Title: "where the air is thin"
Author: monimala
Fandom: VMars/Roswell
Rating/Classification: adult language, crossover, gen.
Disclaimer: The characters from Veronica Mars and Roswell do not belong to me.
Summary: Pardon me while I play fast and loose with canon and tense. Don Lamb is no longer that boy.

"So tell them
If you see them
That I am better left alone"
- Tom McRae, "2nd Law."

Thomas Wolfe had that whole saying about not being able to go home again. He remembers it, vaguely, from some bullshit lit. class he took in high school another lifetime ago. Thomas Wolfe, he thinks, was wrong. Because here he is, going home. To red dust and tumbleweed and memory, like some starving artist painting on the wall of a cheap motel room. All the landscape lacks is the skull of a longhorn and a lone cactus.

He left Sacks in charge on the home front. He sure as shit hopes that wasn't a mistake. If his deputies can't handle a couple of days without him holding their hands, Balboa County's in for a load of trouble. Of course, he would bet Sacks called Keith Mars for advice the minute he hit the interstate. Before. Heck, maybe Keith's already parked in his chair and playing interim.

The drive was surprisingly easy. He stopped a couple of times to piss and grab something to eat and once to fill up his tank. And, then, before he knows it, he's pulling into town, driving up Main Street, almost blinking and missing it except for the eyesore of a diner that's still there...with its crashing spaceship hanging above the door. He would've thought the Parkers would've shut the place down by now. Maybe it's under new ownership...people aiming to cash in on the name, on the legend, on the overblown commercialism. People who have no idea what's out in the desert.

"I've seen shit that'll turn you green," he misquotes, quietly, turning down the salsa music that suddenly blares from the radio.

He hated this town for years. Eons. He couldn't wait to leave. Even the good memories, like being King Shit of the wrestling team and BMoC, got buried in the kicked-up earth of the van's back wheels.

But he knows it all. He knows it all by heart, by blood. It got burned into his system and chipped into his shoulder and tattooed beneath the skin.

The ranch house hasn't changed much in five years...except for an ungodly overgrowth of weeds around the perimeter. It takes the occupant a good and long time to answer the door. Jim Valenti's strawberry blond hair has some more white in it; his face has a few more lines. All naturally acquired. The status check goes both ways. "Nice face," the former sheriff drawls at him, without preamble.

He rubs his chin, accepting the observation for what it is -- anything but a compliment -- and notes that he's in desperate need of a shave. "Isabel's best work," he points out, shoving his hands into his pockets. "I think she even made me taller."

He pretends not to notice the flinch. Oh, oh! He said the dreaded name. One of three that should never be spoken in polite company, or even not-so-polite company. "That she did." Valenti rocks back on his heels, looking him up and down speculatively.

"Well?" he prompts, swallowing the sudden lump in his throat.

"Well, what?" All of a sudden, the bright blue eyes that mirror his own -- the one thing he didn't, couldn't, let Izzy change -- fill with tears. And he's being yanked close, into a tight, hard, hug.

His arms come up of their own volition. He breathes in the familiar smells of freshly-sanded wood and Aqua Velva as he's pulled over the threshold and behind the safety of closed doors.

"Welcome home, Kyle...welcome home."

Yeah. Thomas Wolfe was totally wrong.

***

In between jags of crying and slaps on the back, they play catch-up. They pop the tops off a couple of beers, lean back in creaking Barcaloungers and reminisce about everything from the first homer he hit in Little League to the day he got shot at the old UFO Center.

"Where are they now?" His father wonders, raspily, taking a long gulp of his Bud. And he knows they were going to get around to that dreaded question at some point. He knew the minute he left Neptune that it would be on the agenda. 'They.' It's reverent, wistful, and more than a little angry.

"I don't know specifically. That's the agreement we made when we split up. Maria sent me a postcard from Prague two years ago. I don't know if she's still there, if Michael's with her. I'm sure her mom would love to know. But Isabel..." Because he knows that's what Dad is really asking. Subtlety being a Valenti virtue and all. "The last I heard she went to med school. It's amazing what you can do with a fake Social Security number these days."

"Like run for Sheriff?"

"I guess the apple didn't fall all that far." He smiles. He can't help himself. "It was either that or coaching high school wrestling and, frankly, I'd had enough of the sweaty teenage boys and unitards."

His father's eyebrows quirk up curiously and they both automatically laugh.

He lifts up his shirt to remind them both of the total lack of a silver handprint as he assures, "Believe me...that whole gay alien phase I went through turned out to be temporary. Max Evans is not my soulmate." And even if he is, there's nothing he can do about it now. He has no idea where the big-eared martyr and Liz even ended up, what they look like, and whether or not any other impressionable and sweaty young boys have had the benefit of Evans' sexual healing.

There's a lot about his past that he's worked to forget.

Sometimes, he forgets he's Don and has to remind himself to answer to it. He has to drum into his head that Kyle Valenti died one unremarkable day on 285 South.

There's a lot of things he can't stop remembering.

Like what exits to take on the highway and the fact that his dad hasn't moved a lick of furniture from where it used to be. And it's all still dark and plaid and ugly...with the same slipcovers, for Christ's sake.

"What's your life like, Kyle?" The question is hungry, desperate, and he thinks, maybe, he can see the past glories, the old adventures, weighing down his father's shoulders. Like dusty slipcovers, actually. "Tell me everything. Tell me...you seeing somebody? Some pretty California girl?"

"Don," he reminds, draining his beer and thumping the bottle down on the edge of the coffee table. And what's his life like...?

Jesus, he knew that question was on the agenda when he left Neptune, too.

"I hate to tell you, but it bears no resemblance to the one I had." His knuckles are white as he clenches his fists in his lap. He closes his eyes and leans back against the plastic that smells like stale bananas and Febreze. "I'm lousy at my job, I don't really have a whole lot of friends, and, no, there are no pretty California girls in my life."

*Liar*. He fast-forwards past the flash of Veronica Mars that appears on his eyelids. He glosses over mascara tracks and wounds he couldn't dare heal no matter how much he wanted to.

"None that I'm seeing," he corrects. "In that way."

For a long time, the only sound is the wheezing kick of the A/C that his dad keeps running year-round. And then a choked laugh. "I guess the apple didn't fall all that far."

"Guess not," he agrees, chuckling, too. "I wonder if they're any better off?"

'They.' It's reverent, wistful, and more than a little angry.

Max, Isabel, Michael. And those they refused to leave behind: Maria and Liz.

Where *are* they now? Really?

Where did they go after killing Kyle on that desolate stretch of road and whispering, "Go. Start over"?

It can't be home. Not for them. Roswell is too close...and Antar is too far away.

But wherever it is, he hopes it's just a fraction of Hell.

***

They eat at the CrashDown for old times' sake. Sure enough, the Parkers don't run it anymore. They left Roswell around six months after Liz disappeared. Dad tells folks who stop by the table and ask, "This is Don. He's just coming back to see an old friend. He's a sheriff up in California, you know." He laughs obligingly at "Jim," pretending he doesn't hear the obvious note of fatherly pride.

They split a slice of Amy DeLuca's strawberry-rhubarb pie and Kyle...er, Don does a mental tally of how many push-ups he'll have to do to make up for the indulgence.

The waitresses' uniforms have gotten shorter...and he idly contemplates *that* indulgence, too. At least until he catches his father looking at the same perky blonde.

Apple and tree. Oh, yeah.

He wonders how many times a day Jim thinks of Isabel Evans and exactly how despicable he allows those thoughts to be. Probably not very. This is the man who pined after his mom, Michelle, for years after she left. He's a stand-up guy, a throwback to the old days, the kind of man who is a lawman long after he retires and even after he dies.

That was never Kyle and it sure isn't Don.

And it won't be whoever he becomes next.

But he knows it all. He knows it all by heart, by blood. It got burned into his system and chipped into his shoulder and tattooed beneath the skin.

"Can you stay long? Make a vacation out of it?" Dad asks, with altogether too much hope in his voice.

"No. I've got to get back tomorrow," he murmurs, with not nearly the same amount of regret.

He's got to get back before he forgets the lines he's drawn, the personas he's created.

And before he remembers he used to have a life.

--end--

January 18, 2006.

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