As a quick note, there was a brief mini-interlude focusing on Rudolph and Roxa’s old team posted a couple days ago. If you haven’t seen that yet, you may wish to hit the Previous Chapter button above.
“The amount of stuff you can get used to in such a short time is kind of amazing if you think about it,” I murmured under my breath, only half-aware that I was speaking out loud. It’s not like there was anyone around for me to talk to. It was daytime on Christmas Eve, so Asenath was sleeping. Shiori had gone back to visit her adoptive parents and Columbus until the next day, and Twister was watching over my dad while he spent some time in the newspaper office doing story research for a few hours.
Which left me alone. But it wasn’t that bad. I’d spent a lot of time alone before Crossroads happened. It gave me time to think and get my head on straight. Not to mention shop. Yeah, I sort of still needed to pick up presents for my dad and some others. Which felt bad, but I did have a lot on my mind lately.
Besides, it wasn’t like this town ever got that busy, even at Christmas. There were crowds, but it wasn’t anything like the kind of stuff I’d seen on the news about bigger cities. And the fact that I didn’t have to find a place to park was one less problem to deal with. I just walked into the store and started browsing.
“And what kind of stuff is that, Miss Chambers,” an unexpected voice cut through my daydreaming, making me jerk around in surprise. My item-sensing power had been telling me about people passing by the entire time I’d been standing in front of the shirt display, but this one hadn’t just kept walking.
“Scott,” I blurted, recognizing my former babysitter-turned-deputy immediately, as soon as my brain caught up with my reflexes. My hand stopped moving for my weapon canister and I tried to relax.
Not fast enough, apparently. Scott Utell, standing there in civilian clothes rather than his deputy uniform, raised an eyebrow at me. “Whoa, nice defensive posture there, little lady. Been taking classes up there in that fancy pants private school you abandoned us common folk for?” His tone was lightly teasing.
Flushing a little bit before using the face-shifting power to make it go away, I straightened and tried to change the subject. “Sorry, you just took me by surprise. What-uh, what are you doing here, Scott?”
Lifting the bag that he was holding (my power told me there were a few books, a dvd, two shirts, a game, and some kind of action figure inside), Scott shook it a bit. “Shopping. Why, what’re you doing? Oh, and by that, I mean what are you doing that’s making you get used to a lot of stuff in a short time?”
Shrugging while thinking of an excuse, I replied, “Oh, you know. That fancy pants school. Easy to get used to the crowds and all those rich kids. Then I come back here and this feels like the strange place, even though I grew up here. It’s kind of—um, easy to forget how small and… quiet it is around here.”
I didn’t even have to make any of that up, honestly. It was strange to come back to this quiet, sleepy town after everything that had happened. Granted, it wasn’t really because of spoiled rich kids, but still.
“Yeah, I suppose it would be.” Scott lowered the bag before nodding toward my own empty hands. “Doesn’t look like you’re having much luck with the whole shopping thing, though. What’s the matter, not enough options? Used to those giant four story malls with a whole special store for everything?”
Coughing, I shook my head rapidly while trying not to blanch too much. “No. Please no. Let’s just say I’ve had enough malls for the time being. Just a nice, quiet department store is good enough for me.”
Scott looked interested. “Sounds like there’s a story there. And the Flick I know loves sharing stories.”
It took a bit of effort, but somehow I managed to keep my voice at least somewhat casual.“Sorry, Scott, I’m not really in the mood to talk about it. I just—sort of want to focus on the normal stuff right now.”
That eyebrow of his went up again. “Normal stuff, huh? As opposed to—wait, don’t tell me. You ran up there and found yourself a bunch of trouble, didn’t you? I should’ve known. You help bust the closest thing Laramie Falls ever had to a drug kingpin, I can’t imagine what kind of stuff they’ve got up there.”
Weakly, I gave a slight nod, my voice quiet despite my attempt to sound casual. “You’d be surprised.”
“Maybe I would,” Scott acknowledged, his eyes watching me for a moment. “But if you change your mind and decide you do want to talk about it, well, my ears are always open. Keep it in mind, okay?”
If only it was that simple. “Yeah,” I murmured. “I’ll keep it in mind.” Straightening then, I cleared my throat. “But for right now, I’m gonna hijack you so you can help me find something good for my dad.”
“Hijack me, huh?” Scott shook his head with obvious amusement. “Don’t I have to be a boat or a truck or something to hijack me? I think the word you’re looking for is kidnap, Miss Super-Reporter.”
“Eh.” I shrugged with a faint smile, enjoying the (relatively) normal conversation. “I blame any failures in my vocabulary on you making up words when we were playing Scrabble. I mean honestly, tviuckt?”
Scott chuckled, giving a totally not-at-all innocent shrug. “Way I see it, that just taught you to check your sources before accepting whatever someone tells you. See? Told you I was a great babysitter.”
I rolled my eyes at that, catching his arm. “Right, good excuse. Now come on, help me go shopping.”
“Oh, hey, Professor Dare.”
It was later that afternoon, and I had just opened the door at the sound of the bell to find the blonde woman standing on our porch. She wore a nice red coat as an obvious pretense to caring about the weather, though I was pretty sure it didn’t actually bother her, and was carrying a leather briefcase.
“Felicity,” she greeted me with a warm smile, one that felt more open than she normally was at school. “I hope I’m not too early. I wanted to get here soon enough to help out a little bit rather than just eat.”
Behind me, Dad spoke up. “Oh, we never object to help around here. Especially when it comes to anything involving food.” He stepped over, extending a hand as I moved aside. “Lincoln Chambers.”
Taking his hand, Professor Dare smiled. “Mr. Chambers, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Virginia Dare.”
After the brief handshake, Dad paused, head tilting a little curiously as he regarded her for a second. “You know, Flick said your name before, but now I’ve just gotta ask. Did your parents happen to be–”
“History nerds,” Dare confirmed for him with a chuckle. “My mother. She couldn’t resist the chance to name me Virginia. Sometimes I think it’s the only reason she actually married my father, for his name.”
She lied so well and simply that for a second, I forgot what the truth was. Dad, meanwhile, chuckled as well. “Well, I’m just glad they gave you an interesting name. It must be a good conversation starter.”
As he spoke, Dad stepped back out of the way with a gesture. “And please, come on in out of the cold.”
“It does tend to attract questions from the right kind of people,” Dare acknowledged while moving inside. “Ones that know their history. And those are the best ones to have a conversation with.” Her head nodded toward me. “Like your daughter. I find conversations with Felicity are never boring.”
Dad patted my shoulder briefly. “She doesn’t like to blend into the crowd, that’s for sure.” His voice was embarrassingly fond before he shook his head, thankfully not launching into an entire ‘proud father’ spiel about me. “Right, mind if I take your coat? I’ll just put it up in the closet out of the way.”
As Dare shrugged off the coat and handed it to him, Dad started to take it before pausing. He glanced back to her, that thoughtful look back on his face as he gave the woman another quick once over. “You know,” he began slowly. “You look really familiar. Have we met before? Maybe down in Los Angeles. I used to work there before coming out here, and I still fly back now and then to visit some friends.”
Shaking her head at that, Professor Dare replied, “I don’t think we’ve actually met, no. If we had, you would’ve remembered the name. But I have been to California. Maybe we passed by each other.”
Dad seemed to consider that for a moment before nodding. “Maybe. I just could’ve sworn I–” He paused and then shook it off. “Never mind. Let me put this away.” Waving the coat, he stepped over to the closet. “Flick, why don’t you show Professor Dare around a little bit before we worry about food?”
I started to do that, stepping away with her. Once we were far enough away, I whispered, “Is he actually wrong, or has he met you before?” Glancing to her, I added pointedly. “Like say, around here.”
“You don’t need to whisper,” Dare replied in a normal voice. “Your father won’t hear anything we’re talking about.” She looked over to me then before nodding. “And yes, he probably did see me around now and then. Actually, I’m surprised you didn’t recognize me too. After… after your mother disappeared, Gaia thought it would be a good idea to have some of us check in on you now and then. Just in case anything happened. I tried to stay in the background, but… well, there aren’t many people in this town. And,” she added almost as an aside to herself, “Maybe part of me wanted you to see me.”
“Wanted me to see you?” I echoed uncertainly, mulling that briefly before shaking my head. “Why?”
For a few seconds, her only response was a long, low sigh as she watched me. Then Dare raised her hand to lay on my arm. “Because I missed your mother, Felicity. She was… she was a very good student. She challenged the others, made the people around her better. I was hoping she might actually become a teacher. Then the underground became a full scale rebellion and… well, that was never going to happen. But I still had a chance to talk to her now and then. I um—I volunteered to come here because I missed that. I missed her. Same reason I volunteered to pick you up for school in September.”
That made me remember that I wanted to ask Professor Dare exactly what had been going on when I was left alone in an almost empty field with just the bus and that door. I wanted her take on what was up with that, though it obviously had something to do with making sure Mom wasn’t secretly with me.
Before I could say anything about that though, we reached the top of the stairs and I saw my bedroom door open. Asenath was standing there, hand against the doorjamb as she watched our arrival curiously.
Seeing her, Professor Dare paused, voice going silent. Her face softened, and she stared for a moment with obvious emotions swirling through her expression before murmuring, “Gods, I see him in you.”
Equal emotion flickered in Senny’s gaze before she brought it mostly under control. In that moment, I realized that as old and experienced as she was, in some ways, the other girl was still a little girl waiting for her father to come back. She was a little girl who missed her daddy, and hearing someone who knew him say that they saw him in her had to be wrecking her. After all, I knew how it felt to have someone say that they saw my mother in me. Especially after everything that I had found out about her.
Finally, Senny found her voice. “Papa talked a little bit about a girl he used to take care of. I was little, so I can’t remember all of it. But he said she was like a daughter to him, that she was… that she was like my sister. I just… he said she wasn’t a vampire, so I thought she’d died a long time before. I didn’t—I…”
She trailed off like that, clearly unsure of what to say as she stood there staring at the blonde woman.
Clearing my throat after a second of that, I gestured. “Right. Here, I’ll give you guys some privacy and let you talk for a bit. Take your time, use my room and get to know each other. I’ll just be downstairs.”
After looking back and forth between them for a second, I smiled to myself while moving back to the stairs. Heading down, I heard the quiet murmur of their conversation before it faded to white noise.
Dad was in the kitchen, reading the recipe that I’d managed to get Twister to write down for us. He’d wanted to try his hand at making an actual Christmas Eve dinner rather than just calling for takeout or grabbing a frozen family dinner at the store, so I told him that Asenath’s mother (the one that he thought had cooked dinner for us back when I’d visited for my birthday) had sent the recipe for him.
My mouth opened to ask him if he needed any help (with, of course, added teasing about him burning the place down), but before I could, the doorbell rang. Waving a hand as he straightened up, I called, “I got it!” Then I jogged through the hall to the entrance, wondering who it could be. Professor Dare was already there, and Senny said that Jiao wouldn’t be around until the next evening, at the earliest.
Peering through the peephole briefly, I blinked at the person there before opening the door. “Scott?”
“Hey, Flick.” He stood there, in uniform that time. Like earlier, he was holding a bag in one hand. “I’m not interrupting or anything, am I? I just thought I’d stop by and do a little Christmas present delivery.”
“Oh!” Quickly stepping back, I shook my head. “No, come in. Sorry, I just thought we were doing that tomorrow. Gimme a second, I’ll run upstairs and get yours.” Turning, I called, “Dad, Scott’s here!”
I’d taken a few steps toward the stairs when the house phone rang. Dad called from the kitchen to ask if I’d grab it, so I stopped and grabbed the handset off the wall before hitting the button. “Hello?”
“Are you having a nice time at your last Christmas with your father, Felicity?”
The voice… the words… my blood ran cold and I stopped short. Fossor. Fossor was on the phone. He had actually called me. What kind of sick—but I knew the answer to that. Him. He was the kind of sick freak who would find that amusing. My first instinct was to throw the phone against the wall, to break the damn thing or get it as far away from myself as possible. Even just hearing that son of a bitch’s voice freaked me out and made me start shaking almost immediately. I started to snap off a demand about what he wanted, but the words died in my throat. I couldn’t speak, not through any magic of his, but because I was afraid. Afraid of why he was calling.
He continued, clearly amused by my response (or lack thereof). “I asked you a question, young lady.”
Finally, I found my voice. “What-” It cracked a bit and I caught myself. “What the hell do you want?”
“As I said,” he replied smoothly, “I wanted to see how you were doing, and if you were making the most of your last Christmas with your father. It is important to spend the time with family that we can, don’t you think? Almost as important as it is to listen to your father and do as you’re told. Do you listen to your father, Felicity? Or is obedience to the male role model something else we’ll have to work on?”
I couldn’t help it, the words came reflexively before I knew what I was saying. “Yeah? Well it doesn’t seem like Ammon tends to listen to you all that much. Last I saw, he likes going off on his own a lot.”
If he was annoyed by those words, the man’s voice didn’t show it. “Yes, Ammon has been disciplined for his misbehavior. Children will be children, after all. I’m sure you’ll understand when the time comes. But there are times that he does as he’s told, and relays the instructions that he’s told to relay.”
The instructions that he was told to relay? I wanted to hang up. So much of my brain was screaming at me to just hang up. My hand was tight around the receiver, and I had to stop myself from using enough of my strength to snap the thing in half. Finally, I managed a somewhat weak, “What?”
Fossor’s response was a simple, “Don’t you want to turn around and open your present?”
“Turn aro–” Dropping the phone, I pivoted back the other way, toward the door. My mouth was already open, starting to shout, to scream.
Scott stood there. The bag was on the floor, wrapped presents strewn at his feet. In his hand, my old babysitter, my friend, held his service revolver up with the barrel against the bottom of his chin.
“Merry Christmas, Felicity.”
Then he pulled the trigger.