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Thicker Than Water

Title: Thicker Than Water
Fandom: The Pretender/7 Days
Genre Crossover
Word Count 7032
Summary The Centre kidnaps Frank and Jarod has to risk going back in to save his new friend's life
Follows Trust Someone, 7 Days to Pretendand Building a Better Mousetrap
Author's Note This was originally posted on FanFiction.Net in March 2003. It took first place in the Best Crossover category of the 2003 Pretender FanFic awards. It is post-series for both shows. More to follow!



Thicker Than Water



Jarod looked nervously at his watch. He had arranged to meet Frank here in Vegas to tell him about the DNA tests but now he was wondering if it was still the right move when he still didn't have all the information. He heard a horn honk and his name called out. He winced, praying there were no Sweepers about.

Frank climbed out of a blue sedan and grinned in Jarod's direction. "Hey, I didn't think I'd see you so soon after Nebraska."

"Yes, well, I thought what I had to tell you would be better said in person as it's of a somewhat personal nature." Jarod glanced at the man who had gotten out of the driver's seat.

"Oh, Donovan knows me better than anyone. We were in the SEALS together."

"And now you work together at..."

"Yeah," Frank said quickly, stopping Jarod from revealing he knew about Backstep. "So, what do you want to tell me?"

"Frank, if it's of such a personal nature, I doubt he'll want to tell you here on the street."

"Thank you, Captain Donovan." Jarod took them inside and across the casino floor. Almost every worker smiled at Jarod and greeted him warmly. He then led them to the offices. The door was open to one and Jarod motioned them to enter first.

Frank went in and stopped short. Donovan gave him a push as he followed.

"Well, it's about time you got here."

********************************************

Donovan looked at the woman behind the desk, acting as if it were hers. Her features were sharp and somewhat cold. However, there was something in her eyes when she looked at Frank that seemed out-of-place. To Donovan, it looked like concern.

"What is she doing here?" Frank demanded. "This whole thing is a setup, isn't it?"

"Put away your paranoia, Parker," she said sharply. "I wanted to be here."

Frank looked at Jarod. "Miss Parker and I have another truce, Frank. Her 'associates' know nothing about this."

Donovan could tell there was more to this conversation than what he was hearing. Perhaps Jarod and this Miss Parker were working for something just as secret as Backstep if not more so. Frank had never told him about the two previous times they had met-no matter how drunk he got him.

"Jarod, if you won't tell him, I will," said Miss Parker.

"When we first worked together, I had suspicions about you. I didn't act on them until Nebraska."

"Well, spill it out."

"I conducted DNA tests on hair strands from both you and Miss Parker. Frank, you are related."

Donovan thought Frank would have shown a bit more enthusiasm after finding family. All he did was stand there, no expression on his face. Then again, Frank already knew this Parker and didn't seem too thrilled about that. "This is great news!"

"You wouldn't say that if you knew the family," said Frank with a look at the woman.

"Don't worry, I feel that way myself sometimes," Miss Parker commented with a raised brow.

"How are we related?"

"It's hard to say based on the Parker family tree. I need to get samples of the possible parents."

"And the only place you can get them is the Centre." Miss Parker shook her head. "Now I know you're nuts. How do you expect to get in?"

"That would be telling. You can do something to help, though. Create a false sighting and get Lyle and as many Sweeper teams as possible away from the Centre."

Donovan looked on, bewildered. He had no idea what they were talking about. He glanced at Frank who didn't seem to know either.

"What is the Centre?" asked Frank.

"A place where secrets and lies are honed to perfection," Jarod answered.

"I worked for the CIA so I know about secrets."

"The Centre makes the CIA look like nursery school," commented Miss Parker.

"Not to mention the secrets they keep from each other," added Jarod. "That's why I hesitated in telling you about your possible relation."

"What changed?"

"A little coup has just happened and positions aren't too strong just yet. With the introduction of the right irritant-"

Miss Parker scoffed at this. "You certainly have the right irritant."

"It will either fall or perhaps be changed for the better."

"And you think Frank can be a part of this?" questioned Donovan.

"Finding another Parker will be like putting the cat among the pigeons."

"So when do we take off?" Frank asked.

"You're not going in there until we know what we're up against," Jarod informed him.

"I'm not gonna let you go in there alone for me. I'm in." He crossed his arms and stared at Jarod.

"All right. We both go."

"Hey, make that three."

"Excuse us." Frank grabbed Donovan by the arm and pulled him to the far corner of the office. "We can't both go, buddy. If anything happens to me, you're the only other chrononaut."

"I'll make a deal with you, Frank. I'll stay in the town closest to the Centre should you need me. There is no way I'm going back to the Base without you."

"Deal."

Frank and Donovan returned to the others and explained the deal they had made. Both Parker and Jarod agreed that backup was important in any infiltration. "You had better not let us down, Captain," stated Miss Parker.

"Frank and I have saved each others lives too many times for me to stop now."

"Good."

******************************************************

Frank, Jarod, and Donovan looked over the sketch Jarod had drawn of the Centre. "Man, this place is huge. And run by the Parkers?" Frank couldn't believe what he was seeing. Almost put the Backstep facility to shame.

"It was started by Miss Parker's great-grandfather based on the strength of what he read in some mystical scrolls."

"Just what do these scrolls say?" asked Donovan.

"I don't know. I've held them but never had the chance to read them. Lives had been lost both protecting them and trying to gain possession of them, so I think they were worth it."

"Where are they now?" Frank needed to know as much of the story as he could.

"Somewhere in the Atlantic, I think. Mr. Parker read them on the plane from Scotland and parachuted out, taking the scrolls with him."

"Maybe paranoia runs in the family," Frank said, attempting a joke. He looked down at the sketched plans. "You really think your friend will help us?"

"Sydney was the closest thing I had to a father growing up. He'll help us all he can without jeopardizing his position."

"How long do you think it'll take?" asked Donovan.

"I'd say about two or three hours. Wait a total of five, though, before you do anything."

****************************************************

Frank followed Jarod to a large cement block in the middle of a field. Jarod gave a little laugh after a quick examination. "I can't believe they haven't sealed this yet."

"Your own personal entrance?" asked Frank as he helped to remove the lid.

"It comes in handy." He climbed into the hole and started down the ladder. "Once we get deeper into the Centre, some of the ducts are monitored. You'll have to just trust me."

"I'm only now learning how to be a team player. I'm more likely to trust my instincts first," he said with effort as he closed the lid.

"As long as you share them with me, we'll be fine."

Frank watched as Jarod navigated the labyrinth with practiced ease. He wondered if he really wanted to know if he was related to people who could do what they did to a boy. If it did turn out to be true, the only one he'd keep contact with would be Miss Parker. He smiled at the thought of being the irrepressible little brother.

Jarod stopped and held a finger up to his lips before pointing to the grate. Frank peered out and could see the back of a man sitting at a desk in a room down the hall. He pointed and Jarod nodded. This was the room they wanted.

Together they removed the grate quietly and stepped into the shadowed hallway. They replaced the grate and slipped into the room. The man paused at his work as if sensing their presence. From what Frank could see, he was an older man of average height with grey hair. He turned to face the shadows revealing a kind face.

"Jarod," he stated. "According to Miss Parker, you are in Colorado."

"I see she was believed. Not many Sweepers around."

"Why would she do you a favor?"

"It wasn't really for me." Jarod motioned Frank to step forward. "It was for Frank."

"Nice to meet you, Sydney. Name's Frank Parker."

Sydney stared at Jarod and then at Frank. "Why have you risked coming here?"

Jarod explained the DNA tests and the results. "So part of it is similar. I just need to verify his parentage."

Sydney fell into his seat. "You may not have to."

"What do you know?"

Sydney looked at Frank. "When were you born?"

"The orphanage told me February 17, 1969. Why?"

"Catherine Parker gave birth to a stillborn son in February 1969. At least she was told he was stillborn."

"That would give Miss Parker and I the same mother, but what about my father?"

"Do you think it could be Mr. Parker?" asked Jarod. "Those lab tests you ran before said he had a one-in-ten chance."

"And I could be that one? But why would they say I was stillborn then pass me on to an orphanage?"

"My theory? Someone felt threatened by the presence of Mr. Parker's true son."

"Let me guess. Raines delivered the baby. If Frank had grown up here, that would have pushed Lyle down a peg."

"With Mr. Parker gone, I'm afraid Frank won't last very long."

"What do you mean 'won't last long'?"

"Now that Raines-who is really Mr. Parker's brother-is in control, he doesn't need to be reminded about you. The moment he learns about you, you will be on your way to a reunion with your mother."

"These guys make the Borgias look like the Bradys." Frank looked at the two men. "Is there anyway we can get actual proof without alerting anyone?"

"There should be. I'll see what I can find then contact Jarod. You shouldn't stay here longer than necessary."

"Thank you, Sydney," Frank told him.

"I'll do what I can, Frank."

He turned away to place something on the desk and Frank felt a tug on his arm. He knew Jarod wanted to leave. Without saying a word, the two men slipped back into the ducts. Once outside, Frank looked at him questioningly. "Do you always leave without saying good-bye?"

"This way he doesn't see where I go and can't tell anyone. He knows and understands why, so don't think me cold in that respect."

"How could I think you cold at all after what you're doing for me." They reached the car and headed back to Blue Cove. "Now what?"

"Now we wait for Sydney's call."

******************************************************************

Back at the hotel, Jarod watched as Donovan greeted Frank with relief. It would be wonderful to have that type of camaraderie with someone who knew all your faults and didn't care. Frank was lucky in that he had a life where he interacted with people, from the orphanage all the way through now and his time at Backstep. He headed for the connecting door. "While we wait, I'm going to do some research."

"Still no luck?" asked Frank.

"I saw he briefly in Scotland, but she didn't see me. We've been following the same path so I just might find her again." Jarod noticed Donovan's puzzled look. "He doesn't know?"

"No one does aside from me and Olga."

"Don't keep me in suspense, guys. What are you talking about?"

Jarod sat on the edge of the bed. "I guess you should know what you're involved in."

"You might wanna sit down," said Frank.

Donovan did so and waited for Jarod to begin.

Having told the story so often now, it rolled off his tongue without him even having to think. He watched Donovan's face as he related how he was taken from his family as a child; how he conducted simulations for the Centre like a trained monkey, sims they later perverted and sold to the highest bidder. "When I found out what they were doing, I escaped. To make up for all those sims, I try to use my 'gift' to help people while I try to reunite my family."

"Wow." Donovan looked over at Frank. "Good thing you didn't tell me, I wouldn't have believed it."

"You haven't seen him in action."

"So, Frank's possible family runs this place?" Jarod nodded. "And you still want him to see them?"

"A man should know where he comes from. What's that saying? 'You can choose your friends but you can't choose your family'."

The three were silent for a moment. "Anyone up for a trip to the hotel bar?" asked Frank.

Donovan laughed. "Leave it to you to follow something so serious with a trip to a bar."

"I can't help it if I'm thirsty." He and Craig headed for the door. "Care to join us, Jarod?"

"I have to keep a low profile here in Blue Cove. You two go ahead."

"Sure. We'll do room service later."

The two men left and Jarod went back to his computer. If this wasn't Blue Cove, he would have loved to go to the bar with friends, real friends, not just part of a pretend.

A couple of hours later they ordered room service and swapped tales well into the night. Pleading fatigue, Jarod returned to his room. He planned to catch a few hours sleep then rise early and do some more research before the others woke.

Things didn't go as planned. He woke to find the morning sun streaming through his window. He got up quickly and knocked on the connecting door. When there was no answer, he tried the knob and it opened easily. The room was empty and the beds still unmade. "Wonderful."

**********************************************************

Donovan and Frank got up early. They each took a quick shower and tried to plan their day. "Want to get breakfast at the restaurant?"

"Donovan, I spend most of my days cooped up inside the base. Let's go outside. There must be some places that serve up a good breakfast."

"What about Jarod?"

"He won't mind. I'll leave him a note." Frank went to the notepad on the desk and scribbled a few words. "Okay, let's go."

The two men soon found a little restaurant with tables set up on the sidewalk. After ordering, Frank leaned back in his chair, basking in the sun.

"So, what was it like?"

"What?"

"The Centre. You never told me."

Frank sat up and opened his eyes. "Dismal. All black and grey. Granted, the higher-ups might get sun, it was unheard of where we were."

"Not a happy workplace, then."

"Not at all. Nest time I complain about being kept on the base, remind me of that place."

"Sure thing, buddy." Donovan stood. "I'm getting a paper. Behave yourself." Frank merely grunted in response.

Shaking his head, Donovan strolled to the newsstand he had spotted down the street. After picking up a copy of the Philadelphia Inquirer and the latest Sports Illustrated, he turned back. A few hundred yards away from the restaurant, he saw Frank being forced into a sports car. "Frank!" He ran but was too late. He got a good look at the license plate as it drove off: LYLE 3.

*******************************************************

After Donovan had left, Frank just rested, soaking up the sun and trying to keep his mind blank. It was near impossible as thoughts of the Centre and his newfound family kept popping up.

"What are you doing here?" demanded a familiar voice.

Frank cracked open one eye to see the face of his half-brother, Mr. Lyle. "Oh, it's you."

"Where's Jarod?"

"How would I know? I do have my own life."

"So what are you doing in Blue Cove? How did you even hear of it?"

"I needed to get away from it all, y'know? Nebraska didn't do it, so now I'm here." Frank got a kick out of seeing Lyle's reaction to the mention of Nebraska.

"I know you're here to meet with Jarod so let's just change the meeting place." He opened his jacket just enough for Frank to see the gun. Not wanting any bystanders to be shot, Frank stood and walked to the car.

*******************************************************

Jarod had just finished changing his clothes when the phone rang. "Jarod, it's Donovan. Frank's gone."

"What happened?" Donovan told him what he had seen, including the license plate. "They've got him at the Centre. Stay where you are, I'll be right there." Jarod grabbed his jacket and car keys then headed to the garage. Frank and Lyle. He only hoped that Frank knew to keep his sarcasm in check, as Lyle was not as 'forgiving' as Miss Parker was. He would make it personal after Seattle. It's a good thing he didn't know Frank was in Nebraska as well.

He saw Donovan pacing nervously outside the restaurant. He then pulled up to the curb and Donovan got in the car. "We've got to get him out before the learn the truth."

"Any idea how?" asked Donovan.

"Not a clue."

When they reached a stoplight, Jarod pulled out his phone and used speed dial.

"What?"

"Lyle has Frank. He took him to the Centre."

"How did he get him?"

"Grabbed him off the sidewalk. Donovan saw it."

"Great. Where are you?"

"On the way there."

"Don't you dare. I know what you're thinking. There is no way they'll let Frank go once they have you."

"Do you have any other ideas?"

"I thought I might just wing it." She shut off her phone.

Jarod handed his phone to Donovan who switched it off. "What's she going to do?"

" 'Wing it'."

"Can she carry it off?"

"I think so. No one else knows she's working with us."

"It doesn't sound like you're ready to believe it either."

"I knew she needed her own motivation. I guess Frank was it."

"Why Frank? I thought you said she had another half-brother."

"Maybe because, unlike Ethan, Frank is 'untainted' by the Centre. I think she wants to stop the Centre from claiming another victim."

"I hope she gets there quick enough."

Jarod didn't say a word, tightening his grip on the steering wheel.

**********************************************************************

Miss Parker pushed open the door to Lyle's office. She saw Frank sitting, arms bound to the chair, a line of blood trickling from his lip. "What's going on here?"

"Just renewing an old acquaintance," said Lyle. "You remember Mr. Parker from Seattle, don't you?"

Miss Parker looked at Frank as if he was something she'd scrape off the bottom of her shoe. "The Fed that was with Jarod," she sneered. "What is he doing here?"

"That's what we're trying to find out." Lyle looked at Frank. "However, he is making me lose my temper."

"You're in the habit of losing things, aren't you? I see you lost your thumb-again." Lyle raised his arm as if to backhand him and Frank just stared, daring him to do it.

"What is he doing here at the Centre?" she questioned. "The man is a government agent. Was he alone?"

"That doesn't matter," declared Mr. Raines with a wheeze as he entered the office. "I have learned-"

Oh, Lord, he knows, thought Miss Parker. She didn't dare look at Frank.

"-that he has a high tolerance for pain. This interrogation is nothing for him." He looked at the two Sweepers who stood against the wall. "Take him down to SL23.

We'll be able to do this properly down there."

Miss Parker watched as the two hulks lifted Frank's wiry frame from the chair and dragged him from the office. "If this is to trap Jarod, wouldn't it be better to have him someplace where Jarod can actually reach him?"

"If we make it too easy, Jarod will know," said Lyle. He looked at the closed door. "There's something about that guy that just bugs me."

"I know the feeling," Miss Parker muttered.

She watched as he rubbed his hands together in anticipation. "Shall we?"

She really didn't want to witness the interrogation, but there might be a way for her to make it easier, so she followed. Lyle held the door open for Raines and his oxygen tank, "forgetting" to keep it open for her.

*************************************************************

During the ride down in the elevator, Lyle told Raines about his previous meeting with the other Parker. "And, from what he said, I believe he was in Nebraska as well."

"So just because he's in Blue Cove you think Jarod is?" asked Miss Parker. "The people he meets do have their own lives."

He looked at her questioningly. Ever since she returned from Scotland she's been acting differently, not at all like the sister I've come to know and tolerate. She's even been giving reasons for Jarod's behavior instead of being concerned with getting him. Could it be that she had something to do with this Parker's presence?

"That's just what he said."

"Could be it's true."

The doors to the elevator slid open. "Let's find out."

They entered the room to find Parker already strapped in the chair and hooked up to the machine. Lyle took position beside the main switch. "Are you comfortable?"

"As much as I can be." Since his head movement was restricted, the man cast his eyes about. "Oh, please, electric shock treatment? This is so passé."

"We have made a few improvements on the technique." He then noticed a bizarre tattoo on Parker's arm that looked like a bar code. What's this, a sell-by date?"

"As long as it's not my expiration date." A minor jolt raced through him.

"Just testing," said Lyle with a smirk.

"So, you ready to start?" he questioned.

"What are you, a masochist?" questioned Miss Parker.

"I just want him to quit fooling around and get down to it," he grunted through clenched teeth.

"Very well, then. Where's Jarod?"

"I don't know."

"Wrong answer." Lyle turned up the voltage a notch. "Let's try again. Where's Jarod?"

Parker looked past him, towards the wall. "Parker, Frank B., NSA, 923880305."

Name, rank, and serial number. Damn military training. He turned the voltage up even higher and tried again but got the same response. He didn't notice as Raines' face blanched at the name.

"I thought you said you made improvements," panted Parker.

Lyle took a deep breath to control his temper. This guy was really getting to him. Even Jarod didn't annoy him this much. He rubbed his hand where his thumb used to be, remembering that Jarod's interference caused its loss in the first place. He also wasn't about to let this unkempt little maggot get the better of him again. He increased the power, ignoring the warning signals. Just as he was to hit the switch, Miss Parker held him back.

"If you do that, you'll kill him and you'll never have your information."

"What are you trying to do?"

She pulled him away from the chair and closer to Raines. "I heard once that sometimes the anticipation of pain is worse than the pain itself. You leave him alone in here and make him wonder what's going to happen next."

"You want us to leave him alone with Jarod out there?" questioned Raines.

"The shaft has been blocked off so there is no way in here other than the door which will be guarded." She smiled. "We know he has a high tolerance for physical pain, but we also know that he is paranoid. His own mind will do your work for you."

Lyle looked at his sister in admiration. "You are more devious then you let on." That could be dangerous.

"Maybe it's in the genes," she commented with a look at Raines.

They walked past Frank without a word and left him in the dark, literally.

*************************************************************************

Outside, Jarod squinted against the sun while Donovan had the binoculars trained on the roads in and out of the Centre. Apart from getting in the same way he always had, he had nothing planned. It would all depend on where Frank was, what they knew, and how well he was guarded. At least he knew Miss Parker was with them. Angelo would be willing to help as well. Slowly, an idea came to him. He played it through in his head and nodded. Yes, that could work.

"You have a plan, don't you?"

"It should get us to Frank. After that, we'll have to play it by ear."

"That's something anyway."

Jarod took him to the same entrance he used with Frank and gave him the same instructions. He headed to the sim lab knowing his chances of seeing someone there.

He found the vent out of sight of the cameras and attempted to gain Sydney's attention. That accomplished, he led Donovan through the same shaft he had taken Frank.

Sydney was waiting for them. "Jarod, twice in as many days."

"This trip is not by choice. Lyle took Frank this morning."

"I know. Miss Parker told me. They have him down on SL23, the room where they had K--"

"Where they had Kyle." Jarod took a deep breath. "This is Donovan, Frank's friend. We need to get him a suit."

"What? No tailors in town?" All three turned to see Miss Parker in the doorway, Broots behind her.

"Didn't care to be left out?" asked Jarod.

"This is my brother we're talking about."

"Another one?" muttered Broots.

"You play a pivotal role in my plan," he smiled. "You've caught me."

Donovan stared at him as if he were mad. "What are you doing?"

Jarod ignored him and continued to explain. "With Donovan in a suit, he can pass as a Sweeper. We're all in the room and get Frank." He looked at them as if it were the simplest thing in the world.

The others were stunned. "It could work," said Miss Parker after a moment.

**************************************************************

Back in his office, Lyle sat behind his desk, already impatient. When something was this close, waiting was not something he was good at.

He thought back on what Parker said under "interrogation". Name. Obvious. Rank. No actual rank inside the NSA so he just stated he was with them. Serial number. Again, another way to keep track of him.

Willie, Raines' personal Sweeper, knocked on the open door. "Jarod's been spotted in the sub-levels."

"He's heading for Parker! I want every available Sweeper down to SL23!" ordered Raines. "He is not to get anywhere near that room." Willie nodded and rushed off to carry out his orders.

Lyle opened his desk drawer and pulled out his automatic. Once he checked that the clip was full, he put it in his holster and headed out the door.

"Where are you off to?"

"After Jarod."

"You're coming with me to continue the 'interview' with our guest."

Lyle hesitated for a moment. He wanted-no, needed to go after Jarod, but this guy Frank was fast becoming a thorn in his side as well. Jarod is heading that way so I might as well be there to welcome him. He went with Raines.

When they arrived on SL23, there were now four guards on the door and every inch of the floor was being searched. "Anything?" Raines asked.

"No, sir. Nothing." The guard opened the door to the room.

Lyle stepped inside and switched on the light above Parker. The man squinted at the bright light and looked nowhere near broken.

"That was quick," he said glibly.

"Some new information has come to light," said Lyle.

"So you plan to start this over again?"

"If you answer my questions, there will be no need," said Raines, standing at the base of the chair.

"I told you I don't know where Jarod is."

"We already know he is here in the Centre, trying to rescue you apparently."

***********************************************************

Frank closed his eyes. He couldn't believe that Jarod was risking his own freedom to get him out. Well, yes he could. This was Jarod after all.

"Don't hold any hope," said Lyle. "This sub-level has every available man just waiting for him to show his face."

"Then I guess I'm the lucky one."

Frank recognized Miss Parker's voice and knew that she had Jarod. He turned his head and saw as she pushed him into the room. Was that Donovan in a suit? He had to play along. "So much for the cavalry."

"Once we're done with your friend, Jarod, it'll be your turn. And I can honestly say I'm looking forward to it."

Raines ignored Lyle's boasting and stared at Frank. "When is your birthday?"

Frank looked at the walking cadaver and wondered if he suspected. This has to be the doctor who delivered me and sent me to the orphanage. That's why he needs to know my birthday. I can't very well lie. They can always pull up my file and see for themselves. "February 17, 1969."

"Your family?"

"I was raised in an orphanage in Philadelphia." I can't believe I'm telling him this without coercion.

Raines' gaze became more intent. "The name of the orphanage?"

"Frank, don't," he heard Jarod say.

He clammed up.

Raines glared at Jarod before continuing with Frank. "I don't know why you are stopping now. You've already opened up to us."

"Just confirming what you already know," said Frank. "Why don't you tell me the name of the orphanage you think I went to."

"St. ______ in Philadelphia."

"Give the man a cigar."

Lyle looked at the two of them. "What the hell is going on here?"

"You weren't the only stillborn Raines delivered," said Jarod, walking towards him. "This baby, a son, was taken to an orphanage and virtually forgotten. Except in Raines' memories." He stopped at the side of the chair and began to undo the straps that bound his arms.

"Do you always drive the opponent mad?" Frank hissed.

"Emotion will override logic. They'll make mistakes."

"So this irritating idiot is my brother?" questioned Lyle.

"Half-brother, thank God," muttered Frank as he sat up slowly.

Donovan came forward to help him stand. "Dismal doesn't do this place justice," he told his old friend.

Lyle saw this and took it as an act of treason. "What do you think you're doing?" Donovan ignored him and helped Frank to the door. "I'm talking to you!"

"I told you he might have a partner," Miss Parker said, covering him with her gun.

"I should have known you were with him," spat Mr. Raines.

"Frank is more like family to me than you two ever were." She slowly backed away to join them at the door.

Lyle smirked in confidence. "This floor is covered with Sweepers. There is no way you'll make it out."

"You're part right." Frank heard Jarod say as the door slid open for them. When it closed, Jarod wedged it tight. "That should hold them for a little bit. Watch where you step," he added lightly.

Frank looked down and saw the unconscious body of a Sweeper. "How?"

"Broots and Sydney sent knockout gas through the vents," Donovan answered. "We shouldn't have any trouble getting out."

"Let's get moving." Miss Parker led the way. They took the elevator to ground level and cautiously headed for the front door. They were almost there when they heard something that stopped them in their tracks.

"Just where do you think you're going?" asked a deep voice.

They turned and Jarod's eyes widened in shock. Miss Parker seemed even more stunned. "Daddy?"

*************************************************************

She couldn't believe it. He looked a little older and a little thinner, but it was the man who had been her father. She shouldn't have been too surprised as the Parkers never seemed to stay dead. She lowered her gun. "But how?"

"You don't really need to hear all the details now, Angel. Suffice it to say, I'm back now."

"Good news because I may have just signed my own death warrant."

"I told you believing Jarod would lead to trouble!"

"At least I don't hide secrets from her," said Jarod, bristling.

"Daddy, Raines and Lyle were torturing an innocent man and were prepared to kill him."

"They must have had their reasons."

Jarod drew Frank and Donovan forward. "Take a closer look," he told Mr. Parker. "What do you see?"

Miss Parker watched as her "father" walked over to Frank and studied his face. Frank stood straighter, no longer leaning on the others, and stared right back at him.

Not a word was uttered until Mr. Parker broke the silence.

"What's your name?"

"Frank Parker," he said with a lopsided grin.

Mr. Parker turned on Jarod. "What sort of sick joke is this? Have you tired with playing on my daughter's emotions that you now have to play with mine?"

"As we all thought you were dead, that wasn't the plan."

"My son died at birth!"

"Just like Mr. Lyle?"

"Daddy, please. We can talk about this somewhere else. Mr. Raines and Lyle-"

"Are on the way up," said Sydney as he and Broots joined them.

"Whoa, Mr. Parker, we all thought you were..." Broots let the sentence tail off.

"Yes, I know. I thought I was too." Mr. Parker looked at Sydney. "Do you know about this?"

"I saw the results of the DNA tests. It was a close match to your daughter's. When I learned his birthday, I knew."

Mr. Parker looked at Frank. "February 17, 1969." Frank nodded mutely.

Miss Parker then watched as he grabbed Frank in a bear hug and nearly squeezed the life out of him. She had never received a hug like that and now she understood why. He was never truly her father. He had only been acting the part, and poorly at that.

"What a touching reunion. Too bad we have to cut it short."

She turned to see Raines and Lyle standing in the hall, both with guns. "It's six against two," she said. "You can't get all of us before we get you."

**************************************************

The standoff was intense. Each person with a gun was just waiting for someone on the other side to make a move. Jarod knew they had to get away before the Sweepers came to, but he couldn't come up with a plan that didn't end without someone being shot. He heard a slight rustling from the vent above them and saw a shadow. Angelo! There had to be something he could do. Then he saw it: a sprinkler head within reach. His eyes darted between the two and Angelo nodded in understanding.

Jarod watched as Angelo worked a rolled-up piece of paper through the slats then lit it from a lighter in his other hand. He looked back at Raines and Lyle who were still watching the Parkers and Donovan and hoped that the water would provide enough of a distraction for them all to get away.

Frank and Miss Parker were the first to react. Frank rushed Lyle, knocking him to the floor and sending his gun across the room. Miss Parker wrestled Raines for the gun, pushing him away in disgust. Jarod could see her seething with anger.

Donovan slowly backed towards the door to make sure there were no surprises outside. Jarod motioned for Broots and Sydney to go next but the refused. Broots was probably worried about what they'd do to Debbie, and Sydney, well, this was practically his whole life. He nodded in understanding and headed for the door.

Miss Parker and Frank also began to back away, pushing Mr. Parker back as they did so.

********************************************************

Mr. Parker stared at his brother and the man he had called son. He wanted to stay and turn the Centre into a more beneficial organization because he knew what lay ahead of them if they stayed on the same path. The scrolls told of Jarod and how his genius would lead to the rise of the Centre, but it also prophesied that he would be part of its downfall. Slowly, he was changing the ideals of employees-including his "daughter". He then thought of Frank, his one, true son, not one he claimed to father. His childhood may have been tough, but he looked like he came out okay. He couldn't let anything happen to him-or to his Angel. They had to get away.

He turned and pulled his children along with him. He had to get them to safety and he knew that Jarod would be their best hope to lose themselves in the world, give them new identities and lives to make it near impossible to be found. The only drawback would be that they couldn't be together.

His thoughts were so centered on the future that he didn't hear the movement from behind him until it was too late. The pain in his chest told him he had no future, only moments. It wasn't until they were outside that he staggered and fell.

*****************************************************************

Frank felt the weight difference as his new-found father fell to the ground. While he stood there, staring, Miss Parker dropped to his side. "Daddy?"

Frank saw the spreading stain on his back. There was no doubt that he had been shot by family. Now I am glad that I was raised in an orphanage. Unless he received immediate attention, he would die. But how? They couldn't wait for an ambulance and moving would surely kill him.

"Jarod, do something!"

Jarod rushed over but he saw the same thing Frank did. There was little chance of survival. "Miss Parker, I..."

"Angel, don't," Mr. Parker said with effort. "I knew I would meet a bad end." He tried to smile. "You have to leave the Centre. You have to keep Jarod from being taken."

"I don't understand. Why..?"

Jarod looked at her. "The scrolls. It must be something he read in the scrolls."

"What did they say, Daddy? What did the scrolls say?"

Mr. Parker looked up at Frank. "You'll help her, won't you?" He reached out his hand.

Frank knelt down beside his father and grasped his hand. "Help her what?"

"Lead a normal life.

How can I show her a normal life when mine is far from normal? He spared a glance at Miss Parker. "I'll do my best."

The hand he was holding loosened its grip and Frank knew he was dead. He knelt there, stunned, and heard Miss Parker's sobs. He couldn't cry now, but would he later?

Jarod took control of the situation. "We have to go now. Miss Parker, you had better collect what you want from your house. Donovan, you go with her while Frank and I get our stuff from the hotel. We'll meet up at that fruit stand just south of town." Miss Parker nodded as Donovan led her away.

**********************************************************************

Parker let Donovan take her to the car, too dazed to argue. She let him drive, thankful that he never spoke except to ask directions. She needed to think this over.

Her father was dead. OK, he wasn't technically her father, but he raised her, gave her his name. Granted he had supposedly died before, but this time she knew it was real.

As a child she and loved and respected him, then, as she grew older, it was just respect. In the past few years, as she had learned of all the secrets he had hidden from her, it became hatred. But the moment he died, she was that little girl again. She took a deep breath. She had to keep her mind on the task at hand. Once she was out of Delaware, she should be able to take the time to grieve.

She was now well and truly free of the Centre's hold. The only reason she was going after Jarod was to obtain her release. Now that wasn't necessary. She only took a few bits of clothes and mementos, most importantly photos of her mother, father, and Tommy. As a sign of her leaving, she left behind her cell phone, beeper, and credit cards. There would be no way for them to trace her. "OK, I'm done here."

*************************************************************

Once in the car, Frank tried to come to terms with what had happened. "I barely knew him ten minutes and now he's dead. I don't feel anything."

"When you have time to look back on this and what you missed out or what you might have had, you'll be able to mourn. There's no reason for you to feel guilty for not feeling the loss. Maybe if you have a chance to talk with Miss Parker, she can tell you about both your parents."

Frank knew Jarod was right. From what he understood from bits of previous conversations, the man had not been the best of fathers.

They cleared the hotel rooms of all evidence of their presence. Once complete, they drove to the rendezvous and didn't have long to wait for Donovan and Miss Parker.

"Now where?" she demanded. Frank could see she was barely holding on emotionally and hated the fact that she had to depend on someone else. The fact that the someone else was Jarod didn't help.

"We drive to D.C. or Baltimore," Frank answered before Jarod had a chance. "I'm sure Bradley will OK a flight for us." He thought on what Jarod had said about learning what his parents had been like.

"Frank, you can't be serious." Donovan looked at him in disbelief.

"Can you just imagine Ramsey's face?"

Donovan chuckled. "That would be something to see."

"Perfect," smiled Jarod.

"What are you talking about?"

"Since you've given up everything to help me, I feel it's my duty to help you. How do you feel about the desert?"

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