"Brady! What are you doing?"
"What does it *feel* like I'm doing?"
"Belle will be back any second...she just went for a soda and one of those cheap gas station hot dogs!"
"I don't care...I *need* you, Chloe. I need you *now*."
"Brady, you *have* me. You'll always have me...in fact, you can have in a motel bed in Roswell in 2 miles!"
"No. No, it has to be now. I-I feel like...oh God, this is stupid, this is crazy...this whole thing is crazy."
"What is it? What's wrong?"
"I...I feel like once we cross into the city...I'm never going to see you again. That this is our last chance."
"Brady Black, the world's biggest cynic...you *will* see me again. We made promises, remember? Everyone else can abandon us, die on us...but we're forever. The Dysfunctional Duo till death do us part."
"Diva...what if death is closer than we think?"
"Then we face it together. Now zip up your pants, Loverboy...your sister is coming."
He knows where to go. The Seekers guide his hands on the wheel, tell him when and where to turn. His body feels thick, sluggish...alien...and he wishes Chloe had relented, had agreed to the desperate quickie in the backseat. He knows he would've felt every second of it. Her soft curves, her familiar warmth, her thighs clenching around him, the quiet gasp against his throat that signifies her release.
He wouldn't be so numb now if he'd only had that last boost, that last affirming taste of the love that keeps him sane.
But it is too late.
Her comforting fingers on his arm are ice cold despite the dry, blistering, New Mexico heat. And her and Belle's nervous prattle fills the dead air inside the SUV like the discordant shriek of harpies.
They are no longer helping him. They can no longer protect him.
Not from whatever simmers beneath his skin.
Not from Destiny.
"Expensive little suburban toy he's driving. Good to know that Kivar's tastes haven't changed."
"They'd better not have changed. We're counting on his old obsession to give us this world as well as our own."
"Hmmm...he brought company. That could throw a wrench into the works."
"They're just human girls. No threat. Max and his little band of merry warriors should keep them suitably distracted."
"If not...the little blond one isn't so bad. Pretty cute, really."
"And still at least three years older than the puny husk you wear."
"We DO have a mission here, Nicholas. Try and stay focused on world domination."
"We'll intercept him after they discover the CrashDown and he puts a suitable scare into our unwilling princess Isabel. That should make things sufficiently interesting."
"That's more like it."
There is a crashing spaceship hanging over the diner's front door...and he feels like it will crash down on his head any second. The door has acquired an eerie blue-green glow around it...a product of his overactive imagination, no doubt, because he is suddenly reminded of the summer fairs in Salem...of how, one year, when he was ten and Shawn Brady seven, they'd gone into the Haunted House together on a dare from Phillip Kiriakis. A brave band of cousins all...the three of them hadn't lasted more than two minutes. They had bolted back out of the makeshift freakshow in tears...
And little Belle, with her blond pigtails shaking, had laughed and laughed..."My brother...the hero!"
Belle is not laughing now.
Neither is Chloe.
Perhaps, they, too, see a house of a thousand horrors behind this simple glass door? Or maybe they just don't think he's a hero anymore? Maybe they realize that the boy they drove from Salem with is now a stranger...?
And maybe, just maybe, they've begun to hear the Seekers, too.
Because the sound is so loud now, Brady can barely hear anything else.
*Vilandra is inside.*
*Vilandra is yours.*
He swallows hard. "Chl-chloe?"
"We're right here. We're with you," she whispers.
But her voice is full of static...far away...so far away...
And he opens the door and steps through.
"Isabel, what is it?"
"The door...Max...it's *him*...it's HIM."
"Who? That guy? Iz, he's a human. And, look, he's got two girls with him...I don't think Kivar travels with a high school entourage."
"Why not? You do, Maxwell. We could have ourselves a rumble. Sharks versus Jets! Better yet...mud wrestling!"
"Michael, now is not the time for jokes! I know it's him...I feel it...I feel the fear."
"That might just be hormones...he's not a bad-looking guy. And the chicks are HOT."
"Michael...Isabel...both of you just need to calm down. Let's see what they want. Let Liz or Maria take their orders, see why they're in town."
"No. No, we are NOT involving your little girlfriends in this. Kivar came here for me and *I* am going to see why he's in town. If he wants me so bad, he can try and take me!"
"Not in here! This is a family joint!"
"Shut up, Michael! Give me an order pad and a pencil!"
"Cute place. Tourist-y," announces Belle, even though neither of them are listening. She's always been one to try and make the best of things.
They stand, like weaving punching bags, for a few moments, before realizing that the perky waitresses dressed in short blue-green uniforms are not going to seat them...are too busy gossiping at the far end of the counter...so they grab a booth.
She has to push Brady into it...and once he is seated, he practically hugs the wall. And his eyes never leave the blond girl who is seated at the counter's curve with two dark-haired and disheveled guys. The girl is staring back...something like suspicion in her big brown eyes...and then she bends her head to whisper urgently with her companions...and, they, too, glance over with speculative eyes.
She is gorgeous. In that way that Belle is gorgeous. Angelic, innocent but sexy, too. And now she is walking towards them, tapping an order pad against her palm even though she wears no uniform...looking at them with a cold challenge in her eyes.
Chloe Lane doesn't need to hear her boyfriend's tortured whisper...because the name springs into her mind simultaneously. She *knows*. She knows it in her blood, in that deep, sacred place where all her worst abandonment nightmares live. It's not a pet name from an unwritten opera. It's not a dream.
This is the person they all came to find.
This is the woman who can take Brady away from her.
This is Vilandra.
She sits up straight, closing her fingers protectively around Brady's suddenly shaking hand. "You. Can't. Have. Him. So just turn around and walk away, Bitch."
The illustrious Vilandra stops short...perhaps not expecting any kind of offensive. Her full lips part in an 'o' before she clamps her mouth shut and shakes her head slowly. And her eyes flicker to Belle, who is staring at the three of them with abject confusion, and then, finally to Brady. Who can't seem to speak. Or to stop *staring* like he's spellbound.
"I don't *want* him. He wants *me*!" the blonde retorts, angrily, sparks breaking through the ice in her gaze.
"He does not!" she says, automatically.
"He does not! He loves Chloe!" Belle cries, at the same time.
"I don't know what you've done to him or why you've drawn him to Roswell...but we're not letting him go without a fight," she assures, leaning forward, giving her best Ghoul Girl glare.
And, with that, the verbal paralysis seems to snap. And Brady looks at her...the familiar arrogant annoyance filtering into his pale blue eyes. "Could we stop talking about me like I'm not here?" he wonders, arching an eyebrow in a way that makes her sigh with a modicum of relief.
"We could if you *acted* like you were here!" Belle shoots back, visibly relaxing in her seat across the table.
"Duly noted, Tink." Maybe Brady just smiles to set his sister more at ease...but she believes it, and that's what counts. Then, his gaze turns serious once more...and he shrugs off her hand as he looks up. "So, if you don't want me, Miss Vilandra...and I don't want you...what the Hell am I doing here?"
"I don't know." For the first time in as many minutes, the defensive fear in their erstwhile waitress's eyes seems to change into something else. "And please don't call me that. My name is Isabel. Isabel Evans."
Chloe, too, feels her apprehension drain into something that could, possibly, be trust. Although, she's not quite willing to sheath her claws yet. "Chloe Lane," she offers, darkly. "And that's Belle Black...and this is her brother Brady."
"'Kivar'," he blurts out, suddenly, furrowing his brows...as if the name was swimming around in his subconscious and just surfaced for air. "Who is 'Kivar'?"
Isabel looks utterly dumbfounded, and she takes a step forward, dropping her unused order slip and pencil on the table. "I-I thought you knew. *Don't* you know? 'Kivar' is *you*."