Two Days Later . . .

Miss Parker was talking to Sydney when she heard a familiar voice. Not a happy familiar voice, but a pleading and desperate voice that should be states away.

“MISS PARKERRRRR!”

She looked toward the doorway. Jarod disappeared two days ago, and by the look of him, not on an easy journey. Not to mention, his brother appeared right beside him, along with Gemini. She looked toward Debbie and felt her land right onto her stomach clinging for dear life. “Debbie?” She looked toward Jarod and who else was with him. “Why is Debbie here, Jarod? Gemini? Your brother, Kyle? Just where have you been the last two days?” Miss Parker demanded. “Why is Debbie trembling like a leaf, Jarod?!”

“The one with Broots is a clone,” Jarod spoke but it was so soft. “I remember how young I was when I first met you, Miss Parker. When I first watched you coming down those steps.” He looked straight at her. “They were just that old.”

Miss Parker picked her up into her arms. “No. Jarod.” She squeezed her tighter. She couldn’t focus on even the appearance of the new arrivals yet, too worried about Debbie. “The shot?”

“She’s not dying.” Jarod answered. That was as far as he’d go yet. “Gemini. Kyle. Come on in.” He gestured toward Sydney. “He’s good, Kyle. He’s pretending to be Miss Parker’s father.”

Kyle stared at Miss Parker. “The chase wasn’t worth it, was it?”

“Kyle,” Jarod said simply. “Not now.” He looked toward Gemini. “Sydney’s good. You can talk to him when you have problems. Okay?” It didn’t look like Gemini wanted to do that.

“Are those them?” Kyle asked, focused on the babies in the middle of the living room.

“Yeah.” Jarod watched Kyle move toward the ground with Sydney where Onyssius and Angel were playing. “Still fairly young.”

“You get to raise your own family.” Kyle watched Sydney carefully holding Little Angel.

“He’s good,” Jarod said again, strutting over to where Kyle had gone. After two days away and all the heartache, he wanted nothing more than to see them. He picked up Onyssius. “This is my son, Onyssius.”

“Hello, Onyssius.” Kyle gently patted his hand.

“I’ll show you how to hold them later,” Jarod said. “My little girl is being held by Sydney. She’s Little Angel.”

“Another Angel pops up.” Kyle held out his finger toward her and she grasped it. “Your children are beautiful, Jarod.”

“They are something special,” Jarod said. “Maybe not to the world, but to me.” He kissed Onyssius’ head. It felt good holding them again.

“I come bearing tacos!” A voice laughed in the distance. “With extra sauce.”

Mom. Jarod’s face lit up as he grabbed Kyle’s hand. “Come on, it’s time to meet mom.” They both stood up as she came into the living room. Jarod quickly grabbed the bag out of her hands, knowing they wouldn’t stay for long.

“Mom?” Kyle asked softly. “You’re my mother?”

“Kyle?” She started to cry and smile at the same time as she pulled him into a hug. “Oh, Kyle!”

Jarod watched the reunion, his heart filled with such joy. It was only dampened as he felt Miss Parker’s presence beside him. He looked toward her. “You should have told me.”

 “Told you what?”

“You know what.”

“Not really. I hide many things from you,” she said openly. “You’ll have to be more specific.”

“That you’re supposed to go to hell, and die in heaven?” he said a little rougher than he meant. She looked visibly shaken. Her face that was always full of fire and ready to fight, was shaken. She moved away slightly, but he recaptured her hand. “It’s okay,” Jarod assured her. He didn’t let go of her hand, but didn’t feel her clasp it back. “I won’t ask any questions yet.”

“Good.” Still, he could hear a small crack in her thick exterior.

Jarod couldn’t blame her. Being told all her life that she would end up bearing two sets of twins, and then dying? That she needed to know how to survive with an angel and a devil to even make it through that far? It was making more and more sense why she had come to him at night when they were young.

How many times did she seek some kind of refuge with him? Questions that she wasn’t ready to answer, and he wasn’t going to force for yet. Still. Something triggered inside him. He got out his wallet and glanced at the garden picture briefly before even realizing what he was doing. He put it back away. “Kyle, Gemini, and Debbie are joining us on our Pretends. For a little while.”

“Debbie?” The thought seemed to distract Miss Parker again. “What do you mean she’s joining us?”

“I need to lie to Broots for a time,” Jarod said. “I need truth, and I don’t have a place for the other clones yet either.”

“They will need help too,” Gemini said boldly. “Clones. They are still people.”

“Yes, they are,” Jarod agreed. “Some good and some bad. Just people.” He reached out and placed his hand on Gemini’s shoulder. “They are also little brothers too.” He noticed Gemini’s glance toward him. “You aren’t alone in this, no matter what happens. I promise.”

Gemini nodded. “Can you show me how you hold your children, Jarod?”

Jarod nodded back. “You bet. In a second.” He looked toward Sydney. “I need to see you in the other room.” He glanced toward Miss Parker. “You too. We need to talk about Debbie and Gemini.”

A short talk later . . .

Sydney didn’t speak, simply sitting on the couch, absorbing the news.

Miss Parker held her hands together, but with the knuckles beneath each other. She was cracking them slowly each time, like the sound of a heartbeat.

Jarod looked toward both of them. “Seeing as how this is unresolved, and can’t be resolved, until it’s been enough time for a test, we’re keeping Debbie,” Jarod decided.

“Jarod,” Sydney said delicately. “I understand that this is . . . quite difficult. But Broots is also her father. He should know.”

“He will know, eventually,” Jarod said. “There is a clone of Debbie and a clone of Gemini. They don’t just disappear because the real ones come back. They aren’t disposable. I need to figure out something for them too. In the meantime, if Debbie is pregnant, then Gemini should be there too. I can’t trust that . . .”

“That Broots won’t try and run,” Sydney said. “That his inner instinct will think they just need to get away.”

“Yes,” Jarod agreed. “If this is happening, Gemini will not be separated from her. Something will get worked out first.”

“So we wait and find out,” Sydney agreed. “I see your point of view now, Jarod.”

Jarod looked toward Miss Parker. She was still silent. “Sydney? Could you give us a minute?”

Sydney nodded and headed back away.

Jarod moved over next to her, trying to hold her hand. Once again, she wasn’t holding it back. “This wasn’t your fault. It wasn’t mine. No one could see it.”

Miss Parker stooped into her hands, holding her forehead. “Debbie barely turned fifteen, Jarod. Fifteen. She only started to become a woman . . .”

“Not long ago. I know,” Jarod admitted.

“The damn . . .” She couldn’t even finish the word scrolls. “The signs are there. Nobody knows what they mean, so they just start doing whatever they think it takes! Those things are cursed, they really are.”

“It looks like Bhekumbuso’s theory involved you,” Jarod said, “and Mutumbo’s involved Gemini.” He stopped to think. “What does Adama think it means?”

“I don’t know.” She was cracking. “My god, Jarod, they’re the same age as-“

“Around when we knew each other. I know,” Jarod said. “This wasn’t fair. Life never tends to be with The Triumvirate or The Centre.”

“Former Centre,” she corrected him.

“Not yet. But soon, I want you to come to Africa with me.” She didn’t seem as gungho about that. “I know it’s where they are, but I will guard you with my life. I won’t let anyone take you into any cages.” She started to freeze up, stood up and moved away. “Miss Parker.”

“Pretending just got harder again,” she said. “You’ve gone from yourself to two. Two to four. Four to six. And now, nine people, Jarod. Even you can’t keep this up.”

Jarod sighed. “Short term. Very, very short term,” he said. “You all stay here while I do my job. Gemini and Kyle are Pretenders. Angel and Onyssius are too small to count, and when they do grow up, they’ll know the ropes,” Jarod insisted.

“Okay,” she said softly. “Then who is who?”

“I am still your husband,” he said, “and you are still my wife. Onyssius and Angel’s parts never change. Sydney and my mom are your parents. Debbie’s our daughter. Gemini and Kyle are going back to Africa in two days, once I make arrangements with dad. Before then, they are father and son.”

“So. Three Pretenders in this whole massive mess. Are you good enough to keep the rest of us on track?” she asked.

“I’m going to have a few words with mom,” Jarod said, “but I think we’ll be okay. I don’t think it’s the amount of people. Just, the amount with skill and how long we can keep it up. And with more people, we really need to concentrate on Pretending 24/7.”

“Fine, but if Kyle is still your brother and Gemini is his son, it’s not making it any different than if Debbie was his sister or not,” Miss Parker pointed out. “Just more confusing.”

“Yes, but? I need to keep Gemini out of the frame of her being his sister. Just in case. If even one day. The situation is stressful, and I don’t want him to get triggered.”

“Jarod?” Miss Parker asked. “What happens if . . .”

“Gemini is staying with his children if it happens. No one is losing any family. I don’t care what Broots thinks about it.”

“Then what happens?” Miss Parker asked.

“A secure, extremely secure, the most secure I could make it,” Jarod said, not even turning it into a sentence yet. “I have to isolate Broots just as much as my dad isolates himself from the world, so that Gemini isn’t discovered in the end.”

“Just.” She held her hands out almost in a simple prayer. “Just let it be okay.”

“Hope is a good thing,” Jarod agreed as he looked at her. “I’m going to go show Gemini how to hold a baby. You might consider sharing some knowledge with Debbie. Just in case.” He got up and looked at her again once he was past the couch so she couldn’t spot him.

It’s not happening. It’s never happening. I’ll give my life to make sure she never sees the inside of either of those cages! She doesn’t belong to any clone of mine.

“Behind the head like this is how you hold your offspring?” Gemini asked, being careful to grasp Onyssius.

“Children. Child. Baby, or their name,” Jarod corrected him. “I know it’s tempting to distance yourself using that safety word.”

“Behind the head is how you hold your child,” Gemini corrected himself.

“Yes. You are doing a very good job,” Jarod said. He looked over toward Debbie. Miss Parker had tried to get Debbie to come near Little Angel, but she wasn’t comfortable with it. “They’re just our children,” Jarod said to Debbie. “You should try.”

“I don’t want to try,” Debbie said to him. She looked toward Miss Parker. “I don’t want to.”

“That’s fine,” Miss Parker said. “You don’t ever have to do anything you don’t want to. Let me know if you change your mind. Okay?” Debbie nodded, but she started to get teary. “I got to get going. Who wants to hold Angel?”

“Jarod’s name’s better because,” Debbie almost squealed. “because I don’t like Angel anymore!” She ran off.

“Oh.” Gemini tried to hand Onyssius to Jarod. “Here?” Jarod took it and watched him go after her. It was up to Gemini to make her feel better now.

Jarod had a different task. “She didn’t mean that completely,” Jarod said to Miss Parker.

“The person who abducted and hurt her, is referred to as that,” Miss Parker said. “I get it. It didn’t take a genius.” She kissed Angel on the top of her head. “I don’t want to remind her of it.”

“Little Angel might not be bad?” Margaret recommended to her. “Sometimes ‘Little’ is a very important, distinctive word. More than it gets credit for.”

Jarod watched Miss Parker’s expression. He knew what his mom was referencing. While Miss Parker’s father had called her ‘Angel’ her mother had always called her ‘Little Miss’ or ‘Little Miss Parker’. It was part of the reason he had started to call his daughter Little Angel.

“Little . . . is a very big word,” Miss Parker agreed. “Alright. Little M . . . Little Angel.”

Jarod beamed. She almost said Little Miss. There it is. There it was. He felt it, and he knew she did too. But, it was too close and too soon. “Nothing wrong with three word names.”

“Nicest people in the world have three word names,” Margaret also agreed. She smiled at Miss Parker.

Miss Parker didn’t seem to know how to take that yet. “ . . . Miss A. then,” she said lightly, like she was trying to comprehend what she was wanting.

“Debbie!” Gemini raced after her through the house until she finally stopped on the outside. “Debbie. Leaving the property doesn’t change the situation we are in.”

“They aren’t letting me go back to my dad,” Debbie said looking toward the fence.

“They have reasons,” Gemini said. “The potential life in you, and my involvement. If nothing is wrong, then we will be sent back to our proper residences.” He tried to touch her arm, but she moved away. “Do you wish for private time? I can give you that, as long as you promise not to leave.”

“No. Yes. No. I don’t know!” She admitted. She scratched her head and pressed her body against the fence. “I went off on Miss Parker. I’ve never done that before. I hope she’s not mad.”

“I doubt that.” He tried to get closer again. “Are you mad at me?”

“Sort of?” She backed away and fidgeted with her hands. “I mean, nothing was your fault. But.”

“Jarod Angel was to blame,” Gemini told her. “I’d never want to hurt you.” He tried to hold her hand. This time, she accepted it. He wanted to say something. Something comforting. Instead, he said something else. “I like your name, Debbie.”

“My name?” she asked weakly. “Why?”

“My vocabulary and my social aspects haven’t quite lined up yet,” Gemini said. “If you haven’t noticed. However, Debbie. Two syllables, simple and short. I can talk about anything, then say Debbie, and it feels fine.”

That made Debbie cheer up a little. “Simple name.”

“Simple talking, Debbie,” Gemini smiled. “See?”

“Oh. Thanks,” She said. “I like your name too. Gemini?”

“Yes?”

“Do you think . . .”

Gemini shrugged. “Only the progression of time will give us that answer. Do you want to go back inside now?”

That night . . .

Jarod took a deep breath as he opened the door to his and Miss Parker’s room. She was already in there, relaxing with Onyssius. She had an extra blanket over their boy. He smiled at her. “Feeding time?”

“It’s almost over,” she insisted. “What a day.”

“Should have been there for the whole two days of it,” Jarod said. “A lot uncovered. Found Kyle. Discovered Gemini and Debbie were cloned and why. Not to mention . . .”

“Don’t need to mention.” She fiddled around under the blanket, probably buttoning herself up. She moved out of bed with Onyssius.

“No bassinet tonight,” Jarod said. “They can go in their crib.”

Miss Parker looked surprised. So far, he hadn’t really wanted to sleep away from them. “Okay.” She moved Onyssius toward the crib in the next room. When she came back, she turned her back and got dressed in the corner like she always did. It was so simple now, she was used to it. She climbed back in the covers, tucking herself in. She was probably wanting to avoid a talk with him.

But, talking isn’t what he was wanting tonight. Even though his mother was more ‘unique’ than he thought, he couldn’t disprove, nor want to disprove, her points to him. Should not be thinking about this. Way too complicated right now. Just talk with her. He went ahead and got undressed like usual too. T-shirt and shorts. When he got into bed though, he went ahead and took his shirt off too.

That caught her attention. “It’s winter and you’re hot?” She shook her head. “Geek.”

He sank down into the covers. “Maybe, maybe not.” He visibly saw her tense up. He turned on his side to face her. She glanced toward him.

“What do you want?” she asked. He reached toward her hand. “Is this supposed to be comfort?” He took his hand and moved it toward her cheek. She didn’t say anything right away until he tried to scoot closer, “Jarod, you know I don’t do hugs well.”

Jarod pulled her closer into a hug anyway, but he doubted that was going to be enough. He felt her succumb and relax in his arms.

“Okay, Jarod,” she said. “I know you haven’t had the easiest time lately. This is for you, not for me, get that straight.” She moved a little out of his grasp, only to feel her hug him back. “Don’t get used to this though, Boy Genius. I’m not the biggest hugger.”

Well. On one hand, it was nice. He got a hug from his old friend.

On the other hand, it wasn’t nice. He got a hug from his old friend. He could feel it. I am almost completely in the friend zone, aren’t I? No, no, no. He wanted to be friends, to establish a bond again. But, he wasn’t looking just for that. He was taking time, working his way toward his goal, but had he taken too long? Knowing it was risky, but knowing he couldn’t do this act much longer, he pulled her in tighter, moved his mouth to her neck, and hit that tender spot on a woman that he had learned years ago. Whenever he hit it just right, it was like a professional acupuncturist hitting that spot on the body to give a specific response. He should have got at least an involuntary moan of pleasure.

Except, it actually made Miss Parker laugh. She laughed. “What are you doing, tickling me?!” She backed up and her smile? Was radiant. Absolutely radiant. She rubbed her neck for several seconds before the smile faded back away into normalcy. “How’d you know I was ticklish there?” She groaned. “That’s not funny.”

It wasn’t. It was beautiful. It was the same smile she had in the garden that Debbie had snapped. A huge reason he loved that picture. He went in and got her in that same spot, feeling the same reaction.

“Jarod!”

He looked back toward her quickly but that smile only lasted a fraction as long, her anger rising faster.

“I can’t believe you did that-“

“I am not just their DNA prototype,” he interrupted her. No. No, he should be talking to her, not to himself about it. It was just, them. The thought of her with them. Like he was nothing. Like his children meant nothing.

They all meant something. Maybe not to the scrolls, he didn’t care, but they all meant something. And that smile of hers? That was his, not theirs. He was the ‘geek’ that could now bring it forth.

He didn’t care anymore. No, no, I have to do this right or she’ll run from me again.He couldn’t let her know how much he loved her, how much he was dying to be with her and only her. He had to do this right. “I have to tell you something. Thomas doesn’t have family, I was wrong about that.”

She just gave him a perplexed look. “Okay? That’s weird to get all moody about at night before bed.”

“I wanted you to know,” Jarod insisted, “because here with you, night after night, with no one else to go to-“

“Oooh, I get it.” Miss Parker tucked some of her hair back behind her ear. “Don’t worry about regrets or me. I’m not screwing up your Pretends by being a cheating wife. I wasn’t planning on it in the first place. I was just mad your momma made it into a rule.”

What? “You weren’t planning on it?” Jarod asked.

“No, of course not, that would be like . . .” she stopped. “We should get some rest.”

Like cheating on him? Would it feel like cheating on him? Is she finally coming around to me? “Would it feel like cheating?” He had to know, but she still wasn’t forthcoming. “Please. Talk to me?” He gently pushed her shoulder in a friendly manner. “Old geeky friend here? I want to know what’s going on.”

“Oh you always wanted to know what was going on.” Miss Parker sighed. “Fine, the truth is it would feel like cheating on Broots.”

Jarod felt his throat seize up. Broots?! No. That little. He. He could not have won her heart, not Broots. It wouldn’t work that way. He wasn’t the kind of guy that went with her, he wasn’t. He wasn’t! “Broots?” He tried to keep his voice level.

“Sorry, Jarod. I don’t think everything’s quite over yet. I didn’t want to tell you with all this happening, but you need to know,” Miss Parker said. “There’s more than one location for The Centre.”

“What?”

“Broots discovered it. He was looking deeply into what was wrong with Debbie, and he found news of a new Centre,” she revealed. “I don’t know how much longer I can be here. According to the information, most of the important staff will be informed in a month of its existence, and will report to work there.”

“But.” That was impossible. “It takes a long time to rebuild something like The Centre.”

“It’s already made, Jarod. They made it before taking down the one in Blue Cove,” Miss Parker revealed. “Everything is supposed to be the same, including the children being moved in.  I am still considered the Leader of the Centre. You know what that means. There’s a reason the devil hasn’t taken a life. And, there’s even another twist to it.” Miss Parker glanced toward him. “New staff shows someone called Jarod Hades in Lyle’s old position.”

Jarod was quiet, rubbing his thumb against the back of his fingers.

“We’ll see how things play out,” Miss Parker said. “I never know anymore what’s happening within five days let alone a month.” She scratched her head. “If worse comes to worse, and we’ll know by then how it’ll be . . . I’ll go back sooner, and fill out missing persons for Miss A and Onyssius. And if necessary, Debbie Broots too.”

Jarod closed his eyes, listening to his beating heart. “Then. That gives us one month to figure out how to stop Hades and Angel.” And he’d sure as hell do it. “You won’t lose them.” He grabbed her hand affectionately. “I promise, no matter what, I’ll do whatever I can to get this stopped, or stop them.”

“Mm.” She patted his face softly. Friendly like. “I’ve seen you pull a lot of miracles out of your butt, Jarod, so I can’t say whether or not I can believe you.” She tucked herself further into bed. “Here’s hoping.”

After she said that, the phone she kept nearby her rang. She picked it up from her endtable and tossed it to him. “I guarantee it’s for you, Jarod. It’s Broots. He’s been worried sick for two days about Debbie not remembering anything.”

“Yeah.” Jarod would have to give him a lie. He already knew what to say, he just didn’t want to dial him up and give it. He needed some peace though. “Jarod.”

“Jarod!” Broots sounded relieved on the phone. “You’ve been missing for two days.”

“Yeah. Things,” Jarod said. “Including Debbie. I know what’s wrong with her.”

“Oh? What is it? What’s wrong with my daughter?” Broots asked anxiously.

“It’s a side effect from the shot,” Jarod said. “She was struck with it twice. She’s still going to live, but the second time is playing havoc with her memories. It should be temporary and over in a couple of months. Don’t worry.”

“She was struck twice? When was the second time?”

“I don’t know,” Jarod lied. “It’s what I believe according to the symptoms. If you see anything else let me know.” He immediately hung up and tossed the phone back to Miss Parker.

“Nice lie,” she congratulated him as she put the phone back. “Have we had enough excitement to call it a day?”

“Yeah,” Jarod agreed. But then, the phone rang again.

Miss Parker groaned and tossed it to Jarod. “Daddy dearest, here.”

Jarod sighed but accepted the phone. Maybe his dad figured it out already. “Jarod.”

“It’s not gonna happen. I don’t want to hear one more word about it!”

Okay? “About what, dad?”

“Forgiveness. I can’t do it.”

Jarod hid his sigh, knowing that one wouldn’t be good over the phone. “It wasn’t her fault.”

“She won’t quit. For the sake of trying to work something out, she still won’t quit.”

“I don’t?” What was he talking about? “Quit what?”

“Pretending. She is still going to pretend.”

Oh. “That’s part of who she is, dad.”

“Pretending is not what someone is. Pretending is the reason The Centre found our family in the first place! I can’t do it. I can’t, not like this. I mean, even you know that Pretending isn’t a life. You can’t have your family and go out and live another life at the same time. I mean, right now, but not forever. The world doesn’t work that way.”

Damn. “Everyone’s different, Dad. It doesn’t mean that she doesn’t care-“

“I can’t. I can’t offer any forgiveness, I just can’t. Not until she wises up, Jarod. Even then, I just . . . I don’t see how . . . I mean. I love your mother, son, but . . . I don’t know. Emily says it’s because she’s been alone for so long, that it’s like an addiction. Like she’ll need help, but she could do it. I . . . now I could understand that, I just . . . sorry for calling, Jarod.”

“It’s okay,” Jarod said. “Dad. Do you love her?”

“With all my heart, Jarod.”

“Then . . . you’ll have to accept her,” Jarod said, “otherwise, that’s it. Life’s not perfect. Sorry, dad.”

“I know . . . I know.”

Jarod heard his dad hang up the phone and gave it back to Miss Parker. “Now we’ve had enough to call it a day.” Jarod shook his head. “He just can’t understand. He can’t forgive her.”

“Some things just aren’t forgivable, Jarod.” She took the phone. “Your dad is going to have to decide what he’s going to do soon. Your mom’s not going to hang out for him forever.” She hung it back up.

“True. But she’s not even dating anyone.” Jarod heard a scoff from Miss Parker. “What?”

“Nothing, nothing. Let’s just get some rest, Jarod. I am tired. The thought of everything. Especially Debbie.”

“Yeah. We need rest.” He tucked himself deeper in the bedding.

Only the future would see what happened for Debbie.

Only the future would know about the rise of the new Centre.

Only the future.

At the Pretender House the next morning. . .

Early morning. Cup of coffee. Miss Parker simply looked out the window, expecting a simple day. Jarod was out with Kyle, probably catching up with brotherly bonding, but he’d be coming back soon. Gemini was spending time in an all-white room, while Debbie was just having her own quiet time. Until then, she had Sydney and Margaret’s help. They were both out right now in the front yard.

Margaret was talking to him again. They talked a whole lot. To someone else, it would make sense. Sydney was trying to help Margaret, but Miss Parker figured out some time ago. There was something else there. Whether it was love, or just a kindred soul was hard to tell. Sydney’s problems with Jarod though, they seemed to be stemming him to help Margaret more than anything.

And Margaret? She needed that support. So Miss Parker didn’t care if it was professional, friendly, or something else. As long as both of them finally found some closure.

“It’s cute, isn’t it? Do you think they figured it out yet?”

Jarod’s voice. A small smile graced Miss Parker’s lips before disappearing behind her coffee. She didn’t think from their talk last night he caught on that fast.

“Too bad that’s gonna have to end before he could hit it.”

Wait. Jarod would never say anything like-! She felt something stab her. Needle. Before she could splash her hot coffee, she was already grabbed.

“Hi, honey.” Jarod Hades was grinning like a mad man to her. “Are you ready to come with me to my lovely hell?”

She struggled and tried to fight back, but it didn’t take long before she was out of energy. She was almost completely unconscious. “No. Fine, just take me,” she begged him. “Leave my children, leave them, and I’ll do whatever you want.”

“Now that would be a good deal,” Hades said as he picked her up. “You don’t need those little regular twins of yours anyhow. You’re going to be busy.” Right on cue, he watched as Sydney opened the door. “Are you really going to try and stop me? You don’t really have that kind of time you know.” He pulled out his gun and aimed at him. Of course, he didn’t have one. Watering the lawn. Just on a pretend.

“Let her go,” Sydney insisted. “Just let her go.”

“Hm. Well? I’ll tell you what?” Hades looked toward the other door, knowing Margaret would be coming in a different direction. She had enough skill not to run right into it. “Guess what, Margaret?!” He shouted with a bit of a happy flair, knowing she was somewhere in the house by then. “This time, you can go ahead and stay with Jarod and his kids if you want. Or not. Completely up to you. Run upstairs, grab the tikes, and get the hell out. Oh, and don’t worry about finding a weapon. I got the gun already, and uh? If you fight me, I’ll just gain the upper hand and kill everyone here except Miss Parker. That’s your warning.” Hades looked toward Sydney. “What do you think, Sydney?” Hades asked him as he gestured upstairs. “Fine piece of ass Jarod’s got for a mom, huh?”

Sydney didn’t say a word.

“Don’t worry. With her skill, she’s already got those kids, and probably the older ones too. Good thing, I couldn’t quite decide whether I wanted to kill her or them or not. I was going to flip a coin. You know, kind of like Two-Face in that movie Batman Forever? Have you seen it? It was fun, and I related to that guy. That kind of would have been fun. Maybe I should do that later for something else?” Hades chuckled. He moved closer to him. “Now, hold out your arm. You’re like a bonus, Syd,” he said, addressing him as a friend would. “I don’t particularly need you, so let’s not piss me off, huh? After all. Jarod would be extra upset if I had to kill you. Oh, I learned all about you. So even if you don’t mind risking your life? You’ve hurt poor Jarod enough, haven’t you?”

“Constantly talk. But say nothing.” Sydney held out his arm.

“I’ve heard that before,” Hades confessed. “But, don’t worry, the talking’s almost over for you.” He inserted the needle into Sydney. “Now that I’ve hunted down my Hunters. It’s almost time to start the show.”

“Hunters?” Sydney managed to say. “Did you hunt Broots too?”

“Oh, definitely, had to get him, it was one of the rules,” Hades said. “Argyle and his dad though, those guys were extra funny. It’s a good thing the clone helped me out in nabbing him. I don’t like offing funny people. The world needs more of that kind of thing, know what I mean?” Before he could get an answer, Sydney dropped unconscious. “Well, that was rude.”

Hades heard a gun cock not very far. “Resourceful. Guess you were ready, even while watering the lawn.” He grabbed Miss Parker, he didn’t have to get both of them then.

Oh well. All he needed was right in his arms.