Birthright *Series* Season 2 (CC, TEEN), Update,9/9/19

This is the place to post all your General Roswell fanfiction. Any Canon fics, which pick up directly from any episode of the show and that focus on Max/Liz, Michael/Maria, Isabel/Alex or Isabel/Jesse, Kyle/Tess, or all the couples together! Rule of Thumb: If Max healed Liz in the Crashdown in September 1999, then your fic belongs here. If it picks up from the show in any way, it belongs here.

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Kathy W
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Re: Birthright *Series* Season 2 (CC, TEEN), Chapter 21, 12/

Post by Kathy W » Sun Jan 11, 2015 6:32 pm

Hi, everyone! I'm sorry, but I'm not going to make it today. Classic winter illness has visited our house, and my head feels like Image. (I won't bother detailing what the rest of me feels like!) I was hoping I'd feel better by today, but no dice. Hopefully I'll be vertical by next week. (As opposed to horizontal, which is pretty much what I am now. Image ) So let's shoot for next Sunday, and hope this is a less-than-a-week bug.

Here's hoping you're all healthy!



Kathy

cjeb
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Re: Birthright *Series* Season 2 (CC, TEEN), Chapter 21, 12/

Post by cjeb » Sun Jan 11, 2015 7:17 pm

I guess I can wait............Hope you get to feeling better.
"I didn't step out from behind my tree,my kids cut er down and dragged me out kicking and screaming"

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Misha
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Re: Birthright *Series* Season 2 (CC, TEEN), Chapter 21, 12/

Post by Misha » Wed Jan 14, 2015 2:22 pm

::hugs::
"There's addiction, and there's Roswell!"

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Kathy W
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Chapter 22

Post by Kathy W » Sun Jan 18, 2015 3:06 pm

Thank you, everyone, for waiting another week. I'm mostly vertical, with occasional lapses, but certainly vertical enough to prop in a chair. (With a biiiiiiggg cup of tea. :P ) I appreciate everyone who's reading, and thanks to those who leave feedback. keepsmiling 7, the empty nest is certainly an issue. I think a lot of it is that we just get used to things being a certain way, and when they change after 2 or 3 decades, it's a shock to the system. But birds need to fly, and so do we--I've discovered that an empty nest allows me to fly in new directions too. (But I'm grateful my nest isn't emptying for the same reason Jeff Parker's and Jim Valenti's will!)





CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO





September 9, 2000, 12:30 p.m.

Crashdown Cafe





So here it is, Courtney thought, facing a perfectly coiffed, beady-eyed Vanessa in this oddest of places where she'd never expected to. In a curious way, that was actually comforting; the waiting game was over, and her instincts had been sound after all. Whether she lived to celebrate either remained to be seen.

"Lurking in storerooms?" Courtney said. "Quite the comedown for someone more accustomed to limos and private jets. How the mighty have fallen."

Vanessa rose from her seat, a battered folding chair used in lieu of a proper stepladder for reaching tall shelves. "Ah, yes—you were always quite the smartass. I'd forgotten how little I've missed that. And this wasn't my first choice, but finding the right place for a family reunion was a bit...problematic."

" 'Family'?" Courtney echoed. "No way are we 'family'. And what exactly is the plan here? I won't go quietly, and there's a whole restaurant out there that will come running the minute they hear something. Unless the plan is to make it look like some disgruntled co-worker offed me, in which case I can introduce you to someone who'd like to."

"A kindred spirit," Vanessa said dryly. "But surprisingly enough, I'm not here to kill you. I knew you'd find that hard to believe, which is why I chose an obviously public place to have this meeting, somewhere that would lend credence to my claims. Not to mention—"

"Get back to the part where you're not here to kill me," Courtney interrupted. "Because I'd sure like to kill you."

"I'm sure you would," Vanessa said, "or rather, you'd like to try. And the feeling is mutual, I assure you. But recent events have changed things. As it turns out...I do believe we're now on the same side."

Courtney snorted softly. "As if! Of all the idiotic stories you could come up with—"

"Stop talking," Vanessa ordered. "We have a chance we will never have again, and I am going to pursue that chance as far as I can, into the ground if necessary, even if it means allowing runty little traitors like you to keep breathing. Shut the door, shut your mouth, and listen up."

Courtney's mouth set in a thin line as she closed the door behind her. She had no idea why Vanessa wanted to chat before she killed her, but whatever; the longer she yakked, the more likely they'd be discovered, Maria's perverse habit of sniffing her out suddenly presenting as useful. She wouldn't go quietly either, so the two of them ought to be able to make a large enough fuss to attract attention.

"Good girl," Vanessa said approvingly as Courtney smoldered. "Now...I'm sure you came to Roswell for the same reason I did."

"You're waiting tables?" Courtney said. "Never took you for the server type. Take my advice and ditch the heels."

"Oh, for God's sake, don't play coy with me," Vanessa said impatiently. "The signal, of course. No doubt the Resistance noticed it."

"For all the good it did us," Courtney said. "No one's here."

Vanessa smiled. "Nice try. You're either lying or clueless, which, I don't care. There's someone here, all right, and that someone and I have reached an understanding."

"Great," Courtney deadpanned. "So your hairdresser talked you into that brassy brunette. And this interests me...why?"

"Will you be serious?" Vanessa snapped. "This is serious!"

"If it's so 'serious', then spit it out," Courtney retorted. "You and 'someone' reached an 'understanding'? The very notion of you reaching an 'understanding' with anyone is side-splitting, so forgive me if I need a few more details before my give-a-shit meter starts to budge."

"Fine," Vanessa said flatly. "Rath's Warder and I have come to an agreement."

Here we go, Courtney thought. With luck, she'd live long enough to suss out the truth of this so-called "agreement" and pass it on to interested parties. "Rath's Warder?" she repeated incredulously. "An 'agreement'? What kind of agreement? How he intends to execute you? Did you do an Ann Boleyn and talk him into a French swordsman?"

"No one's executing anyone, least of all him," Vanessa retorted. "I just saved his ass. He owes me."

Courtney blinked. " 'Saved' him…you 'saved' a Royal Warder? How? Why?"

"The details aren't important," Vanessa declared. "Suffice it to say that he's still walking and talking because I allowed it, and because someone needs to fix this…and it turns out he and I might have a way."

"Fix what?" Courtney demanded.

"Antar!" Vanessa exclaimed. "Our shambles of a planet! I want to go home, and when I get there, I want something still standing, someone still standing. That's not going to happen if Khivar remains in power."

Courtney pressed her jaw shut to keep it from falling into her lap. "And yes, I know I just spoke treason," Vanessa went on. "But Khivar has been nothing but a disaster since he got the big chair; the planet is a mess, our sister planets are a mess, everyone hates him. He's been on his way out the door ever since the Warders sent our ship back with that message that the king would return, and now that we know the king has returned, he's got one foot out the door. We need to shove him through it before he completely ruins everything, and it will take a combined effort to accomplish that. Jaddo and I have come up with a peace treaty we think will work."

"And Khivar agreed," Courtney said skeptically. "Nicholas agreed."

"Of course not," Vanessa snorted. "Nicholas is an idiot. Khivar is an idiot. All men are idiots. If you haven't figured that out yet, you're welcome."

"Thanks for the tip," Courtney said.

"Khivar will take the deal because it's the only way to keep his head," Vanessa continued. " Zan will take the deal because it's the only way to continue his dynasty...unless Brivari talks him out of it. He's the real power behind the throne, the one we have to convince to throw his weight behind this. Jaddo has his work cut out for him."

Courtney stared at her, not certain which statement was more fantastic—that Brivari could talk Zan out of anything, or that Jaddo was capable of any kind of "work", what with being dead and all. "So," she said slowly, "where do I fit into all of these grand plans?"

"You're Resistance. The Resistance always opposed Khivar, and that's important because everyone doesn't just hate Khivar, they hate all of us. Khivar's behavior has managed to tarnish our entire race," Vanessa went on bitterly. "Here we finally come to power, and he wrecks it for us. But you...you are the daughter of the leader of the Resistance, which makes you the current face of the Resistance. If you buy into this, the odds it will succeed skyrocket."

"And then what?" Courtney said. "If everyone hates us, where do we go from there?"

"We retreat," Vanessa sighed. "We withdraw, and wait for another chance to take power."

Courtney raised an eyebrow. "I'm gonna go out on a limb here and guess that you left that part out of your…'discussion'...with Jaddo."

"I did," Vanessa allowed, "but it doesn't matter. He knows what I intend to do. Hell, that's what he's been doing these past many years. Jaddo and I are...very much alike," she finished softly. "We think alike. We act alike. We both prefer bluntness to beating around the bush, action to political gamesmanship. We are uniquely suited to accomplish this."

Holy freakin' shit, Courtney thought, resisting the urge to gape at her. Vanessa sounded...smitten? Not exactly, but there was a definite note of admiration, an exceedingly rare thing coming from Vanessa. "So," Vanessa went on, "when the time comes, I need you to have a chat with your representative from the crown—"

"Wait—my what?" Courtney broke in.

"Let's not waste our mutually valuable time," Vanessa said wearily. "Hybrids? You're hiding some of them? Ring a bell? And if that doesn't, how about that house you're paying for on a waitress's salary? I know you're working for the crown."

"I prefer to think of it as working with the crown," Courtney remarked.

"Sweetheart, no one works 'with' the crown," Vanessa said. "Whether you realize it or not, you're working 'for' the crown."

"So that means you're not making a deal 'with' the crown, you're making a deal 'for' the crown," Courtney mused.

Vanessa's eyes hardened. "Just tell your handler that you support the treaty."

"I don't even know what's in this treaty," Courtney said. "And what if my contact is Jaddo? Sounds like telling him won't do much good."

"Of course it will," Vanessa said. "The more support he has when he brings this to Brivari, the more weight it will carry. Come to my office tonight and we'll—"

"No."

Vanessa raised an eyebrow. "No?"

"You really think I'd just walk into the lion's den?" Courtney said. "My 'support'—assuming I agree to give it—doesn't mean a whole lot if I'm that stupid. I'll find you."

"So you think I'm that stupid to let you pick the time and place?" Vanessa demanded.

Courtney rose from her chair, a small smile on her face. "I had no idea I frightened you so much," she said as Vanessa's expression darkened. "Good to know. You want my help? I pick. End of story."

"Oh, all right," Vanessa said peevishly. "But not a peep to your contact until you've heard me out. Do I have your word?"

"You know, I hadn't thought about that," Courtney said innocently. "I could use this to my advantage in so many ways, it isn't even funny—"

In one swift motion, Vanessa crossed the space between them and grabbed her by the arms. "You do that, and our one hope of surviving this dies," she said sharply. "What's the one thing you want most? If you could pick something right now, anything, anything at all, what would you want?"

Dangling in Vanessa's grip, her nails digging into her husk, Courtney blurted out the first thing which came to mind. "To live. Because if I'm dead, it's all over, whether or not any of this is true."

Vanessa's eyes widened; she looked blank for a moment, then abruptly released her. Her hands came away trailing sheafs of skin which hung from her fingertips in long, shimmering threads that sparkled in the storeroom's dim light.

"Yours, too," she said quietly. "But then we're all the same vintage. It's a bitch, isn't it? Now I know how humans feel when they grow old in that peculiarly vivid way they do."

Courtney said nothing as the trails of skin cells dissolved into dust. "We should be able to harvest the new husks in time," Vanessa continued. "It'll be tight, but if we're lucky, we'll manage. I can get you your replacement husk, and I'm the only one who can. Keep that in mind before you shoot your mouth off, because the one thing I want beyond merely surviving is to go home, and I'm betting you want that too. If you want anything left to go home to, don't screw this up."

Vanessa stepped past her and opened the storeroom door; light flooded in, making Courtney squint as she remembered to grab a bag of sugar before she left. They'd no sooner stepped outside when Maria appeared.

"There you are!" she exclaimed. "Found her!"

Mr. Parker appeared, doing a double take when he saw Vanessa. "I'm so sorry," Vanessa said with her trademark congressional smile. "I'm afraid I borrowed one of your employees for some directions. I hope I haven't caused a problem."

"Of course not!" Mr. Parker exclaimed as Maria's eyes narrowed. "Always a pleasure to help out our government representatives. How are you enjoying the lunches we're sending over?"

"Enormously, thank you," Vanessa answered. "This country's foundations rest on family-owned businesses like yours that I'm delighted to support." She turned to Courtney. "Thank you again for your help, Miss…?"

"Banks," Courtney answered.

"Yes, well, thank you, Miss Banks. I'm sure we'll see each other again."

Courtney finally started breathing again as Mr. Parker enthusiastically walked his so-called congresswoman to the door. "Jesus," Maria muttered. "And I thought I was teflon. Nothing sticks to you, does it?"

"I wouldn't know," Courtney said. "I'm not the one throwing dirt. Now if you'll excuse me, I have sugars to refill."

She left Maria fuming and completely unaware of how badly her hands were shaking, so badly that refilling sugars would have to wait. She thought she'd bought it back there when Vanessa had grabbed her, and was nothing short of flabbergasted to still be breathing. She'd assumed it was all a ruse, a tall tale to gain some sort of advantage, but now she wasn't so sure. Not only did Vanessa seem to believe Jaddo was still alive, her tone lacked the usual levels of guile and haughtiness; mostly she had projected a desperate earnestness and an almost palpable contempt for the ones she served. If this was genuine, hell really had frozen over. What to do now? She'd talk to Dee, of course, but this required an Antarian perspective. Jaddo was obviously unavailable, and Brivari was MIA. Her fellow Resistance members would never believe this could be genuine for the same reason she had trouble believing it. For just a moment, her eyes drifted toward the kitchen, where the one hybrid who might actually care was flipping burgers…

"Delivery!" Rath called. "UFO Museum. Who wants it?"

"I do," Courtney said quickly.

Ten minutes later, after handing a bag of food to Larak's hungry host, she left a scribbled note in their hiding place. Larak wasn't Antarian, but he was the closest thing she had to an advisor. He would have to do.





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





Roswell Sheriff's Station





"I do not understand why I learned vital information like that sitting at Jeff Parker's lunch counter," Valenti said angrily. "Do you have any idea how awkward that was? Do you have any idea what a compromising position that put me in?"

No worse a position than I've found myself in a million times over, Dee thought, working hard to maintain a neutral expression as Valenti paced in front of her, working up a good head of steam. The sheriff was angry that he'd learned of "Nasedo's" death from Max, but the truth was she hadn't even thought about telling him. Everything was still too fresh, too raw, too topsy turvy to start dragging others into this, and there was no need to anyway. Or so she'd thought until the King of Antar, a.k.a. her grandson, had decided otherwise, complicating an already complicated situation in ways he couldn't imagine. Perhaps it was best that she'd spent most of her time just listening to Valenti vent because when her turn came to talk, she wasn't sure how much to tell him. She'd rather not go into the nitty gritty of the "enemies-here-on-Earth" bit, or out Courtney, or even out Vanessa. She already had more questions than answers, and reading the sheriff chapter and verse would only lead to more questions she didn't have answers for.

"I'm sorry you found yourself in an uncomfortable situation," Dee said. "I had no idea Max would pull you into this—"

"At least someone did!" Valenti exclaimed. "Jesus! People are murdered in my town, and I don't know about it? Max wanted to know if I'd heard of any other deaths or anything strange, and I told him I hadn't, but I just spent the past hour combing through the call log to make certain we hadn't missed anything."

"You didn't," Dee said, privately noting that Max's instincts had been sound. "This was what you'd call a 'private hit'. Whoever did this wasn't interested in taking out humans."

"See, it's the 'whoever' part that worries me," Valenti said. "Max told me an enemy alien killed Nasedo. I only know about the kids and their guardians. Who are these enemy aliens? Did you know about them?"

"I don't know who killed him, if that's what you're asking," Dee said. "But I do know they have enemies. That's why they were chased off the throne."

"Great," Valenti muttered, angry enough that he hadn't noticed she'd dodged his question. "I've got murderous enemy aliens lose in my town."

"Not for long," Dee said. "The other Warder is pursuing whoever did this. He'll find them."

"Like the first one did?" Valenti demanded. "How do we know his goose won't wind up cooked too? Hell, how do we know he didn't kill Nasedo?"

Dee broke into a laugh, which drew raised eyebrows from Valenti. "I'm sorry," she said hastily. "It's just that those two have been at odds ever since they crashed 50 years ago. Believe me when I say that if either were ever so inclined to kill the other, they would have done so long ago. They didn't because they realize what's at stake, how hard it's going to be to get all of them back home. It's the only thing which has kept them speaking to each other all these years. Even when they weren't speaking to each other."

She chuckled at that last statement, but stopped when saw the look on the sheriff's face. "You're laughing," he said accusingly. "That was a legitimate question, and you're laughing. Not to mention that I just talked to a kid who thinks his only connection to his world is gone when I know otherwise, but wasn't supposed to say anything. And I can promise you, that is not funny!"

"Of course it isn't," Dee said, irritation edging her voice. "What do you think I've been grappling with these past many years? But there is a reason for that, one which—"

"One which doesn't matter," Valenti declared. "There is no good reason to keep what we know from Max. I went along with this while there were two of these 'guardians', but now there's only one. He needs to know about the other one."

"I sympathize with your position, but there is a good reason," Dee said. "There's no way I would have kept silent all this time without one—"

"Whatever it is doesn't matter now that one of them is dead," Valenti interrupted.

Dee's eyes narrowed. "It not only matters, it's more important than ever."

"If you don't tell him, I will," Valenti announced.

"Don't you even want to know what it is?" Dee demanded. "It's not like you to ignore facts."

"It's also not 'like me' to lie to people," Valenti retorted. "It's not 'like me' to be completely unaware that people are being murdered in my town. It's not 'like me'—"

There was a knock on the door, and a deputy poked his head in. "Sheriff? I've got that—"

"Not now, Hanson!" Valenti roared.

The deputy retreated, ashen faced as Dee's mouth set in a thin line. "I think you need to take a step back, Jim—"

"That's 'sheriff' to you!" Valenti barked.

"Oh, is that so?" Dee snapped, rising to her feet, her patience gone. "First it was 'sheriff', then it was 'call me Jim', and now we're back to 'sheriff' just because you don't like what happened? Well, I've got news for you, buddy; no one likes what happened, least of all the one who died or the one left holding the bag. And no one knows what happened except the one who died and the one who killed him. Here you are, carrying on like you're the only one in the dark when we're all in the dark! You want to know what happened? Get in line!"

Dee plopped back down in her chair as Valenti gaped at her, every bit as white as the deputy who'd fled. She'd probably gone too far, but it was infuriating to sit here watching a grown man throw a temper tantrum because he didn't know every last thing he wanted to now. Good Lord, when had she known every last thing she'd wanted to know? When had the kids? When had anyone? To hear him talk, he was the victim instead of Jaddo, instead of the kids left with a single Warder, instead of Brivari, now on his own. She'd likely regret it, but at this moment, she didn't care if she'd just wrecked their alliance. With friends like these, who needed enemies?

But she needn't have worried; the wind had gone out of Valenti's sails. Slowly, he lowered himself into his chair, looking everywhere, anywhere but at her. Neither of them spoke for what seemed like a very long time.

"I...I'm sorry," Valenti said finally. "I guess I just...I guess I just wasn't expecting this. We'd only just settled the whole thing with Michael and the bones, and I thought...I thought…"

"That we were safe?" Dee finished. "That we were done? Because we're never safe, sheriff, and we're never done. Not really."

Valenti's eyes dropped. "Jim," he said awkwardly. "Please call me 'Jim'. And if I every try to rescind that again...slap me."

"With pleasure," Dee said.

His eyes flew up, startled, but she was smiling. "I guess the summer kind of lulled me into a false sense of safety," he went on. "And the bones thing was really a human problem, so…" He paused. "Any chance I could hear that reason you're willing to keep Max in the dark? Must be a pretty good reason if you went along with it."

"You can put away the butter knife," Dee said dryly. "You don't need to flatter me, you just need to stop whining."

Valenti smiled faintly. "A low maintenance woman. I've heard they existed, but I've never met one."

"Yes, well, my husband might disagree. The reason Max cannot know about his other Warder is that those Warders are required to obey his orders, and Max, being a teenager, cannot be trusted to not misuse that prerogative."

"Well, of course they're supposed to obey him, but geez, doesn't this qualify as a special circumstance?" Valenti said. "Can't they postpone all the 'Your Majesty' stuff until he actually climbs back on the throne?"

"You misunderstand," Dee said. "They must obey the king's orders. They are genetically engineered to obey the king's orders. They are not capable of refusing to obey the king's orders."

Valenti blinked. "What?"

"Back in 1989 when the kids first...appeared," Dee said, "they briefly remembered their former lives. They briefly remembered their Warders. And Max gave those Warders a devastating order—he ordered them to tell them all why they were here, to describe the chain of events which led to their waking up in different bodies on another world. The Warders couldn't refuse. They had to answer, and so they told them how they had all been betrayed and murdered."

"Shit," Valenti whispered.

"Now, remember, these were young children," Dee went on, "about 6 years old in human terms. They couldn't handle it. They all had what can best be termed a nervous breakdown and promptly forgot what they'd just remembered. We assumed they'd remember eventually, and maybe they will...but they haven't yet. That's what happened when they were small; just imagine the havoc which could be wreaked now. The Warders have always been in hiding because they fear what the king will make them do, and when the time came to reunite them all, it was decided that one of them would always remain hidden so that one would always be free. Maybe that will change now, maybe it won't, but until it does, I'm keeping my mouth shut, and you should too."

"So what you're saying," Valenti said slowly, "is that the guardians have to do whatever Max says? Even if they know they shouldn't? Even if it's something stupid?"

"Even if he orders them to kill you," Dee said softly. "Or me. They wouldn't be able to stop themselves."

Valenti was silent for a moment, staring at her. "Okay, that is the most asinine thing I've ever heard in my life. What moron came up with that one?"

"It has to do with the way shapeshifters are feared and hated on their world," Dee answered. "It was felt that giving the king the ability to control them was a wise thing to do. Suffice it to say that whoever did that never envisioned them being in the situation they're in now, but here they are. Here we are. And that is why I've gone along with it these many years; I saw firsthand what happened when a child is given that kind of power, and the results weren't pretty. Just think for a moment—what would you expect Kyle to do if he woke up tomorrow and you had to do everything he told you to?"

"Yeah, yeah, I get it," Valenti said in dismay. "Okay; mum's the word. But please...let me know when stuff like this happens? This town is my responsibility. If I'd known this was going down last night, I might have been able to help."

"It was an alien who died," Dee reminded him, "and an alien who killed him. Your constituents were never in danger."

" 'My' constituents?" Valenti echoed. "Everyone in this town is my 'constituent'. Everyone in this town is my responsibility, human or alien. I don't differentiate by species. Do you?"

Dee's expression softened. "No...but most people would. Except your father. He felt the same way."

"My father's not exactly talkative any more," Valenti allowed, "but from what little he's said, it appears that you had a lot to do with his feeling that way."

"God knows I tried," Dee said. "I remember sitting on the steps of this very station arguing law with him. I was trying to make the protections afforded illegal aliens apply to...well...you know."

"Seriously?" Valenti chuckled. "I'd love to hear that one…" He stopped, his eyes far away. "You know, it's weird, but...I think you knew my father better than I ever did. I certainly never sat on any steps discussing anything with him."

"I know," Dee said quietly. "And I'm sorry about that. I'm also sorry that you weren't informed about what happened. That would have been my responsibility, and I didn't follow through. It won't happen again."

"Sounds like you kind of had your hands full," Valenti allowed. "Hasn't even been 24 hours. I kinda jumped the gun a little. I just feel bad for Max. He was trying so hard to be calm and detached, but you could tell that part of him was panicking."

"At least you get to have these conversations with him," Dee said ruefully. "I would dearly love to be able to support them openly, but I have to settle for roundabout methods. The Warders aren't the only one in the shadows."

"But he can't order you around, can he?" Valenti said.

"He cannot," Dee confirmed, "a point I've made many times. But even though I would try my best to influence him, what do you think an adolescent boy would do if he learned he had that kind of power? What do you think he'd do if he had someone like Michael pressuring him? I'm not sure I could stave off the worst. He needs to be more mature; we just need to keep him alive long enough to get that way."

"And encourage him to get that way," Valenti added. "Like any parent would. That's the one thing I keep remembering about that message he told me about, the one from their mother—he's somebody's kid. Doesn't matter what species he is or what planet he's from, he's somebody's kid. That's something we can both identify with—you've got a kid, I've got a kid, and if I lost that kid…"

He stopped, a look of growing horror in his eyes as he whipped his wristwatch around. "Holy shit! I forgot about Kyle!"

Dee blinked as Valenti grabbed his hat and bolted out of the office so fast, he practically knocked his chair back against the wall. Shrugging, Dee gathered up her things. She had just reached her car when her phone rang.

"Dee?" Courtney's breathless voice said. "You will never believe who just came to see me!"

"Today? I might," Dee said dryly. "The Easter Bunny? The Tooth Fairy?"

"Don't I wish," Courtney said. "It was Vanessa. She said she and Jaddo made a deal, and she wants my buy-in."

"And you're still alive," Dee noted, "which means that deal is looking more and more like it's the real…'deal'."

"This is hardly the time for groaners," Courtney said crossly. "She wants to meet me in private to go over the details. Which would be a great time to kill me."

"If she wanted to kill you, why didn't she just wait in your living room and do you in there?" Dee said. "But it doesn't matter. Jaddo told me the terms of the treaty. When does your shift end?"





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





Evans residence






"There you are!" Diane exclaimed. "You snuck out before I got to you. It's cleaning day!"

Max blinked. "What?"

"Cleaning day?" Diane repeated. "That magical day before school starts when your room is emptied out, scrubbed fresh, and put back together minus at least a third of your stuff? Don't tell me you've forgotten; it's a tradition."

"Uh...I only ever remember doing that once," Max said. "And that was last year."

"Okay, so it's a new tradition," Diane said, linking arms with him and pulling him down the hall. "But it worked out so well last year that I've decided to make it a permanent one. I've waited all year for this."

"My room's not that dirty," Max muttered.

"It's not just dirt, it's clutter. So," Diane went on briskly, "I've gotten you all set up with a fresh vacuum cleaner bag, dust cloths, trash bags, everything you need for a good, thorough cleaning."

"Don't most people do this in the spring?" Max said doubtfully as she handed him a garbage bag.

"Oh, no," Diane said, wagging a finger. "As soon as school starts, you and Izzy are gone even when you're not gone. And as soon as summer vacation starts, you're gone for different reasons. But this, the last weekend before school starts, when we're going through new school clothes and new school supplies, is the perfect time to clean house. Before there isn't any time to clean house."

"No offense, Mom, but I'd rather spend my last summer weekend doing just about anything other than cleaning," Max said.

"Exactly!" Diane beamed. "You'll clean all the faster so you can get back to your end-of-summer celebrations. See? This is the perfect time to do this. Just look at these piles of clothes. And there's a dish over there which might walk to the dishwasher all by itself…" She paused, frowning at the carpet in front of the window. "That's odd. What is that?"

In a split second, Max zoomed from peeved to terrified as Diane knelt on the carpet to the left of his window. They'd cleaned up the blood; he was sure of it...or was he? It had been so dark, and they'd been so upset, and in such a hurry. Panic-stricken as Diane bent closer to look, he aimed power at that section of the carpet, producing an audible gasp.

"Max! What did you do here? It's...it's…white."

Which is better than red, Max thought as he bent over the offending strip of carpet to find a bald, colorless patch. "I don't know," Max said. "Maybe the sun faded it?"

"This isn't faded, it's...well, I don't know what it is, but this is precisely why this room needs a thorough cleaning at least once a year," Diane huffed. "And it looks like the carpet needs shampooing. You get started, and I'll call the hardware store about renting a shampooer."

"Knock, knock?"

Isabel stood in the doorway, a rubber glove on one hand, her hair swept up in a hasty bun. "Oh, Izzy, your brother's been playing with bleach, or...something," Diane sighed. "It's probably all the coming and going through the window. Someone must have had something on their shoes. Why can't you kids use the front door like every other normal human being on the planet?"

"Maybe we're not from this planet," Max said.

"Nice try," Diane said dryly as Isabel's eyes popped, "but you're not getting off that easy. I'll go get the upholstery cleaner. The sooner we treat that, the more likely it'll come out."

Isabel kept a brittle smile on her face as her mother left the room. "Was that supposed to be funny?" she demanded. " 'Not from this planet'? And what is she talking about? What's wrong with the carpet? We cleaned it. I know we did."

"She saw something," Max said. "I don't know what, and now I won't because when I tried to fix it...that's what happened."

Isabel bent over the pale patch of carpet. "You did a Michael. Just threw power at it in a panic. Lucky for us it just changed the color instead of blowing up."

No, I didn't, Max thought. He'd gone too far, but not because he'd thrown anything; he'd been aiming like he always did, thinking about what he wanted to accomplish like he always did. He'd been feeling like this ever since Pierce, that he was stronger than he had been, that he had to throttle back his powers. And yet when he passed a hand over the offending spot, it reverted to the color of the carpet with no problem.

"Isabel, do you feel like we're getting…"

"What?" Isabel said in alarm. "Getting what?"

Max shook his head. Stronger, he'd been about to say, but Isabel wasn't ready to hear that. "Nothing. You're probably right. I just…'did a Michael'. So...I see you got drafted into the cleaning brigade too."

"If you tell anyone you saw me wearing rubber gloves, I'll throttle you," Isabel said darkly. "Mom grabbed me right after I got back from Tess's house. Where were you?"

"Talking to Valenti. I had to," Max added when Isabel's eyes widened. "He's on our side now, one of the few people who is. He needed to know. And I wanted to know if anything weird had happened lately, maybe something that could lead us to whoever killed Nasedo."

"Right," Isabel said quickly. "Right, I...I'm still struggling with the fact that he knows, that's all. So what'd he say?"

"Nothing weird to report," Max answered. "And he's sorry for our loss."

"Yeah, well, it's not like we were close," Isabel said. "It's really Tess's loss."

"How is she?" Max asked.

"She looks fine," Isabel said. "She sounds fine. But she's not fine. How could she be? But she won't show it because Nasedo taught her not to show emotion, to show weakness. And now we know why."

"We'll find out who did this," Max promised. "We'll figure it out."

Isabel gave him an anguished look. "I'm not sure I want to. He said we had enemies, and now they're here. And they're not human enemies this time, they're alien enemies. We know what Nasedo could do. What can these enemies do?"

"We're getting ahead of ourselves," Max said. "Whoever it was only went for Nasedo. No one's come after us. Maybe they don't know who we are."

"Do you really believe that?" Isabel whispered.

"I have to," Max said soberly. "It's the way I stay sane."

"So, what, we're going to just go back to school like nothing's happened?" Isabel said.

"Do you have a better idea?" Max asked. "I didn't think so," he went on when her eyes dropped. "Besides, we need some normalcy right now. I could stand to get out of this bedroom and stop looking at where he fell through the window and…" He stopped as they stood in awkward silence for a moment. "Let's just say I won't mind having other things to think about. Plus it'll be harder for anyone to get at us in school—it's too public."

"So we just go back to English and Social Studies, and do our alien murder investigation on the side," Isabel said in a deeply skeptical voice.

"That's right," Max said. "Valenti said he'd keep his eyes open, but an alien did this, which means it's up to us. We'll have to figure it out ourselves. There's no one else to do it for us."





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




Glenwood, New Mexico





"That'll be $20.56," the convenience store clerk announced. "Read the sign, bud," he added sternly, pointing to a bedraggled piece of paper taped to the aging cash register which announced "No bills above $20". "We've only got about 300 people living here. We don't get fifties."

"My apologies," Brivari said, digging in his wallet. "Oh, and I need a pack of Marlboros. Black Menthols."

The clerk let out a low whistle. "High test?" he said appreciatively. "Like those myself. None of that 'light' or 'ultra light' crap. I mean, if you're gonna smoke, why not smoke, know what I'm sayin'? Go for the good stuff. Go all the way!"

"Indeed," Brivari agreed.

The clerk turned to scour the wall of cigarettes behind him as Brivari turned his attention to the video surveillance monitor tucked high in the corner above the front counter. A moment later the video was rewinding, the hours flying backwards as the clerk frowned and muttered, searching diligently for what he would not find, completely missing the rapidly flickering video.

"Guess we're out of those," the clerk said.

"Could you please double check?" Brivari asked, having chosen that brand precisely because of its absence. "I'm quite partial to them."

"I'm a Gold man myself," the clerk allowed, "but I hear ya. I'll go take a peek in the back." He vanished into a small room behind the counter, reappearing a minute later with a regretful shake of the head. "Sorry, man, but...whoa. What was that?"

"What was what?" Brivari asked.

The clerk stared at the monitor, now obediently showing their conversation. "I...uh...never mind," the clerk said. "We're all out of of the Black Menthols. Not much of anywhere to get them around here either. If you're heading over the border to Arizona, you could try the gas station right on the other side."

"I'll do that," Brivari answered. "Thank you."

The tiny town of Glenwood was nearly deserted when he exited the store despite the fact that this was a Saturday afternoon. He was indeed headed over the Arizona border, but not for cigarettes. His quarry had appeared on the surveillance tape, disheveled and badly injured, although he'd managed to hide it. It appeared Jaddo had managed to give almost as well as he'd gotten, with "almost" being the operative word there. But no matter.

It wouldn't be long now before he finished the job.




~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



I'll post Chapter 23 on Sunday, February 1. :)
BRIVARI: "In our language, the root of the word 'Covari' means 'hidden'. I'm always there, Your Highness, even if you don't see me."

Roswelllostcause
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Location: Motown

Re: Birthright *Series* Season 2 (CC, TEEN), Chapter 22, 1/1

Post by Roswelllostcause » Sun Jan 18, 2015 4:58 pm

Great part! Can't wait for more!
Check out my Author page for a list of my fics!


http://www.roswellfanatics.net/viewtopi ... 1&t=155639

keepsmiling7
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Joined: Thu Jun 28, 2007 9:34 pm

Re: Birthright *Series* Season 2 (CC, TEEN), Chapter 22, 1/1

Post by keepsmiling7 » Mon Jan 19, 2015 7:38 am

Thanks for the new part, glad everyone is finally feeling better at your house.

Vanessa is acting like a true politician with her responses to Jeff.....
And Hanson always manages to appear at the worse times.
Cleaning day before school starts.........great idea!
Loved Max's response to his mother......"maybe we're not from this planet".
How true, how true.
Carolyn

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Kathy W
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Chapter 23

Post by Kathy W » Sun Feb 01, 2015 4:13 pm

Hello and thank you to everyone reading!






CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE




September 9, 2000, 5:30 p.m.

Roswell, New Mexico






"So, how was it?" Valenti asked. "Did you have a good time?"

"Yup," Kyle answered.

"What about the weather? Did it behave?"

"Yup."

"Was the food edible?"

"Yup."

Valenti glanced at his son, who was staring out the window. "Did the coaches know their stuff?"

"Yup."

"Get anyone pregnant?"

Kyle shook his head. "Nice try, Dad."

"And it worked," Valenti noted. "I was trying to figure out if you weren't listening or just weren't interested in answering."

"And you have your answer!" Kyle said with mock enthusiasm. "Let's hear it for the master interrogator."

"I'm not trying to 'interrogate' you," Valenti protested. "I'm just interested. I haven't seen you for weeks. I missed you."

"So that's why you were two hours late picking me up," Kyle said. "Now I get it."

"I already explained that," Valenti said, trying to keep the irritation out of his voice, "and apologized."

"Oh, I know," Kyle assured him. "I'm just connecting the dots."

"You're just being a dick," Valenti said flatly.

"No, I have a dick," Kyle corrected. "At least I did last time I looked, which would have been my second trip to the bathroom while I was waiting two hours for you to pick me up."

"Why is it that when you're busy and blow me off, I'm just supposed to accept it, but when I'm busy, you go all pissy girl on me?" Valenti demanded.

"So you're saying you blew me off?" Kyle said.

"So you're admitting you blow me off?" Valenti retorted.

" 'Course I do," Kyle shrugged. "I'm a kid. I'm supposed to blow my parents off. It's the whole 'becoming your own person' thing, or at least that's what the school psychologist says."

"Yeah, well, start 'becoming your own person' by stop acting like your mother," Valenti said bitterly. "God knows she was a master of the silent treatment. Looks like you take after her."

Ouch. Valenti felt a twinge of regret as that last grenade hit home; Kyle never liked hearing anything bad about his mother. It was downright unfair how the absent parent wound up on a pedestal, that very absence cloaking them in a saintly glow all out of proportion to the truth. Without regular exposure to the absent parent's faults and foibles, children of divorce built them into the hero they wanted them to be, while the parent present and accounted for enjoyed no such largesse. Nope, when you lived with them, taught them, disciplined them, there was nowhere to hide from the harsh glare of adolescent judgment.

"That was a low blow," Kyle protested.

"How so? Like it or not, you're doing exactly what she used to do."

"I don't want to hear about it," Kyle muttered.

"Oh, I'll bet you don't," Valenti said darkly. "Tell me, what is it about your mother? She hasn't seen you in ages, but her laundry list of bad habits is unmentionable. When did she turn into a saint?"

"I never said she was a saint," Kyle said sullenly.

"Guess I already answered my own question," Valenti went on, ignoring him. "It's the fact that you haven't seen her in ages that lets you make her into anything you want her to be. You don't see her, so you don't see all the warts. When mom doesn't call for six months, she's just busy, but when dad is two hours late for a very good reason, he's blowing you off."

"I never said you were blowing me off," Kyle argued.

"No, you just implied it. I told you I lost track of time. Losing track of time isn't blowing you off; blowing you off is a conscious decision. You know, like the one your mother makes when she doesn't return your phone calls?"

"It's not that you lost track of time, it's why you lost track of time," Kyle retorted.

"I told you why—someone was murdered. That's not important enough to lose track of time?"

"Not 'someone'—an alien," Kyle said bitterly. "Or should I say 'another alien', because we seem to be to ass deep in aliens these days."

The light up ahead turned red, and Valenti's car screeched to a halt in a decidedly unsheriff-like fashion, drawing stares from nearby drivers. Great. Just great.

"So you're saying an alien death doesn't count like a human death?" Valenti said. "That an alien is somehow 'less than'?"

"I didn't say that," Kyle protested.

"Yeah, you kinda did. So if I'd been late because of a human death, that would have been okay with you? Your version of the silent treatment is species specific? Someone died, Kyle! Died!"

"Yeah, I know what 'died' means, Dad!" Kyle exclaimed. "I was dead, remember?"

"I thought you said you didn't remember."

"I don't need to!" Kyle exclaimed. "You keep reminding me! Every chance you get, you remind me that I died, and Max Evans saved me. And every chance I get, I point out that he's the reason I died in the first place—"

"No, he isn't. You are."

Kyle blinked. "Say what?"

"You didn't stay put," Valenti said. "You shouldn't have been anywhere near that UFO Center. I told you to stay put for a very good reason that should finally be apparent, but you didn't do what I told you to do!"

"You didn't tell me a damned thing!" Kyle snapped. "You were MIA! It was Evans who told me to 'stay put', and I'd just had Creepy Suit Guy holding me hostage, so why should I listen to him? Crappy choice of messenger, Dad."

"I couldn't come!" Valenti exclaimed. "I was too busy trying to deal with Psychotic Alien Hunter—"

"But I didn't know that!" Kyle broke in. "All I knew was that my dad was missing and his idiot deputies didn't seem to have figured that out. I didn't stay put because of you! I went looking for you! I just…" Kyle stopped, frustration evident on his face until suddenly, he took a deep breath and closed his eyes, his hands falling into his lap. "You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger," he intoned.

Valenti stared at him. "What?"

"No conditions are permanent," Kyle said, his eyes still closed. "No conditions are reliable. Nothing is self."

"That's what you were babbling back at the bus station," Valenti said, mystified. "What on earth are you talking about?"

The light turned green. Valenti started forward, more carefully this time, as Kyle shook his head, his eyes still closed. "What on 'earth'. Every time I hear that expression now, I…"

"Roll your eyes?" Valenti suggested.

Kyle thought for a moment. "Smile," he corrected. "Because it's supposed to make it sound so big, and now it sounds so…"

"Small," Valenti finished.

"Yeah," Kyle agreed. "That."

Calmer now, Kyle opened his eyes. They drove in silence for a few minutes.

"It's good that we did that," Kyle said finally. "Had it out about what happened, I mean. We didn't before I left."

"Yeah, well...it was still kind of raw," Valenti said, chagrined that he'd managed to yell at his kid mere minutes after his homecoming.

"You mean it's not now? No, no, you're right," Kyle went on, cutting off a flood of apologies. "I didn't do what you told me to. I went after you because I was afraid you were in trouble...and then I untied the madman and handed him a gun which he tried to kill you with. I just made everything worse." He paused. "I'm sorry."

"You didn't know," Valenti said gruffly. "And you meant well."

Kyle winced. "Thanks, Dad. So did the Psychotic Alien Hunter. Will that get him off the hook?"

"No," Valenti said flatly, "because your 'meaning well' didn't involve trying to gun down eight people. Your 'meaning well' gets you brownie points."

"When you're not slapping me upside the head for trying in the first place," Kyle noted. "Face it—two Valenti's equals one giant clusterfuck."

"Nah," Valenti said. "You need at least three people for a clusterfuck."

They reached another red light, sans screeching this time, looked at each other...and burst out laughing. After the heated exchange of a few moments ago, the release was welcome, even if it did draw stares from nearby drivers for the second traffic light in a row. He'd bet the rent he was going to get phone calls about this one.

"If you're not going to tell me anything about football camp, will you at least tell me what the babbling is about?" Valenti said when their chuckles had finally subsided.

"It's Buddhism, Dad, not babbling. Don't judge," Kyle added sternly as Valenti contemplated doing just that. "I needed a way to deal with what had happened, and that helped. End of story."

"Buddhists?" Valenti said, gobsmacked. "At a football camp?"

"Wow," Kyle said dryly. "Who would have thought that Buddhists would trip you out more than aliens?"

"Buddhists," Valenti repeated. "At a football camp."

Kyle shrugged. "Some guys will try anything to win. I found it useful for an entirely different reason. And it works, see? I'm not mad any more."

"Jesus," Valenti muttered.

"Nope, no Jesus in Buddhism," Kyle reported.

"No, I meant, Jesus, I think I liked you better mad," Valenti said. "At least I'm used to that."

"Yeah, well, I have to get used to aliens, and you have to get used to Buddha," Kyle said. "Trade ya."

Fair point, Valenti allowed. "Guess I can't argue with success," he said grudgingly. "And it sure beats seeing a shrink."

"Why?" Kyle said suspiciously. "Were you going to send me to a shrink?"

"No. Max Evans' parents made him see a shrink all summer. They don't know what happened, but they know something did."

Kyle pondered that for a moment. "So he had to lie all summer," he said finally. "That sucks."

"It does," Valenti agreed.

"I think I prefer yelling at each other," Kyle said. "At least we both know what really happened."

They had reached the house, mercifully absent any tailgaters wondering why their sheriff was shouting and screeching. "I'm glad to have you back, son," Valenti said as he pulled Kyle's bag out of the trunk. "It was an empty house without you."

"Probably quieter, too," Kyle noted.

"Too quiet," Valenti agreed. "I'll take yelling any day. I tried to clean up for you," he went on as they headed into the house. "Afraid I stashed a few things in your room while you were gone; I'll get those out in just a minute here."

"Yeah, it's fine," Kyle said. "About Noriega—"

"Nasedo."

"Whatever. Wasn't one of them living with him?"

"Yeah. Tess. Why?"

Kyle shifted his bag uncomfortably to the other hand. "Well...what happened to her? Or what's going to happen to her?"

"Not sure," Valenti admitted. "He only died last night."

"Did you check on her?"

"No," Valenti said. "Haven't had time."

"Don't you think you should? I mean, she's a kid all by herself, even if she is an alien."

"Good idea," Valenti said. "I'll do that after we get you settled—"

"I don't need help 'getting settled'," Kyle broke in. "I live here, remember? Football camp wasn't that long. And I didn't come home to an empty house, but Tess will. She's living the nightmare that made me go after you. You should check on her."

Valenti stared at him for a moment. "Okay. Does this count as blowing you off?"

Kyle smiled faintly. "Not when it's my idea."





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





Harding residence






Tess heaved the last stack onto the dining room table only seconds before it spilled out of her arms; it spilled onto the table instead, knocking over other stacks in the process. All the piles of mail Nasedo had so derided now resided here, the better to re-sort them; doing that in his bedroom, sitting on the bed he'd never sleep in again, was just too depressing. Reality was intruding, having seriously reared its ugly head shortly after Isabel had left. The slumber party had been fun and allowed her to ignore it a while longer, but that couldn't go on forever. She now had exactly one and half days before school started again, one and a half days before she could lose herself in that blessed nonsense she was usually so impatient with. She needed to fill those one and a half days, and sorting through the mail seemed like a good way to do it. Nasedo had been going to, but…

But he's dead, she thought, those damnable tears welling up again. Funny how someone so emotionless could inspire emotion. Or was she really just crying for herself because she was alone? Hard to tell; could be either or both, and she'd plopped into a dining room chair and attacked the first stack before it occurred to her that there was one, if only one, good thing about Nasedo being gone.

Setting the bills down, Tess climbed the stairs to Nasedo's empty bedroom. She'd never taken the alien box from the wall hideaway. She'd thought about doing so many times, but even though his room no longer seemed frightening after he'd left for Washington, it had reverted to its former scary self whenever she'd contemplated removing that box. She never knew when Nasedo was going to reappear, and even though he did so infrequently, she was willing to bet that one of those infrequent times would be just as she withdrew the box from the wall. Or if she dodged that bullet, she'd put it back differently, or wrong, or leave some telltale clue that she'd been messing with it. But now it didn't matter. He'd never walk in on her unexpectedly again, never complain about her filing system, never notice anything she did, right or wrong. It was free for the taking. That should feel good, at least on some level.

It didn't.

Moving slowly, Tess sat on the edge of the bed, passed her hand over the wall to reveal the handprint, and reached inside. It was there, right next to the metal box which held the documentation of their human lives, its sharp corners a sharp contrast to the rounded corners of the alien box. She pulled it out, turning it over and over in her hands, marveling at how light it was, how smooth, how gray, how orb-like; look quick, and it could almost be mistaken for a large orb. The galaxy symbol swirled on top, and she held her hand over it hesitantly—would she set off some kind of alarm? But nothing happened, nothing at all; the box sat there impassively, waiting for its master who had most likely reset it the moment he'd arrived back in town. She'd find out whatever the timer had been set for because she'd have to wait that long. How terribly inconvenient that Nasedo had died at the beginning of a timer cycle…

KnockKnock

Startled, Tess almost dropped the box. Hurrying to the window, she found a sheriff's cruiser in her driveway and a deputy-hatted someone at the front door. What the hell? Had they found out "Ed Harding" had died? How would they know that? Don't answer it, she told herself. Lots of people wouldn't be home on a Saturday afternoon.

"Miss Harding?" a voice called. "Sheriff Valenti. Are you home?"

Tess relaxed a fraction; at least it was the sheriff and not some random deputy. But "in the know" or not, she still didn't want to talk to him until she'd consulted the Others, so she ignored his repeated knocks...until she heard the front doorknob jiggling. Frantic now that the sheriff would barge in and find her holding an alien box, she shoved it back into the wall in a way which Nasedo would surely have disapproved of and hurried downstairs, throwing open the door just as Valenti was about to make good use of a lock pick.

"Miss Harding," he said. "You're home."

"Sheriff," Tess said. "You're breaking and entering. Did you need something?"

To his credit, Valenti merely pocketed the lock pick without trying to hide it. "I came over to see how you were doing."

"How I'm 'doing'? That's why you're breaking into my house?"

"I was concerned for your safety," Valenti amended. "Max told me what happened."

"What happened?" Tess said innocently.

"About Nasedo," Valenti said.

"What about him?"

"About him being murdered," Valenti said deliberately. "May I come in? I'm not really comfortable having this conversation on the front porch."

Any hope she had of keeping her current predicament to herself dashed, Tess reluctantly stepped aside. "So," she said awkwardly after she'd closed the door. "Max told you."

"Yes, he did. He wanted to know if there had been anything strange happening in town."

"There hasn't been. You would have gone to him," she went on when the sheriff raised an eyebrow. "And whoever did this wasn't after just anyone; they were after Nasedo."

"And now they may be after all of you," Valenti noted.

"I'm sorry, how is this your problem?" Tess demanded. "If someone's after us, we can take care of ourselves."

"Yeah, I've seen that," Valenti answered, "which is why this is my problem. That and the fact that any citizen being targeted in my town is my problem."

"We're not 'citizens'—"

"I beg to differ," Valenti broke in. "Wherever you're from, you live here now, which makes you a citizen and deserving of the law's protection. Same for any innocent bystanders who might be in the line of fire when you...'take care of yourselves'."

" 'The law's protection'," Tess said scornfully. "You mean like the laws Pierce was following? Thanks, but no thanks."

"Pierce was breaking the law," Valenti corrected. "Don't judge all humans by Pierce, Miss Harding. You wouldn't want me judging you by those who forced you off your planet, would you?"

Damn it, Tess thought sourly; the sheriff hadn't taken the bait, his tone calm and level despite her irritation, and to top it off, he was obviously practiced in the art of debate. "Look, I didn't come here to start an argument," Valenti went on. "I just came by to see if you needed anything."

"And why would I need anything?" Tess said.

"Gee, I don't know...maybe because your guardian just turned up stone cold dead in the marketplace?"

"Love the visual," Tess said flatly. "But I'm good. Have a nice day."

"Not so fast," Valenti said in that finger wagging tone which drove adolescents crazy. "You've got a house to look after now all by yourself, and bills coming in—"

"Don't you think we thought of that?" Tess interrupted. "I've been on my own for months now. We settled all this when Nasedo went to Washington."

"So how do you pay bills?"

"Not that it's any of your business, but we have a bank account, a big bank account," Tess answered.

"Which no one will now be contributing to," Valenti noted. "And if it's in his name—"

"It's joint. Same with the credit card."

"And...how does a 16 year-old get listed as a joint account holder on a bank account or a line of credit?"

"Same way an alien shapeshifter gets a bank account."

Valenti mused on that a moment. "Fair enough. But the house—"

"Is owned free and clear. I'll just keep paying insurance bills and taxes. No one need ever know it's not Ed Harding paying them."

"Hmm. So you could sell the house and keep the proceeds—"

"I'm not selling anything," Tess said irritably. "I'm not changing anything. I'm just going to keep on doing what I've been doing unless a good reason comes up to stop. Are we done here?"

For a moment, it appeared the answer was no. "Sure," Valenti said finally. "I'm sorry for your loss, and sorry if I upset you. Kyle suggested I stop by, and I agreed it was a good idea. If you—"

"Wait...what?" Tess broke in. "Kyle suggested you come here? I thought he was at some camp?"

"Football camp," Valenti confirmed. "Just got back. We had a bit of an argument on the way home about what happened with Pierce, and the fact that Kyle wouldn't have been in harm's way if he'd stayed home like I told him to. He said he didn't because he was worried about me, and that what's happened to you is exactly what he was afraid of. And he suggested I come over and see how you were." He paused. "I know you've been taught to live alone, survive alone; I get that. But I—we—wanted you to know that you're not alone. Not if you don't want to be." He donned his hat. "Good afternoon, Miss Harding. Call me if you need anything."

"Yeah...thanks," Tess said faintly, closing the door behind him with a lump in her throat. Valenti had been nothing but good to them recently, helping to free Max, subdue Pierce, and get Michael out of jail. Why had she just treated him like shit? Because the universe usually treats us like shit. Because there was value in the pre-emptive strike. Because the less divulged, the better. Maybe now that she was all alone, it was time to rethink that. Maybe it was time to remember that for all the times the universe kicked you in the guts, it sometimes delivered an unexpected kindness.




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





September 10, 2000, 10 a.m.

Eastside Manor






"Okay, this looks...not as bad as I thought," Courtney allowed, gazing fixedly out the window at the single story, sprawling building up ahead.

"We're only in the parking lot," Dee said dryly. "How bad did you think the parking lot would be?"

"Give me a break," Courtney protested. "These places are legendary where I come from. It's where humans go to die."

"I think you're confusing it with a nursing home," Dee said, "although most of us die in hospitals nowadays. This is Assisted Living, not a nursing home."

"And the difference is…?"

"The people who live here are in better shape," Dee explained. "They need help with laundry, and cooking, and transportation, but they're not bedridden."

"That's a relief," Courtney muttered.

"Look, you don't have to come with me," Dee reminded her. "Jaddo asked me to do this, not you. I can always report back, and then you wouldn't have to deal with it."

Courtney stared at her hands, the better to avoid the sight of an old woman shuffling by with a walker on the sidewalk. "You could," she agreed. "And I wouldn't. But I've been trying to screw up my courage to do this ever since I came back, and...this seems to have done the trick. I want to talk to him myself. I'm going to have to talk to Larak myself."

"You could wait for Brivari," Dee reminded her.

"No, I can't," Courtney said firmly. "He may never come back, and if he does, he'll be against this. It doesn't matter what the details are, he'll be against it just because it exists."

"And you're not?"

The old woman had passed the car, with remarkable speed for one moving so haltingly. "No," Courtney answered. "Call me crazy, but I think this has a chance. At least it deserves a chance, and it won't get one from Brivari. I need to give it its best chance, and in order to do that, I need all the ammunition I can find."

Dee shook her head. "It's so strange. You hated Jaddo...and now you're filling in for him. If anyone had told me the day would ever come when you'd be championing his cause—any cause—I'd have thought they were crazy."

"Maybe I am," Courtney said wearily. "But that's why we're here, right? To get another opinion on whether we're both nuts?" She opened her door. "Let's get this over with."

It was the smell that hit her first. Walking inside was okay, on wide sidewalks linked with benches, lots of lights, and carefully tended landscaping, but as soon as the inner set of double doors opened, she got a whiff of something she'd rather she hadn't, several somethings, actually. It was hard to put a name to it, but it was a stale odor, part perspiration, part intestinal gas, part urine, all overshadowed by a strong cleaning solution which was part ammonia, if her nose served her right.

"Morning, Ralph," Dee called to a wizened old man in a chair by the door.

"Who's that?" Courtney whispered when Dee received a grunt for answer.

"That's Ralph," Dee answered. "He likes to sit by the door and watch everyone coming and going, especially on weekends when families visit. Follow me."

Like I'm going to wander off on my own, Courtney thought, glued to Dee's side as she hung a left down a very long hallway with railings on either side. Is this what life was reduced to when humans grew old and frail? Parked by a door to watch people come and go, leaning on walkers and railings as they shuffled along, heads bowed? Antarians still died, but they had mastered the art of keeping themselves reasonably functional until the end. This level of impairment was pretty much unknown where she came from. And yet…

...and yet by the time the very long hallway opened into a sunny living room-type space, she'd noticed something: Very few people looked unhappy. Reason dictated they should be miserable, but that didn't appear to be the case. Those bowed heads rose when she and Dee approached, faces breaking into smiles, greetings given; she hadn't had this many strangers greet her so cheerfully since...well, since never. Those steps may be shuffling, but they were remarkably brisk; some of these people were whizzes with their walkers, zipping along and steering around slower compatriots with an ease which belied their need to use a walker in the first place. In the living area, several people clustered around a television, watching the news intently and petting a...cat?

"They have a cat?" Courtney said.

"Two, actually," Dee answered, "one in the east wing, one in the west. They eyeball each other in the central dining room sometimes, but otherwise they keep to their respective wings."

"Hey, baby," Courtney murmured to the tubby gray long-hair who had jumped off the couch to inspect her.

"That cat is so spoiled," Dee chuckled. "It gets petted and fed treats all day. It's a wonder it can still walk. This way."

Dee vectored down a side hallway and paused outside a door which bore a sign reading "David and Emily Proctor". "What are we waiting for?" Courtney asked.

"Brivari only ever got this far the first time he came here," Dee noted. "I had a quite a time getting him into the apartment. Last chance to change your mind."

"And Jaddo never came at all," Courtney said, shaking her head. "Royal Warders, the scourge of Antar...and what frightens them are old humans. I'll be happy to outdo them. Let's go." Before I change my mind, she added silently, bracing herself as Dee knocked twice, then opened the door on a surprisingly large apartment. "Wow," Courtney said, taking in the living room, decent sized kitchen, fireplace, and outdoor patio. "This is nicer than my house. I don't have a fireplace."

"And I'm not sure why they do in this climate," Dee said. "I think it's just part of a national floor plan. Daddy? Mama?" she called. "I'm here, and I've brought an old friend with me."

There was a shuffling sound from the patio outside, and a moment later an old man appeared at the door, white-haired and slower moving than Courtney remembered, but still recognizable. "Look who's here!" David exclaimed, a wide smile on his face. "Welcome back, sweetheart! Dee told us you were back in town."

Hugely relieved to find David still vertical and sane, Courtney suddenly blushed. "Oh, yeah, I'm...I'm sorry I haven't visited," she babbled self-consciously. "I...I…"

"Have trouble with the whole concept of getting old," David finished gently. "I know; don't we all. Emily? Emily, look who's here!"

Dee's hand slipped into hers, and a second later, Courtney realized why. She'd been warned that Emily had slipped in her later years, but nothing prepared her for the stooped back, the hesitant gait, the confused expression on the face of the woman who had accepted her, hidden her, taught her. "Oh!" Emily said in surprise. "Who's this, now? Is this the new aide?"

"This is Courtney," Dee answered. "Remember Courtney?"

Courtney stood perfectly still as Emily peered at her without recognition. "Do we know each other?" Emily asked.

"We used to," Courtney said in a brittle voice. "Once. A long time ago."

"I'm afraid my memory's not what it used to be," Emily said, shaking her head. "Did I behave myself when we knew each other?"

"Oh, yeah," Courtney whispered. "You were brilliant."

"Was I?" Emily stared at her for a moment before breaking into a smile. "Well, good for me. I do seem to recall I was something of a hardass."

The edge to the voice which accompanied that last observation brought a rush of tears to Courtney's eyes as the merest whisper of the indomitable woman she remembered so fondly flashed before her eyes. "Only when you needed to be," she answered, trying to keep her voice steady. "Sometimes we all need to be."

"Daddy, could we talk alone?" Dee whispered to David.

"Honey, why don't you back to the Wentworth's?" David suggested to Emily. "We were just visiting the next door neighbors," he explained to Courtney.

"All right," Emily said, not even curious as to why she was being dismissed. But she paused before stepping onto the patio and smiled at Courtney. "It was nice to meet you, dear."

"Yeah," Courtney agreed sadly. "Same here."

"She might recognize you later," David said after Emily had shuffled along next door. "Sometimes it takes her a while to remember Brivari."

"I'm afraid we don't have time for that today," Dee said in a low voice. "Daddy...Jaddo's dead."

"Oh dear," David said, crestfallen. "I'm sorry to hear that. But how…?"

"He was murdered," Courtney said quietly. "By one of my people."

"I see," David said heavily.

"But before he died, he'd made a...a bargain of sorts," Dee went on, "a compromise to allow the kids to go home safely."

"We want to know what you think of it," Courtney rushed on, "because I'm going to have to take a position for or against, and I'd really like to hear your take on it."

"Plus Jaddo asked me to run it by you," Dee added, "because he knew Brivari would listen to you—"

"Wait, wait," David broke in. "I'm flattered you want my opinion, although I'm not at all sure how much good it will do you, but...do I understand you correctly that Jaddo made some kind of treaty?"

"I know he's not the treaty making type," Dee said, "but yes, he did."

"And is that why he's dead now?" David asked.

"Maybe. Probably. We don't know," Courtney admitted. "Brivari's out chasing whoever killed him, and since he was the last one to see him alive, we won't know the details until he's back. And we need to settle this before he gets back because when he gets wind of it…"

"Right," David nodded, needing no further explanation. "Got it. All right—first question," he went on, sinking into a chair. "Jaddo made a bargain...with whom?"





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




Congresswoman Vanessa Whitaker's Office






"Any calls?" Vanessa asked her assistant.

Knee deep in files, Rose chuckled. "Not on a Sunday. Why, were you expecting to hear from someone?"

Yes. "No," Vanessa said. "Just curious. Take the rest of the day off, Rose. Parker can help you with all of that tomorrow. I'm going back to the hotel anyway."

Or not, Vanessa thought as Rose hurried to her car. It was highly unlikely that Jaddo would return to either hotel room after having been captured in his and held captive in hers; her office was as neutral a space as any, so perhaps she should stay here. But there had been no word from him, and she was beginning to grow uneasy. She'd released him Friday night; it was now Sunday afternoon. Shouldn't she have heard from him by now? Had his capture changed his mind about their arrangement? If he turned on her, he could cause a world of hurt…

Vanessa pulled a file drawer open. She hadn't listened to many of the recordings because she hadn't needed to, but perhaps she should start. Because if this deal didn't work out, she'd need a back-up plan, and the girl who'd been miraculously healed was the most likely person to lead her straight to what she wanted to find.




~~~~~~~~~~~~~




I'll post Chapter 24 on Sunday, February 15. :)
BRIVARI: "In our language, the root of the word 'Covari' means 'hidden'. I'm always there, Your Highness, even if you don't see me."

keepsmiling7
Roswell Fanatic
Posts: 2304
Joined: Thu Jun 28, 2007 9:34 pm

Re: Birthright *Series* Season 2 (CC, TEEN), Chapter 23, 2/1

Post by keepsmiling7 » Tue Feb 03, 2015 3:46 pm

I love the Sheriff and I love Kyle here.
Still laughing ........"ass deep in aliens".....
Tess could have made a happy family with the Valente's.
But instead Jaddo made the bargain years ago.....
The story is set and there's no changing now.
Thanks so much,
Carolyn

User avatar
Kathy W
Obsessed Roswellian
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Joined: Thu Oct 31, 2002 5:06 am

Chapter 24

Post by Kathy W » Sun Feb 15, 2015 5:03 pm

^^ :lol: Yep, Kyle would be the one to note how they were "ass deep" in aliens. Or anything else, for that matter. :mrgreen:




CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR



September 11, 2000, 7:30 a.m.

West Roswell High School






Welcome Back! screamed the banner swinging over the front door as Tess mounted the school's front steps with throngs of other students, some of whom looked happy to be back, some definitely not. Usually she was in the latter group, school being a generally boring and hazardous place what with having to hide her true identity and all. Today, however, for the first time, she was in the happy group, although not for the usual reasons of wanting to see friends, join clubs, or sniff pencils. School was the one place Nasedo had avoided as much as possible, partly because of the hazards of giving them away, but mostly because he couldn't stand humans. This made school the one place where she wouldn't expect to see him, where she wouldn't hear a noise or see a shadow and think, for just a split second, that he was back. Reality had truly set in following Sheriff Valenti's visit, with the weekend dragging in a house which now seemed much larger and emptier. School had abruptly become a place of refuge, and threading through the throngs to find this year's locker, she felt almost normal, not even minding when the combination didn't work and she had to use her powers to open it. She was going to enjoy every single minute of this reprieve until the final bell rang and she went home to a cavernous house which would remain that way indefinitely. Feeling almost peaceful, she began loading books and notebooks into the locker.

"This rots."

Tess peered around her locker door to find Michael leaning against the lockers. "What rots? Being out of jail?"

"Funny. Being back in school."

"I hear you," Tess said. "School was always boring for me."

"That's not what I meant. We shouldn't be here, not with Nasedo dead and his killer still out there."

"Then where should we be?" Tess asked. "Hiding in a closet? Because I tried that, and that rots."

Michael raised an eyebrow. "You serious?"

"When Max was captured and Nasedo was missing...well, dead," Tess amended, "or shot, anyway. I kind of freaked out that night. My worst nightmare had come true; the Special Unit had captured one of us, and I was scared they'd figured out who Nasedo was posing as and where to find him, which meant they knew where to find me. I spent the night in the kitchen closet with booby traps all over the house so I'd hear anyone coming, and I woke up feeling like a fool. If I was really worried about them coming for me, I shouldn't have holed up in a closet; I shouldn't have stayed there at all."

"See, this is what I'm saying," Michael argued. "Nasedo said we had enemies, and then one of those enemies kills him. We should leave. All of us. Now."

"And go where?"

"Anywhere," Michael answered. "Anywhere that isn't here."

"And what makes you think they won't follow us?" Tess said. "Sometimes running is the worst thing you can do. Sometimes they're watching to see who runs because then they know who to follow."

Michael pondered that for a moment before whacking the locker behind him with his fist, having obviously not considered that flight might have a downside. "Damn it! I wish we at least knew who we were up against!"

"We do," Tess said. "Nasedo called them 'the Skins', and you found a weird piece of skin out where the bones were buried. That can't be a coincidence."

"Probably not, but that doesn't tell us anything useful," Michael fretted.

"Sure it does. Why would Nasedo call them 'Skins'? Why that name? Think," Tess ordered as Michael snorted, apparently not in a deductive mood. "I spent my whole life wondering what I looked like in that other life. Nasedo never let me see, and when we brought him back the first time and his body cycled through all those shapes, I finally got to see what I used to look like, which was pretty close to all those alien stories."

"So?" Michael said impatiently.

"So it's reasonable to assume that other people from our planet look like we did," Tess went on. "Have you seen any little gray men wandering around here? Short, big eyes, big hands? No? Why not? How is it that they're here, but we don't see them?"

"I don't know," Michael said peevishly. "They're probably shapeshifters."

"Maybe," Tess allowed. "But my point is that they look human. Which means they could be anywhere or everywhere. They could be here, or anywhere we run to. You think running will solve everything, but take it from someone who's spent her life running—it won't. Sooner or later they catch up with you, just like the Special Unit caught up with me."

"Then I'd rather it be later," Michael retorted. "Max just doesn't want to leave because he's attached to this place and those people he calls parents. Isabel's even worse."

"They have something very special," Tess said wistfully, "something you and I never had. I don't blame them for wanting to keep it. Or defend it."

"Well, I do," Michael declared. "You have to talk to Max and make him see that 'just go back to school' is just plain stupid."

"Me? Why me?"

"Because he listens to you," Michael answered. "About things like this, anyway. He sure as hell isn't listening to me."

"He won't listen to me either," Tess said. "Try Liz or Isabel."

"Liz would say this isn't any of her business—"

"And she'd be right," Tess noted.

"—and the last thing Isabel wants to do is leave Mommy and Daddy. That leaves you and me to see sense."

"What makes you so sure I agree with you?" Tess said.

"You, of all people, should want to find Nasedo's killer," Michael argued. "You, of all people, should realize how dangerous it is to stay here with a murderer on the loose."

"Of course I want to find Nasedo's killer," Tess said. "But I, of all people, know firsthand that anywhere we go is dangerous. It's dangerous just to be us. Max and Isabel may want to stay with 'Mommy and Daddy', but I have nothing like that holding me here, and I'm still with Max on this one—running comes with its own dangers, so I think we should stay put unless there's a clear advantage to leaving or no other option."

"Would a 'clear advantage' be not winding up dead?" Michael huffed.

"Whoever killed Nasedo knew what they were doing," Tess said. "If they know who we are and wanted us dead, we'd already be dead."

"And you know this how?" Michael demanded.

"By using all that experience you think Max will listen to, but you won't," Tess said pointedly. "Besides, Max is the king; if he says we stay put, we stay put."

"Being king doesn't make him right," Michael retorted. "What do you do when the king's wrong?"

"Try to convince him you're right," Tess shrugged. "Knock yourself out, soldier. I gotta get to class."

"We killed him, you know," Michael said hotly as she pushed past him. "Nasedo's dead because of us."

Tess stopped dead in her tracks. A few kids nearby gave them strange looks, but quickly lost interest amid the first day hullabaloo. "Nice one, Michael," Tess hissed. "You're so worried about being followed, and you just yell his name down the hall? Why don't you just blurt out the secret of our existence to everyone and their mother? Oh, that's right—you just did!"

Michael took her arm and guided her to the edge of the busy hallway. "Look, I'm just...frustrated. No one's listening to me."

"Because they don't agree with you," Tess said flatly.

"Because they're caught up in a human fantasy family," Michael corrected.

"What, you think I'm caught up in a 'fantasy family'?" Tess demanded. "I'm the one who just lost the only protector I've ever known!"

"I know, I know, I...I'm just gonna give up before I dig myself in deeper," Michael muttered. "This is like talking to Maria."

"Oh, no it isn't," Tess retorted. "It's worse, buster, way worse. What did you mean, 'we' killed him? Because I think I'd remember killing my only guardian."

Michael's eyes dropped. "We activated the orbs. He warned us not to, but we did it anyway."

"Because we wanted to know," Tess said. "We all wanted to know, you, me, Max, even Isabel, even though she won't admit it. And I don't regret doing it. Nasedo wasn't a fountain of information, but that message confirmed what little he told me. Everybody thinks I'm some boyfriend-stealing interloper, but Max was my husband, and we're all here for a very important reason. All of you heard it, and now all of you know I'm not just making it up. I'd do it again in a heartbeat, enemies or no enemies."

"Even if it kills your protector?" Michael said.

"Nice try," Tess said acidly, "but the guilt trip won't work. We didn't know that was going to happen. We'd all do things differently if we knew ahead of time how they would work out, but life doesn't have a rewind, so we make the best decisions we can at the time and live with the results. We didn't kill Nasedo; we made a decision. Nasedo was killed by a Skin, and you'd do all of us a big favor if you'd stop fighting your king, and spend your time figuring out who—or what—that is."





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





Crashdown Cafe






"More coffee?" Courtney asked.

Sheriff Valenti set down the front section of the paper which bore a headline screaming "Spotty Phone Service All Over The Southwest—Terrorism?". "Yeah, to go. I gotta get to the station."

"You look tired, sheriff," Courtney remarked. "Rough night?"

"Didn't sleep well," Valenti admitted. "You look kind of pooped yourself."

"I didn't sleep well either," Courtney allowed.

"Oh? What kept you up?"

Courtney smiled faintly. "Ever been in a position where you have to make a decision which could screw up the entire world?"

Valenti thought for a moment, then shook his head. "Can't say I have. Thankfully, I've only ever been in a position to screw up my own little corner of it." He donned his hat and accepted the styrofoam cup she offered him. "Good luck with whatever's keeping you awake."

What's keeping me awake is what's keeping you awake, Courtney thought silently as the sheriff left, although the world in question was hers, not his. Talking with David Proctor yesterday had been enormously helpful, but she'd found it difficult to focus in that apartment; even though Emily had left after their brief encounter, she couldn't seem to put out of her mind how that once strong woman was now withered with age. It wasn't until she'd returned home that she'd truly begun to digest her and David's conversation and turn over the various alternatives in her mind, a process which had lasted most of the night until she fell asleep from sheer exhaustion mere minutes before she had to get up for work. Despite all the fretting, she was no closer to a decision than she had been. There were just too many variables, too many unknowns, too many options which could work brilliantly or doom Antar to endless war...and her support could tip the balance either way. No pressure, she thought wearily as she cleared away the sheriff's dishes. If only her father could see her now. He hadn't even wanted her to come on this mission. How had a lowly operative like her wound up in the middle of the board, surrounded by competing players in the high stakes game of thrones? It was downright comical, or it would be if it weren't so deadly serious.

Her phone rang. "No, Dee, I haven't made a decision yet," she sighed as she pulled it out of her pocket, only to bolt into the back when she saw the number on the display. "Cover me," she blurted as she rushed past a frowning Agnes into the bathroom and locked the door behind her.

"It's about time," Courtney exclaimed. "Where are you? Do you know who killed him? Did you find them?"

"Irrelevant, yes, and I will soon," Brivari answered. "Jaddo and I connected before he died, and he was able to show me enough to go on. It was a standard issue operative, a male, and he's badly injured."

"So...Vanessa didn't kill Jaddo?" Courtney said.

"Of course Vanessa killed him," Brivari said sharply. "I'd been warning him for months that she was going to figure him out, and she obviously did. Naturally she wouldn't do the deed herself. She delegated."

"But...Dee said Jaddo told you it wasn't Vanessa—"

"I don't care what he told me. She's mixed up in this somehow. Has there been any sign of Nicholas or reinforcements in town?"

"Nope," Courtney answered, noting that, so far, Vanessa's version of events was holding water. "Looks like whoever did it wasn't able to get a message out."

"Jaddo destroyed his communicator, and I've been disrupting phone service all over the place," Brivari said.

"The humans noticed," Courtney said dryly. "So you're the terrorist."

"No, I'm chasing a terrorist. Jaddo did a number on him, yet he's still managed to stay irritatingly one step ahead of me. But he can't do that forever."

Score one for us, Courtney thought in a brief moment of solidarity with a fellow Argilian, albeit of the enemy variety. She knew how much effort it took to avoid a Royal Warder when healthy, never mind injured, and she shivered involuntarily at the thought of being holed up somewhere while stalked by certain death. "I didn't call to chat," Brivari went on. "I need you to do something for me."

" 'Chat'?" Courtney said. "You call this 'chatting'?"

"Call it what you like, it's wasting time. I need you to go to Jaddo's house and find something for me."

"Find what?"

"Irrelevant. It will be hidden, very likely well hidden. Make sure Ava's not around when you're looking."

"So you want me to toss the Queen's house looking for I-don't-know-what, which is well hidden you-don't-know-where?"

"This is serious," Brivari snapped. "Are you familiar with serious?"

"Hell, no!" Courtney retorted. "I'm all about puppies and rainbows! My father died here, Jaddo just died here, I'm probably going to die here, and you want to know if I do 'serious'? Condescending, much?"

"I just don't have time for our usual thrust and parry," Brivari said, although the edge had left his voice. "What I'm looking for—"

"Don't you mean what I'm looking for?"

"What you're looking for will be sealed in an Antarian lockbox," Brivari continued. "He would have secreted it somewhere with a handprint lock, which is why I can't send Dee."

"What's in the box?" Courtney asked. "And if you say 'irrelevant', I'm hanging up on you."

"Something Jaddo took from me when he left town with Ava."

"So it's personal," Courtney noted. "Let me guess—we're not talking about a library book or your grandmother's silver tea service."

"It doesn't matter," Brivari said peevishly. "You're looking for a box. He'll have timed the lock so no one will be able to open it until the timer runs out."

"And when they do, what will they find?" Courtney said deliberately. "Tell me what's in the box, Brivari, or you can find your own damn box."

An irritated sigh floated over the line as Courtney paced the tiny bathroom, plenty irritated herself. "The key to the Granolith."

Courtney stopped pacing. "Wait...he took that?"

"Yes, and I need it back," Brivari said impatiently. "Do try to keep up."

"But...shouldn't that go to the king?" Courtney asked.

"You've seen the king. The king is not himself. Are you prepared to just hand him something like that?"

No, Courtney admitted silently. She couldn't even hand it to Rath; with his zeal to go home, he might use it, and if the royals went home now, they'd be dead before they got a chance to return their tray tables to an upright and locked position. The way had to be paved…

"I don't have all day!" Brivari exclaimed. "Will you do this, or—"

"Keep your pants on," Courtney interrupted. "I'll do it. I just…"

"Just what?" Brivari demanded.

Courtney hesitated. If she was going to test these particular waters, now might be her only chance, but she had to do it without giving away anything crucial. "Vanessa was in here earlier," Courtney said. "She didn't see me, but I heard her. She doesn't seem to realize 'Pierce' is dead."

"So?"

"So...I'm wondering about what Jaddo said about it not being her," Courtney went on. "That's odd, don't you think?"

"No, I don't 'think'," Brivari said coldly. "I don't care what he said as he gasped his last breath—Vanessa is ultimately responsible for his death, and the only reason she's still breathing is that she's number two on that list. As soon as I'm finished with number one, she will be enjoy my full attention. Find that box."

The line went dead. Seething with frustration, Courtney begged off the rest of her shift by citing the ever-popular female troubles and headed toward Jaddo's house, only to think better of it and change direction. Ten minutes later she approached the school, teeming with freshly scrubbed high schools students on opening day and now one conflicted Argilian contemplating something downright radical. It was clear that Brivari would never listen to the deal. Even if he stayed his hand long enough for her to relay it, his mind was closed; what would always have been a hard sell was now impossible to sell. But having gone through the fine print, she believed it deserved consideration, and David Proctor agreed with her. Even if it was ultimately rejected, it should be rejected on its merits or lack thereof, not because the King's Warder was on the warpath. The list of people to discuss it with was depressingly short...but shouldn't that list include the King? This was about his throne and his family, so why shouldn't he be involved in the deliberations about that throne and family's future? Granted he wasn't himself, but perhaps bringing him into the inner circle would induce him to be himself? She wouldn't hand him the key to the Granolith, but handing him the details of an armistice was different; the worst he could do was accept it or reject it, either of which could happen anyway and either of which could be good or bad, just like her pulling him into this could be good...or bad.

Still conflicted, Courtney threaded through the hallways, catching a glimpse of Ava stalking away from Rath and following Rath to a confrontation with Vilandra and Zan. The three parted and she followed Zan, only to pull back when he slowed as though sensing her presence. Suddenly alarmed, she retreated to the girls' restroom, just now emptying of the last stragglers. That near miss had knocked some sense into her. What was she thinking? Had she lost her mind? In order to pull Zan into this, she would have to reveal herself—was she really prepared to do that? Brivari would be drop-dead furious with her—was she really prepared to deal with that? There was so much possible fallout from this idea that she really needed to go over the logistics with Dee, with David, with someone, not blurt it out to the King in the middle of a high school hallway.

A bell rang, students scattered, and Courtney scattered with them, right back out the front door. Ava was here, so now was a good time to hunt for Brivari's precious box, something she was now eager to do and for an incredibly ironic reason—she wanted to give the deal at least a fighting chance, and her only hope of doing so was to keep at least one of its authors alive. In order to do that she needed leverage, so if she could find that box, she could hide it herself and use the prospect of its return to slow Brivari down. Blackmail a Royal Warder? she thought dryly as she hurried down the steps of the school. Save Vanessa's life? God Almighty, but she really had lost her mind.





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





UFO Center





"Four weeks?" Brody said in disbelief. "Are you telling me I have to wait another month to close on my house? I sent those papers in weeks ago!"

Brody sighed heavily as his lawyer blathered on about them not being received until just recently despite his having mailed them ages ago, the postmark being recent, mail getting stuck in sorting machines, etc., etc., etc. The bottom line was that necessary paperwork hadn't been filed with the state, which meant his house, his cute little empty house a mile or two away from here, was now at least a month out of reach. "Okay, okay, so they didn't get there until now," Brody said crossly. "It doesn't matter why, they just didn't. But a month? I have to sleep in the museum for another month?"

More blather. "Are you sure Sharon isn't behind this?" Brody demanded. "Because she just sent me another e-mail claiming she was never going to let Sydney visit me here, that I'd have to come to her, and I told her she was full of it. I hope you told her the same thing."

Brody flopped back on the couch and closed his eyes as his lawyer assured him that Sharon didn't have a legal leg to stand on and counseled patience like he always did. Sharon's hackles had risen the moment she'd heard he was moving, with since settled and often contentious negotiations over visitation beginning anew now that visitation involved airplanes. His ex-wife had rejected all visitation scenarios that involved Sydney coming to Roswell, insisting that he come to LA and stay in a hotel to see her. His lawyer assured him that would never fly in court, but since they had to go to court to get this settled and courts moved at a snail's pace, it was all up in the air. Just like his house.

"All right, fine, fine, just...get it done," Brody said. "And please, look over everything and let me know if there's something else that hasn't arrived? I don't want to find out a month from now that I have to wait another month."

I need some air, Brody thought as he hung up the phone. The movers had arrived, trundling in and out of the museum for the past hour, and he was tired, so tired, because he just couldn't keep his hands off Milton's treasure pile. Good old Milt had research dating back decades, and it would take decades to go through it all. But he didn't want to wait decades for answers to what had happened to him, so he'd been burning the midnight oil lately, something which would have to stop if what a would-be visitor earlier today had told him was true. His memory of that awkward conversation sent him to the side door for his air, not to mention that movers were clogging up the front door and he didn't feel like getting flattened by part of a display panel. But when he opened the museum's side door onto the little-used side street, he found he wasn't alone there either.

"Who the hell are you?" Brody barked.

The blonde crouched beside the door stood up quickly. "Wait—I know you," Brody said. "You're that waitress from the Crashdown. Katy? Kathy? Kylie?"

"Courtney," the girl corrected, "and I was just…"

"Oh, right!" Brody said. "You're here for the money. I told that grump of a co-worker of yours, whatever her name is—"

"Agnes?" Courtney suggested.

"That's it. You would have thought I'd hotfooted it with the crown jewels instead of $4.95 for a sandwich and chips," Brody chuckled. "I had a twenty, but she didn't have change, so I told her I'd drop it off, but…"

"You got sidetracked," Courtney finished. "Kinda figured when I saw the huge trucks parked out front. And it looks like you're kind of grumpy yourself, so it's just as well it's me playing debt collector instead of Agnes. She might have put you in the stocks."

Brody flushed. "Guess I did bite your head off," he admitted. "Sorry about that. Rough day; rough night, from what I'm told. Come on in. I'll get you your money."

They threaded back through the museum, sidestepping pallets, dollies and movers. "Wow," Courtney remarked. "It'll be all brand new and shiny. With lots of toilet paper," she added, eyeing a huge pallet of rolls.

"Tell me about it," Brody said. "I keep getting deliveries Milton placed; if I see one more case of toilet paper, I swear I'll scream. There's enough for the entire population of Krypton."

"Half, anyway," Courtney said. "Krypton's a lot bigger than Earth. It could be worse, you know," she continued, dodging a pair of movers lugging a partition. "Milton could have ordered hundreds of cases of sanitary napkins."

They had reached the office, and Brody paused beside his desk. "Sanitary napkins? Shit, I hadn't even thought about that. I thought about diapers, but not that. God, I never wanted to run a museum."

Courtney leaned against the doorjamb, watching the movers trundle by. "Not for nothing, but...then why'd you buy the place?"

"For this," Brody answered, throwing his arms wide as he flopped into his desk chair. "For Milton's research. But Roswell does love its museum, and the place will pay for itself if I let it. If it doesn't kill me first, that is. I'm sorry," he amended when she raised an eyebrow. "I'm just really tired and really frustrated. My ex-wife is giving me grief about visitation with our daughter, and I just found out I'll have to wait another month for my house because paperwork I mailed in weeks ago never made it. And then there was the woman this morning, one of the daily horde who knock on my door, who told me she'd seen me outside the front door at some ridiculous hour like 3 a.m. I used to sleepwalk, but I thought I'd stopped."

"So how'd she know it was you?" Courtney shrugged. "You're new here. Could have been anyone. She probably just assumed it was you. And what was she doing out at 3 o'clock in the morning? At that hour she could have been a little...well...you know...in her cups?"

Brody stared at her. "You know, you're right. I just took her word for it, but...you're right!"

"And paperwork always gets screwed up somewhere," Courtney went on. "And the courts will make your wife let you see your kid, and toilet paper is gender neutral. Feel better now?"

"Uh...yeah! Yeah, I do," Brody admitted. "Here," he said, reaching into his wallet. "This should cover my sandwich."

"And a few dozen more," Courtney noted. "This is a fifty."

"Keep the change. Consider it a tip," Brody shrugged, "for making me feel better. Just promise me you won't tell anyone about the new exhibits. I may not have wanted to run a museum, but I am going to give it a go."

"Mum's the word," Courtney said. "Just out of curiosity, are you planning on keeping the old employee?"

Brody blinked. "Employee?"

"Max Evans," Courtney said. "High school student. He works here, during the school year, anyway, and today's the first day of school, so…"

"Milton had an employee," Brody sighed. "Of course he did. And of course he never mentioned it."

"Hey, it's cool," Courtney said. "He's a cool guy. He can help you get settled, do all your updating, tell you who the problem people are. Always good to have a local around."

"I suppose," Brody said doubtfully. "Hadn't really planned on having someone else here. I work better alone."

"Maybe he can help you go through all this stuff," Courtney said, gesturing toward the office.

"A teenager?" Brody said in disgust. "I don't think so."

"Word of advice?" Courtney said. "Don't judge people by what's on the outside. I should know." She waved the fifty dollar bill. "Thanks for the tip. Stay happy!"

"Yeah, you...too," Brody said, shaking his head as she walked away. Odd duck, that one. Seemed to see right through him. It was ten minutes later before he realized he'd admitted to her that he'd bought the museum just to get his hands on Milton's archives...and she hadn't even blinked.





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





Harding Residence






Courtney dropped the floor board back into place and sat down, utterly exhausted. She'd spent the entire day searching Jaddo's house without finding a blessed thing but a bunch of dust bunnies and ants. If Brivari's precious box—make that her precious box—was here, it could be anywhere, and the only thing she was certain of was that it wasn't any of the places she'd already looked. While the list of places she hadn't looked was still daunting, she was beginning to suspect that she'd have to tear this place down brick by brick, and even then she might not find it. If Jaddo had had the balls to steal the Granolith key from the King's Warder, he certainly knew enough to hide it very, very well, and when hiding it, he'd be hiding it not from mere prying human eyes, but from Brivari himself. That would make it not just well hidden, but extremely well hidden. This could take weeks. Hell, this could take longer than she had to live.

She'd begun her task with no small amount of enthusiasm, planning to use the key as leverage to make Brivari listen to Jaddo's treaty. Granted, she'd wasted the first half hour or so just gaping, having avoided Jaddo like the plague and never having been inside his house, hence never having seen the sculptures, paintings, and expensive furniture. It looked like Rath's Warder had been constructing a mini-palace for his charge, or at least something more upscale than she'd expected, and she had to admit, albeit grudgingly, that his taste in decorating was quite good, something else she hadn't expected. The place was neat as a pin and she'd worked hard to keep it that way until she had to take a break when Ava had returned after school, going to the UFO museum to leave a note for Larak. By the time she'd extricated herself from his twitchy host, Ava had gone out again and she'd resumed the search anew, only to come up empty once more. Shit, she thought disconsolately, hugging one of those useless pillows humans loved to toss on couches. What to do now? School hours were best for searching, but finagling her schedule to allow daytime searching would be difficult; now that Maria was back in school, the Crashdown needed daytime help more than ever. Maybe she should beg illness for the next few days, or at least until Brivari got back. Knowing his luck, he'd walk in, spy the hiding place, and walk off with her prize before she ever got the chance to hold it over his head. Her best chance was now was to devote every available moment to searching before Brivari returned…

Voices floated within hearing. Twisting on the couch, she saw that her time was up—Ava was back, and with a companion in tow—Zan. Fascinated at the site of the king and queen alone together, Courtney crept to the window and opened it just a crack, just enough to hear a bit better.

"...taught me a few memory retrieval techniques. I can show them to you some time."

"Sure," Zan answered, albeit less than enthusiastically.

" 'Sure, Tess'," Ava said rhetorically...and ironically. " 'As long as you keep your hands off me'. It's okay," she went on when Zan looked stricken. "I know how you feel about me, how everyone feels about me."

Hell, even I know that, Courtney thought, feeling a pang of sympathy for the queen. It must suck to be the one who remembered among others who didn't. Fate had not been kind to make a wife remember what her husband did not.

They were climbing the porch steps now, making it even easier to hear. "It's not that I dislike you," Zan protested.

Ava shook her head. "You don't have to spare my feelings. Nasedo taught me not to get wrapped up in...this," she finished, gesturing to her body as though it were a husk instead of a real body. "It's not really who I am. I'm not human. Neither are you."

The notion that he wasn't human obviously didn't sit well with Zan, who visibly bristled. "It's the only life I've ever know," he protested.

"That's not true," Ava answered. "You lived another life, Max. A life completely different from this one. A life...when you loved me."

Courtney's breath caught in her throat. Ava had reached up to touch Zan's face; even though he looked uncomfortable, he wasn't resisting, and for one long, lovely moment, she fantasized again about being able to go home to a healed world, about presenting the treaty to the people who really mattered, the ones with the real decision-making powers. Why bother with a pissed off Warder when it wasn't really his call? If Zan remembered, or just fell in love with his wife all over again, it wouldn't matter what his Warder thought.

"I don't remember that," Zan said.

"I do," Ava said.

The bubble burst, and Courtney sat back with a defeated sigh, only to stiffen when her arm brushed something.

Crash!

"What was that?" Zan said sharply.

"Someone's inside," Ava said in alarm.

Not for long, Courtney thought, high-tailing it out of there and furious with herself for daydreaming. Two pairs of footsteps pounded toward her as she vaulted a hedge, and blasted through the fence gate. She might have a security system to deal with when she came back, but human mechanics were pretty easy to circumvent. Nothing would be missing, and at least she'd had the sense to clean up as she searched, so apart from the broken lamp and swinging door, there wouldn't be any telltale evidence of who had been there or why.

Thank goodness she hadn't left anything behind.





~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



I'll post Chapter 25 on Sunday, March 1. :)
BRIVARI: "In our language, the root of the word 'Covari' means 'hidden'. I'm always there, Your Highness, even if you don't see me."

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Kathy W
Obsessed Roswellian
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Joined: Thu Oct 31, 2002 5:06 am

Chapter 25

Post by Kathy W » Sun Mar 01, 2015 4:23 pm

Hello and thank you to everyone reading!






CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE



September 11, 2000, 10 p.m.

Harding Residence






Jim Valenti lowered his gun and uttered a deep sigh, an audible avalanche of relief. He'd spent the last ten minutes scouring Tess Harding's house for intruders and terrified he'd find one because, really, what did one do with an alien assassin? The gun he'd held in front of him like a shield looked faintly silly, an inadequate defense against someone who could kill without one; Nasedo's first "death" via gunshot had not proved fatal, while his second had left him well and truly dead without a single shot being fired. Dee Evans had claimed the bullet hole in her dining room wall had come from her father chasing an alien, but she hadn't said how that had turned out, and he'd neglected to ask. He had no idea if guns did any good against aliens, but since it was all he had, it's what he'd used as he'd crept from room to room, turning on lights along the way. Now, with the house empty and glowing like a beacon, he caught his breath and composed himself, grateful his audience remained outside in the car. They'd already had their sheriff poking a gun in their faces; no need to poke any more holes in the illusion that he knew what he was doing.

"All clear," he called a couple of minutes later.

"What'd you find?" Max asked as they joined him on the front porch.

"No one in there," Valenti replied. "There's a broken lamp, and the back door was open like you said, but that was it. Maybe Tess can tell if...anything's missing," he finished as she rushed past them and pounded up the stairs like someone was chasing her.

"Guess the important stuff is upstairs," Max remarked.

"Guess so," Valenti agreed. "Say, Max...now that Tess is out of earshot, I wanted to talk to you about something. I'm really not comfortable with her being here alone, and not just because of this; I wasn't comfortable with it before. I stopped over a couple of days ago just to see how she was, but she got pretty defensive."

"Nasedo taught her to distrust humans," Max said.

"Yeah, well, I wish I could disagree with him, but I'm afraid I can't," Valenti said ruefully. "Much as it pains me, something tells me there are more of us like Pierce than like me. But burglar or no burglar, I don't think she should be living here by herself."

"You're right," Max said.

"Good," Valenti said. "Do you want to talk to your folks, or should I?'

Max blinked. "My...you want her to live with...me?"

"Well, sure," Valenti said. "You and Isabel are...like her, and she and Isabel are friends, so—"

"No," Max said, shaking his head slowly, then faster. "No, no, that...that wouldn't be a good idea."

"Why not? I mean, I know your folks don't know about you and your sister, but that means Tess would just be one more they don't know about. Wouldn't it be better to have you all together?"

"But that's just it," Max said. "Tess isn't used to having to hide who she is, not at home, anyway. She said once that home was the one place she could relax, and that she couldn't understand how we could be on guard all the time. I don't think it's a good idea to put her in that position, especially not now."

"Okay," Valenti said slowly, "but then where would she go? Could she bunk with Michael?"

The futility of that suggestion was evident on Max's face. "Then I'm out of ideas," Valenti said. "The last thing I want to do is put her in the foster care system, so I think we should appeal to your parents, or your mom, at least. I really think she'd take her in in a heartbeat—"

"She could stay with you," Max blurted.

"Me?" Valenti said. "Why me?"

"Don't you see, it's perfect," Max argued, a distinct note of desperation in his voice. "You and Kyle both know the whole story. She wouldn't have to pretend with either of you. And no one would question the legal part of it because you're the sheriff; they'll assume you've done all the paperwork or whatever."

"Fair point," Valenti allowed, having not walked it through how to make it look legal. "But...geez, I've got a boy. I don't do girls. Wouldn't she be more comfortable with Isabel?"

"Tess isn't a kid," Max pointed out. "She's way more self-sufficient than your average teenager. And my parents will ask all sorts of questions. They'll want to know what happened, and why, and...and just imagine what my Dad will say. He's a lawyer, so he'll want chapter and verse."

And that clinches it, Valenti thought heavily. Philip Evans would indeed smell a rat, and he'd flush out that rat, whatever it took. God help Max and Isabel the day their father got wind of the fact that there was something unusual about his children. "All right," he conceded. "I'll make the offer. But if she refuses...and I think she will...I'll need your help convincing her."

"Absolutely," Max assured him, looking very much like Valenti had felt only minutes earlier when he realized he wasn't facing an alien assassin, at least not today. "Whatever it takes."

Footsteps sounded on the stairs. "Nothing's gone," Tess reported. "Nothing even looks touched."

"Upstairs, anyway," Valenti said. "Have a look around the ground floor and see if you see anything out of place."

Tess flushed. "Yeah, I...I was checking the stash of cash I keep up there, but it's all there. I'll look down here."

Five minutes later, they assembled in the living room beside the broken lamp. "Aside from the back door and the back gate being open, this is all I found," Valenti said. "The way everything else is untouched, I'm guessing this was knocked over accidentally. See these marks on the carpet? Whoever was here was kneeling by this window, and the window's open a little."

"But I didn't leave it open," Tess said. "Why would someone open it?"

"Looks like they were watching something on the front porch," Valenti said. "Was anything happening on the front porch?"

Two pairs of eyes dropped, then shifted. "We were...talking," Max said awkwardly when Valenti raised an eyebrow.

"About?" Valenti prompted. "Look, I know it's none of my business," he went on when no one answered, "but if you were saying anything compromising, anything someone shouldn't hear—"

"We were talking about how Max doesn't remember our former lives, but I do," Tess said.

"I see," Valenti said slowly as Max reddened. "Well, that might be compromising if the intruder was alien."

"And I told Max I wasn't human," Tess added. "And that he wasn't either."

"And that would be compromising for a human intruder," Valenti noted. "Guess we've got the bases covered."

"Do you think they were human, sheriff?" Tess asked.

"No," Valenti admitted, "no, I don't. Independent of what you Max found on the back hedge, you've got a lot of artwork here, thousands of dollars worth, and none of it is a millimeter out of place. Whoever was here was either surprised very early on, or they weren't here for a conventional robbery. Is there anything here that an alien would want, Miss Harding? Anything only an alien would know to look for?"

Tess shook her head. "Not that I know of."

"But maybe someone knows of something," Max said. "Maybe Nasedo had something Tess doesn't know about, or someone thinks he did."

"Which is exactly why I think you shouldn't stay here," Valenti said to Tess. "We're the only ones who know Ed Harding is dead, but someone knows Nasedo is dead, and that someone may come back. I don't want you here when they do."

"I agree," Tess said.

Valenti blinked. "You do?"

"Absolutely," Tess said. "I don't want to stay here, not after this. I can sleep anywhere as long as it's not here."

"The sheriff said you can stay with him for a while," Max said. "You should be safe there."

The silence which followed this announcement was so profound, it was palpable. Previously all business and seemingly unfazed by what had happened, Tess stared at him in shock. "Oh, I...I couldn't do that," she stammered. "That wouldn't be...that just wouldn't be…"

"I think it's the best option," Valenti said. "If you stay with Max, his parents will ask all kinds of awkward questions we can't answer. We'll have to construct a lie, and everyone will have to be careful to live that lie around the clock. Kyle and I already know the score. No lying needed."

More silence. "It's only temporary," Valenti added. "Just until things sort themselves out or we can figure something else out. At least you won't be alone."

There was something about the pleading look Tess threw Max and the way he quickly averted his eyes that spoke volumes. "Okay," she said finally. "But just for a while."

"Just for a while," Valenti agreed. "We'll help you pack."

"No! I mean, I can do it," Tess amended. "Unless you really want to help me sort through my make-up and undies."

"No, no, you run along," Valenti said quickly. "We'll turn off the lights and make sure the doors are locked."

Tess retreated to the second floor as Valenti threw Max a distinctly uncomfortable look. "Make-up," he muttered. "Undies. Did I mention I don't do girls?"






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





Evans Residence






"Max, is that you?" Diane called when she heard the kitchen door open. "Where have you been?"

"It's...only 11 o'clock," Max noted, closing the door behind him.

Seated at the kitchen table nursing cups of coffee, Philip gave him a give up now look while Diane frowned. "But it's a school night," she scolded. "Izzy's been in her room all night doing homework, which means you must have homework too."

"I did most of it at school," Max said, tactfully omitting the part where Isabel had too.

"I know it's only the first day back, but you can't stay out till all hours any more," Diane fretted. "This is your junior year, and you can't let work pile up."

"Then tonight was the perfect night to stay out," Max said. "How much work could have 'piled up' on the very first night?"

"He has a point, honey," Philip allowed.

"And there's my juvenile delinquent," Diane sighed. "Gracious, Philip, don't egg him on."

"Right, I was the juvenile delinquent," Philip said. "Max never has been."

"Yet," Diane muttered. "Between you and your mother, he's got the genes for it."

"I promise I won't let anything pile up," Max assured her, planting a kiss on top of her head. " 'Night, Mom. 'Night, Dad."

He's got the genes for it. Privately reflecting that he had no idea what his genes predisposed him toward other than trouble, Max left his parents gently squabbling and knocked on Isabel's door. "Iz? Can I come in?"

"I'd skip the late night snack if I were you," Isabel advised, flopped on the bed and paging through Vogue. "Mom's on the warpath."

"Yeah, I heard," Max said. "She thinks you've been holed up in here hitting the books."

Isabel looked up in alarm. "You didn't tell her otherwise, did you?"

"Of course not," Max said.

Isabel's eyes dropped. "I know it's silly, but...I just feel safer in here. I felt so exposed all day at school, like something was lurking around every corner. It was nice to just...nest."

"Yeah, I know what you mean," Max said, keeping to himself the fact that he'd felt that way earlier too. Hopefully that guy who was welding hadn't seen anything compromising through his mask.

"Mom's not the only one on the warpath," Isabel continued. "Maria called. And called, and called. Apparently she and Liz saw you talking with Tess tonight."

A prickle of annoyance flared in Max. "So? She did just lose the only person she's ever relied on, and she is one of us. Is it against the law to talk to her?"

"Of course not," Isabel said, "but don't expect Maria to get that. How is Tess?"

"Not great," Max answered. "And worse after someone broke into her house."

Max felt a stab of pain when he saw the fear flare in his sister's eyes. "Broke into her house? What happened?"

"I'd walked her home," Max said, "and we heard a noise...glass breaking...and when we went inside, the back door was open, and the back gate was swinging like someone had just run out."

Isabel sat back on the bed, rubbing her arms as though she were cold, the magazine forgotten. "Okay, that could have been...that could have been anyone. Nasedo had all that expensive stuff in there; it was probably just a run-of-the-mill burglar."

"We said the same thing," Max allowed. "Until we found a piece of skin hanging on the back hedge. It disintegrated as soon as I picked it up. Just like Michael said."

Isabel froze, the expression on her face one of someone who'd been physically struck. "So... it's true, then," she said, ashen faced. "There really are…'Skins'. And they're here. Right now."

"Nasedo did say, 'They are among you now'," Max noted.

"Yeah," Isabel said faintly. "What a crappy time to be right."

Max waited while Isabel stared into this latest abyss, knowing her shaky illusion of safety had just been shattered. "So...we went to Valenti's house," he went on after a long silence. "He's so rattled, he met us at the door with a gun."

"I can relate," Isabel said miserably.

"He checked out the house, but nothing was taken, or even moved except a lamp which had fallen over," Max continued. "That was the glass we heard breaking."

"So what did they want?" Isabel demanded. "Why break in and take nothing, move nothing?"

Max shook his head. "I don't know. But Valenti didn't want Tess staying by herself. He wanted her to come live...here."

Isabel's eyes widened in alarm. "Here? You mean with us? But...she's not with you," she went on when Max nodded. "Does that mean you talked him out of it?"

"I told him Tess wouldn't like it here because she'd have to hide who she is," Max answered. "She's never had to do that before in her own home. I know, I know," he went on, dropping his eyes. "It's a lame excuse, and I'm being selfish. I just...I didn't want her here."

"Well, if you're being selfish, than so am I," Isabel admitted. "I don't want her here either, but not because my girlfriend wouldn't like it. I don't want her here because she'd make us a target." She winced, closing her eyes briefly. "How's that for selfish?"

"We're all targets," Max said soberly. "That's why I'm telling you this now even though I knew it would upset you; you're not safe in this room, just like Tess isn't safe in her house."

"And we're not safe at school," Isabel added.

"We're safer at school than anywhere else because it's public," Max said. "Whoever did this doesn't want to be found. But 'safer' doesn't mean much. We're all targets, all the time, anywhere we are, and we can't forget that."

"Great pep talk, Max," Isabel muttered.

"But I don't think Tess was the target," Max went on. "Whoever it was made a point of being there when she wasn't. More likely they were looking for something Nasedo had."

"And they'll go back to look again," Isabel said worriedly. "Maybe we should have Tess move in with us. You know Mom would say yes—"

"And I know Dad would want lots of details," Max broke in. "Valenti and I already went through this. She's bunking with him."

Isabel blinked. "Tess moved in with Valenti?"

"It's perfect," Max said. "He and Kyle both know the truth, so she doesn't have to hide, and there won't be any messy legal questions to answer or lies to make up...or not as many, anyway."

"Wow," Isabel said. "I never saw the sheriff taking somebody in like that."

"He wasn't thrilled about it," Max admitted. "He said he 'doesn't do girls'."

Isabel smiled faintly. "I think he's about to get quite an education. Him and Kyle both."





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





Valenti Residence






"Home, sweet home," Valenti said as he pulled into the driveway, trying to sound cheerful. "Listen, Kyle's in bed, so let's try not to wake him. I'll fill him in tomorrow."

Clutching her backpack on her lap in the passenger seat of his car, Tess nodded. "Yeah, it's always easier to face me in the full light of day."

She climbed out of the car, and Valenti followed uneasily. He couldn't read this one, couldn't tell when she was joking or what she was thinking. Kyle's emotions were like those of most adolescent males—blessedly simple and worn on his sleeve. Girls were always more guarded, harder to read, and it only got worse when they turned into women; just look at his ex-wife. If he had that much trouble with human women, what the hell was he going to do with an alien woman? Perhaps honesty was the best policy. His ex had always claimed that was his worst problem, so perhaps he could test the theory.

"Look, I know you don't want to be here," Valenti said as he pulled her suitcase out of the trunk. "And I don't blame you. But it's only temporary. Just until we can think of something else."

"Like what?" Tess said.

"Like...something we haven't thought of yet," Valenti answered.

Jesus, Valenti thought, slamming the trunk lid. He couldn't see her face, but that just made things worse; that faceless silhouette could easily be Michelle, who had always left him feeling tongue-tied and stupid, like he was now. "I'll get the door for you," he said as they approached the front door...only to hear a click, followed by the door swinging open and a light snapping on unbidden.

"What...just happened?" Valenti said.

"I don't need keys," Tess answered. "Or light switches."

Valenti closed the front door. "Yeah, I'm afraid you do."

"No, I don't," Tess said.

And suddenly the specter of the enigmatic woman was gone, replaced by something he was all too familiar with—a sour adolescent flopped on the couch, this one clutching her backpack like a life preserver. This was well trod ground.

"You do here," Valenti said firmly. "We use keys and light switches, and that means you do too."

"I never needed to in my house," Tess announced.

"This isn't your house," Valenti said. "This is my house."

"Really?" Tess muttered. "I hadn't noticed."

"But now you have," Valenti said pointedly. "So we won't need to have this conversation again, will we?"

They squared off, the scowling teenager and the determined adult, as Valenti reflected that he liked this much better than the slammed doors and brooding silences which had characterized life with his ex. He'd take a good old fashioned fight over the silent treatment any day. "I'm sorry about what happened to Nasedo," Valenti said, "but you agreed you shouldn't stay at your house—"

"I never agreed to come here," Tess declared.

"You most certainly did," Valenti retorted. "You said, 'I don't want to stay here, not after this—' " He stopped, taking a seat on the other end of the couch as she stared at the floor. "Oh. I see. You thought you were going with Max."

"It was the logical place for me to go," Tess argued. "We should stick together."

"Max had his reasons," Valenti noted, drawing a snort from her. "In human terms, you're underage, and he felt his father would ask too many inconvenient questions."

"That's not why Max didn't want me there," Tess said sullenly.

"Max also felt that having to hide around the clock would be difficult for you because you'd never had to do that before," Valenti continued. "Judging by what you just did, I'd say he hit that nail right on the head, wouldn't you?"

She stared at him, startled, then sank further into the couch in a smoldering sulk, furious for having proven Max right. "Whatever Max's reasons, he's right about his father," Valenti went on. "Philip Evans is a lawyer, and he's got a nose just like mine. He'd sniff you out, no doubt about it."

Tess looked far away for a moment. "Is Philip Grandma Dee's son?"

"Yeah," Valenti said warily. "Why?"

There was a brief pause before Tess shrugged. "Nothing. Just wondered."

Valenti privately reflected that it was highly unlikely this one ever "just wondered" about anything. "Okay...well...I'll get some blankets and sheets, and we can make up this couch for you—"

" 'Couch'?" Tess interrupted. "I don't even get a bed?"

"What happened to, 'I can sleep anywhere as long as it's not here'?" Valenti asked. "The Evans family doesn't have any extra bedrooms either, so you'd be—"

"In Isabel's room," Tess said broke in furiously. "I'd be bunking with her, probably on the floor in a sleeping bag, but I wouldn't care. I'd be with my own kind."

For a moment—just a moment—the angry veneer fell away, and Valenti got a glimpse of a very different girl, one who was alone...and frightened. The mask returned seconds later, but what he'd seen had been telling. Nasedo taught her not to trust humans, Max had said. What was it like to be an alien in this world, all by yourself and living in a stranger's house, with the only adult you'd ever known now dead, and the only family you had unable—or unwilling—to take you in? As bitchy adolescents went, at least this one had her reasons.

"Okay," Valenti nodded. "Okay. I was just trying to help, but if this isn't helping, I won't make you stay here...not that I could anyway. Let's load up your suitcases, and I'll take you back."

Tess's eyes widened. "What? You're going to take me back to a house that was just broken into by an alien?"

"Well, you certainly don't want to stay here," Valenti noted. "I believe you've made that excruciatingly clear, and then some."

"I shouldn't be here," Tess argued. "I should be at Max and Isabel's. I've met their mother—I know she'd take me in. Call her and tell her…I don't know, tell her something. Anything."

"You're right, she would take you," Valenti agreed. "And Max is right—it's a bad idea. Mr. and Mrs. Evans don't know their children aren't human, but I'm willing to bet they'd find out fast if you went to live there. You don't have the reflexes to hide all the time, Miss Harding, and your temper gets the better of you. I won't help you put both yourself and Max's and Isabel's relationship with their parents in jeopardy."

"Then maybe I'll just ask her myself," Tess said stubbornly.

"You could do that," Valenti allowed, "but I'm guessing it would come at the cost of your friendship with Max and Isabel. Definitely Max. Sure you want to go there?"

His answer was a sullen silence, the same kind he got from Kyle and a useful indicator that he was on the right track; nothing pissed off kids more than an adult being right. "Now, the way I see it, you have two choices," Valenti went on. "You can stay here tonight, and we'll see what's what tomorrow, or I can drive you back to your house. Pick one."

More silence, although a bit less sullen this time. "If I go back, will you give me a gun?" she asked.

"No, Miss Harding, I will not give you a gun," Valenti said firmly. "And if you think you need one, why would you go back there?"

"If you think I shouldn't go back there, why would you take me back there?"

"Because if you don't want to stay here, you'll leave anyway," Valenti said. "I can't exactly chain you up in the backyard, although it could be argued that your behavior warrants it." He stood up. "I'll get you a blanket. Have your answer by the time I get back because after I go to bed, taxi service is suspended until morning."

"I could still walk," she muttered.

"Keep this up, and I'll make you," Valenti promised.

He left her sulking on the couch and retreated to the closet to fetch a blanket and a pillow, which took longer than he thought; the days of an organized linen closet had ended when Michelle had left. Back in the living room, he found her taking her shoes off and much more subdued than when he'd left.

"Does that mean you're staying?"

"Just for tonight," Tess answered. "I'm too upset to be making big decisions right now."

"No argument there," Valenti agreed. "Bathroom's down the hall; I'll use it first, and then it's all yours. And I got you—"

"I don't need those," Tess interrupted. "I mean...no thank you," she amended quickly when she saw the look on his face. "We run warmer than humans. I'll be fine without a blanket."

"I'll just leave them here in case you change your mind," Valenti said. "Good night, Miss Harding."

"Good night, sheriff," she answered, her eyes on the floor.

Valenti retreated to his bedroom and let out a long, slow breath. Tess had had a rough time these past few days what with Nasedo dying and now this, but her attitude was still grating; part of him wanted to hug her, while the other part of him wanted to slap her. He was still trying to decide which part of him would win as he pulled out his phone.

"Hope I didn't wake you," Valenti said when Dee answered. "You said you stay up late."

"That I do," Dee agreed. "What's wrong?"

"Tess Harding is staying with me, for the moment at least," Valenti said. "Someone broke into her house tonight, and we all thought it best that she not stay there by herself."

"Broke in?" Dee said sharply. "Why?"

"Good question," Valenti allowed. "Nothing was stolen, or even touched except a lamp which had fallen over. Max had walked Tess home, and it appears they interrupted whoever was there...and Max said they left a strip of skin along the back hedge when they ran. And since Nasedo told him something about enemies being 'skins', we're pretty sure whoever was there was alien."

"Oh, no," Dee sighed.

"She's not thrilled about it," Valenti went on. "We've already gone three rounds at least. She wanted to go home with Max."

"I'm sure she did, but that's not a good idea," Dee said. "I think she'd have a hard time playing human around the clock; subtlety isn't her strong point, and Philip would be on her right quick."

"That's what I told her," Valenti agreed, "and what Max told her, but we failed to impress. She was threatening to go back to her empty house, and for all I know, she just might. But she's here for the moment, so I just wanted you to know so you could tell the other…"

"Warder," Dee finished.

"Yeah," Valenti said. "That. I hate that word. Makes me think of a prison. Can't I call him a 'guardian'?"

"I'm of the opinion you've earned the right to call him anything you want," Dee said. "How'd you get her to stay?"

"Simple—I offered to drive her home."

Laughter floated over the phone. "Ah, yes. You have a teenager, so you're familiar with the concept of reverse psychology."

"Very," Valenti admitted. "Act like you don't care if they do, and they won't; like you don't care if they don't, and they will. Works like a charm, most of the time, anyway. Say, do you know of anything 'Nasedo' had that another alien would want to steal?"

"No," Dee allowed, "but I'll ask the...guardian. Thank you for helping them out, Jim. I appreciate you taking her in, but do be careful. She can be a handful."

"Really?" Valenti said dryly. "I hadn't noticed."





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





"Well," Dee said, closing her cellphone, "that was interesting."

"Hmm?" Courtney murmured, her eyes on the building across the street.

"Tess has moved into Valenti's house," Dee said.

"The sheriff? Why?"

"Someone broke into her house tonight," Dee answered. "Anything you want to tell me?"

"No. Should there be?"

"They found a piece of skin on the back hedge," Dee answered, "so I'm just doing the math. To the best of my knowledge, there are only two Argilians in town, so if you aren't involved in this, that means Vanessa's figured out where Jaddo was living and has undoubtedly made the very short leap to who Tess might be. And if so, Brivari needs to know about this immediately."

Shit, Courtney groaned. Her husk was so fragile now; a piece must have come off when she was vaulting the hedge, and she hadn't even felt it. Brivari would not be pleased that she'd tipped her hand, so it was better for him to find that out as late as possible. "Fine, it was me," she sighed. "Brivari sent me there. He wanted me to find something Jaddo took from him when he left town with Ava, something that would very likely be hidden behind a handprint lock."

"And you didn't see fit to tell me this?"

"I told you he called," Courtney objected. "I just...didn't tell you everything."

"Obviously," Dee said. "What's he looking for?"

"Does it matter?"

"It does if Tess feels she can no longer live there," Dee argued. "Now she wants to move in with Max."

"So the queen wants to move in with the king," Courtney shrugged. "What's wrong with that?"

"Courtney…" Dee said warningly.

"Jaddo took the key to the Granolith."

Dee blinked at her. "The 'key'? I didn't know it had a key. Does it also have a sunroof?"

"And electric windows," Courtney deadpanned. "Without the key, the hybrids couldn't leave the planet. Jaddo wanted to make sure he and Ava wouldn't be stranded here by the rest of them."

Dee pondered that for a moment before shaking her head. "My grandmother warned me never to speak ill of the dead, but still...that bastard."

"Word," Courtney said darkly. "And now it's lost. Jaddo never told Brivari where it was."

"So if it's 'lost', why can't Brivari look for it when he gets back? It's not like they're leaving any time soon."

"Because he's paranoid about it," Courtney said. "And besides, I wasn't searching for his sake. It occurred to me that if I found it, I could use it to get him to consider the treaty."

"You were going to blackmail the King's Warder?" Dee said incredulously. "Are you out of your mind?"

"He won't listen!" Courtney exclaimed. "You didn't hear him on the phone today."

"Or even everything he said on the phone today," Dee said tartly. "But if you're talking now, I'm all ears."

"I was testing the waters," Courtney said. "He won't even look at the treaty; I know he won't, but even your father agrees he should. Having the key will make him—"

"Furious," Dee interjected.

"Listen," Courtney corrected. "All he needs to do to get it back is listen."

"At which point he'll say 'no', and you won't give it to him, and...no," Dee said firmly. "This is a very bad idea. Brivari won't take Jaddo's treaty seriously no matter what you do, or I do, or anyone does. Vanessa may not have killed him, but he still died because of his association with her, and Brivari won't forgive that. Your best bet is to pursue the treaty later, after emotions have cooled."

"Later? He'll kill her!" Courtney protested. "Jaddo's dead, so the only chance we have of making this work is Vanessa. If she's dead too, it's...God, I can't believe I'm saying this," she muttered. "Must be a cold day somewhere if I'm trying to keep Vanessa alive."

"Then we appear to be between a rock and a hard place," Dee said. "Brivari's bound to kill the one person who can sell it to the other side whether we tell him about it or not."

"Which is why I need leverage," Courtney argued. "The Granolith key is leverage."

"He might kill you if you withhold it," Dee noted.

"He might," Courtney agreed soberly. "But I know someone else he'll listen to." She checked her watch and glanced at the UFO Center, dark and silent at this hour. "It's after midnight. Let's go."



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



I'll post Chapter 26 on Sunday, March 15. :)
BRIVARI: "In our language, the root of the word 'Covari' means 'hidden'. I'm always there, Your Highness, even if you don't see me."

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