"So, what are they like

"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.

Heather shrugged.  "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.

Heather's family.  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 office.

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 satisfaction.

"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 prank?

He looked dumbfounded.  "Why?"

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 just fun.

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 target.

"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."

She snickered.  "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 be her.

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."