Sometimes he hears them whispering. Far beneath the surface of his skin, their voices echo...nasty little urgings, black ideas, and bleaker stories of another world. They sound like the crunch of breakfast cereal...fast and noisy and all chewed up. Only he can't push away from the table and escape them. He can't run to the other room, slam the door, throw the lock, and turn his stereo up to the highest volume to block out the insane cacophony.
Because they are always there.
He calls them the Seekers.
And he still doesn't know what they are seeking.
All he knows is he never wants it found.
"My brother always had a wild imagination...but he means well. He would never hurt another living soul."
"Are you sure about that?"
"Yes. Of course I am! Brady is NOT dangerous!"
"I don't know, Belle...sometimes I look into his eyes and I'm not sure he's there. Like there's someone else inside him who wouldn't care if I exploded."
"Chloe...he *loves* you. You *know* he loves you. He went through so much to make you believe that. How can you say he would let you get hurt?"
"I'm not saying he'd *want* to hurt me...I'm saying he wouldn't have a *choice.*"
When he holds her...when they argue...when they sing...he can't hear the Seekers. So he makes a point of reaching out to her at least once every few hours. Nothing demanding, nothing possessive...just a brush of her shoulder here...a surprise kiss there...a few lines from "La Traviata" as they pass each other in the hallway...a teasing insult as he swings on his cane and lets her go ahead of him into DotCom.
They don't like her. They don't want her near him. He knows that.
But he also knows that he can't live without her. He has to have her. She's like air...water...earth...fire. An essential element. She's his other half...the half that he's been searching for his whole life. And the room she takes up in his heart and soul is room the Seekers want back.
Tough luck, he thinks. He won't give up Chloe Lane.
"Where *is* Kivar?"
"What do you mean 'where is Kivar'? I thought you kept track? He's supposed to have been here for years."
"Nicholas, we NEED to know where he is. We cannot make our move against the Royal Four without him."
"Oh, like your 'moves' have been SO successful in the past? Ask Queen Tess and her little brat about that one."
"Might I remind you that you are disposable?"
"No, you might not. I'll find him, okay? I'll find the K-man and bring him to Roswell."
"You'd better. Or all will be lost."
Her hair smells like summer rain. He smiles and curves against her back, burying his face in the thick, caramel-streaked dark waves. She reaches for his arm, draws it around her waist and snuggles into his chest, murmuring something low and half-drowsed.
Something like "love you."
"Love you, too, Vilandra." he whispers into her hair.
She chuckles, still sleepstruck, sated from their lovemaking. "Vilandra? What opera is THAT from?"
"I-I don't know." He is grateful for the darkness of his bedroom...for the veil of black that hides his sudden panic. "Must be the one I'm going to write for you."
And the Seekers laugh.
"I dreamt about him again last night, Max. I'm scared."
"Do you think he's coming for you?"
"I don't know...I don't know..."
"Well, we'll be ready for him. Don't worry, Iz. We'll take care of this. What did he look like? Do you remember?"
"His eyes...Max...they were so blue...almost inhuman. A-and he was blond. H-he looked human...but how is that possible? How is that *possible*?"
"I don't know. But we'll find out. I promise."
"Vilandra wants Kivar, Max. She *wants* him."
"I don't KNOW. I-I don't know anything anymore."
They walk hand in hand through Salem Place. He doesn't even need the cane anymore. He's been walking straight and tall for almost a month. But that doesn't stop him from stumbling once in a while. From glancing over his shoulder.
From wondering if they are not only under his skin, but his shadows as well. They are attached to the backs of his feet, he thinks, and they follow him everywhere...getting closer and closer with every passing day.
He has called Chloe "Vilandra" in the middle of sex almost every night this week. He knows she's suspicious. Scared. Worried. But she still kisses him like everything is all right. She still sings with him like everything is perfect. And their voices blend and echo from the penthouse balcony, spilling down to the town below...
The Seekers catch the notes and throw them back.
"Are you okay?"
"I'm fine, Diva," he assures, forcing a smile... gesturing to a shop window where something hideous and black hangs in display. "Seems like your old look is suddenly en vogue. You can wear that to Tuscany for our 'we're not engaged, we're just living in sin' party."
She doesn't laugh. Her huge silver-blue eyes fill with concern and she just squeezes his hand tight. "I'd live anywhere with you, Brady. I hope you know that. I'm here. And I'm not going anywhere."
"I know," he whispers, stopping on the sidewalk and leaning down to kiss her fiercely, passionately. "I know, Chloe..."
He doesn't tell her that he's afraid *he's* the one who'll be going somewhere. The Seekers have been whispering about the desert.
They've been whispering "Roswell, New Mexico."
"You're smirking. I hate it when you smirk. It makes you look like a demon child."
"I AM a demon child. And I have a reason to be smug."
"That's what you said the last time, Nicholas. The council grows impatient. They have never lost touch with Kivar for such an extended period of time."
"Well, they'll get their touch back. Don't worry. Kivar is coming. He'll come straight to us. His human host can't deny the call for long...no matter how hard he struggles."
"Humans are weak...they crumble under the weight of Destiny."
"They'll fall like dominoes...one after the other."
Red mud cakes the SUV's tires and has completely obscured the numbers on the license plates. He has been driving for days.
Chloe and Belle are curled in the back, sleeping like puppies in a pile. They insisted on coming. On accompanying the insane murmurs that forced him away from their quiet home town. They want to protect him. To help him. To be there for him.
They're remarkable girls, his love and his sister. They stood up to his parents, to the Wesleys, to Belle's noble hunk of man Shawn Brady...to everyone who said he was crazy, that he needed to be committed this time, once and for all. They helped him pack. Belle told him Roswell was probably a "kajilllion degrees hotter" and tucked all his long-sleeved shirts back into his bureau. And then they packed for themselves. And they came along.
Their high-pitched chatter kept the Seekers at bay for multiple hours...three states. Perhaps they know that. Perhaps they know that they are all that stands between him and oblivion. For a while they all sang along to the radio, oldies and silly pop songs that he would've turned up his nose at in that other life...that simpler life...when his only problems had been partial paralysis and his Diva dating his underage and underdeveloped uncle instead of him.
But now the girls are asleep. A tableau of beauty in his rearview mirror. And when he blinks, they overlap...Belle's golden hair melts onto Chloe's head, crowns her heart-shaped face. And he sees *her*.
He sees Vilandra.
And he knows he's getting closer to what the Seekers want to find.
He only wishes he could turn the car around and go back home.
But he can't.
It has begun.