"So, what are they like?" Jon asked Heather as they sat down
at the cafeteria table. She had gotten
back the day before from Washington DC and met a couple more of her mom's
brothers. Daniel had come down from New
York even to meet them. Heather had
gotten back late the night before, so this was the first chance that Jon had
gotten to talk to her.
Heather toyed with her chicken. She really wasn't hungry, but if someone saw her sitting there
and not eating, they would start on all that trauma crap again. That was one big downfall to being at a
private school. Everyone knew what had
happened, and all the teachers wanted to let her know they were there for
her. The counselor wanted her to come
in so she could help her deal with the "emotional issues that could cause
scarring on a young psyche after such a dramatically traumatic event". Heather could only guess that since her
parents were paying an obscene amount of money in tuition, everyone thought
they should be concerned.
"I think Xander might have a split personality with that
whole CIA thing," she said. "Shawna is
pretty cool though, and I think Cray needs to get together with Syl because
they both have this thing for high-powered explosives." She thought for a second. "I think I liked Lon the best though. He's an FBI agent. We went to Quantico and
he was introducing me to everyone as his niece. That place totally rocks."
Her dad had not been happy about her going with her mom to
meet the family, but in the end, he had let Heather go. Heather had heard the rather heated debate
between her parents about her and Daniel going, but in the end, her mother had
won out. At first, Heather wasn't sure
who she wanted to win, but when Alicia said she wanted the twins to stay in
Seattle with Zack, Heather knew she wanted to go. Her dad had said that he was going to stay in Seattle, but there
had been a couple of times that there was a shadow catching the corner of her
eye from rooftops and buildings, and she knew what it was. Mom had caught it too, and once left the
hotel room in the middle of the night for about an hour. Heather wasn't sure what happened, but there
wasn't a shadow for the rest of the weekend.
Jon had deliberately chosen a table by the wall, hoping that
people would get the hint and leave them alone. Most of the teachers thought it was sweet that Heather had a
friend to lean on while trying to deal with such "an incident difficult for a
teen to cope with", but some of her friends hadn't gotten the hint that she
didn't want to talk to them about it.
She had stuck to the story they'd told the cops, but he was the only one
she could tell the whole truth to. It
was kind of strange in a way to be so into someone's confidence, but he liked
it with Heather.
Nina and Beth came up to the table with big smiles. "Guess what?" Nina asked Heather
excitedly. She just knew this was going
to get Heather right back to where she had been a couple of weeks before. "Derek Waverly is going to be having a party
next weekend, and he told me to tell you…" she paused to build up the
anticipation. "We're invited!!!" she
squealed. "Can you believe it? I mean just the coolest party of the year,
and we're…invited," she finished in a much more subdued tone, realizing Heather
wasn't jumping around squealing.
"That's cool," Heather said with a smile.
"Aren't you excited about going?" Beth asked. God, this was so not right.
"Don't know if I will or not."
The two girls looked stunned.
Turn down a Waverly? Did she
know what that meant for a sophomore to get?
Of course she did.
"Oh," Nina said, still speechless. "Um, well, let us know and you know."
"I will," Heather replied and they walked off.
"Turning down a Waverly," Jon said thoughtfully, but amused. "Could play hell on your social life."
"Like any of that matters anymore," Heather said, and then
sighed. "Maybe I am a little different
now, you know? I mean, what was so
important before seems so…so petty now."
She took a bite of her chicken, thinking. Jon didn't say anything, just waited for her to continue. That was something she really liked about
him. He knew when to keep his mouth
shut and listen.
"It's more like I didn't know what I was capable of before,"
she finally said, trying to put the nebulous feelings into words. "Now…now it's like, why should I be here,
when I know I can deal with the world at large? I want to be out there, not stuck here. I know I have to be more careful out there, but I can do that,
and I know for sure now that I can rise to any challenge."
Jon smiled. "You
know," he said softly, taking her hand "I think I like you better now than
before. You're more focused…more the
woman that was waiting to come out from behind the girl."
Heather blushed. He
had such a way with words. She felt
better for just talking to him. School
psychologists could think they were great, but an honest heart was the best
person to help. She didn't have to duck
questions with Jon, and he was such a great listener. Great kisser too, but that wasn't something she would tell a
shrink. She was glad he was there for
her, and since he hadn't run away screaming after everything that had happened,
she knew he was going to be around for a while. They'd survived deranged mercenaries, the elements, Dad and the
twins. The future wasn't clear, but his
smile said he wanted to be part of her future.
She hoped he could see the same in hers.
The cafeteria door opened, letting in a blast of cold air,
and Ms. Miller walked in and looked around.
The teachers were all assigned a week where they had to sit in the
cafeteria and make sure the students were supervised. It was a point of pride at the prestigious private school that a
teacher had never really been needed in there, but they made sure the students
were supervised and chaperoned at all times.
It was Ms. Miller's week to be on guard duty, and Heather had a feeling
she was glad to be there. Heather knew
how much her classmates had wanted to know what had happened, and she was
willing to bet the other teachers had questioned Ms. Miller just as bad.
Heather flashed Ms. Miller a quick smile, and got a slight
nod in return before she went over to the table in the corner where the
teachers always sat. Most of the time
they read a book or something or they walked around. Ms. Miller looked like she was filling out paperwork, but she had
that sad expression she'd had a lot since they'd gotten back. Heather wasn't sure all what was involved,
but she had a sickening feeling it had something to do with Uncle Cole. Heather had seen the delivery last
week. There had been a rumor about Ms.
Miller and some guy breaking into her hotel room at the ski resort. Heather did not want to risk knowing the
truth. If she did ask, she might then
have to go throw up or gouge her eyes out with a spoon
Janice sat at the table, occasionally looking around to keep
appearances and playing with paperwork that she really wasn't reading
over. It was so depressing to be
filling out grades on who had participated in basketball when mere days before
she had been running rampant through a mountain range, doing what she did
best. Heather seemed to be doing well
at least, and the talk of her and Jonathan as a couple seemed to overshadow
most of the other school gossip that might have arisen. Heather was tough, and her family would be
able to help her deal with it, if she did need help that was.
Cole Lydecker. That moment on
the mountain she could have dismissed as just a momentary thing. Him coming back just to give her a kiss that
had kept her awake at night thinking about it; that was a little bit more than
a slight signal. Janice had muttered
something to Leslie about him being FBI, but she was still wildly curious about
who he was. Now the rest of the staff
was also wondering. Janice hated
gossip. She'd been trained to keep a
low profile, but it was a little hard to do when all your colleagues were
talking about you.
Janice had tried to convince herself that it was just a
goodbye kiss. She wasn't going to be
seeing him again at all. How could they
get together anyways? They were on
opposite ends of the country, not to mention government status. She had almost convinced herself, and not
hearing from Cole at all making it easier to do, until Friday. Leslie had burst into the teacher's lounge,
grinning like a Cheshire cat, and grabbed Janice, hauling her to the front
There was a large bouquet of green zinnias waiting
there. Janice had stopped dead seeing
the lime-green petals. How the hell
could he possibly know her favorite flower?
It wasn't like it was a common choice.
These things had to be special ordered, and…and…oh, God, what else had
he seen in her mind?
"There's a card!" Leslie had cried, pointing. Janice looked down at her, wondering if she
was going to start dancing with excitement or just wet herself. Janice opened the small envelope, and took
out the card. It simply read "CWL". Leslie was reading it over her shoulder, her
face falling at the lack of romantic declarations. "That's all?" she complained.
"Sometimes," Janice said loftily, "less is more." She'd picked up the flowers before she left
for her apartment after school, their light scent reminding her of the woods
around South Carolina where she'd grown up.
Receiving flowers had always before been annoying to her. There was always a little card that said
they were sorry, or they loved/missed/wanted her. The flowers were invariably roses. She hated roses. Him
taking the time to get her exactly what she liked best, that said more to her
than anything Hallmark could come up with.
She hoped he would be in Seattle soon, and not just to find out what the
"W" stood for. It would be…interesting
to see him again under less tense circumstances.
Janice sat at her table, methodically checking off who had
done what in basketball, and trying not to think about anything in
particular. She was glad that nobody
has been upset at her for taking off a couple of days after the incident. Most people thought she was recovering. She had been in a way, but in Virginia,
attending Kevin's funeral. She'd seen
her old team, and that had helped her more than anything else to deal with what
had happened. Micah told her that he
was surprised Kevin had gotten killed trying to protect someone. He'd changed drastically in the last six
months, and even they were considering him unstable. She'd seen Devon, and knew that the child believing his father to
be a hero would be far less painful than him being a traitor. He was staying with his aunt and uncle. They didn't have any kids of their own, and
she knew they would treat him as if he was theirs. He was in good hands. She
could deal with that.
A rhythmic thumping caught Janice's attention. She almost groaned. It was not something she had thought to hear
again for a long time. What now, she
thought irritably, grabbing her papers and walking outside as the helicopter
came over the building, spinning in air, and landing easily in the grassy circle
in the center of the circular drive-way in front of the school. She recognized the class of helicopter, and
was not surprised in the least as a familiar figure jumped out.
Brickman jogged to her, raking his fingers through his dark
hair trying to undo damage down by the windblast of the rotors. He looked at her sweats and smirked. If she didn't have half the student body and
a growing portion of the staff watching, she might have decked him one just for
good measure. The job sucked, but it
was paying the bills, and she didn't want to lose it for a moment of
"Hey," he called out to her once he got close enough. "Grab your gear," he ordered. "We got some hot leads on the Fimbriani, and
need to jump on them in the next couple of hours or we're going to miss them."
"So?" Janice asked, not daring to even think he meant what
it sounded like he was saying.
"So you're the resident expert on them," he replied casually
as if nothing was wrong at all. "You
need an expert to play with them."
"I can't," she said softly, her mouth dry, heart pounding at
his words. Was this some sick sort of
He looked dumbfounded.
She rolled her eyes.
"Because I have classes to teach," she snapped sarcastically. "Why do you think?"
Brickman grinned, and she knew he had been teasing her. He glanced at the students and faculty all
around, and switched to Arabic before continuing. "Oh, that? Well, damn
Nightshade, if you had just told me the truth last weekend, it would have been
fine." She blinked. "Cole told me all about it, you admitting
that it was really Hawk that took the mark, and you just covered for him so he
wouldn't lose his job, him having a kid and all." He blew out a breath. "I
know leaders are supposed to take responsibility for their subordinates, but
that was a bit much. Admirable, but a
little too far." He shrugged, trying to
keep from laughing at her stunned expression.
"Anyways, the brass wasn't exactly thrilled that you pulled it over on
us so brilliantly, but hell, we got Fimbriani to go after right now, and you
got a team to pull back together later."
Janice knew her Arabic was a little rusty, but it couldn't
be so bad she was completely misinterpreting what he had said. They wanted her back? This better not be a joke. Please, no, not a joke. "Cole said that?" she asked in Arabic as
well. "And you just believed him? I didn't think you would believe your own
mother telling you your birth date without proof."
Brickman smirked. He
debated for a second, and then decided to go ahead and tell her. She'd figure it out soon enough when she
realized whom he lived with once they got back to Virginia. "I never met my mother," he replied. "And what possible reason would my brother have
to lie to me?"
Her eyes widened.
"Oh," she gasped. Brother? He referred to Cole as his brother? She grinned suddenly, everything making so
much more sense. No wonder he was the
Manticore keeper. It was a personal
project to him. She wanted to laugh,
understanding now why he didn't ask an X-6 to go after Reispian. A keeper wouldn't have a problem putting a
charge in danger, but he wasn't about to risk one of his brothers.
"What can I say," she said still grinning, "I've always been
tricky that way." Without a word,
Brickman reached into his pocket and removed a black leather card-case, and
handed it to her. She flipped it open,
wanting to do a back flip with the sheer thrill of seeing her CIA credentials
once more. Her eyes met Brickman's evenly. "Fimbriani huh? We better get moving before they do."
She thought about saying something to Headmaster Webber, but
who really cared about that? Nightshade
had some Fimbriani to take out and then…and then the world was hers once
again. She jumped into the helicopter,
almost falling right into someone strapped into the side seating. He grinned at her. She smiled back a little hesitantly, feeling vaguely disappointed
as they started to take off that he was the only one in the helicopter. Granted, whoever he was, he wouldn't be hard
to view as scenery for the trip with his dark blonde hair falling forward a
little into his bright green eyes giving him a rakish look, but he wasn't whom
she would have liked to see. He did
immediately pull out a piece of paper.
"Okay," he yelled to Janice, "look over this, and mark off
the closest thing that describes what happened during the famed 'two
minutes'." She went to reach for it,
not sure what he was talking about, but it was suddenly ripped out of his hand,
the knife neatly skewering the paper into the side. Brickman was laughing.
"Cray, I told you that we wait until after we got back to
see who won pool!" he yelled. He looked
over at Janice who was under the impression they had both lost their
minds. "Janice Miller, meet Cray
Logan. We're giving little bro a lift
back to his base before he's declared AWOL or dead or anything else they can
think of." He grinned
mischievously. "I think you might have
met our pilot. Just be glad he's as
good with a knife as he is flying."
Janice's eyes brightened, and she ducked into the cockpit. Xander looked over at Cray and held out his
hand expectantly. Told you he's not
gay, he mouthed. Cray rolled his eyes,
but slapped the twenty in Xander's hand anyways. There were worse things to bet on than your brother's sexual
habits. Just because they couldn't
think of any didn't make it less true, or less fun for that matter. Xander snickered thinking about the next few
bets. He was going to win those too no
matter what. He'd wanted so much to
find a way to get Nightshade back in action.
Cole had given him the way with a story so plausible that it was
irritating that he hadn't thought of it himself. Making a little cash off of his siblings from it, well, that was
Janice jumped into the co-pilot's seat and grabbed the
headphones. "Why?" she asked.
Cole grinned at her.
"You deserved to have your job back," he replied simply.
"I meant the rest of it," she countered. If possible, he grinned wider.
"Because I know you don't like roses," he replied, and then
laughed. "As to before…because I wanted
to…and so did you." She let out a
little laugh. So what if he was dead on
"You saw anything else in there that I should know about?"
she asked with a smile.
Cole made sure they were stable enough, and then leaned
over, quickly letting his lips brush against hers. His smile was softer then.
"Just that you were absolutely right," he said. Her eyebrow arched in question. "Italian is good for a second date."
"Second? You know, most men
don't consider THAT to be a first."
"I'm not most men."
She eyed him for a moment.
"A-men to that," she breathed.
They both smiled at each other, and neither noticed a twenty quietly
being slipped from Xander back into Cray's hand.
The students on the ground were absolutely stunned as they
watched the helicopter take off.
Heather was trying to keep from falling on the ground, laughing until
she couldn't breathe. "I think that's
the most unique resignation in the history of the school including when Mr.
McNamara stripped naked and ran through the halls," Jon whispered. Now she started giggling.
"If they only knew," she whispered. He nodded in understanding.
"Do you know what they said?" Jon asked. If anyone were going to know how to make
sense of the gibberish coming out of Ms. Miller and Heather's uncle, it would
Heather looked up at the helicopter that was becoming
smaller and smaller. She was pleased
that she didn't have the urge to go back into the cafeteria and hunt a spoon,
even after seeing whom the pilot was.
"I think they said," she whispered softly. "I think they said things are going to be great."
Jon smiled back at her, his arm wrapping around her
waist. "You know…I think they just
might be right."