Crossover: Roswell, Kindred: the Embraced, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Character Focus: Liz-centric, mostly.
Spoilers: Futurefic. Post-Departure for Roswell, Post-Cabin in the Woods for Kindred, Post-The Gift for BtVS.
Disclaimer: Nothing owned. Bite me.
Summary: A changed Liz returns to find that a lot has changed in Roswell ... and some things haven't changed at all.
Author's Note: Again, thanks to hah - you rule.
She sat up suddenly, waking the man next to her.
"What is it?" he mumbled, trying to clear his head.
"She's alive," Isabel breathed, and dove for the phone next to the bed.
"It's the prophecy," Tara confirmed, looking up from the book Giles had sent with her. "And from the way things are coming together, it's almost time."
Willow sighed. "How are we going to tell her? Should we tell her?"
Tara thought for a moment. "No," she said. "I think she needs to learn about it herself. Besides, she's not ready yet. The Circle isn't complete."
Willow nodded. "I agree. So we'll just have to be there for her when it happens. She won't be alone," she vowed.
Tara nodded, and held out her arms. Willow stepped into her embrace and tried not to cry.
"She's a kid, Tara. Just a kid. It's not fair."
Liz was relieved to see a familiar face waiting as they pulled into the covered drive in Albuquerque.
"Hey, Eddie," she said. "Long time no see."
He nodded and helped her out of the car. "Hi, Liz. Santiago is waiting inside." The warmth in his voice and expression lessened the formality of his tone, and she smiled back in relief.
"What do you say we meet up later and exchange stories?" Liz suggested, and he nodded.
"I'm looking forward to it," he said, and turned to help Willow and Tara out of the car.
"I'm telling you Max, get back to Roswell. Now," Isabel insisted.
Jesse watched blearily as his wife jumped out of bed with the cordless phone and began to pace, her face twisting with emotion as she listened to her brother on the other end.
"Max, I know what I said last week. And I was right, but it wasn't the whole story! I know that now. What's the problem? I thought you'd be thrilled that she's not "
She came to a stop in the middle of the floor.
"Of course I'm still upset by the whole thing, and I can see why you don't know whether to believe me or to trust her. But it's true, Max, and you know this wasn't a game for her. It's not like she knew we were keeping tabs on her, or the conclusions we'd jump to when she disappeared again. What did you expect her to do? Leave a note? Or an e-mail? How about a singing telegram?"
She listened again. When she spoke she was smiling reluctantly, and Jesse wished he knew what Max had said to put that expression on her face.
"Too much information, little brother," she snickered.
Jesse smiled to see her looking so mischievous. It was a side of her he didn't get to see often, and especially not the past week. Whatever her news was, it was making her positively giddy. And Isabel Ramirez was many things, but she was rarely giddy.
"Anyway, you know she hasn't been dating. If anything, she works too hard. So do you. And I know neither of you has gotten over this thing so what would it hurt for you to be home when she gets here? Three years, Max. Get over it already. I'm pretty sure she has."
She must have liked what she heard then, because she was still smiling triumphantly when she hung up.
She turned, evidently just remembering that she wasn't alone. "Jesse! Listen," she continued, as she moved back to the bed and his arms, "I want to say thank you, this trip was just what I needed. You were right, I was getting all upset over nothing."
Her appreciation for his thoughtfulness warmed him. "It wasn't nothing. You had a dream that a friend of yours died. Of course you were upset. And besides," he admitted, yawning but sincere, "I already had vacation time coming. It was good timing."
"Yeah," she yawned herself, nuzzling into his side. "And it's been wonderful. But I need to get back to Roswell in the morning. Will you come with me?"
"Always," he promised.
"Good. You can finally meet Liz Parker. She's coming home," she murmured, asleep before she finished the sentence.
Jesse, on the other hand, found himself suddenly wide awake, as her words as the last few minutes finally sank in. Liz Parker was in New Mexico? And Isabel knew it? How?
Whatever it was, this couldn't be good.
What was Julian Luna's latest protégé doing in New Mexico anyway? He'd have to check in with Philip and Santiago, see where things stood.
Californian Kindred were so temperamental. No one needed that kind of drama here.
Santiago was a well-groomed, dark-haired and olive-skinned man who looked to have been Embraced somewhere in his late thirties.
Liz bent her head in respect, and knew that behind her, Willow and Tara were doing the same. Santiago nodded in appreciation and then gestured for them all to sit down, although he only had eyes for his new charge.
"Julian tells me to expect great things from you," he said, noting the way she smiled slightly at the mention of her sire. Interesting. It was a rare Childe indeed who was so assured of herself this young. His own smile adopted a slightly roguish quality. "Lillie tells me to expect great trouble."
Liz grinned ruefully. "I suppose that's fair."
Santiago laughed and she relaxed.
"Edward tells me you still have family in the area," he prompted.
She nodded. "Roswell." Silently she wondered just how much Eddie had told him.
"This is generally frowned upon, you realize. Going home after being Embraced. You are Kindred now. People from your past can endanger the Masquerade."
Liz nodded, but said, "I don't think it'll be a problem. I'll find a job here, in Albuquerque, and make a point of visiting them in Roswell so that I can control the situation somewhat. You know, maintain some distance without arousing suspicion. In time, I'll re-evaluate my options."
She looked at him, very serious now. "As for being Kindred I've had a lot of practise keeping secrets over the years. I've gotten pretty good at it. You'll just have to trust me." With that last daring statement, she looked at him, subtly willing him not to argue.
Well aware of and perversely amused by her efforts to influence him, Santiago simply considered her words and explained the arrangements already in place for her. "You will work with me every day," he told her. "I told Julian I would keep you close, and I will. There is a suite available for you and your friends upstairs, and as long as you inform the staff beforehand, you may have visitors there. There is a guest room where they may sleep."
Liz smiled in thanks, as did Willow and Tara, who were watching the exchange with some interest. All three were relieved that they were to stay together.
"Edward, perhaps you could show Willow and Tara to their rooms while I speak with Liz in private?" Santiago suggested. They followed the quiet young man out, Tara with an encouraging smile for Liz, and Willow with a thoughtful look at Santiago.
"So what is my job?" Liz asked when they were gone.
"On paper? Executive assistant."
She wrinkled her nose. "I'm a secretary?"
He laughed at her obvious chagrin. "Ventrue through and through. Do you know, that is exactly what Julian said when Archon Raine gave him his first job?"
Liz laughed. "Julian was a secretary? Unbelievable."
Santiago shook his head. "Let me clarify. You are not a secretary. You are a ward of my house, and I am your mentor. You are here not to help me manage my business but to learn the ways of Kindred leadership."
Liz sat up straighter. "Really?" she said, obviously pleased with their ambitious plans for her.
Santiago sighed at the reminder that she really was very young. He looked to Eddie, who had returned and was standing quietly nearby, watching the entire exchange and was the normally stoic man smiling? Santiago rather thought he was.
"Edward, would you care to join us? I'm curious as to how you two already know each other."
His expression never changed as he watched the way both Liz and Eddie tensed, clearly wondering what the other would say. Finally, and this too intrigued him, Liz was the one to speak.
"I used to visit the Reservation sometimes, when I was in high school," she said simply. "We became friends."
Santiago nodded as though he accepted her answer, although he hadn't missed the sharp look Eddie threw her way. In his own way, Eddie was very young himself, Embraced a mere five years, and had yet to learn to control his reactions. And now they betrayed some very strong emotion regarding the deceptively small woman sitting demurely with hands clasped and head cocked attentively.
Not that Santiago could blame him. He could feel the force of her presence himself, and couldn't help but wonder at it. She was young and untrained, it was true, but Julian was right. She was going to be extremely powerful.
Whether she lived to wield that power, of course, was yet to be determined.
"So tell me," he invited smoothly, "what did you think of San Francisco?"
"I still don't get it. Last week you said she died. That someone had k-killed her," Maria said, her voice quavering. Deep shadows under her eyes showed the strain of the past week. "Now you're saying she's alive. Which is it?" She leaned into Michael, who silently wrapped long arms around her shaking figure.
"Both," Isabel said. Now the others Maria, Michael, Max, Kyle and Jim stared at her openly. "She did die," Isabel insisted. "But someone brought her back. I'm telling you, something happened to her but someone saved her, and now she's coming home."
"Izzy," Max said tentatively, "I know you've been working on your powers, but how can you possibly know this?"
"I saw it in a dream," she told him firmly. When she saw the doubt in his eyes, she added acidly, "Just like I saw when that guy tried to pick you up in that bar, and you didn't even know it until someone told you what he was doing."
Now everyone laughed and Max blushed.
"Some guy tried to pick you up? Openly? Around here?" Maria asked, smiling through her tears. Except for Paulie, who still brought his dates to the CrashDown every now and then, to say the Roswell gay scene was reserved would be an understatement.
"Let me guess," Kyle said quietly, and it didn't sound like a guess at all. "You went to San Francisco, to see if Isabel was right about Liz."
There was silence then, as Max looked away.
"Why didn't you say anything?" Kyle persisted.
Max frowned. "I never found her," he said quietly.
"So what do you know, Isabel?" Jim Valenti changed the subject, taking pity on the young man. "Were you able to dreamwalk her again?"
Isabel shook her head. "Not since she was attacked. And someone did attack her and she did die. I know this," she said firmly. "But last night I dreamwalked someone who was with her. A woman, young, and she was talking with Liz about coming back to Roswell with her."
"Do you know who she is?" Michael asked curiously.
"Never met her before in my life."
"Do you know when she'll be here?" Max asked. Everyone knew he was asking about Liz, not the woman Isabel had dreamwalked.
Isabel nodded. "Tonight."
"Do you have any other questions?" Santiago asked. He and Liz had been chatting about the differences between New Mexico and California for an hour now, with Eddie throwing in the occasional comment.
Liz thought for a moment. "Julian's household is very centralized. I mean, he has four of five primogens living with him, now that Sonny's moved into the Luna mansion. Do you have a similar set-up here?"
He shook his head. "Out here we aren't so formal, or," he added archly, "so paranoid."
She had to laugh. It was true. The San Francisco primogens kept an obsessive eye on each other.
"Actually, we have a much smaller, more stable Kindred population spread throughout the state, and only a few clans are concentrated enough to require a local primogen to keep order. Toreador, of course," and he smiled when she bowed her head in respect. "If we grow much more, I'll appoint another primogen and remain Prince. Until then, I am both. And there are also Gangrel and Ventrue primogens, although neither resides within Albuquerque city limits."
Eddie spoke up. "Ramirez is the local Ventrue primogen. You should meet her soon."
"Your sire?" Liz guessed. He nodded and smiled. "Cousin!" Liz joked, and leaned over to give the other Ventrue a light hug, and Santiago laughed outright to see Eddie so awkwardly pleased.
"Actually," the old Toreador said, "that isn't so far off from the mark. Ramirez and Archon had the same sire."
Now Liz gave Eddie a real hug. "Cousin," she said again, but this time she wasn't joking, and Eddie returned her hug more firmly.
"Cousin," he agreed, and Santiago sat back, gratified to sense a bond forming between them. He couldn't have planned this meeting better. He had plans for Edward, Julian had plans for Liz, and he hoped their closeness would ensure the continuing goodwill between the two cities for a long time to come.
"Well, I'll leave you two to catch up on old times then."
Eddie stood when he did anyway, but Santiago waved him back to his seat. "No, stay." Turning to include Liz, he explained, "It's just my weekly meeting with my lawyers. We may run things a little informally in these parts," he added, "but we take care of business."
"I don't doubt it, sir," she answered, standing respectfully. Just as solemnly, he took her hand and pressed his lips slightly to it in an age-old gesture of gallantry.
When he left, Liz turned to Eddie. "So tell me."
"Tell you what?"
She just looked at him.
"Okay, okay. I'll tell you. I was turned five years ago, by Ramirez. I was sick, dying of cancer," he said, calmly, but she could see remembered pain in his eyes and took his hand in silent sympathy. "I'd quit school and was staying at the Reservation, figuring it wasn't a bad place to spend what was left of my life. Working for River Dog gave me something to do, and finding out about your friends seemed like a good final adventure. Then Jesse Ramirez, an old friend of mine, made me an offer. I met with the Ventrue primogen, decided she wasn't a monster and she wasn't going to turn me into one, and accepted."
"That's all? You just accepted it, like that?" She didn't bother to hide her scepticism.
He nodded. "I didn't want to die," he said simply.
Liz sighed. She knew how that went. "So, tell me about this Jesse. Ventrue, I take it?"
Eddie shook his head. "No. At least, not yet. He's actually Ramirez's great-great-grandson, descended from a son she had while still human. She's kept close tabs on the family over the years, and she chose him as her successor some years ago."
"If he agrees to become Kindred at some point, she wants him to inherit her estate and responsibilities in the Kindred community. If not, she'll wait another generation or so. She's not in that big of a hurry to retire anyway."
Liz's head was spinning; despite the crash courses she'd been getting in Kindred lore and society, it seemed that every time she turned around, there was something new to learn. New Mexico was a lot farther away from California than it looked on a map.
"Oh," Eddie added, almost as an afterthought. "And of course, he's married to "
He was cut off when Liz stood up suddenly, looking at him with wide eyes.
"Why is Max here?"
Santiago stepped into his study, pleased to see the seats before his desk already filled.
"Good, you're here. Any new developments?"
Philip Evans spoke first, as befitting his senior status. "Everything's in good shape. Corporate profits are up but not noticeably, and the Marshall matter has been resolved."
Santiago nodded, relieved to be spared the tedium of details. He liked Philip and, more to the point, he trusted him implicitly, one of the few humans he did. "Anything else, or shall I get us some drinks?" He paused when something struck him as off about Philip, but he couldn't put his finger on what it was, exactly, and continued to the bar without comment.
The young man next to Philip spoke up, respectfully but insistently. "Has Liz Parker arrived yet?"
Santiago was taken aback, by the comment but also by Philip's extreme reaction to it. He spoke to the young lawyer while keeping a concerned eye on his friend, whose collar was apparently too tight all of a sudden. "How did you know she was coming?"
"Grandmother told me," Jesse lied. He thought it better not to mention Isabel, the one point of tension between the two lawyers. Philip hadn't wanted Isabel to marry a potential Kindred, and the strain of divided loyalties had taken its toll on their working relationship.
Santiago accepted that, but he was distracted. "Philip?" he asked then, noting that the other man was becoming more agitated rather than less, and his heartbeat faster, less regular. "What is it?"
"Liz? Liz is coming here?"
"She is here. Why does this bother you?"
Philip stared at him in uncharacteristic shock, but could no more refuse a direct question from Santiago than he could tell his family about working for Kindred. "Diane and I are good friends of her parents, and my son dated her before she disappeared. We've been searching for her for three years. You wouldn't believe what we've been through are you saying she's been nearby the whole time? And dead? I mean, Kindred?"
Santiago shook his head slowly. "She was Embraced in San Francisco recently, but will be a ward of my house until she is ready to take her place at Julian Luna's side. Is there a problem?"
He had considered Philip a friend for some years now, ever since the lawyer had discovered the Kindred by accident and made a deal to act as human liaison. It went against Camarilla policy, but this was desert country and it was good to have loyal people who could go out into the sun without danger of anything worse than sunburn. That Philip hired Jesse was no coincidence; it was a way of both maintaining contact with the reclusive Ventrue primogen and keeping a protective watch over each other's interests.
Philip sputtered, flushing. "A problem? Jeff and Nancy have been worried sick. My son has been pining after this girl for years. My family almost fell apart because of it. Things had just started to calm down a little, and now this? We can't tell them," he said abruptly. "Not if she's Kindred. She has to stay away, they can't know she's here."
Santiago and Jesse exchanged looks. Neither had ever heard Philip speak so thoughtlessly, or so frantically, before. Something was wrong.
"They already knew she was on her way," Jesse said finally. "Isabel told me Liz was coming home this morning, and I overheard her on the phone with Max, so he knows as well."
"How?" Philip blurted. "And how do you know? Why didn't you tell me?"
Santiago wished he had more contact with humans, more experience with the physiology of the living. His own experience as a human predated CPR and most modern medical techniques. But the way his friend's heart was labouring, and the sweat rolling down his reddening face, was definitely troublesome.
Why, he frowned, hadn't he realised Philip was in such precarious health before?
Meanwhile Jesse was looking at his father-in-law with some alarm. "Philip? Are you all right?"
Philip began gasping for breath and grasping his left arm, and Santiago debated whether to call an ambulance or Embrace him.
Death was not an option for his old friend. Not like this.
"Liz? What's wrong?" Eddie's voice was concerned. "Why do you think Max is here?"
"Max?" she whispered, her eyes losing focus. Then, calmly: "No, not Max, but who?"
Shaking her head to clear it, she made eye contact with Eddie. "I'm sorry, but we're going to have to finish this later."
"Liz " he protested, but she'd already risen, walking as though following a scent. Concerned, Eddie followed her, pulling her back only when he saw she was about to walk into Santiago's office. "You can't go in there."
Exerting her will, she stared at him for a moment as he gaped, wide-eyed and unable to resist.
The moment she stepped into the office she focussed upon the man on the floor. "Mr. Evans?" she gasped, and rushed to his side. She could hear his heart seizing, and couldn't bear that sound combined with a scent that reminded her so much of Max.
"Can you help him?" she asked her new boss, who stood over both of them. She made a mental note of the young man standing behind him who also smelled familiar, but put it out of her mind for now. She still had a ways to go before she understood every aspect to her new life.
"Not unless I Embrace him," Santiago sighed, and she knew his reluctance, knew that no one here wanted this.
"Wait," she said, and closed her eyes, hoping against hope that she could do this. "Maybe I can help him."
Concentrating hard, as hard as anything she'd every tried in her life, she tried to visualize what was happening inside his body, to will it into functioning properly. She called upon everything she had, the power she felt flowing through her like a living thing, and thought about how Max had healed her so long ago.
Santiago, Jesse and Eddie just looked on as Philip began to glow faintly where Liz placed her hand on his chest. Soon he stopped shaking, and simply laid there, staring up at her.
Finally she was spent, and Eddie caught her as she collapsed weakly.
Philip sat up, clearly trying to understand why he was still alive and no longer in pain.
"Take her to her room," Santiago said, as he and Jesse helped Philip into a chair. Eddie nodded and carried her out of the room.
In the silence that followed, the only sound that could be heard was the ticking of a nearby clock and for Santiago, the welcome pulse of two strong human heartbeats.
"Did you feel that?" Michael said suddenly. Max and Isabel nodded immediately, and Kyle's head shot up.
"You mean that that sort of it's not really noise, is it?"
Everyone turned to Kyle in surprise, and Max spoke slowly. "That was a feeling we get sometimes when one of us uses a lot of power."
"Like when Max healed Liz," Michael threw in.
Kyle nodded, looking dazed, and Maria squeezed his arm reassuringly.
"Could it have been Liz?" she dared to ask. After Kyle developed his powers they'd debated the possibility that Liz had been changed more than anyone knew, and it was the only happy explanation she could think of. More to the point, she didn't want to think of all the scary ones that came to mind. Thank god her mother had left the baby for the night.
Max thought for a moment and then grinned. "Yeah," he said. "It could have been. It felt familiar, somehow."
Isabel and Michael nodded.
They all settled in to wait a little longer, worried, but hopeful.
"How did she do that?" Jesse demanded. He had been raised by Kindred, half-expected to become Kindred someday, and thought he knew just about everything there was to know about them -- until now.
Santiago shrugged and helped Philip into a chair in silence. He had never seen anything like this. "I'll call Julian."
"No, don't," came a small voice from the doorway. It was Liz, still pale but clearly recovering. She was flanked by Eddie, Willow and Tara. "It's all right, and I'm fine. I just couldn't let Mr. Evans die if I could help it." With that she came in to take a closer look at Philip, who was looking at her with something akin to awe.
"Hi, Mr. Evans. Are you okay?"
"Yes, thank you." He paused. "How did you do that?"
Liz sighed, and waited until Santiago nodded permission to continue. She spoke clearly, knowing that everyone in the room except Willow and maybe Eddie needed some kind of explanation.
"Obviously everyone here knows about the Kindred," she said, and only a quick glance out of the corner of her eye let Santiago know that she would definitely have questions about that later. "I'm Kindred. Ventrue. But I seem to have gotten a little extra kick out of the whole deal," she said, trying not to sound vague. "I'm still learning about myself and what I'm capable of. I didn't even know I could heal until tonight."
That much wasn't a lie.
At that, Philip reached for her hand, and she took it with a smile. "It's good to see you again, Liz. It looks like you've had an exciting time of it."
Liz nodded, and he could see the shadows under her eyes that suggested that maybe it had gotten a little too exciting. He felt bad for what he'd said earlier, and decided he owed her an apology and more. The least he could do was be civil.
She appreciated the effort; she'd connected briefly during the healing, and she knew he was afraid her reappearance would hurt his family. "Yeah, I guess," she said, and tried to change the subject. "How is everyone? Have you talked to my parents? Maria?" Suddenly she wheeled about, remembering the other human in the room. "And why is your scent familiar? Do I know you?"
Santiago interrupted before Jesse could respond. "I have a feeling this is going to take a while. Why don't we retire to the other room for refreshments?"
"I thought you said she was coming in tonight," Maria fretted.
They were starting to get strange looks from around the café, from customers and staff alike, because they had been sitting about the same table for hours, occasionally ordering something, but never finishing anything. But they waited, because Isabel was so sure.
"She is," she said for the hundredth time.
"You're sure she's coming here?" Michael asked, idly mapping out the flaws on the ceiling.
Isabel nodded automatically. They'd been having the same conversation over and over for hours. "That's what she told Willow."
Suddenly everyone sat up. "Who's Willow?" Kyle asked.
Isabel looked almost as shocked. "That's who I dreamwalked. I guess I got her name too."
"Cool," Kyle said gamely. "She coming too?"
Isabel concentrated, trying to remember her dream. "Um, I think I think Liz is bringing a few people. And she's really important to this Willow for some reason." Seeing their expressions, she shrugged. "Look guys, this isn't an exact science."
Willow placed a comforting hand on Liz's shoulder as the younger woman tried to absorb everything Philip had just told her.
"Max, Michael and Kyle are all cops?" she echoed in disbelief. "Isabel's a journalist and married to Jesse here? Maria has a baby?" Her head swam. "How?"
Jesse grinned, more and more at ease with the infamous Kindred Childe. In other circumstances, he realised, they could have ended up in-laws, and he felt sincere sympathy for her. "Isabel and I married the year after you left, and soon after that she landed an internship and then a job at one of Santiago's newspapers," he said, and even Philip smiled wryly at the reminder. He knew Santiago had awarded the advice column to Isabel as a favor to them both, and he appreciated it.
Philip sighed. He owed his friend an apology too, he knew, for the way he'd behaved earlier. The world hadn't ended because someone he knew was Embraced, and he was ashamed for insulting Kindred and especially Santiago, who had been nothing but good to him.
"Kyle decided to follow Jim's footsteps," Jesse continued easily, and Liz was a little jealous at how close the lawyer had clearly gotten with the group in her absence. She wondered just how much he did know, though, since he had seemed surprised by the healing. Maybe he just didn't want to mention it in front of his father-in-law.
"Max " she hinted, and Philip picked up the story.
"Max never gave up on you," he said.
Liz felt the familiar pangs of guilt. They immediately magnified the inexplicable feeling that she was betraying Julian somehow by even asking. But she wanted to know.
"I'm sorry to say things got very tense between us at home, and he ended up moving out his senior year of high school." Liz gasped but stayed quiet. There'd be time to find out what happened later. "So going away to college wasn't an option. Isabel tells me that it was Kyle whosuggested that as police officers, they would have access to more resources for finding you. Max jumped right on board as soon as he was old enough. And Michael "
"Wouldn't let Max do it alone, right?" Liz interrupted, smiling.
Philip nodded, smiling himself. "Right. And when Maria got pregnant, he decided to stick it out. For the paycheque and the benefits."
Liz leaned back, head swimming. "Wow. A lot can happen in three years, huh?"
After a moment, she sat up straight, and looked at Philip. "Mr. Evans "
"Philip, then," she smiled, "could I get a ride back to Roswell with you tonight? I'd really like to see everyone. If if they're there," she said, as for the first time, it occurred to her that they might not be.
"They are," Jesse said. "Isabel called everyone together."
Philip hesitated. "Liz, I appreciate what you did for me, but are you sure about this? And what about Max?"
Liz nodded. "I think it's time. As for Max ..." she hesitated. "All I can tell you is that I know it's going to be hard for both of us, but I think we could both use the closure."
To her great relief, Philip nodded. "I'll help you any way I can."
Santiago spoke up, effectively tabling the conversation. "Liz, why don't you pick one of the cars in the garage now? Consider it yours for as long as you live here."
Liz smiled in relief and gratitude. "Thank you, that sounds perfect."
Isabel hung up her phone. "That was Dad," she said, with an odd look on her face. " Jesse's with him. Max "
"He told us to keep everyone here, at the CrashDown. He says he has a surprise for us."
They looked at each other, perplexed.
"Did he say anything else?"
"Yeah," she nodded. "He said to see if the Parkers were home."
"They're not," Michael spoke up. "They're in Carlsbad for the night."
"Call them," Max said.
"My goddess, Liz, you're too much." Willow shook her head in frustration.
"Come on, Will, it's important for me to blend in," Liz argued.
Willow turned to Eddie for support. "Help me out here. Tell her to live a little," and she gestured towards a collection of various luxury coupes and sleek convertibles, all gleaming and powerful looking. "Tell her to experience this thing called fun."
"Sorry," he said unhelpfully; "I agree with Liz. I drive a Ford truck myself. Some of the road conditions out here are brutal. Four wheel drive and a high clearance may mean the difference between getting from point A to point B or ... or not."
"See?" Liz said, and patted the hood of the conservative and clearly well-used SUV next to her. "As it is, I'm going to have a lot of fun explaining how I manage to afford a car this nice to begin with." She shrugged. "Oh well."
She climbed in and started it up, studying the dashboard as the others climbed in. Eddie helped a blushing Willow when her short skirt added an unexpected element of difficulty and took the passenger seat, where he immediately confirmed the battery life of the car phone and pointed out some features to Liz.
Finally she put the car in gear and they were underway.
"So," she quipped, "who wants to meet some aliens?"
"I do!" Tara piped up immediately, channeling her inner child with a smile and one hand in the air. "I do!"
Without really knowing why, Isabel found herself at the front door of the CrashDown, looking down the street. After a moment, Max joined her, and then Kyle, and then Maria and Michael.
Together, they waited.
"See that?" Kyle said suddenly.
"What?" Maria asked, squinting into the darkness.
"Cars," Michael answered. "Coming this way."
It was an unexpectedly subdued group that sat down in the empty diner.
When she'd gotten out of her car everyone had crowded closer, but Liz had more trouble than she expected meeting everyone's eyes. They'd taken the hint and backed off, making their way back into the diner while Liz and Jesse parked their vehicles.
Kyle held the diner door open as first Liz, then two strange women, then Eddie, Philip Evans and Jesse, filed through.
Inside, Philip and Jesse sat with Isabel and Max, and Michael and Maria settled in across from Kyle. To Liz's left, Willow smiled encouragingly and Eddie and Tara stood behind her in silent support.
Liz waited, but when no one spoke, she took a deep breath and opened her mouth.
But before she could speak, the door opened again and Nancy and Jeff Parker charged inside, making a beeline for their daughter and catching her in a long, hard hug.
Liz held her parents as they cried. "I'm sorry," she said, over and over, dry-eyed but earnest. "I'm so, so sorry."
She meant it, too. She wouldn't apologize for leaving; she'd needed to do that for herself. Still, she knew she'd hurt them, and that it would take a long time to rebuild the old trust.
But it was a start.
Jeff Parker opened the door to see a tall, muscle-bound but conservatively dressed man looking down at him. "We're closed," he explained politely.
The man ignored him. "Sorry to interrupt, Ms Parker. There's a call for you." He held out a cell phone.
She looked at it for a moment. She wasn't sure if it bothered her or not that bodyguards had been sent out without her knowledge. But she wasn't about to say anything in front of her friends and family.
"San Francisco?" Meaning Julian.
"Thank you," she said, and turned to the curious crowd around her. "Will you excuse me for a moment? I'll take this outside. I I'll be right back," she said, trying to smile but knowing how empty that must have sounded. "Really, I will."
She sighed as she walked out the front door. This was going to be one hell of a juggling act. But she was in too deep to back out now.
"How did you meet Liz?" Maria was asking when Liz came back, sounding more curious than jealous of their obvious closeness.
For some reason, her friends had zeroed in on Willow as soon as she was introduced, but Liz let it go, thankful that they were accepting her new friends at all.
"I'm a consultant," Willow explained, truthfully enough. "Tara and I specialize in rare books and resources, and right now we're on leave to help out on Liz's team. A mutual colleague introduced us when Liz was first hired ..." she said, stumbling slightly because she almost said Embraced, "and we hit it off."
Liz smiled wistfully at the reminder, and made a mental note to send something to Daedalus later. She missed him already. She missed all of them, really, Julian and Lillie and Cash and some others she'd met briefly. But for some reason, the image of Daedalus in his study, staring into a fire, stuck in her mind.
"Will," she interrupted, "that was HQ. We're being called back to Santiago's for a meeting." Willow, Tara and Eddie took their cue and excused themselves, leaving Liz alone with her friends and family.
"Liz?" Nancy asked, bewildered. "You're you're leaving again? Now?"
Liz winced to hear such open pain. "I have to, Mom. It's work. But I'm not going far. Here's where I live," she said, grabbing a napkin and a pen from behind the counter and writing down Santiago's address. "And I'll call tomorrow as soon as I get a private phone number. I I promise," she finished lamely, realizing how little she deserved their trust right then, but needing to say it.
At first, no one spoke as she made her way to the door, but Maria just couldn't let it go at that. "Wait, Liz," she called, and Liz turned about expectantly.
"When we heard you were coming, we arranged to have a family day tomorrow. I planned a picnic at the quarry. You'll be there, won't you? All of you? Noonish?"
Liz successfully managed not to squirm at the thought of all that sunlight and heavy food, and smiled apologetically. "Actually," she said reluctantly, "I'm on a night schedule now. If I don't get to sleep by late morning, I'm an absolute wreck," she said. "How about we get together tomorrow night for a picnic dinner and just hang out for a while?"
Everyone agreed, and Liz took a moment to hug her old friend one more time. "Thanks, Maria," she murmured, and for some reason her eyes sought out Max.
He just looked at her, as if trying to say something without words. Liz panicked for a moment; she wasn't looking forward to the talk she needed to have with Max, and she knew this neither the time nor the place. Averting her eyes, she pulled away from Maria and walked out to her car.
It had gone better than Liz had expected or, she sighed, probably deserved. But she had a sinking feeling the worst was still to come.
The four of them were quiet on the drive back.
Eddie had noticed the grim looks Liz's friends had exchanged when they saw him with her, and knew that they'd have questions later, when there weren't so many people around. They probably thought he knew more about alien matters than he did, and he wasn't looking forward to the confrontation he knew was coming.
In the backseat, Willow was feeling homesick for her friends and family, but she was also feeling a bit of a rush from meeting aliens. She'd known who they were the moment she walked in the diner, and wished she could ask them about their powers. Were they magical at all? But she knew she couldn't betray Liz's confidence like that.
Not to mention so that was the infamous Max. She had to admit that she could see why Liz was so hung up on him, even after all this time. He was pretty hot. As hot as Julian, even.
She sighed. Poor Daedalus.
Tara held Willow's hand and studied the faces of the people around her. There was an aura that connected the three of them; she could see it hovering like a cloud about their bodies when they were in close proximity. She was, however, shocked to see Willow part of it, and a little saddened to know she herself wasn't.
But, she realized amd sat a little straighter, that didn't mean she couldn't help. She'd keep watch, and she'd know whom to look for by his or her aura. She smiled and leaned farther into Willow. They'd been through way too much to let a little thing like this come between them.
Liz's mind was awhirl with the scents she carried with her, and the memories evoked by every one.
Max he was alone. Or at least, he had been for a long time. His smell was pure, untainted Max. And she still felt the pull to him, but how could she how could they? They couldn't. They were so different. Too different.
Maria and Michael were so much a part of each other it was difficult to separate them in her mind. They'd connected, she knew instinctively. She could see it in the way they looked at each other, they way each knew what the other was going to say or do. She made a mental note to pick up a baby gift.
Isabel and Jesse were married. That explained a lot, but Liz had shared a look with Philip after being told, and knew he felt the same reservations, was thinking of all the very good reasons Kindred and non-Kindred shouldn't mix although of course, he had no idea how much more complicated things really were. She was a little surprised to see that Jesse didn't, though. There were a lot of secrets in that marriage.
Her mind drifted to Kyle. Of them all, he'd looked the least reserved when she'd walked in. He was hurt, she knew, but he'd greeted her with genuine warmth.
Her parents god, but it hurt to think of them. They'd looked so lost when she left again, and it was all she could do not to run up to her old room and cuddle with an old teddy bear. But of course, that wasn't her life anymore, and it never would be again.
"Nothing's happening the way I thought it would," she said suddenly. "I hope I didn't make a mistake coming back."
No one responded.
Kyle was the first one to break the silence. Standing, he stretched and pulled on his parka.
"Well, I have to work early, so see you all tomorrow night."
Maria stirred. "Meet here at eight. And bring pickles," she added. "We're out."
His answering grin faded when he got outside, and he drove home to his small apartment slowly, his mind not really on the road. After letting himself in he stripped down to his boxers and sat in the dark.
Liz was back. He took a moment to wrap his mind around that bit of craziness. Even crazier, Liz was back and she was hiding something big. Mr. Evans and Jesse knew what it was, he was sure of it, and it worried him.
Suddenly energized, he donned dark jeans and a hooded sweatshirt and headed back out.
First he made a quick stop in his cruiser to check the computer. Sure enough, that little beauty Liz had driven in was registered to an M. Santiago of Albuquerque. He took a moment to note the address, and then hopped out of the truck to climb into the black pick-up he drove when he wasn't on duty.
As he drove he asked himself what he was doing.
He didn't have an answer.
After a while, he turned on the radio.
It was a quiet trio that turned in late that night.
Liz couldn't stop thinking about Julian's call earlier. For one thing, the sound of his voice was almost startlingly painful to hear, and she marveled at how odd it was to feel homesick for two places, two families, at once.
Also, Julian had told her about some San Franciscan Kindred working to stir up trouble in Sunnydale. He wanted Liz to take Willow and check it out since he couldn't go himself. If there were territorial disputes, he needed to know more about the situation, and leaving San Francisco wasn't an option for him.
Or so he said. It was probably something of a test for her. At least having Willow and Tara along would give her a 'home advantage' of sorts.
Thankfully she didn't have to leave right away. Julian was waiting to hear more about the Sunnydale situation before taking any aggressive action out of his own jurisdiction. So she had a couple days of briefings scheduled in and at least one picnic to go to, and she was looking forward to spending some time at home. More than she had expected, even.
At some point that night as she was poring over some books Santiago had recommended, she became aware that someone was crying on the other side of the wall. But she refused to invade her friends' privacy and she deliberately forced herself not to listen in.
After a few minutes Liz closed her book and left the suite.
She felt restless. Maybe she'd see how her new car handled desert roads.
Isabel was the next to speak after Kyle left.
"Dad, Jesse how did you find her?"
Philip smiled. "We were at a meeting with Santiago when he introduced his latest protégé," he told her. "You can imagine my surprise when I saw her."
Max couldn't help himself; it had taken everything he had to stay calm while Liz was there, and he had so many questions. "Did she say why she left? Why she came back? Did she did she ask about us? Me?"
Philip studied his son for some seconds before replying. "She left because she it was right for her. She came back for the same reason. And she did ask about you."
Exchanging a glance, Isabel and Jesse slid out of their seats and went to join Michael and Maria.
Alone with his father, Max swallowed hard and worked his jaw, trying to speak. "I "
"Max, I don't know what happened between you before she left. And I would be lying if I said I thought you could just pick up where you left off. In fact," he said as gently as possible, "from what I've seen, I think you're both living very different lives, and you're kidding yourselves if you think they can mesh. Ever."
Max just stared at his father, feeling as if he'd just been physically assaulted.
"Max - son," Philip pressed, "I supported her coming here because I agree that you need closure. You've shared a lot. So be friends. Be good friends. Just don't expect more than she can give. And think about moving on with your own life."
"Dad." Max's voice was flat with warning.
Philip sighed. "Do what you have to, Max. Just remember that the Liz Parker who came back to Roswell isn't the same person who left."
Kyle studied the house from the outer gate.
House, hell. It was a freaking mansion. And he had to wonder what Liz was doing to earn a place inside of it.
Slouching down, he settled in for the night.
"How long has he been out there?" Santiago asked, studying the young man in the security tapes.
"A couple hours now. Should I call the police, or just get rid of him?"
"Neither. Ask Miss Parker to join us down here."
The other man nodded and left the room.
Santiago watched the screen a while longer with some interest. Suddenly he leaned in. "Well, well," he murmured. "What's going on here?"
Liz had just pulled out of the gates, stopped, and looked directly at Kyle. He didn't pretend not to see her, and after a moment she continued on her way. Slowly, so he could follow her.
The security lackey re-entered the room. "Sir, Miss Parker "
"I know." He paused. "I want background checks on everyone Liz Parker knows in Roswell. Friends, families, anyone she's gone out of her way to spend time with. Start with the man who drives this vehicle."
He gestured towards a still shot of Kyle's truck on one of the screens, the license plate clearly visible.
He wanted more information before he had a little talk with his latest charge. Then something else occurred to him. "And page Edward. Have him meet me in my office."
"I can't believe you're holding out on me like this. Me," Kyle complained, clearly offended.
Before she'd left Roswell, the two of them had talked about what it was like to be the only two humans literally brought back from the brink of death by aliens. That they knew of, anyway. It was comforting, somehow, not to be alone. Now Liz's heart sank, knowing that he was still alone and she was still alone, because things had changed again.
"Kyle, I'm sorry," she said sincerely. "But -"
"But this is big," he finished for her. "Maybe even bigger than ?" he asked, his eyes growing round. She could tell he was having trouble imagining what could be bigger than aliens.
"Not bigger. Just different."
He thought about that. "Is it dangerous? Are you in danger?"
"I can't answer that," she overrode his automatic protest by raising her voice. "But I'm not exactly helpless in this. I'm not the same person I was when I left, Kyle."
He shrugged. That much was obvious. Suddenly he looked at her. "You do have powers though, right?"
She looked surprised. "How did you know?"
"Did you use them tonight for something? Something big?"
She nodded, wondering when things would just stop so she could catch her breath. Well, not that she really needed to breathe so much anymore, but she wouldn't mind a little boredom for a day or two. "How did you know?"
"I felt it," he said evenly. "What did you do?"
She hesitated, knowing that even a partial truth would be too complicated. "Do you want me to show you what I can do? Actually, why don't we compare?"
He nodded. They both got out of the car then, carefully looking around to make sure they really were all by themselves in the proverbial middle of nowhere.
"Ladies first," Kyle invited.
"Giles, I I'm pretty sure Liz is the one from the prophecy."
Willow listened for a moment while Tara looked on anxiously.
"Well, look at the evidence. She was 'of mankind'," Willow checked off from the list she'd pulled from the ancient text. "She's defeated death twice, once by a power 'beyond the stars', and once 'at the hands of a demon'. She's incredibly powerful did I tell you she healed someone? Put her hand on him and saved his life, all without magic. At least, if it was magic, it wasn't any kind of magic we've ever seen."
Willow fell silent again as Giles responded.
"Okay, how about this? Tara saw the aura. It's not complete, but it's there. Especially when Liz, Eddie and and I are together."
She didn't let him finish his next thought.
"That's right! I'm part of the Circle," she said firmly, and only Tara knew how scared she really was. "I wasn't expecting it either, but the auras don't lie. That means there are only two more to find."
This time she was quiet long enough for Tara to start fidgeting.
"Thank you," Willow sighed, clearly relieved by something Giles told her. "We'll keep an eye on things at our end. She asked us to come back to Sunnydale with her, and who knows, maybe we can help her prepare for the Calling." She paused again. "Maybe we can keep her from destroying the world. It's not like it'd be a first for any of us."
"Whoa," Kyle said.
Liz rolled her eyes. He seemed to have trouble saying anything else. But she couldn't blame him. It was kind of freaky what they were able to do now.
She'd started with an astral projection. He'd countered by exploding a small rock, one just large enough to feather through the projection rather effectively.
She'd used a shard of the rock to cut her hand, and then healed it. He touched her arm and showed her how he could feed energy to others.
She willed him to step back before they could connect too deeply and then made him dance. He did manage to block her power somewhat, although his hand didn't stop tapping out a catchy little rhythm until she gave up with a giggle.
Finally they just sat down and looked at each other, trying to absorb everything that had just happened. She knew she'd been holding back, trying to keep her Kindred side out of the demonstration, but she couldn't help but wonder how much stronger they could be, if he knew everything and they could work together openly. The thought was undeniably appealing.
Besides, in a small part of her mind she couldn't deny the scent of power in his blood. It was almost intoxicating. Was this what drew the Kindred in San Francisco to her?
She had to laugh at Kyle's reaction, though. Every few minutes, he opened and closed his mouth a few times before shaking his head and muttering in disbelief.
"Max, there's something off about them. Liz's friends, I mean," Isabel clarified.
Jesse was going to be late so she'd invited Max, Michael and Maria back to her house to talk about what had happened that night. She'd called Kyle, but he wasn't answering his phone.
"What do you mean?" Maria perked up.
"Yeah, I noticed it too," Michael said, so quietly that everyone turned to him.
"What I want to know," Max said heavily, "is why Eddie's with her. And what did Liz do tonight that needed so much power?"
"Well," Maria said, when no one answered, "why don't we just ask them tomorrow? I'm sure there's a perfectly logical explanation for all of it."
The night passed without incident.
Right before dawn, however, someone placed a packet on Santiago's desk. He chose the top folder to begin with, and soon he found himself engrossed in an intriguing story.
Quickly he skimmed through the other folders, pausing only to study the pictures of Kyle Valenti and Max Evans.
Once he'd worked his way through all of them he picked up the first one again, taking a few minutes to fill in the blanks in Liz Parker's personal history.
Well, this explained what he'd overheard Willow and Tara discussing earlier.
Aliens. In New Mexico.
Unbelievable. But assuming it was true
The picnic was a success, if subdued.
Eddie was busy with a project for Santiago, and Willow and Tara had opted to stay in Albuquerque and do the tourist thing, so Liz reunited with her friends and family in relative privacy. And it was fun, reminiscing about childhood memories and catching Liz up on how life had changed in Roswell. There were a few awkward silences and a lot of hugging.
But as the evening wore on, the various parents called it a night, until she found herself sitting in a circle with the core group, sandwiched between Maria and Kyle and across from Michael, Max and Isabel.
"Okay, we're alone now," Liz said finally. "Ask your questions."
They all glanced at Max; apparently he'd been chosen to start.
"What happened to you? I mean, about a week ago, something happened, right?"
She blinked. She thought they'd start with questions about what she'd been doing for the past three years, or why she left. "Yeah, I had an accident and almost died. How did you know?"
"I tried to dreamwalk you and I couldn't," Isabel admitted.
Liz nodded. "Oh." She'd expected that at some point anyway, so she wasn't that surprised, not really. And that would explain why they didn't seem that curious about what she'd been up to. But she still wanted to change the subject.
"What did you do last night? We felt the energy surge," Max took up the questioning again.
"What? You can feel when I use my powers? How?" Liz hadn't expected that one.
"You do have powers then?" Michael jumped in.
Liz nodded and glanced wryly at Kyle. "Apparently. So cops, huh?" she asked, looking from him to Max and then Michael. "A baby?" she smiled at Maria, who nodded proudly. "And I hear we're working for the same boss," she finished with Isabel, who looked interested.
"You work for the newspaper too?"
"No, I'm a sort of his executive assistant." Liz's nose wrinkled reflexively. She still hated the title.
Isabel was impressed. "You work for the man himself?"
Kyle butted in then. "Shacked up with him too."
Liz elbowed him when she saw the shocked looks and Michael's amused smirk. "What the jerk means," she explained, "is that Willow, Tara and I are sharing a guest suite in his house. Which is a mansion. Big enough that we have our own entrance and everything."
Kyle just grinned at Max's dark look as the others nodded in understanding.
"We don't know how permanent things are here," Liz continued, falling back on the arranged story, "so there didn't seem any point in getting an apartment or anything."
Maria looked alarmed. "Wait, I thought you were here to stay." She spoke a little more sharply than she probably meant to, but she couldn't hide how upset she was.
Liz grabbed one of her hands. "Oh, I am. I might have to do a lot of traveling, but this will always be home. I swear."
Maria studied her, uncharacteristically solemn. "Good," she pronounced. Then, "My god, girl! Your hands are so cold you must be freezing. Let me get you a blanket."
Liz pulled them away, silently cursing how easy it was to slip back into old patterns. How easy it was to forget about the whole lack of blood pressure thing. Being back with everyone, she could almost forget about being Kindred altogether.
"Actually, I should start heading back. As it is," Liz said, making a show of checking her watch, "I'll be lucky to get to work on time."
"Go ahead, then," Maria told her. "We'll clean up. But call me tomorrow, okay?"
Liz nodded brightly. "I want you guys to see where I live too, so maybe the next time we do this you could all come to Albuquerque."
Everyone nodded, not bothering to hide their curiosity, and she hugged each of them before heading back to her car.
They paused to watch her leave.
"That was weird," Michael said. Max and Isabel nodded, while Kyle stood silently and Maria looked puzzled.
"Didn't you notice? Everyone's been asking her questions ever since she got back, but she's been dodging them. I don't think we've gotten one straight answer out of her all night."
"Yeah, I noticed."
Kyle spoke up then. "Listen, I've got to get going. I'll see you all later?"
Everyone nodded and watched him leave, none more thoughtfully than Isabel.
"I wonder what he's up to?"
The next evening Liz was called down to Santiago's office.
"What's up?" she asked, addressing Santiago but including Willow, Tara and Eddie, who were seated in various chairs about the room.
"The situation in California is escalating. The three of you are to head out there as soon as arrangements can be made," Santiago said, holding out an envelope. "This is for you."
Liz sat down and pulled out several folders, each containing a picture and a biography. "Who are these people?"
"The top one is Sasha. She's Brujah, volatile, and Julian Luna's niece."
Liz looked up. "Julian has a niece? Why are we investigating her?"
Willow answered. "Great-great-granddaughter, actually. He just calls her 'niece'. The thing is, she's never forgiven him for letting the Brujah Embrace her before he could. She's also pretty bitter because it came between her and her lover, a Gangrel primogen."
Liz's eyes widened in sympathy; she knew something about that kind of pain. "Not Cash?"
Willow nodded. "As far as we know, she fell in with a bad crowd. She thinks they've found a ritual that will purify her blood, strip her of everything Kindred and make her human again."
Willow hesitated. "Maybe. But magic that strong could leave the barrier between the Hellmouth and our world weakened. Demons'd be all over each other to knock it down completely. We can't risk it. We're supposed to pull Sasha out of there if we can, but keeping her from finishing the ritual is the most important thing."
Liz nodded, trying to take it all in stride. "Demons," she said. "You're you're sure?"
Tara smiled. "Yes, demons."
Liz swallowed. Hard. "You know," she said, "I have to admit, I'm having a little trouble believing in all this. I just learned about the existence of vampires, and now there are demons?" She shook her head. "What are we supposed to do about it?"
"Kindred," Santiago reminded her quietly. "And by definition, tainted by demon blood."
She paused, then nodded in apology. "Right, I knew that. Sometimes I forget. But say it's all true, why am I going again? I'm no witch or slayer or anything like that. I'm just Kindred. For that matter, I haven't even hit my two week point as Kindred. How am I supposed to help?"
Willow spoke up. "For one thing, you're not just any Childe, you're Julian Luna's Childe. So you have status in the Kindred community. And we need your, um, special gifts, to get past the mages Sasha has working with her."
Liz looked interested. "Really? I doubt I can do anything you can't. You're a witch!"
Tara answered this time. "We use magic, and for any spell we can do, someone else can think up a counter-spell. What you do? It's not magic, so "
"So no counter-spell?" Liz finished thoughtfully. "Wow."
After a moment, Liz looked at Santiago. "Isn't this all moving a little fast? What about my training?"
"This seems as good a place as any to start," he said calmly. "Acquit yourself with honor, and you strengthen our position among Kindred."
"I'll be spending two representatives of my own with you."
"Eddie?" Liz's warm smiled faded when Eddie wouldn't meet her eyes.
"Yes. And someone else I believe you already know."
Everyone turned then as the door opened, and Kyle Valenti walked through.
"No," Liz protested as she sensed the change, but she knew it was already too late. And for the first time since her Embrace, she lost control. There was silence as one lone, blood-red tear traced a path down her cheek.
"What? You're kidding," Michael said in utter disbelief.
Max shook his head. "I overheard the office clerks talking. It's true."
Michael frowned. "There is no way Kyle would just up and quit like that. No way. We need to talk with him."
"I've been trying him on his cell all day. I even went by his house. His truck's gone, but that's it. As far as I can tell, he didn't pack a suitcase or anything."
Michael thought for a moment. "Have you talked to any of the others?"
"I'll call Isabel, you call Maria. With the four of us looking, we should be able to find him in no time."
Michael nodded, then, hesitantly, spoke. "Do you think it has anything to do with Liz?"
Max sighed, running one hand tiredly over his face and hair. "I don't know."
There was silence as Willow and Tara looked at each other and then headed back to their suite, leaving the Kindred to themselves.
"How could you?" Liz choked out.
No one answered, which only fuelled her anger and hurt.
"Damn it!" she shouted, and threw the first thing that came to hand, a heavy crystal decanter.
It shattered on the wall next to Santiago, who watched Liz with detached interest.
"It's not right!" She turned to Eddie, who looked at her with obvious reluctance. "You told, didn't you? That's how he knew!"
Santiago answered before Eddie could. "Not quite. You didn't really think I'd take you in without a background check, did you? Eddie only confirmed what I already knew."
"But why? Why would you do this to him? I didn't tell him about the Masquerade. I didn't!"
Santiago nodded. "I know. And I'm glad. That means I don't have to kill you."
A little stunned by his implacable tone, Liz collapsed onto a seat. "You didn't answer my question."
Santiago looked surprised. "Well, why did Julian Embrace you? Kyle has a lot of power in him. He's a smart young man with almost as much power flowing through him as you do, and he's proven himself useful in difficult situations time and time again. He'll be an asset to the Toreador clan."
Liz closed her eyes and tried to calm herself. She heard the warning in the Prince's tone, and she knew that if she was going to salvage anything out of this situation, she had to stay focused.
"Does anyone else know?"
Santiago shook his head. "No." He didn't bother to hide his admiration in his next words. "I only just Embraced him this morning, and already he's mastered his hunger. Were you so precocious?"
Liz nodded dumbly. It didn't matter now anyway.
Santiago smiled broadly. "Excellent, excellent. You don't suppose Max Evans healed anyone else I could use, do you?"
Liz glared at him. She couldn't help herself. "No. And stay away from my friends and family. As it is, I don't think you know what you've done."
It was a moment before the Prince responded. "Careful, Childe," he warned. "I understand you're upset, but remember who you are speaking to."
Liz didn't answer, but she made a visible effort to calm herself.
"Now, tell me what it is you think I have done. Are you not grateful that I'm sending him with you to California?"
"I'm always happy to have Kyle at my back. That's not the issue. The issue is that you're risking the people I love with your your political games, or whatever this is. And," she said acidly, "you just risked the Masquerade. Me? I could hide in plain sight. But our friends won't believe he just took off like that. They won't rest until they know what happened with him, until they know about us. And when they find out you turned Kyle against his will, they're not just going to go away. This could be war."
Santiago stared at her. "That's what Eddie said too. There's only one problem with your little scenario."
"Tell them." Santiago never broke Liz's gaze as Kyle answered obediently.
"It wasn't against my will. I wanted to."
Liz made herself look at her old friend. She couldn't believe what she was hearing.
"So you see, the only way your friends will find out is if you tell them. And no, I have no intention at this time of bringing any more of them into our family, so you can rest assured on that matter." Santiago stood in one fluid motion. "Perhaps it's time to let the two of you speak alone."
Eddie followed him out of the room. This time, it was Liz who refused to look him in the eye.
And then it was just her and Kyle.
"Tara? What is it? Please tell me," Willow asked.
Tara had been quiet ever since they'd returned to their room.
"I know it doesn't seem right. I don't like that they Embraced him either. But it's not our place to interfere with the Kindred unless they become a threat to humans. You know that."
Tara studied her lover's face. "You don't think they were a threat to Liz's friend?"
"These are organized Kindred, not Sunnydale thugs" Willow reminded her. "Santiago wouldn't have force-Embraced him. He had to have agreed."
After a moment, Tara nodded. It was true.
"What is it, then?" Willow urged her, gently.
"He shares the aura."
Willow stared at her, numbly. "He's one of the Circle?"
They both knew what it meant. For the Circle to be forming so quickly, it had to be almost time for the prophecy to make itself felt.
"We have to hurry then," Willow said. "We have to get Liz in and out of Sunnydale before the fifth finds her."
Tara nodded. After a minute, she held out her arms, and Willow climbed gratefully into the bed next to her.
Silently, each wondered what the next few days were going to hold.
"It's really not a big deal, you guys," Kyle reassured their friends that night.
The six of them had gathered in the Crashdown after closing.
"Not a big deal?" Maria half-shrieked. "You quit your job and you're leaving, just like that, and it's not a big deal?"
He grinned. "Nope."
Liz hoped no one saw her wince as Kyle continued. "I met with Santiago last night, and he made me an offer I couldn't refuse."
"Liz's bodyguard," Isabel said, trying out the words.
Liz rolled her eyes. "I know. I think it's ridiculous. They did this behind my back." She resolutely avoided Kyle's wounded look, knowing that she wouldn't be able to keep up the act if she did. She wasn't any happier about it now than she was earlier, but she had to keep up the façade, for all their sakes.
"Why do you need one? I thought you were just a secretary," Michael asked her.
"Yeah, and what about that guy the other night? Was he your bodyguard too?" Max asked.
"Not quite," Liz shook her head. "He was just on loan. Kyle is going to come with me on business trips and that sort of thing." She paused and glared suddenly at Michael. "Executive assistant."
"Like this one back to California? What are you doing there?" Maria pushed.
Liz smiled reassuringly. "Oh, that's just a personnel thing. I'm going out there to represent Santiago and to make sure some reshuffling goes according to his instructions."
"And they trust you to do that?" Michael asked, skeptical but impressed.
"It's a test," Liz admitted. "If I handle this okay there might be a promotion in it for me."
"Cool," Maria said. "Just hurry back, okay?"
Liz had to blink back tears. "You know it."
She hated lying to her friends. But what was she going to say?
I'm going off to fight demons and witches and the odds of my coming back here alive are slim to none. Oh, and I'm dragging Kyle along on my little kamikaze run because he volunteered and now he's more my responsibility than ever.'
Yeah, that'd go over well.
Max was the last one to hug her, and she knew she held him for a few seconds longer than she should have. Letting him go, she started to say something, but then she closed her mouth, smiled sadly, and left.
Everyone turned to Kyle then, but he just shrugged, waved, and followed her out the door.
"Our bags are in the car," Tara told Liz.
Liz smiled. "I'm ready to go too; I'll bring my stuff down in a minute."
Willow studied her for a moment. Kindred or not, the girl looked half dead. "Liz, talk with them. The next few days are not going to easy, and you're going to need them. You need to be able to trust them, and they need to be able to trust you."
Liz stood there, fighting the urge to tell Willow off for interfering. Finally, though, she conceded that the witch made sense. "Fine," she sighed, and headed back for the house.
Kyle and Eddie were in a suite down the hall from Liz's. They were quiet as she entered.
"Listen, I'm not going to pretend I'm happy about this. I'm still angry at you, Eddie, for telling Santiago about Max and the others. I know you didn't really have any choice, but it sucks. And Kyle, I'm still angry that you did this. I blame Santiago more, but you agreed to it, and I think you're going to regret it."
She paused, but neither of them spoke.
"That said, Willow just made a really good point. We don't really know what we're walking into in Sunnydale, and we're going to need to trust each other to get through it. So, truce?"
Kyle made his way over to his friend. "I don't regret it," he told her. "And I won't." To prove it, he grabbed her in a big hug that probably would have hurt if she'd been human. "I just couldn't sit at home and let you run away from us again," he whispered in her ear.
She smiled weakly. He sure knew how to push her buttons. "Just don't get yourself killed, okay?"
He nodded and let her go so she could turn to Eddie.
Eddie just held out a hand. Liz looked him in the eye and felt more than saw just how sorry he was. With a sigh she reached out and shook his hand. "That goes for you too."
He just nodded solemnly.
She left them to their packing. There was one more person she needed to see before leaving.
"I don't feel right about this," Max said, suddenly.
"What do you mean?" Michael asked.
"There's something they're not telling us. Liz and Kyle," he clarified, although Michael knew who he was talking about.
"What are you going to do?"
Max paused. "I have some sick days coming."
Michael stared at him. "You want to go with them." It wasn't a question. "Okay, let's go."
"Michael, you used yours up. You can't afford to take off."
Michael fought the urge to yell. But the thought of explaining to Maria why he lost his job the one that was taking care of the baby stopped him.
"Besides, I need you here to take care of things."
Michael's jaw worked, but finally he just nodded.
"Thanks, man," Max said gratefully, and headed to the office to fill out the paperwork.
Michael watched him walk off, but called after him. "Does Liz know you're going?"
Max didn't look back. Michael just shook his head.
This had disaster written all over it.
"You wanted to see me?"
Santiago sat back comfortably as he waited for Liz to speak.
"I want to know why you did it. Why Kyle, why now, why behind my back?"
He waited to be sure she was done. "Kyle, because he's unique and I thought he would make a better ally than enemy. Now, because he asked if he could go with you, and accepted when I offered him a way to do that. As for the last part let's get something straight."
He sat up, and the force of his will slammed into Liz until she shook with the power battling for dominance within her.
"I do not answer to you. Is that clear?"
Liz nodded, unable to speak.
"Is this going to be a problem?"
Her head wanted to be obedient, to shake from side to side, but she fought it.
"Nuh-no," she stuttered out, somehow pushing back his power enough to regain some control of her own body.
It was a small triumph, but it was hers.
The Kindred Prince of Albuquerque stared down at the deceptively small figure standing before him.
"Go to California," he said, softly, and Liz's body was her own again.
Liz shivered; she'd heard the threat in his voice. She didn't fight the compulsion to turn and walk out of the room.
Alone, Santiago stared at the empty doorway and wondered if Kyle was going to be as much trouble. Sitting down, he turned his attention to the papers on his desk. He'd worry about that when the time came, assuming Liz and Kyle returned alive at all.
In the meantime, Philip had a business matter that needed his signature.
"Everyone ready to go?"
Liz was pale but calm. Willow and Tara climbed into the back seat and Kyle climbed in the passenger seat. She looked over to Eddie, who was bringing his own car.
She made a point of nodding, smiling even, and he nodded back. But he didn't smile. She had an idea that he was having as much trouble forgiving himself as she was.
But they'd get past it. She took a moment to enjoy the last fading warmth of a desert sunset before getting behind the wheel.
"California, here we come. Again."
Max waited until they had pulled out of the gates before easing out of his parking spot down the road.
He kept hearing his father speak, kept seeing the look on his face when he told Max that Liz was different now. His father knew something he wasn't telling, Max knew, and if it had anything to do with client confidentiality he wouldn't be telling anytime soon. And Liz had been holding back ever since she'd shown up; it was obvious she was trying not to get too involved again, that she was determined to keep her professional and personal lives separate.
So Max had to find his answers another way.
Keeping a cautious distance back, he looked around and then pulled out his cell phone, punching out a number by memory.
A moment later, Michael answered. "You on your way?"
"I'm on my way. Tell Maria and Isabel I'll call in a few hours."
"Have a good trip, Maxwell. Go surfing or something."
Max almost grinned. Almost.
The small convoy stopped only once before California, so that Liz could stand by the sign at the side of the highway telling her to Come Back to New Mexico' soon.
Max used the opportunity to leapfrog past her group, and if he'd had any doubts about what he was doing, they evaporated when he caught a glimpse of the longing and dread playing across Liz's features as she contemplated an ordinary roadside sign.
He'd pull over at the next rest stop, let them get ahead of him again. He figured he could keep it up until they got to California, and just hoped he wouldn't lose them once they started hitting larger cities.
He didn't think he would. An almost fatalistic feeling had overcome him when he made his decision to come along, as if something had clicked into place, as if he was finally doing what he was born to do.
He didn't know what it meant, and in his more rational moments he knew it didn't make any sense. But he couldn't deny it, couldn't deny the rightness of it.
One way or another, he was about to meet his destiny.
For his and Liz's sake, he hoped he was up to it.
The End, Part Two
Continue to Part Three