Disclaimer: The Mediator series and characters belongs to Meg Cabot. Thunderbirds belongs to Gerry & Sylvia Anderson and various studios. Not the author. This work is non-profit.
Warnings: Supernatural themes, mild violence, light bad language.
Authors Notes: What a weird little fic. But I had fun writing it, that's the main thing. I read Meg Cabot's series a while ago – I loved the premise of them. As to her style, some days I like it and some days I don't. It depends on my mood. This story can be considered a slight AU from the set canon – between book four (Young Blood) and book five (Grave Doubts). There are a few spoilers in this fic for the series, so be warned. As to the Thunderbirds…consider it entirely AU, a fusion with Mediator, which is why it's in that category. Anyone who's seen my profile page knows that I do that a lot to the Tracy's. It seems to be my style of fic (g).
Please, read and review.
It Runs in the Family – by Ryuuza Kochou
All I want is a nice, normal day. Was that really such a hard ask? I mean, was I tramping around the planet, wiping out civilisations? Was I releasing plagues of terror upon mankind? Was I, God forbid, joining the Britney Spears fan club?
The answer, just in case you don't know, is no! What I was doing, and what I am still doing, was being beaten, stabbed, shot at, pushed down stairs, thrown off roofs, had all manner of bones snapped and dislocated and basically had everything the supernatural world could throw at me thrown at me – including psycho bitch killer ghosts and their equally charming boyfriends, angsting undead teens (four of them at once, mind you), a real live serial killer and every other manner of spook; the worst of which being the know-it-all, devastatingly handsome, totally annoying ghost of a 19th Century rancher that just happens to haunt my bedroom.
Jesse. God, it was just so totally unfair. I mean, I try my best; I'm actually more popular than freak for the first time in my life and I'm learning to deal with living with gross males in order give Mom a happy life with her big family. I'm even trying to keep up in school, can you believe that? It wasn't all that easy back in good old NY with all my extra-curricular ghostbusting. I think after all that I deserve time off – which I make a stand to take. And…and…all he does in stand there with that infuriatingly sexy smile and disapproving little set of his scarred eyebrow and tell me that I should take more interest in being a mediator.
I kicked a stone, not caring that I stubbed my toe (I was only wearing flip flops). It all started when I kind of blew Father Dominic off when he offered to go out ghost searching over the weekend – you know, you tramp around on your days off looking for some poor saps who have died in car accidents or dropped dead on their own or something, to help them move on. Oh, what fun.
I said no way in hell. Well, you know, not actually, because Father D is a priest and you don't swear to priests. But I did kind of fudge a sort-of-lie-excuse to him because unlike priests, I have things do to on Saturdays.
And then Jesse goes, with that little disapproving scrunch between his dark eyes, and says to me that I should take more interest in being a mediator. I mean, excuse me? What right did he have to say that to me? Had he ever spent his formative years being shoved down stairs and thrown into walls, pushed off high places and basically having huge dust ups with angry spirits? Was he ever taken home by the police (or sheriffs, or whatever) and have to explain to his mother that he's been trespassing and couldn't really tell her why? Had he, I ask you, been treated like the school leper because he was forced to cut classes and talked to invisible people and solve everyone else's problems?
Of course I told him all this. Shouted it, as a matter of fact. Hey, my step-family already thinks I'm nuts, why disillusion them? But he didn't shout back. He just said something totally off the point, which was that when you're alone and invisible and cold all the time someone who could see you and talk you and help you was a great gift – but, he was sure that after sometimes decades of waiting they would understand that my day off was more important.
Oh God, I nearly punched his lights out! If it had been anyone else, who was also dead, I would have punched their lights out. If they had been alive…well, I might have punched their lights out; but more likely I would shrug them off, because I've never especially cared what people think. But because this was Jesse, well, there always a part of me hated it when he was disappointed in me, and another part was exasperated that he could so easily get under my skin. When those parts banged together, there was usually an explosion.
Which was why I was tramping around in a patch of woodlands not really close to my house, trying to work out my anger and frustration. I was in flip flops. The snakes were going to eat me alive, and it would serve oh-so-perfect Jesse De Silva right. The sun was falling and the shadows were lengthening and so help me, I began to think that these were the times Jesse and I would sit and talk about everything – the guys were all out of the house, Andy and my Mom were…well, no well adjusted teen wants to know what parents get up to when the kids are out. It was just Jesse and me. I hated myself for the weak little flutter of my heart and the loneliness the thought caused. I never used to need anyone. It was just so unfair, dammit. I never asked to be a mediator. I never asked to fall in love with a ghost, either. But I'm stuck with it. I'm stuck with this.
I hate my life.
Unbelievably, I heard the sound of arguing voices ahead of me. It sounded like a real knock down, drag out screaming match. I went towards it. Hey, I'll prod into anyone who's having a worse day than me right now.
It was a man and a woman shouting at each other, but as I got closer I heard a third voice, younger, calmer, trying to get a word in between slanders. I emerged onto what looked like a hiking track or maybe a back road – wow, I must have gone further than I thought.
was on it. They were on either side, yelling obscenities that would
make a Marine blush, and in the middle was a boy that looked about
Doc's age, maybe twelve, or maybe a tad older. He was holding up
his hands like a traffic cop, trying to hammer words into the gaps
"You stupid bitch! This is your fault! 'Oh honey we need to do stuff together'! Real clever, Diane, real clever!"
"Can we just…"
"Oh yeah Freddy, I really want to watch you sit on your lard ass and drink beer with your buddies! How about I get a little maid outfit too, would that help?"
"It might improve our sex life, yeah!"
"The only thing that could improve your performance is a stand in! Besides, what are you yelling at me for? Who's brilliant idea was it to walk along the back roads? I'll give you three guesses, because you'll probably need them!"
"All I wanted was a quiet weekend with the guys! But oh no, we wind up on this stupid track, completely lost, looking for a stupid seminar recommended by your stupid friends who are all single, in order to improve our communication! Well…"
"CAN YOU BOTH SHUT UP?"
Whoa, I'm impressed. That kid has a set of lungs on him.
The woman, Diane, with flaming red hair, tossed her curls like a horse's mane. Freddy, the dark haired guy, clenched his fists. They both glared at the kid, who was small, skinny and a totally natural white blonde. So there we were, just the four of us – including me, the sort-of voyeur watching from the scrub near the track.
"Please, can we just calm down for a second? Please? I don't think you realise the real problem yet," the kid asked, a slightly desperate edge to the pleading. Yeah, well, I totally got him not wanting them screaming to start again.
I wondered if he was their son, but it didn't seem very likely. The couple were young, and the kid had at least a decade on him, so probably not. I wondered, for the first time, why a screaming couple and an apparently anonymous kid were doing on an old back road in the twilight.
The kid laid his backpack down on the side of the road carefully. I never noticed before, but there was a deep gully running along the track opposite to where I was coming from. Looks like this as the end of the line for me too.
"Okay," the kid turned back to the couple, who were having a lets-glare-at-the-scenery moment. I've seen couples do it all the time. "Er…haven't you noticed anything different lately?" What was this kid, a councillor?
"What, you mean aside from the troglodyte over there?" Diane replied sarcastically.
"Huh," Freddy grunted. "I'm used to change. You're mood changes as often as your hair and it gets uglier every time."
"That does it!" Diane shrieked, racing forward to claw his eyes out.
"You want me? Come a get me you fire bimbo!"
Diane flung out a hand, still too far away to connect.
Huh, amateur, I thought. And then it wasn't very funny anymore.
The kid tried to get in between them – pretty gutsy, but also pretty dumb. You don't ever get between two brawlers unless you're bigger or better than they are, and this kid didn't have it in either category. He was saying "Wait!"
A rock jumped up from the ground and hit the kid dead smack on the temple. And nobody had thrown it.
Oh no, oooh no, I'm not that unlucky! But, sure enough, I looked hard at the couple in the fading light and there was the telltale glow of the dead around them. Perfect, just freaking perfect!
I looked at the kid, who was on the ground and I saw…nothing. No glow. He wasn't a ghost; he was alive. Not a councillor. A mediator.
I kind of freaked when I realised it. I must be losing my touch not to have noticed the ghosts before; hell, I must have been stone blind. But the kid – that was just totally out of left field.
I didn't have much time to think about it, though. My fellow mediator was down and bleeding and the late Romeo and Juliet hadn't noticed – they were however throwing up a storm of rocks, dust and debris from the unsealed road. So what does a sensible girl do at a time like this?
I don't know; but what this girl did was leap into the fray, ducking wild rocks and the kid's backpack as it whistled over my head. I reached the late Diane first, and kicked her hard in the spine, sending her toppling onto the room. I kept my weight on her back when Freddy gave a yell and lunged at me, straight into my fist coming the other way. I might have a screwed up love life and a messed up school life, but when I hit someone, they stay hit.
He was down on the ground and groaning. I shook some of the sting out of my knuckles while I turned to look at the blonde kid, who was sitting up, clutching at the gash in his head. "Ow," he groaned, but his brains weren't spilling out, so I guessed he was okay.
"Rookie mistake getting in between two fighters, kid," I told him, still standing on Diane.
Who picked that exact moment to roll around and get a hand around my ankle, tugging me off balance. I stumbled and tried to get a foot on the ground – right into a pot hole. Diane, the red headed witch, gave my gripped leg a hard shove and I went over. My ankle gave a scream as it was twisted in the hole.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Diane demanded – like she was the victim here.
"I'm being concussed!" Freddy groaned, curled up on the ground.
"Not you, you idiot!"
"Idiot! I'm not the one that-"
"Okay, that does it!" I yelled. "The next person who speaks is getting exorcised right off the mortal plain and straight to hell!" I got up on my hands and knees. I was completely pissed. I didn't need this.
The couple stared at me like I was nuts. "What are you talking about?" Freddy asked, getting up shakily. Both of them were temporarily silent.
The blonde kid was getting up too. He held his hand to the bleeding graze on the side of his face. "That's what I was trying to tell you," he persisted. "You don't know it but you're kind of…dead."
Suddenly he looked at me, frowning. "Wait a minute," his eyes widened. "You can see them?"
"You both crazy! We're not dead!" Diane was yelling again. "We're standing here talking to you!"
My patience was never very thick to begin with. I snatched up a rock near my hand and hurled it at the red head, and she only had time to flinch as it hit her.
"You threw a rock at me you little…!"
Freddy had gone white. "Honey," he whispered. "She threw a rock right through you…."
Diane turned around and stared at the rock, which was lying just behind her. "But that's…that's…"
"That's being dead," I snapped. "Things don't touch you anymore."
"You did," Freddy was clutching his jaw.
"I'm…different," God, I hated that word.
"We're different," the kid added. He looked at me and I looked at him.
This was getting complicated. I got up to properly deal with it, because it's totally impossible to look threatening and in control when you're sitting on a dirt road with one shoe off. That was a mistake, as I learned when I put weight on the bare foot.
I grunted and staggered slightly, forced to stand on one foot only. It wasn't broken – believe me, I know what a broken ankle feels like - but there was a hot, tight, aching feeling that meant I'd wrenched it pretty darn good.
Meanwhile, our star crossed lovers were starting to come to terms.
"Do you remember what happened to you?" the kid was saying while I got upright.
"Well, we were on our way to this stupid seminar…"
"Oh God, whatever. We decided to take a short cut through here…"
"You mean you decided, don't you?"
"This track goes past the cliffs near the beach," Freddy shot a disgusted look at Diane. "Someone wanted to take a closer look at the sea view. That must be it. She went too close, I remember going after her…"
Diane stamped her foot, making the rocks jump. "I seem to remember someone saying that if he was willing to do something for him, I had to be willing to do something for him. Like get over my fear of heights, for example?" Diane's voice was totally acidic.
"If you hadn't…"
"If you would just…"
"Enough!" I limped forward and shoved them apart. "I am having a seriously bad day, and I have no problems taking it out on you!"
The kid still fingered his gashed face. "I'd better call for a ride." He looked around. "Where's my bag?"
"Oh, uh," Freddy looked sheepish. "I think I saw it go over the gully, sorry."
We went to look. It was a long way down.
"My phone is in there!" the kid was dismayed. He looked at me.
"Don't look at me, I don't even own a cell," God forbid my parents even get me something so useful.
The kid looked around. "Can you walk? My place isn't far," he offered.
I tested my weight on the bad ankle. Ouch. "Yeah, I can probably do it. We don't have much choice, do we?" I spun around, and jabbed a finger at the pair. I was in no mood for bull. "But you two will stay at least twelve paces back and keep your fights to yourself, right? Otherwise you'll find out how much the pain sensation crosses over!"
The were both white and quiet now. I guess the whole 'you're dead' thing was starting to really sink in. All those things they would miss, all those dreams they would never get. I should have felt sorry for them. As I hobbled forward, I knew that I wasn't.
The kid, quite gallantly under the circumstances, offered me his shoulder to lean on. He was pretty short so that made it pretty ludicrous, but the thought was there and I didn't have that much pride to want to walk on my bad foot all by myself.
"I'm Alan," said the kid suddenly. "What's your name?"
Huh. The kid really was a kid. "Suze Simon," I replied. "I know this is going to sound stupid," I eyed the couple, who were at least sniping at each other quietly well back from us. "But how long have you been seeing ghosts?"
Alan smiled. "Not long. All my life," he winked at me. "Fun, huh?"
"Yeah," I groaned. I was half bent, leaning on the kid, which must have been awkward for him, but he never said a word. And they say chivalry is dead. Well, my top chivalrous guy certainly is, anyway. "A ball."
"It sort of runs in my family," Alan explained sheepishly. He shifted his arm across my back. He was blushing as he did it, so I knew he wasn't being a little lecher or something. "Most families are considerate enough only to pass on normal things, like Huntington's or schizophrenia."
I found myself grinning. The kid, Alan, had a sense of humour. He didn't seem at all phased by the ghosts, either. The last kid mediator I met was Jack Slater, who was nothing like Alan. Don't get me wrong, he was a nice enough kid, but frankly he was a bit of a whiner and a coward too. So sue me, I'm not Mother Teresa with kids. Fair enough, it wasn't all Jack's fault he was that way. His parents were self centred and his brother was a greedy, manipulative, egotistical sleaze who never though to tell his little brother that the ghosts he was seeing were real. Not his fault.
But anyway, back to my current problem. I didn't want to dwell on Paul Slater.
We limped and hobbled our way down the road. We seemed to be getting more remote as we went. I might have worried about that if I were with a teen or an older guy (read Paul), but there was no way a skinny seventh grader was a psycho in disguise. I asked him about living in such a remote place.
"My Dad's kind of reclusive," was his explanation.
It turned out he was also loaded. We rounded a curve in the track, and I found myself facing the biggest set of gates I had ever seen in my life. They were solid wood, and the wall they attached to was wood and stone. It stretched a long way left and right, an enormous chunk of scrub and woodland cut off from the rest of the land. If I wasn't wrong about the salty smell in the air, the place actually stretched down to the beach.
"Who is your Dad, a rock star?"
Alan laughed. "Engineer. He says you get paid just the same and you don't have to worry about the damaging effects of makeup." Suddenly, an irritated expression crossed his face. "My keys were in my backpack too," he grimaced. He let me lean against the gates while we went to a second, person sized door next to them and hit the doorbell.
A voice over the intercom came back. "Do you have the password?"
Alan rolled his eyes. "Come on Gordon, let me in," he complained. His head was tilted up, and I realised he must be talking into a camera.
"Password incorrect. Access Denied."
"Gordon!" Alan banged on the gate. "Don't be a jerk! I lost my bag!"
I recognised that tone. The Ackerman boys used it all the time. The word we're looking for here is brother. I've watched Sleepy, Dopey and Doc interact, and have come to the conclusion that guys, especially brothers, only talk to each other when they can fight with each other. Weird.
"No key, no service."
Alan looked at me and shrugged helplessly. "I've got a kind of emergency going on out here!"
"You being chased by the football team?"
"Oh for crying out loud Gordon, let him in!" said another voice from the intercom, this one sounded deeper and older. There was a buzz, and Alan shoved the door open.
We went through. Even Freddy and Diane went through the open gate. They couldn't have been dead long if they hadn't realised that they can walk through walls and junk like that. They were still doing things the living way.
Even past the gate there was a long drive to get down. The mansion (and yes, it was a mansion) Alan lived in was right down near the beach side. He gamely supported me down it, while our loving late couple looked around and made some passing comments in strained voices.
My ankle totally hurt. I was all scratched up from my long walk anyway, the daylight was definitely fading and Mom would go totally postal if I was out past dark for too long. We finally reached the back porch of the huge, multilevel place, and Alan got us inside. The couple followed.
It was a nice place – there was a lot of wood and stone, a little rustic and a little modern, and past the hall was a big, wide open lounge filled with very comfortable furniture and a big screen. There was piano in the corner, but in the distance I could hear someone playing another one. Serious amounts of money had gone into this place. No one in my family has never starved or wanted for stuff, but it would take Andy years to get this kind of opulence. Not that I'm complaining about living in a haunted boarding house, mind you. After all, I'd met Jesse there.
"Alan, you're late," a voice of authority came in from some other room past the lounge. I could hear footsteps coming closer as I hopped gratefully to a comfy looking leather lounge.
"Scott? What are you doing home?" Alan looked up, surprised.
"I'm on leave," said the voice of Scott, which was still journeying closer. "Dad asked me to come down tonight instead of Saturday, because he's going to be late, and he's got to pick up John."
Scott emerged – he turned out to be an extremely handsome older guy, maybe about twenty five or so, tall, brown haired, very, very well built. He stopped when he saw me. "Who's this?" He turned to look at Alan. "God, Alan, what happened to your face?" It was nearly a yell.
Alan did look a bit battered, I must admit. "Uh…I had some trouble on the road," he explained.
"What? What's happening?" A guy about my age had suddenly popped up. He was a bright red head and had green eyes and a wide smile – quite the hottie. "Geez, Alan! You know I was kidding about the football team, right?"
There were quite a few entrances to this large lounge, so I nearly jumped when I heard a third voice coming in from a blind spot. "Who are th…who is this?" The voice came from yet another hottie, dark eyed and chestnut haired. I hadn't realised until now that the piano music had stopped playing, but this rather well built teen who was maybe a couple of years older than me must have been the one playing it.
I noticed the little Freudian slip too. I suddenly realised that their eyes were passing across the silent couple standing awkwardly in the hall. All of them. It was quick, and it was subtle, but it was there.
Oh. My. God.
"You can all see them?" I blurted out without thinking. Maybe that wasn't the cleverest way to put it, but I was totally freaking now. I've never met an entire family of mediators before!
"She can see them?" Scott asked, and it made me feel better when he sounded just as incredulous as I was.
"Well, I did say it ran in my family!" Alan held up his hands.
"No way!" the red head was grinning. "This is cool."
Scott shook his head. "First things first. Virgil, go and dig out the first aid kit, will you?" He turned to the chestnut haired one, who nodded and left.
"She needs an icepack for her foot too," Alan added.
Scott turned to the redhead. "Gordon, I think there's one…"
"Yeah, I know where it is," Gordon turned and left too, in a different direction.
Scott turned to look at the couple. His jaw clenched. "This might take a minute. Can you go outside for now? We'll bring you back in when we're done, and see if we can't help you, okay?"
The couple were still trying to cope with everything, and made no protest at that. Scott even opened the door for them, which was pretty tactful of him.
Scott turned around and strode towards Alan, putting his hands on his shoulders and gently pushed him down to sit next to me. Scott perched on the coffee table in front of us, and began to gently prod Alan's face. "How did this happen? Do you remember what we always say about going off ghost hunting?" He raised a disapproving eyebrow.
Alan rolled his eyes. "Never, ever, ever do it under any circumstances," he quoted in a gloomy voice. I admit, that surprised me. It never occurred to me that there could be rules. Alan continued. "For your information, I didn't go out hunting ghosts. I was walking home and they found me. It was either deal with it or have them walk onto the highway, throwing rocks and causing accidents."
Scott gave an annoyed grunt. "I don't suppose it ever occurred to you to call us? That's why Dad got us cell phones, you know."
"I kind of…got my bag thrown over the edge of the gully," Alan admitted sheepishly.
Scott rubbed his face with one hand. "And this?" he demanded, sliding his fingers through Alan's short hair to push it back out of the blood.
"I said. They threw rocks."
"On purpose?" Scott scowled. That made him angry, which I totally got. If someone had thrown a rock at Doc, I'd take no prisoners either.
"No," Alan replied. "They were just…angry."
"At what?" Virgil interjected, putting down the little white and red-cross box that was so very familiar to me.
"Um…each other," I said, feeling compelled to speak. They both turned to look at me, and I fought to fidget. "They were arguing so much they didn't even know they were dead."
Scott gave me a long look – he really was very handsome – and then extended a hand. "Scott Tracy."
I took it. He had a firm grip and an honest gaze. The gesture was so sincere and so normal that I felt slightly less surreal when he did it, and slightly more in touch.
"Susannah Simon," I replied, willing my voice to be level. I was surrounded by hot guys, okay? I admit to being just a tad flustered. "But most people call me Suze."
"Suze," Scott nodded. "This is my brother Virgil," he gestured to the chestnut haired hottie, who was sifting through the kit, pulling out cotton wool and disinfectant. He nodded to me, and spared a hand for a brief shake. "You've met Alan, and the other one is Gordon."
"The best of the lot," Gordon announced cheerfully. He was definitely a bouncy sort of person – he reminded me a bit of Adam. I'd lay bets he was a class clown. I would also bet, looking into his green eyes as he shook my hand, that he was much smarter than he looked. He went to sit next to Alan, who was muttering something about 'only in your world, not in the real one'.
Scott was watching me. "There's another one in between Virgil and I who's not here yet – John. And our Dad. All of us can see the dead."
I've gotta admit, he was very straightforward. "I can too," I stammered. I was a little…imbalanced by all of this. I was kind of used to being the only mediator on the block. Well, until I met Father D and the Slaters. But you know what I mean. "When Alan said it ran in his family, I though he meant grandparents or cousins or something."
"Grandparents, cousins, great grandparents, you name it," Virgil shrugged, swabbing his brother's temple. Alan was clearly the baby of the family. "Hold still, will you?" he admonished the young blonde.
Scott reached for my foot. "Do you mind?" he asked politely.
Oh, yeah, the foot. It'd kind of slipped my mind, but now that I remembered, the nagging ache was back. I kicked out of my flip flop and raised my foot. Scott's hands gently felt it over for broken bones and gave it a few experimental movements.
"I…I don't think it's broken," Oh God, get a grip, Simon. "It's just twisted."
I described what had happened, and Alan interjected with his own view here and there. By the end, Gordon was shaking his head. "Tsk, tsk. Never, ever get between a pair of fighters, kiddo," he had stretched out on the couch and had one arm across the back of Alan's shoulders. "It just means you'll get it from both sides."
Virgil was trying to stick one of those butterfly bandages over Alan's wound. "Well, sor-ry," Alan muttered. "It wasn't like I aimed for the rock with my head. Ow!" He winced.
"Don't be such a baby," Virgil prodded his little brother in the chest as he finally managed to get the bandage on.
"Alan, you have to be more careful," Scott said from where he sat. "We can't really hurt the dead, but they can hurt us. You're supposed to call when these things happen, right? If Suze here hadn't jumped in, it could have been a lot worse for you." Scott was a total responsibility addict, I was noticing. Not in a bad, brainy or smug sort of way, though. He was the oldest of five, so it was kind of his job to be responsible.
"Yeah," Alan grinned. "She totally kicked ass, it was so cool."
"I'd like to know where you learned to do that," Gordon added to me, grinning.
"Excuse me? I'm from New York. When I wasn't worrying about angry spirits, I still had to deal with muggers." That got a chuckle. I felt a lot better now. My foot was wrapped in a nice, big icepack and was pleasantly numb. And it was nice to finally talk to people about all this too.
The chatter was interrupted by a hose reel hitting the lounge window and making a crack. Gordon darted over. "Uh oh," he reported. "Looks like our late loving pair have started a domestic in our yard." He ducked, and what looked like stone the size of a fist came through the window, showering him with glass.
Virgil had dragged both Alan and myself to the ground between the couch and the coffee table, and was hunched over us. There were a lot worse places to be. "Do you think Dad will notice?"
"I don't think he'll have a choice," Gordon replied in an odd voice.
"They just threw the bird bath right through his windshield."
We all hauled outside, even through my foot still protested. In the drive, a very classy car had swerved partway across the drive, with the moss covered stone stem of the bird bath poking out of the shattered windshield.
Out of the passenger side came a young man about as tall as Scott, who looked like an older version of Alan – same blonde hair, same blue eyes - who must have been John. Not surprisingly, he was totally hot. I'm beginning to think that it was genetic.
I could see why – emerging from the passenger side was a tall, middle aged man – dark hair with those little white wings, lean, fit, and you could just see him fighting off women in the days of his youth. He ducked athletically and raced for the house.
Freddy and Diane weren't even yelling at each other anymore, except for short burst of incoherent screaming. They were flinging all sorts of yard debris at each other in fits of fury.
"Boys," he nodded to his sons. He didn't seem all that…shocked by what was happening, just surprised. "Anyone care to explain?"
"They followed Alan home, and he wants to keep them," Gordon yelled over the sound of a fully working lawn mower spinning through the air at Freddy's head – it hit him, and also hit the tree behind him.
"I do not!" Alan protested, annoyed.
"I don't think they even want to keep each other," remarked the newly introduced John dryly. It was the first time I'd heard him speak, and he seemed to be a quieter Tracy than the others. But he wasn't scared or nervous either, even with two screaming ghosts in his yard, and even after nearly getting creamed by a ballistic bird bath; there was an air of confidence there as well.
"Everyone inside," said Mr Tracy, herding us in. "We'll let them go at it on their own."
We adjourned to the kitchen, where Mr Tracy got a full account of everything from his sons – everything about the dead couple, and everything about me.
He shook my hand too. "Miss Simon, it's a pleasure. Jeff Tracy. My apologies, you're not exactly seeing our home at its best." He smiled. It was a nice, non threatening smile. Fatherly, even.
"Fair's fair," I replied, feeling unaccountably shy. He was a fully grown adult mediator - but there was a harder edge in him than Father D had. "You're not seeing me at my best either."
There was an enormous bang, and an ear splitting shriek of metal and another, sharp bang. Virgil grimaced. "That sounded like a tyre being pulled off."
"The insurance company is going to love that," Gordon added, as there was another tyre blowout. "There goes number two."
"What is wrong with them?" Alan piped up. "You'd think they'd have better things to do than fight right now."
"Maybe that is what's wrong, Alan," John said gently. He was perched on the table, and his fingers gently brushed the bandaged gash on Alan's temple. "They don't want to deal with being dead. Do you know what they were arguing about when we pulled in? Some dinner party in two weeks time. They're arguing about something that they'll never get to go to."
"Some people just don't want to accept it," Jeff sighed.
Oh yeah, I knew that tune.
"Well, I'd be a lot happier," Scott pointed out as there was a huge pounding noise followed by a string of distant obscenities. "If they'd fail to cope a long way from here."
Jeff appeared to come to a decision. "Scott, John, you come with me. Virgil, grab a bat and make sure they don't get inside, will you? The rest of you stay here, understand? Not negotiable," he added to stop any protests.
He left with his eldest sons. Virgil came back down the stairs armed with a steel bat and stood sentry near the open back door. The rest of us snuck back into the lounge to watch from the broken window. Hey, we were still inside weren't we? That was Gordon's logic, and I found it impeccable for the situation.
What we saw was like a war zone. The classy car had been completely overturned – and that, frankly, impressed me. This pair were newly dead and shouldn't have had the power to do that. The rest of the yard was a disaster zone, plants and trees ripped up from the ground, gardening tools were sticking out of the fence and ground, all sorts of other stuff was thrown about. Rocks and other stuff were actually hanging in the air, swirling around the couple, who had gone back to shouting at each other.
"You bastard! You always ruin everything for me!"
"Oh yeah? Well I'd have been a lot happier if I'd dumped your ass long ago, you clinging harpy!"
I can kind of see why they needed counselling.
Scott had snuck up behind Freddy. He had picked up a sharp metal garden rake, and swung it with a nasty meaty sound into Freddy's back. It would have been fatal if, you know, Freddy wasn't already a corpse somewhere. As it was, he went down like a tree.
Diane screamed. "You killed him!" And Scott as forced to duck for cover as a deflated tyre and axle set that had been ripped out of the car nearly took him down.
But John was already there with a shovel. He clocked Diane fair across the face; it deformed like a cartoon character, the entire side smashed in. She staggered and fell to her knees – her face would quickly reform.
In the middle was Jeff Tracy, and he was drawing on the ground, and mumbling. I couldn't hear what he was saying, and the lines he was drawing didn't look familiar, but I knew. I mean, I didn't know, exactly, but I knew what it meant. It wasn't my exorcism ritual – there was no chicken blood in sight – but the process looked familiar enough.
Tendrils of – well, I can only call it smoke light , because it was sort of one and sort of the other – streamed out of the ground, and captured the pair at either ends of the yard. They yelled and screamed, but they couldn't break free. Desperate, they attacked Jeff together. In the middle of the drive the overturned car started to wobble. With incredible reflexes Jeff dove out of the way, and the car spun through the air, bouncing (yes bouncing) off the ground and up into the long window that was the lounge window.
Where we were.
I felt myself scream as it came toward us like a rearing monster, and pushed backwards. Out of the corner of my eye, Gordon was tackling Alan, trying to shield him. It was no use though, I knew it. We were dead meat.
Everything seemed to go in slow motion. The car flung out knives of glass before it, and chunks of wood and plaster too. They seemed to move through the air like it was honey. The crash became a long, drawn out groan. The horn blared deafeningly.
My butt hit the table – it was then I realised time had gone a little screwy. I was still moving and thinking in real time, but the car and the glass and the knives were all moving super slow, with a grinding noise like nails down a chalk board. The other two mediators were also staring at it from where they'd landed.
"Su…Susannah…" there was a familiar, drop dead sexy voice behind me.
Oh God, Jesse was there, his forehead beaded with ethereal sweat, his hands raised, his jaw clenched so tight he could only hiss the words. He was stopping the whole car.
Suddenly, Virgil was there, grabbing me by the scruff of the neck and flinging me out of the line of fire. He dove across the floor and tackled the other two, up and out of the way, pressing them against the side wall with his own body.
In the blink of an eye, the car was through the window, in the lounge and smashing right into the far wall as if it had never been slowed.
Right into Jesse.
"Jesse!" I shrieked. I admit it, I didn't think. All I could see was that terrible, expensive hunk of metal hitting him dead on, completely obliterating him from my view.
My heart raced, my mind whirled. I didn't notice or care that the older Tracy's were piling into the room in horror, yelling names. I didn't register their emotional family reunion, the joy and the gratitude that everyone was safe. I was only thinking one thing.
"Jesse!" I cried again, lurching toward the wreck. I could smell smoke from the fire in the engine. I couldn't have cared less.
"Forgetting something, querida?" Jesse voice hit me like a beam of light. He emerged from the wall completely unscathed. And grinning. "I am dead, remember? You really must learn to stop calling me for every little thing."
I didn't care that he was smug and joking. I was so relieved that he was safe, I flung my arms around him. It was either that or punch him 'til his teeth fell out.
Oh God, I wasn't going to cry. I wasn't going to cry. I hate to cry.
Lucky for me, there were too many things going on for me to dwell on that terrible memory, that terrible, empty moment that had lasted forever. Jeff, looking ready to cry himself that his sons were all fine, was taking command of the situation. Fire extinguishers were being hauled out, flames were being stamped and snuffed. I turned to help, but Jesse held on to me. I felt so giddy at that fact, at least until he said "You should not be walking around on glass with bare feet, querida." My flip flops had flipped off somewhere in the middle of the wreck.
Oh. Well, that wasn't quite as romantic as him simply wanting to hold on to me, but it was a nice gesture all the same. It would have been totally romantic for him to carry me across the glass, which he did, if the Tracy's weren't all there watching and giving instructions. It became something clinical.
Hector 'Jesse' De Silva, meet the Tracy's. They were pretty wary of him at first – hey, I would be too in their shoes. But considerable brownie points went Jesse's way for the little car trick he'd pulled, so that was alright.
"Well," Jeff said, looking at the damage. "I don't feel like cooking. Who's in the mood for pizza?"
I gotta admit, Jeff Tracy can take the unexpected in his stride. He didn't run around, or yell, or panic. He calmly called the insurance company and the police about some unknown assailants who had trashed their yard and driven a car right into their lounge. He waited while they photographed stuff, filled out the paperwork, and we all gave statements. No officer, nothing was stolen. No, we weren't here at the time. Oh, she's a family friend, we've known her for a while. Jesse sat and nodded his head at the proceedings. Oh, and Jeff also called for pizza and he also called my house too and squared everything with my Mom and Andy, which was totally cool of him. He just said that young Susannah had limped to the Tracy home after twisting her ankle while walking. She walked right in on the mess, and was of great help. It turned out Jeff Tracy was this legendary ex-Astronaut engineer whom Andy would raise a shrine to if he could. He happily agreed to come and get me, though not before a lot of talk and pizza was exchanged.
I will say that it was an interesting and fun filled evening. When Andy showed up it wasn't over, because he got to talking to Jeff about…building stuff, I don't know, and they ended up in Jeff's study chattering away in builder's language. The kids, namely us, swapped ghost stories – real ghost stories. We bemoaned the shortcomings of being a mediator – long hours, no payment etc. I learned a lot about them. Scott was a test pilot at the Edwards Air Force Base, currently on leave. He also studied aerodynamics. John was a college student at the top of the game, studying everything from electrical engineering to math, to astronomy to…well the list went on. Virgil could do things to engines that the designers had never thought of – he was a senior in high school. He also played the piano while we talked – that boy has a lot of talent. Some of his paintings were on the walls. Gordon, get this, was a competitive swimmer who might be heading for the Olympics soon. And Alan was smart and funny, and would probably be skipped ahead next year.
They learned a lot about me too. It was funny, but I found myself talking a lot about my Mom, and Dad, and Andy, and the rest of the Ackerman's. I talked about Madam Zara and Father D. I told them the name for what we were.
"Mediator," I said. "That's what she called me."
"Mediators," Scott smiled. "It sounds a lot better than Medium. That's what we called it. Guys don't like to have that word used to describe them." He grinned, and Jesse had chuckled quietly.
They also gave me information too. Apparently this mediator thing was up and down their family tree. They had lots of folklore and tales and recordings of it in family documents. I wasn't much of a bookworm, but even I want on get my hands on them. It really makes you feel better when you don't always have to figure out for yourself exactly what you are. It helps when you know there are facts and stuff you can look up.
"Look into your own family history," John advised. "You might find instances of insanity or high level creativity – your ability might have skipped generations, so it never got properly recorded. But there might be some hints around."
I thought of the Slater's. I also thought I might just do exactly that.
There was a wonderful…sense of something in all this. A happy feeling. There had always been the assumption on my back that I was, you know, a freak. But here were the Tracy's, who had worked mediating into a normal life, who could talk about it and laugh about it together, who could all rely on each other to give back up. That exorcism was the neatest triple team I'd ever seen. I couldn't have done it.
Jesse seemed to be aware of the 'not a freak' warmth that I felt. He smiled at me when no one watched. I wondered if my life would have been any different if I had been able to share this with my Mom, or my Dad before he died.
Once, when we were nearly about to leave, Jeff Tracy took me aside. Actually, we went to see if we could find my flip flops in the wreck site before Andy noticed they weren't laying around anywhere. Andy was chatting with John and Scott about engineering (I was damn well surrounded by them) at one end of the house; and while Virgil played some Old West piano tunes Jesse regaled him and Alan and Gordon with tales from his era at another.
We found one shoe almost immediately, but had to sift through some stuff to find the other.
"You love him, don't you?" Jeff asked me suddenly.
I froze up. I had sort of hedged over the whole Jesse thing when I introduced him. I wasn't sure if they'd approve and it was pretty private in any case. Even I wasn't exactly sure how it would all go. I bit my lip, not sure how to answer.
Jeff gave a half smile. "It's all right, I'm not going to go all puritan on you," he assured. "I may be old, but I can still spot the signs."
I sighed. "I don't know. Maybe. I didn't mean to."
"People rarely do," Jeff replied. He held up the second shoe. "Do yourself a favour. Don't let strangeness or the unknown get in the way. After all, if you know you love him then all of that stuff won't make any difference. I've been an air force pilot, an astronaut, an engineer, a CEO, a husband and a father. All that time, I dealt with ghosts. It's been my experience that you can make anything work, given enough time and effort."
That was…unexpected. I had thought he'd tell me to drop it. It's the sort of thing adults say. But Jeff Tracy sounded like a man speaking from experience.
I thought about his wife. His dead wife. All I knew about her was that she had died in some terrible accident. She had been a mediator too.
I looked at him, and I wondered if she'd ever come back.
"No, she didn't," Jeff replied my unspoken thought. "Sometimes it doesn't work that way."
"I'm sorry," I said. I really meant it.
"Don't be. I don't just believe I'll see her again. I know," Jeff smiled. "It's something to hold on to."
We said goodbye, and went home – it was nearly midnight. Andy was still enthused about meeting one of his all-time favourite heroes. He'd probably talk Mom's ear off about it. That's something guys do.
I put some stuff on my foot to bring out the bruising, and got ready for bed. Jesse had been quiet since I got back. He's actually been quiet since I got goodbye hugs from the Tracy's. A sly thought crept into my head. It was cruel, I know, but sometimes I just have to yank his chain.
"You know something Jesse? You were right. I should take more interest in mediating. I should see the Tracy's more often; they seem to know all about it. Virgil said he'd like to meet Father D, and we can go ghost busting together. Gordon reckons there's a ghost hanging around his locker room. And John says he and I can go through family records together. What do you think?"
There was a silence. Jesse's face was an interesting picture in the moonlight. Finally he said. "I think you were right, Susannah. You have the right to your own life, free of ghosts. You really should take some more time for yourself, querida."
I grinned and covered my head up so he wouldn't see. Sorry Jesse, but you can't win every day.
Besides, I think he knows he doesn't have anything to worry about, really.