"I see you here every morning… why do you do it? I never see you eat anything or swill coffee."
Willie weighed his answer carefully. While he willingly recognized the "new" Todd as an ally, and had no solid reason to disbelieve his willingness to help, experience had been a harsh teacher. More than a few people Willie had believed would accept him had become hostile when they learned he was a Visitor, regardless of how friendly they'd seemed.
"It is a time to know people." The youngster who shared the table with him studied him. Willie saw more curiosity than suspicion, or so he hoped. His time with the humans still held surprises for him. "It can help when we must work together."
"Yeah," Todd's expression and voice grew hard, "whatever it takes to get these assholes out. Sorry," he added, "I know I came out of freaking nowhere. But like anyone else, I got a grudge. My family, well… I pissed them off a lot, but it'd be worth pissing them off again to find them." He paused, and finished bitterly. "Never mind. I know what happened. Fucking asshole lizards wiped out everything where I came from, no question they got my family too."
"I must tell you." This was always the hardest part of forming a friendship, for reasons too complex to describe. "If we will work together… I am one of 'them'." Willie waited uncertainly. Todd didn't respond at first, except to suck down the rest of his coffee and shrug, so Willie continued.
"I am sorry, Todd. For the things our leaders have done to those who did us no harm. To those who wished to help us…" he paused sadly. The knowledge always made him sad. "To those who believed the lies told to them." He was surprised to see New Todd smile.
"I know, man. That's what makes you one of 'us'." After a pause he added, "And I'm sorry for what that other Todd did, and for what he got stopped from doing." Details of Visitor Todd's connection to the rebels, and unexpected activities on their behalf, had traveled as quickly in camp as any lesser gossip.
The casual acceptance in his new friend's voice erased Willie's doubts; suddenly he was filled with energy and determination.
"Come," Willie pulled Todd from his chair, "we have much to do. I will categorize the names of your people and ours," then he corrected himself. "I will sort out the rebels and the invaders." "Your" and "ours" seemed wrong, somehow. "Angie has said she will work on the doormat for the messages."
His head filled with nascent code (he was one of those über-geeks who could write in binary if need be), New Todd had been trailing behind Willie on the way to the to the computer room. Now he pulled up short. "Doormat? What the fuck? A doormat for the messages?"
"I am sorry. You do not know my English. It is getting better but… uhm, doormat… the way in which to arrange the content of the messages so they will be read quickly."
The younger man squinted, shook his head, then his eyes popped open wider. "Format! You mean the format of the messages, like what will suck in your leaders, and the human assholes, and all that. I get it. And when we all get our own thing worked out…"
"We will put it together and kick mass." Willie smiled proudly at his command of assertive slang. Todd exploded with laughter, but it was a friendly laugh.
"That's right, bro," Todd banged Willie on the shoulder and pulled him into step beside him, "we're gonna kick some major mass!"
"Shit, Mike and Robert are cleaning up their stuff… that means just one thing." From the ass-numbing plastic chair where she slouched Angie rolled her head to one side to cut a look at Tyler, who was slouched (albeit a bit less extravagantly) in an identical chair next to hers. Their empty coffee mugs sat side by side on the floor by their feet.
"Another fucking meeting," Tyler drawled in reply.
Angie heaved a huge sigh. "Gotta move again, I guess. Once my Geek Posse flips the switch, it won't take long for them to find us." She saw Tyler's characteristic annoyed smirk warm into one of the rare, genuine smiles she loved to bask in. "What? That sound like a good idea?"
Tyler sat up and leaned forward, elbows on his knees, head turned to where Angie remained in full slouch. "You said 'my' Geek Posse. First time I've heard you own anything you've done here." He thought for a moment. "First time there was anything you wanted to own."
Now Angie struggled upright, and reached down to pick up both mugs. "Figure of speech, Tyler. I don't want to 'own' any of it."
"C'mon, Angel," he badgered, "you've earned it. The edge, the attitude, and the rep. You've earned it all."
She got up without looking at him. "Yeah well I don't remember asking for any of it. And when this is all over and I come out that 'other side' you keep telling me I'll find…" when she turned to look at him he was standing right behind her, close enough for them to share body heat.
"What?" he invited, in his quietest voice.
"Whatever it is, you can take it all and… do whatever you want with it. Just don't give it back to me." She set the mugs on the table and rubbed both hands vigorously over her face and eyes then whipped around and grabbed Tyler's sleeve with one hand. "Promise me." The perplexed expression he'd been wearing evaporated when Angie's grip shifted to clamp onto his wrist.
"What." No question mark.
"Promise me I don't ever have to touch a fucking weapon, I don't ever have to destroy anything, I don't ever have to kill anybody again, I don't care who they are or what they've done. I just want to stop. When it's all over." He touched her face with one gentle hand but her urgency didn't waver. "Promise me I can stop." She stared into his eyes, looking deep inside them, as always, for the promises nobody could keep. But this time there was no pained truth hiding there.
Tyler knew too well that Angie wasn't really the New Person she'd learned to be. She wore this "new person" uneasily, like an ill-fitting suit of armor, and she sweated and strained under its weight. And he knew that, when she finally felt permitted to drop it, the crash would be heard round what was left of the world.
"I promise, Angel. After this is over you go back to being you."
Angie's hands went to her face again as she shook her head. "I think whoever that was is long gone."
"Nope," Tyler assured her matter-of-factly as he peeled her hands down and leaned closer, "just gone into hiding. She'll be back. I'm counting on it." When her expression didn't change he coaxed, "C'mon, Angel, show me some teeth." He'd seen her smile a few more times lately, genuine smiles he knew were even rarer than his own. He figured with a little practice they might become a regular fixture, a possibility he found himself looking forward to.
Instead Angie's mouth (I can taste that mouth even now, Tyler thought) twisted into something like a silent snarl. "How's this? Best I can do."
"Close enough for now." And it tastes just as good he acknowledged in his head as he re-formed it with a slow kiss.
"C'mon, Casanova, we've gotta do some planning for our next move."
"Gooder, you have Real Life's gift for bad timing," Tyler grumbled.
"Blame Martin, but try not to kill him," Donovan advised, "lookouts say he's just showed up without notice, so it can't be good news."