Two Roads Diverged
Summary: Total AU. When her car breaks down on Route 88, Mel doesn't meet a certain Cirronian Tracker. Her life changes completely and battle-lines are seriously redrawn as a result of a different chance meeting.
Disclaimer: I don't own them but, hey, just as soon as that deal with Zin goes through…
Timeline: Throughout season 1, touching on many of the key eps.
Spoilers: For most of the first season.
This has too many spoilers in it to count. If you have not yet seen ep 21, "What Lies Beneath", I highly recommend against reading past this point. You'll ruin an entire season for yourself. Please tread lightly.
Author's Note: This story seems to have basically written itself in three-chapter units, most of which more or less correspond with various key eps in the series: the Pilot ep (1-3), "Cloud 9"(4-6), "To Catch a Dessarian"(10-12), & What Lies Beneath"(13-15) … 7 through 9 roughly replace "Trust" in the timeline and then 16 will serve as an epilogue or tag.
Author's Note: Thanks to Kameka for betaing and making several good suggestions.
Feedback: Better than Fek-Maln. Always welcomed and much appreciated. Consider how different this one is, I'll be interested to see how it's received. Please, though, no flames because Mel spend the fic dating someone other than our favorite Cirronian… Beyond that, though, let me know what you think :)
Two Roads Diverged
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by.
And that has made all the difference.
-- Robert Frost
Mel made an annoyed sound in her throat and clicked off the cell-phone. It was going to be quite awhile before a tow-truck arrived according to the dispatcher she had talked to. Typical. Shaking her head, she grabbed her purse, fully prepared to walk to the nearest town.
"No, no, Lana." Zin muttered into his phone. "It's fine. I fully trust your judgment, my dear. Besides, I will be back in town by this evening."
"Yes, Doctor Zin."
He hung up his phone and returned his full attention to the road. Having just passed a parked car, he was not particularly surprised to see a human walking down the road. The EM field generated by the wormhole must have stalled her car. She was attractive for one of the 'locals', he noted. It was a different kind of beauty than that which one might expect to see in a Vardian woman, of course, but Zin had never really been in the habit of restricting himself on the basis of species. Nothing wrong with having a little fun with the locals while he was planet-side, and either way her company could well ease an otherwise boring car-ride. Shrugging to himself, he slowed down and rolled down the passenger-side window.
"Looks like you could use a ride," he greeted her.
Mel regarded the motorist uncertainly. She knew better than to accept a ride from a strange man, but she did not want to walk God only knew how far back to the nearest town, either. He was smiling benignly at her, though, and there was nothing of menace in his manner.
"I don't bite," he promised, noting her wary expression. Pausing, he grinned and added, "Often."
Mel could not help but smile in response to that pronouncement, and his infectious smile, but her cautious nature was still telling her to refuse his offer. "No thanks. I'm fine, really."
"At least use my phone to call someone," he told her, leaning across the seat and holding it out the window.
"I did. The tow-truck is going to take forever, so I'm walking. It's fine."
Zin frowned and retracted the phone. "You sure you don't want a ride?" he offered again, glancing at his clock.
He still had plenty of time to meet Lana for dinner and discuss the day's activities. No harm done in helping out a damsel in distress, and no time really lost. Part of him was amused that his sense of chivalry remained intact given the course he had set himself down. But her company would divert him on an otherwise boring car ride, and it cost him nothing to help her. If nothing else it would give him a chance to practice human socialization techniques. Nor did it hurt that she really was remarkably easy on the eyes. There was something else about her, too, something less readily definable but worlds more intriguing. And strangely familiar as well. Most curious. He had to know more.
Mel hesitated, glancing again at the smiling man who promised that he did not bite. Often. There was something indefinable about him, something that drew her to him, made her want to know more. It was elemental, instinctive. Not one in the habit of accepting rides from strangers, she found herself doing just that, even before she was really aware of it.
"I really could use a ride, I guess."
"Oh, I don't know." She shrugged and made a face. "The radio died, then the AC, then the engine."
"Sounds like something in the electrical system. I'd offer to fix it, but I'd probably only make it worse," he laughed.
"Yeah, never a mechanic around when you need one, is there?"
"Never. Hop in, my dear. I promise, I'm harmless." He smiled again, amused. "Relatively speaking, of course."
Mel grinned and nodded, climbing into the car. "I really do appreciate it, Mister…" She looked at him questioningly.
"Zin. Julius Zin."
"I'm Mel, uh, Porter. Mel Porter… It's nice to meet you, Mister Zin." Mel smiled and nodded.
"Oh, my dear, please don't call me that," he chuckled. "Julius is just fine."
"Julius," she said, smiling at him. "Thanks for the ride."
"No problem at all, my dear," he assured her absently, fiddling with the radio for a moment before giving up and stopping on a talk station. "Feel free to change the station," he told Mel, shaking his head. "Always assuming you can find anything decent."
Mel smiled and nodded. "Tell me about it. All talk these days, isn't it?" she asked, turning the dial. "Ah," she said with a grin, settling on a light jazz station. "This works for you?"
Zin nodded, smiling at her. "I like your taste in music, my dear."
"Okay, why do you keep calling me that?" Mel asked, shaking her head.
"Does it bother you?" he asked.
"Little," she admitted, shrugging. "I mean, hell, you can call me whatever you want, Julius. I really owe you one, after all. I was just curious as to why."
He shrugged absently. "I call many young women dear. If it bothers you, I'll call you Mel."
"I'd appreciate it," she said quietly, uncomfortable.
Zin smiled over at her, his eyes sparkling with amusement. "Mel it is, then. Lovely name. Short for Melissa, is it?"
"Melanie?" he repeated, smiling to himself. Very similar to one of the many Cirronian words for beauty. "Yes, the name works for you. Lovely."
"Um… thanks." Mel smiled and shrugged, feeling a little shy, but also remarkably comfortable with him. Her savior really was quite a charming man. Just so long as he did not ask the obvious question.
"So, what are you doing, driving alone in the middle of nowhere like this?" he asked conversationally.
Damn… Mel considered lying, then decided that it really did not matter. "I… just got back from breaking up with my boyfriend," she admitted, looking out the window.
Not sure where the comment came from, Zin told her, "His loss."
Mel raised an eyebrow at the remark and took a moment to compose herself before responding. "He didn't seem too broken up by it."
"Twice the fool," Zin informed her flatly. "You can do better."
"Um, thanks," she said shifting uncomfortably.
Zin observed her for a moment before speaking again. Right, there was that human thing. What was it called? Ah, subtlety.
"I really can be unforgivably blunt at times, I'm afraid," he told her. "I hope it's not too off-putting."
"No, no. It's fine. I'm just not used to strange men… um, men I don't know," she corrected herself quickly, stopping as Zin began laughing merrily. "Sorry, I'm sorry…"
"Not at all…" He chuckled and shook his head. "You find me strange, then, do you?"
"Not particularly, no." She shook her head. "I'm sorry. I meant--"
"I know. It was a joke." Zin winked at her. "You always this tense, Melanie, or is it simply that riding in cars with strange men makes you nervous?"
Mel laughed and shook her head. "Little of both, Julius." Rambling, as she tended to do when nervous, she continued, "Not that I make a habit of accepting rides from men I don't know, and I'm really not that nervous right now. Although, according to Jess, women just don't come any more wound-up than me…"
"Well, this Jess obviously doesn't know a good thing when he sees one."
"Jess is a woman," Mel corrected him, doing her best to ignore the flattery. Jess was a welcome distraction. "She works for me."
Zin nodded. "Ah. And what does she do for you?" he inquired, pleased that he actually seemed to be managing at this 'small-talk' quite well. It was not that much different from intelligence gathering, definitely a useful skill.
"Tend bar." At his raised eyebrow, she absently explained. "I recently inherited a bar from my grandmother. Inherited Jess along with it."
"I see." Zin took a moment to process her words, considering his own next ones. "I'm sorry about your grandmother. Were you close?"
"She raised me."
Zin reached across the car and touched two fingers to her cheek before moving them to her forehead. "I'm sorry, Melanie," he said gently, meaning it. Losing a mother-figure was never an easy thing.
Mel was a little surprised to find herself on the receiving end of his touch on such short acquaintance. Still, there was something strangely comforting about it and Mel was grateful for that.
"Thank you," she whispered.
"It still hurts. I understand."
"But… she lived a full life, you know." Mel shrugged. "Long one, too… she had that bar before Prohibition."
"Many years," Zin observed, nodding. "It's your family business, then?" As he understood it, although humans did not have castes per se, families frequently all engaged in the same line of work.
"Not really… My dad's a lawyer."
"Hmm." Zin considered for a moment before nodding and dropping the subject.
Though curious, the Vardian refrained from asking the obvious questions about why she had been raised by her grandmother with at least one parent alive. He deliberately steered the conversation to lighter topics, sensing the pretty young human's sorrow. The rest of the drive was spent in idle conversation where much was said but little was conveyed. When he dropped her off at her bar, he knew as much about her as he had five minutes into the drive. But his curiosity was definitely peaked. There was definitely something about her…
"You have a lovely evening, Melanie," Zin told her as she climbed from the car. "And take care of yourself."
"Yeah, Julius. Thanks." Mel smiled at him. "Thanks for everything. Good luck at your meeting."
He smiled and nodded, thoughtfully watching her go into the bar. There was something so very familiar about her. He just could not put his finger on it. Never one to abandon any project halfway through, he made a mental note to pursue the matter until he had resolved it to his satisfaction.
"Yeah, Mar… I swear, we get one more DB this week and I am literally going to scream."
"Sure, Vicky… And I'm going to be the next president of los Estados Unidos."
Vic chuckled and shook his head. "Look, I'm going to swing around that scene one more time before I meet you…" He sighed and shook his head. "Let me call you back," he said, hanging up the phone and climbing out of the car. "Mother of God, not another one," he murmured as he took in the naked body lying on the ground near the chalk outline.
Half naked and not a body at all, he saw with some relief. Still… half naked guy lying in chalk outline? It was going to be one of those nights.
"Comfy down there?" he asked, cautiously approaching the man.
Daggon looked up at him warily, trying to mimic the sounds which he could only assume to be human speech. He failed miserably. Like the body itself, the vocal organs were not easy to manipulate without extensive practice. It had taken him hours to get the hang of walking in the body.
Vic took a startled step backwards. "Yeah…" He sighed and shook his head, crouching in front of the obviously disoriented man. "You have a name?" he asked gently. At the other man's blank look, he tried again. "El nombre?"
More garbled sounds.
"Yeah, well, let's just put in a call to social services, huh?" Vic suggested quietly, rising and pulling out his cell-phone.
"So… cial… serv… sis?"
"Yeah." Vic nodded and regarded him apologetically. "My friend, you need to spend a few days in a hospital."
"Fur…end?" he repeated, regarding Vic hopefully. Friend, ally. He could use one of those right now.
"That's right," Vic assured him, nodding. "Let's get you taken care of. It's too cold for you to be running around like that anyway." He pulled out his phone and dialed, quickly arranging for an ambulance and a room in the state hospital. The guy needed to be under observation. Having arranged for that, he called his partner back. "Mar, something's come up and I'm going to be late."
"Everything okay?" Maria asked, her concern obvious.
Vic smiled at her tone of voice. "Everything's fine. I just came across a guy who's in serious need of a physical followed by a Mandatory 48."
"A psych eval? You need back-up there, Partner?"
Vic watched the underwear-clad man nosing around the crime scene and smiled. "Nah, Mar. He may be a nut, but he seems basically harmless."
"Yeah, just don't let your guard down."
"Hadn't planned to. So, beer another night?"
"How long do you think you'll be?"
"Ambulance should be here in 10 minutes."
"Let's stick to tonight, then. I'm already here. I can get started without you." She laughed. "And still manage to drink you under the table."
Vic laughed and nodded. "Fine, Mar. Fine. See you in an hour or so." Still laughing, he hung up.
Daggon's head shot up at the sound. He tentatively imitated it.
Vic frowned at him, hanging up. He frowned right back. Vic bit his lower lip, tilting his head. And was promptly imitated. Incoherent or not, this man was trying to communicate with him. He looked up as the ambulance pulled up.
"It's okay, it's okay," Vic assured Daggon as he started backing away from the paramedics, his expression suspicious. "These men are going to help you. You understand? Help."
"Help… need help." Daggon nodded faintly.
"Yeah, yeah you do." Vic nodded. "These men are going to look at you and make sure you aren't sick, then they're going to take you somewhere warm. Okay?"
"Oh… kay." Daggon nodded slowly.
Vic smiled reassuringly. "Good. Good man. You just let them help you and they'll have you squared away in no time." Giving him another reassuring smile and a nod, he turned to leave.
"Friend," Daggon called after him, ignoring the paramedics taking his vitals.
Vic sighed and turned to face him, his expression apologetic. "You're going to be okay. I promise." He sighed at the hopeful look on the other man's face. "I'll come visit you, okay?" he offered, not sure exactly what compelled him to do so except that the guy so obviously needed it.
"Visit," he repeated hesitantly, nodding. More firmly, "Visit."
"Okay. Vic shrugged. "I will. And you go with these guys and let them help you."
"Help. Need help."
"Yes, yes you do." Vic nodded faintly. "And we're going to get that for you. You're going to be fine. You just go with these guys," he repeated over his shoulder as he walked back to his car. Feeling strangely unsettled by the odd encounter, he drove to the bar.