Author: Elliott Silver (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Summary: He came one promise too late.
One of those traps, with the monstrous steel jaws. Always discreetly hidden, camouflaged. The kind that you stepped on without knowing, realizing too late the damage, the mistake. Realizing only when the metal sunk deep into flesh and the blood spurted raw, like rotten eggs. When bone splintered, tissue severed, and the end came.
And she never saw it coming.
Following the clues he had left, only the clues the Centre wanted her to find.
Lured into his lair.
For the rag-tag ends of her freedom.
Only he wasnít there.
He was here.
Double-parked on a contemptuous rush-hour street, sprinting away from the still-running car.
His breath searing his throat, his nose, his lungs. Air like acid, caustic.
Unrelenting sunshine spilling across the plaza, the murmur of churchbells like waves on the shore.
Throngs of people spilling across the open space like fall leaves.
Her name on the air, drowned out in the blare of traffic. Suffocated.
Her back straight, her walk brisk.
No trace of suspicion.
No fear, of what she needed to fear.
At the last moment, she saw him, dodging the corner of her eye.
A blur of motion before his body slammed into hers and the world went black with motion and the resonant acoustics of bullets.
Chips of concrete lashing across their lurching bodies in a swarm. The buzz, the shrill upset of the crowd. Collapsing to the ground, colliding with the unforgiving asphalt.
Trickles of razored stone drizzling over them, rasping their skin.
Pulling her completely underneath him, shielding her. One hand over her shoulder, the other swathed over her temple, tucking her head under his chin, his fingers already sticky with the first wet flecks of her blood.
Another volley of bullets detonating marble splinters sharp as war-torn shrapnel, sending even the braver passerbyís, who regarded such city theatrics as normal, fleeing headlong into the raucous mob of traffic.
She rolled out from under him, shrugging him off. Dark dredged emotion rabid in her eyes, lashed across her cheeks.
The ruined fountain above them spritzing like seltzer, smudging the two weeping scratches on her forehead.
Blood smeared across her temple.
His fingerprint etched in scarlet above her left eyebrow.
Grabbing her and yanking her to her feet, propelling her away before she was even standing. Each stride an eternity, from lift-off to landing, from toe to heel. Chased by white noise and the adrenaline in their blood, the black sound of bullets and their heartbeats, just as loud.
Chasing the scrambling pedestrians, blending in chaos.
Hesitating only in front of a swerving taxi, skimming over its hood.
The interior of the Art Museum cavernous, vault-dark.
Drenched in shadow, and the past.
The room in the midst of reconstruction, dropclothes like ghosts and stepladders like cobwebs.
Balked, like a petulant child.
"What?" he asked, not understanding, reeling breath into his pulsating lungs. "What?"
He reached for her, to tow her back to him. To sway her.
Evasion, but no movement.
Sheíd never back away.
"Because I canít".
Something lit in his veins at her reluctance. "Parker, I saved you!"
"But I was supposed to die!"
"Donít you think I knew?" she railed at him, pacing forward and galvanizing him backwards. "Donít you think I knew? We knew! We knew who the shooter was, where he was, who had sent him, who was implicated, and how it would all play out!" A breath. "We knew!"
Outrage summoned again, its dregs cold and bitter.
"I never figured you for suicide."
His voice brutal.
She stripped her well-cut jacket, throwing it to the grimed floor like a gauntlet.
"It was perfect." Her voice raw. "All I had to do was die."
"Why?" His voice strangled.
"I was undercover," she said with a shrug, downplaying the maze of espionage. "Once we had something to pin on the Centre, once we had conclusive proof, we could take it Ė them Ė down."
All this time, he had been controlling the effects; she was overthrowing the cause.
And without him, she would have done what he could never do.
Start a completely new life by destroying the old one.
Without remorse, without compunction.
Her face, shaded with shadows.
The price of a split second.
And a lifetime.
"Who is it?" he questioned, the blankness of her untrust welling deeply. "Whoís Ďweí?"
"JarodÖ" Annoyed at his prying, pleading with him not to push any farther.
Not to cross lines he wasnít ready or able to cross.
Not to start what he couldnít stop.
"Lyle," she answered at last.
Pawning off her remark, slipping it off his conscience.
But her eyes constant, never standing down.
Silence, cold and still.
Muffling them both.
Threnody, corroding him inside out.
"But I love you."
Her eyes slivered and slipped closed, blistering like shrapnel.
"Itís not that simple, Jarod."
She blinked, the corners of her eyes glittering as she gritted her teeth.
Momentum and memory propelling him toward her, each step of his for the one that she backed away.
"Why not?" he repeated, advancing past a crate of unopened paintings, all carefully preserved against the erosion of time.
Knowing only he had to get to her any way her could.
Before she ran away, left him, disappeared.
Until her back hit the wall.
And she stopped.
But he still came.
She wasnít running.
"You donít love him." His voice corrugated, his body glazed over hers. "You love me."
She stared back at him defiantly.
The rhythm of her chest with breath, the sparks of her eyes, the color sketched along her cheeks.
All he wanted.
His mouth engulfed hers before he thought any better of it.
Before he reasoned with himself and did more.
Skimming the curve of her lip, the side of her tongue.
And for a split second, he thought he felt her believe.
Lose herself in him.
In freedom, what he could give her.
Pushing him aside.
Her eyes still closed, her lips still parted, her breath deep as the beat of her heart.
Then, her eyes worse than defiant.
Her lips still wet with his kiss.
She backed away.
Not of embarrassment, of being caught wrongly in his arms, but the remonstration that it was wrong.
Backing out of his space, out of his life.
Leaving him alone.
An eternity unbridgeable.
What hurt the most was that it had been once.
Where there should have been him, there was someone else.
And he stood by her now.
Held her, without touching her.
His eyes never leaving Jarod, yet completely surveying her, every lush inch of her.
So well, too well.
"ParkerÖ" his own voice, but unrecognizable.
Her name foreign on his tongue, shocking.
The difference, the distance, in the ways they both called her.
He stepped forward, to conquer the distance between them.
Reaching out to touch her face, bloodied scratches coagulated and sticky.
And still moving closer.
As if it was just them.
As if to pull her away.
Lyle, murder in his eyes, his countenance, coiling back to strike and Parker, never taking her eyes from Jarod, resting a hand on his forearm.
"Go, Jarod. Go."
Her voice, her eyes.
Her hand still on Lyleís arm.
Knowing that Lyle would stay with her, instead of chase him.
She was giving him life.
And another chance.
But without her, he was nothing.
The day was windy and cool, unusual for Philadelphia summer-fall. Promising the chance of the rain.
The sky was grey as the concrete steps he sat on, the neat rows cascading down the front of the Art Museum.
He had been called, beckoned, driven.
He had been there a long time.
And when he felt the presence he knew why he was there.
Because she had come too.
She sat beside him on the cooling concrete, dripping with cloud shadows.
He had never seen her quite like she was. Dressed down, like the majority of trendy art students scurrying hither and thither. Jeans and a thick leather jacket, too worn and unshapely and masculine to have been hers.
It was a statement, one side of her argument.
But like every good case, her being there was another.
Things, life, were never simple.
"I had to come," she stated, not looking at him but out over the flurry of crowds.
"I donít know," she answered truthfully, for once not knowing or pretending. As he watched her, he knew it was for the same reason he was there. That call, that siren call.
"We could leave," he began, "Leave all this behind us."
She shook her head, a gust of wind blowing color into her cheeks. She moved deeper into the jacket.
"If there was a time I could run from the Centre, itís gone. Now the only choice I have left is to fight."
"And what if you donít win?"
She looked directly at him, into his soul. "Thatís not an option."
"What happened?" he asked after a silence fell between them. A couple of young lovers skidded down the steps, unmindful of perpetual motion and the chance of falling. "What happened to us?"
She looked away from him, and in her striking profile he saw the child he had grown up with, the woman he had fallen in love with.
But there was something different too. Something newer.
Her rough edges were still there, just as sharp but not quite as draconian. Tempered a little, but not, never, blunted.
"You were gone too long, Jarod." She didnít look back at him, refused to soften the impact, her well-masked anger and her sorrow and her pain. Her loss. "I had to move on."
He heard the words she didnít say, that sheíd had to do something. That the way things were, the way he let things be, couldnít be.
"But Iím here now."
Her answer was her silence.
They stared out over the metropolitan hub of activity, of people and cars, of life.
A stillness surrounded them, a bubble wrap of time, soft and sweet.
To all who passed them, they could have been a couple, the perfect couple. And if those people had passed by only a year ago, they very well might have been.
But times changed.
And people changed too.
Sometimes that was irreversible.
"Do you love him?"
There was confidence in her quick reply, too fast and without hesitation for his conscience.
And he knew then that Lyle knew she was here now, that she had told him.
That this was closure.
And he wondered, if it had been the other way around, whether she would have told him.
And whether he would have wanted to know.
To be strong enough, to have the trust and faith that she would come back.
Above them, the sky shifted from silver grey to steel, wisps of cloud and wind scouring the landscape.
Echoes of churchbells, distant melody on the wind.
In his veins.
She rose from the concrete steps, tall and proud.
"But Iíll never love him the way I loved you."
It was a concession, the only one she would make.
He took it, took in every last detail about her, imprinting her as she looked in love upon his mind. She was no less strong for it. In fact, it made her stronger.
It protected her.
Lyle protected her. In ways that he could not.
"I can love you better," he told her, standing up by her side.
He wasnít giving up.
He would never give up. Not on her. Not on love.
He needed to believe.
She favored him with a last glance, and turned down the steps, each stride symmetrical with purpose.
Just before she disappeared around the corner, he saw what she had wanted him to see.
She was already free.
And if she was already free, she didnít need him.
He took a deep breath.
Turned too, and climbed the cascade of steps.
The other direction.
It didnít mean that their paths would never meet again.
After all, times changed.
Sometimes it was reversible.
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Disclaimer: The characters of "The Pretender" are not mine; they rightfully belong to NBC, MTM, and Pretender Productions, as well as the actors and actresses who give paper and ink a life and a voice. I am making no profit from these writings; imitation is the highest form of flattery.