The Little Girl was crying again.

Lonely sound echoing in the steel ductwork. Not angry not scared like earlier just lonely, crying for her Mama, but her Mama was Outside (if she had a Mama) and there was no one to hear her. Not in the Centre. No one heard crying at the Centre (except the Daughter's Mother (("what are you going to do with Timmy now?")), but she died a long time ago)

Place the radioAMFMcassetteplayer next to the screen, press the buttons play the music for her. So she can sleep. She can sleep when the music is there. music is soft, safe. music was from Before ((((somewhere buried deep, he remembered the notes, the chords, the keys)))) and it was Good. music falls through your fingers when you touch the piano (>plink<) but it stays and does not drop to the floor when you use the radioAMFMcassetteplayer and the cassettetape that the Teacher left in his office, and no one in the Centre hears it except the Little Girl.

The Little Girl was kept Below, and that was Bad.

*Refuge*    now      Centre      now     rescue      PRODIGY     Now

The Little Girl was Very Special, HE had said. HE had told one of the suitmen that, when they took her to the Chamber. HE had scared the Little Girl there, HE and his helpers, with the tests, the tests and the electricity ((((shudder)))), and she had cried and cried and cried. Because she was Very Special.

(((A little boy, in a chair, strapped down, not crying, just frightened: "What's going on? I want to go home. Please, can I go home? What's happening to me?" He was also Very Special. But he wasn't Here Now, he was Outside A While Ago)))

Only HE and HIS helpers knew she was Below. The helpers were the suitmen with the empty dark eyes, just suits, not real, pushing buttons opening doors shooting people making phone calls.

This was Bad.

The Teacher would stop them if he knew but he didn't know, he walked down hallways to rooms with shadows and screens and lights and he went Outside sometimes, and then came back. He always came back. If the Little Girl was with the Teacher, she wouldn't cry so much (not scared crying, just lonely crying, sad crying, angry crying) like the Daughter who had eaten the Cracker Jack (Cracker Jack was the best it had surprises, Good surprises, happy, not sad) like the Daughter, like the Mother, like the Little Girl. The Daughter had been Little once and she had been sad (and she was still sad, underneath the angry impatient dangerous) but then she had grown, grown tall strong angry protected careful. (((("That was beautiful.")))) She looked like the Mother now but underneath all the mad she was still the Daughter who took the prize, like the Little Girl who hid the prize from the Cracker Jack under her pillow so HE wouldn't find it.

like HE found the puppy, the pink puppy with the soft XX eyes, and the puppy went away when HE found it, and the Little Girl cried and cried and screamed and bit and hit, like the Daughter hit (sometimes. not always. mostly hitting the suitmen whose eyes did not reflect, blank eyes empty dead blanker than the puppy's) and then they left the Little Girl alone in the dark in her room for a long long time by herself. Except for the music. The music was soft and safe and went on until she slept

*Refuge* Centre now rescue PRODIGY Now

Daughter didn't know about the Little Girl, would hit HIM if she found out, would yell bite hit kick punch scream. always. even when she wasn't hitting she was, people flinched when she walked by, clickclickclick of nails tap-tap-tap of heels snap!snap! of fingers (and once as the safety was released on the gun she pointed at Jarod) But she loved the bunnies the music the Mother ((("Are you okay, Timmy?"))). the Daughter would rescue the Little Girl if she knew but she didn't wouldn't couldn't know, like the Teacher, like the ComputerGeek (who was a Daddy, so he was nice) she was Outside when HE brought the Little Girl to the Centre. No one knew the Little Girl was Below.

You would tell them she was Below but they didn't ask and words are hard, words are not what you are good at. And the Little Girl is down the hall left right left far away down the steps down the other steps left left left and they can not get there. Only you can.

And maybe Jarod.


Three messages marked urgent blinked at Jarod from his IN box. All of them were labeled "Refuge."

What could Sydney need to tell me so badly...? Thirty-two hours in a submersible shouldn't have been so long to be out of contact. He'd gone longer without checking his messages, at times when taking along his laptop would have drawn the wrong kind of attention to whatever project he was working on. But three messages in less than two days could only meant that something was very, very wrong at the Centre.

*Refuge*    now      Centre      now     rescue      PRODIGY     Now
*Refuge* now Centre now rescue PRODIGY NOW

"Oh my God." The e-mails weren't from Sydney.

Jarod whirled away from the laptop and began throwing everything he could into his suitcase, grabbing a phone and tucking it under his ear as he frantically gathered the last of his belongings together. "Yes, I need a ticket on the next flight to Blue Cove, Delaware... Yes, I'm aware that's not a direct flight.... yes, I'll hold...."

I can't believe they're starting it again. They never learn, do they? Already, part of his mind was planning on how to get the latest "prodigy" out of the Centre, to somewhere safe. Another part was hoping that a formulation of the serum he'd developed to deal with the aftereffects of Mr. Raines' last experiment wouldn't be necessary, but also calculating the first opportunity he'd have to synthesize it again.

A large part of him was simply furious.

"Yes, Jarod Addams... A-d-d-a-m-s.... An electronic ticket would be fine... No, I'll pay for it at the gate. Thank *you*, very much."

If Angelo was contacting him, and not Sydney, it was probably because Sydney didn't know. Yet. If Sydney didn't know, the security measures surrounding the newest Pretender were probably strict enough that only Angelo could get to the child. Raines is getting more paranoid... with some justification, of course. Which might mean that hiding within the Centre, or observing the new protocols before rescuing the child, would be necessary. Jarod repressed a shudder, snapped his suitcase shut and scanned the room for any remaining traces of himself. No red notebooks this time, Miss Parker... sorry. Nothing. The plane would leave in two hours.

He typed out a message on the laptop before packing it up, then Jarod Hamilton checked out of his hotel and ceased to exist. Jarod Addams picked up his ticket at the TWA counter and boarded the flight for Delaware. When Jarod Addams left the airport he disappeared forever, as J. Jefferson bought a car at a local dealer, paid in cash, then drove away, to a facility that did not appear on any existing maps. A facility where he had been imprisoned for thirty-three years, studied, taught, exploited, used; where another child was now held captive, possibly hurt, definitely frightened and alone.

Then he settled in to watch, and to plan, and to wait for the Centre to make a mistake.

They were taking her back to her room when Kristin heard the bald-headed man talking in the hallway. She couldn't see who he was talking to, because the other man was standing in the shadows of the stairwell. The place where they were now had lots of shadows, lots of corners for monsters to hide in, and no colors at all. All the walls and ceilings and floors were gray, boring and scary at the same time. Kristin knew she was too big to be scared of monsters, but the bald man with the tube in his nose was definitely a monster, and she couldn't help being scared of him. No matter how many times she screamed at him to go away, he didn't disappear like her bad dreams did.

"...a few more tests on her, tomorrow. I want to have as complete a baseline as possible, before we begin the process. It shouldn't be as intensive as it was with the Simpkins boy, but I'd prefer to be sure." She could hear his funny loud breathing, and the squeak of the wheels on his oxygen tube as he turned to watch her walk by. The two men held onto her arms tighter, so she couldn't run away. Or run toward him, scratching and biting and yanking on the plastic tube that went from the tank to his nose, like she did last time. He deserved it. He'd hidden Henry from her, took him away when she wasn't in her room. She didn't have a mommy, she didn't have a daddy, she just had Henry, and the bad bald man had taken him away and wouldn't give him back.

"I hate you I hate you I hate you I hate you I hate you I hate you," she whispered as they passed him. "I hate you *all*," she said in her normal voice, when they were around the corner and almost at the door to her room. "I *hate* you!"

"We know, we know," the man with the white hair said, sounding bored. He got out the keys to the door, unlocking them from top to bottom just like every time.

"I hate it here. I want to go *home*," Kristin said louder, knowing they were going to leave her by herself again, without even Henry to talk to. "Please? Pleeeeeezzzzze?"

"You don't have a home, kid," said the other man, the one hanging onto her shoulders, keeping her in place. Which was just mean, mean mean mean, because she knew that, she was in foster care because she didn't have a home or a family or anything. But he didn't have to *say* that. And anywhere had to be better than here.

"I'll be very very good if you let me go home. Please? Please? I promise. I won't yell or cry or ever be bad again---"

"Sure you won't. Get in."

"No!" She made her arms and legs go real stiff, and tried to sit down, but the bigger man just picked her up off the floor, even when she started kicking and twisting, and then he carried her over to her bed and dropped her. By the time she was sitting up, he was already out the door.

"I HATE YOU!" The door shut and Kristin screwed her eyes closed and screamed, loud. Really loud. So loud she could hear the sound go all funny in her little room, as she kept screaming. She stopped when she couldn't breathe any more, then she curled up on her bed, panting, and whispered, "I hate you. I hate you. I hate you...." She started to cry, sniffling into her pillow, missing Henry and the outside and her playground, and her old room at the Abbots'. It was *boring* here, and there were no other kids, and the food tasted funny, and no one ever talked to her, and she was scared. There weren't even any windows to look out of.

She was still hiccuping and crying when the music started again. She gulped, rubbing at her eyes, then stood up on her bed and looked up at the hole where the air-conditioning came in. "Are you there?" she whispered, brushing the tears away so she could look. The music didn't say anything, but could tell someone was there. After a second, they poked something through the screen over the air-conditioning hole, and it dropped down on the bed. Kristin bent to pick it up.

It was a marble, a pretty blue one, with silver streaks. "Thank you," Kristin whispered to the music, then sat down on her bed and took out her other present from her hidey-place in the pillow. Her last present was a little tiny cartoon picture of Bugs Bunny, on a little card. If you pulled a little tab on the side of the card, Bugs winked. She played with her presents for a little while, rolling the marble around on her bed and chasing Bugs with it, then yawned. The music was nice, and it made her sleepy.

Carefully, she hid her presents in the little hole in her pillow before she got under the covers, then sighed, listening to the music until she fell asleep.

She kicked in the door with one blow, her gun out and at the ready, then quickly moved into the hotel room. Staying close to the walls, she checked the windows, the bathroom, and the closets before she was satisfied that no one was present. "It's clear," she said to her companions, putting her gun back under her jacket. "No sign of him. Are you sure this is the right room?"

"Number 315, just like the desk clerk said," Broots nervously confirmed. "He checked out less than twelve hours ago. They haven't even had time to clean yet." He glanced around the room, his brow furrowing in confusion. "There's nothing here. No notebooks, no clippings---"

"Brilliant bit of observation, Helen Keller," Miss Parker snapped back at him, opening up the medicine cabinet in the bathroom and checking every corner for possible clues. The place almost looked as clean as if no one had rented the room; a few damp towels hung neatly over the rack and an opened soap packet were the only evidence that someone had been staying there. Not typical of Jarod. Usually, there would at least be an obnoxious little Post-It on the mirror or a bizarre cartoon on the pillow, mocking her efforts to find him. Most of the time, there would be one of the red notebooks containing his latest impersonation notes, along with some elaborately constructed, utterly pointless clue to his next location. Miss Parker sorted through the wastebasket, finding only the soap wrapper and a few tissues, then dropped the metal container with a clang and gave it a good kick to relieve her feelings.

"Nothing in the desk, or on any of the notepads," Broots volunteered, checking behind the curtains worriedly.

"Perhaps under the covers," Sydney suggested, pulling back the sheets on the king-size, then shook his head as they yielded nothing. He bent down and lifted the edge of the dust ruffle, scanning under the bed. "And nothing under the bed."

"Now that you Three Bears have finished cataloging Jarod's complete absence...." Mr. Lyle commented dryly.

She gritted her teeth, and restrained the urge to kick something again. With the sole exception of the man they were pursuing, the fourth member of their team could bring out her wish to commit mayhem faster than anyone alive. My little brother. So this is what it feels like to contemplate fratricide. I should've stayed an only child. Mr. Lyle smiled amiably from the doorway, gesturing towards the hall. "Perhaps we should follow up my suggestion, and check the marina?"

"There has to be something." Miss Parker raked one hand through her hair, glaring around the room in accusation of its silent emptiness. "There *has* to be. Unless... unless we're a lot closer than we thought." She turned to Sydney, her eyes widening in hope. "Maybe he's still at the labs."

"The receptionist said that Jarod Addams had gone home for the day," Broots reminded her hesitantly as she yanked out her cell phone and dialled the Sweeper team she'd assigned to the labs. "And it wasn't like he'd said good-bye, or anything --- she was expecting him back tomorrow, same as usual."

"A lot of people expect to see him again right before he pulls one of his vanishing acts." She turned away and spoke into the phone. "Richards? Has he been there?"

"No, ma'am." The Sweeper sounded apologetic as well as intimidated, but not uncertain. "His work station's all cleaned up and tidy --- there's some scientific notes here, on the formation of tide pools, but not the kind of thing you usually look for. Nothing personal. Nothing on the computer. And lab security reports no one going in or out in the last three hours."

"Great," she muttered under her breath, then raised her voice to give him his orders. "Copy the notes. Stay there and continue surveillance. And keep me informed." Miss Parker punched the OFF button with extra force, then stood in the center of the room debating whether it was worth it to order them to the airport, just so she could contradict Lyle. Probably not. There wouldn't be any clues at the marina, either, she was sure of it. This had the look of one of Jarod's very rare unpremeditated early exits. Something had come up, something he considered important. A clue to his past, maybe; or a clue to hers. Either way, there would be nothing to find in this life he'd just abandoned, no clue to his current or future whereabouts.

But blowing off the marina would require more justification than she was willing to come up with. Let Lyle take the heat for wasting time. If she was right, Jarod would be calling either her or Sydney very soon, and they could work with any clues he dropped then.

"Stop ripping the notepads apart, Broots," she snarled at the computer expert, taking some of her frustration out on the nearest, easiest target. "There isn't anything in them. If Jarod left us clues this time, he didn't leave them here."

"You never know, he could've done something to the pages, with invisible ink, or---" Broots responded hesitantly, then wilted at her increased glaring. "Or, I could just take them with us. Yeah. That's a good idea."

"Shall we?" Mr. Lyle gestured to the hallway, and she stalked out the door ahead of him, simmering with disappointment and rage. So close, so damn close, and now we have to wait for him to surface again, or call and play his little mindgames....

"Parker." Sydney fell in step beside her, placing his dark sunglasses on his face as they approached the elevator. "I'm disturbed by the lack of material we've found so far."

"Mr. Lyle is probably right," she turned and gave her brother an utterly false and unbelievable smile, teeth clenched tight before continuing, "it's probably at the marina. Where he was doing most of his work."

"I hope so...." The psychiatrist's face was troubled, his tone thoughtful. "There has always been *something* left behind. Jarod can't take all of his identities with him, and has no wish to. And the few times we have surprised him in our pursuit, he has always been careful to take only what he needed, and leave the rest to confuse us." He pursed his lips, then lifted his head to study the rapidly descending lights of the elevator. "If we find nothing at the marina, then Jarod is up to something more complex than usual, and he doesn't want us to interfere."

Sydney had the same suspicions she did. She kept her face tight and bored, unrevealing of her coiling nerves, and said, "Well, he'll just have to resign himself to our interference. We're too close this time, Sydney. We'll get another lead on him soon."

"Hey, do you think we'll have time to visit the Space Needle before then?"

Miss Parker closed her eyes and counted to ten in Japanese in order to stop herself from smacking Broots. Then Lyle said, "Mr. Broots, could you keep your focus on our purpose in being here? Or do I have to remind you that your failure to track Jarod's presence on the internet makes this little junket necessary, and the ultimate consequences which may result from that failure?"

"Lay off, Lyle," she hissed, her eyes snapping open. Broots was paler than usual, and Lyle had that sullen, stubborn, I'm-in-charge-and-I'll-do-what-I-want look on his face again. "Just shut up until we're at the marina. If you can. You're not winning any genius contests in this game either, so quit making threats. You're in as deep as the rest of us now, aren't you?"

They rode the elevator the rest of the way down to the lobby in silence, her ulcer starting to twinge at the thought of another conversation with Jarod in the near future. Maybe we can go to the Space Needle, and I can push Lyle off that rotating rim while no one's looking.

Nothing ever changes at the Centre.

Time goes on, people come, people go. HE walks the halls, giving orders making plots ending lives.... taking people.

Things changed when Jarod left. when Kyle left. more boring. More exciting, when HE needed Angelo to tell him things, look for things. touch feel sense find seek be other people other feelings. Interesting, to talk to other people, like the Daughter the Teacher and the Computer Geek. Scary Sometimes. Different, though. but nothing really changes.

Except when Jarod comes back Sometimes, and things go very fast, yes, very fast instead of still the same always the same never changing.

Jarod is Here Now and time is going Very Fast.

"We've got to get her out before sunrise." Jarod finished tapping out a series of commands on his laptop, then looked up at Angelo. "Do you understand what I need you to do?"

Angelo's face wrinkled up with the effort of thought, then smoothed back into placidity as he nodded, his eyes fixed on Jarod with trust and eagerness to help. Not for the first time, Jarod let his mind wander to what could be done about Angelo. The first treatment he had formulated had depended on Angelo's brain being receptive to stimulation. Any further work would have to compensate both for the first damage done when Angelo was a little boy, as well as any that resulted from the regression that had occurred the summer before. When I have time... soon... I'm going to have to come up with something for you, Angelo. Timmy. Something to bring Timmy back...

Now, though, he had a little girl to rescue. "You're positive they didn't start the treatments yet?"

Angelo nodded again, vigorously. "He said... have to be sure. Careful. Slow. Not yet. Process start tomorrow, maybe. Maybe... day after?"

"Good. That's very good." He breathed a sigh of relief, turning his eyes to the monitor, where the image of a small form sleeping on a large bed was displayed. She was curled up like a baby, her back to the camera, unmoving. "Pretty soon, sweetheart. Then we'll take you back to your mom and dad."

Another frown crossed Angelo's face, and he shook his head. "No."


"Not...." The savant was struggling for words, blinking with effort. "Not..." He made a sound of frustration, raising his clenched fists to his forehead, grimacing horribly.

"Easy, Angelo, easy. Take it slow." Jarod pulled Angelo's hands back down, making his voice as gentle as possible. "Would it be bad to take her back?"

"Bad." He nodded sharply. "Bad. They give her to... Dr. Billy."

"Oh." Jarod stared at the image again, shaking his head. Obviously there was more here than just the case of a simple kidnap, as had been the case with himself and Kyle. Maybe the Centre arranged to get custody of the newest prodigy, the way they had with Davy Simpkins. Too many questions get asked these days, when kids go missing... Not as simple as it used to be, hunh, Raines? He smiled grimly, and patted Angelo's hand. "Don't worry. I'll make sure she has nice people to take care of her."

Angelo was still looking puzzled and upset, then he blinked, all discernible thought melting away from his expression. "Soon?"

"Soon." Jarod entered one more command into the computer, then stood up, straightening his tie with a smirk. "Very soon."

Miss Parker stared out the window of the jet into the darkness, and wished that she hadn't given up smoking. And drinking. She couldn't afford to do either; not with her ulcer, not with the threats constantly hovering around her from all corners of the Centre. She couldn't afford to lose even a tiny edge to dulled senses, or slower mental processes. But that didn't mean she couldn't miss the taste of a good scotch, the tang of nicotine in her lungs, and the blissful, momentary escape they offered. Nowadays, she had to take her reality straight.

There had been nothing at the marina, not a hint of Jarod's whereabouts, just as she had expected. Lyle had been defensive and making excuses before they even left. As usual. Sydney had hemmed and hawed, his gaze searching the small boat for anything that might serve as a clue. But he had been no more surprised than she had been at the lack of concrete evidence.

What did surprise her was the lack of communication. Almost a day since he left that identity behind, and he hadn't contacted dear old Syd. She hadn't seen the psychiatrist take any private calls in the past few hours, and he was as wired as she was. Which worried her. Whenever she couldn't begin to guess where Jarod was, or didn't have a *clue* what he was up to, she worried. He was capable of anything. He was even capable of some day, some how, finding his parents and disappearing forever. And where the hell would that leave her?

Nowhere. The same place you are now. She closed her eyes, setting her jaw against the memories of her mother's murder. They'd had a deal. She'd help Jarod with his questions, and he'd help her with hers. But that deal had become ever more fragile and tenuous since the spectre of Jarod's father rose to stand between them. If Major Charles had killed her mother, for whatever reason, there was no way Jarod would help her find out more. And there would be no way she could force herself to help Jarod, no matter what justifications his father might offer.

If Jarod chose to disappear some day--- really disappear, cutting off all communications with Sydney as well as her--- there would be damn little she'd be able to do to find him. She'd admitted that to herself a long time ago. He was too much of a chameleon, too smart, too adaptable. If he really wanted to vanish, he could do it. She'd be left with questions that couldn't be answered, a family she couldn't trust, and a task she couldn't accomplish working for people she despised. When did this become my life? I used to have a life....

Sydney hung on out of loyalty to Jarod, and a wish to keep his prodigy safe; Broots out of fear for himself and his daughter, and what the Centre would do if he tried to quit. Lyle... Lyle was trying to prove something to their father, and to the Tower, prove that he could be trusted with power and responsibility again, after screwing everything up so badly before.

The only thing that kept her from walking away was the burning, raging desire for justice. For her mother, first, but for Angelo and all the others the Centre had ruined along its way too. If she walked away, there would be no one to take her place.

And a tiny, dying hope. Hope that her father would trust her with the truth, someday. It died a little every time he lied to her, but still, still, she wanted to believe. She had to believe it was possible. Had to believe that she'd find her answers before Jarod found his. Otherwise....

She cut off that train of thought, opening her eyes as the FASTEN SEATBELTS sign flashed on. Stop wandering. Time to face Daddy and the debriefing team. Get the facts in order, don't accuse Lyle, let events stand on their own, have a plan for finding Jarod. Maybe a check on past records... maybe a check on parental associations again. Something. There has to be something.

There has to....

People veered out of Miss Parker's way as she stalked down the hallway to her office, radiating frustration and bad temper. Her father had not been pleased that they'd lost Jarod again, and he had been even less pleased with Lyle's performance on the job, but that had somehow become *her* fault. According to him, she wasn't being fair to Lyle.

Was she supposed to coddle him, lead him by the hand, and let him scoop all the credit if they ever did get their hands on the Centre's pet genius? It was insane. Lyle was smart enough to have some idea of how Jarod operated by now, he was just too damn arrogant to admit that Jarod was playing with them. If he admitted that, he'd have to admit that Jarod was smarter than he was, and Lyle's ego was so psychotically overblown that he'd never be able to face that. I am too old to be playing babysitter to that pretty-boy sociopath...

Eighteen hours, and still no word from Jarod.

She was just about to push her office door open when the alarms blared. "Attention: Security Breach in Sector 15... Security Breach in Sector 16 .... Security Breach..."

"What the..." She swung around and headed for the elevator, a feeling of dread stealing over her as she listened to the contradictory announcements over the Centre's P.A. Getting into the elevator, she stabbed the button for the computer level, drumming her fingers impatiently on the wall as the box descended. As soon as the doors opened, she lunged out of the elevator, yelling, "Broots! What the hell is going on?"

"I don't know!" Broots was frantically typing away at his terminal, while a dozen other computer techs were checking screens of data with panicky speed. "The whole security mainframe just went nuts --- we've got alarms coming in from all over the place, but no confirmations---"

"What's affected?"

"Everything! Security codes, datafiles, maintenance routines---"

"Jarod." Miss Parker could feel her lip curling back as the pieces finally fell into place. No traces of him at his last location, no clue to his plans --- which meant he'd been planning a strike at the Centre. "That sonuva --- you find the source of the problem, and you find it *now*, Broots!"

Broots gulped, nodded, and began typing even faster.

Jarod passed calmly by the security cameras lining the hall to the little girl's room. Right now, they'd be sending a kaleidoscope of true and false images that would safely camouflage his presence in SubLevel 27. When they reran the tapes later, they'd know it had been him; but that didn't matter. Their escape had to be concealed, the rescue didn't.

He paused in front of the door to her room, studying the locks on the door, then checked his watch. "Five, four, three..." With a thunk, the electronically sealed tumblers slid back, and he smiled in satisfaction. "Nice work, Angelo."

The lights flickered out down the hallway as he pushed the door open, and the switch near the door failed to turn on the overhead light. The little girl on the bed sat up suddenly, kicking away from the covers and inching backward across the bed to the wall. "What's going on? Who are you?" she asked, her voice quivering slightly, but sounding more angry than scared.

"Shhhh, it's okay. I'm a friend." Jarod squatted down so he was at eye-level with her, knowing that she'd be less frightened if he wasn't towering over her. She was dressed in a pale T-shirt and blue jeans, her hair in snarls around her face, socks still on her feet. He could just barely make out her face in the darkness, and knew she couldn't see his very well either, but he made his voice as reassuring as he could to compensate. "My name's Jarod. I came to get you out of here. Do you want to leave?"

She gasped. "Yes, please." She scooted forward, then stopped and grabbed her pillow. "Wait, I have to take my presents with me."

"Your presents?"

"The presents the ghost gave me. So I could have something to play with." She finished rummaging in the pillowcase, and held out her hand. Jarod could just see light glinting off a small marble, and a piece of cardboard, and he swallowed hard.

"Those are nice presents. I'm sure the ghost is glad you like them." He found her tennies under the bed and put them on her feet, tying the laces quickly. "Do you have any clothes or anything else here that you want to take with you?"


"Okay. I'm going to carry you, and we're going to go into some dark and scary places, but I don't want you to be frightened. We have to stop somewhere first, and then we're going to leave here together. I need you to be very, very quiet, so nobody finds us before we're safe. Can you do that?"


"Good girl." He smiled, and he thought he could see her smile back tentatively. "I'm sorry, I don't know your name. I should have asked you before."

"I'm Kristin. I'm four and a half. How old are you?"

"Oh, lots older." He picked her up and settled her on his hip, then crossed the room to the door, carefully opening it and checking to make sure the hall was clear. "In fact, I'm so old that I'm almost a grown-up."

"I thought you were a grown-up."

"Not really. I just look like one. Ready?"


"Let's go." He hurried down the hallway and to the airshaft opening at the corridor cross-section, lifted the grate, and ducked inside. The next time the cameras were working, they'd show empty rooms and corridors -- and no clue as to where Jarod had gone.

"Neat!" Kristin giggled, and Jarod laughed softly in response.

"Okay, now we have to be really, really quiet."

"Really, really quiet," Kristin whispered back. "Like hunting rabbits?"

"Umm... sure."

"Oh. Shhhhhh."

"Holy... it's here. I got it, it's right---"

"Where? Where's *here*?" Miss Parker leaned over Broots' shoulder, her voice verging on a hiss.

"Here, inside the Centre! He's accessing the mainframe from a direct link!"

Miss Parker straightened and pointed toward a clutch of Sweepers who'd been standing by the door. "You, you, you, and you --- secure all the standard exits, elevators, and stairways. Cut off all access to the Tower, make *damn* sure he can't get to the maintenance overrides, and contact me here. Co-opt anyone you have to, to make it work. You and you, get a bead on the air ducts. Shut this place down if you have to, I don't want him getting away again, do you understand?" They all nodded, and she raised her eyebrows. "What are you waiting for? Go!" They scattered as she paced back in forth behind Broots. "Tell me that you can trace him. Tell me you know what he's after."

"Uhhh, well..." He glanced up at her, then quickly back to his monitor. "It's going to take some time---"

"That's *not* what I want to hear, Broots."

"We're trying! But he let loose a tapeworm in the system, we're trying to trace it back and shut it down at the same time, and you know what his coding is like---"

"What. Does. He. Want?"

Broots swallowed, then blurted, "Something in Mr. Raines' files. Everything's leading back to a project labeled 'Legacy.'"

"Legacy? That's it?"


"One of you get Raines on the phone. Pronto."

It was dark in the air-conditioning tunnels behind the walls, and there was a whirring noise of air going over their heads all the time, but it wasn't really scary. Spiders and monsters were scary. This was mostly just dark, with some light coming in through little slits and small screens on the walls. Every once in a while, Jarod would stop walking, and put his finger to his lips, and they would listen as someone went by outside. They never even guessed that they were in the walls, and Kristin had to put her hand over her mouth to stop the giggles.

Jarod was lots nicer than anyone else she'd met here so far, and he was helping her escape. And he'd let her take her presents with her. So she thought he was probably okay, not mean, and not one of those bad men who pretended to be nice, like Mrs. Abbot had warned her about. But she was going to be ready to run away if it turned out he wasn't as nice as he seemed.

They stopped at another screen in the wall, finally, and Jarod put her down, and then he lifted up the screen and stepped out into the room, jumping down a little ways to a chair underneath. He held up the screen with one hand, and reached toward her with his other arm. "C'mon out, Kristin. This is our first stop."

She let him lift her down to the floor, then she looked around, not seeing anything interesting. They were in an office, like the bad bald man's office, but it wasn't his and he wasn't there, luckily. It was very dark in the room, except for one lamp over on the desk, next to a computer where a man was typing and frowning, and shaking his head sometimes.

"How's it going, Angelo?" Jarod took her hand, and led her over to the desk and she blinked at the brightness of the lamp as they got closer, and then stared at Angelo. He looked sort of like a monkey, but a nice one, with very pretty blue eyes.

Angelo didn't stop what he was doing on the little computer. "Two minutes," he said, and kept typing, then his hands went still and he looked up. "Little girl!" he said softly, and he smiled at her, a very nice smile. Kristin smiled back, liking him right away.

"Okay?" he asked her, blinking slowly, and she nodded. "Good." He nodded back at her, still smiling, and then his eyes widened suddenly as the door behind Jarod opened.

Jarod whirled around, then he relaxed, straightening up. "Sydney."

"Why am I not surprised?" the new man asked, shutting the door behind him. He was taller than Jarod, with a funny rumbly voice, and she thought he was older, even though she still couldn't see him so well in the dark. She could see Jarod a little better now, and he wasn't as old as the bald man, or this man, but he looked like he might be old enough to be a teacher, or a social worker. He had on a suit like the men who helped the bad bald man, but he was much nicer-looking, and prettier, too. The older man was still talking. "I suspected you were up to something like this when you didn't call."

"I'm assuming you didn't know about her," Jarod said, and he sounded a little angry, but Kristin wasn't sure.

"Of course not. You know we've been following you for the last week. I assume that she hasn't been here very long---"

"A day and a half. And that's as long as it's going to be."

Kristin felt a tapping on her shoulder, and she turned around to look at Angelo while Jarod and Sydney kept talking. He had both hands behind him, and he was giggling. She cocked her head at him, and started giggling too. "What have you got behind your back?"

He smiled really big, and whispered, "Kristin's," then brought his hands out.

"Henry!" She grabbed her puppy and hugged him tight, giving him a kiss on the nose. "Oh, thank you thank you thank you! Thank you!" She wanted to hug Angelo, but she didn't really know him; then she decided it didn't matter, and she hugged him around the middle. He looked surprised, then patted her gently on the head. "Thank you Angelo! Thank you for saving Henry!"

"Kristin," Jarod said in a warning voice, and she turned around guiltily, knowing she was making too much noise and that he was going to scold her. He looked stern for a second, then he looked really, really surprised, and she could hear Sydney make a choking sound. Jarod didn't get mad, or tell her to be quiet, like she thought he was going to. Instead, he bent down on one knee and just looked at her hard. Really hard.

'What's your name?'

The first time he met Miss Parker she was nine, going on ten. Jarod had been only a little older, eleven at the most. She was the first female human being he had seen in over seven years, and nearly the only one he would see for several years more. He knew her face as well as he knew his own, the way other people must know the faces of their family, or schoolmates that they'd known since they were in kindergarten. He'd unearthed pictures in Catherine Parker's private files as he searched for information about his parents; pictures of her daughter as a baby and as a very small child. But even without those pictures, he would have seen it. In the dim light of the tensor lamp, he got his first good look at Kristin and felt shock freeze his mind at what he saw.

It was the same face. The stubborn chin, the nose, the curve of the cheek; a little plumper with baby fat than he had ever seen Miss Parker's in real life, but the same. The same fine hair, tangled and knotted as Miss Parker's never was, but the same exact shade it had been when they first met, light brown with a hint of chestnut. And the expression --- the expression was one that he'd seen on hers, the first time they met: scared and excited, careful and measuring, all at the same time.

Only the eyes were different, a deep, dark brown that almost looked alien in that face. But they were set under brows that curved exactly like hers, and were tilted a little at the corners at the same angle. It was staggering, the degree of resemblance between the two of them. But then, Miss Parker now looked almost exactly as her mother had at the same age....

The implications of that thought sank in, and he shook his head in amazement. "Sydney? Tell me it's not just me."

"I can hardly believe it," Sydney breathed. "The resemblance is ... remarkable. How...?"

"Raines. Somehow, he did this." He reached out and smoothed Kristin's hair out of her eyes, and she smiled at him uncertainly. Jarod smiled back, hoping it looked reassuring. "There's no way she can know about this, but---"

He heard the door opening, and before he even consciously thought about it, he turned to attack. One of Miss Parker's Sweepers brought his gun up with a surprised yell, and Jarod grabbed his arm, forcing it above his head. Then he punched the man in the gut, and followed up with a blow to the jaw. The Sweeper's eyes rolled up in his head, and he slumped down against the wall.

When he turned around, Kristin and Angelo were hiding behind the desk, out of sight. Kristin was hugging Angelo, her eyes big. "You're not supposed to hit," she said in a small voice.

"I know," he said breathlessly, straightening his tie. "I know. But I had to stop him from hitting one of *us*."


"Angelo, is it---"

"Done!" Angelo typed on the keyboard for one more second, then he hit one of the keys with a smile and shut off the laptop before closing it up and disconnecting it. He handed it to Jarod, who reached for his silver briefcase and slipped the laptop in, his mind still spinning with this newest revelation.

"Good, we don't have any time left. I don't know if that Sweeper saw Angelo and Kristin or not, but we can hope he didn't. I'll call when we get where we're going." He walked over to the air duct and moved the venting cover again, turning to beckon to Kristin. "Come on, Kristin. It's time to go."

Sydney moved to block her path, then placed a restraining hand on Jarod's arm. "Wait, Jarod. You're going to have to make certain they don't suspect I know anything. I'll say that you were here alone. But they can't be allowed to think I let you get away without an effort."

"What can I do to---" He paused, understanding hitting him. "No. I won't."

"You have to. It's the only way."

"Sydney, I am not going to do this."

"It's not for your sake, or mine. You have to do it for her," Sydney insisted. "Otherwise, the consequences could be dangerous to everyone concerned!"

Jarod stared at him, knowing Sydney was right, and hating it. If he'd been the kind of man who cursed, he would have uttered a few choice phrases at that moment, but he wasn't, and besides, Kristin was still watching. "Okay, but remember, you asked for this." He slammed his right fist into Sydney's face, and the psychiatrist fell down, wincing in pain.

Kristin squeaked in outrage. "You *hit* him! You're not supposed to *hit*!"

"I know. I know. But I'm sorry. And I had to do it. Do you hear that, Sydney? I'm very sorry."

"It's all right, Jarod," Sydney mumbled, his eyes shut in pain, but his mouth turning up in what might have almost been a smile. "I understand. It's all right, Kristin. I told him to do it."

"But *why*?"

"Could we have this conversation later, please, Kristin?" Jarod said, picking her up and helping her into the air duct. "When you're older, say, thirty..."

"Wait!" Angelo darted forward and tugged on his arm, holding out a handful of CD-ROM's in one hand. "Take. Answers."

"Answers?" Jarod clutched them, staring at them in hope.

"For Kristin." Angelo waved shyly at her, and she gave him a big smile and waved back.

"Bye, Angelo. Thank you again---"

There was a sound out the hall, and Jarod hastily climbed into the air shaft. "Thanks, Angelo. For everything. Talk to you both soon."

"Bye, Jarod. Bye, Kristin."

"Okay, remember what I said? Very quiet?"

"Very very quiet."

"Right." He picked her up again, shoved the CD-ROMs in his pocket, and grabbed the suitcase. "Now let's lose the bad guys."


They drove for almost a hundred miles after they slipped past the fence around the Centre and into the car he'd left waiting; drove across Delaware Bay and down I-95, sticking to the highway to lose themselves in traffic. The backroads would theoretically have been safer, with fewer people to see them, but also with fewer cars to use as camouflage and the correspondingly higher chance of being remembered. No, it was going to have to be the highway. Jarod kept the inconspicuous, ordinary sedan carefully within the speed limit, resisting the urge to slam the pedal down, fighting the certain, and certainly false, belief that there was a Sweeper team only a few feet back, ready to pounce.

He'd felt that way all the time the first few months after his escape from the Centre, but the paranoia had gradually faded. Not died, because as sure as casinos made money, Miss Parker was always going to be a few steps behind him. But faded, enough that he could sleep with fewer nightmares, walk down a street without constantly looking over his shoulder. He'd gotten used to feeling... if not safe, then at least secure.

Not anymore. Not when it wasn't just his own life at stake now, but a little girl's. Her life weighed like a stone around his neck, panicked and choking.

He looked over at Kristin, sleeping peacefully in the passenger seat with her battered little puppy, the one she called Henry, tucked underneath her chin. She'd spent the first hour of the trip playing with the toy, utterly absorbed in it except for the occasional wary sideways glance at Jarod. But she didn't complain once about sitting still, didn't ask any questions about where they were going. As if she believed there wasn't anyplace Jarod could take her that would be worse than the Centre.

She was right.

It was a good thing she wasn't asking questions; Jarod didn't have a single answer to give her. His original plan had been to rescue the girl and return her to her parents; if necessary, he'd arrange for them to move, to get out of the Centre's reach, like he'd done for Davy and his family.

But her parents -- no, they had to be foster, or at the very least surrogate, parents -- had turned her over to the Centre, Angelo said, so there was no way he could let Kristin anywhere near them again. And her real parents....

He looked at her again, at the way the light brown hair curved against her face, the stubborn set of her chin and the full mouth above it. The resemblance wasn't as pronounced as it would be when she was older, but even in shadows, it was undeniable if you knew Miss Parker -- or knew the ten-year-old girl she'd once been.

How was he going to tell Miss Parker? *Was* he going to tell Miss Parker? Who was the girl's father? How had Raines pulled this bit of evil off?

Jarod still didn't have any answers. All he knew was that he had to keep Kristin safe -- for her sake, and for the sake of that long-lost ten-year-old girl.

He stopped when he hit the motel strip on the far side of Baltimore. He would have preferred to drive farther; he might -- *might* -- have felt safe once they hit Vancouver. But Kristin was sleeping the sleep of the totally exhausted, every muscle in her tiny body limp. The last few days must have been utter hell for a child, alone and afraid. He *knew* they had, because he remembered that particular hell, remembered it with all the clarity and detail his genius mind blessed -- and cursed -- him with. Kristin needed a real bed, a real breakfast in the morning, and just a few minutes when she could feel safe.

And he could use some sleep himself, Jarod admitted. He'd been going nonstop for almost three days, between finishing his last self-imposed assignment, Angelo's urgent messages and the frantically planned and executed breakout. A few hours sleep, some food, and he might be abe to figure out what to do next.

He hoped.

He chose a small motel that advertised itself as the 'Marcus Family Motel'. The concession to family seemed to be nothing more than a small pool, currently covered, and a rusting swingset. But it might be a good place for Kristin to play in the morning, if it looked safe. And there was a McDonalds across the street -- he was reasonably certain children liked McDonalds, and the clown emblazoned on the windows looked cheerful enough.

The first problem came when he pulled up to the office, started to step out of the car -- and realized he would either have to take the chance of bringing Kristin into the office with him and letting the clerk see her, or leaving her alone in the car. Both choices seemed spectacularly bad.

He froze in a cold sweat, one foot in and one foot out of the car, as possibilities flooded his mind: the desk clerk taking one look at Kristin and immediately calling the Centre; kidnappers coming along and taking her while he was inside and too far away to protect her; Sweepers stealing her away before he could get back.

He'd just about decided to take the chance and bring her in with him when someone tapped on the hood of the car. He jerked his head up, adrenaline flooding his body and tensing his muscles, fully prepared to rip his way into anything that even resembled a threat to Kristin.

The small old woman grinning cheerfully down at him didn't look like much of a threat; he relaxed a little, but not all the way, keeping himself between her and Kristin. The woman didn't seem to notice. "Need a room, son, or just directions?" she asked in a broad New England accent.

"A room," he answered cautiously. "My... daughter and I have been driving for a while and she's worn out."

The woman peered past him into the car; to Jarod's gratitude, the flickering lights of the neon hotel sign distorted the shadows enough that she probably couldn't make out much more than Kristin's tiny form. "Poor little thing looks exhausted. Didn't want to leave her alone long enough to come in, hunh?" she asked with a knowing twinkle in her eyes. "Nothing like a protective dad, that's what I always say. Why don't you pull up to room number eight and I'll bring the paperwork over while you get her settled."

Without waiting for a response, she headed back into the office, moving with surprising grace and speed. Jarod blinked at her back, then decided to go along with the plan, which was better than anything he'd come up with. He put the car into gear, careful not to jerk it too much, and parked.

He got out and was confronted with the next problem -- getting Kristin out without waking her. It took a few minutes of manuvering, but he finally managed to hold the door open with his hip and lever the girl into his arms. She seemed to weigh a lot more asleep, limp and unmoving, than she had awake, but he carried her to the door. And realized he didn't have the key yet, and wouldn't have had a hand free to use it anyway.

"Here you go, let me get it." The proprieter reappeared next to him, reaching past him to stick a key in the door and bustle into the room, flipping on lights and pulling back the bedspread on the king-sized bed. "You just put that little girl right down here; the sheets are clean and so's the pillow."

"Thank you." Jarod lowered Kristin to the bed; she made an unhappy sound and twisted once, but settled back down into slumber. Jarod pulled the bedspread around her shoulders carefully, tucking it up around her face to hide it just a little better. He carefully smoothed a loose strand of hair out of her mouth and behind her ear and she made a face, snuggling Henry closer with her left hand. Her right hand was still fisted around the marble and the cardboard figure Angelo had given her -- the sum total of the little girl's possessions. Rage at the Centre burned and he fought it back. There wasn't time for it just yet.

"She's a sweetheart." Jarod jolted upright as he remembered the motel owner fussing around the room behind him. "How old is she?"

"Four and a half," Jarod answered automatically.

The old woman nodded. "I've got a grandson who's about that. It's a sweet age." She laid an armload of blankets down at the foot of the bed and surveyed the room one more time. "Looks fine. I need a credit card or cash for the room and your signature, then I'll get out of your way and let you tend to your little girl."

"Cash." He pulled out the forty-five dollars and signed for the room as J. Rogers. "Thank you for your help, Mrs... Marcus?"

She nodded, smiling. "That's me; I own the place. Checkout is usually at noon, but we're not busy, so don't worry about it if the little girl needs some extra time -- or if you do. Sleep tight." She was back out the door and halfway across the parking lot before Jarod could do much more than blink.

Shaking his head in bemusement, he lifted the pile of blankets to move them to the chain by the window. The one on top caught his eye and he unfolded it, finding himself holding a soft blanket covered with bright characters -- red and blue and yellow and almost uniformly fuzzy. Smiling to himself, he tucked that one around Kristin, just to make sure she stayed warm. He had to debate with himself again, but finally ducked out of the room to the car and retrieve his briefcase.

He checked on Kristin again when he came back, to make sure nothing had happened in the thirty seconds he'd been gone. But she was still sleeping peacefully, so he settled down in the other chair and opened the silver briefcase, taking out his laptop. His life stared back at him in an array of tiny gold disks and a blank screen.

It wasn't his life he was interested in right now, though; it was Kristin's. He'd fumbled in his jacket pocket for the CD-ROMs Angelo had given him, and slipped the first one into his laptop.

The disk was mostly empty, with only a few DSAs from the last day and a half. The temptation to watch them was strong, but he had a good idea what they'd contain, and it wasn't important right now. He switched disks; the second one had the files he was looking for. He opened them and started reading.

And almost immediately started getting sick. To his complete lack of surprise, NuGenesis had done the majority of the work -- Kristin's life had started in a test tube, the only one of five attempts that had succeeded. Jarod had to force down a momentary shudder at the thought of Kristin as twins or even triplets, and what the Centre would have done with that particular 'success'. There was no mention in the initial file of her parents, just references to the 'donors'. Somehow, he doubted Miss Parker had 'donated' anything....

The fertilized ovum had been implanted in a surrogate mother, also unnamed; there was only a number and a pointer to another file, which wasn't on the DSA. Jarod frowned and made a mental note to track down the file the next time he broke into the Centre's computers. After birth, she'd been placed with foster parents (again, no mention of either her genetic parents or what had happened to the surrogate) until she'd been retrieved by a team of Sweepers acting as lawyers for the Centre and brought to Raines two days earlier.

Not much information; he frowned over it, then moved to the next file, the initial observations of Kristin as she'd arrived at the Centre. The results of the entry tests ranked Kristin very high by Centre standards -- in fact, they bore a striking resemblance to his own tests results, more than 30 years earlier. Strong empathic traits, an IQ potentially as high as his own, physical coordination and verbal skills well in advance of her age.... She was a potential Pretender, then, like Jarod, and what did that say about Miss Parker? Or had Kristin inherited it from her father, whoever he was?

His frown deepening by the second, he opened the last file -- and ran straight into a heavily-encrypted roadblock. Bingo. He puzzled over the encoding for all of fifteen seconds before hitting on the passkey.


The file opened and there it was, the information he needed.

SUBJECT NAME: Kristin (foster family Abbot)
DATE OF CONCEPTION: October 14, 1993 (see NuGenesis files)
DATE OF BIRTH: July 12, 1994 (see NuGenesis files)
MATERNAL DONER: Parker, M. (sample removed during routine surgery, 08/08/93; see Red Files)
PATERNAL DONER: Jarod (sample taken during routine exam, 02/18/93; see Red Files)
There was more, but Jarod couldn't force his eyes down to read them. His entire universe had suddenly narrowed to three words.


He stared at the screen, uncomprehending, for what seemed like hours. Kristin was his daughter. *His* daughter. The Centre hadn't settled for stealing his mind and his freedom; they'd stolen his body, his genes, and made this... child from parts of him.

And of Miss Parker.

He stumbled out of his chair in a daze, walking over to the bed and pulling the spread and blanket down just enough to see Kristin's face. His daughter's face. His fingers skimmed over her, not quite touching.

How could he have missed it? The face was Miss Parker's, the hair, the chin. But the eyes were his -- not the shape but the color, that deep, dark brown. And the mind behind that face -- his talents, his abilities. What else was in her that was also in him?

Four and a half years. Four and a half years this little girl had lived, alone and unwanted; four and a half years that Jarod... that her *father* hadn't even known she existed. Had Miss Parker known? No, not possible. He would believe a lot of Miss Parker, but not this. Her eggs had been taken without her knowledge, according to Kristin's file.

No, Kristin's mother hadn't known either.

Four and a half years.

Fury burned hot and bitter. He wanted to scream, wanted to rage, wanted to go back to the Centre and calmly, methodically, hunt William Raines down and destroy him, bit by bit. He wanted to burn the Centre and everything in it to the ground, in revenge for Kristin's life.

And his, by God. And his.

Kristin made a noise in her sleep and turned over, snuggling closer to Henry, the sound breaking Jarod from his violent fantasies. Her long eyelashes fluttered once, then calmed, her mouth pursing and relaxing. She muttered again, moving restlessly, and Jarod's breath caught in his throat. Not touching her, he straightened, backing carefully away from the bed.

It took much longer than it should have to find his cell phone; it took an act of utter concentration to remember the number and dial it in.


"Sydney." He couldn't seem to say anything else; his entire attention was still focused on the child in the bed. His daughter.

"Jarod? Are you all right? The girl?" Sydney's voice was familiar, faintly worried. Almost involuntarily, Jarod pictured him sitting at his desk, leaning on it as he held the phone, his face a study in concentration and mild concern.

Jarod didn't recognize his own voice. "Tell me you didn't know, Sydney."

A pause. "Know what, Jarod? About the child? No, I told you, I knew nothing."

"Nothing about the child?" Jarod pressed, his voice a harsh whisper. "Nothing about Raines making her? Nothing about Miss Parker being her mother?" He had to stop, had to force the words out. "Nothing about me being her *father*?"

A longer pause, that seemed to stretch on forever. Sydney finally sighed, the resigned, helpless sigh of someone who doesn't know quite what else to do. "I thought her eyes seemed familiar."

"Did you know?" Jarod's voice wanted to rise, he wanted to shout, to scream. But Kristin slept five feet away. "Did you know what they did to me, Sydney? Did you know what they did to *us*?"

"No." Sydney's voice held no guilt, no defensiveness. Only firm denial and growing anger. "My God, Jarod, do you think I would have allowed this? Do you think I would have let them do this to you?"

"You let them do worse."

It was a low blow, but Jarod wasn't feeling particularly fair. He could feel the words hit Sydney, hear their impact and the echo of pain in the dead silence. It took Sydney another long moment to answer. "That may be true, Jarod. But I knew nothing of this. If you believe nothing else I've ever told you, you must believe that."

He didn't want to. He needed someone to blame, someone available to be a target. But he did believe, and his head dropped to his chest, his rage receding into a dark pit in his stomach until he could find who deserved it.

"I believe you, Sydney."

Sydney breathed once, deeply. "Thank you, Jarod."

Jarod rubbed the back of his neck, trying to relax the screaming muscles, and started pacing, quietly. "What am I going to do, Sydney? She's my daughter."

"And Miss Parker's," Sydney reminded him carefully.

Jarod laughed, a humorless, nearly silent breath. "Yes, and Miss Parker's. Who says the Centre doesn't have a sense of humor?"

Sydney didn't laugh. "You cannot let them take her again, Jarod."

"Do you think I don't *know* that?!" Jarod hissed back, what little humor there was in the situation leaving him abruptly. "I'll die before I let them take her. I'll kill Raines before I let him have her again."

It was Sydney's turn to give a grim laugh. "A pity I didn't do a better job of that myself."

True enough. He'd had two chances and blown both of them, almost getting everyone else -- Jarod, Raines, Broots, Miss Parker, all the others -- killed in the second try. It might have been worth it, Jarod thought, if it had taken down Raines.

"What am I going to do?" he asked again, helplessly, looking for the answers he'd always depended on Sydney to give. "I can't be a father, Sydney."

"You can be anything you want to be, Jarod. It's what you do."

"I can't be *this*!" It came out as almost a shout and Kristin stirred again, her forehead creasing. He brought his voice back down with an effort, walking into the bathroom where she couldn't hear him. He closed the door most of the way behind him and slumped back against the sink. "I can't *Pretend* to be a father, Sydney. It doesn't work that way."

"Who said anything about Pretending?" Sydney sighed again, and Jarod could see him leaning back in his chair, rubbing his forehead. "No one has training for fatherhood, Jarod; there are no instruction manuals. It's simply something you do, if you're fortunate enough to be given the chance." The ghost of Sydney's son, grown to adulthood without him, hung around them both like a cloud. "You'll do it well, if you choose to try."

"As if I have so many other choices. There's nowhere I could take her where she'd be safe -- the Centre would find her. And I can't tell Miss Parker yet, I can't risk it when I have no idea what she'll do. The only way I can protect Kristin is to keep her with me." Jarod wiped a hand over his face, exhaustion settling in as adrenaline suddenly gave out. "And she's my daughter."

"Then you've already made your decision?" Sydney didn't sound very surprised.

"I guess I have." Jarod looked in the cracked, but spotlessly clean, mirror over the sink. He stared at his own face -- and had no idea who actually lived behind it. For the first time in a long time, that bothered him. "Sydney, how can I be Kristin's father when I don't even know who *I* am?"

"The fact that you do not know your past does not affect who you are, Jarod. You are who you have always been."

"Thank you, that's very useful," Jarod muttered sourly.

"You'll be fine, Jarod." Sydney laughed with genuine amusement this time, but it faded quickly; when he spoke again, his voice was grim, tired and sober. "Just take care of that little girl. I won't tell Miss Parker for now."

"She'll have to know eventually," Jarod sighed. "But no, not now."

A noise from the other room caught his attention. "Kristin?" No answer but another tiny sound of distress. "I've got to go, Sydney, there's something wrong with Kristin."

"Go, then. Good luck, Jarod."

"Good-bye, Sydney." Jarod answered absently, slapping the phone closed and making it from the bathroom to Kristin's side at a dead run.

The little girl was tossing and turning, the bedspread and bright blanket twisted around her tiny body like a cocoon. She fought it, tossing her hands, still fisted around her treasures, and her cries became louder, more frantic. "Hate you hate you hate you!" she whimpered, crying. "Go away!"

"Kristin!" Jarod sat on the bed next to her and tried to take her shoulders, but she twisted away, hitting out. He dodged her fists and tried again, pulling her up and tightly against him. "It's okay, Kristin, it's okay, honey. I'm here, you're safe. It's okay."

She struggled against him and he kept talking, not really hearing his own words. Instinctively, he reached for the words of the half-remembered, half-forgotten lullaby, his only legacy from his parents.

"Cree craw, Toad's foot, Geese walk Barefoot..."

She finally began to calm enough that he could let go with one arm, using it to untangle the sheets restraining her while his other continued to rock the little girl against his chest. Her breathing steadied and finally deepened as she slipped back into normal, peaceful sleep, her tear-stained face quiet again.

But Jarod continued to hold her, rocking her as he hummed the lullaby over and over; he didn't know if he was soothing her now, or himself.

"It's okay," he whispered into her hair, pressing a kiss to the top of her head. "I'm here. I'm here, Kristin, and nothing's going to hurt you again.

"Daddy's here."

Cradling his daughter, Jarod finally slipped into sleep as the first rays of dawn touched the sky outside their window.

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