand to her, and she now had bruises, large and small, peppering her body. She began to shiver as she remembered the unholy glee on Mr. Lyle's face as he had cut her when she had started to cry.

'Momma' she cried out, wanting the comfort of the one person that she *knew* loved her.

'Baby, what happened? Who did this?'

'My new mentor, Mr. Lyle,' she answered dully. Morgan felt warm arms surround her, and she began to quiet.

'Shhh… Baby, it's okay.'

'What did I do, Momma?' she asked. 'Why did he hurt me?'

'You did *nothing* wrong, sweetheart. Mr. Lyle is an evil man who likes to hurt people. This is probably part of a twisted experiment, honey, just like your sister's abuse was.'

'This happened to Meagan, too?' Morgan asked.

'I'm afraid so, baby. Only the man she called her father was responsible, and it was much worse for her. After I died, I couldn't stop him anymore. I swear, if I had known what he would do, I would have talked your *real* father into helping *all* of us escape, and not trusted that *bastard*, Raines.'

'He's the man with that tank-thing, isn't he?'

'Yes, baby. He turned Mr. Lyle into what he is--and destroyed Timmy.'

'Who's Timmy?'

'You've met him, sweetheart. He goes by Angelo, now. Mr. Raines destroyed who he used to be--he broke Timmy's music.'

'Did Mr. Raines hurt my sister?'

'Not directly, Morgan. But he came up with the plan that allowed it to happen. They hurt her badly, baby. If it weren't for Jarod, they might have succeeded. She trusts him because he protected her.'

'Will he protect me, too?'

'Yes. He won't be able to help it. He'll send you to his family to keep you safe--and you'll meet a boy that they cloned from Jarod. I think that the two of you will be friends.'

Morgan yawned and laid down on her cot, exhausted by the recent events. 'That's good, Momma. I'd like a friend like Meagan has.' She smiled as she heard her mother begin to sing a lullaby to her. It wasn't long before she drifted off to sleep, despite the pain from her bruises and cuts.

Angelo pushed the grill away and slipped into the room. He stroked the girl's hair for a few minutes. "Little Sister, *Morgan*," he whispered. "Bad men won't hurt long. Jarod help, Parker help, Sydney help." He smiled crookedly, leaned down, and kissed the child's cheek.

"Angelo save Morgan. Bad men won't hurt Little Sister like hurt Timmy. Morgan won't be gone like Timmy." Angelo started as he heard a noise outside the cell. He scurried back to the vent and got inside. "Promise, Little Sister. No more Bad Men," he whispered before moving down the vent. He went to his favorite hidey-hole and pulled out several recent DSAs of Morgan. They were easy to recognize--they felt much like Miss Parker, only lighter. He stuck them in his computer and sent several files to Parker and Jarod before turning off the computer and sticking them in his pocket,

Angelo got back into the vents and made his way to Sydney's office. He dropped the DSAs onto Sydney's desk and went back to his pile of bedding. Happily, he hunkered down into the blankets and pulled some over him. "Momma proud?" he murmured.

'Of course I am, Angelo.'

"Good," he said with satisfaction. "Jarod and Parker save Morgan." Angelo smiled as he heard the familiar song from his invisible mother. She was happy that he was helping Morgan. He yawned. It felt good to help his friends, and it felt even better when Momma approved. He pulled his blankets tighter and reached for a box of cracker jacks. It wasn't long before he had fallen fast asleep, listening to his mother sing.